When I listed favorite books on my profile, I could easily single out some titles; others had to be grouped, like for Rankin and Stevenson; but there are two authors whose works I’d read any day of the week, or if they only composed copy for cereal boxes.
One is Thomas Pynchon, whose name I first encountered in the late ’60s as a blurber for his buddy Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I used to foist copies of V, later Gravity’s Rainbow, onto unsuspecting friends who probably resented the hell out of it. I stopped keeping track of how many times I’ve reread his seven novels and am delighted that he’s still at it. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Bleeding Edge from Amazon five months in advance.
The other is Iain Banks, whose work I chanced upon on a trip to the UK in the ’90s. He writes thrillers, Scottish family sagas, space operas, and experimental fantasies. He’s far more prolific than Pynchon and I’ve never been able to get enough of him. But I’m going to have to learn to be satisfied with what’s out there because he’s just announced to the world that he’s dying.
Banks has been praised as one of Scotland’s literary treasures but isn’t as well known in the US, except by a select cult of readers for the science fiction he publishes under the name Iain M. Banks. I haven’t been much of a sci-fi fan since I was a teenager, but something about Banks pushed my buttons. The particular universe he created, The Culture, is idyllic enough to give flight to fancy, but it’s his writing that got me hooked: galaxy-spanning plots, strange-looking aliens, wince-inducing torture, outlandish sex, and improbably huge spaceships with outrageous names. And he spins his yarns with enough of a wink that you can’t help but smile. He inspired me to pick up other contemporary sci-fi authors to see what I’ve been missing, but none of them have been able to grab me like Banks, they’re all far too serious and self-important. Banks has fun.
Now there will be one last novel, and then he will be gone.
I won’t be too surprised to one day read an obituary for the famously reclusive Pynchon; after all, he’s 75. I’m just happy there’s another book on its way and wonder if I dare hope for yet another after that. But Banks is only 59, and one would have expected a good many more years of spilling his incredible imagination onto the printed page. That, unfortunately, is the way it goes; one cannot make expectations of the universe.
But of Banks’ universe, I can always expect to have my mind blown and know I will return to it again and again.