It has not been a great year for speculative fiction thus far. James Herbert, the godfather of British horror, passed away in March; Jack Vance, one of SF true originals, died last month, and now news has come through of the death of Iain Banks.
Although not wholly unexpected – he announced that he had terminal cancer a couple of months ago – his passing is nevertheless a great shock (since he was only 59) and a great loss to the literary life of the UK.
A writer who worked in both the literary mainstream and the less well regarded (by the mainstream critics at least) genre of science fiction (under the easily penetrated disguise of Iain M. Banks) he brought a literary sensibility to his science fiction and, equally, a genre writer’s verve and dash to his literary work.
At times the two would collide with brilliant results. For instance The Bridge (which is my favourite of his novels) borrows freely from both traditions – and includes one of the funniest pastiches of ‘barbarian fiction’ that has ever been written – to create an unsettling world where reality and fantasy blend seamlessly together.
With his Culture novels (beginning with Consider Phlebas in 1987) he created some of the best space opera of the last twenty five years and was, arguably, one of the prime movers in resurrecting and rejuvinating what had become a tired and formulaic sub-genre.
An obituary from the BBC can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22835047