Friday, March 16, 2007

Ian M Banks.

Along with Caroline and my mother I went to see and hear an all time favorite author of mine at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. As one event in the Essex Book Festival, Ian M Banks was there to do a reading from his latest non-M book, be interviewed, then take questions from the audience. I was surprised to see that he seemed quite nervous to begin with, but in retrospect I shouldn’t have been, since I doubt that the feeling ever goes away. Once he’d got into his stride, however, he was entertaining, amusing and came across as a likeable chap.

One fly in the ointment was the assumption by the interviewer that since we were all there to see Mr Banks then we all had to be lefty liberals. Mr Banks claims to be a committed socialist who when given a chance always votes for the most left-wing candidate. I was stifling my cynicism since only a few minutes before he’d been telling us about the two Porsches and the Landrover Discovery he’d sold now he was going ‘green’. Mmm, right.

That aside it was still an enjoyable evening. At one point I was tempted to fire off a question at him after he said he hates and avoids research. I was going to ask if that avoidance of research extended to his book about whisky: Raw Spirit. I somewhat doubt that, since it certainly seems to be a passion with him. After he finished talking he sat at a table in the theatre lobby signing numerous books – the queue certainly looked satisfyingly long.

Deservedly so.

6 comments:

Chris said...

I once read an interview with Iain Banks where he was a staunch supporter of socialism, but not a socialist Chancellor.

I'm looking forward to seeing his workshop/panel in Derby next month for the Alt-Fiction Day.

dave hutchinson said...

You mention an interesting point. Do you think a writer's politics are necessarily important in science fiction? Should we take them into account when we read their fiction?

Neal Asher said...

I think it depends on how much they let their politics get in the way of telling a good story. In fact, in the end it depends quite simply on how good they are at their jobs. Banks is good and doesn't let it get in the way of the reader's enjoyment. China Mieville, who is also thoroughy left-wing, is another guy whose stuff I very much enjoy reading. Anyway, to be frank, a reader would be hard pressed to find much SF to read nowadays if they avoided left-wing writers.

I do know that people avoid my stuff because of my views, or that some who already read it are disappointed upon discovering my views. It also amuses me to often come across reviews and comment which lumps me in with the rest of those 'British left-wingers', so I can't be hammering too much polemic into my books.

dave hutchinson said...

Hm, that was what I thought. I always think a person's politics are their own affair unless they choose to make their views public. Maybe I wasn't reading closely enough, but I didn't really find an overt political scheme in your stuff; it seems a shame that people won't read it because they don't agree with your personal views Maybe people are disappointed because we've come to expect science fiction writers to be left-wingers or at least liberal in their outlook.

Joe said...

Having dealt with Iain for many years (being one of our local authors) I can say he certainly is left of centre, regardless of his cars :-). And he's been known to share the wealth buying a curry for impoverished booksellers too, bless him. And you're spot on about the research - the single malt book was one where he felt he had to knuckle down to some serious research:-)

The issue of a writer's politics and their novels is interesting - I think I tend to agree with you, Neal, in that unless the author gets on a soapbox and preaches it generally doesn't bother me too much. I'm as happy reading your books as reading Iain's good mate Ken MacLeod (on which note his forthcoming Execution Channel is more gripping than a Gekko lizard with superglue). His left wing politics are not hidden (especially in earlier books) but he doesn't use the book as a pulpit to preach from and any politics are used as devices i service of the plot.

Similarly I have recommended readers who enjoyed your books to try Richard Morgan (and vice versa), although I think you and he are probably of rather different political persuasions, but that doesn't affect the reading or enjoyment of the stories (and most folks I've suggested this to seemed to enjoy both of you). I put this down to the fact you are both good writers of fiction; were it non-fiction that would be a different matter I suspect, but for tales you're both too professional to damage a storytelling by soapboxing. I did have a giggle when you said some folks lump you in with the left :-)

Back to Iain though and one thing I have noticed over my years in the trade is that when he does a mainstream fiction book (if mainstream is an applicable word to the man who brought us the Wasp Factory, but you know what I mean) it sells very well. He does one of his SF book with the Iain M Banks name and it sells very well. Yet the amount of times I have had an eager reader ask for his new book, discover it is an SF one, put it down and remarked oh, I don't read that stuff... Conversely I've noticed an awful lot of the SF readers (not all, but a lot) will want to read his new book regardless of genre, simply because they like him as a writer whatever he is doing. I've often wondered why the readers of his 'literary fiction' seem less inclined to this approach.

Neal Asher said...

Joe, regarding your last point, I think it comes down very much to learning the language. Readers who have confined themselves to literary/contemporary fiction know only one language. Readers of SFF know two. Also, it's about exercising the imagination. Working on the basis of 'use it or lose it' readers of SFF have large muscular imaginations, those who confine themselves to the 'real' are weeds. At one extreme you'll have those who read any and all SFF no matter how badly written it is, because the main action is taking place in the their imagination. At the other extreme there are those who cannot read fiction at all, confining themselves to newspapers and magazines, with maybe the odd VCR manual thrown in.