Though effectively limited just to this one galaxy for now, the Culture uses a couple of different types of FTL travel at least one of which cheerfully breaks some of our most important laws of physics, and knows of other universes nested within – and extending beyond – this one, though at the time of the stories so far it can’t access any of these. It’s a functioning utopia – or as close as anything remotely human can get to a utopia – and is dedicated to interfering in less developed civilisations – for their own good, naturally.
I was interested in both science and science fiction from a very young age, and by the time I was seven or eight it was obvious to me that the best thing in the world would be to spend my life doing three things: writing books, making movies, and working as some kind of scientist. And I did make some attempts at all three, but I didn’t really have the temperament to persist with the last two. In the late 1980s I started writing short stories about biotech and artificial intelligence that just clicked. David Pringle, the editor of Interzone, bought several of them and encouraged me to work to my strengths.
I tend to write what is colloquially known as “Hard Science Fiction” in that it adheres (or more less) to the known laws of physics, abides by generally understood rules of mathematics, etc. I try not to break these rules, and if I do, I try to be consistent about how they are broken. Moreover, my books and stories tend to focus on the everyman: how (s)he reacts to challenges, upon being plunged into dire or extraordinary circumstances. If I could hang my hat on a philosophy, I would quote Captain Kirk from the second (original) Star Trek movie: I don’t believe in the no-win scenario. Thus while I might put my characters through hell, I also operate from the premise that hell is a temporary condition, so what happens after that? What does the future hold? How will men and women craft for themselves a life of meaning and purpose, even if all has been taken from them?
It’s hard for me to categorise my science fiction as one sub-type or another because one moment I’m writing about galaxy-spanning apocalypes (Maelstrom’s Edge) and the next I’m writing about parkour and surveillance society (The Data Runners Above Our Heads: A Documentary). Whether it’s hard-SF or cyberpunk or something else, what my works do often have in common are spectacular settings and moments of high drama. My pieces are usually seeded by a glimpse of a wondrous environment or a dramatic vision: an astronaut spacewalking above a cirrus-flecked Earth; a human marionette traipsing across the Siberian tundra; an insect colony riddling an ancient asteroid.
Other than the characters, I suppose my horror tends toward the supernatural and the mythological … mostly, I veer away from serial killers, mass murders and torture and the like. Nothing wrong with it … people do ultra-violence very well, but I prefer a supernatural edge when I’m writing fiction. Masters of Blood and Bone, A Stranger’s Grave … these are more my comfort zone that stories like Insulation, or Unit 731 which rely almost solely on man’s violence toward others … I can write about people being horrible, and often do, but I prefer a hopeful ending, I think, to sheer brutality.