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Banks in seriousness and jest

Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 10:53 pm
by Windwalker
You can never tell with Banks! I think he is famous and relaxed enough to do a lot of "in your face" writing. He also cheats a fair bit in his SF writing. But those who like his work (and I'm among them) are apt to cut him a considerable amount of slack, until/unless he gets too lazy.

Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:00 pm
by rocketscientist
LOL! Well I wouldn't call it lazy. It takes hard work to come up with a seventeen line sentence that is still funny.

Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:10 pm
by Windwalker
The lazy part was a reference to his cheating in terms of explaining concepts in his SF novels. Still, his Culture is a very interesting creation. I read the first three in the series (Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games and Use of Weapons). I liked the fact that it is a benign culture of abundance, where people have retained both personal autonomy and citizen rights. A welcome antidote to cyberpunk, where they are usually shown to have neither!

Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:26 pm
by rocketscientist
No, he's too busy with place names alone to give much time to the logic of scifi. :D

Ok, I can't help it - I have to share this. It was met with popular derision on my Lj site, with grumblings of "run-on sentence" "good writing practices" (interestingly, not from the people you would think). Personally I think he's taking notes from Douglas Adams. Check it out:

The Archimandrite Luseferous, warrior priest of the Starveling Cult of Leseum9 IV and effective ruler of one hundred and seventeen stellar systems, forty-plus inhabited planets, numerous artificial immobile habitats and many hundreds of thousands of civilian capital ships, who was Executive High Admiral of the Shroud Wing Squadron of the Four-Hundred-and-Sixty-Eighth Ambient Fleet (Det.) and who had once been Triumvirate Rotational human/non-human Representative for Cluster Epiphany Five at the Supreme Galactic Assembly, in the days before the latest ongoing Chaos and the last, fading rumbles of the Disconnect Cascade, had some years ago caused the head of his once greatest enemy, the rebel chief Stinausin, to be struck from his shoulders, attached without delay to a long-term life-support mechanism and then hung upside down from the ceiling of his hugely impressive study in the outer wall of Sheer Citadel - with its view over Junch City and Faraby Bay towards the hazy vertical slot that was Force gap - so that the Archimandrite could, when the mood took him, which was fairly frequently, use his old adversary's head as a punch ball."

So... comments anyone? :p (It actually made me very happy)

Posted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:34 pm
by Windwalker
Since he got this sentence past his editor, he has a right to flaunt it! I find it amusing, and you can follow it just fine, it's rather linear (in any case, the only parts that matter are the characters' names and the way the Archimandrite treated his adversary). I agree that it's Douglas-Adamesque.

I suspect I'd like Banks personally: he was an avid supporter of Scottish independence, has written a non-fiction survey of Scotland distilleries, and his head is otherwise screwed on right, as proved by the following sentence in The Use of Weapons:

"In all the human societies we have ever reviewed, in every age and in every state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this fact; there is never a scarcity of idiots."

Posted: Sun Mar 04, 2007 10:38 am
by rocketscientist
Oh, I like that one! I've heard good things about that book. I'll have to check it out.

The two aspects of Iain Banks

Posted: Sun Mar 04, 2007 11:53 am
by Windwalker
Oddly enough, I discovered Banks in his other guise, when I read his first book (The Wasp Factory, a gothic mystery). Then I found out he also wrote SF, and investigated. In SF he's written seven Culture works (six novels, one story collection) plus three non-Culture, The Algebraist among them.

His literary fiction is more restrained (for one thing, the books are less sprawling), although he's still quirky and, like his other British contemporaries (McLeod, Harrison), he has an tendency to fixate on bizarre killers and such-like unlikables.

The Culture stories, with their depictions of exuberant anarchy, limitless opportunities, pragmatic benevolence and sophisticated Artificial Minds, serve as a huge canvas on which to pose large questions. He is very inventive and can also be very funny. At the same time, he is too much in love with cleverness (especially unexpected plot twists) and, with a single exception, I can't recall any of his characters attaining distinct individuality.

Another fantasy universe

Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2007 8:55 pm
by Windwalker
Another book poised between fantasy and historic fiction is Alma Alexander's saga The Secrets of Jin-Shei . It takes place in an alternate medieval China. All the main characters are women joined by friendship vows and by a script that only women can read. I found it vivid, imaginative and engaging, although I felt that the fantasy elements detracted from the story.

The central idea comes from the vanishing nu-shu (women's writing) script of Hunan. This is an interesting parallel to the use of Japanese kana by women, since in both cultures women were barred from formal education (which included knowledge of the prestigious hanji/kanji script).

Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2007 9:08 pm
by rocketscientist
Your comments on Banks are very perceptive and I tend to agree, although I haven't read his non-genre work. I plan to though.

The AU China story sounds intriguing. I'll have to look that one up.

At the moment I'm reading Gaiman's and Pratchett's Good Omenswhich is pretty humorous, if a little too smug, and Banks' Excession, which I could say the same thing about.

Douglas Adams was a much funnier writer, but he never really had a plot...

Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 9:12 pm
by sanscardinality
rocketscientist wrote:Douglas Adams was a much funnier writer, but he never really had a plot...
That may have been his point to some degree. I think his most poignant/humorous commentary on plot was the immortal character who, out of boredom, decided to insult every being in the universe in alphabetical order. I have always seen his characters as loose anthropomorphisms of his views on the fundamental nature of reality, which if true, suggests a pretty sophisticated and difficult to communicate appreciation for the implications of modern cosmology. The guy was bloody brilliant as a philosopher in many ways, and also had impeccable comedic timing.

As Bob Dobbs would say - the boy had slack.


Posted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 9:36 pm
by rocketscientist
I think his most poignant/humorous commentary on plot was the immortal character who, out of boredom, decided to insult every being in the universe in alphabetical order.
Gotta love the man!

Banks btw just delivered an asounding whammie via a brief sideline in part five of chapter four - almost left me in tears. Damn!

Posted: Tue May 08, 2007 11:14 pm
by Windwalker
Another author who hovers between fantasy and historical fiction is Guy Gavriel Kay. His stories unfold in places that could be Renaissance Italy, troubadour-era Provence, El Cid's Spain, Justinian's Byzantium, or England of the Vikings and Alfred the Great,

Kay writes fluidly, his characters are complex (although demarcations between heroes and villains tend to be sharp and immovable) and his plots interesting. However, to me his cultures seem less imaginative than Jacqueline Carey's or George Martin's. In most of his stories, like Helen Kushner's, there is no magic, just the alternative history/culture(s). Still, they are literate page-turners.

Posted: Fri May 11, 2007 9:24 pm
by Windwalker
I just finished Voices, the second of LeGuin's stories set in the Western Shore universe. Like the first one, Gifts, it has minimal magic and yet is marvelous in its people and settings. The two main characters of Gifts reappear, now adults in their full power. I recommend both novels highly.

Posted: Sat Jun 16, 2007 8:22 pm
by Windwalker
The usual representation of Lucifer in 20th century fantasy and SF tends to the Prometheus archetype. However, in two books he appears in unusual guises: one is Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner; the other is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Both novels were written about the same time (late twenties, early thirties) and both are unique masterpieces, though totally different from each other.

The first is a sharply observed, vivid, subtle yet sensual rendering of a quiet loner who late in life comes into her own. The second is a multi-layered saga influenced by Goethe's Faust that can be read as satire, myth, allegory, Bildungroman. The Devil is a central character in both stories. I won't say more, except to urge you to read them.

Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2007 12:15 am
by caliban
Windwalker wrote: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov a multi-layered saga influenced by Goethe's Faust that can be read as satire, myth, allegory, Bildungroman. The Devil is a central character .
I certainly second Bulgakov. Recently it was made into a hugely successful miniseries on Russian TV; I wish I knew how to get my hands on it.

A measure of the depth of Bulgakov is that it equally offends orthodox Christians and orthodox Marxists. What's not to love about that? I know readers who consider it deeply anti-religious; and yet it can also be read exactly the opposite. In short, like most great works of genius, you see your own face in the pages.

Satan arrives in 1920s Moscow, accompanied by a snarky demon with a chickenbone in his breast pocket, a naked witch, and a large cat who smokes cigars and carries a pistol. While he mocks those with love and compassion in their hearts, it is, as I said, the arrogant and the cruel who receive punishment. Intertwined with this is an alternate Christ-narrative: Jesus is not a divine savior but a man so bursting with love for everyone he appears either dim-witted or dangerous; he has an unwanted disciple, Levi, who misquotes and misrepresents Jesus' sayings.

Bulgakov attacks the hypocrises in orthodox Marxism and orthodox Christianity, systems claiming compassion but corrupted into hubris and self-righteousness. While the novel is a rollicking satire, at heart it calls upon the reader to choose the dangerous path of compassion, which can (and does) lead to death; Bulgakov suggests the soul-death of pomposity and negligence is far worse.

Read it.