razornet: (butterfly)
[personal profile] razornet
I was reminded today marks a year since Iain Banks died. I didn't have the privilege of being his friend or meeting him more than once though I did used to enjoy a pint or three at conventions with his best mate, Ken Mcleod. The only time I did meet him was something special though and to my surprise it doesn't seem to be written down anywhere.

I was at the SECC in Glasgow for Worldcon (I think it was worldcon, it might have been an eastercon) It was one of those occasions where I was drinking with Ken and a bunch of other authors (this is a surprisingly easy thing to do at cons. Ask me about Harry Harrison sometime). At some point Ken pointed at a guy by the bar and said "nows your chance, Bongo's here." I did a double take and sure enough it was the man himself. I promptly embarrassed my self by scrambling up and offering to buy Iain's entire round. He gave me an odd look and asked if I was sure, I acknowledged I was sure and duly paid an eye-watering sum at the unsubsidized bar. Having achieved my goal, which was simply to buy a man I admire greatly a drink I went and sat back down expecting nothing more to come of it.

Sometime later I was tapped on the shoulder and there was Iain carrying a huge try of drinks. he said he wanted to repay the favour and if I we weren't busy could he join us? I was fucking gobsmacked, I stammered out something affirmative and he sat down with us and just started talking. He knew everyone, of course. It was an unbelievable evening. The drink flowed freely and somehow I never seemed to be buying. I couldn't think of anything to say so I just sat there drinking and goggling.

Much later, and my memory is extremely spotty at this point, I'm sitting out side passing a cig with Iain on a bench by the Clyde. He looks at me and says "You clearly want to ask me some questions. Why don't you go ahead?". I just blurted out "The Wasp Factory. WHY?".

He took a drag and handed the cig back (I think he was meant to have given up at the time and was stealing mine) and said this:

"I can't really explain why I wrote that book except that, like everything I write, it comes from within me. All the nastiness, evil and pain in the book has to be in me somewhere. I'm glad I can write about it rather than it emerging in some less productive fashion."

Then he bought me a whisky. I forget what else we talked about, but I have two further memories. One is of us standing by the railing screaming at the Clyde. I have no idea why. The other I probably shouldn't put anywhere public.

Meeting your heroes is a terrifying experience and sadly a lot of the time they see it as work. They have to listen to the rabid fan gush because, hey, that's part of the job. Iain made me think that I was talking to someone who liked me, was interested in me and definitely wasn't seeing ask a task to be dealt with. He got drunk with me, coaxed me to ask him the questions, whoever often he'd heard them before and he ask me to tell him what I *really* thought. We were there for hours. There's a few like him but it feels like no-one will ever quite measure up to the warmth, intelligence and sense of humour he exhibited. And, aye, the books weren't bad either.

Rest well Iain. You're very much missed.

Date: 2014-06-09 02:34 pm (UTC)
lnr: (Pen-y-ghent)
From: [personal profile] lnr
Really touching account, sounds like a top bloke, and yeah, the books are pretty good aye.

Date: 2014-06-09 02:51 pm (UTC)
emperor: (Phoenix)
From: [personal profile] emperor
Thanks for sharing this.

Date: 2014-06-09 04:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] radroach.livejournal.com

I recall you once told me that the Chelgrians in Look To Windward had been on the verge of becoming a "hegemonising swarm" before the Culture's interference, and that you had heard this background fact from the man himself. Whether or not either of our memories were entirely accurate on the subject, yours was presumably a memory from that night...

Date: 2014-06-10 12:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] razornet.livejournal.com
Possibly. As mentioned it's all a bit hazy. One of the things I do recall asking was if the Culture's policy of interference was partly because once upon a time it was a hegemonising swarm itself. I think he might have laughed.

It seems to me the Chelgrians had that capacity but then so did nearly every civilisation. It's pointed out more than once that the culture could have sublimed any time it wanted but decided to hang around getting into everyone's business and making sure the children of the galaxy grew up ok. Where they couldn't manage that they tended to take more subtle or extreme action appropriately ref the Affront.

You have to love his style. Civilisations painted as interfering relatives taking your toys away for your own good. Usenet flame wars between impossibly smart artificial intelligences. Sentient bushes. Things that live only to count. Villabs so dramtically evil they defy all rationality. Twists in the plot that hurt your brain but make total sense once you've had a think. Scotland. Bridges. Whisky...

Date: 2015-06-08 12:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] razornet.livejournal.com
Looking back at this some time later his last culture book "The Hydrogen Sonata" goes into the origins of the culture. Worth a read.

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