Sunday, January 31, 2010

Macmillan/Amazon Row

I think this concerns only, since my books are still available through You can find more about it over on John Scalzi's Whatever.

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set the price for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us.

You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days.

Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated.

All best,

We're going to see more of this sort of stuff as companies try to corner the Ebook market, but the amusing thing is that there won't be any cornering, or at least not for long, since this is not a fight between the producers of Betamax and VHS. That aside, again, US book buyers, you can get my books through The Book Depository. They ship for free and are offering some big discounts on there. I just bought New Moon & Eclipse for a total of £6.90.

Twilight -- Stephenie Meyer.

Okay, putting myself in danger here of undermining my tough guy SFnal street cred, I have to say I really enjoyed this book. I polished it off in one day (having completed American Gods that morning) and it wasn’t boring, my attention didn’t wander, I didn’t skip anything and I became thoroughly absorbed, so much so it felt like I was watching the film again. This is because Meyer’s writing is transparent and allowed the characters and story to shine through – what you’ll find in many popular best selling books (ones that very often get sneered at by the literarti). No writerly ego here trying to display ‘literary brilliance’ and jostle the story into second place  Another thing to note is how true to the book was the film. Everything in the book seemed to be up there on the screen. That transparency again – I’m guessing that writing the film script was just an exercise in precis. Thoroughly recommended.  

Friday, January 29, 2010

Who Reads My Books? Paul Mackay

Hi Neal

I read your books!

I am a 39yr old nurse, working in a prison in the North of England. I did my nurse training some 20 years ago and have worked in loads of places all over the country and also in the oilfields of Saudi Arabia and I did some aid work in Lebanon in the 1990s. I even managed health insurance for BUPA in one of their call centres and that really was as bad as it sounds.

I enjoy amateur astronomy and I belong to the York Astronomical Society. Indeed I write Sci-Fi reviews for our quarterly magazine Algol and always stick in a review of the latest Asher. (I think I was a bit hard on Peter F Hamilton once, moaning that it takes him 3 pages to describe a kitchen tap or something)

I also like the Steampunk aesthetic and I make jewellery in that style which I like to flog at craft fairs and to friends.

There is some good Steampunk fiction around, particularly Jay Lake’s books Mainspring and Escapement.

I first started reading Sci Fi at about 12 years old with Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica ‘TV tie-ins’ as they were called back then, and when I ran out of them, I started on the better stuff, mostly Roger Zelazny, Philip K Dick, E.E ‘Doc’ Smith and Robert Heinlein (dead misogynist and pseudo spouter of new-age claptrap that he was). Never could get into Asimov.

I prefer modern, hard science fiction, the more sweeping in its scope, the better. You of course are my favourite, followed by Alistair Reynolds, Iain Banks, Adam Roberts and I was a fan of Richard Morgan until he started messing around with that medieval stuff. The pace of Orbus was frenetic and every battle fought like it was the last, I loved it, passed it on to my brother who is also a massive fan.

I particularly enjoy the evolution of British Sci-fi over the last 10 years. In my view, American authors have a tendency to stick with the ‘Middle America’ view of Science Fiction, earth against the aliens with very clear black and white good guys and bad guys. Scalzi’s Old Mans War was a case in point. It was OK as a book, but I think British sci-fi is further on that that and you are leading the way.

We love the way that you just get on with writing with at least one or two books a year so keep it up, and thanks.

Paul Mackay



Thursday, January 28, 2010

J & K are for Jensen to Kuttner

SHIVA 3000

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who Reads My Books? Mike Stone.

Michael Stone

I was born in 1966 in Stoke on Trent, England, and still live there with my wife and daughter. As a result of retinitis pigmentosa, I’ve struggled with diminishing eyesight since my teens, and in 2006 I was registered blind. So, gone are the motorbikes that were my pride and joy, and there’s to be no more tennis or golf. I can still use a computer though, and read books, so things aren’t too bad. When asked what I do for a living, I either tell people I’m a full time writer or unemployed, it depends on who’s asking. I feel a bit of a fraud telling people I’m a writer when I don’t earn anywhere enough to pay the weekly bills.

I am progressing though. I’ve sold over fifty stories to date, most of them written in the sf/fantasy/horror genre. My influences include Graham Joyce, Larry Niven, Adrian McKinty, Terry Pratchett, Garry Kilworth, Jasper Fforde, Iain (M) Banks, Colin Bateman, Desmond Morris, Carl Hiaasen, David Gemmell, George R R Martin…the list goes on and on and isn’t all genre stuff, as you can see. Everything I’ve read and watched is grist to my mill when it comes to putting words on paper.

The most recent addition to that list is Neal Asher. I read The Gabble collection last year and was so blown away I promptly went to Amazon and ordered all I could get my hands on. I’m currently reading (slowly, it must be said) The Voyage of the Sable Keech.

What else can I tell you? Well, 2007 saw a collection of my novellas published as Fourtold, which garnered positive reviews from readers and fellow writers alike, including praise from Graham Joyce and Garry Kilworth...and you can imagine how chuffed I was about that. In 2009 I signed to the Sobel Weber Associates literary agency who are now shopping two of my novels to various publishers. I have just finished co-editing an anthology of Irish crime stories for Morrigan Books, which should be out mid-2010. Also this year I have two novellas coming out as chapbooks. One of them is called The Skinner! It is, I hasten to add, nothing like Neal’s wonderful novel of the same name. My skinner is a werebear preying on other werebeasts in a near-future Britain. No spatterjay viruses in sight.

If anyone is interested, I have a website at

Monday, January 25, 2010

Trying out a Poll...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Martin Asher

Whilst I was struggling up the writing ladder and beginning to cast an eye over those new-fangled Amstrad word processors, my brother Martin, having worked as a diesel fitter then bus driver, took an electronics course, then a job with a company repairing printers, computers and other office hardware and, as time passed, sorting out software too. He suggested to me that I needed an IBM clone computer to do my writing on. I demurred, I was a writer, so why would I need anything more than a glorified typewriter? So much for the foresight of this science fiction author.  

Because he could and because he knew better (he did), Martin provided me with one nonetheless and, after a period of painful adjustment, I saw the advantages in this green screen Wordstar computer with its one megabyte hard drive. Martin moved on, working in various other computer repair companies, and upgrading me throughout that time to what I have now. He went through a divorce, has a daughter called Dawn who is now thirty, hooked up with Kathy and, after they were together for a number of years, eventually married her. He scuba dived, wind surfed, took holidays, read books, watched TV, got drunk, spent too much time on his computer, ate meals… He did all those things we all do as we live a life, and some things we don’t all do. He ended up running servers and sorting out computers at Essex Police HQ in Chelmsford and was valued there, made a lot of friends there. Throughout that time he was the one I could rely on when my computer went wrong, the one who sorted it all out for me, and incidentally sorted computers out for the rest of our family and numerous other people besides.

But not any more.

I had three brothers: Paul is four years older than me and Bob is ten years older than me, and Martin was six years older than me. Difficult to write in the past tense here. I grew up with them all, they’re all a part of my life, my history. From Martin I read my first Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter on Mars book, and some J T Edson's… The first and only shotgun I fired was his. Two small memories from a great mass of them; two small aspects of that large chunk of existence that was, well, my brother.

We’re not one of those families that need to live in each other’s pockets it’s enough to know that the others are there, and we get on with our own lives. On occasional family get-togethers you realise you still have a lot in common, but less and less as the years pass. But still.

Martin was, I think, proud of my success. But as I said, we were not so close that we needed continuous contact, so I wondered why when he called me over the phone whilst we were in Crete this summer. It was to inform me that he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He would have six weeks of chemo then an operation to remove the affected part. All very matter-of-fact, and maybe some degree of unconscious self-preservation stopped me checking out statistics on the Internet.

He was operated on about the time we got back part of his oesophagus and stomach removed, and the two severed ends sewn together again. He spent many weeks in hospital. We went in to see him and it shocked me to see how thin he was, but then, he hadn’t eaten food in four weeks, the food fed in by tube. Even the water was fed in by tube and all he could do was rinse his mouth out and not swallow. While he was in hospital he had problems, things weren’t healing up, he had a leak inside, then, all at once he was out. Looked like he was getting there.

Out of hospital for just a few weeks and he didn’t improve, almost died and was taken back. Eventually they got round to testing the fluid in his abdomen only to discover a secondary inoperable cancer. Quite bald statement then: he is going to die, and soon. How do you handle that? It’s something you can neither deny or ignore. You can get angry, but it doesn’t change the verdict, and in the end you just feel a horrible hollow misery. We went to see him in hospital, he was skeletal, barely coherent, obviously uncomfortable. His life-span was one week, then two weeks, then  a few days, then twenty-four hours. He died today on Sunday 24th January, and has left a hole in my life. He was 54 years old and too damn fucking young to die.

I guess I’m not the first person to say that. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Little Story

Here's one from Max Thompson who joined up on my FaceBook site:

I also have a tale of synchronicity involving one of your books.

I was living in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago and Hilldiggers has just been released. I could not get it anywhere and was mightily disappointed as wanted to take it on a trip to Langkawi to read on the beach. On arriving at the aforementioned island after settling myself in I went for walk along the seafront and came across a flea market. Bugger me if the wasn't a 2nd hand copy sitting there on a book stall for about 5 ringit !! The only English book in sea of German bodice rippers. I was the happiest bloke alive and you have never seen a anybody get their wallet out so fast.

I've seen by books right round the other side of the world, plenty of them in New Zealand and I even signed a wall in a bookshop there, but it is nice to find out where else they appear.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Who Reads My Books? Seth Samuel.

Dear Neal,

I've been enjoying meeting some of your other readers and decided to chime in myself.
Amazon recommended The Skinner to me about 6 or 7 years ago, and I checked it out of my school's library (Oberlin College in Ohio), read it way too fast, bought my own copy, and read it again. I never read books twice.

And I've subsequently read fifteen more of your books (all of them?)

You may be happy to know that you're now one of my four favorite Neals! (Neal Asher, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stepheson. And my friend -- Neil -- who is not an author.) I'm also a big fan of China Mieville, Stanislaw Lem, and Jonathan Carroll, among others, in case you're interested.

I am a 25-year old composer living in San Francisco, not yet making a living with music. Soon enough, I hope, though! (I've put a ton of my original music on my website -- ). I worked at two bookstores in Atlanta while in high school and summers during my college years -- Chapter Eleven and Wordsmiths -- and now both are gone, which is sad. I got a Masters in Film Scoring at NYU after getting my Bachelor's in Composition at Oberlin, and while in New York I interned at the literary agency Black, Inc -- the agency of, among others, Mitch Albom. Yep. I got Mitch Albom coffee! He said "thanks." To me!

And now I live biking distance from a great, great store in San Francisco called Borderlands that carries all your books. I got my last two Ashers there, and they were pleased. Maybe I'll work there.

Anyway, 99.9% of my books are back in Atlanta, in my parents' house, but I've catalogued just about every book I've read to date on I've attached a screenshot of page one from it to this message.
Right between Woody Allen and Isaac Asimov -- that's you!



H is for Heinlein and Herbert



--> -->
A millionaire businessman jailed for attacking an intruder who kidnapped his family and held them at knife-point was freed by the court of appeal today.

This man should never have been put in prison in the first place, and his brother shouldn’t be there now. You know, we are citizens of a society so surely the police and judicial whine that, “You must not take the law into your own hands,” is anti-society, it’s a charter to renege on any societal responsibility, it’s an excuse to say, “Nothing to do with me mate.”

This is all about the state not wanting any of its citizens to have any power at all because, really, its power over you is more important to it than its power to prevent criminals harming you. If some shite kills you in your own home, the state isn’t threatened, but you having personal responsibility, the power to act for yourself and think for yourself is plain dangerous to it.

Hussain, 53, had discovered three masked men in his house when he returned with his family from prayers at their local mosque. The burglars forced them into the house, tied them up and threatened to kill them before Hussain managed to escape and alert his brother, Tokeer Hussain.

The pair returned to the house in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and chased and caught one of the gang, Walid Salem, a criminal with more than 50 previous convictions. The court heard Salem was then subjected to a "dreadful, violent attack" during which he was hit so hard with a cricket bat that it broke into three pieces, leaving him with brain damage.

So, because of the time delay this is a revenge attack. Revenge is only something the state is allowed, when it is being harmed. It’ll throw you into prison for tax fraud, for example, but nutters with knives threatening someone’s family get a get-out-of-jail-free card:

Walid Salem, 57, was set free by a judge while Munir Hussain, the householder, was jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Oh, and apparently Walid Salem’s brain damage was not sufficient to stop him going on to commit further crimes:

Salem was arrested on January 4 this year carrying 20 counterfeit credit cards, a false driving licence in the name of Gamal Ben Ghali, a stolen driving licence photocard in the name of Brenda Gray, and a stolen driving license photocard, National Insurance Card and Halifax card belonging to Lucie Taylor. It is thought Brenda Gray and Lucie Taylor are the names of two crime victims.

I think there are some definite lessons to be learned here. The first and most important is: buy an aluminium baseball bat – it won’t break.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Reads my Books? Phil Ackerman.

Hi Neal
You asked who was reading your books, well here I am an Electronic Engineer designing radios for air-traffic control. Small department of approx 20 people so have to put my hand to all sorts of designs, audio, PSU, RF etc.

I have been reading SF since finding my older brothers collection of Asimov and Heinlein, though I was put off Heinlein after reading Stranger in a strange land, too hippy.

I love reading most proper SF, you, Reynolds, Hamilton, Vogt, Smith, Egan etc etc. Best thing with SF though is getting Interzone every other month. My other hobbies include cycle racing, bird watching and walking.

Can find photos of me at and I have attached photos of part of my collection.

Phil Ackerman.

Pushing Ice -- Alastair Reynolds

So Janus, one of Saturn’s ice moons abruptly takes off out of the solar system, shedding ice and rock as it goes to reveal the alien spaceship underneath. Fortunate choice, and in every sense, since Janus is the two-faced Roman god of gates and doorways. I could ramble on like the most anal of SF reviewers about how this was an ongoing theme throughout the whole book, but such themes can be found in any book.

Then, after Bella Lind puts it to a crew vote, the mining ship Rockhopper sets off in pursuit. A human story aboard that ship, friendships tested, broken, healed, life and death decisions to be made and sometimes not made too well.

I had a little problem with some of the characters, not because they weren’t well-drawn or weak as some reviewers seem to think, but because they were annoying. I constantly felt that they needed a kick up the behind, whilst one of them could have done with a rock chisel through the back of her head quite early on. Also there was what I’ll describe as a black box MacGuffin that fizzled a bit. Minor points, really.

All this was set against a backdrop of the immensity of space and deep time lovingly illustrated by Reynolds’ knowledge of astronomy and relativity, vast and ancient alien technology, human technology taken to the limit too, and aliens. Yup, sensawunda here, and Pushing Ice pushed all my buttons in that respect. I enjoyed this and I’m glad I bought it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Polity Encyclopedia

Just having a little look around the Internet and I came upon this again. I'd completely forgotten about it. Some time ago I provided Macmillan with an encyclopedia incorporating all those 'How It Is' (by Gordon) and other little segments from my books. You can find it here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Who Read My Books? Alexander Kruel.

I'm 25 year old guy living in Germany. I call myself a transhumanist, atheist and vegetarian. I'm interested in science fiction, science, philosophy, math, language, consciousness and the nature of reality...

I grew up within a religious environment. Later decided to become vegetarian when I was around 14. That decision was likely my first revolt against religion. Shortly afterwards, still 'believing', I completely rejected god. I guess that made me a satanist? Anyway, around the age of 19, with the onset of prevalent Internet access, I quickly decided to call myself an atheist. Although my atheism is just a public statement. In an epistemological debate I'd position myself as agnostic.

I Visited elementary school and afterwards went onto middle school. In Germany we have 3 school types that follow upon elementary school. Basically the lowest one is for dumb people, the middle one for average and another one for smart kids. I quit middle school at 15 and went onto the lowest school type to quit altogether after a year, without graduation.

I started to work as baker. Though found I’d rather sleep at night, since staying up basically turns me into a zombie. Afterwards I did various jobs, amongst other things working as digital media designer. The horror of push-button creativity...

These days I'm mainly trying to get a decent education.

As you've probably guessed, I'm not neurotypical ;-)


Book Shelves (sort of)

Here's Andrew Plumbly's work area with attached shelves. Frighteningly tidy...

Who Read My Books? Mark Chitty.

Where to start with the exciting information about Mark Chitty? Well, I'm a 29 year old guy living in North Wales with my wife, Jane, and hyperactive cocker spaniel, Snoop. I work at Bangor University where I deal with students on a day to day basis and help them with any problems they have while also attending to vital jobs such as unjamming the photocopier, ensuring adequate stock of yellow highlighters and whiteboard markers for the academic staff, and other generally riveting and challenging duties. Before doing this I've been an NVQ assessor, a paperwork processor, an admin dogs-body and also worked in a hotel doing all the things associated with it. Yes, that also includes cleaning the vomit stained beds after rather inconsiderate guests.

Due to the high excitement (or rather lack of) in my working day I found sci-fi as the perfect escape route. While I've always been a fan of tv shows and console games in the genre, it wasn't until 2004 that I really started reading as heavily as I do now. While I've read some of the classics I much prefer fiction from the mid 90's onwards with the likes of Peter Hamilton, Neal Asher, Alastair Reynolds, Gary Gibson, Eric Brown and a host of other British authors taking the top spots. John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell are really the only recent American authors that I like enough to name, but anything sci-fi will get a look in one way or another.

Because of this new found love of sci-fi literature I run a blog,, where I review what I read and post other bits of information, cover art and press releases whenever I get them. I also run a Peter Hamilton fan site at, something that stemmed from that book I picked up in 2004 that started this all off (Pandora's Star, in case you're wondering).

Other than reading I'm still a fairly avid gamer, but I get nowhere near enough time to play anymore. Favourites are the Final Fantasy series and Star Ocean games, although give me a bit of Resident Evil any day of the week. I just got an Xbox too, so more time and money are slowly being absorbed by it's seductiveness! TV shows and movies are again pretty much sci-fi orientated - the Alien series is a particular favourite, as too are the Stargate shows.

As for hobbies, after reading and squeezing some game time into the week I still like to try and play some basketball. I started playing while at school and used to play in the national under-19s league, way back in the day! Nowadays it's all about playing for enjoyment and keeping fit - it's one of the few sports I will actually play.

Who Read My Books? Taylor Preston.

I recently graduated from North Carolina State University with a BA in English and am currently in the process of applying for graduate school. I studied abroad in Oxford last summer and absolutely loved it. As soon as I have enough money I hope to come back. No technical or scientific background, but I love science and always have. Not enough people with English degrees appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world, and more’s the shame.

It’s safe to say I’ve read a lot of books, but I’m particularly fond of science fiction. Current favorites writing in the genre are Reynolds, Banks, Morgan, Kessel, Gibson (Gary, though I do like William as well), Hamilton, and, of course, Asher. I’m starting to reread many of the classics and I’ve found a lot to like in A.E. Van Vogt, Larry Niven, and Samuel Delany.

As well as reading, I also enjoy writing since my undergrad concentration was Creative Writing. I’ve taken fiction writing from John Kessel, which was loads of fun, particularly since he’s a science fiction writer and all around great guy.

G is for Gemmell and Gibson (either).


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Who Reads My Books? Graeme Finch

IT server hardware engineer on site, RFS Qualified but no longer practising Arborist (Tree Surgeon), one time lifegaurd (swimming pool variety). Grounds and terminal maintenance person at London City Airport when it first opened, cutting grass on the runway, painting terminal lounges and the like so dignitaries could get their fix of emulsion smell. One time mechanical and electrical maintenance estimator for the UK’s (then) largest facilities maintenance company, all these fields look random but are each connected by that six degrees of separation rule, what employment agencies call transferable skills.

I scuba dived extensively in my early twenties, and read the Godwhale and Cachalot for the first time during this period. I do a fair bit of walking, swimming and cycling, I read as much historical fiction as I do science fiction and have trawled through some Dickins. I will read Moby Dick this year and have tackled both the Illiad and Odessy both original translations and novelised versions and Dan Simmons Illium series that takes the themes of the Illiad and incorporates them into a far flung future and our very own past as well as a parallel universe (or two). The classics offer us a window on the past, attitudes to life and death, towards each other and reflect in some ways what was socially cohesive or topical at the time (a bit like climate change, and over population today). Neal’s own references to strong diseases and weak humans in Cowl will if we are unlucky prove to be one of those Scfi “cos that’s wot’l appen” moments some time down the line.

The first series of books I read were the Amtrak Wars by Patrick Tilley, before that I’d been a reluctant reader, after that I couldn’t get enough. My favourite book of all time is The Silmarillion by Tolkien, closely followed by The Lord of the Rings. I’m currently reading the Seven Suns Saga by some bloke called Kevin J Anderson, who I’d not heard of but is apparently a notable in StarWars circles and Co wrote some Dune books (I’ve only read Dune, it was brilliant), I’m struggling with the first book of the series because I feel a bit patronised by it, though it has some good stuff in it. I've read a good few Stephen Kings, Dean Koontz and Brian Lumley books. And down the years I've read countless odds and sods, from detective novels that were the only thing avaiable when I had a long stay in hospital when I was eighteen, to erotic fiction with some rampant bird I met during my divorce (I needed help maintaining my hormone levels at overdrive, though to be fair she wore me out and then gave me the Spanish archer treatment "El Bow").

I have a hard back copy of Orbus which I’ll be reading next (though to be fair I can’t abide hardbacks), they don’t fit in my backpack pockets and take up too much room, and if they do go in the pack they invariably get damp damage because they share space with my swimming gear.

I Have a broad understanding of Particle physics, Cosmology, Theory of relativity and many other subjects science related. In part through science fiction and that nagging bit of the brain that says “is that actually plausible”? I’m curious, about the very massive and the very small and how if you could stand on an atom and look out through the rest of a cell at all the other atoms in the human body (for instance). Would the specs of light look like the stars in our galaxy and would the distances be relative. Then you take that idea out to the size of a planet and get your head around how far our nearest neighbour planet is, then our largest planet neighbour, then the next nearest galaxy and so forth.

Science fiction, generally makes you optimistic (I think) (someone I know of disagrees), though sometimes it makes you wish you were born in a couple of hundred years time. I also think older science fiction is a great gauge of what we imagined and what has now been realised (see line above).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Death Worlds

I did like this:

Neal Asher's Polity novels feature two prominent Deathworlds: Masada, a low-oxygen world where just being outside without the proper gear is lethal enough, but it's inhabited by an ecology of nightmare creatures such as Hooders (giant millipedes armored like tanks, whose mouthparts literally disassemble you in tiny little pieces)...and the planet Spatterjay, an aquatic Death World where nobody knows how to swim because if you hit the water, chances are you're never coming back. Most creatures and humans on Spatterjay are infected with a symbiotic virus that gives them superhuman strength and that the local wildlife can eat you for longer.

Who Reads My Books? Owen Roberts.

Hi Neal,

I see some recent posts on The Skinner about your readers, so I'd thought I'd chime in with my story in the remote hope that you find some interest in it.

I'm an Australian software engineer, and although I've only been paid for this since I finished my degree (BE Computer Engineering), I've loved programming since the age of 11 or so. My first computer was the Dick Smith Wizard, and in addition to enjoying the programming, I also get a massive kick out of experiencing the exponential increase in the technology driving it. Most of my programming work has been in cryptography, covering authentication and encryption, primarily using the likes of RSA, DSA and Elliptic Curve algorithms to produce certification authority products and services.

I also love SF. Modern: Asher, Banks, Brin, Egan, Hamilton, Morgan, Reynolds, Stephenson, Stross. Older: Aldiss, Asimov, Bear, Gibson, Herbert, Niven, Robinson. I particularly enjoy the AI and creatures of Asher and Banks, and the physics of Egan.

I also enjoy a game of D&D, chess with 8yr old son, draughts with my 5yr old daughter, and drinks with my wife :_) Front rows of bookshelf attached. Really enjoying your blog and your work!
Owen Roberts
(you can use that mug shot if you really have to :_)

Gridlinked USA

I just received a package from Tor US and tore it open expecting to find something sent to me for possible comment. Inside, two paperback copies of Gridlinked. They're fourth editions. Every time one of my books out there goes into a new edition they send me a couple of copies. What does this mean? It tells me nothing about sales. Gridlinked UK was up into the teens prior to the new covers, which was great, but how many books is an 'edition'? Well, it can range from a few thousands (sometimes even less) to the tens or hundreds of thousands, or maybe millions if you're J K Rowling. However, it does tell me that they've actually printed a new edition, which has got to be a plus!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Iron Scorpion.

Thanks to Martin Sommerfeld for sending me this. He tells me: Since you like to post new covers of your books in your blog, I included this high-res version I found online at It pales in comparison to Sullivan's work, but I still think the new line of covers for your German books is a huge improvement to the old ones before 2009.

They translated the title "Shadow of the Scorpion" as "The iron Scorpion", which sounds ok in German, but the literal translation would have worked too, so no idea why they changed it.

Avatar Review

There are some spoilers here, so if you haven't seen the film, don't read this. Simples...

This was visually gorgeous. Superb, astounding special effects and three-dee that generally made things clearer and managed to impart a sense of scale I’d never before seen in a film. That first zero gravity scene with the arriving humans leaving their hibernation pods had me gob-smacked. There were jungle scenes later where I occasionally moved my head aside to stop getting whipped in the face by some plant, and there were other scenes when you felt you could reach out and touch something on the screen. A slight disconnect between the size of the aliens and the humans – I was constantly surprised when an arrow shot from a Na’vi bow arrived the size of a spear to impale a human, but that might be due to mental assumptions on my part, generally because the Na’vi were too human. Also when both humans and avatars were together in the human base that didn’t quite work. Small points, irrelevant points – I’ve never seen effects done so well.

The alien life was excellent too. I particularly liked the hyena-like creatures our hero had to defend himself from during his first night on the planet, and the lizard that took off like fluorescent helicopter, and the plants (animals?) retracting their parts into the ground like tubeworms. I did, however, feel that the visual gorgeousness was taken a little to far into fairy-light territory and half expected to see a glowing Santa Claus crouching on one of the branches. And there also seemed to be a bit of a disconnect: why was it all the mammal-like creatures had six legs whilst the Na’vi were bipeds? Well, I can let that go – insects share our world and have six legs too. Just another small point, really.

But then we get to the story itself. I won’t go with the disparaging ‘Dances with Smurfs’, this was, as others have noted, ‘Dances with Aliens’. In fact it wasn’t even that because, really, the Na’vi were too human. They were Indians, American Indians with a touch of African native or maybe Aborigine tossed into the mix, but they were also so much less than that. Not run-o-the-mill Indians these, but noble savages and the realization of that myth of natives living in harmony with Mother Nature, who herself has been turned into a living force the natives could plug into without using mescaline. These were the anti-thesis of nature-raping evil capitalist imperialists and were not the dead before forty, one child in four surviving, eat grubs and be happy natives that we know.

The sheer joy of the visual effects was degraded by the large green mallet regularly smacking me in the forehead. Earth is no longer green, we are told. Humans can splice alien and human DNA and grow hybrid avatars, they can travel between the stars, but apparently growing plants is beyond them. Obviously Earth has been raped by the corporates who have now gone to the stars to rape other worlds for the allegorical unobtanium. Big mistake on Pandora, however, because between their first encounter with the human military and their second, the Na’vi apparently invented armour-piercing arrows, whilst the humans neglected to consider the utility of dropping a rock on them from orbit.


There are those who are speculating that Avatar cost near on half a billion dollars. So, half a billion on special effects, wages for actors and others, on marketing, all of that, so couldn't they have just spent a bit more on the story? My feeling, after wards: huge talent and astounding effects wasted on a clumsy and shallow parable. Such a shame.

Update: But in the end, what the fuck do I know? I've just been told by someone on the inside that Avatar has done 1.4 billion in just a few weeks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Who Reads My Books? Sean Price.

In response to your "Who reads my books" post.

This all sort of makes me feel like a fanboy, but then again...I guess I am. :)

Occupation: I'm a former carpenter turned software engineer. I'm going to take a guess and say that the majority of your readers are educated professions in a tech field. :)

I've been an avid reader since 4th grade and I still remember my first SF book (Red Planet by Robert Heinlein). I was quite heavily into hard sci-fi for a while (Niven, Clarke...) and then drifted more toward the other end of the spectrum (notably Zelazny). If I look at my bookshelf I see I pretty much have an A-Z collection, in spite of the fact that I clean it out periodically and donate to my local library. I recently got a Kindle and I find I read more now. It's that whole "instant access" thing.

At this point in my life I don't really have a specific genre I typically read as I'll pick up anything that I feel might be good. Some of my current favorite authors would be (in no particular order), Stephen Brust, Jim Butcher, John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, George R.R.Martin, Christopher Moore and some guy named Neal Asher. It's actually gotten much easier to find "good" books (and authors) these days due to sites like Amazon and their inclusion of reader reviews. I've found that, (like movies), if a book has 300 reviews and they're all 5 stars, chances are it's pretty good. (which doesn't account for books by Piers Anthony and Jack Chalker but still....)

Location: I live in the US. Specifically, in Hawaii. (Island of Oahu, but thinking of moving to the Big Island)

Hobbies: Triathlons, Ultramarathons, Mountain Biking, Scuba Diving, Swimming and other non-team sports that get me outside. I also like drinking (good) beer. Feel free to let me know when you're on this side of the pond(s) and I'll drink a pint with you. :)

Pictures: You didn't specify pictures of "what", so I've attached 3 random pics. (Myself, my dog and cat and a hiking trail on the Big Island). I will leave it to you to figure out which is which.

-- Sean

F is for Farmer and Foster.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Technician

First draft of The Technician completed at 140,000 words (about the length of Brass Man). Now I've got to trim off the sticky out bits, tighten up the weave, read it backwards, forwards, sideways and hanging from a light fitting and edit until I reach the point where reading another word of it makes me want to smash up my keyboard with my forehead.

Who Reads My Books? Mark Dennehy.

Mark Dennehy started his career as a delivery boy at Don Corleone's pizza parlour until the day he used a pizza knife to carve up an irate customer ... no no, stop it Neal. Over to Mark: 

I mostly do network programming on unix these days for a pre-startup company, though I spent a few years before now working on website stuff for various companies (PHP programming, database stuff and lots of sysadmin work). Before that it was a PhD (which remains unfinished) on applying nonlinear mathematics to localisation and mapping in robotics. Before that I was working on a PhD on teleautonomous control of bomb disposal robots, but a german group (their equivalent of the US NEST group) beat me to publication and then proceeded to publish all over me :D I also lecture in embedded systems.

For hobbies, I do a lot of Olympic target shooting, I cook, and I fool about writing code and at the moment I'm mulling over whether or not to build another micromouse robot after watching this one solve a maze in under five seconds in last year's all-japan championships.

I tend to read pretty much everything - as far as I know, I'm the youngest person to have read every book in the library in the town I grew up in, and I did that again when we moved towns. I've been reading science fiction since I was ten, starting with authors like Asimov and Clarke and Niven and progressing over the years to KSR, Banks, yourself, Haldeman, Brin, Reynolds, Stross and so on. Of late I've been reading more and more UK based hard scifi (I have far more fun reading it when the math works) because the UK stuff has a far more ingrained trend of looking at human behaviour pessimistically. In US hard scifi, the scientific math works; in the better UK stuff, both the scientific math and the economic math works, and there are far fewer idealistic characters (which is not the same thing as characters who have ideals). It's a bit muckier, basicly. I don't tend to read too much outside of science fiction anymore, and with the sole exception of Pratchett, never really found the fantasy genre to be able to hold my interest at all (likewise with crime, horror, and pretty much all the general fiction out there at the moment).

Personal favorites have changed over the years, but some have stayed in the top ten for years now. Stross's riff on the lovecraftian universe with the Laundry, as well as Accelerando; Bank's Culture novels especially The Player of Games; the Polity novels; KSR's Red Mars (once the colony's established, it gets a bit tedious); Vinge's A Fire upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky; Cherryh's Union/Alliance novels, especially Cyteen (I'm in the middle of its sequel Regenesis right now), and a few others.

Non-fiction works are about all I read outside of SF these days, whether they be general nonfiction (the latest include The Whale and the Reactor which I heartily recommend you not waste money buying and which is the first book in many years that I threw in the bin, as well as Big Brain which is a bit basic but is one of the few books out there that covers the Boskops and if you've never heard of them, go google them now for a bit of a braintwist -- at least until you read the mainstream anthropological view), or cookery books (Blumenthal and Brown are worth reading even if you don't like to cook), or professional development stuff (The Pragmatic Programmer, GUI development with PyQT, and the like).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Reads My Books? Andy Chaytor.

Next one in the rogues' gallery:

Hi Neal, I work in a bank - as you can probably guess from my web address. It's my job, amongst others, to work out what is going on with markets and how clients - pension funds, asset managers, hedge funds and government entities - should be positioned. It's been a fun couple of years as I'm sure you can imagine!! I started doing this 6 years ago having got a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University.

Reading-wise my passions are sci-fi first and foremost but also I enjoy crime novels - especially Agatha Christie; what I look for from a book is some level of escapism. The point about a good book, I think, is that it allows your mind to escape when you are reading it AND when you are not, as you mull over the ideas and thoughts that have been presented to you. That's what makes you my favourite author - more than anyone else I have ever read, your books (the concepts and thoughts within them) stay with me long, long after I have finished reading.

Keep up the good work!!


Orbus Paperback Cover

Here we have a stonking good piece of artwork from Jon Sullivan. The man certainly reads the books because there is no doubt that this is Vrell:

Who Reads My Books? Matthew Reece Ford

A while ago I chatted to a guy called Matthew Reece Ford via either Face Book, this blog, or somewhere else. He is fan of my books and noting I live near Chelmsford wondered if I’d be on for a beer the next time he came down to visit his brother. I pointed out that though Chelmsford is in my postal address I don’t actually live there, but in a village some 13 miles away. Turns out that village is precisely where his brother lives. I couldn’t see him last year, when this conversation took place, but since he was down here this Christmas I said why not, and met him in the local for a pint. “So what do you do?” I asked. “I’m a scientist,” he replied.

It’s this meeting, and others like it (many in the virtual world) that’s led me to a little idea for a few posts here. I’m fascinated to know who reads my books, and in this case quite tickled when it turns out that whilst I dream about the future there are those who read my books who are actually making it.

I have been an avid reader for over 3 decades. Favourite newer authors: David Gunn, Tony Ballantyne, Neal Asher, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton, Greg Egan, Robert Reed, Richard Morgan, Charles Stross, Robert A Metzger, Chris Moriarty. Favourite classic authors: Clarke, Asimov, Brin, Baxter, Stapleton, Silverburg, Wyndham

BSc Biochemistry (with sandwich year, worked at Celltech in Slough for a full year) at Canterbury 1990-1994. PhD Biochemistry at Canterbury and Leicester (1994-1998).
Employed 1999 to present at Cobra BioManufacturing, as a senior scientist.

At Cobra I have worked on viruses (adenovirus, lentivirus, reovirius), proteins (for treatment of a variety of disorders, such as anti-transplant rejection proteins and monoclonal antibodies) and plasmid DNA (for vaccines) at large scale. All inside our clean rooms for phase I and II clinical trials.

Now, to continue this, I’d like to hear from other readers. I’d like you to tell me about yourselves for posts like this one. Don’t be intimidated by the qualifications of the guy above, and remember that until 2001 I was still cutting grass and hedges and strimming dogshit!

And here's Matt's book collection: