wo anecdotes about Iain Banks. Last year he and a friend decided to canoe down the River Forth. from its source up in the Trossachs near Aberfoyle. down past Edinburgh and towards the open sea. It’s a long and undoubtedly dangerous journey and. despite having long dreamed of navigating the water. Banks was no starry-eyed lron John. One ofthe canoes had been customised by his father-in- law and was fitted with a small engine — the two men intended to nip by ‘Orangemouth and Rosyth and all that shit’ at speed. Unfortunately.just above Stirling. the shear pin on the engine snapped. Prudence won out over the frontier spirit. The two men got off the river and went home.
This year lain Banks was pottering around his house in North Queensferry. Bored by the naff plastic acorns that served as light-pulls in the bathroom. he had already replaced one with a champagne cork. which he though was ‘quite witty’.
Now he was crouched over in his hallway. Black & Decker drill in hand. boring into a
‘Whitwill have worked it there are people who think that it is in some way
pro-cult or pro-religion. I don’t think it is,, I think it’s unarguably saying that it’s a
load of crap, frankly, and is based on lies;
and manipulation and simple power. I
tried to paint the most benign cult I could
imagine, but .even that is still based on deceit, lies and betrayal.’
16 The List 25 Aug-7 Sept 1995
NEVER MINI THE T
In his new novel Whit, Iain Banks explores the wacky world of religious cults. Craig McLean talked God and politics to the self-confessed evangelical atheist.
20mm cannon shell that his father — who had worked on a salvage ship in the Admiralty during the war — had given him twenty years previously. Banks knew that the explosive charge had been steamed out years ago. Banks didn’t know that the percussion cap was still in place. Cue small domestic explosion and a not- insignificant cordite burn on the hall carpet. Thinking quickly. Banks did as he had done as a kid. when he had covered up small accidents involving the fire in his mtnn’s house — he carefully pruned away the burned carpet before his wife got home. It was only some weeks later. while on the phone to her sister. that his wife noticed something odd about the carpet.
Dreamer and rationalist. gadget man and big kid. Iain Banks lives his life like his books. As lain M. Banks. author of hi annual science fiction epics. he has fashioned a utopian. futuristic world full of shiny new technology and his favourite characters. darkly humorous robots known as Drones. This world is called the Culture. ‘An infinitely desirable place to live,’ beams the proud parent. ‘That’s my heaven. It’s my most favoured state being. It‘s where I’d like to live I guess. And it's something I know very well. ’Cos it’s my ball and I’m taking it home!’
As plain old Iain Banks he writes bi annual novels with grippingly plausible plots. brim-full of hard reality and harder truths — psychotic teens. sleazy hacks. exploding grannies. debauched rock stars. computer games. music. drugs. alcohol and barbed political polemic. ‘I think anyone who feels they’ve got some sort of...’ Banks searches for his (s)lot in the world.
pan-relevant. as it were. attitude or way of
looking at the world. occasionally thinks. “My God. I’m trapped on this planet surrounded by cretins!” ’
Iain Banks gives a mad boffin laugh. ‘Who are all these nutters? And to some extent anybody who looks from outside at society — and it is such an easy target. it’s so easy to satirise it. poke fun at it — is going to have some of that attitude about it. Who are all these loonies‘.”
For his new novel. Banks has found a new set of loonies to lampoon. a new window on the world. Whit is set in a religious cult. the Luskentyrian Sect, who have made their antediluvian idyll on a country estate upstream from Stirling (the author’s canoe trip providing the inspiration for the locus). lsis Whit is nineteen. and the cult’s Elect Of God. [sis is destined to assume the leadership of the cult on the death of her grandfather — His Holiness The Blessed Salvador-Uranos Odin Dyaus Brahma Moses-Mohammed Mirza Whit of Luskentyre (Salvador to his friends).
Nearly fifty years after its beginnings on Harris. the cult has bloomed. expanding its family and refining its creed: a shunning of
, technology (‘merit and calmness are to be found
in the out-of-the-way. the byways ()f life... amongst the gaps between the slabs in the
pavement of life’). an embracing of carnal anarchy at the four-yearly Festival Of Love (‘great things.’ thinks Isis. ‘might be expected of my ovaries’). and a love of lndo-Scottish cuisine (haggis pakora. bridie samosa. channa neeps. black pudding bhajis).
Crisis looms when lsis’s cousin Morag. an internationally renowned musician based in London. announces she won’t be returning to take her place as guest of honour at the looming Festival. So Isis ventures out of the cult’s womb-with-a-view. into the world of telephones. compact discs. cars and general electrickery. Will her faith survive? Can she hear The Cranberries and not think them the Antichrist‘.’ Will a ‘drug cigarette' give her a new spirituality. as well as holes in her shirt'.’
‘I think. despite the relatively ﬂuffy nature of Whit. it has got a soul. a kernel of depleted uranium.‘ nods the lluflily soulful Banks. ‘Bizarrely enough it’ll have worked if there are people who think that it is in some way pro-cult or pro-religion. I don't think it is. 1 think it’s