Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Engineer

It's pretty picture time again. Here first is the original cover of The Engineer published by Tanjen.

‘A thought-provoking operatic romp’ – SFX.

‘This is an astonishing collection of stories’ – Genre.
Ambiguous plot and crown style. No Trek morals here’ – Dragon’s Breath.
‘Asher will soon become better known outside his native land’ – Borders.
The Engineer (a novella) and the short stories Snairls, Spatterjay, Jable sharks, The Thrake, Proctors, and The Owner.
Mysterious aliens ... ruthless terrorists ... androids with attitude ...genetic manipulation ... punch-ups with lasers ... giant spaceships ... what more do you want?

And here is the version from Cosmos books with some extra stories and introductory blurbs from me. I called this The Engineer Reconditioned because well ... you recondition an engine.

Apparently it's being distributed by a company called Diamond and is now selling pretty well. If you've got a copy of the one above I recommend you go out and buy a copy of the new edition. It's received further editing, has those extra stories and blurbs, but that's not the reason why. You need to wrap the old version in plastic and lock it away in a safe, since I've seen copies on eBay up for $125.

Then again, I'm not entirely sure they sell for that since it's a 'buy now' price. But buy the new one anyway!


I'll shut up now - too much wine.

Here's Rick Kleffel's review.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sun of Suns - Karl Schroeder

Ah, and there's another one I neglected to mention: Karl Schroeder. Try his 'Sun of Suns'


I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I’ll do the same again here. This year has been pretty good (to me) for new SFF. The first is Blindsight by Peter Watts – a superb bit of SF. Check out his site here and his wonderful 'Vampire Domestication'.

The next book, which I roared through in a very short time is Scar Night by Alan Campbell. This will be out next month from Macmillan and I believe is also being released in America. An excellent fantasy that'll have many other writers of the same looking to their laurels. Alan has a blog here:

In their genres, both of these books are the best I've read in some years.

Here’s some more writers you might like to check out: is the site of Marc D. Giller who is producing some excellent cyberpunkish stuff, is the site of Mark Budz whose leanings are much more biotech, then there’s Tobias S Buckell over here

To be frank, I’m not entirely sure why there’s this idea knocking about that the British are leading the SF field, unless of course it’s only a British idea…

Nice review of Prador Moon over here on Cheryl Morgan’s Emerald City:

Monday, June 26, 2006

Sea-Level Rise

Global sea-level rise … apparently, over the last 18,000 years since the peak of the last Ice Age, global sea-levels have risen more than 120 metres. The IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) estimates a rise – factoring in global warming – of 110 to 770mm over the next century. Now, let me get this straight: the average per century rise over the last 18,000 years has been 670mm, which is much more than the mean of the IPCC rate. Could it be that the sea level rise we are presently seeing is just a fluctuation? Remember, we're still not out of the last Ice Age. Anyway, we’ve got a hundred years to raise our sea defences by a maximum of three-quarters of a metre – that’s 7.7mm a year. Goodness gracious, we’re all doomed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hedge Fuel

Sir Richard Branson wants to turn Virgin trains into the greenest in Britain by running them on biodiesel rather than pure diesel – 15% from biological sources such as rapeseed and soya. He’s also leading a plan to build the world’s largest bioethanol plant in America. Our next door nieghbour is suffering from a common complaint of British gardeners: an overhanging leylandii hedge (not ours I hasten to add).

What’s the connection?

Well, the conjunction of these two things in my head, along with memories of about 15 years of cutting leylandii hedges led me to speculate on a couple of things. Most biofuels are derived from edible oils taken from what are essentially food crops like the mentioned soya and rape, but do those crops seem oily? After years of trimming leylandii hedges I can attest to the fun of having to scrub blobs of resin from all over me. Also, what about the calorific value of these trimmings? Try burning green maize or rape and you’ve no chance. Put a lighter to a piece of leylandii and once hot enough it bursts into flame. Couldn’t we crop this stuff and turn it into biofuel?

Think of the advantages: it only has to be planted once, it’ll yield large quantities of trimmings once or twice a year. There would be little need for herbicides, insecticides or fungicides – ever see weeds growing under a leylandii hedge, ever see such a hedge wiped out by disease or insects? The areas between the rows, where tractors would necessarily have to run, could be left fallow. These, and the hedges themselves would be excellent refuges for wildlife. After processing for oil, what’s left could also be used as fuel, maybe compacted into briquettes, fed straight into a biofuel-burning power station or turned into bioethanol. It might even be used to make compressed fibre board or paper.

Now, are there any chemists out there who can tell me I’m talking bollocks?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Polity Chronology

Moving swiftly on, here, for reader interest is the Polity chronology I'm presently working with:

2050 – 2250 Expansion into the solar system. Corporate wars and many generation ships, or early U-space drive ships sent on their way. Also the AI takeover of human affairs, in the ‘Quiet War’. Colony ship to Cull in this time.
2130 – Hoop and crew arrive on Spatterjay (mutiny – stolen ship)
2150 – Establishing of Golem series and Cybercorp.
2151 – Algin Tenkian born on Mars.
2190 – Skaidon interfaces with AI and invents the technology leading to the runcible and more efficient U-space engines. Humanity expands into the galaxy.

2260 – First runcible goes online.
2260 – 2350 Massive human expansion into the galaxy.
2330 – Beginning of the Prador Third Kingdom
2339 – Ian Cormac born
2310 – Prador Moon
2310 – 2350 Prador/Human war
2350 – Polity police action on Spatterjay.
2356 – Keech is killed hunting Alphed Rimsc

2407 – Disappearance of Dragon from Aster Colora.
2432 – Destruction of the Samarkand runcible.
2434 – Arrival of Hubris at Samarkand (Gridlinked)
2437 – Destruction of Outlink station Miranda (Line of Polity)
2441 – Pursuit of Skellor (Brass Man)

2450 – Gosk Balem (Ambel) thrown into the sea – 100 years after war.
2500 – David McGrooger born
2550 – Keech finds Corbel Frane on Viridian – 500 years before
2803 – Polity arrives at Spatterjay to establish runcible base
2853 – Frisk hands herself in (apparently). – 200 years before
2878 – Bloc murdered by Aesop and Bones
3056 – Keech Janer and Erlin arrive on Spatterjay (The Skinner)
3078 – Taylor Bloc’s ship launches (The Voyage of the Sable Keech)

Thursday, June 22, 2006


It was amusing, shortly after publicising this blog, to receive an email containing this from another SF writer:

"A sci-fi writer admitting he's a conservative? If I had the balls (or a big enough audience as of yet), I'd come out of that closet myself."

Conservative is probably about correct since I believe in conserving what is good and what works and not in destroying it on the basis of some misconceived ideology, though perhaps the term libertarian might be better and no label at all even better than that. It wasn't really too much of a risk admitting to my views since anyone who has read my comments on various message boards will have figured them out anyway. It's interesting that the writer should admit to caution about doing the same. I also find it interesting reading new SF writers banging the lefthand drum in the belief they are being radical, when in truth they are only joining the establishment.

Check Elastic Before Jumping

Check Elastic Before Jumping my 'SF short' is appearing in the 22 June issue of Nature. Funny, the envelope I received the magazine in was addressed to Dr. Neal Asher. I guess that's a precaution the editorial staff take with all their contributors. I understand this magazine is a rather prestigious place in which to have your science articles published. My bit is a snapshot into the future that finishes it off. Very nicely presented. Now, can someone tell me what 'The journal can now be accessed on some 8 million desktops worldwide through site licenses.' means? It sounds bloody good to me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Smoking Ban

I have ranted on about this sort of thing before, but with recent news stories it bears repetition. I confess that I am a smoker, that I chuff away on Old Holborn roll-ups . But y’know, I don’t like being a smoker. I try to give it up but with nicotine being more addictive than heroin this is no easy task. Now obviously, in today’s society, this means that I get less help than a heroin addict, despite the fact that I don’t steal to support my habit, and am more evil than a rapist and a murderer and should be pilloried for my offence. Why? I’m baffled.

Apparently the Government now intends to ban smoking in places like bus shelters and hopes to extend the ban to everywhere outside. They are coming up with this only a few weeks after admitting (in very small articles in the anti-smoking media) to ‘exaggerating’ the effects of passive smoking. Let me illustrate some of that exaggeration:

Apparently, breathing secondhand cigarette smoke increases your chances of getting lung cancer by 25%. Most people, whose acquaintance with mathematics was an unhappy affair from childhood to teens and quickly forgotten, will illogically look at that percentage and think breathing secondhand smoke gives them a one in four chance of getting lung cancer. They don’t seem to realise that to understand the statement you need to first know what your chances are without breathing that smoke. They are about 1% – one in a hundred. A 25% increase in your chances of getting lung cancer means these odds rise by a quarter per cent – giving odds substantially less than those of being killed in a car accident, of committing suicide or being gunned down. But how much passive smoking are we talking about: a lifetime serving behind a bar or a whiff of cigar smoke in your high street? Well, you can guarantee those odds are predicated on the first instance and not the second.

I know that many non-smokers out there will not blink an eye at this. But think about it: apparently the owners of pubs and clubs cannot be trusted with deciding themselves whether or not to allow smoking, and those who work in such places are not adult enough to decide what to tolerate in their working environment. More power to the government, more nanny statism, more of our freedoms eroded. How long before this government, in its wisdom, then decides to limit how much we are allowed to drink or eat, since excess of either is unhealthy? The initial smoking ban in pubs and clubs came on the recommendation of the BMA, who at the same time wanted to limit customers of those same establishments to three drinks an evening. The Government said they could not enforce that one; they didn’t say it would be wrong to enforce it (and you can be damned sure it wouldn’t apply to the House of Commons bar)… How long, I wonder, will it be before you have to buy a permit and fill in a risk-assessment form for farting in public?

It's funny, isn’t it, how on the one hand the government tells us we're living too long and our country won't be able to support us, and on the other, it wants to keep us all healthy and long-lived. The politicians should really make up their minds about this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006



Since it is a good idea, I feel, to add variety to a blog (and not be too political all the time), here's a shaggy dog story...

About two and a half years ago my wife, Caroline, decided to join the Cinnamon Trust. This is a charity that gets in people to walk and look after pets for those who are no longer capable. After she joined, a few months passed before anyone contacted her. Finally someone did, giving her the number of an old lady in Burnham (about four or five miles from us) who needed her dog walking. Caroline phoned and though the phone was answered she didn’t get much of an intelligible response, so decided to drive over. A very old lady with a hearing aid attached to an amplifier the size of a modern mobile phone answered the door – hence the problems with the telephone call.

Then there was Max.

At that point Caroline’s experience of dogs included an irascible spaniel and a small black wire-haired bitsa. Here she had been dropped in at the deep end. Max is a German shepherd and not a small one. When I first saw him I wondered where the saddle might be. After having a bit of a talk with Marjorie, and after receiving many warnings about the dangers of letting him off the lead, Caroline took Max for a short walk. Upon her return she asked if it would be okay for her husband came along with on these walks (it would have been understandable if Marjorie had said no, since old ladies living alone are prey in today’s society). Marjorie agreed and so it began.

We started off walking Max two times a week. He was a bit fat and wheezy to begin with since he had not been getting much exercise. We walked him down to the local park and marina. He was rather dismissive of us. Yes, we were taking him for a walk which he liked, but initially he gave us very little response at all. As we walked him we started to take little risks, beginning by resting the lead across his back. Gradually we got more of a response. It often took Marjorie a little while to answer the door. She was deaf and, as we discovered, her hearing aid wasn’t a great deal of help and, though she might not have realised this herself, she was actually lip-reading. After a month or so Max understood that this couple were regularly coming round to take him to his favourite place where he could sniff the sniffs – catch up on the dog news – do his little back and forth dance to urinate in his precisely chosen spot to leave a reply. When we knocked at the door he would gaze out the window at us (he didn’t have to stretch since the window ledge was at back height to him – we are talking about a big Alsatian here), then proceed to run up and down until Marjorie woke up and noticed something was occurring. I think one of the watersheds in our relationship with this dog was the moment he did his first roll. Here was an Alsatian who was cool: he did his doggy things, sniffed and urinated and dropped a dump the size of Gibraltar (which I had to pick up in a bag) but apart from that running up and down performance it was difficult to know whether he enjoyed his walk. To then see a dog of his size getting his head down, flipping down on to wet grass and wriggling about with sheer pleasure was quite wonderful. He did this more and more frequently, hitting a max(imum) of twelve rolls in one walk.
As time progressed we trusted him more and more, despite Marjorie’s assertions that he would run away and we would never being able to get him back. We never told her. We walked Max then stopped for a cup of tea afterwards with Marjorie while we told her of his various exploits and the dogs he had met. Max was never vicious with other dogs. He would meet them nose to nose, sniff, wander around, wag his tail and move on.

There were a few heart-stopping moments. He became healthier and faster with this regular walking and once I had to sprint after him to stop him running out onto a road. We learnt where it was safe to let him off. His character began to show through too. While off the lead he would disappear around side routes then reappear on the route we were walking. He was having a game with us. I remember one occasion when he disappeared down some steps in the park. I chased after him, worried we had lost him then, huffing and puffing at the bottom of the steps, I looked up and saw him gazing down at me from the other side of some bushes at the top of a slope beside the steps (precisely where we had been heading). I climbed back and rejoin Caroline, and Max headed off again, looking back, tongue hanging out of the corner of his mouth, grinning. Cheeky bastard.

Here is a good point to look back on what we had thus far learned. Max was about the sixth or seventh German shepherd Marjorie had owned. Prior to us turning up, she had spent three months in hospital having shattered her leg falling down her stairs. Max had remained in the house with someone coming in to feed him and occasionally walk him. Marjorie had reached the stage of life where she was having trouble looking after herself let alone a big dog and a house and garden. Her house and garden were average size, the latter overgrown, muddy and full of what dogs do. Mud mixed with less pleasant substances was trampled into the carpet and spattered up the furniture – you let a dog of that size outside in winter and he’s sure to bring some of the outside back in with him. Max was also epileptic, which resulted in further problems. The house temperature was right for an old woman; it wasn’t right for a long-haired Alsatian. He slept in the porch on the lino-tiled floor – the coolest place. It was a situation that could not last – one we all come to kicking and screaming.

For Max, obedience training seemed alien territory. All the usual commands had absolutely no effect on him and the only reason he walked to heel was because the lead Marjorie provided was a kind with muzzle straps that closed if he pulled. After a little while we detached that lead from the straps and attached it to his collar, then, we discovered treats.

I don’t know how the treats thing came about. I’ve just talked to Caroline about it and we can’t really decide. At some point we began bringing pockets full of biscuits along during the walks and suddenly we acquired a dog that didn’t run away from us, who came when we called and who would sit on command. We were having a great time but, most importantly, so was Max. The high point of the walk was a little peninsular that jutted by Bradwell Marina. The grass grew long there and Max loved to roll in it three or four times, quite often nearly sliding down the slope into the estuary. At the end of this peninsular we sat on the seat and fed him some treats. Then, as winter started to dig its claws in, Marjorie became ill and had to go into hospital again.

To be continued...

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Sharps Committee

It is illegal for anyone in Britain to carry a knife with a blade over 3 inches long, so of course the arsehole who breaks into your house or mugs you in a back alley won’t be carrying anything like that, will he? Also, the teenager carrying a knife ostensibly for self-defence but really because he thinks it’s cool to do so, is going to stop at once, isn’t he? I mean, hasn’t the post-Dunblane ban on handguns (the one that resulted in out Olympic team having to practise in Switzerland) cut down on gun crime?

Cue hollow laughter.

(And hey, why 3 inches? If that’s the average depth to the heart or a major artery then the obesity epidemic is worse than I thought.)

The answer, of course, is to lock up for five years those who are caught carrying knives. Excellent – this from those whose ideology doesn't allow them to believe in the effectiveness of punishment, but who have faith in rehabilitation and re-education. Soon, if you are caught carrying a knife, you might spend about the same amount of time in prison as a paedophile.

Reading about the recent furore concerning knife crime, and the ridiculous calls to ban pointy kitchen knives (Yeah, that 3 inch rule really worked, so let’s make another one!), I can see nanny government introducing an outright ban on carrying a knife of any length. I can see bureaucracy burgeoning as legislation is passed to make tradesmen register all their knives. I can see carpet fitters having to buy licences for their Stanley knives and being forced to go (at their own expense) on two-day courses, organized by the HSE, on how to use them, and that the throwaway blades will have to be disposed of in an environmentally and socially responsible manner at special depots. And in all this (going off at a slight tangent here) I’m reminded of an excellent book called Half-past Human by T. J. Bass.

In his book Bass portrays a far future society in which trillions of humans live in hive cities underground, whilst the planet’s surface is used wholly for growing food. The humans are weak, they have rose-water blood, the survival characteristics of hamsters, and are referred to as ‘four fingered nebbishes’. The number of humans able to exist on the planet’s resources had reached saturation point, so the next step was taken: make smaller humans so more can exist on those same resources. In their society too the people are ‘looked after’ by a concerned state, for they have their ‘Sharps Committee’ whose sum purpose is to relieve citizens of sharp and possibly injurious objects.

Welcome to the future.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Prador Moon

I wandered up the pub yesterday to meet a chap who lives on the other side of Maldon. He was in at the start buying a first edition of Gridlinked and ever since buys my books when they first come out and gets them signed by me. It has become something of a tradition. This was also the first time for me to see a copy of this, and very nice it is too.

Neal Asher takes on first contact, Polity style. This original novel recounts the first contact between the aggressive Prador aliens, and the Polity Collective as it is forced to retool its society to a war footing. The overwhelming brute force of the Prador dreadnaughts causes several worlds and space stations to be overrun. Prador Moon follows the initial Polity defeats, to the first draws, and culminates in what might be the first Polity victory, told from the point of view of two unlikely heroes. Cover by Bob Eggleton.

Trade Paperback Here on amazon.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Global warming skeptic, that’s me, or rather an AGW (anthropogenic or man-made global warming) skeptic. Why? Because Mars is warming up too and I don’t think the Martians drive SUVs, because the sun’s output has gone up over the last thirty years and may have been going up over the last century, because CO2 is not the main greenhouse gas and we’re only contributing 3.5% to the total anyway, and because AGW is a banner that has been taken up by anti-capitalists and green luddites across the world. Mmm, glad to have got that off my chest – now to the meat of the matter.

On a message board I was recently arguing about this, about how the Antarctic stubbornly refuses to comply with with the disaster merchants' predictions, when someone who has acquired the label there of ‘Red Sue’ (no points for guessing her stance on AGW) told me the articles I’d been refering to were out of date. She kindly updated me with the article below:

The Antarctic ice sheet is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year in a trend that scientists link to global warming, according to a new paper that provides the first evidence that the sheet's total mass is shrinking significantly. The new findings, which are being published today in the journal Science, suggest that global sea level could rise substantially over the next several centuries. It is one of a slew of scientific papers in recent weeks that have sought to gauge the impact of climate change on the world's oceans and lakes. Just last month two researchers reported that Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, and a separate paper in Science today predicts that by the end of this century lakes and streams on one-fourth of the African continent could be drying up because of higher temperatures. The new Antarctic measurements, using data from two NASA satellites called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), found that the amount of water pouring annually from the ice sheet into the ocean -- equivalent to the amount of water the United States uses in three months -- is causing global sea level to rise by 0.4 millimeters a year. The continent holds 90 percent of the world's ice, and the disappearance of even its smaller West Antarctic ice sheet could raise worldwide sea levels by an estimated 20 feet. "The ice sheet is losing mass at a significant rate," said Isabella Velicogna, the study's lead author and a research scientist at Colorado University at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. "It's a good indicator of how the climate is changing. It tells us we have to pay attention."

Scary stuff hey? We’re all heading towards disaster, right?


Take some key phrases from the article and study them closely:

"global sea level could rise substantially over the next several centuries ... to rise by 0.4 millimeters a year ... could raise worldwide sea levels by an estimated 20 feet"

Now let me do the math for you. There are 25.4 millimeters in an inch, 12 inches in a foot, so a rise of 20 feet equals 6096mm. Divide that by 0.4 and guess what (shock horror disaster) a 20 foot rise in sea levels in about 15,000 years. Obviously "several centuries" in this case means about 150 of them. It is alarmist crap like the above that’s misleading an awful lot of people.


Oh dear, head poised on the edge of a really good throb, eyes feeling like I've spent too much time with a set of binoculars pressed against them, stomach feeling in need of a greasy breakfast... I finished the first draft of Hilldiggers yesterday and used this as an excuse to open a bottle of wine then follow that with some dark rum. Caroline sensibly stuck to the wine, but we still both found ourselves sprawled in the living room at gone midnight listening to Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Naughty person! Never drinking again!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ah, so Princess Margaret's tiara was bought by a female buyer who flew in from China. What's the betting she is either the wife of a party official or one herself - a Chinese Imelda Marcos or Cherie Blair. Ain't communism wonderful?

Voyage of the Sable Keech

Okay, time for a pretty picture. This being an author's blog I'll start with my most recently published book.
And now the blurb:

It's highly entertaining and brilliantly imagined stuff, and there can be few readers out there who will fail to enjoy this, and pretty much every other aspect of Asher’s writing. -- John Berlyne (SFRevu)

I was ready for a break from real life, and Asher whisked me away without delay. -- J. J. S. Boyce (Green Man Review).

No, once you're plugged in to 'The Voyage of the Sable Keech', you'll want to stay there as long as you can. -- Rick Kleffel (The Agony Column)

hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback.

The reification Sable Keech, a walking dead man, is the only one to have been resurrected by nanochanger. Did he succeed because he was infected by the Spatterjay virus, or because he came late to resurrection in a tank of seawater? Tracing the man’s journey in a ship also named after him, Taylor Bloc wants to know. He also wants so much else – adulation, power, control – and will go to any lengths to get it. And he has brought the means.

An ancient hive mind, almost incomprehensible to the human race, has sent an agent to the world. Does it want to obtain the poison sprine – effective against those made virtually indestructible by the Spatterjay virus? Janer must find it and stop it.
Erlin, still faced with the ennui of immortality, has her solitude rudely interrupted by a very angry whelkus titanicus, and begins the strangest of journey’s. Captain Ambel’s own journey, from Olian’s – where the currency of death his kept in a vault – is equally as strange. But he must reap the harvest of Erlin’s mistake, and survive.

Deep in the ocean the virus has wrought a terrible change that will affect them all. Something dormant for ten years is breaking free, and once again the aftershocks of an ancient war will focus on this watery world. And Sniper, for ten years the Warden of Spatterjay, finally takes delivery of his new drone shell. It’s much better than his old one: powerful engines, more lethal weapons, thicker armour.

He’s going to need it.

Bear with me here ... I'm learning.

First Post

Stepping onto the learning curve...

Here we go, my first ever blog entry. To be honest I was a bit unsure about starting this since I waste enough time on the Internet anyway, flicking from message board to message board when I really should be turning out words that pay. But blogging seems a way to consolidate in one place all my disparate bullshit.

So who am I? I’m Neal Asher, science fiction writer, one time skip driver, coal man, contract grass cutter, toolmaker, builder, barman and much else besides. So, bearing in mind my background, be warned, this blog is not going to be politically correct, it is not going to necessarily agree with the right, left, bottom, top, middle or upside down. However, I will try to make it interesting…