The Wasp Factory

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And so, somewhat unexpectedly, my fifth ever long(ish) form blogging project starts up a week before my fourth. The fourth even has a title and everything. Whereas this one… doesn’t, because I hadn’t been planning on starting it until mid-April at the earliest. And perhaps more to the point, this is very much an exploratory project. To date, the Iain (M) Banks novels I’ve read are this, Player of Games, and Use of Weapons. So I’m still very much drawing a critical bead on him. I’m not even entirely sure I can articulate why I want to write a ten-plus post blog series on the Culture novels yet.

Nevertheless, it begins here, with Banks’s first published novel, in his literary, M-free identity, The Wasp Factory. It is worth noting that Banks’s early career features a mildly complicated chronology. The Wasp Factory came out in 1984. His first science fiction novel, Consider Phlebas, came out in 1987. But drafts of Phlebas and the next two Culture novels, Player of Games and Use of Weapons, all pre-date The Wasp Factory.

Which is to say that the broad shape of Banks’s career is misleading. He has said that he always considered himself a science fiction writer first, and that he tried his hand at literary fiction when science fiction wasn’t quite working out for him. And more to the point, he’s said that he inwardly thought of The Wasp Factory as a science fiction novel. As Banks explained in a 2008 interview, the isolated setting of a small island near a remote Scottish village allowed him to treat a realist setting in a manner not unlike an alien planet, and the, shall we say, eccentricities of the protagonist, Frank, meant that they was not entirely unlike writing about someone from an alien culture.

But in the context of his later work, or at least, in the context of the bits of it I’ve read, there’s another theme that emerges – one that I’m willing to hazard a pretty strong guess is going to prove to be one of Banks’s major topics across his career, which is the idea of people as technology. The big twist in The Wasp Factory is that Frank, who goes through the book thinking that their genitals were bitten off in a dog attack when they was young, is in fact a woman who has been being given male hormones by their father throughout their life as part of what their father drunkenly describes as an “experiment.”

A digression here, because although I don’t actually find the trans issues most interesting about this book, I know what is expected of me as a blogger. First of all, let me say that I wish to hell there were some thorough trans perspectives on The Wasp Factory.

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