Iain Banks, Acclaimed Science Fiction Author, Has Terminal Cancer

Very sad news.

By David Wharton | Updated

Iain Banks

And now the kind of story I wish I never had to write up. Hugo-winning science fiction writer Iain Banks, perhaps best known for his The Culture series, has revealed that he has terminal cancer, and likely won’t survive the year.

Banks, currently aged 59, took to his website to share the sad news, revealing that the cancer originated in his gall bladder, but has now spread to his liver and possibly his pancreas and lymph nodes. That’s a dire and daunting reality to face, but I hope Banks can take some comfort in the knowledge that his writing has touched a great many people over the years, and will live on even in his passing.

You can read Banks’ full statement below, as well as some more about his long career.

I am officially Very Poorly. After a couple of surgical procedures, I am gradually recovering from jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct, but that – it turns out – is the least of my problems.

I first thought something might be wrong when I developed a sore back in late January, but put this down to the fact I’d started writing at the beginning of the month and so was crouched over a keyboard all day. When it hadn’t gone away by mid February, I went to my GP, who spotted that I had jaundice. Blood tests, an ultrasound scan and then a CT scan revealed the full extent of the grisly truth by the start of March.

I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term.

The bottom line, now, I’m afraid, is that as a late stage gall bladder cancer patient, I’m expected to live for ‘several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year. So it looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last.

As a result, I’ve withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing family. and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us. Meanwhile my heroic publishers are doing all they can to bring the publication date of my new novel forward by as much as four months, to give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.

There is a possibility that it might be worth undergoing a course of chemotherapy to extend the amount of time available. However that is still something we’re balancing the pros and cons of, and is anyway out of the question until my jaundice has further, and significantly, reduced.

Lastly, I’d like to add that from my GP onwards, the professionalism of the medics involved – and the speed with which the resources of the NHS in Scotland have been deployed – has been exemplary, and the standard of care deeply impressive. We’re all just sorry the outcome hasn’t been more cheerful.

This website was set up so family and fans can leave messages for me and check on my progress.
Iain Banks

Beginning with The Wasp Factory in 1983, Banks has published some two dozen novels, including the acclaimed Culture series, which spans nine books beginning with 1987’s Consider Phlebas. In 2005, his The Algebraist was nominated for a Hugo Award, and won a Locus Award. He cites his influences as including Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. His works encompassed both science fiction, as Iain M. Banks, and more mainstream fiction, as Iain Banks.

Banks is one of those authors whose books I picked up sight unseen based on reputation alone, but I’ve never got around to them. I think, in honor of Banks, I’ll finally take them off the shelf and dive in.

GFR sends out our sympathies and well wishes to Banks and his family. And as someone who has battled cancer in the past, I’ll be lighting a candle or two for Banks and hoping for an unexpected recovery.