Friday, April 22, 2011

Iain M Banks: So Far

I've now read nine of Iain Banks' SF books and one of his general fiction books. So far, I can honestly say it's been a mixed bag.

Out of the ten books, I've not finished four of them, yet friends of mine have enjoyed those same four books (Against A Dark Background, Feersum Endjin, Look to Windward and The Steep Approach to Garbadale). Why?

Banks does not do happy, he writes misery and in the four books above the misery comes at you by the bucketful. I have read at least 100 pages of each before giving up and still not cared what happened to the main protagonists and found the books dull and misery laden.

But I don't think it's just the misery that puts me off. The Player of Games is another book full of misery, and ends badly for most of the people, but I enjoyed the book and still remember it in some detail. The problem with the books listed is the heavy reliance on description rather than people, story and plot. In Look To Windward there were whole pages of elegant, and eloquently written description, but nothing that grabbed my attention.

I don't regret attempting to read any of these books as they have shown me what it is I like and I intend to keep that in my own writing. Nor should this be taken a criticism of Banks as writer or a rejection of his work. It is simply that you never know what reaction people will have to your work in whatever field of the arts you involve yourself and that this rejection by most people is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it is normal and so are we.


Ted Cross said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about me being the opposite of what you describe here -- I don't put much description in my stories. I think I may need to go through in edits and purposely try to inject more description.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I haven't read any of Iain Banks' science fiction stuff but "Wasp Factory" is one of my favourite books ever. I may be warped but that book is hilarious in a sort of horrific way. I liked "Complicity" a lot too. Maybe I need to check out his sci-fi stuff. I've often thought about it but never actually done it.

Victoria Snelling said...

I loved Against a Dark Background and Look to Windward. Which is odd because I tend to skip description in favour of action and dialogue.

I also loved Player of Games. In fact, I can't think of one of his sci-fi I didn't like. His early mundane fiction was great, but it was very tight and the books are short. The later stuff I found more difficult to read.
So aside from learning that even 'masters' aren't perfect or uniformly brilliant, what did you take from Banks' books?

Martin Willoughby said...

Ted: How much description is sometimes down to the writer and the reader. I know people who like four pages of description in between two swings of a sword and people who don't even like the sword being swung. We're all different, I just follow my instinct.

Veg: Nothing wrong with warped. You may like to try his first SF book, Consider Phlebus, as that is quite warped.

Vic: One thing I've learnt is that at least one of your charachters must have something likeable about them, that you want them to survive. What happens to the rest is largely irrelevant. The books I've not liked are ones where I didn't care what happened to any of them.

Victoria Snelling said...

What is that makes characters likeable for you? Or what was lacking in the characters you didn't care about?

I'm not sure it's about likeability as much as it is indenfiability. Characters I can identify with engage me - that doesn't necessarily make them likeable. Also, for me, people that are likeable are not always interesting.

Martin Willoughby said...

Vic: Likeable as in 'like to know what happens to them'. They can be as rotten as you like, but if I don't give two hoots about what happens to them they're not likeable.