I'm currently reading Iain M. Banks' "Matter", one of the more recent books in the rock'n'roll sci-fi space-opera "Culture" series. And something I can't help wondering is why this book and M. Banks' amazing previous book "The Algebraist" (not part of the Culture series) have such obvious bad guys.
Banks is an excellent writer and clearly capable of drawing characters with depth and personality. So why in these 2 books does he have bad guys who are quite clearly Bad Guys? They have no morals, and cause pain to achieve their selfish ends, or even just on a whim. They are definitely Bad Guys.
Now I think I know. I think he enjoys writing Bad Guys.
Despite Banks' writing skills and his leftist, liberal political views (as far as I know of him), he's also quite a personality himself. These evil characters he creates are simple, straightforward, and perfectly happy to do whatever they need to get what they want.
The Culture, on the other hand - the loose projection of Western human civilisation in space - is full of guilt and self-doubt. Is it right to interfere with this civilisation? Is it wrong to use force to prevent someone else's war? Who are we to judge and act over other species?
The Culture are undoubtedly the good guys in "Matter" and all the books before and after, and you do want them to win, and they inevitably prevail in some form or other. But Banks makes them so awkward, so indecisive, so boring. In contrast, the Bad Guys know what they want and they're going to kill, connive, murder, slaughter, pillage and destroy partly because that's what happens in the daily pursuit of power, and partly because it's fun.
Banks is a rationalist but he's also a human being, and has a fiercely human personality. By drawing a techno-utopia in the future where most or all desires are satisfied, he raises the possibility that the important Good Guys who want to achieve balance and keep everything stable could be horribly, horribly boring.