Some years ago, when I was in London speaking at the ASA conference, BtheA gave me a copy of Iain Banks' Raw Spirit as a parting gift. I read it on the flight back home and was amazed at its casual brilliance. There seemed to be at least three or four story lines coursing through the book, and Banks moved among them effortlessly. I learned a lot about whisky, and a lot about Banks, and by the time I got back, I was eager to read more.
Banks alternates between mainstream fiction and science fiction (twelve of the former and ten of the latter, so far). In the months after reading Raw Spirit I read three of the mainstream novels and two of the science fiction and finished each one being more impressed than ever. The easy facility with sentences is always evident, along with an astonishing imagination, great characterizations and fascinating plots. He likes to put twists into the endings and I've always been nicely surprised by how he brings each book to a close in a completely satisfying way. Regardless of the genre he's working in, his underlying concerns are always ethical -- what are one's obligations to others and to oneself, how does one deal with the challenges of love and responsibility. His novels often contain scenes of terrible violence and injustice, but he is one of the most humane authors I've ever read.
After reading those five books, I moved on to other things, so when I was packing for Scotland, I grabbed the remaining unread sf novel that I had on a shelf and tossed it into the suitcase to read on the flight home. Then, when we stopped into Whiting's on our last day in Peebles to pick up a jigsaw puzzle for Josie, I bought two more of the mainstream novels. I finished one of those on the plane, then started the sf novel I'd brought with me. I finished that one yesterday and started the other mainstream novel. Each one is remarkably different and completely engaging.
I may take a break from Banks again after I finish this one, but there's a strong temptation to just keep going. Given the rate at which he churns these out, I might never catch up!