By Iain M Banks
Today, Iain M Banks is a cuddly teddy bear, a gruff, cheerful presence on Britain’s literary scene, good for a quip and a quote. In 1987, though, he was Brit-lit’s enfant terrible, infamous for unleashing the grotesquery and violence of The Wasp Factory (1984) on the world.
Consider Phlebas, Banks’ first Culture novel, was just as controversial in its way. Here was a young man with a bright career in proper books ahead of him messing with SF – and not gloomy, dystopian, near-future SF either, but the widescreen baroque of space opera.
Banks wasn’t a lone traveller here – many of the so-called new space opera’s leading lights, including MacLeod, Baxter, Hamilton and McAuley, also emerged in the 1980s and 1990s – but his sweeping novel of the Idiran-Culture War remains key. Why? In triumphantly proving that spaceship yarns could be dark, hip, literate and entertaining, it threw open the doors for others.
If you like this, why not try?
Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland (1990)
Because Greenland’s space opera is the only novel to take all three Brit SF awards – enough said.
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