The thematic genius of Iain M Banks

This episode of the Science Fiction podcast is re-published from an original video essay first published in September 2018.

I spent years searching, after I first read the Culture novels of Iain M Banks, for other space opera novels that equalled them. And this is what I discovered. Nothing else in the space opera genre even comes close to the Culture. Nothing. Zip. Nada. As Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap. But as a young reader I wondered why, with all these books marketed as space opera, did none read like the Culture? The answer is – theme.

Science fiction tends to obsess over concepts, but almost entirely ignore themes. Scifi is full of big ideas about the nature of reality or the physics of space travel. But scifi that deals with the basic themes of human life is a rare, rare thing. Banks was a genius at weaving high concept scifi stories together with great thematic depth.

In this episode of the Science Fiction podcast I look at the opening chapter of what is, arguably, Banks’ most thematically complex novel – Excession.

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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