Tuesday, July 31, 2007
CITIES IN FLIGHT.
There seems a belief, ascribed to by many of those writing short science fiction today, that nothing of importance happens unless it is set in the ‘mean streets’ of some city. On the whole the works stemming from this will be based on some student or other urbanite living a squalid existence in a seedy flat, while experiencing either relationship problems, or angst about an inability to have a relationship at all. Often, the writers are displaying a lack of imagination by casting themselves in the lead role in the only setting they have experienced. From the other side, there are many writers of fantasy who cannot step away from the image of their characters questing through the wilderness or some agrarian idyll, though that usually stems only from the secondhand experience gained throught the books they have read. Getting back to the cities though: are the writers of much urban science fiction nowadays suffering from the same delusion as the fantasy writers?
Cities and the country bleed into each other. There are towns, villages, single houses and an infinite combination of everything inbetween; industrial sites in the country; city parks; wastelands being reclaimed by nature; connecting rivers and transport systems; and, fuckit, urban foxes. And of course in both directions there is a continuous exchange of people: wide varieties of commuters and ‘overspill’ and many so-called ‘country’ people moving into the cities to work. The dividing line, unfortunately, is near illusory, perceived mainly by resentful minds. Cities no longer have impenetrable walls around them with gates that are closed up at night and the countryside is no longer filled with Barny Hayseed clones chewing on straws and muttering about ‘tham thar towny buggers’. This perception displays the same blinkered vision as the present urban government, which legislates for cities and against the country – damaging those millions dwelling in between and polarising the attitude of many others – or of those dwellers in a time warp, the fox hunting lobby, who manage to piss off all camps.
Britons live in a huge and wonderful variety of environments. Along our coasts there are many people who have tried to opt out by living in their boats, others divide their lives between boats and often much neglected coastal houses, there are huge transitory populations on the sea on oil rigs and in container ships, many millions inhabit suburbs, large populations live in villages where their only real connection with the countryside is that they notice it from their car whilst caught behind a tractor on their weekly visit to Asda, there are inclusive island populations who don’t even think about any division between city and country, there are towns where the countryside is only a step away and in which the residents truly live their lives in both.
Of course, everything I’ve just written is also blinkered, for I’m describing
What about undersea dwellings, orbital communities, nomadic populations, cave dwelling morlocks, people adapted to live under the sea, people loading their minds into VR, even nomadic minds leaping from artificial body to body? Ach, I could go on and on, but the point is made: urban SF writers, lift up your heads, take a look around and try to imagine yourself somewhere else. Oscar Wilde quipped about how he may be lying in the gutter, but he’s looking at the stars, some people, it would seem, are lying face-down in that same gutter.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Sunday, July 29, 2007
We live in a very strange society in which it is considered more dangerous to display an erect penis on television than it is to show, for example, someone having his throat cut. This is just one symptom of the strange disease that afflicts the so-called great and the good, bringing about in them a myopia in which they come to see sex as somehow a more heinous sin than violence. Certain words are not allowed because of their shocking sexual connotations, yet it is alright to show people being shot and knifed. The sex act itself must be ridiculously disguised, yet the scene in which someone is burnt to death is as realistic as possible.
This is just one of the crazy inconsistencies of this madness called censorship. If we are to suppose that films on TV cause children and the weak of mind (neither of which are likely to pay licence fees) to emulate them, this begs the question: which of the above would you want your children to emulate? The censors would of course want the lot censored and to feed us on a diet of gardening and cookery programs. I can only say that this would only lead to people turning off the television and seeking their entertainment elsewhere, perhaps out mugging pensioners to get the money to rent a decent video tape or two.
I hate censorship and would throw more weight behind the argument calling for it to be removed. It is wrong. It is another mishandling of power that takes responsibility away from the individual and in effect makes individuals more irresponsible. I wonder just how many really scientific studies have been made of the effects of TV violence on the individual. None I would warrant, simply because it would be impossible. For one thing there is no possible control group for any experiment or study. All that has really been done is the kind of statistical analysis that comes up with the result that 'violent people watch more violence on television than non-violent people', which goes nowhere in revealing why those people were violent and renders the analysis meaningless. Still though, censorship persists, and grows.
In the literary world that hideous creeping fungus called 'political correctness' is walking censorship in through the back door of children's books, and I have to wonder how long it will be before it reaches adult books. How long before this force that has emasculated our teaching profession and police starts turning all fiction into an inane mush? How long before 'conflict' is removed from fiction because it is too … confrontational.
But how about a reversal?
There is a school of thought that believes TV violence to be cathartic, and that the people who watch it are likely to be more relaxed and less inclined to violence than they might have been. In Jung Chang's Wild Swans she describes
Unfortunately, the censors are very often precisely the people to whom we must perforce complain, and complaining to them about censorship would be the same as writing to an MP with the opinion that you consider politics unnecessary. Entrenched self-interest is as difficult to excise as a verruca. And the censors will never admit any argument that might reduce their power.
Friday, July 27, 2007
If you want to find a plausible alien, go turn over the nearest rock and see what wriggles out, but to that I’ll add the proviso that you need to have some idea as to what put that squirmy thing there in the first place. Create an alien and you must have some conception of the ecology it arose from. It’s no good imagining some flesh-eating monster on some barren planet with nothing for it to eat but the human explorers who have just arrived (the get-out in the film that comes to mind is that the monsters were brought to the barren planet in a spaceship). However, that’s easily said and not so easily done.
“Gerrit off! Gerrit off!”
A four-foot long leech had attached itself to his hip. He fell in the sand and grabbed hold of the horrible thing in both hands to try and prevent it boring in even further. Jane grabbed up the line and began hauling in the rhinoworm while Ambel tended to Peck. He did the only thing that was possible in the circumstances: he grabbed hold of the leech in both hands, put his foot against Peck’s leg, and hauled with all his might. Peck let out a scream as the leech pulled away with a fist-sized plug of his flesh in its circular mouth. Ambel bashed the creature against a rock until the lump came free, then after trampling the creature to slurry he handed the piece of flesh back to Peck. Peck screwed it back into his leg, then wrapped a bandage from his pack round it to hold it in place.
Two of my favourite subjects are combined by the ecology of Spatterjay: immortality and flesh-eating monsters. The idea for this life-system was conceived in the short story (excerpt above and below) of the same name in my collection The Engineer (Tanjen) and there was fairly simplistic, but complete – skeletal. The story, along with another from the same collection (Snairls) formed the basis of what became The Skinner.
What’s in a name?
Names given to life forms can be misleading, and equivalent characteristics identified by untrained observers have led many to be misapplied. In
“How old are you, Ambel?”
“Oh, a bit.”
Ambel rolled down his shirt sleeve and looked shifty.
“Come on. This is really important.”
“Don’t rightly know. Been on the ships for a while.”
Erlin wasn’t having that. “You do know. Don’t fob me off!”
Ambel looked uncomfortable.
“No one believes me,” he complained.
Ambel got up and headed for the door, as he opened it he mumbled, “Spatterjay Hoop was a crazy git.” He went out onto the deck.
Erlin sat down on the chair and shook her head. They were all crazy gits, and Ambel was no better. If he thought she was going to believe he knew Spatterjay Hoop, the man after whom this strange little world had been named a thousand solstan years ago, then he was probably worse. Ridiculous idea. Wasn’t it?
Erlin’s discovery that the bite of a Spatterjay leech transmitted a form of viral immortality, made that world a definite place to head for once the Zimmer frame was imminent. However, those seekers after eternal life became less enthusiastic upon discovering a world not cosseted by the Human Polity, where the incredibly tough and ancient hoopers might inadvertently tear off your arm, and where the leeches would continue to feed upon the hosts of the viral fibres – who were to them a reusable food resource.
Not really: why kill the whole animal when you can regularly harvest its flesh?
Oh come on…
Here on Earth, under that rock, you’ll find similar strategies. Pick up a veterinary book on helminthology (the study of parasitic worms) if you want to find some real horrors. One parasite’s cycle includes both sheep and ants. Inside the ant it alters the function of that insect’s brain so it climbs to the top of a grass stalk and there clings with its pincers, waiting for a sheep to come along and eat it. There’s another that gets inside a snail and so adjusts that creature’s physiology that it grows a thicker shell, thus protecting both parasite and snail. The downside being that the snail no longer has the resources to breed, whilst the parasite breeds inside it. There’s always a downside:
She had nothing left to throw up when she followed them into the basin in the top of the hill. She just retched a little. The rest of Peck was jammed, writhing about and making horrible noises, between two rocks. Erlin followed them down and watched in horror as they dragged him out and dropped him on the ground. All his muscles she could see, all his veins. His lidless eye-balls glared up at the sky. She advanced with her laser switched on. It was the only merciful thing to do.
“No!” Ambel knocked the laser from her hand. “Don’t you think he’s got enough problems? Find his clothes.”
Erlin dropped to her knees, not sure if she wanted to cry or laugh. No, this was not happening ... but it was. When she looked up, Ambel and Boris were putting Peck’s skin back on him, tugging the wrinkles up his legs and pressing the air bubbles out ... and Peck was helping them.
Do you wanna live forever?
Of course you do, but not if it hurts.
And what do you reckon is the most valuable thing on a world where money is worth buggerall, and life might be eternal?
The small leeches hang in the peartrunk trees and drop on any who might brush against the those fat trunks. Larger leeches squelch along the ground and sometimes take to the water where they wait with thread-cutting mouths agape for an unwary foot. On land they can grow as large as a hippo and taking a chunk, with a mouth the size of a bucket, from a hooper human can have some untoward effects unless that individual gets plenty of dome-grown food. It wouldn’t be much fun to have another skinner running about…
Reaching the size at which they can no longer support the weight of their slimy bodies the leeches take to the sea and grow ever larger. There the hoopers must hunt them for the treasure their bodies contain because, out of necessity, it is there that the oceanic leeches change in a very particular way. It’s the mouth, you see, when it finally becomes so large that harvesting flesh is no longer an option, the leech has to eat its prey whole, and obviously there are dangers in swallowing something in no particular hurry to die. Oceanic leeches begin to produce in themselves, in their bile, a poison that kills the immortality-imparting virus, and thus their prey. From this bile, by centrifuge and crystallisation, is refined a pure poison called sprine, which is worth more to hoopers than gold or gems.
All treasures are difficult to obtain – that’s the nature of the beast.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Oh, and unfortunately, this isn’t available until October, but you can pre-order it.
Monday, July 09, 2007
I’ve got an Epson R200 printer that’s just died on me, or rather I snuffed it. I’d been using refillable cartridges and the printing had started getting a bit crappy i.e. the head just wouldn’t clean properly. I took the head out and cleaned it up then replaced it, with the result that the printer won’t even power up. Now, don’t make the mistake here of pointing a finger and going, “It’s all your own fault not using Epson cartridges etc.” Frankly, I’ve saved the cost of about ten sets of five cartridges by refilling this way and that’s a large lump of money, in fact, if I’d been buying Epson replacements at full price, somewhere in the £600 region.
Now, which is the best and cheapest printer that’s easily refillable without paying a fortune for the brand-name ink cartridges? Is there a printer out there that you can just fill with ink rather than buying cartridges (or am I just dreaming of a perfect world). Is there, really, a way of printing without being thoroughly ripped-off? Is there a printer out there without the usual built-in obsolescence and built-in facility to screw you over?
Anyone got any advice?
Over to you…
Friday, July 06, 2007
179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JR
Neal has been writing sci-fi and fantasy since he was 16 years old. He has gained great success and acclaim for his books including the Hadrim trilogy, Gridlinked and The Voyage Of Sable Keech.
Hilldiggers continues Neal's tradition of writing fine space dramas, full of ideas and suspense. This has everything: war, alien technology, destruction and battles for power. What more could you ask for?
All Orders must be placed before 12pm on Friday 6th July.
To pre-order your signed copy of 'Hilldiggers', please view Neal Asher's range of signed books.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
OK, I’ll be doing another signing at 6pm Thursday 9th of August at Waterstones in Lakeside Thurrock, so if you’re in the area, come and buy some books, say hello, get books you’ve already bought signed! See you there.
Ah, it’s nice to see, as of right now, that Hilldiggers has been sitting at no. 3 in the science fiction bestsellers on Amazon.co.uk and that now Polity Agent is in there at no. 9. Checking further back I see that The Voyage of the Sable Keech is at 27, whilst Prador Moon is at 39.