Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Iain Banks is dying

Today brings the truly sad news that international treasure Iain Banks has terminal cancer and has written his last book (The Quarry, to be released this year).

I have been recommending Banks' novels to everyone I meet ever since discovering him about four years ago. (When Borders went under, I went to every store clearance event specifically with the goal of scooping up his books.) The Culture novels (I hesitate to call them a series, since the only persistent character is the civilization itself) have excavated a huge new region for what sci-fi can accomplish. Instead of the futuristic-feudal imaginings of Asimov or Herbert, we have a vision of humanity embracing its independence from want and explicitly devoted to the flourishing of all persons (whether biological or synthetic).

He will be sorely missed.

Recommendations: For a standalone story, The Algebraist is a great read (fair warning: its actual algebra content is minimal). To be introduced to the Culture universe, start with Consider Phlebas, or possibly The Hydrogen Sonata; then move on to The Player of Games. Do not miss Surface Detail (or as I like to call it, The Girl With The Fractal Tattoo), which tackles the idea of hell (and in the process, the morality of waging war to end human personal rights abuses.

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