Monday, June 20, 2011

Iain M Banks @ Birmingham Library 7 June

IMB: serious raconteur. I mean, any question from the audience leads to shaggy-dog answers stretching anything up to five minutes, circular, recursive, frequently very funny indeed. Yet his stories neatly divert his interrogators from his secrets.

As Awesome Girlfriend quipped 'He delivers much, but promises little.'

So, for example, questions about Culture prequels and ideas for future novels are ducked, swamped by sheer rat-a-tat verbiage.

Some highlights:
  • IMB's first exposure to SF as a small child was - apparently - an unremembered work by Enid Blyton (Enid M Blyton?)
  • He knew his chosen career aged 11, and spent his teens writing out pun-laden thrillers up to 400,00 words in length.
  • The M stands for Menzies - his never-used original SF alias was going to be John B McAllen after his then two favourite whiskies.
  • He describes mainstream fiction as a delicate piano compared with SF's gothic church organ, where you can pull out all the surreal, exaggerated stops for a spectacle of Demillean proportion
The most resonant point he made, for me, was his reluctance to explain the origins of the Culture, to fill in the blanks of its history. SF/fantasy authors are often compulsive world-builders - or if they aren't then there's usually a subsequent, poorer writer to come along afterwards to do the job for them through unnecessary sequels, guides or role-playing source-books.

The strength of the Culture, on the other hand, is that its vague set-up as a post-scarcity benevolent oligarchy allows IMB to bring in any and every weird flourish he wants without ever having to pretend that he has fully defined it.