It’s almost unbearably depressing that for the second week in a row this column in taken up with a tribute to a fallen giant of the genre. This past weekend British science fiction and mainstream writer Iain Banks died at the age of 59. Banks had publicly announced two months ago that he had been diagnosed with cancer and probably wouldn’t make it through the year. In the world of science fiction, Banks is most well-known for his witty, brainy and meticulously plotted Culture novels. The Culture novels take place in a distant post-scarcity future where everyone lives happily ever after—except for those on the very fringes of these vast galactic empires. The author did the impossible by making a utopia universe interesting and doing it with unabashed glee. Though all of his books are little treasures, including his mainstream work, here are five of Banks’s work you should all immediately run out and read.
Lededje finds herself in the middle of the dangerous machinations of the all-powerful Culture who turned its attention to solving the problem of death itself by creating a virtual afterlife. Explores the morality of hell and the immorality of power in a way that is smart, funny and unsettling.
While he doesn’t write military science fiction in the traditional sense, Banks has a made a career out of writing about interstellar wars in his far-future Culture universe. His writing is fast-paced, filled to the brim with ideas and often take unexpected and gruesome plot turns. This is a brainy book with a brutal ending that is unlike anything you’ve probably ever read. If you like authors like Neal Stephenson or China Mieville, you’ll love Iain Banks.
The Use of Weapons
Cheradinine Zakalwe is a living weapon and a special agent of the technologically advanced Culture, but through alternating timelines we find the price he has paid. A difficult read, buy well worth it, and should be required reading for every high school student. Examines the horrors of war in a far future where even the near omnipotent and beneficent Culture is unable to prevent interplanetary devastation, genocide and other atrocities. The shocking pay off at the end that will make you gasp and will be permanently etched into your memory.
The Player of Games
The brilliant and arrogant Guregh is genetically engineered to be the best at playing games, but when the Culture tap him to travel to a remote alien empire and compete in Azad, a game that is the backbone of their societal structure, he learns that this game has very serious consequences. Engrossing and as stylistically complex as Banks get, but with an emotional punch that is unexpected coming from such an initially unlikable protagonist.
An all-powerful group of individuals, the Concern, hold sway over humanity’s destiny as the secrets of the multiverse are unlocked and they aren’t above a little assassination to ensure the status quo is upheld. This book is Banks at his most political, which also happens to be his best. Paranoid and prophetic, Transition may seem like the work of a moody cynic at first brush, but the thought-provoking ideas presented are too cutting to be easily dismissed.