We’re not on the blockchain, but we are blocked by Gareth Roberts

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. phuzz
    February 3, 2015 @ 1:53 am

    The Wasp Factory remains one of the few books that has managed to sicken me so much I had to put it down, and go seek out other people's company for a bit. The passage about the baby in the hospital still gives me horrors.

    That aside, you can certainly see the links between Frank and Zakalwe from Use of Weapons, and the shock ending of both is, well, a shock.


  2. Daniel Tessier
    February 3, 2015 @ 4:59 am

    I agree. That image of the "smiling boy" has stuck with me since I read this over fifteen years ago.

    I remember being very impressed with the novel when I first read it, although I imagine that I would be less so if I read it now.


  3. BerserkRL
    February 3, 2015 @ 9:55 am

    The baby scene does tend to stick in the mind.


  4. Gallifreyan_Immigrant
    February 3, 2015 @ 9:59 am

    Feb 9th is so close. . .I'll miss this blog.


  5. timber-munki
    February 3, 2015 @ 11:06 am

    If you're looking for a title for this series of posts I'd suggest M theory.


  6. Daibhid C
    February 3, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

    I've gotta admit, I've never read this and don't intend to. I read about it and I thought "I totally respect his right to write it, I think the Irish Times is over-reacting hugely and I'm sure it has great literary merit, but personally? No thanks."


  7. Dustin
    February 3, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

    Does this have some ancillary relationship to Doctor Who, Moore or Morrison that I've missed, or is this an independent endeavor? Should, in any case, be interesting, since I know nothing whatsoever about Banks' work.


  8. Dialectomitch
    February 4, 2015 @ 1:01 am

    I've no exact idea why, after nearly two years of happily lurking and just taking in The TARDIS Eruditoriumm I feel compelled to comment on this, of all things – I certainlt wouldn’t say I’m a Banks expert.Then again,
    I grew up in Scotland in the 80s and 90s and, as a voracious reader, naturally consumed a lot of Banks as a natural part of that life process so there are a few thoughts floating around my head about it.

    So er hello Phil – big fan, and all that… an interesting take on The Wasp Factory.
    I first read it in 1993 during my Sixth year at Secondary and was not remotely aware of the trans issues in the novel (or a lot of things I have since made it my business to improve my knowledge and awareness of) – there just wasn't that much debate or discourse on it – or rather, much debate or discourse where I could access it! Thinking about it now makes the book, charitably, very much of its time and possessed of a major blind spot. Instead of an aspect to be properly explored though the identity of the character, Frank's gender is a cheap gimmick or twist – both a major shortcoming and a missed opportunity.

    Back then, The Wasp Factory reminded of ‘The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler’ a novel I read in primary school, in which the school tearaway is revealed to be a girl in the last chapter, though I think the book was actually much more progressive on that issue, than the Wasp Factory itself in that the 'twist' comes from the way the novel deliberately pulls on our gender associations and expectations.

    But I really came to think of The Wasp Factory as a deliberate subversion of certain sacred concepts in Scottish writing, bequeathed by the writers of the early 20th century Scottish literary renaissance and sustained, somewhat beyond their shelf-life by their various disciples. This is because I read the Wasp Factory at the same time as we were reading Neil Gunn’s ‘Highland River’ in which a young fisherman’s son Kenn finds delight in his local landscape and through it, enlightenment and self-knowledge (Gunn was a Zen Buddhist, by the way). The year before we did another novel, Sunset Song, in which ‘the Land’ was presented through its female lead character as a mitigating feminine principle in the Calvinistically-bisected Scottish psyche (always good for a laugh) and the true balancing element in her sense of identity. So given that my experience of the Wasp Factory was sandwiched between these two things it was hard for me to resist interpreting it as a gleeful perversion of the themes in the set texts we were reading at school.

    That may not have been completely a result of my literary fatigue though – what happens when Frank engages with ‘the land’ seems a distinctly dark form of enlightenment through the landscape, based on exerting and imposing control. All of which reminds me as I write this, of the post on the Tenth Planet, Qlippoths and dark mirrors – though I may just be surfing on a wave of allusion at this point… I also, never thought of it as incidental that Frank and his family are landowners at a time every rich bastard seemed to be treating themselves to a Scottish island at the time and land reform (a big issue in the Highlands of Scotland) was a long way off.

    Then, in early ‘94 I first read James Hogg’s ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, with its doppelgangers, brooding landscape, fractured identities, multiple unreliable narrators, gothic horror and Presbyterian mind-fuckery, and realised that was a much stronger precedent for Banks' – imperfect – commentary in The Wasp Factory. But perhaps The Wasp Factory is really all about those mirrors, in the sense that like Frank, Banks is trying to work out his surroundings and what sort of control he can, or should, exert on them?


  9. Daibhid C
    February 4, 2015 @ 6:30 am

    It certainly has a relationship to Doctor Who, albeit a tenuous one: the People of the Worldsphere were intentionally created as the Doctor Who version of Banks's Culture. But it's a new project, as Phil says, just like the upcoming Game of Thrones thing.


  10. phuzz
    February 4, 2015 @ 7:57 am

    Pun intended?


  11. Carey
    February 4, 2015 @ 8:52 am

    Banks clearly has a real fondness for characters of this sort. But what's interesting is that he doesn't generally find himself all too interested in the social processes that create such people.

    I'd agree with this: there's a great 2008 podcast from the Guardian where Iain Banks is interviewed specifically about The Wasp Factory ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2008/jul/16/guardian.bookclub.podcast ) which I think you refer to and in it you very much come across the idea that what Banks was looking for in The Wasp Factory (and quite possibly throughout his fiction) was the complicity of the reader. A procession of horrendous events unfold, yet we are asked to sympathise with the protagonist. The final "twist" is, I feel, designed to wrong foot the reader, not give great psychological insights into Frank.

    The interview sidesteps questions of transgenderism, although Banks himself says that while talking about the events of the past (i.e., everything before the ending of The Wasp Factory) he finds himself referring to Frank as he, but when asked about the future of the character Banks swaps pronouns. the closest he comes is in saying he likes to think of himself as a feminist. His views can be ascertained from his Culture novels, however, a society he describes as his perfect fantasy society which he would like to live himself. The inhabitants of The Culture possess the ability to change gender at will (albeit the process takes a long period of time) and the only people who ever seem to have a problem with it are usually antagonistic societies outside The Culture.

    The interview linked to above is quite a fascinating one: Banks seems to dislike overanalysing his characters- at least once he comments on how one interpretation of Frank is quite Freudian, and expresses a desire not to continue with down that route.

    He comes across as very much like Steven Moffat (and not just in his accent): he is witty but self critical. He also admits in The Wasp Factory to the same flaw as Moffat with Girl In the Fireplace, in being frightened that his audience will get bored so constantly putting in something to hopefully keep them interested. Banks is also similar to Moffat in producing Puzzle Box stories as opposed to mysteries. Amusingly, in one of his final interviews he admits to have fallen out of love with Doctor Who in it's present incarnation, which seems to indicate he wasn't that great a fan of Moffat's writing. Having said that, his main problem with Doctor Who in 2013 was the amount of rules it possessed. Something he'd said before about Dtar trek, and I feel very revealing about his approach to writing.

    I did like your essay, Phil, but would possibly suggest putting the novel in some form of context outside of Banks' career. Banks himself says in the interview above that The Wasp Factory grew out of the same sense of literary movement as Ian Mcewan and Martin Amis, and definitely has literary antecedents in Lord of the Flies and Robinson Crusoe. And descendants in Irving Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk.


  12. encyclops
    February 4, 2015 @ 10:24 am

    I think this must be one of the "final interviews" you mean: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/15/iain-banks-the-final-interview

    The relevant passage, for the convenience of anyone who was as curious as I was:

    …Banks is off already, talking 19 to the dozen, brandishing a handkerchief with a Cyberman on it (a present) and saying, "You know, I've fallen out of love with Doctor Who, at least in its present incarnation. I just can't get along with it. People have suggested I should write for the programme, but, ach, I just couldn't. I might have been hopelessly naive but I hadn't realised there are just so many rules when you write a Doctor Who story, like the monster has to go back in the box at the end."


  13. BerserkRL
    February 4, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

    Of course! I'd never made the connection between The Wasp Factory and Hogg's Justified Sinner before, but now that you mention it I recognise the commonality of feel and theme.


  14. BerserkRL
    February 4, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

    Blog-related but not post-related: an anarchist replies to the claim that Alan Moore is objectively right-wing: http://c4ss.org/content/35426


  15. Dialectomitch
    February 4, 2015 @ 11:55 pm

    It's a much re-written novel – in the late seventies Emma Tennant re-wrote Justified Sinner with female characters as 'The Bad Sister'. I suppose Banks did something similar gender-wise, but with less success – at least on aesthetic grounds. Commercially Wasp Factory did way better!


  16. Daru
    February 6, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

    Yes I absolutely will too, this has been a cornerstone of my morning reading for years now.


  17. Daru
    February 6, 2015 @ 11:52 pm

    "what happens when Frank engages with ‘the land’ seems a distinctly dark form of enlightenment through the landscape, based on exerting and imposing control. All of which reminds me as I write this, of the post on the Tenth Planet, Qlippoths and dark mirrors"

    As a Scot myself who went through all of the reading list that you did Dialectomitch, I completely agree. And brilliant suggestion in the quote above linking the themes with Phil's posts about the dark side of Enlightenment and how that connects to Frank. Great comments for a first time post!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.