If you follow the science fiction world, you already know that Scottish author Iain [M] Banks died Sunday morning at 59, just a couple of months after announcing that he was "officially very poorly" with gall bladder cancer that had taken over his abdomen.
The NY Times hasn't run an obituary yet, which has me scratching my head; Banks not only wasn't an obscure writer, he had a long and successful string of mainstream novels behind him. I was interested to read elsewhere, in fact, that sales of the mainstream novels subsidized the s.f. novels. I had assumed the other way, but no.
Banks was a great stylist and had an immense imagination. The first book of his that I read, Consider Phlebas, was also the first book of his long-running series of novels about a culture called, well, the Culture. This was some 20 years ago, and I became a fan, picking up the Culture novels, and some of the others, as they came out in paperback.
The Culture novels are really quite fabulous, a set of intertwined books about a far-future utopian society. If your world or race joins the Culture, you can have a perfect life, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of conflict with non-Culture civilizations, and even conflict within the Culture. I cannot recommend them highly enough - and read them in order, for crying out loud.
I've been waiting on the paperback of The Hydrogen Sonata, his last Culture novel, which was published last fall, and now I feel like I should hold off reading for a few years, or decades, because there won't be any more Culture novels. (I have not yet read Blue at the Mizzen, for example.) There's other Banks s.f. I haven't read (and I was surprised to remember that The Algebraist, a terrific book, isn't a Culture novel, but it feels like one) and almost all of those mainstream novels, so I won't be lacking in Banks. But damn. Too soon, too young.