Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mind Meld

On the website SF Signal they often have this thing called ‘Mind Meld’ whereby a question is asked and various characters from the SF world answer it. I’ve been asked for my take in a recent one in which the questions are: What is the appeal of the planet Mars in SF and fantasy? What is its appeal to you? I’ll let you know when that appears.

I knew I’d done this a few times but couldn’t remember how many so I went trawling through the SF Signal site in search of them. Here are three of my rambles: 

The Best Aliens in Science Fiction
For me the best has to be H R Giger’s creation…no I refuse to misuse the word eponymous…from the film of that name. In my time I’ve ranted about what I consider to be art and generally have seen very little I could call both art and truly original (Maybe that’s because I hadn’t see enough art, and certainly my view is changing now with what I’m seeing produced by the CGI crowd.), but way back in years of yore when I opened up a copy of Omni, turned over a page and saw my first H R Giger picture, I felt I was seeing something truly original and bloody good. I’m not sure if I even knew, when I went to see Alien, that Giger was the designer of both alien and weird sets, but I certainly knew afterwards. At that point I felt that the curse of the rubber head had died. The alien in that film and its sequels was not something you could laugh at – aliens had just grown up.

As for aliens in SF books, in them there seems to be a general failure of imagination, perhaps because the roles the aliens fill are so often too human: aliens as oppressed natives, the subject of bigotry, dominant overlords, invaders etc. Whilst they are often described in loving detail, that which is alien about them only goes as deep as the bone (or structural biology of choice) and very often doesn’t extend to the mind. There’s still some damned good ones out there – Niven’s puppeteers spring to mind, as do the manta in Piers Anthony’s Of Man and Manta – but generally that which is alien falls foul of story, which can be hampered when, to retain the essentially alien, the writer must not allow the reader to understand it.

Taboo Topics in SF/F Literature
Well, every writer has had trouble getting stuff published, but probably because they breached the publishing world taboo of writing crap. For me, beyond 2000 when I was taken on by Macmillan, I’ve been censored all the time in that respect – it’s called editing. But no, I don’t really have much trouble getting stuff published and I don’t self-censor … except all the time in regard to that first publishing taboo. Doubtless, in years to come some minority group lobby will run out of larger targets and focus its attention on SF books, and then violence, drinking, smoking and excessive consumption of beef burgers will be a no-no. I just hope I’m in a position to give them the finger by then.

Is the Short Fiction Market in Trouble?
I know that when I was throwing out my short stories in the 80s and 90s there were numerous small press magazines about, but to see any of them survive longer than ten or twenty issues was unusual. As for those publishing anthologies, there seem to be more now, but that just might be a matter of accessibility. In the 80s I only found out about other short story markets in the advertising sections of each magazine. I think I started with Interzone (I don’t know how I got hold of a copy of that), found out about the likes of Back Brain Recluse and others in its pages, and proceeded from there. Now most short story writers can google ‘short story markets’ and find them all across the world. Also we have the rise of online magazines, which maybe means that those would-be publishers who couldn’t sustain a paper magazine can now survive for longer. To sum up, I don’t think the market is in any more trouble than it has been over the last quarter century but, for writers, finding magazines or anthologies to target is much much easier. Also, if the publishers concerned are prepared to accept email submissions, easier still – my first short story publication involved real cutting-and-pasting, photocopying and then postage. I still have international reply coupons sitting in my draw. Must try to get my money back on them.


Paul Weimer said...

Hi Neal.

The Mind Meld probably will appear next Wednesday, as per our usual schedule. :)

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

"As for aliens in SF books, in them there seems to be a general failure of imagination, perhaps because the roles the aliens fill are so often too human"

it's a crime Star Drek has been getting away with funny noses and an accent for a while now. needed: some soapboxing at Hyde Park to knock this back to the creative zone. no one seems to understand true alien behavior...i've met them. they're Japanese.

Herbert's 'Whipping Star' does a good job of pure alieness.

'Galatea Galantea' by Alfred Bester in Omni '79 was something i would drool over because of the Giger illo. i could pretty much predict every dream i had with Giger's 'Necronomicon' which i borrowed before ALIEN came to theaters. it's how i accepted night terror as "one of those things you do instead of tv with your eyes shut every night smiling".

Neal Asher said...

Cheers Paul!

Vaude, I can't remember if I've read Whipping Star. I recollect he did pretty well with that sort of stuff in The Jesus Incident.

Roger Schweingruber said...

instead of mind meld - (my) mind dump :)

As for the fascination Mars held for me - none at all. I do not know why it is used that often - maybe because it would be the next logical step when we start to colonize other worlds...

As for the best aliens around - since Gigers Alien is out of the game for now I will have to think about all the Alien Movies I have seen...

- the Shadows from Babylon5 - they are really creepy (here pictures of the ships
- the Alien Drug Dealer from Dark Angel (
- The Thing from "The Thing" (I like the abilities - reminds me of JAIN somehow -
- Predator - though human traits a real badass - hunting humans just for fun (
- The Borg from Star Trek, although they suddenly had a queen with emotions - I like the concept there (
- The Prawns from District 9 - although a movie that focuses somehow on apartheid it is still one of the best Alien races I saw until today (
- The Body Snatchers (Plants, Virus??)
- ET - I like the concept of ET's that are purely scientists, gatherers... Read the book that gave some more insight into the ET's (although written badly)
- Klatu and his Giant Robot (well, silvery not brass :)
- the "Aliens?" in the Village of the Dammed
- Aliens from "Independence day" - I like the swarm behaviour

To complete the list - Aliens I really hate:
- Aliens from Signs (M. Night Shyamalan)
- all StarTrek Aliens but the Borgs
- all little gray men aliens
- the aliens from "war of the world" - come on.. they catch some common flu after watching us for decades...?


vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

any of you see the movies of Andrzej Zulawski? the best is the alien in POSSESSION, it's basically a sex driven tentacle pile trying to perfect itself on a bed of sweat & urine.

Northern Fop said...

For aliens in fiction I think the 'otherness' of several species in the Uplift series is hard to beat.

The Jophur in particular were very well realised.

Russ Mayor said...

My first exposure to aliens that weren't humans in silver jump-suits with TV antennae coming out the back of their heads was when I read Fred Hoyle's Black Cloud way back in very early high school.
It came then as a blinding flash of the obvious that of course they're going to look radically different but more importantly they are going to think and behave in entirely-non-human ways.
Since then I've had pretty much zero tolerance for the lazy man's alien...unless of course they look human-ish but think and behave in very alien ways, not just different like our own home-grown sociopaths.
I have always been annoyed hearing commentators declare with authority that these newly discovered planets are not capable of supporting life. What a narrow, miopic, and arrogant view of the universe they live with. To famously misquote, "There could be life Jim, but not as we know it". After all, we were all taught at school that the deep ocean trenches and the boiling acid pools around geysers couldn't support life too...and how did that one turn out?
For sheer alien-ness, the Prador have hit that special alien spot for me, as have Peter Hamilton's Dragon Spheres and his Prime MorningLightMountain.
The universe is a pretty big place - plenty big enough for more variation-on-a-theme than we are able to come up with ourselves. But that shouldn't stop us trying.

daniel ware said...

Best aliens in sf: the giger alien, prador, jain, the Geth (mass effect) and probably (in terms of coolness at least) the naavi, in avatar.

daniel ware said...

oh yeah: mars. because it's the closest planet and has been the source of fear, wonder and inspiration since the dawn of man, across all cultures.