Perhaps it is a sign of my own progressing age, but these stories seem to come at ever increasing frequency. I read today with surprise and regret that one of my favourite authors (who's book I happen to be reading currently) has stage 4 cancer. Iain M Banks, Scotsman, ornery marxist and creator of "The Culture" series of books has written his last. I despised Sci Fi before I read his work. His work encouraged me to try a few more Sci Fi authors but none have come close to Banks' works. They're (no exaggeration) astoundingly brilliant. The world, a "post scarcity" world The Culture exists in is not only an endlessly fascinating place to explore, but it provides a very fertile from which to imagine how a far distant human future might take place. I know I will miss it.
Any other fans? Stand outs for me would be Excession. Consider Phlebas. Look to Windward. Use of Weapons. Player of Games. Against a dark Background.
I was a fan of Iain Banks too, but they never tugged at the 'awe' factor they way M does.
Best of luck Mr Banks and thanks for sharing your amazing imagination with us so far.