Iain M. Banks explains he wasn't writing science fiction for the money

Illustration for article titled Iain M. Banks explains he wasn't writing science fiction for the money

Iain M. Banks has had two astoundingly great careers — with the middle initial, he's one of the most influential and brilliant science fiction authors of the past 25 years. Without it, he's a great literary author. And some people believe he did the science fiction to subsidize his literary work. If anything, it's the reverse.


Since Banks announced his cancer diagnosis, he's received countless comments from fans, friends and well-wishers. Including one from an ex-neighbor of his, containing a factual inaccuracy that he decided to correct in a new blog post:

An ex-neighbour of ours recalled (in an otherwise entirely kind and welcome comment) me telling him, years ago, that my SF novels effectively subsidised the mainstream works. I think he’s just misremembered, as this has never been the case. Until the last few years or so, when the SF novels started to achieve something approaching parity in sales, the mainstream always out-sold the SF – on average, if my memory isn’t letting me down, by a ratio of about three or four to one. I think a lot of people have assumed that the SF was the trashy but high-selling stuff I had to churn out in order to keep a roof over my head while I wrote the important, serious, non-genre literary novels. Never been the case, and I can’t imagine that I’d have lied about this sort of thing, least of all as some sort of joke. The SF novels have always mattered deeply to me – the Culture series in particular – and while it might not be what people want to hear (academics especially), the mainstream subsidised the SF, not the other way round. And… rant over.

As someone who loves and recommends Banks' non-genre novels, I've never thought of either body of work as inferior to the other — they're two sides of a very excellent coin. But it also seems entirely likely that his "mainstream" novels might be outselling his genre works, especially in the U.K., where he's more widely published without the M. [Banksophilia via the Telegraph]


Completely off-topic:

The term "non-genre" was absolutely nonsensical to me until I was informed that to many, there exist works of fiction without a genre. Even before I encountered TV Tropes I found that utterly ridiculous, since everything has a genre to some extent.

On a similar note, since when does "literature" mean anything other than works of the written word, published or not?

Not intending to be confrontational here, I'm utterly sincere. I have nothing against your using the terms, C. J. A., just expressing my thoughts on it.