Banks, literary master of dark humor, dies

AFP-JIJI

Scottish author Iain Banks, best known for his novels “The Wasp Factory” and “The Crow Road,” has died at age 59, two months after revealing that he had terminal cancer, his publisher said.

Banks died less than a fortnight before the scheduled publication of his final book, “The Quarry,” which focuses on the final weeks in the life of its cancer-ridden protagonist.

He was one of Britain’s most prolific writers and unusual in his talent for both mainstream novels and science fiction, which he wrote under the name Iain M. Banks.

“On behalf of Iain’s wife, Adele, it is with enormous sadness that Little, Brown announces the death of Iain Banks,” said a statement released by his publisher on Sunday.

“Iain Banks’ ability to combine the most fertile of imaginations with his own highly distinctive brand of gothic humor made him unique,” it added. “He is an irreplaceable part of the literary world.”

Banks was presented with a finished copy of “The Quarry” three weeks ago, the publisher revealed.

Born in Fife in Scotland in 1954, where he continued to live up until his death, Banks was regarded as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.

He rose to prominence in 1984 with his first novel, “The Wasp Factory,” the disturbing tale of a Scottish teenager who murdered three children in his family before he was 10.

He was known for his frenetic writing pace, often completing a novel in less than three months, and leaves behind a collection of more than two dozen novels.

These include the “Culture” series, tales from a futuristic utopia of which he was particularly proud.

In his last blog posting on April 20, the English literature graduate rejected suggestions that his science fiction works were a sideline intended to keep his other, more literary ambitions afloat.

“The SF novels have always mattered deeply to me — the Culture series in particular — and while it might not be what people want to hear (academics especially), the mainstream subsidized the SF, not the other way round,” he wrote.

Publishers had worked to bring publication of his new book forward following his announcement on his website in April that he had only months to live.

“I am officially Very Poorly,” Banks announced with trademark black humor, explaining that the cancer had started in his gall bladder and spread to his liver, pancreas and lymph nodes.

With news that his time was nearly up, the previously divorced Banks asked his girlfriend, Adele Hartley, if she would “do me the honor of becoming my widow.”

Hartley, who runs a horror film festival, shares his dark humor, signing one blog post “Chief Widow-in-Waiting.”

They had a honeymoon in Venice and Paris, but Banks was admitted to a hospital in Edinburgh immediately on their return to Scotland.

Banks was also known for his political views. He famously ripped up his passport and sent it to Tony Blair, prime minister at the time, in an act of protest against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Before he died, Banks thanked his fans and supporters for all their kind words following his diagnosis, saying he was “knocked out by the love and depth of feeling.”

“I want to say thank you to all of you for your messages, your memories, your wit, your sympathy and your kind, supportive thoughts,” he wrote during a holiday on the Scottish island of Barra.

Fellow author Ian Rankin said Banks had been “fascinating, curious and full of life.”

“He didn’t take things too seriously, and in a way I’m happy that he refused to take death too seriously — he could still joke about it,” he told the BBC. “What made him a great writer was that he was childlike; he had a curiosity about the world.”

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond paid tribute to an “incredibly talented writer” whose work “brought pleasure to readers for over 30 years.”

“I have been in correspondence with him in the last few weeks and can testify to the extraordinary vitality with which he continued to approach life,” he said.