As I went through my morning news feed on Monday, I was hit with a double whammy of bad news.
The first was that Scottish writer Iain Banks announced through his publisher that he recently discovered that he is dying of cancer, and likely will not make it to the end of the year. Banks’ most recent novel, The Quarry, has been delivered to his publisher, but Banks himself notes that it will probably be his last.
Iain Banks is my favorite novelist, and his novel Use of Weapons is my favorite novel. Banks has this weird thing where he ping-pongs between writing mainstream (albeit dark and twisted) fiction and science fiction. He writes his mainstream stuff as Iain Banks. He writes his sci-fi as Iain M. Banks. His science fiction work often involved the Culture, a galactic utopian civilization that has a reverse notion of Star Trek’s Prime Directive: they feel obligated to reach out to less developed civilizations and bring them up to the Culture’s standards — a process that does not always yield the intended results.
How Banks approaches fiction had a huge impact on me as I was writing my first published novel, and even now, as I am looking forward to the publication of Pax Britannia — the third and final volume of my Dark Britannia fantasy series (Pax Morgana and Pax Arcadia are already out), there are echoes of Banks in how I write. They are not direct, but they are surely there.
The second bit of bad news on Monday was that famed movie critic Roger Ebert announced that he has cancer once more, would undergo radiation treatment, and was taking a “leave of presence” while he contends with that. What that means is that Ebert’s health will make it impossible for him to review as many movies as he once did, so he’ll have to redefine his relationship with his work. There would be challenges as well as opportunities to be met there.
Or so I thought. Just moments ago, I learned that Roger Ebert died. (His obituary will run on this site some time later.)
The news for both writers, who have large fan bases, was a social media phenomenon. Banks is much better known in the United Kingdom than he is in the United States, but even here, social media channels and science fiction sites in particular were abuzz with what they called Banks’ “sad, brave” announcement. The news regarding Ebert was immediately retweeted, shared, and e-mailed with such intensity that his blog at the Chicago Sun-Times staggered under the traffic load. Thankfully, there was a really good obituary of Ebert over at the Tribune, the great rival to the Sun-Times and where Ebert’s long-time colleague Gene Siskel wrote reviews.