Goddamn cancer

This past week, I got to meet Jay Lake, a most excellent SF author and current cancer survivor who did not give me optimistic news about his prognosis.

Then this morning I get up to the news that my all-time favorite author, Iain Banks, has issued A Personal Statement in which he announces that he has terminal bladder cancer, is not expected to live out the year, and has written his last book, ever. I have never met Banks, although I’d love to, and now it looks like I never will.

Goddamn motherfucking cancer.

There’s not much we can do, but at least take a look at Jay Lake’s and Iain Banks’ books on Amazon. Good stuff all around.


  1. dianne says

    Gall bladder cancer, not urinary bladder cancer. That matters only in the sense that GB cancer is even worse. Shitty disease.

    Cancer is also the reason we don’t live longer: some of the genes that are responsible for aging are there as cancer suppression mechanisms. It’s this DNA stuff. Unstable.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    The Wasp Factory and The Bridge left lasting impressions on me. One of the authors I want to read much more of, and a decent man.

  3. says

    Terrible news – Iain Banks has long been one of my favorite authors. He has such an imagination, and the talent to use it. A rare combination, indeed.

    It is also very generous of him to take the time to praise the Scottish National Health Service in his Personal Statement. I’ve just returned from the UK where I was helping to transport my elderly mother to hospital for her daily radiotherapy sessions as a follow up to breast cancer surgery. (Fortunately, her prognosis is very good.) From start to finish (just four months since she detected the lump), the people of the NHS could not have treated her better, in spite of the enormous pressure they are under to continually do more with less.

  4. AshPlant says

    Yeah, fuck cancer, right in its smug fucking tumour-hole.

    There’re two cancer passages in Banks’ Complicity that always sent shivers down my spine anyway. I’m not sure I’ll even be able to read them now.

    Screw the world, bugger reality, eh?

  5. says

    I adore The Player of Games and the other Culture novels. The author’s illness is a great personal tragedy for Banks that reverberates through his devoted readership.

  6. anuran says

    But don’t worry, Pfizer and Lily and Merck are hard at work developing treatments for restless leg syndrome.

  7. Andy Groves says

    There’s not much we can do….

    Donate to the American Cancer Society and write a proper letter (on paper) to your senators and representatives asking them to reverse the cuts made to the NIH’s budget by the sequester. Right now, the National Cancer Institute is funding somewhere between 1 in 15 and 1 in 20 of grants it receives, and funding levels are heading downwards, not upwards.

  8. raven says

    Then this morning I get up to the news that my all-time favorite author, Iain Banks, has issued A Personal Statement in which he announces that he has terminal bladder cancer,…

    One of my favorite authors also.

    I just started reading him this year and have gone through maybe 6 of his Culture SF books. I was hoping he would live a long life and write many more such.

    I read a lot of fiction to escape temporarily our harsh and floundering world. I like Iain Banks Culture novels because they have an optimistic look at a human-like future society and have happy endings. So what if it is a bit pollyanish. If I want horror, all I have to do is look at the christofascist states in the USA or the perennial California state budget crisis.

  9. DLC says

    That really sucks. lost my grandmother to breast cancer that spread to the lungs back in the 70s.
    At this point all one can really do is hope his last time is not very painful, and that his passing is easy on him. Well, that and hope for an unexpected breakthrough. (one hesitates to use the stupid phrase “miracle cure”)

  10. Eric O says

    I’ve read every book in the Culture series (and a few of Banks’ other works), and have enjoyed them immensely (my screen name on most sites I visit is Phlebas, which I took from the title of his first Culture novel). I’m saddened by the fact that there will be no more novels, but I’m even more saddened by the reason for that. Banks is a brilliant man who has mastered the art of blending humour and social commentary with a good story; it’s a rare talent.

  11. Blattafrax says

    He is one of the few writers that can make my hair stand up or make me feel actually sick – and still want to read the books again and again. Use of Weapons and The Wasp Factory are (for me) two of the best books ever written. I can still remember the shop assistant who overheard me saying something like, “Iain Banks – is he any good?” to a friend. He butted in and correctly said, “Get the Wasp Factory. Then you’ll be back next week for another.”
    I’m selfish in being sad that there’s only one more book to come. But: Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

  12. says

    Banksy is a lovely bloke. I first remember him turning up to a housewarming party (he was a pal of my flatmate) looking baffled and carrying some bottles from the offy. He’s a great raconteur, funny and generous. I inherited his copy of Sim City because it was distracting him from writing books.

    Top bloke. Sad to hear about the diagnosis. Cancer is one of those diseases that can sod off right now.

  13. Moggie says

    Look to Windward:

    Well, our medicine effectively became perfect about eight thousand years ago, and we’ve had all that time to get used to evaluating other species rapidly to develop a full understanding of their physiology, so any ordinary disease, even a new one, is unable to establish a foothold thanks to the body’s own defenses and will certainly be utterly helpless against external medical resources.

    We’ll get there eventually. It’s a long way off, but in a way Iain Banks will have contributed. His Culture SF does something which seems almost unfashionable in the genre: it suggests that science and technology can, after all, deliver something approaching a utopia. The books portray conflict and cruelty, but they also portray an egalitarian society without poverty or disease, where anything feels possible for anyone – and make the reader feel that maybe we could achieve this. I’d like to think that there are people who have read his work and been inspired to study science, to make the world a little better.

    If this sounds a little pollyannaish, I suppose I should admit that I’ve always been uneasy with the hypocritical nature of Special Circumstances within the Culture. Are they the child in Omelas?

  14. says

    Banks’ work (first taste: “Use Of Weapons”. Ouch.) was a revelation to me – equal to the effect of Isaac Asimov and Douglas Adams (who I’m still not over, god damn it). Apart from his mind-blowing SF, I liked that he often inserted some stealthy biographical detail into a non-SF character: distracting love of computer games, adoration of malt whisky and the odd puff, obsession with fine cars or a particular band, virulent spades of leftiness – the comfortable and familiar way he wrote of such things (and the way he wrote in general) made him likeable and human and close in the midst of his third-person omniscience.

    I wish we had Culture tech right now – I’d happily accept Banks’ mind-state. It’s sad that all I can do is read “Excession” (or “Raw Spirit”) again with a Laphroaig.

    Fuck cancer and the horse it rode in on.

  15. Doug Hudson says

    Moggie @18, no, they are the ones who have to decide who the child in Omelas will be. Preferably someone who isn’t actually a member of the culture, but not always (c.f. Player of Games).

    I don’t think Special Circumstances is hypocritical, though. The Culture is well aware of the reality of SC and tolerates it as a necessary evil, they don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it is a good thing.

  16. Rich Woods says

    “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

    This quote was what helped me walk, with my dignity mostly intact, into the crematorium for my dad’s funeral*.

    I think I owe Iain Banks a drink.

    * The funeral director had already asked us if Dad had any radioactive implants, so I listed the assorted titanium joints just to be on the safe side. I hope someone recycled them after his ashes were spread.

  17. says

    We found out a month ago that the treatment for my mum’s breast cancer last year didn’t catch it all in time. Initially they projected 3-6 months, last night that prognosis was revised downwards to 3-6 weeks because she has a very aggressive carconomic strain. My sibs and I are rotating daily care for my Dad who has Alzheimers and who can’t remember from half-hour to half-hour that Mum’s in the hospital.

    So my sporadic contributions to threads here are going to be even more spotty for a while. Fuck cancer.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Iain Banks dying?
    I thought the last “culture” novel was a bit thin in terms of plot resolution, he must have been under pressure to finish it before the cancer got worse.

    All my heroes are dying. Stanislaw Lem stopped writing in 1987 and died a decade later. Harry Harrison passed away last year.

  19. dianne says

    Right now, the National Cancer Institute is funding somewhere between 1 in 15 and 1 in 20 of grants it receives, and funding levels are heading downwards, not upwards.

    I think the pay line is about 3% right now, but that’s for the NHLBI, not the NCI.

  20. terryg says

    tigtog, thats just awful, i’m so sorry for you. cancer isn’t a word, its a fucking sentence.

  21. rogerfirth says

    Just this morning my wife was having coffee with a very close friend of ours who’s been battling cervical cancer as well as other cancers and tumors throughout her body for almost two years. She’s gone through a bunch of courses of chemo, lost her hair a couple times, been irradiated so much she shouldn’t be irradiated anymore (but they’re zapping her again, because nothing has worked). This woman has been through the wringer, folded, spindled, and mutilated.
    This morning she told my wife that yesterday her doctor told her he can’t do anything more for her — the cancer’s out of control in numerous organs and she’ll be lucky to see Thanksgiving. And she hadn’t even told her husband yet (I hope she has by now). Oldest kid is a freshman in college and the youngest is 7th grade. I can’t imagine. I can’t fucking imagine. I just fucking can’t imagine.

    Cancer sucks more than can be put into words.

    Excuse me. I’m going to go cry now.

  22. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Losing Banks is an especial tragedy because he’s been one of the rather small number of SF writers that effectivley fights the tide of nasty rightwing liberturd crap. (Ken Mcleod is among that number and I think a near neighbour of Banks’)

    I’m going to close my eyes and pretend Real Hard that in fact he is going to be unable to keep writing due to special circumstances.

  23. Gregory Greenwood says

    I have only just started to read Ian M Banks’ Culture Series of novels (something I have been meaning to get around to for a while) but I can already see what a vast imagination and great story telling mastery he possesses.

    I know it is fruitless to hate a medical condition, but I despise cancer with every fibre of my being all the same, and look forward to the day medical science finally drives a stake through the heart of this particular monster.

  24. neuralobserver says

    Goddamn motherfucking cancer.

    We are definitely in agreement on that point.

    (For all the talk and statistics I hear about Cardiovascular/Heart disease and accidents being some of the top killers, why does it seem that whenever I hear via media sources of an illness or death due to an illness, it seems to almost always end up being that fucking scourge cancer? Like being locked in a bad dream or nightmare that, no matter how much money is thrown at the problem, we can’t extricate ourselves from.
    ‘Goddamn motherfucking cancer’ to be sure. It depresses the fuck out of me.)

  25. birgerjohansson says

    Moggie @ 18,
    I like your comment so much I would like to quote it in other SF threads on internet. Would that be Ok with you?

    Damndamndamnshit .

  26. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    This is really sad news.

    Like Gregory Greenwood, I’ve only recently got into Banks’ Culture novels, and haven’t read any of his non-SF work; but it’s clear he’s a fine writer and a fine man.

  27. dianne says

    For all the talk and statistics I hear about Cardiovascular/Heart disease and accidents being some of the top killers, why does it seem that whenever I hear via media sources of an illness or death due to an illness, it seems to almost always end up being that fucking scourge cancer?

    Douglas Adams died of heart disease.

    But cancer is the current #1 killer of people from middle age to age 80 or so. Then arterial vascular disease takes over again. Also, heart disease kills more randomly so you hear one notice of someone dropping dead suddenly, not the announcement of terminal illness followed by weeks or months of the person still being alive but dying. Cancer drags it out.

    I’m sorry, but if we want better cancer care and more survivals, we’re going to have to pay for them. More money to organizations, national, private or international, that research cancer treatment, well funded universal health insurance to make sure everyone gets the best treatment available and all the screening that is effective. That means higher taxes, more of the economy spent on medical care, etc. It can be done. There’s basic science data that suggests that we could radically reduce the number of cancer deaths in the next few decades…if we really want to. If we’d rather spend the money killing people in Iraq and making sure that billionaires don’t have to pay taxes, well, it won’t happen.

  28. Moggie says

    @birgerjohansson, feel free!

    @tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach, Scots writers are less likely to tolerate right-wing crap. Christopher Brookmyre is another example.

  29. says

    I’ve met Iain* on a handful of occasions, in a brief, fannish way, i.e. at book signings, at literary festivals and cons. I’ve missed several chances because of, you know, stuff. But I did actually have a normal conversation with him once — for geeky values of ‘normal’ — at the bar at a con a couple of years ago. I barely remember the content, but for my part it was like chatting with an old friend about the kind of shit you talk about with old friends. I wandered off after a bit, because I had a panel I wanted to get to, and haven’t had a chance to see him since, and now I never will. But I’ll cherish his books and my feeble recollection of our chat, and I will miss him terribly.

    As I read elsewhere, Let’s raise a toast to the launching of the GCU Fuck Cancer!

    *Iain, Banks, Mr Banks, Iain M Banks, esq.; none of them feel completely right. Given that he’s been so free with his thoughts and feelings, up to and including the intimations of his mortality, “Iain” feels least wrong to me.

  30. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Scots writers are less likely to tolerate right-wing crap. Christopher Brookmyre is another example.

    Yeah, it seems quite a lot of us Welsh-born are that way too. Thanks for the suggestion – I’ll look up Brookmyre.

    I don’t actually mind stories by right-wing writers *if they’re good stories*.

  31. says

    One of my most prized possessions is a personal letter from Iain Banks – I’d written to his agent to enquire about the rights to adapt his novel, The Bridge, as a stage play. His response was charming, self deprecating and, more importantly, affirmative and supporting. Several years later we’re still trying to raise the capital to make it happen and now we’ve had to accept that when The Bridge finally makes it to the stage, Mr Banks is unlikely to be around to see it.