British Fantasy and Philip K. Dick award nominee Neal Asher has been churning out very well regarded Sci-Fi in the UK scene for nearly ten years now with more than that many novels so far and many more on the way. I only recently read The Skinner, which is one of his best known and earliest novels, but its shear depth was staggering at times while still being able to create well rounded characters in a wide universe with a huge history. Most of his novels are set in one universe generally known as the Polity Universe, although there are a three distinct series set there. I had to learn a bit more about Neal of his books so I went directly to the man himself to find out.
MH: You've created the Polity Universe, which started with water covered world of The Skinner, but you have a habit of filling many of its time periods with various series. What are the best entry points to this Universe for those uninitiated?
NEAL: The prequels Prador Moon and Shadow of the Scorpion are a pretty good place to start: nice short books not too taxing to begin with. For the hardened SF reader who likes to go in directly at doorstep level the first books of each series can stand alone: The Skinner and Gridlinked. There’s also my collection of short stories, The Gabble, if you’re a browser rather than a guzzler. And of course there’s the stand-alone called Hilldiggers. My general advice would be just don’t jump in at the middle of a series but, then again, I’ve spoken to people who have done just that and it hasn’t put them off.
MH: Tor UK has been recently re-releasing many of your books with new cover art, which I must say are usually outstanding. I've noticed they're usually going with some sort of crazy looking monster-alien creature popping off the page. Before I had read The Skinner I thought they'd be a crazy Horror/Sci-Fi mash-up, while they are clearly more than that were you going for a Horror feel at all. Do many of the stories involve monsters of a sort?
NEAL: Yes, many of my stories involve monsters, some of which, of course, are human. I don’t think the intention was to go for a horror feel to the books, since the horror market is not exactly in the rude health it was in twenty or so years ago. I think here we have more of a case of unashamed cover design. This is science fiction, this is science fiction with aliens, big guns and weird robots and, no matter what any myopic twits in the publishing industry might think, we are not going to have a still-life cover featuring a rose and a handgun.
MH: I think fans appreciate it. You can only have so many ephemeral space stations and ringed world covers. Were any of your books particularly difficult to write? If so why? I noted in a past interview you considered writing a fairly easy job compared to your many manual labor jobs of the past.
MH: Do you think all of your early hard physical work help mold the types of tough characters you are know for? Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
NA: I’ve never based characters on people I know as a whole, though I do use fragments, what writer doesn’t? No, I don’t think that the physical work molds the characters, but I do think a certain pragmatism from those years of work informs them.
MH:What was your experience when you sold your first novel?
site called ‘Getting There’ and ‘How it Happens’ which cover this.
MH: You recently mentioned on twitter you're working on researching your next book, which is tentatively titled Zero Point. Will this be part of the Polity Universe as well? What sort of research is this project entailing?
NA: This answers your question below too. In my last 3 book contract for Macmillan the middle book was one outside of the Polity Universe based on my ‘Owner’ stories in The Engineer ReConditioned. It is called The Departure and I finished it last year. The next book was to be another Polity book, provisionally titled Gabbleducks. Since The Departure was the start of an entire new series, the editor at Macmillan wanted to swap round my publishing schedule so the whole series would be published consecutively. I agreed and therefore knuckled down to finish the Polity book, which then acquired the title The Technician. So there are two books waiting in the queue and now I’m looking at writing the second book in the ‘Owner Sequence’ which is called Zero Point. The research I was referring to was into zero point energy since, if viable, it could lead to inertialess space drives and possibly tapping infinite energy from the very fabric of the universe, so I’m reading some books on that. If it all turns out to be bunkum (highly possible) the title might have to change.
MH: Who are some under rated authors you think should have a wider readership? Or any new authors we should be on the watch for?
NA: Generally, if they’re good, authors get the readership. As for new authors to watch out for, in the last two years I’ve not read anything notable from one. Prior to that I would have pointed straight at Peter Watts, Alan Campbell and Gary Gibson, but they’re probably old news now.
MH: In keeping with the name of the blog: What is your favorite type of hat? I see you as a tweed hat wearer.
NA: I just wear a woolly ski-type hat if I’m cold.
MH: Congratulations on your recent contract signing for a 5 book deal with Macmillan that will continue your relationship with them for at least the next 5 years. What kind of moment was that for you? To know you'd have such job security for years to come and not to mention the vote of confidence that your publisher shows. Did you butter up Julie with a Skinner shaped cake?
I used no cakes on Julie, though I'm aware this is a technique other authors employ. Really, as far as job security is concerned, it isn't really there. These contracts lay out the terms of payment but, quite simply, if I produce a crappy book Macmillan retains the right to reject it, so really the security is in me continuing to produce good books. Of course I am happy about the big vote of confidence, but damn, this is my fifth contract (the previous four being 3-book ones) so I have much of a feeling of 'business as usual'. Also, this has come on top of them redesigning the covers of all my previous books and relaunching them which, in a way, I feel is a bigger vote of confidence.
MH: What are two things most people don't know about you?
I'm running a search through my mind at the moment and coming up blank. I spend such a lot of time communicating over the internet, on my blog, on Facebook and elsewhere, I've probably told people more about myself than I'm even aware of. Okay, here's a couple: I've still got all my teeth and I don't have an English mobile phone.
MH: Is there anything you'd like to add in closing?
Well, The Technician is out this August and The Departure is out the following year. For your perusal, here are the blurbs:
Twenty years after the fall of the Theocracy, a religious policeman, Jeremiah Tombs, the only living survivor of a hooder attack, has escaped his sanatorium. The scorpion drone Amistad lets him run, for though Polity technology could cure him, the AIs are reluctant to meddle since it was the near mythical Technician that attacked him, and it did something to his mind that even they don’t understand.
The amphidapt Chanter pursues the Technician in his mudmarine, trying to understand the grotesque sculptures of bones the creature makes with its victim’s remains, trying to understand its art. He is recruited by Amistad, along with ex-rebel Commander Lief Grant, and a lethal black AI everyone thought was dead.
Tombs could possess information about the racial suicide of the Atheter, but his self-destructive madness needs to be cured by confrontation with the reality about him, a reality in which the religion-hating Tidy Squad wants him dead. And meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.
Like Wellsian war machines the shepherds stride into riots to grab up the ringleaders and drag them off to Inspectorate HQ for adjustment, unless they are in shredding mode, in which case their captives visit community digesters, or rather whatever of them has not been washed down the street drains.
Pain inducers are used for adjustment, and soon the Committee will have the power to edit human minds, but not yet, twelve billion human being need to die before Earth can be stabilized, but by turning large portions of Earth into concentration camps this is achievable, especially when the Argus satellite laser network comes fully online…
Alan Saul has taken a different route to disposal, waking as he does inside a crate on the conveyor into the Calais incinerator. How he got there he does not know, but he does remember the pain and the face of his interrogator. Janus speaks to Saul through the hardware implanted in his skull, sketching the nightmare world for him. And Saul decides to bring it all crashing down…
You Might Also Like:
INTERVIEW | Kristine Kathryn Rusch author of Diving Into the Wreck
INTERVIEW | Paul McAuley author of The Quiet War
REVIEW | Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson