Who Reads my Books: Caspian Windrich

I can still clearly recall my first childhood experiences with science fiction. I was nine years old when my father sought to broaden my literally horizons beyond graphic novels and fantasy series such as the Belgariad or The Lord of the Rings. He bought me an old cassette tape containing a BBC radio play adaptation of Arthur C. Clark’s ‘Childhood’s End’. I was already deeply infatuated with the timeless Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy radio play, which is still the best adaptation of Douglas Adam’s work in my opinion. But I digress, taking the cassette I asked him what it was about, and he replied: “It’s similar to the Hitchhikers Guide, or Star Wars, except much more serious. It’s called Hardcore Science Fiction. I think you’ll like it.”

And thus it was that my young mind, weaned on the humorous and witty works of Douglas Adams, tasted the fountain of imagination that is science fiction, and found it spectacular.

However my literary fascination was not to last. During the age of 15 to18 I started dabbling in many different areas. Some of which I still hold dear, while others I now find unsavory. Heavy video gaming, street graffiti and other more exhilarating, or carnal pastimes began to turn my attention away from the page into the wider world.

Now, while every teenager should be allowed to express and vent their passions during this period of life. It should be done within reason, and without losing a sense of yourself. I certainly don’t intend to waffle on about how to, or not, live your life. All I will say is that I made some bad decisions that caused me to lose faith in myself, and my aspirations in general. It was only my voracious obsession with exotic pet-keeping that kept my love and interest of the sciences and natural world alive.

During this period I kept numerous species of reptiles, invertebrates and tropical fish (the whole list I won’t bore you with) although I will gabble (just a little) about my favourites. The Atlantic Mudskippers, Terrestrial Hermit Crabs, Colorado River Toads and my heavily planted Neocaridina Shrimp tank. Not to mention my beloved kitties Jez and Luna. Although an old favourite must still be “Hooder” a spear-limbed Mantis Shrimp whose intelligence and viciousness kept me perplexed throughout our time together. These animals gave my life purpose in more ways than I knew at the time, forcing me to continuously learn, adapt and improve my animal husbandry and knowledge, as they were both emotional investments and engaging research projects.


And this is where the Polity comes in. I remember picking up the newly released Orbus in 2009 when I was 15. I was trying to get back into reading but had found no books that would grip my imagination as they used to. Orbus changed all of that within the space of a year. I did not read that book. I consumed it. Quickly recommending it to one of my closest friends. He too became hooked, and we spent the next few years taking turns in acquiring the rest of the Polity universe, having discussions long into the night about cannibalistic crabs, gallivanting gabbleducks, broken brass men, and the delphically dangerous desires of Dragon. These stories blew apart my perception of “light reading” as I found myself eager to feast on them. Hungry for more exotic tech; ravenous to put together the pieces of the Atheter’s suicide of sentience; intrigued by the moral impunity of the Prador; endlessly contemplating the 4th dimensional mind of sector AI’s. The list does indeed go on.

These stories invigorated a new type of scientific thought in me, one that was not content to sit at home and passively study my pets. But to go out and confidently seek, to experiment, to test both established and assumed knowledge of zoology and the biosphere.

Asher’s combination of compelling narrative, well researched and plausible alien worlds, and the style of writing that allows the reader to understand the story from multiple, often inhuman perspectives, caused a bit of a scientific Renaissance within me. And for that I am deeply grateful.

Not long after, I managed to land a job at a bespoke aquarium store in London, and have just kept walking my path from there.

Right now I’m studying Marine & Freshwater Biology at Aberystwyth University. It may not be the oceans of Spatterjay but it suits me just fine. Keep that keyboard typing Neal, at least until an aug comes along.

Who Reads my Books: Ian Packman

Hi, my name is Ian Packman, although a lot of people call me E because Ian is such a long and difficult name to say. Originally I was from the sunny South East but now I have settled in the somewhat more rural county of Shropshire.

Everyone seems to be starting with their jobs so I suppose I should start with that as well.

I spent the first 20 years of my working life serving Queen and Country as an Airframe Tech in the RAF. I served all over the UK (and occasionally abroad) working on Buccaneer, Jaguar, and Tornado. The last few years were spent back where I started, at the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering. This time however, I was the one standing at the front of the class doing the chalking and talking. A cyclical ending which appealed to me.

Eventually budget cuts and redundancy saw me return to Civvy Street and job hunting. One wet Thursday lunchtime I saw an ad in the paper for Train Drivers. I applied, got it, and now spend my days trundling up and down the Welsh border. It was never a schoolboy dream, and trains don’t really interest me outside of work but it is certainly a job that I love.

My father was a keen science fiction fan when I was growing up so all the books in the house had names like Asimov, Clarke, and Niven printed on the spine. That seems to be a theme around here! I stumbled across Neal Asher’s work whilst reading an article on Iain Banks. The (article) author said that people who liked the Culture often couldn’t get on with the Polity, and vice versa, although he himself loved both. I thought I’d give it a try and tracked down a copy of Gridlinked, along with Neal’s blog.

Gridlinked I loved. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Polity AIs were not the omnipotent Gods of Banks’s Culture. There was actually stuff they couldn’t do just by employing field tech and advanced magic. Penny Royal has somewhat broken this idea but I think I read Neal saying that there was too much deus ex machina going on so that may change (no spoilers, I haven’t read Infinity Engine!).

In my free time I like to mess around with music. I used to play guitar in bands, nothing special, just a few gigs in local pubs, but the very unsociable shifts that I now work mean that had to go. Instead, along with a friend, I write and record songs at home for my own amusement. Strictly a hobby but sometimes other people like them as well. Once in a blue moon we will go out and play an acoustic set somewhere.

You can listen to our music here (you can listen for free, no need to buy): https://thehairthieves.bandcamp.com/ and there are a few videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSBiYFY9RkejFtj1cJ9pZ7M_817foTk9p

Cheers,

Ian.

Who Reads my Books: David Nelson

I’m 51, from Australia, currently doing all things you need to with a newly built house; driveways, erecting sheds, landscaping etc. I have been an avid reader of all things weird and wonderful from an early age. Starting with the classic Golden Age era of Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg, Clarke, etc, etc, and then onto the next generations.

That lasted until I turned 18 and I ventured into the world of cars, girls and all night partying…oh, and work, mainly construction and sheet metal work. Once that particular novelty wore off…around 25, I dived back into the worlds of the fantastic with such a voracious appetite I even conceived of the idea that I had something to offer the genre itself. All I can say about that effort, in typical social media vernacular is…lol.

Me on the left, Alastair Reynolds on the right.

I do write stories, and have written a few books, but they’re more within my, shall I say, abilities? Though, as I write this, you won’t find any of my work published. Writing is a harsh mistress.
I discovered Mr. Asher around the time Britain was exploding again with talent. With such works by Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Baxter, China Mieville, Iain Banks, Justina Robson, Ken McKleod, Richard Morgan…the list seems endless, and to my delight, going back and finding the previous greats like Ian McDonald, M. John Harrison, John Brunner, and that list seems endless too.
Anyway, I decided to give Neal’s Gridlinked a go, and found it quite palatable, but not quite mind blowing compared to the works that would come later from him. And yet, he has pretty much leap-frogged over most to become one of my all time favorite authors, period!!

Who Reads my Books: Dave Loboda

I was born in Chester and raised in Runcorn. In Cheshire I worked in an office when I first left school but then trained as a teacher, first of PE then, when I decided that football pitches in winter were no longer any fun, retrained in Maths and Science.  I took early retirement about 7 years ago when I became totally fed up with a job that developed into an exercise in ticking boxes and meeting exam targets rather than getting children to think and enjoy learning.

I am now able to enjoy all the things I like doing especially playing golf, travelling, listening to music, walking and reading.  I read anything – travel (Bill Bryson), thrillers (John Grisham, Robert Ludlum), science (Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins) to name a few – but above all, anything SF or SO.

I’ve been a science fiction nut from an early age.  I remember that the first SF book I read was “Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter” by Isaac Asimov (aka Paul French) and I was addicted to his books from then on. I went through all the works of Clarke, Heinlein, Smith, Bova, Herbert, Hamilton, Banks etc. etc. and was entranced by the worlds they invented for me to visit, the battles they fought and the amazing characters I travelled with.  I discovered Tolkien in my teens and “The Lord of the Rings” remains my all-time favourite book and I return to it quite regularly.

The first Neal Asher book I read was “Polity Agent” and, upon realising that it was part of a series (I’m quite slow at times), had to get the rest and read them in order.  Since then I have read almost all of his works and will get around to the rest soon (currently deep into Hamilton’s “Night Without Stars”).  I love the detail in the stories which help the reader to really get into the world where the action takes place.

 

Who Reads my Books: Nikolaos Bampasis

Dear Neal and fellow readers, greetings.

My name is Nikolaos Bampasis, I am a 37 y.o. aerospace engineer currently living in Thessaloniki, Greece and working in the IT sector.

I have been an avid fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the most part of my life, ever since my father introduced me to the likes of Isaac Asimov, Athur C. Clarke, Frank Herbet and  others. Needless to say that he also made sure I watched all the sci-fi movies available at the time on VHS (about a million years ago it seems) describing how big those spaceships were, how fast they were going, what kind of hyper advanced weaponry they employed and so on. I was fascinated for life.

I spent a great deal of my youth sketching up my own versions of massive starships, huge robots and abhorrent monstrosities (the uglier the better)and that tendency lead up to me packing my suitcase and heading over to England to pursue a degree on Aerospace Engineering. I had a brief break in my studies in order to get the compulsory military service out of the way and then I went back to Scotland this time, to do a Masters degree on renewable energy and a PhD on Fuel Cell technology.

There I learned, among a great deal of other things, that there is a huge gap that separates the vision of the future and its transformation into practical reality, that there exists an intrinsic struggle in all creative endeavour between conceptualisation and operation, design and functionality, aesthetics and form. Sometimes in order to compromise we lose one or the other and the result is often crude or aesthetically irrelevant, but as science and technology continuously advance we find ourselves ever closer to the golden ratio and the end outcome of our struggles can be truly breathtaking.

I try keeping track of all current scientific and technological events mainly for knowledge’s sake but apart from that my interests include reading as much as possible (physical books and audiobooks – digital format never appealed to me much -), listening to music (mostly heavy metal and all subgenres and classical music) and playing the occasional video game. Sometimes I host Call of Cthulhu RPG sessions but nowadays it’s becoming far less frequent an event due to time limitations. I am also a martial arts practitioner currently holding a black belt rank in Duk Moo Kumdo which is the Korean art of the sword,similar in many respects to Japanese Kendo.

My first introduction to Neal Asher was through the owner of a speciality bookshop (Unknown Kadath) here in Thessaloniki, quite a few years ago. I went in desperately asking for something that included massive space battles, monsters, hyper advanced civilizations and so on. He immediately handed me “The Skinner” which I promptly bought and read in a span of a few days. It was awesome. Naturally more books followed and currently I am going through “War Factory” which I am loving. Neal has a way of merging gritty realism and ultra-exotic elements in an almost seamless fashion and the effort he puts into creating a believable yet utterly fascinating universe is something that I, as a reader, am truly grateful for.

Who Reads my Books: Jim Watts

Trying to watch the KC Chiefs play.

I’m one of those Liberals that live in the failed democracy of North Carolina. I’m not terribly outspoken about it, but I do vote in every election. I love American football. My dog doesn’t. She thinks (rightfully so) that she should be the center of attention. I work in marketing for SAS Institute, one of the largest privately own software companies, and have been there for 28 years. Not bad for an English major from a small college. So, all-in-all, I’m a stereotypical suburbanite with somewhat normal vices all practiced simultaneously: Reading while smoking a cigar, drinking whisky and listening to progressive rock or jazz on my overstuffed 160 GB iPod. Yes, I also own (working) Zunes. I am furious that both Apple and Microsoft killed off their mp3 player lines.

Life is particularly good when a new Neal Asher book arrives

Reading books is what keeps me sane. I will read anything from SFF to history or even Victorian literature, but SFF is my favorite. I will typically polish off more than 120 books a year. My daughter and son are convinced the first “real” book I read to them was The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Now they’re studying for advanced degrees in Medieval Literature and Medieval History. My wife rightfully blames me. While my daughter tends more towards Octavia Butler when she’s not reading Medieval romance, I have successfully indoctrinated my son to be a fan of Neal Asher, Ian Banks, and Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, the chaps behind the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. He likes “Grimdark” Fantasy a lot.

Atop Conwy Castle in North Wales

I first stumbled across Neal Asher’s Polity somewhat mid-series several years ago. We didn’t have much of a selection in bookstores here so it may have even been a used copy of Brass Man that introduced me to his work. I was so enthralled that I subsequently buy everything he’s published, though often am forced to resort to Amazon since they’ve killed off virtually all the bookstores in suburbia. Brass Man is still my favorite, but I truly love the Spatterjay books as well. I’m currently on a Space Opera kick, so recommendations are welcome.

No. Of course it’s not too cold

Thanks for letting me share!

Regards

Jim Watts
Apex, North Carolina

Found Them!

Yippeee! Sometimes I swear about computers but today I’m a happy bunny. While trying to figure out how to convert a pdf into a jpeg for my blog I ventured onto my clipboard. There I saw something unexpected: the title of a TV script called The Executioner’s Lie. It turned out to be just a cover page for this TV script on an old file related to my old website. This was disappointing because I thought I had found some missing files.

When I was intending to move house last year I threw out lots of stuff, including discs with copies of my old files on them. I didn’t need them anymore, they were old technology, I could put back-ups on flash drives and back-up to Dropbox etc. A while later , for whatever reasons, I decided to have a look at various TV scripts I’d written and could not find them anywhere. The horrible realisation began to impinge that in transferring files from my main computer here to the laptop I use in Crete and back again I had somehow lost them. I had to grit my teeth, tell myself that’s life and just get on.

Today, after seeing that cover page, I decided to do some file searches using various words. I found a file called ‘Sitcom’ and this turned out to be one of those TV scripts. Further searching revealed another, then another, and then I found them all in a file called ‘Publisher’ which I did not recognize. I copied them to a new file ‘TV Scripts’ before then finding this ‘Publisher’ file. Bloody Hell – I’ve got them all back.

I’ve got a sitcom I wrote about annoying neighbours. This was based on reality: someone who had moved in below us when Caroline and I lived in a maisonette. I’ve got The Executioner’s Lie which is an hour-long thing set in a future where prime-time TV executions have been introduced. I’ve got a play set on the Millennium Dome and another called Woodstock’s Rats that I can hardly remember. But best of all I found a thing called Trines. This is a three-episode series set in England and involving an alien, quite like one of the Jain, living under the woods near a local town. Along with that I’ve also found the first five chapters of the book version of that I was writing too.

Delighted!

Who Reads my Books: Monique Gudgeon

Tricky writing about yourself…  briefly then, my name is Monique Gudgeon, born in 1958 which makes me 60 next year – heavens above!  I live in the depths of Dorset, England and am lucky enough to run a sculpture park with my sculpting husband Simon, and as Neal says I can plug stuff, here is our website – www.sculpturebythelakes.co.uk – visit as you wish, virtually or in corporeal form.

The blurb hidden somewhere in the website says this, “Monique has been gardening in various capacities since leaving London and the world of public relations back in 1992.  Her horticultural career has led her from building gardens at Chelsea Flower Show (back doing that again next year), to a very short stint as a garden designer, and finally working at the world-renowned Architectural Plants nursery in Sussex.  She now concentrates her energies on her own garden as well as caring for six dogs and her husband, in that order.”

My first encounter of the world of SF was through my father who was a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan.  First the Tarzan books and then the Mars series, Carson of Venus, Llana of Gathol, etc; from there we progressed together through John Wyndham’s work – The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos et al – then he left me to go and explore thrillers and spy novels, but by then I was hooked.   And so it has been ever since but with a generous sprinkling of fantasy and magic thrown in along the way – who doesn’t love a dragon?  My first encounter of Neal Asher’s work was through a friend in San Francisco who recommended I start with The Skinner, she also admitted that she would like to be transported to live in The Polity.  I kind of agree, there is much to recommend it, especially the autodoc, runcible gates and sarcasm prone drones and AIs, but it also sounds kind of dangerous and I’m not very brave.  Why I enjoy Neal’s books? He writes an excellent fast-moving yarn with some fabulous characterizations, imaginative landscapes peppered with fantastic beasts, plus the baddies are REALLY bad and the weapons are awesomely destructive.  What more do you need in a SF novel?

I’d love to read more about Orlandine and I kind of wish that naughty old Sniper would reappear one day, although he must be very old by now…

I ran the London Marathon in 2016 in aid of The Dogs Trust and I support some dog rescue and re-homing charities here and in Spain – I like dogs more than people mostly…

Who Reads my Books: Jools Enticknap

It’s strange to think I’ve been reading Neal’s books for 16 years. And during that time, most if not all his books have been re-read multiple times. I’m not a re-reader, once I’ve read a book it’ll normally take me a few years to go back and pick it up again. But Neal’ s work casts a  spell, and the personalities he conjures up feel more like old friends.

So much sci-fi descends into techno-babble™ to prop up tenuous future technology, lots of made up words starting with X. Neal prefers to use the likes Edward Lear and his ode “The Owl and the Pussycat” (Runcible being an interstellar wormhole generator), to describe how the inventor’s mind was expanded to infinity. And therein lies, what has kept my interest all these years, the ability to weave a narrative which collects you up and carries you to the final conclusion.

My introduction to the sci-fi genre started around 8 years old, when I was presented with a copy of the Red Planet by Robert A Heinlein. I had a propensity for building space ships out of cardboard or Lego, which I suspect inspired my uncle to purchase this particular book for me. My progression was that of many, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, A.E van Vogt to name but a few.

It would be fair to say I was a bit of a geek. My father was an Architect, and from an early age inspired an interest in technology, mathematics and aeronautics. I had my heart set on being a fighter pilot. I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and the idea of flying a super fast  state of the art aircraft was all I could think about. Until I went to an RAF open day, at which my height was measured and duly informed I would not fit in such a craft. But I could fly a Hercules if I was interested…. Suffice to say, a career in the RAF suddenly stopped being interesting.

That’s not to say I stopped being interested in aeronautics, I continued to build remote control aircraft, and still do to this day. Although I tend to fly racing quadcopters using FPV goggles. It’s quite a thrill, I can tell you.

Racing cars and bikes sated my need for speed, and I still race a Kawasaki ZX10R at both club and national level. You’d be amazed at the diversity of people racing motorcycles, and very interesting bunch.

After putting a career flying Fighter jets behind me, I pushed on with a career in software development. During my time, I’ve developed software for a multitude of industries from Formula 1 to Mushroom farming. I’m now a managing director of a company developing software to manage staff in safety critical jobs.

I suspect that’s more than enough rambling from me, back to the progenitor himself. It’s been a pleasure to engage with you and the people closest to you over the years, some of which are no longer with us. Your work clearly has been a catharsis for healing, and I hope that one day the scars will finally heal.

All the Best,

Jools

 

Runcible Tales

Okay, I’ve gone and done it. Runcible Tales is a chapbook collection of 5 short stories that was published ages ago by a small publisher called Piper’s Ash. The only people who’ve read it picked it up before that publisher closed or found it secondhand. I’ve now put it up on Kindle at the lowest price I could and it should be appearing in 70 hours.

Always with you – Webster engages on a mission to destroy a Prador planet breaker. It helps if you have Horace Blegg on your side, and an internal medic, but are these enough to overcome overwhelming odds?

Blue Holes and Bloody Waters – marine biologist Karl finds that humans haven’t quite adapted enough – or have they? Features the first mention of the retro Anti-Grav cars featured in “Gridlinked” that I have come across

Dragon in the Flower – Ian Cormac’s first encounter with Dragon – this is printed word-for-word in “Gridlinked”, so this should be the Runcible Tale most familiar to Neal Asher readers

The Gire and the Bibrat – Telepath John Tennyson is given more than a helping hand by Agent Prime Cause in his search for the location of a scream…

Walking John and Bird – John Walker consults Horace Blegg and Dragon with questions concerning his link with Bird, a seemingly invincible entity. Trouble is, especially where Dragon is concerned, he may not like the answers.

This isn’t my earliest collection – The Engineer published by Tanjen has that distinction (now republished as The Engineer Reconditioned by Wildside Press) – but it does contain some of my earliest stories. Here you see the Polity of my books slowly beginning to germinate. The immortal Horace Blegg puts in his enigmatic appearances while Dragon, that giant extra-galactic alien is being equally as enigmatic, people travel by runcible, the prador are out and about in a massive an almost impossible to destroy warship and there other hints of what is to come. I haven’t made many changes from the original – just tidied up some of the grammar and spelling. For example the dropshaft of my books is here called a gravity chute and apparently then I assumed ‘chute’ was ‘shoot’, so I guess I’ve learned something.

Revisiting these stories has been interesting. They were written (I think) before I wrote the stories Spatterjay and Snairls from which the book The Skinner had its genesis. In that book humans are enslaved to the alien prador by dint of being infected by a virus that makes them physically indestructible and then being ‘cored and thralled’ – their brains and part of their spinal column removed to be replaced by a control unit. Here they are PU (Personal Unit) slaves – enslaved by a chunk of technology similar to the augmentations in my books and programmed to think the prador where allies while Polity forces were the rebels. There are other wrinkles here that I’ve lost in the books, like the weapons proscription via runcibles whereby armaments could not be transported from world to world. And the cyborgs … but they’ll be reappearing sometime soon…

I hope you enjoy this little venture into the past of an imagined future!

— Neal Asher 3rd August 2017