|Reviewed in brief by Dave Langford.|
Or, to put it another way, a hasty bit of silliness about Iain Banks written for the 1987 Novacon programme book when he was Guest of Honour. (Relentless auctioneer Rog Peyton and the Royal Angus Hotel venue were invariable parts of the Novacon ambience).
Iain X. Banks is widely rumoured to be the latest pseudonym of a stunning new (well, a bit fame-soiled now) author who has taken the British literary establishment by storm. I have my own guess as to who lurks behind this impenetrable new alias. I think it's Martin Amis.
This ambitious book transcends genre boundaries and fruitfully fuses the artsy-fartsy mainstream novel with creative borrowings from space opera, gothic horror, Westerns, fighting fantasy gamebooks, model railway magazines and compact discs. In its multiple plot threads we encounter scores of tortured souls, driven and compelled by a burning, insatiable need for increased royalties.
The trans-sane Sknab, for example, whose hilarious idiosyncrasies involve introducing literary critics into complex mazes where random turnings lead them to nightmare fates: slow horrendous submersion in the foul wastes of pulped Badger books, or being auctioned off by Rog Peyton, a piece at a time.
What is the connection with the weirdly tormented Knabs, forced by mysterious Kafkaesque authorities to toil away on the alien artifact called a "typewriter" through substantial chunks of eternity? Only after completing yet another lengthy narrative is he allowed to ask once again the single question which might unravel the enigmatic jigsaw of his situation: "Whaur's ma advance?"
Perhaps the answer to this timeless question lies with Skban, traitor-hero of a galaxy-spanning SF plot to destroy the Royal Angus Hotel either by novalevel hyperdoubletalk or by diverting a nuclear-powered Inter-City train through the main bar just before the Guest of Honour speech.
Or can the whole many-stranded fiction be another hallucination of the mysterious Bansk, who throughout the entire action lies in a drunken coma, beset by baffling images of nightmare journeys amid sealed minds across the hellish vistas of the lounge bar carpet... frenzied imaginings of an interstellar clash between two forever ideologically opposed schools of Banks criticism whose respective war-cries are "Wow!" and "Yuck!"... fantastic visions of battling against impossible odds while babbling in a terrible Scots accent?
In a finale of mind-shattering novelty, Bansk wakes at Novacon 17 and discovers all these hallucinations to be true.
All is linked and explained by the title, which the less perceptive reader will already have recognized as a quotation from Wittgenstein. After such coruscating pyrotechnics it will certainly be a long, long time before readers can forget the name of Annie M.Bonks.
|Originally published in the Novacon 17 Programme Book, 1987.
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