The announcement was beautifully written - emotive, with a strand of dark humour. Of course it was. But it was impossible to read without an almost physical reaction of sadness. Banks has written 26 novels - 14 as Iain Banks and a further 12 as Iain M Banks. But when he dies we'll be losing more than just a prolific author.
The Culture has been a chance for Banks to explore everything from culture-clash to gender, ethics to the nature of the soul and intelligence. They feature some of the most interesting characters (female, male, gender neutral and other) of any series.
The idea that our door onto this universe will close shortly is almost unbearably sad; we can only be glad he opened it in the first place.
This isn't to dismiss his other fiction. The Wasp Factory is probably one of the most famous debut novels of recent times. Although it doesn't quite live up to the Irish Times' description of "a work of unparalleled depravity" (a description that better describes their lack of imagination) it is a surprisingly dark book, mainly as it causes you to sympathise with such an evil protagonist. In fact making you warm to, or even fall in love with a monstrous character or race is one of his greatest tricks - he manages to make the hideous sexual predator, willfully sadist Affronter race of tentacled aliens almost loveable in their wanton cruelty.
This was followed by the far superior (in my opinion) Walking On Glass. A tale up of three seemingly unconnected stories, all written in radically different writing styles (one the tale of a man looking for a woman he met at a party, another exploring the delusions of a paranoid road worker and the final a tale of 2 alien war criminals trapped in a fantastical castle) that somehow weave together into a spellbinding story.
He is facing an unpleasant illness with grace and humour. The least we can do is read his output...
His non sci-fi fiction - often, but not always set in Scotland, mixes big questions (faith, family, politics) with the everyday. Philosophical revelations might occur under the influence of drugs and then acted out at the local pub or harbour. Reading them is like sitting in your favourite pub listening to the most interesting person you've ever met tell you about the time their sister accidentally joined the CIA, spiked the whole town with LSD and had a torrid love affair at the same time.
There are too many wonderful stories to mention here. Espedair Street and The Player of Games stand out. But don't sit here reading us tell you - if you haven't read anything Banks has written we can only say this - do.
He is facing an unpleasant illness with grace and humour. The least we can do is read his output while he is still alive, and talk loudly about how much enjoyment he has brought to the world.
Squeamish Louise & Gareth