Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lakeside Waterstones.

Ahah, Caroline was out on a reconnoitre of Lakeside for me today as this mobile phone image proves...

Article 3: 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 Britain today. Maybe, an SF writer should be thinking of tomorrow’s Britain or an alternate one, or both. Also, Britain contains only a small fraction of the world’s population – there are actually other countries, and some very different ways of life. As for our urban environments? Even now the computer revolution is beginning to decentralise white collar professions, so what need to live in the city? Robotic manufacture is whittling down the required work force so what future need of industrialised towns? And the financial imperatives that originally made urban dwelling a necessity, will they last? Umph! Still today, still parochial!

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

Death Ray Magazine.

I must get hold of a copy of Death Ray Magazine. Here's either part or all of a review in it of Hilldiggers:

"Asher has an axe to grind, but what a shiny, well-honed and beautifully weighted axe it is... He's on top of his game with this one and his confidence entwines a fibrous thread throughout the plot. Multiple narratives occurring in different time frames, shifts between first-and third-person perspectives, a detailed and convincing description of planetary ecosystems...In lesser hands, a rambling wayward text could well result. What we have instead is a wonderfully rich and complex tale that happily flips between giving the mind something weighty to mull over and pleasing its baser, thrill-seeking desires... Asher's skill is making it all seem wild, wonderful, politically provoking and fresh."

Very nice.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Article 2: Censor Censorship.


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 China, during the cultural revolution, as a pressure cooker without the relief valves of spectator sports or violent films. Now there, I think, is a woman more fit to judge morality than many. The same applies to literature: recently, an interviewer pointed out how the body count in my most recent book started high and continued to rise, yet my last encounter with violence left me feeling sick to the stomach because I had been involved in something really sordid. Those who are the spectators of violence are perhaps less inclined to take it up as a pastime – probably because they really know what it is. If violence is removed from all our forms of entertainment then people will lose a valuable learning resource and wander naively into truly dangerous situations. We cannot wrap everyone in cotton wool – because there'll always be someone out there with lighter fuel and a match.

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


Tonight I watched The One Show (I know, but there was nothing else on and I was feeling indolent) in which they did a bit about towns infested with seagulls. Apparently one of those suffering the worst from these flying sea-rats was the inland town of Gloucester (though the description ‘inland’ has to be used rather ironically lately). The seagulls, apparently, feed on the local landfill, then nest on the town’s buildings. Certain measures are being taken. There’s a guy going round putting false eggs in their nests so they incubate them all year rather than laying new ones. Then there’s another guy with an eco-beard and probably recycled underpants, who feels the problem needs to be studied at length. Obviously an ecological balance needs to be struck. Certainly, it would appear, the residents need to learn to live with and love these birds.

Fuck, right, off.

There is no need for study. The birds fill themselves up from the mounds of discarded food at the landfill, then they come into the town to rip open dustbin bags in pursuit of their preferred diet, to fuck noisily, nest on top of the buildings and drop half a pound of shit on the nearest parked car, and each year their population increases. I know. I’ve stayed in Hastings and listened to them shrieking while they shag at four in the morning, I’ve seen the torn-open dustbin bags and my car, parked for two days, must have used half a gallon extra of petrol when I drove home with the extra weight of guano.

What is needed here is a very simple approach, with a shotgun. But of course that’s never going to happen with councils and government involved. The simple expedient of slipping a local farmer a few quid to bring down the gull population would never happen in over-managed and fucked-up Britain. Risk assessments would need to be made, the HSE would have to be involved, the local animal-rights dicks would be there with their placards and fire-bombs addressed to the farmer, a manager or two would need to be employed the perhaps a police cordon set up while the farmer did his work.

It’s all so unutterably tiresome, and when anything ever does get done it costs twenty times as much as it should. To the people of Gloucester I say, try to find and employ some ex-army guy fresh out of Afghanistan with a night-sighted rifle, and after he’s shot your council and the animal-rights protesters, get him to start on the seagulls

Article 1: Leeches.

For no apparent reason (well, other than being lazy and not getting on with some writing) I started reading through some of the articles I wrote for various publications. These are accessible on my website http://freespace.virgin.net/n.asher but since that place is all cobwebby and rarely visited, I thought I might start putting a few of them up here. The first is one I did for Outland, a magazine published by Ottakars (do they still publish it) to advertise The Skinner.


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 America a hemlock is a tree whilst here in Britain it is a poisonous herb, so how the hell did that come about? How much more might be people’s misapprehension of alien life? Take leeches. These creatures are pretty horrible here on Earth, and when seeing something of similar habit and appearance oozing along a stream bed on an alien world it would be easy to reapply the name. Unfortunate then to discover their feeding habit is to take out lumps of flesh, that they can grow to the size of a hippopotamus on land and that of a whale in the sea, and that they can make you immortal.

“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.

“I will.”

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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Stealing Light -- Gary Gibson.

And yet another one! I enjoyed Gary Gibson’s other books, Angel Stations and Against Gravity, so was looking forward to this. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s big meaty space opera combining many of the elements I enjoy. It’s dark, wide-screen, concerns survival-of-civilization events and is populated with the kind of smart and often nasty characters that have become a staple of present day space opera, with the addition, when it comes to the Shoal, of some particularly Banksian aliens. I particularly like how he has dealt with implants, religion, AI and just the whole set-up of this future. And there’s exploding spaceships! I picked up this near 500-page book and roared through it in no time. Nice one, Mr Gibson.

Oh, and unfortunately, this isn’t available until October, but you can pre-order it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

New Printer Required.

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

Don't Forget!

Neal Asher
RRP: £17.99
Our Price: £14.99

Neal will be signing copies on Saturday 7th July 1 - 2pm

London Megastore,
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

Another Signing.

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.

Amazon SF Bestsellers.

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.

Old Man's War -- John Scalzi

I’d read bits and pieces about this on the Internet and knew the name John Scalzi so when, on a recent visit to Macmillan, Peter Lavery handed over a copy of Old Man’s War I was happy enough to take it away and give it a go. The comments on the book from other authors were pretty good and here are the ones I think most relevant: ‘His dialogue is suitably snappy’ – Paul DiFillipo, ‘It’s Starship Troopers without the lectures’ – Cory Doctorow, ‘vivid characters’ – Ken McCleod. This book was also shortlisted for the Hugo award. Now, I always take such comments with a pinch of salt, because there are too many crap books out there lauded by an author’s author buddies and, as for awards, the opinion of a few voters or committee I feel is less important than that of those who actually go out and buy the books, and it strikes me that too many awards are political and nepotistic. I won’t tell you how wonderful was this aspect or that aspect of this book. Suffice to say I picked it up a couple of days ago and didn’t want to put it down, and I’ll certainly want to read its sequel The Ghost Brigades.