I've been muddling over this topic since Iain Banks announced that he had terminal cancer. I love his books, both contemporary & science-fiction, but I'm a long way from having read all of them and wasn't sure I'd be doing the topic justice. Since Iain passed away on 9th June I realised it probably doesn't matter that I've not read everything. These top fives are rarely definitive and I wanted a way to celebrate his work.
They say you should never judge a book by it's cover. That's very true when used as an analogy for life but I'd contend it's not actually true about books. In my experience book covers are a pretty good indication of what's on the pages. Sometime in the mid-nineties, perhaps a little early, I was in a slump with my reading and looking for something new and exciting. I was doing a day-release course at college and often spent my lunch break browsing the shelves of Waterstones. I stumbled across Iain Banks' contemporary collection and was struck by the simple but effective black & white designs. The covers made me want to read the books.
1. The Wasp Factory (1984) - As is right and proper I started in chronological order with Iain's debut novel of any type. The Wasp Factory is pretty dark in places, exploring the effects of organised religion and parental deception. It's a quick read with an unexpected twist and an excellent introduction to Banks' style of writing.
2. Player Of Games (1988) - The second of The Culture series helped everything fall into place for me with Iain's science fiction. It's a shorter book than Consider Phlebas or Use Of Weapons and I found it an easier read but just as compelling. A famously skilful player of games is coerced by The Culture's Special Circumstances to travel to a far away world and play the complex game of Azad, unwittingly playing a role in The Culture's broader intentions.
3. The Crow Road (1992) - A more traditional coming of age story but one told with Banks' typical wit and dark humour. The BBC did a great job adapting this for television in 1996. Contains one of the best opening sentences you're likely to find - "It was the day my grandmother exploded"
4. Consider Phlebas (1987) - The first of The Culture series and therefore the first bit of Banks SF I read. It's a weighty tome and took me a while to get to grips with (amongst other challenges there are a lot of tricky names to remember) but it's well told and was truly different to any other Sci-Fi I'd read up to that point.
5. Walking On Glass (1985) - Brain scramblingly complex in places, but very satisfying once you get there. Walking On Glass features three parallel storylines that don't initially appear to be linked but eventually reveal subtle connections.