Iain Banks on Open Book

Pointed out to me yesterday: last Sunday’s Open Book features an entertaining interview with Iain Banks about his new novel, Transition. As you’d expect, the sf/non-sf divide comes up, but this time it comes up because Transition is being marketed as a non-M novel, yet features parallel worlds and similar excitements. (And, in fact, in the US, it is an M-Banks novel.) Full marks to Muriel Gray for this exchange:

GREY: You’re one of Britain’s most popular and best-loved and best-selling writers, and yet something that really really annoys me personally is that you’ve never been nominated for one of the big literary prizes yet. Why do you think that is?

BANKS: I think possibly it’s because I’ve always got a foot in both camps as it were. Put it this way, I think if I’d kept my nose clean, if I hadn’t written science fiction, if I’d got away with The Wasp Factory as piece of a youthful indiscretion and if I’d written respectable novels since then, then maybe you know I’d have had a chance, a crack at the Booker prize by now!

GREY: You see, I have to interrupt you there. “Respectable novels”, referring to science fiction as not respectable, that’s Margaret Atwood territory –

BANKS: — well, quite, yeah

GREY: — the woman who refuses to admit she writes science fiction, she calls it “speculative fiction” so she continues to win prizes. This enrages me! Science fiction is perfectly respectable.

Alas, nobody has seen fit to send me a proof copy this time, so it may be a while before I get to it. Sounds promising, though.

7 Responses to “Iain Banks on Open Book”

  1. Rich Says:

    I’ve sometimes wondered why “speculation” is more “respectable” than “science”, when the latter is about the world as it actually is and the latter is, well, making thing up. Surely “science fiction” should be more akin to mimetic/realistic fiction and “speculative fiction” should be the disreputable, fantasy-tinged stuff

  2. Niall Says:

    You’d think, wouldn’t you? But I suppose it’s purely historical.

  3. David Moles Says:

    I dunno, dude, at this point I’m ready to give -5 points to anyone who even mentions Atwood and SF in the same sentence. (Including Ursula Le Guin.) (And including me just now.)

  4. Niall Says:

    Well, as I commented in the other thread, I think that is now just laziness: but what I like about it is that it’s the interviewer challenging the sf author about being defensive about what they write.

  5. Martin Says:

    I don’t think Banks is being defensive, “respectable novels” is clearly imbued with a level of irony.

  6. Niall Says:

    I think that’s probably true, but that’s easier to say now than in the middle of an interview, so I still find the fact that she quickly called him on it to clarify pleasantly surprising.

  7. Martin Says:

    Again, that wouldn’t be my assessment. I don’t see that it is any harder in the conversation than after the fact to pick up the obvious nature of what Banks is saying and I don’t think she called him on anything. She clearly had the Atwood talking point which she wanted to insert and this struck her as an opportunity to do so. This is why it is minus five points: Atwood has nothing to do with the fact Banks hasn’t been shortlisted for the Booker and whipping out this stale talking point out just closes the conversation down.

    As for Banks’s own comment about ignoring The Wasp Factory and sticking to non-M and having a shot at the Booker, well, that is either disengenuous or self-deluding or a bit of both. TWF is, in fact, his most respectable novel – it is taught in schools – and it is only his first three novels (TWF, Walking on Glass and The Bridge) that belong anywhere near the Booker shortlist. Is he really claim that is not for consider Phlebas people would be singing the praises of Dead Air. He hasn’t written a major non-M novel in twenty years.


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