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Iain M. Banks Interview – Part Two

I recently interviewed science fiction author Iain M. Banks. If you missed it, part one is posted here. Now on to part two!

When you’re writing are you one of these SF writers who likes to get all his science as correct and as plausible as possible?

Paul Wiseall, Iain M Banks, and Marc AplinOh god no. Obviously not, referring to the afore mentioned faster than light drives. No, everything else has to be right though. You can ignore the really big stuff like Einsteinian physics but as long as you get the other bits right, the way it affects people, the way military stuff works and as long as it feels and sounds internally consistent and logical then you can kind of get away with the rest.

So you didn’t sit and work out all the physics for the shellworlds?

Ah, well, I started thinking about it and I thought, this is far too difficult so in the end I thought, what we’ll do is we’ll make it clear that they are four dimensional so the ships can’t just zap inside from hyperspace because being a 4D structure they are actually closed in that sense. And that meant that all bets are off at that point because you could say that there’s as much exotic material in there as you like, stuff that is anti-gravity, you know. Then I started to think about, something like that it would have probably begun to heat up quite a lot and then there’s a point in the novel when someone says, ‘well that’s where all the heat goes,’ and I thought okaaay, that’s that problem dealt with.

From The Wasp Factory to the Culture universe, there are some pretty disturbing ideas that you’ve come up with. Have you ever had an idea while writing and thought, ‘That’s too far even for me, I can’t even bring myself to write that down.’?

The Wasp Factory (cover)I don’t think so no. I had some ideas on that spectrum but they mostly all ended up in Complicity, that’s where all the horrible stuff ended up. Aside from that, I don’t think there was anything, not really. I’d have to check because I have a funny feeling that there was something that I thought was just too horrible, but no I think it was in Complicity I think it was getting injected with somebody’s sperm, trying to feed semen in to somebody’s veins causing a stroke. I remember thinking, urgh that’s really horrible, we’ll put that in.

You’ve certainly made me feel nauseous more than a few times…

Well I feel proud.

Many people want to get in to Sci-Fi but say aaaah it’s too big, too daunting and too dense. What science fiction book would you recommend to somebody as a good place to start?

Of mine it would be Player of Games, or perhaps Consider Phlebas seeing as that was the first one. It sort of depends on the person. If they’re into traditional literature then Player of Games is more like a conventional novel that just happens to be set in the future and in the Culture but if they’re in to comics or graphic novels then maybe Phlebas. It is bigger and a bit more daunting to look at but it’s a yarn, an adventure yarn filled with action set pieces. And also in a way you can look at it as a tale about a ship wrecked sailor who falls in with a gang of pirates who go in search of buried treasure held on an enchanted isle guarded by a dragon.

And who doesn’t like that kind of adventure story?

The Player of Games (cover)Exactly, so I think one of those two would be where I’d recommend starting.

You famously sold all your prized cars and you have vowed not to fly unless in an emergency for environmental reasons but if you got offered to go in to space on a Virgin Galactic tour would you go?

I don’t think I would no. I mean if I got the opportunity to go properly into space and spend 24 hours in a space hotel gazing down at the earth then that might tempt me but just popping up above most of the atmosphere and the popping back down again doesn’t really do it for me. This idea of looking at the earth from a really high quality porthole that ‘s been properly polished, that would be cool and I might put aside environmental concerns but I’d probably have to compensate by doing something else. So yeah for that I might do it but I think by the time that stuff’s available I might be too old. I suppose I’ve been there myself in my imagination so I can’t really grumble.

You’re renowned for your fiction, your science fiction and you’ve also written the non-fiction Raw Spirit where you went searching for the perfect Scottish dram. Raw Spirit (cover)Are there any other areas of literature that you want to branch out to and own like you have the others?


No, not really. I think I’ve been chancing my luck by doing two at once so tackling three would be insanity. I can’t really see myself doing another thing like Raw Spirit. I’ve got nothing left in the tank, it’s drained. It [Raw Spirit] wasn’t really about whiskey in the end either it was about me and Scotland and cars and driving my cars and my friends and family. I’ve done all that and used all my best stories. It would actually have to be about champagne or great red wine or something and I just don’t know enough, I haven’t got a good enough noise.

So we won’t see a new series about Banks the sommelier?

Sadly no, because I wish I could think of something. It was great getting to write a book and not having to think of a plot, it was brilliant. No that’s it for me. I can’t even see myself doing an autobiography either because Raw Spirit is as close to an autobiography as I’m ever likely to come. So mainstream science fiction will have to do.

I’m still going to hold out hope for the western.

Yeah, I’ll have to be Iain Z. Banks for the that… And Iain X. Banks for the pornography!

As we’re talking about science fiction, let’s look to the future when an older Mr Banks has hung up his typewriter, he’s kicking back with a good whiskey and probably sporting some pretty shiny bionics. How would you want you and your career to best be remembered?

Consider Phlebas (cover)To be remembered at all would be good. It would be nice to think that the books will be read some time after my death but I’m not really bothered about it. Because I don’t think I’m going to be up there on a cloud with a harp looking down it just doesn’t concern me. I think it’s more important to just try and live your life as well as you can and show your respect for other people at the time. Obviously you do think about these things, you do think about how nice it would be if your stuff was being taught on courses and still being read, but all you can do is try and do your best at the time. Same as you’d do anyway even if you weren’t thinking about posterity. I think it all falls in to the same idea really.

The only thing that would annoy me is if they started making films of my books after I was dead. If I knew that was going to happen – happily I’d be dead so I wouldn’t know – but if they did them and they did them well that would be deeply annoying as I wouldn’t get to see them. That’s the one thing I’ve really missed out on is getting to go down the red carpet with my kilty outfit for the premier, I’ve always wanted to do that.

So is there any chance of a movie version of an Iain M. Banks novel any time soon?

Oh people keep talking about it but there’s nothing on the horizon and if there is then it’s a very far away horizon so as they say in Hollywood, don’t hold your breath.

You can learn more about the Culture novels and Mr. Banks’ other works by visiting his website. We’d like to thank Mr. Banks for giving us this chance to chat with him.


One Comment

  1. One thing I’d love to be able to ask him is whether it’s a deliberate choice to take traditional bugbears (the society run by machines, the secretive religious cult, the business controlling everything etc) and portray them as either harmless or positively benevolent. Or whether it just happens that way.

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