The Cosmic Engineers

This one was a no-no right from the start. Two reporters on a space ship, one of them turning a dial to tune in the radio, gave me difficulties with suspension of disbelief right at the start. People from the 50s supposedly in a future three thousand years away from us. Other things in the science and the narrative were appalling. A guy getting into a pressurized spaceship through the front screen was risible. Then there was a woman, after a 1,000 years in hibernation during which she was conscious, waking up and behaving as if she’s been a bit stir crazy for a few days and, incidentally, speaking the same language as the reporter who freed her. Nah. This makes me realize how much SF I swallowed with a naive hunger when I was younger.

This is not really a review since I didn’t get more than a chapter or two into the book.

The Battle of Forever – A E Van Vogt

After Syzygy (previous post) and a failed attempt to read With a Strange Device by Eric Frank Russell, I resorted to one who has never disappointed: A E Van Vogt. The Battle of Forever snared me immediately. Sure, published in 1971 it’s a bit dated, but I didn’t find myself cringing at any of the technology, just a little bit at the mores. Of course not: this is Van Vogt and right from the start it’s far future super-science.

Modyun is one of the thousand remaining members of the human race, incredibly long-lived, peace loving and totally rational. He doesn’t suffer much from all that emotional gland-related stuff because, well, as this starts out he hasn’t got very much of that icky stuff going on, being mostly a bloody great head with a negligible body. But then he must venture beyond the barrier out onto the rest of the planet, which is now occupied by animals uplifted into human form and intelligence. To do this he grows and eight-feet-tall body to support that head, and begins to experience its effects, especially when he discovers Earth has been conquered by aliens…

It’s the good old stuff.

Syzygy – Michael G Coney

Syzygy by Michael Coney was first from that stack of second-hand books I picked up in Hastings. I immediately found it a little disappointing. If I had read it when it was published in 1973 my reaction, as a voracious consumer of any SF, would have been different. But the world has moved on since then, and so have I.
The sfnal idea here is of oceanic plankton breeding every 52 years and, in the process, forming briefly-lived minds to protect itself. These minds control the local blackfish (sharks really) to attack and kill the fish that would feed on the plankton. This effect spills over onto human colonists causing a telepathic amplifier feedback effect on emotions, resulting in violence and various irrational behaviours. In essence: you really don’t want to know what people think of you. The human government responds to this with an attempt to poison the minds and, becoming aware of the humans, they respond by trying to drive the humans into the sea to be torn up by the blackfish.

Intertwined in this is a human story concerning a bereaved husband falling for the sister of his dead wife, along with a mystery about how she died – all resolved in the final scenes. I’ll go into no more detail about it than that. I found it all a bit prosaic and a struggle to get through because, really, I was after the sfnal hit. In fact, beyond the plankton minds, it all struck me as a bit lacklustre. This could all have been about mind-controlling plankton arriving at the coast of some US town in the fifties. While in science fiction one must suspend disbelief, in old SF one must extend that suspension to cover, in this case: fifty-year-old technology on a colonised planet, and the mores of that time. One just has to laugh a hollow laugh when only a woman is capable of properly cleaning our hero’s house, and when that same hero, upon sensing the thoughts of a pipe-smoking psychologist, has a homophobic reaction that would today have the writer strung up by the thumbs, albeit the reaction was that of the protagonist.

Reading Again

When I was in my 10s, 20s and 30s I used to read huge numbers of books. Over some early years it averaged out at 10 books a month. Maybe this was because the books I read back then were slim SF volumes from the likes of Asimov, Blish, Aldiss etc. As I transitioned into a full time writer that number grew smaller but I still always had a book on the go. Events four years ago (which I have gone on about enough) killed my urge to read, but it has been slowly recovering. Now it seems I have broken through some barrier thanks to Terry Pratchett.
Over the last month I polished off 12 Pratchetts in the collection above. I then felt the urge to return to my habit of old which was wandering around second-hand bookshops in search of sfnal (and fantasy) gems. Last week Julie and I went down to Brighton and then Hastings to visit my old editor, Peter Lavery. There I wandered into a shop and this happened:
My first choice out of these was perhaps the best and, reading Philip K Dick’s Zap Gun reminded me of why I have none of his books in my collection. But onward and upward! Next I’ll try a Van Vogt who, thus far, has never disappointed.

Half Breed

“Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.”
Readers here may remember how a number of years ago I was writing stuff for a Heavy Metal film. One story requested was an orcs and elves battle based on Rorke’s Drift (Zulu). I needed superior weapons to keep the hordes of orcs at bay so I went with arbalests wielded by immensely strong half-breed orcs (the children of rape). I called the story Half Breed. Here’s Skander, the leader of that party of orcs.
 
Because this was story written on request and therefore owned by Tim Miller, who was putting together this Heavy Metal film to sell to Paramount (yeah, Deadpool Tim Miller), I couldn’t publish it. The thing languished in my files and then, as the Heavy Metal thing fell through, continued to languish there. I’ve since written another one called Brawl that might be used in another project I probably can’t talk about (name change from Skander because of US legal wankery). I’ll have to check on whether I can use these when I finally get round to publishing a collection of fantasy short stories.

The Old Stuff on Kindle and in Paperback

I’ve mentioned elsewhere my steady climb up the writing ladder so I’ll not go into it here, suffice to say that before the big publisher took me on I’d put my hours in with the small presses. As a result of this I did have a number of small things published before Gridlinked hit the shelves.
 
 
Some years ago I heard about self-publishing on Kindle, so I put some of these items on there and they’ve been selling in increasing amounts ever since. The last thing I put on there was a collection called Runcible Tales and, while doing that, I saw that Amazon gave an option to publish it as a paperback too. This was interesting.
 
 
Runcible Tales sold nicely but there were always those asking about getting hold of the thing in paper which, for whatever reasons, I was reluctant to do (or too lazy).
 
 
 
Recently, after finishing editing Book III of Rise of the Jain (The Human), I decided to have a sort out of my short stories. I put those that were in collections into files of the same names, so I had Runcible Tales, The Engineer ReConditioned and The Gabble. This left many single stories that might have been published here and there in anthologies put out by others. I decided to put together a small collection of Polity and Owner stories and called it Owning the Future.
 
Also in there I found Mason’s Rats. This was a collection of just three short stories that many had enjoyed. They were first published in a small press magazine called Kimota, whose editor, Graeme Hurry, who then published as a small booklet he handed out at an SF convention. I published these on Kindle too.

Next it was time to bite the bullet so I started off by publishing Runcible Tales in paper form on Amazon. That went well enough so I did the same with the rest. There were some hiccups concerning pagination and the covers are quite plain (something I must look into in the future), but now all of the above are available on Kindle and in POD paper. The links below each will take you through to the Amazon UK, but these are also available in the US and elsewhere.

Owning the Future

I’ve just put this collection up on Kindle. It will also be appearing as an Amazon paperback sometime soon . . .


I have a varied collection of short stories in my files and, of course, the temptation is there to dump them on Kindle, take the money and run. However, though I think some of them are great, some aren’t, and some are profoundly dated. I am aware that there are those out there, who will just buy these without a second thought, so I have to edit, be selective, and I damned well have to show some respect for my readers. Kindle in this respect can be a danger for a known writer, because you can publish any old twaddle and someone will buy it. Time and again, I’ve had fans, upon hearing that I have this and that unpublished in my files, demanding that I publish it at once because surely they’ll love it. No they won’t. A reputation like trust: difficult to build and easy to destroy.

I’ve therefore chosen stories other people have published here and there, and filled in with those I really think someone should have published. Here you’ll find some Polity tales, some that could have been set in the Polity (at a stretch) and some from the bleak Owner universe. Enjoy!

Neal Asher 04/06/18

Stories:

Memories of Earth

I believe I wrote this one as a publicity exercise for Tor Macmillan while they were publishing the Owner trilogy, but then it wasn’t used. I subsequently shunted it off to Asimov’s and they published it in their October/November 2013 issue. There’s also an audible version on Starship Sofa (No. 383).

Shell Game

This appeared in The New Space Opera 2 edited by Gardner Dozois and Johnathan Strahan published in July 2009.

The Rhine’s World Incident

First appeared in Subterfuge from Newcon Press in 2008, next appeared in In Space No One Can Hear You Scream from Baen Books in 2013. This is the story where the swarm AI the Brockle makes its first appearance.

Owner Space

Appeared in Galactic Empires published by Gardner Dozois in 2008

Strood

First appeared in Asimov’s in December 2004, next in Year’s Best SF 10 published by Hartwell and Kramer in 2005. StarShipSofa did an audible version: No. 463

The Other Gun

Cover picture story in Asimov’s April/May 2013. This is a backstory for the Rise of the Jain trilogy – it concerns the Client.

Bioship

This appeared in George Mann’s Solaris Book of New Science Fiction in 2007

Scar Tissue

Not appeared anywhere at all!

The Veteran

There’s an audible version of this on Escape Pod, episode 118, read by Steve Eley – went up there in 2007

Mythos – Stephen Fry

It was good to read stories I vaguely knew written out clearly. That Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection is enduring. Here I learned how the water nymph Echo related, and how the flower came to be. Prometheus’s unfortunate sojourn on the side of a mountain, with vultures eating his liver, was another story elucidated . . . in fact, there wasn’t a story here I did not know some part of, which shows just how ingrained Greek myth is in our culture.  
I particularly enjoyed the language connections that Fry elaborated on like, off the top of my head, that the ‘Ge’ in Geo words like Geology comes from Gaia, the Earth goddess. Having learned Greek (allegedly) and having spent many years on Crete, I also felt this mythology gave me further insight into the working of the Greek mind. It is a fact that your language informs your perspective on reality (and that learning another one gives you a deeper perspective), while Greek myth is firmly intertwined with their language (and ours, though not so firmly).
Do I recommend this book, what with most people reading this blog being SF readers? Well, it was a mostly easy undemanding read, except in some sections, where genealogical lists tended to the boring. But you know what, it’s nice to know, for example, the history of the names in John Varley’s Gaean Trilogy. SF writers have used Greek myths and names more than one might suppose, so go on, educate yourself.