Reading: Martyn Colebrook, Katharine Cox (eds.) — The Transgressive Iain Banks: Essays on a Writer Beyond Borders

Paul said, “They’ve got to be taking the mickey!” I thought, “Taking the piss”. Forty euros and only 180 pages. bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center has almost the same number of pages and was a quarter the price. Nonetheless, I pretended I didn’t see or hear, because this one I was going to buy.

But before dear Iain, let’s have a talk about the state of ‘academic’ publishing. I used to haunt the shelves of various University libraries, and when it came to publishers of the University Press kind, they were dependably hardback, printed on appealing stock, and generally hefty tomes that were ploughed through rather than inhaled. These still exist, though more likely I pick them up in paperback, yet everything from cover art to choice of typeface and margin width is most pleasing; worth shelling out for, in other words.

Then there is this relatively newcomer University Press object, which looks assembled in Helvetica or Times New Roman, printed directly from Word, with a cover done in MS Paint, on this strangely shiny paper stock, and generally has the qualities I associate with Print on Demand. Irrespective of the quality of the work that gets P’doD — I’ve seen everything from utter, utter shite to new works I’m delighted to own and old works I’m sincerely grateful are able to be bought at all — there’s something fishy about charging Smyth-sewn hardcover prices for books with stock art for a cover. If nothing else, it makes me an extra-cranky proofreading reader.

So, a book of essays on the recently Sublimed Iain M. Banks. This was due for publication in June-ish, but then was announced for October, so I figured perhaps they’d held back to make an posthumous addendum. And then it turns up. Excitement!

Here’s how I instantly judge if a work of collected essays (or stories) has potential to be good or if it’s obviously bullshit: I go to the Table of Contents and count the number of female-named writers on one hand and male-named on the other (no, really, I count them on my fingers). If they’re approximately equal (and to be honest anything above 1/3 female representation constitutes ‘approximately equal’ otherwise I’d never read anything; setting the bar low, an’ all), then it a) stands a chance at avoiding the more egregious kinds of bias and droning boredom, and b) I will plonk used euros down in exchange for it.

If I’m feeling especially adventurous, and/or if there are names I cannot discern obviously as male or female, and/or if there’s a profusion of non-anglo-american names, it’s off to the internet! where I’ll do some lurking over said authors’ biographies. Because to be quite honest, finding new writers of science-fiction or non-fiction who are not anglo-american, hetero, white males outside of queer/feminist fields is bloody difficult, and also, I have an obligation as a reader and artist not to unthinkingly contribute to and perpetuate exactly that kind of bias.

So, Martyn Colebrook’s and Katharine Cox’s (eds.) The Transgressive Iain Banks: Essays on a Writer Beyond Borders has twelve essays from thirteen contributors of which five are female-named and eight male-named, or ≈38% female-named, just over the ‘approximately equal’ barrier. One section is Gender, Games, and Play, wherein Sarah Falcus finds a “problematic depiction of femininity” in three of Banks’ works (The Wasp Factory, Whit, and The Business). Very much looking forward to that because just thinking about those three works together I can see problematic depictions lurching across the page.

The Index contains such delights as Deleuze, Judith Butler, gender, femininities, and thankfully no Marx or Freud, as well as Scotland (a section unto itself), and Scottish skiffy authors (surprised not to see Charles Stross there). The bibliography is also well-stacked and points to some Banks short works I haven’t read yet. I love a good bibliography, it’s like rifling through someone’s drawers with none of the moral questionableness of such an act.

Seeing that Iain isn’t going to unexpectedly desublime, reconstitute self from ashes, take a pause from busy rotting to return and announce he couldn’t stay dead with The Quarry being his last work and here’s a final Culture novel he worked on while dead before popping off again, I am anticipating reading this with as much love and excitement as though it were.