Table of Contents
came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel,
The Wasp Factory
, in 1984.
, his first science fiction novel, was published under Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation. Iain Banks lives in Fife, Scotland.
Find out more about Iain Banks and other Orbit authors by registering for the free monthly newsletter at
Find out more about lain M. Banks and other Orbit authors by registering for the free monthly newsletter at
‘The standard by which the rest of SF is judged’
‘A mordant wit, a certain savagery and a wild imagination’
Mail on Sunday
“Spectacular ... the field needs his energy, skill and invention’
‘Gripping, touching and funny’ TLS
‘Sharp, witty, comprehensively terrifying’
‘Banks is a phenomenon ... writing pure science fiction of a peculiarly gnarly energy and elegance’ William Gibson
‘There is now no British SF writer to whose work I look forward with greater keenness’
‘Banks has rewritten the libretto for the whole space-opera genre’
‘Poetic, humorous, baffling, terrifying, sexy — the books of lain M. Banks are all these things and more’
‘Staggering imaginative energy’
By lain M. Banks
THE PLAYER OF GAMES
USE OF WEAPONS
THE STATE OF THE ART
AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND
LOOK TO WINDWARD
By Iain Banks
THE WASP FACTORY
WALKING ON GLASS
THE CROW ROAD
A SONG OF STONE
THE STEEP APPROACH TO GARBADALE
IAIN M. BANKS
Published by Hachette Digital 2010
Copyright © Iain M. Banks 1994
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious, other than those clearly in the public domain, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 7481 1001 8
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For the Daves
Then, it was as though everything was stripped away: sensation, memory, self, even the notion of existence that underlies reality —all seemed to have vanished utterly, their passing marked only by the realisation that they had disappeared, before that too ceased to have any meaning, and for an indefinite, infinite instant, there was only the awareness of something; something that possessed no mind, no purpose and no thought, except the knowledge that it was.
After that came a rebuilding, a surfacing through layers of thought and development, learning and shape-taking, until something that was an individual, possessing a shape and capable of being named, woke.
Buzz. Buzzing noise. Lying on something soft. Dark. Try to open eyes. Something sticking. Try again. Light flash shaped 00. Eyes feel open, un-gummed, but still dark. Smells; at once vital and decadent, lush with death-life, stirring some memory, recent and forever-far at the same time. Light comes; a small . . . searching for the name of the colour . . . a small
hanging in air. Move arm, hand coming up; right arm; noise of skin on skin, feeling coming with it.
Arm, hand, finger: rising, positioning, eyes focusing. Red patch of soft light disappears. Press on it. Arm shaking, feeling weak; falls back to side. Skin on skin.
Noise of buzzing, something sliding again but not skin on skin; harder. Then light from behind/above. The small red light has disappeared. Then movement; darkness above/around sliding back, face neck shoulders chest/arms trunk/hands in light now; eyes blinking in light. Light grey-pink, shining down; blue-brightness through hole in curved cliff above/around.
Wait. Rest. Let eyes adjust. Songs around, wall around/ above (not cliff; wall), curving round, curving over (ceiling; roof). Hole in wall where the brightness is called a window.
Lie there, turning head to one side; another hole, glimpsed over shoulder; goes down to ground, and called doorway. Daylight there beyond, and the green of trees and grass. Floor beneath where lying; pressed earth, light brown with a few small stones set in it. The song is birdsong.
Get up slowly, arms back, resting on elbows, looking down towards feet; woman, naked, colour of the ground.
Ground is quite near; might as well stand up. Sit up further, swivel (dizzy for a moment, then steady), then feet/legs over side of ... of ... tray thing that has appeared out of hole in wall of building, tray thing lying on, and then . . . stand.
Hold onto tray, legs feeling funny, then stand properly, unaided, and stretch. Stretch feels good. Tray slides back into wall; watch it go, and watch part of wall slide down to cover hole that was there, hole came out of. Feel . . . sadness, but feel ... good, too. Deep breath.
Breath makes noise, then cough makes noise, and . . .
is there. Clear throat, then say:
Slight startle. Voice makes a feeling in throat and face. Touch face, feel . . . smile. ‘Smile.’ Feel something building up inside. ‘Face.’ Still building. ‘Face smile.’ And still. ‘Face smile good alive hole red wall me look door doorway sun garden, ME!’
Then the laughter comes, bursting out, filling the little stone rotunda and spilling out into the garden; a small bird hurtles into the air in a commotion of leaves and flies away upon a wake of song.
Laughter stops. Sit on floor in the building. Feeling empty inside; hunger. ‘Laughter. Hunger. Me hungry. I am hungry. I laugh; I was laughing, I am hungry.’ Get up. ‘Up.’ Giggle. ‘Giggle. Get up and giggle, me. I learn. I go now.’
But turn and look at inside of building; the curved walls, stamped-earth floor, the polished rectangular stones with lettering on them which are set into the walls, some of them with little cups/baskets/holders. Not sure which one was the one with the tray and the little red light now; not sure which one came from, now. Sadness, a little.
Turn again and go to door and look out over shallow valley; trees and shrubs and grass, a few flowers, stream in bottom of valley.
‘Water. I thirst. I have thirst, I am thirsty; I will drink. Go for drink now. Good.’
Leave the birth-place vault.
‘Sky. Blue. Clouds. Walk. Path. Trees. Bush. Path. Other path. Sky again. Hills. Oh! Oh; shadow. Fright. Laugh! Bigger bush. Flat grass. Thirsty; mouth dry; think stop talk now. Ha-ha!’
On the morning of the one hundred and forty-third day of the year which by the new reckoning was called second-last, Hortis Gadfium III, the chief scientist to the pan-alignment clan Accounts/Privileges, sat on a steel girder and looked up at the almost-finished bulk of the new Great Hall oxygen plant number-two liquifier unit, and shook her head.
She watched a crane swing a palleted load of steel-plate towards the workers waiting on the summit of the structure, while above the crane’s delicate web-work the ponderous mass of a lufter drifted, engines droning, delivering a new batch of supplies. She looked around at the swarm of human-scale toil that was the new oxygen works, where engines laboured and variously puffed, grumbled and hummed, where machines crawled, floated, rolled or just sat, where chimerics sweated, strained, lifted and pulled, and where humans too laboured, shouted or simply stood scratching their heads.
Gadfium drew one finger through the layer of dust on the girder beneath her, then held the begrimed finger up to her face and wondered if in that smudge there lay a nano-machine capable of creating within the day machines which would create machines which would create machines that would give them all the oxygen they would ever need, and by the end of the season, not by the end of next year. She wiped her finger on her tunic and looked up again at the number-two liquifier unit, worrying whether it would ever work properly, and, if it did, whether there would be any workable rockets for it to supply.