I would have to agree with others, it's Iain M Banks hands down. For all the other Sci-Fi I've read over the years, it's Banks' Culture novels that always have me hanging for the latest instalment. Other Authors I won't mention here have developed similar styles over time and developed their own followings but not a single one could possibly compare in my mind.
Seriously, I'm on tenterhooks waiting for "Turn the Wheel."
As to the Best SF Author Alive, I've got to say I certainly think him 'one of the best'. I've a bent for space opera and so appreciate the works of authors like John Scalzi and David Brin, but have to say that the Culture universe is my favorite. As for SF I'd say Kim Stanley Robinson and Neil Stephenson give him a good run for his money.
In any case I eagerly await anything that flows from his digital-pen. He can't write novels fast enough for me.
I liked his books too, i've read most of them. Lately I've been put off by him and will decline to read him further. He infuses his radical bent into his books increasingly, as when he had a main character rant and scream at a couple of Americans that they had the gall to be surprised that 9/11 happened, as if we invited it. As I recall his character was practically foaming at the mouth with his hatred of Americans. There are too many good writer's to have to put up with twisted, illogical, unreasonable radical hate.
I wouldn't automatically ascribe those opinions to Banks. Authors sometimes exaggerate to make a point. He's probably a garden variety Scottish Labourite. I do know the civilization he created, the Culture, is one of the most detailed and compelling utopias ever conceived. If I'm to be reincarnated, I want to be a GSV Mind.
It does seem that,as of late, his prose and humor have been affected by American foreign policy. however, he is tops in a great group of writers (Reynolds,Asher, Hamilton, Morgan etc. ). Let's hope he continues to write sic fi and not switch to political commentary.
I've always thought his Culture novels WERE political commentary, in the grand tradition of Jonathan Swift. Banks' targets never change; xenophobia, racism, sexism, imperialism, screwball theology, and the abuse of power by cruel, mindless, warmongering demagogues and despots. (Re American foreign policy -- if the shoe fits, etc.) On the other hand, ideals of the Culture are always clear; justice, humanity, total equality, and unimaginable riches, made available tp citizens by a technology "indistinguishable from magic" (Heinlein).
Here we go again, every hint of criticism is "hatred of Americans". Banks tore up his *British* passport, too, and mailed it to 10 downing street, being ashamed to be a citizen of a country participating in war fought under the false pretext. He also said he would not set foot on American soil "until democracy is reestablished". He likes bot his country and America very much, just not Bush, Blair and their policies.
That said, some of his characters do tend to rant too much, but that is not new (see, for example, Complicity).
"I wouldn't automatically ascribe those opinions to Banks. Authors sometimes exaggerate to make a point. He's probably a garden variety Scottish Labourite."
I would. He mailed his torn passport to Blair, being ashamed of being a citizen of a country that participates in an aggressive war fought under false pretenses (Iraq, not Afghanistan). He said he would never set foot on American soil again until "the democracy is restored" (he got both his wishes).
"I do know the civilization he created, the Culture, is one of the most detailed and compelling utopias ever conceived. If I'm to be reincarnated, I want to be a GSV Mind."
My favorite quirk of Master Banks' is how he can always manage a kick in the b***s at he very last, often with the final sentence of a 600 page masterpiece, that puts a bow on the whole thing. I think he IS a GSV Mind.
"My favorite quirk of Master Banks' is how he can always manage a kick in the b***s at he very last, often with the final sentence of a 600 page masterpiece, that puts a bow on the whole thing. "
Yes, sometimes it is done absolutely artfully (like in "Use of Weapons"). But I am not sure that last line in "Surface Detail" was actually necessary - it was more of an insider joke, not unlike Culture references in "The Bridge".
"I think he IS a GSV Mind."
I certainly hope so. Or at least another of Sma's operatives, preparing us for Contact :o)
But then, they would probably drop us like a hot potato, as the did in "The State of the Art"...
You might try Banksie's buddy Ken MacLeod, or perhaps Charlie Stross.... To get a taste for the later (if you don't know him already), see this free novelette: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/colderwar.htm
Even if you are mostly or exclusively SciFi reader, don't neglect "non-M" Banks' works, such as The Bridge or Walking on Glass. If you do venture in other genres, you will find many marvelous works, from "Scottish magical realism" to imaginary rock band history.
"If I'm to be reincarnated, I want to be a GSV Mind."
Me too, but I would probably have to settle for a drone :o)
"I do know the civilization he created, the Culture, is one of the most detailed and compelling utopias ever conceived." "On the other hand, ideals of the Culture are always clear; justice, humanity, total equality, and unimaginable riches, made available tp citizens by a technology "indistinguishable from magic" "
But he never ceases to question "purity" of Culture ideals, from its somewhat Machiavellian if benevolent interventionist policies to the point of such "decadent" human existence.
I'd vote for the short story "The State of the Art," in an anthology by the same name. I started with "Excession" myself, and felt a bit lost. For the longest time, I thought the Culture was a human (i.e., Terran) culture in the far future. About "Consider Phlebas;" although Banks has always favored the large canvas, I thought CP came close to being long-winded, and not as good as his later works. For an excellent Banks SF that's NOT a Culture novel, I'd suggest "Against a Dark Background." It took me awhile to decypher the meaning to the title. (Spoiler Alert) A massive solar system, with many habitable planets, is an orphan. It's megaparsecs away from the nearest galaxy. The humanoid civilization that lives there rises and falls every 100 centuries, as regularly as clockwork. There's no chance of intervention by other races, and no chance of escape. They're as isolated as any group could possibly be. It's a good yarn, but "dark."
I like Banks and his Culture, but also find it very curious. For a supposed Utopia, things are often very wrong and are put that way by the Culture. Think about the use of the monster (human) in Use of Weapons, the damage the Culture did to an entire species in Look to Windward and the shameless abuse in The Player of Games. Not very Utopian. Maybe Banks thinks utopias need their flaws.