Iain Banks – Surface Detail

Click here to buy the bookIs Iain Banks our best novelist? If our criteria are muscular prose, brilliant plotting and an apparently effortless manipulation of character then he certainly has a claim. At any rate he is among our most entertaining, robust and inventive writers. On the occasion of the publication of his new science fiction novel, Surface Detail, he talked to Tim Haigh, discussing such questions as why advanced civilisations would create Hells, whether continuity of consciousness is necessary to personhood, and whether suffering and anguish have any significance in virtual reality, while not neglecting big explosions in space, laser cannons, artificial intelligences of dubious sanity and why spaceships ought to have extravagantly strange names.

About Johnny Mindlin

Johnny Mindlin, the producer, spent 10 years in high-end speech radio, producing book programmes, entertainment / review shows and politics/discussion shows. Tim Haigh is a radio presenter and broadcaster and books reviewer. He also writes for national papers on books and literature.
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One Response to Iain Banks – Surface Detail

  1. James says:

    Absolutely gutted. My heart goes out to him and his faimly. One of my favourite authors, both mainstream and SF, and one of the select few writers whose narrative voice seems to chime in a spooky way with my own internal voice (does anyone else get that with certain authors?).The Bridge is one of my favourite books of all time ever, although if you are new to Iain Banks and a SF fan, I’d suggest going first to one of my two favourite Culture books: Use of Weapons, or Player of Games. They’re both great. You will probably then be intrigued by the Culture, so I’d suggest going back to Consider Phlebas which is set earlier in the Culture’s timeline, explains a bit more about it, and features a kick-ass galactic war— although arguably lacks some of the light-touched complexity of his later work.Not so much a SF fan? Then start with the Crow Road, which is engrossing and has all his mainstream novel trademarks: faimly secrets, dark humour, love, and somewhat disturbing violence, tempered by surprising humanity and tenderness. Liked that? Then go straight to his most recent mainstream novel, Stonemouth, which does all of that and more and is possibly even better. I will have to re-read The Crow Road soon to decide which one is best.OK, regardless of whether you’ve started with SF or mainstream, now might be the time to turn to The Bridge, which blends mainstream’ literature with fantastical/SF elements in a completely original and engrossing way. Just read it. It’s still his best.Then there are the unusual ones, which may not be to everyone’s taste. The Wasp Factory, for example: it’s certainly disturbing and weird, but perhaps a little too uncomfortable for me— it lacks some of the redeeming warmth of some of his later, but equally weird, efforts. Back in SF, there’s Feersum Endjinn, which features a stunningly imagined far future world. A large chunk of it is written phonetically, so it takes some getting used to, but it’s well worth it and I would certainly place it in my top 3 of his SF stuff (not a Culture novel, though). And a string of novels that tread that curious line between mainstream and SF: The Business, Song of Stone, Transition, for example. But all his novels are good— all interesting and different, although similar themes do recur (not all of them comfortable ones). I strongly urge all of you who haven’t read any of his stuff to start now, so you can thank him while he’s still with us. Here’s hoping for a very long several months’.

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