John Jarrold: You're
best known for your Polity novels, many of which feature the Polity
agent Ian Cormac. Where did the Polity and Cormac originate?
Neal Asher: When I began writing I started
with the inevitable fantasy trilogy and ground away at that for many
years before I
discovered the small presses and a writer's postal workshop. I decided
to have a go at doing some short stories. My first Polity story (sort
of) was one called "The Gire & The Bibrat" published in the
first issue of Tony Lee's Premonitions in 1992. Thereafter, in
other short stories, certain themes, ideas and characters began to reoccur.
In one story I would have a character called Horace Blegg travelling
by runcible, in another he would be refered to as 'Agent Prime Cause'
and be directing Polity agents against an alien enemy called the Prador.
Another story was about a xenobiologist called Erlin investigating the
ecology of Spatterjay. Nanomycelia would feature in many, Polity agents,
AI rulers etc. When I decided to put the fantasy trilogy aside, since
writing additional books in that series would be a waste of my time
without the first ones being published, and write a straight SF novel,
I chose the setting of these stories. I wanted a universe/future chronology
big and varied enough in which to set many tales. I had a few to choose
from as other of my short stories were similarly linked, but the Polity
seemed the best choice. As such, the Polity grew organically through
the telling of those stories. Ian Cormac put in his first appearance
in Gridlinked -- a kind of summation of many of the heroic characters
I'd previously described.
JJ: And when and how
did you start writing?
NA: When I was about fifteen or sixteen
I'd been reading masses of science fiction when an English teacher,
in one lesson, asked us to write short stories. I'd been overdosing
on EC Tubb's Dumarest saga and wrote something about a character having
his brain taken out and installed in a computer. Totally derivative
of the Cyclan in those Tubb books. The teacher complimented me on that
and said I should do more. Little did she know! Over the next few years
I dabbled in writing, but it was one of many interests (drawing, sculpture,
electronics, chemistry, biology). A few years later I realised that
I had a choice to make: I could be a Jack of all trades and master of
none, or I should concentrate on one thing only. I chose writing because
it incorporated all my other interests, most especially my love of those
lurid SF & fantasy book covers, on one of which I decided I wanted to
see my name.
JJ: Your recent novel,
Cowl, moves into a new universe. Do you intend to write further
novels in that universe?
NA: I honestly don't know. Cowl grew
from a novella I'd written some time ago -- one I knew at the time should
be on a larger canvas. But when I look at all my short stories and novellas
I see that every one has the potential to be a book. If there is sufficient
interest ... perhaps I will. At present I'm concentrating on bringing
the Cormac sequence to a conclusion, interspersed with a few other books
that stand alone. Another time travel one might be one of them, but
JJ: And does time travel,
used in Cowl, particularly fascinate you?
NA: It does. Another of those interests
previously mentioned came from a family holiday on the Yorkshire coast
where me and my brother spent most of our time searching for fossils
on a bleak beach. The cliffs behind the beach were mud and stone and
being steadily eroded by the sea. A prehistoric seabed was being washed
out. I learnt a little then and very much more since, and my awe at
the sheer scale of Earth's prehistory has never stopped growing. The
lump of stone in your hand was a living creature two hundred million
years ago. Dinosaurs roamed for a 170 million years. Billions of years
passed before we even looked up at the sky. There's that comparison:
if Earth's history were translated into a day, then we appeared only
in the last two minutes. So, knowing all that, books like Silverberg's
Hawksbill Station had added fascination for me. But there's not
enough like that around. I wanted to impart that sensawunda (in itself
what drew me to science fiction in the first place) I feel at the awesome
reaches of time passed, and to pass.
JJ: Tell us about your
latest novels, Brass Man and the forthcoming Voyage of the
NA: Brass Man continues the Cormac
sequence, follows on from The Line of Polity and comes out next
April. That book had
its inception from all those people who turned round to me after reading
Gridlinked and said, "I really like Mr Crane!" I did too and
decided we needed to know more about him. There's also more about Jain
technology, Dragon ... and plenty of gratuitous violence, large explosions,
and flesh eating monsters. It also introduces certain themes and ideas
to play out in future books. Lots of threads are starting to come together
The Voyage of the Sable Keech follows The Skinner. I
bring back characters from the original book: Janer, Erlin, the Old
Captains and everybody's favourite: Sniper. The Sable Keech of the title
is a massive ship named after a character in the original. Aboard it
reifications seek resurrection, whilst in the sea underneath many nasty
things are stirring.
JJ: Who influenced
you as a writer?
My stock answer to that is in the acknowledgements of The Skinner:
their names stretch through the alphabet from Aldiss to Zelazny. Like
many, my first influence was Tolkien. I remember a teacher reading The
Hobbit to a class I attended and, when I first went to library,
the first book I picked up was The Two Towers. My parents passed
EC Tubb's The Winds of Gath, Kaolin, Derai on to
me, and I went on to buy all the subsequent books in that series up
to about 24, when I gave up because Dumarest had still yet to find Earth.
I read CS Lewis then, Edgar Rice Burroughs (not Tarzan) then
moved on to reading much else: Clarke, Asimov, Van Vogt, Herbert, Tanith
Lee, Shaw, Heinlein, Harrison, Moorcock ... in fact, think of a genre
writer and I've probably read 'em, because at one time I was polishing
off an average of ten books a month. In later years it was Banks, Bear,
Donaldson, Gemmell, Julian May, Tepper ... again: you name it. All these
have affected me and I'm loath to select any out as a special influence.
However, I hugely admire Zelazny's writing, and I must fess up about
the Banksian influence on my drones and AIs.
JJ: What are your other
influences, in music, film and so forth?
NA: I'm not musical person I'm afraid
as I like the quiet (much to my father's disgust -- him being a jazz
musician), but I am one of the thirty-five million who possesses a copy
of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. I probably grew to like
that group because, while working with my eldest brother he gave me
lifts to work and Floyd was forever on his tape player. I guess that
could be influential, it being sufficiently weird, but really, I don't
think music is an influence. Films however are a different matter:
I don't think any SF writer's film list will be complete without Blade
Runner, which I loved. Thereafter, in no particular order: Alien,
Aliens, Krull, Total Recall, Excalibur,
Terminator I & II, The Haunting (old version),
Dune, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet,
Die hard I & II, Black Hawk Down, Pitch Black,
The Last Samurai, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings
... like all these lists, this is subject to perpetual change. Who knows
what effect all those Clint Eastwood and John Wayne movies had? What
about TV series like Callan, Dangerman, and of course
Doctor Who and Blake's 7? I really like Babylon 5
(excellent story arc), Band of Brothers, 24 and I'm quite
getting into this new version of Battlestar Galactica. Stargate
was pretty cool as well, though the producers could have asked before
nicking my runcible idea (arf!).
JJ: Do you enjoy writing
more at novel length or short stories? Why?
NA: I prefer writing short stories because
I can play with all sorts of strange ideas on a limited canvas and sometimes
the buzz of creation will last from beginning to end,
and it's all over within a week. In writing a novel that buzz does occur,
but then it goes away again and I just have to continue grinding away
until the next hit. And it ain't all over in a week. The wider canvas
gives me a chance to explore some things at length, which can be great
fun. There's also nothing quite like holding that finished book in your
hand. But what was that saying about inspiration and perspiration? Novels
are hard work. However, short stories don't pay the bills.
JJ: What are your plans
for the future (if any!)?
NA: The Voyage of the Sable Keech
completes my second three book contract for Macmillan. I've handed it
in and Peter Lavery will shortly be ripping into it with his scary pencil.
He has asked me if I've any thoughts about another three books. Well,
the due date for Sable is actually five months away, so I'm a
little ahead of the game, and supposing another contract might be offered
I've started on the next in the Cormac sequence. This book is provisionally
titled Polity Agent and I'm 90,000 words into it. In this I answer
some questions: who and what is Horace Blegg, why was Dragon really
sent to the Polity, what is Dragon and the Maker's (Gridlinked)
relation to Jain technology, and why, when throughout the Polity's expansion
no Jain nodes were discovered, did one end up in the hands of Skellor
when it did? Other possible books are Orbus -- following the
adventures of a character from Sable -- Hilldiggers --
a standalone (the hilldiggers are spaceships named after what their
weapons can do) -- and another Cormac one ... I'll leave it up to Peter
to decide what he might like next and what order of publication. I also
intend to turn out some more short stories for the likes of Asimov's,
and I've also been approached about doing a collection of three novellas.
I really need four hands and two keyboards.
has run three SF and Fantasy imprints in London since 1988: Orbit,
Legend and Earthlight. Since 2002 he has been working as a freelance
editor and book doctor, and is now also representing several authors
as a literary agent. His website is at: http://www.sff.net/people/john-jarrold/
and he is interviewed elsewhere on this site.
Neal Asher has been an SF and fantasy
junkie ever since "having my mind distorted at an early age by J R
R Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs and E. C. Tubb." The author's fifth
book, Brass Man, will be out next April from Tor Macmillan,
and his sixth book, The Voyage of the Sable Keech, is with
© John Jarrold 2005.
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