In which the working title turns out not to be the real title.

There is new Iain [M.] Banks, though it's not clear if the "M" stands for "science fiction" any more. We will buy a copy, in hardcover no less, and Mr P will read it and then maybe I will. Maybe. I say this as a person who thinks Use of Weapons is just insanely good and on my list of Best SF Novels Evar. But I grow weary of "rocks fall everyone dies" endings and the protagonists being utterly unable to achieve their goals. It's so modern, this insistence on the grim, though I suppose really Consider Phlebas ought to have been enough of a clue for me on several levels.

Anyway. I'm off to fight to the death with my own story. I have 5.5 hours left of "Sunday" in which to finish and send it to the person who commissioned it, who has been more than patient. It has been mercifully cool today, so I've been able to get some thinking done.

The music for today's writing has been Where Edges Meet by James Murray. Feel free to stream it from its publisher or from last.fm while you read the story. When I manage to post it. (And I note that the track title "Outside Context Solution" is likely a Banks reference. Heh.)

Icon is relevant.
  • Current Music: Color Has Its Own Language : James Murray : Where Edges Meet
>>>the protagonists being utterly unable to achieve their goals. It's so modern, this insistence on the grim,<<<

There in a nutshell: my issue with much of modern fiction.

Because a story that's all "the horrible futility of life, let me show you it, in excruciating and painful detail" -- doesn't do it for me. (Unless you can write about it so beautifully that it makes angels weep.)

I already know life sucks, in many many instances. Wallowing in, or festishizing, that -- not interesting. I'm much more interested in what people do to turn the drossier pieces of life into gold.

(Apparently this same aesthetic is rife in the visual arts as well -- a friend who did an MFA recently talked of how frustrating it was to deal with the Cult of Ugly.)
I just want some sense of progress, some feeling that there is a point to life and to the struggle. I want my fiction optimistic somewhere.

I realize I'm likely approaching the level of crankiness that prompted John Gardner to write On Moral Fiction, which I think I agree with even though the title possibly misleads. He says, more or less, amongst reams of unrelated grousing, that fiction tells us how its writer thinks life ought to be lived. This is the way the world is; this is how people ought to behave in it; this is how you ought to feel about that. Gardner says that moral fiction is fiction that makes people less likely to commit suicide after reading it, not more.

I think I'm with him, poor dead cranky sod.

This is why, in the end, the Harry Potter books horrified me. Despite much earlier love.
I say this as a person who thinks Use of Weapons is just insanely good and on my list of Best SF Novels Evar.

I loves it when fandoms collide. UoW is one of my fave ever novs too. Remember the first time you read it? Remember that sudden chill? I adore it when prose invokes a completely physical reaction.

I've read everything he ever wrote, with or without the M. I struggled with 'The Algebraist' actually, for pretty much the First Time Ever with a Banks novel. But that won't stop me getting the newie. We should compare notes after.
The second time I read UoW, I was suspiciously reading to see if he'd properly set up that reveal, because I was so blind-sided by it. Then of course I saw, as I read, that I'd missed hugely obvious blinking signs telling me what was really going on. Great novel. Sprawling in some ways, lots and lots of invention of the sort I love in my SF (my first SFnal love was Jack Vance) and yet it never loses sight of what it's about. Weapons. Their use. So many meanings for that title.

Somebody recommended The Wasp Factory to me as my first Banks, but it sat on my shelves for years before I got around to it. I had to read Player of Games first before I snapped to and went through all of his work.

I think most of Banks is in print in the US now, so I no longer have to order his straight fiction from amazon.co.uk when I want to read it. The Steep Approach to Garbadale is sitting on Mr P's desk at the moment. I didn't finish The Algebraist for some stupid reason involving getting distracted, though I read enough that I think I see where it's going. (Very cool thing.) I will probably read it through while waiting for my crack at the new one.
The second time I read UoW, I was suspiciously reading to see if he'd properly set up that reveal, because I was so blind-sided by it.

Yup, that's what I did too. With pretty much the same result you describe.

I've never read any Vance. Could you recommend a good starter novel?

The Wasp Factory is a great story, but I'd imagine you'd have to be pretty okay with Weirdness-In-General to groove on it. I've recced Use of Weapons over and over because it's just so good and clever and absorbing, but if I rec one of his 'gen' novels I tend to go with The Bridge or The Business, depending on my assessment of the person I'm reccing to (and their capacity for Weirdness).

I think The Bridge is my favourite 'M' free Banks. I like the ambiguity and the displacement.

But I know others who swear by the more 'real world' novels he's done, like The Crow Road and Dead Air. I think both those books are terrific, btw. But I'd probably re-read the more other-worldly stuff first.

I enjoyed Garbadale. You don't mention whether you've read it or not, so I won't comment further, beyond saying that I found it very similar to an earlier Banks novel.

Looks like the newie is gen rather than SF:


The UK release is sans 'M' and it's listed with the non-SF releases.
Jack Vance: the novella "The Moon Moth", which is much anthologized. That'll give you the flavor.

Haven't read Garbadale yet; waiting for the husband to release it to my hands. He gets first crack at some things, I get first crack at others.

The branding issues about "with M or without M" are the interesting thing about this new Banks novel, btw. It's getting the M in the US, but his UK publisher has decided to position it with his non-genre fiction, even though it has genre elements. Dunno what this means, if anything, other than that UK readers are different from US readers, and perhaps his non-genre selling power is stronger.
Thanks for the rec. I'll let you know how I get on.

From the abstract of Transition I'm guessing it falls more into the non-SF pile, but it's hard to say with Banks. He just tells good stories -- it seems to be the marketing people who want to pigeonhole everything into different 'genres'.

(I'm told by a professional in the publishing industry that the reason I'm having a hard time interesting a lit agent in my original thriller is because it's too 'cross-genre'. They can't put things in the boxes they like? They panic. When did we lose the big 'here be good stories' box?)

Actually that abstract reminds me a little of themes in The Business. Which is good, 'cause it's one of my faves.