Iain M Banks’ Heroes And Inspirations

“I was always hungry for science fiction,” begins Iain Banks when SFX catches up with him for one of our patented Heroes & Inspirations sessions. “Whether it was in books or on the telly or playing at the cinema, I wanted to discover as much as possible…”

Hardly unexpected, of course, given the great man’s credentials in the genre – which, under his Iain M Banks moniker, includes eight novels in his highly-acclaimed Culture mythology (a ninth, The Hydrogen Sonata, follows this October). And the ever-enthusiastic Scotsman is keen to share a lifetime of discoveries that helped shape one of Britain’s leading writers…

To celebrate the launch of his new book The Hydrogen Sonata Iain M Banks is appearing at Bath’s Topping & Company Booksellers in October. Learn more here…

Brian Aldiss

“I want to prefigure this by saying that there are not any writers I am obsessed with – I just enjoy a lot of sci-fi and got into most of it at a young age. Of the so-called ‘older guard’, Brian Aldiss is my favourite. I was okay with people like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov but, in general, I was never a great fan of early sci-fi. Aldiss was definitely the big exception to that. He was the first writer I felt a connection with – what you might call a great nuance of the Force [laughs]. I also think that his stuff still feels relevant. Although he was a classic sci-fi writer, he could also hold his own to the new wave sci-fi writers that were coming along in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Jane Austen

“I guess I should round up some of the usual suspects – you know, the ‘greats’ that everyone speaks about. I’ll start with Jane Austen because I just really enjoy her stuff. Of course, I don’t think there is much of her work that is identifiable in mine. In fact, I doubt there is a critic out there reading one of my books who will say, ‘Oh I think I can see a little Jane Austen in there.’ [laughs] But that’s the thing, you can admire someone, and take inspiration from them, without them actually having a big influence on your work. Although maybe as the writer I am the last person who should say that…”

Leonard Cohen

“I am, of course, talking about the same Leonard Cohen who makes music but not a lot of people know that he used to write novels as well. He did two: Beautiful Losers and The Favorite Game. And guess what? They are actually pretty good… certainly an awful lot better than Tarantula by Bob Dylan! Now that was a so-called ‘experimental novel’ although to me it was just white noise. There was no plot, no filters… Leonard Cohen, however, did some impressive work.”

The Marx Brothers

“A lot of my influences are not literary and one such example is the Marx Brothers. I think it’s their sheer anarchy that I love. I always thought Groucho was great, just for his verbal gymnastics, but then you had Harpo, who said very little but was every bit as funny. The films that they made were often just sheer unleashed anarchy! Watching them as a kid had a massive influence on me. I remember enjoying The Goodies many years later and it was quite obvious that they took quite a lot from the Marx Brothers.”

Monty Python

Moving on from the Marx Brothers you come to Monty Python, which sort of reinvented comedy for a new generation. I remember sitting around when I was first trying to become a writer, and just attempting to figure out what it was I wanted to do, and during that time I watched a lot of Python. It is all just so brilliant. It was a big non-literary influence for me, although, again, I’m not sure how many people will see any of that in my work.”

More Heroes & Inspirations on the next page…