"Oh yes, you're a Banks groupie," said my former tutor when we bumped into each other last night - the first time I've seen him since I graduated in spaceships. We, and a few other people, were at Imperial College to hear Farah Mendlesohn interview Iain Banks.
There was a lot of rambling and hand-waving and mugging at the audience, and lots of laughs as well. Farah had re-read his complete works and came at him with some very clever questions. Why, for example, is there so much masturbation in his black-and-white covered "mainstream" books? Simple, he said. He was just trying to do stuff other writers didn't.
Farah suggested that there was a lot of bodily detail in his books: we know what different characters are like in bed, what torture feels like, even how Frank in The Wasp Factory gets splashback when sat on the toilet. Banks argued that this stuff is part of everyone's lives, but is politely excised from most writing. He talked about the importance of "truth" in writing, but I think this vivid lubricity of detail matters in his work because it pulls us in close to the characters. It's part of what makes his writing so intimate, like he's writing this just for you.
This maybe also squares with Farah's observation that he's more reticent about the sex in his sci-fi; the people in space are more unknowable other than the everymen of his mainstream. Maybe.
It was also of great excitement to hear that he's not yet finished with the Culture - his joyous, utopian mish-mash who return in the forthcoming Matter. A colleague who's normally much above this sort of thing actually, genuinely squeeed when I told him this; he'd believed Look to Windward was a final word on the subject, and that The Algebraist was the first of a new series. Banks explained he'd maybe return to that universe if he could come up with a good enough plot, but that the Culture is where his heart is. Writing other stuff is more about professional pride - that he can write something else - rather than being Cultured out. Hooray!
Afterwards, Banks was happy to sign people's long clutch of books and to acknowledge my own merry genius. I plan to write up a sequel to that paper which will examine the three Culture books published since I wrote it, as well as what clues might be garnered from Walking on Glass and The Bridge, in which the Culture perhaps sort of maybe make cameos.