Reading: Iain M. Banks — Feersum Endjinn

Ah! This is brilliant! What a colossal imagination! This is the book I measure all other science-fiction by, which I haven’t read for years, and in the intervening time have got through a couple of hundred works in that genre, including everything of Iain, with or without and ‘M.’, and subsequently, it has a lot to live up to. Can a novel that was written nearly twenty years ago compare to something of the last couple of years? Is my memory going to disappoint me?

With science-fiction, it’s not such a simple question. A sublime work set in the future can be undermined by referencing already dead technology, or equally, one which holds on to social mores which have become championed only by the constipated right, both of which in various ways speak more about the occluded parts in the imagination of the author than they do of any possible future.

Iain, from the moment I read The Wasp Factory, has maintained a certain aptitude for evading these and other death-strokes of science-fiction — and whose Culture would have to be my future of choice, even if I was more likely to feel at home aboard an Eccentric, or with the Affront. He is, ah yes, that word, my favourite writer, for the corpus of his work if not for the individual works themselves (even though China Miéville has managed to snag my Book of the Year this decade). Other writers I’ve adored for individual works, or even also their entire opus, but Iain I’ve returned to more than others, and find his works — old and new — become more delightful with each reading. It is a seduction, yes.

And so to my book of books, the one I do compare all others to, Feersum Endjinn.

Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant …

Oh Bascule, you glorious miscreant! I read the first pages imagining occasionally how this book would be written if it came around the time of, say, The Algebraist, and well, it would probably be much bigger, and bear the refinement of Banks’ fifteen more years of writing, and would be even more of all that it is, but it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t, that it’s towards the end of his second period of writing (I think The Algebraist marks the beginning of his current period); it’s just a fantastically inventive work that how ever many times I’ve read it — I guess this must be at least the sixth — I come to as though it’s new.

Perhaps that’s far too much to place on a single book, and yet, if it were dance, it would be Forsythe’s Artifact, which now almost thirty years old still gives me shivers and still is seldom equalled by any work since. Yes, really that good, and surprisingly underrated in the accolades of Banksianism; usually it’s Excession or The Crow Road that gets the attention. So, I shall savour each page, sentence and word, somehow thankful that such a work exists and I can enjoy it yet again.