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The Spheres by Iain M. Banks

Banks-SpheresThis chapbook was given to members of Novacon 40, which I attended in November 2010. I didn't know this, but apparently Novacon has been publishing chapbooks by its Guests of Honor since 1979. Banks had previously received this treatment in 1987, in fact.

This chapbook consists of excerpts from drafts of two of Banks' novels that were cut as part of the editing process. "The Spheres" is from the novel Transition and had previously been published, according to Banks' note, as some kind of iPhone extra or special feature. Not sure what that means, exactly, but I presume it was for an iPhone edition of the novel. Thus the Novacon publication is a second usage, and Banks quips, "Shame this has prevented me presenting you with my extensive early works of what is basically Vogon poetry, but there you go. Something for Novacon 50, perhaps." A funny joke now rich with bitter irony.

I found "The Spheres" quite intriguing, and it makes me curious about Transition. Has anybody read it? Any thoughts? I've been focused on his Culture novels, but as there's only one left that I haven't read, my thoughts are now turning to his other novels. (Of which I've previously read only The Bridge, Against a Dark Background, and Espedair Street.) "The Spheres" was apparently the first chapter of the novel in the first draft, and it introduces the mysterious Spheres and a character who has figured out a way to read the signals they send. There are some strange shifts in point of view that only whetted my curiosity further. Banks implies in his note that this was the result of some kind of memory of past lives.

"The Secret Courtyard" is from the Culture novel Matter, which I have read fairly recently. I can see why he cut it. It's about some exotic prostitutes who the young prince's murdered father kept in a courtyard unknown to anyone but his most loyal retainers. One of the prostitutes is horribly disfigured, and the prince finds himself strangely attracted to her. This feels a little trite in the excerpt as it stands, although it probably could've been developed into something more interesting. There's an unspoken sexual perversity underlying it that seems a bit unusual for Banks.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 14th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
An N40 committee member comments...

Possibly the most awesome convention I was ever involved in. We had so many authors that Chris Evans, Justina Robson and Graham James never had to leave the bar and the last minute cancellation by Stephen Baxter produced a shrug. I don't think I'll ever again have usher Brian Aldiss off stage, because we had even more talent to get on (Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen).

Probably the last time I spoke to Iain. I urged him to read some James Ellroy.

I'm not sure how/when it started but this tradition - 79 you say? - and these days every GoH is asked for something like this and it is another little part of why Novacon is itself a Living Fannish Treasure. Said impartially as I'm not on the committee this year (oh all right - most of my mates are and I still seem to be attending the meetings even if it's in a pizza-making capacity).

You should note the Dave Hardy cover, too. I've done publications for Novacon more than once and it's not just the quality of the work but the awesome turnaround from sending him a copy of the text to getting the cover art back.

Anyone who's a completist about an author's work really needs to check if they've ever been a Novacon GoH. Your copy should be individually numbered the same as the membership number of the person who gave it to you. The logistics of that apparently simple process have driven several committees to the point of madness.

Novacon just keeps on giving...
Sep. 14th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC)
Great stuff, GT, and thanks for giving attention to the Dave Hardy cover. I hadn't really paid much attention to it before I read the chapbook, but afterwards I was struck by what a perfect illustration it is of the central concept in "The Spheres".

This chapbook, BTW, lists all the previous ones, which is how I got 1979 as the first year it was done.
Sep. 14th, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
I'm partway through Transition. Essentially, it's his Michael Moorcock novel.
Sep. 14th, 2013 10:19 pm (UTC)
That sounds promising!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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