Inhuman Swill : Cancer

Iain Banks
Amid the staggering news of other losses this week, I want to remember to say a few words about Iain Banks, one my literary idols. (Two of my literary idols, really, if you care to think of his Iain M. Banks byline separately.)

I, like many of you, I'm sure, was stunned to tears on Wednesday morning by the news that Mr. Banks is suffering from late-stage cancer and probably doesn't have long to live. He broke the news in typically straightforward and mordant fashion, but that didn't make it any easier to take.

Iain Banks is an important writer. I can't think of another writer who so consciously, so prolifically, and so successfully divided his output between serious mainstream fiction and rigorous hard science fiction. He proved, at least in the U.K., that one need not confine oneself to a single genre or style of fiction in order to maintain a brilliant career. It would have been impossible to guess from his twisted 1984 debut, The Wasp Factory, that just three years later he would affix a giant M to his chest like some superhero of letters, fly into space, and bring Consider Phlebas back to Earth, introducing us to what may at the time have been the most mind-expanding and humane future society ever invented, The Culture.

And Iain Banks is an important writer to me. His books can be found all over our house—on the science fiction shelves, on the mainstream shelves, almost always in the to-be-read pile on my nightstand, and even, in the case of his whisky travelogue Raw Spirit, on the alcohol shelf. He's a model of professional productivity, putting out a book nearly every year, and he's as fearless in his contemporary novels as he is visionary in his science fiction. (In 2002's Dead Air, he was already riffing on the meaning of 9/11 before other writers dared even think about it.) And his work is a constant inspiration to those of us who find ourselves attracted writing in more than one world.

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Joe Murphy Memorial Fund
Joe Murphy, podcaster and XM Radio personality, passed away April 1 from the rare cancer leiomyosarcoma, which attacks the smooth muscles of the body.

Joe's favorite song was Jonathan Coulton's "First of May," so to raise awareness of his disease and raise funds for his family, a group of podcasters spearheaded by the estimable Paul Fischer and the heroic Phil Rossi have recorded a benefit version of "First of May":

"First of May (Joe Murphy Mix)" Written by Jonathan Coulton Recorded by The P-Cast Allstars 6:03     7.38 Mb     160kbps
Ella and I each have a small part. See if you can spot us!

And please, if you can, donate to the Joe Murphy Memorial Fund.

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Stem cells for Michael Brecker

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I'm surely not the only jazz aficianado here who nurtures a deep love and admiration for the music of Michael Brecker. He's been one of the most in-demand session saxophonists of the past 30 years, recording with the likes of Steely Dan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Dire Straits, Billy Joel, Todd Rundgren, and literally dozens if not hundreds of others. But it's his jazz work, both as a leader and a sideman, where he's proven himself an all-too-rare innovator among modern tenor players.

He's fairly upbeat in a New York Times article from last week, but there's no getting around the fact that Michael Brecker will die without a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant:

Mr. Brecker, 56, was recently found to have myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells. His doctors say he needs a blood stem cell and bone marrow transplant, a harrowing procedure that will be possible only if Mr. Brecker finds a stem cell donor with a specific enough genetic match for his tissue type. So far, they have been unable to find one from the millions of people on an international registry for bone marrow donors....

Fellow musicians have been spreading the word in music circles, urging people to be tested to find a possible match for Mr. Brecker. There was even a rumor circulating that a match had been found, which turned out to be false....

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William Shunn

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