Iain M. Banks: An Appreciation

In the late eighties, I was twenty years old, backpacking in Asia with no particular destination or plan for my life. On a stop in Bangkok, a peculiar book on a shelf of a run-down bookstore caught my attention. The beautiful, dreamy cover with a glittering spaceship hanging over a turquoise sky looked simply amazing. It was called Consider Phlebas. Such a weird name, I thought. What on Earth did it mean? I found it intriguing and curiously appealing. With a few worn bills I bought the book at once, and like for so many others, this was the start of a lifelong love affair with the Culture and the hyper-immersive, wildly imaginative worlds of Iain M. Banks.

The visionary qualities of Consider Phlebas made me want to become a storyteller myself. Rather than text, my chosen tools of expression were brushes and acrylics, so when I finally returned home from Asia, I channeled all my energy and ambitions towards painting and illustration. Soon enough, I entered art school, which forever altered the direction of my life, although when I discovered video games a few years later, that journey became very different from what I had first expected.

In my book, The Dream Architects: Adventures in the Video Game Industry, I look back on adventures from my twenty years inside the game industry. From two-man basement projects to 100-million-dollar failures. From meetings with celebrities in Hollywood to eating ants during survival training in a wet and gloomy Swedish forest. From working with mad geniuses with no business sense to mastering the political machinations and power games inside large and cynical corporations.

Twice in my life, I reached out to Iain Banks, and to my astonishment and perpetual pride, he replied on both occasions with a personal, type-written and signed letter. In one of the chapters of The Dream Architects, I briefly refer to one of these memories. At the time, my future was looking pretty bleak, and I had reached out to Banks in a desperate attempt to convince him to write for a sci-fi-themed game which I (naively) hoped would inexplicably get funded by the European Space Agency. “No thanks” Banks replied after a few weeks. The letter felt like an extraordinarily polite rejection, but nevertheless I was thrilled! I thought: What if the letter had been written on the same typewriter as the Culture novels?! Although the message was just a considerate version of “farewell”, I took it differently. The presence of Banks warmth and wit in an actual tactile object that had somehow ended up in my hands turned the moment into a symbol of comforting hope, and as a result, the letter spurred me on. Maybe the world was enchanted after all?

Regarding the other letter, I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly that it too was a renunciation. During a copper-etching class in art-school I had chosen to work on illustrations for The Bridge. I was proud of the result and optimistically sent some original prints to Iain Banks in Scotland, but after a few months he very politely declined my proposal for a collaboration. (But he kept the prints!)

Here, I am happy to share the letter referred to in The Dream Architects. I hope you will appreciate it as much as I do. And at the risk of making an utter fool of myself, I also include a few of the illustrations I made of The Bridge.

Like all of you, I miss Iain Banks, and often, I dream about the books he could have written if he was still around. In recent years, I have been re-reading some of the Culture novels, and I am astonished at how mind-bogglingly great and timeless they are.

He was one a hell of an author.