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I never met Iain Banks in person, but from what I have seen and heard, he was, as Neil Gaiman put it, ‘ a good bloke’. What I personally was, that was deeply and profoundly inspired by his works, which were thought-provoking, imagination-provoking, sometimes a bit gross, intensely funny and witty, and, above all, just really great reads. And, this I think is highly important, great reads in both ‘regular fiction’ as well as in ‘science fiction’. Iain Banks was quite ‘literally possessed’ with a skill of description and word-smithing, an imagination, and an insight into the human mind, that any great author needs. Many (even well-selling) sci-fi authors, I find, have a great imagination but little else.  On the other hand, Banks was, first and foremost, a really good author of fiction. Bringing these skills to the genre of ‘science fiction’ made him extraordinary in my view.

I came across his novel ‘The Algebraist’ by accident. I never judge a book by its cover but, truth be told, it was the cover of the book that alerted me to it. I hadn’t read fiction for fun for years, let alone ‘science fiction’. And searching for a non-fiction book in English at a German book-store, something about the cover of ‘The Algebraist’ just made me take a look. I must have come back and held that book in my hands at least a dozen times before deciding that maybe in my busy and hectic schedule, spending time on a ‘fun read’ might be worth it. Notably, for the past 15 years I found myself engaged in about 150 pages of non-fun aka professional reading average per day, plus a lot of writing to be done. So, dedicating time to something ‘for fun’ that involved letters was not a decision I would have taken lightly. 

Now, a few years later, I have even quoted Iain Banks in my academic work – boy there is much to learn from him and to be astounded by with him and to laugh about thanks to him, actually, and I nowadays read a bit of fiction for fun every night before I go to bed, including the occasional science-fiction novel. Banks brought the joy of reading for fun (that is reading without a pen or a text-marker in my hand) back into my life.

I am saddened about his death, about the novels he would have written that we now never get to read, the ‘good bloke’ that I never got to meet (and probably wouldn’t have, anyway, but still). The fact about someone’s death, whether someone close or someone anonymously admired, is something that is always personal. In other words, it is always about us ourselves, not the person that died, since death is, after all, a problem of the living. From classic philosophy to Simmel to Star Trek, that is a common-place, and, hence, when talking about the deceased, too many sentences, such as in this piece here, seem to have a first person subject. But what that means, as a problem of temporality and(!) personality, to learn to die and to understand that one’s death is,  at the same time, a problem of the living, this is something I learned when my father died when I was 15 (a long time ago), but that I understood only after reading Banks’s ‘Looking to Windward’. The last line, I think, is what I take to be the ultimate wisdom and finale of Banks’s Culture novels, and, I am sure, he would say about this day today, represents the perfect, wonderful, and most beautiful irony: ‘Life never ceases to surprise.’

 

 

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