Although I always wanted to be a writer, I did not deliberately set out to be a science fiction writer in particular. My stories are usually about my own life, things I see happening around me and things I struggle to make sense of. But up to now, they’ve always end up being science fiction. I like the freedom it gives me to invent things and play with ideas. (If you going to make up the characters, why not make up the world as well?) It provides a bit of distance too, which all writers need.
In book shops science fiction is usually cordoned off in its own little ghetto, which many people I know seem to regard as the preserve of Comic Book Guy. But science fiction is simply a form of fiction where some aspect of the world is different from the world we know and there is no particular reason whey it should not be as varied in content, quality and style as any other kind of fiction. It’s a pack of playing cards which can be used to play many different kinds of game.
It’s also a mistake to think of science fiction and fantasy as sidelines and of naturalistic fiction as the mainstream. The early classics of literature were what we would now call fantasy (think of the Odyssey, Beowulf, the Icelandic Sagas). Naturalistic fiction is a relatively modern invention: a very specialist subgenre of fantasy which, although it is really ‘made up’, nevertheless mimics real life.
Science fiction is a modern kind of fantasy: fantasy for an age in which we don’t believe in magic. Or rather for an age in which we actually can do magic (fly through the air, talk to machines, send pictures to the far side of the world, sew the living heart of one person into the body of another…)
My books and stories
I have been writing short stories since 1990. The first to appear in print was ‘A Matter of Survival’ in Interzone, the most durable of British SF magazines. The next two stories published there, ‘La Macchina’ and ‘The Long Journey of Frozen Heart’ were prototypes for my first novel, The Holy Machine. I took unpaid leave from my job to write The Holy Machine in 1994. I rewrote it, pretty much in its final form, in 1997, but it did not get published until 2004, by Wildside in the US. In 2009 it was reprinted under the Cosmos label, along with my second novel Marcher, the novel of mine which draws most obviously on my experiences as a social worker.
My next book was a short story collection, The Turing Test, published by Norwich based small press, Elastic Press, whose founder, owner, editor, proofreader, salesman and everything else-man, Andrew Hook entered the book for the Edge Hill Short Fiction award, which it won in 2009.
The Holy Machine was republished in a new edition by Corvus in 2010. It is an everyday tale of a shy young man who falls in love with a sentient sex robot, and escapes with her to a land ruled by Christian fundamentalists.
In 2012, Corvus published my third novel, Dark Eden, about a small human community marooned on a sunless planet, which went on to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Dark Eden now has two sequels: Mother of Eden and Daughter of Eden. All three books explore the stories -partly historical, partly imagined, partly imposed by those in power- that people tell to give themselves purpose and meaning. In the two sequels, the events in Dark Eden have themselves become myths. I sometimes think that Daughter of Eden is my favourite of all my books.
The theme of story-telling continues in my forthcoming novel America City, whose main protagonist, Holly Peacock, is an ambitious young British publicist who wins the American presidency for a charismatic politician called Stephen Slaymaker. It’s set at a time when an internal refugee problem brought about by climate change is in danger of tearing the country apart.
My third short story collection, and my first foray outside the conventions of science fiction, was published in January 2018. My novels tend to deal with ‘big’ things -politics, revolution, religion, myth- but many of these stories take place at a more individual and personal level. It’s called Spring Tide.