It’s been a rough couple of months for science fiction fans, having lost three great talents in close succession. Science fiction Grand Master Jack Vance, best known for his Dying Earth books, passed away at the end of May. Two weeks ago, we lost Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend and many other classics. And at the beginning of June, we lost Iain M. Banks, author of the Culture series, to gall bladder cancer. While the fans of all three are still mourning their losses, Banks has been singled out for an honor that any science fiction author would love: an asteroid has been named — or more accurately renamed — after the science fiction icon.
Asteroid 5099 is now officially named “Iainbanks,” a change that I think you’ll agree, has way more character than the rock’s original moniker. After reading Banks’ initial posting about his terminal cancer diagnosis this past April, Dr Jose Luis Galache of the Minor Planets Center (MPC) in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts petitioned for the name change. He hoped that it would be approved soon enough for Banks to experience the honor, but sadly that was not the case. The name change was approved on June 23, but Banks died on June 9. Still, there’s no doubt that Banks, a staunch atheist, would have appreciated his legacy living on, not just in his works, but in the heavens as well.
Galanche cites Banks’ Culture novels as an inspiration, and got the chance to meet the author at a book signing while Galanche was in grad school. Among other things, the Culture novels involve the use of “ships capable of faster-than-light travel while providing a living habitat with centrifugally-generated gravity for their thousands of denizens,” so an asteroid is a pretty perfect tribute. If anybody wants to hollow out Iainbanks and figure out how to drive it faster than light, that would really take this tribute to the next level.
Dr. Glaanche first announced his plans on the MPC’s blog, saying, “When I heard of his sickness I immediately asked myself what I could do for Mr Banks, and the answer was obvious: Give him an asteroid!” The rock formerly known as Asteroid 5099 was first discovered in 1985, measures just over six kilometers long, and enjoys long walks in the asteroid belt. It orbits around the Sun once every 3.94 years.
The official citation for the asteroid on the Minor Planets Center’s website reads:
Iain M. Banks (1954-2013) was a Scottish writer best known for the Culture series of science ﬁction novels; he also wrote ﬁction as Iain Banks. An evangelical atheist and lover of whisky, he scorned social media and enjoyed writing music. He was an extra in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.
Wow, I totally did not know that Holy Grail thing. Just another amusing footnote in the life of a talented gentleman who seemed to approach the end of his life with both courage and good humor. This rock’s for you, Mr. Banks.
Orbit Diagram of asteroid (5099) Iainbanks. Cyan ellipses represent the orbits of the planets (from closer to further from the Sun) Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter. The black ellipse represents the orbit of asteroid Iainbanks. The shaded region lies below the ecliptic plane, the non shaded, above.