Theft of Fire – Devon Eriksen

I’m pretty much disinclined to write book reviews when asked, not because there are so many rubbish books out there but because my reaction so often will be along the lines of, ‘It was okay’ thus damning a book by faint praise. As I’ve noted before, I don’t read as much now as thirty or more years ago when I was averaging ten books a month (mostly science fiction and fantasy). I think this is due to me spending a large portion of my time writing and editing – my editing head is perpetually on and when I pick up a book I’m often thinking well, I wouldn’t have done that and you didn’t tell me about this cup of coffee he’s holding, where did it come from? This sort of reaction has sadly killed for me a number of old SFF books in my collection.

However, returning to Crete I read a book while on the plane to pass the time, then got into another when I arrived because, well, no Netflix or Prime and internet that can be intermittent. I was approaching the end of the second book when I got a message from Christine Eriksen to put Theft of Fire by Devon Eriksen on my radar. The timing was perfect as I finished that second book, looked at the star rating on Amazon of Theft of fire, and thought why the hell not? And I’m glad I did.

This book is as others have noted set in an Expanse like universe or, rather, the human race is confined to the solar system by more or less conventional physics while Larry Niven’s Belters are in the mix. Come on guys, you didn’t think The Expanse was breaking new ground did you? It was building on the shoulders of giants as most fiction does.

Being confined by more-or-less conventional physics enhanced rather than distracted here, but it helps that Devon obviously knows his stuff. There was no saying a magic spell with quantum in it to get from A to B (yes, I’m guilty) and the realities of space travel were starkly and realistically depicted. What also got to me was the engineering here – I found myself nodding my head and smiling upon finding out about a lathe and milling machine aboard, along with a bit of TIG welding. This ‘realities of space travel’ also extended to a space battle, capture and boarding (no tractor beams involved) and, well, I’ll just leave that there.

The plot begins with a ship owner who an heiress blackmails to go on a mission she won’t tell him about. The amusing note here is that she is a descendent of him – the guy who built rockets and settled Mars. SpaceX is in there, along with other corporations. Suffice to say, because I don’t want to give too much away, something big has been discovered and the race is on to lock it down. Things are going to get gnarly.

I could of course go on selecting out bits and pieces like the above to give you an idea of why I enjoyed this, and that goes nowhere really. Other books contain similar elements. Other books can be similarly imaginative or more so. And I’ve tossed them aside after a few pages or a few chapters. What makes this stand out is simply that it is a thumping good read, with excellent breathless pace. It ‘suspended by disbelief and was engaging. The characters involved are believable (to the extent that I wanted to slap one of them at the beginning) and you care about what happens to them. They develop and change together, coming to understand each other, and this interaction is what I think is the key here. No, I did not want to stop and check my emails or see what someone had said on X or facebook. I wanted to lie on my sofa and keep on reading, which hasn’t happened for a year or more, and I polished this off in two evenings.

Thoroughly recommended.

Three sample chapters are available to read here.
And it can be found on Amazon here.


I wrote in a post about my addiction to nicotine that it is the way the drug is delivered that is the problem. Smoking delivers a shitload of poisons and damage that are absent in vaping. Vaping is the act of putting stuff in your lungs which are designed for air only, and people are kidding themselves if they think that has no effect (it eventually did on me). Pouches, which I took up to supplant vaping, cause effects in the mouth and in the stomach, so who knows what long term damage they are doing? But recently I began to wonder precisely how much is about delivery and how much is about what is being delivered.

In that previous blog post I was aiming to give up using pouches. I don’t know why I did not. Perhaps I convinced myself that the ill health I was feeling was due to a virus or a vaccine, or old age. Perhaps, because this was just prior to the spring when we all begin to feel better, I convinced myself it was simply a winter malady. Throughout the ensuing spring, and most of the summer, I was fine with using maybe 8 high strength pouches a day. Then, towards the end of summer I got clobbered with some joint-aching malady that also resulted in a shoulder impingement. Perhaps I got a virus then, and it certainly seemed a long term one. I went through most mornings of the winter months feeling like I was at the start of a cold: throat irritation, sneezing, mucus etc.

This continued but throughout it one thing I noticed more and more: every time I used a pouch I felt rougher. It was obviously irritating my throat and causing me to sneeze. Then, in the last month I was noticing a chest pain every time I used one. Next a scattering of panic attacks came along for the ride. I wondered then if the problems I’d had over the winter were mostly down to nicotine.

So I gave it up completely. I have to say that this was probably the first time in decades I had been without nicotine for so long. Withdrawal wasn’t so bad – nowhere near how it was in my past attempts to give up smoking. I got cravings that lasted about a quarter of an hour maybe a couple of times a day. I found they went away if, when they occurred, I just got up and went to do something different. Symptoms declined but I continued getting occasional panic, chest pain, asthma and mucus. It then occurred to me that there might be another cause.

The health promoters on You Tube and elsewhere have their variable approaches to diet and exercise but one thing they are all utterly sure about is how we need plenty of sleep. I went through some bad periods of insomnia in the past, for reasons I’ve detailed elsewhere, and over a number of years built up a strategy. I take magnesium, melatonin and 5-htp, which certainly help, but then I found out about a cheap antihistamine that many use for sleep: Benadryl, diphenhydramine. I started taking that and it was very effective. Probably because it was effective I researched it, and because I researched it I started limiting how much of it I was taking. However it was something that crept back and I started using more. Buying some in the UK my dosage went up from 25ml pills I could break in half to 50ml capsules I could not.

I read up once again on Benadryl while also bearing in mind how with all these things, like nicotine, you get withdrawal as well as side effects while you’re taking them. The withdrawal is precisely why you continue. In my reading I discovered (or rediscovered) a whole host of worrying effects from using the stuff and stopped (twelve days into quitting nicotine). Didn’t take me long to realise how it had been fucking me up. In a day I was suffering withdrawal symptoms – one I could definitely identify because something I haven’t experienced in years: nausea. Chest pains and panic attacks hung on and my blood pressure shot up from around about 140/90 to 160/90. It then began to ease over a couple of weeks. During that time I kept checking my blood pressure and it went down and down, dropping to an average of 120/70 and on the odd occasions I’ve checked it in the past it had never been consistently that low. I think it was the Benadryl since, over a few years, I did go through a bottle of 600 x 25mg pills. The fucking stuff was disguising the blood pressure signal resulting from all the exercise and low carb eating!

Lessons learned in all this? It’s that old one from Heinlein: TANSTAAFL. You can be sure that if anything you take has a positive effect on you, it almost certainly has drawbacks and unforeseen consequences elsewhere.

World Walkers

World Walkers

Ever since having a dream that seemed to go on for a long time to conclude with a hammering sound, which turned out to be my dad doing some DIY, I’ve understood that dreams are just the imposition of order at the moment of waking on the chaos in the skull. A dream a couple of years ago dredged up something from my far past. I was an asthma sufferer when young as was my eldest brother and, in the days before pressurized inhalers we used capsule inhalers – devices that punctured a capsule full of the medicine in dust form and which, when you inhaled, spun that capsule around at the centre of a little plastic propeller. The dream, from what I remember of it, consisted of someone inserting dead flies inside black and white capsules for such and inhaler. It transitioned then to this being forced on a captive, and escape to another world. I guess the order and logic my mind was trying to impose was struggling to deal with some fucked up and disparate stuff.

I can think up some weird shit like what appeared in that dream on a moment’s notice. I often do and often write it down and that can lead on to other things and some inspirational writing. It can also feel as dry and dead as a mummy’s bones. But with the weird shit that has made its way into my mind via a dream comes with feeling – like its opened up a lot more pathways in my skull – and I find I can really do something with it. In the case of the dream above it was a novella called Fly Pills.

The novella never felt quite right. The setting was dystopian future of my Owner books but it felt like an incomplete snapshot of something much larger. I was doing far too much telling in it and nowhere near enough showing. I contemplated publishing it in one of my novella collections (Lockdown Tales) but decided that no, it needed more work.

I began that work, writing out those tellings and exploring the past of a far future human called the Fenris and what had been 40,000 words soon reached 50 then 60 and still there seemed to be more I needed to write. At one point I understood that the story lacked an appropriate antagonist, because the simple fight against a dystopia is not enough, and yet, oddly, the antagonist turned out to be another dystopia. Meanwhile Fly Pills was necessarily supplanted by the title World Walkers for this many-worlds doorstep of a novel.

I hope you enjoy it!

Low Carb and All That

How does the body’s energy system work? You eat food consisting of carbohydrates (sugars), fat and protein. These get digested and go into your blood. Carbs and fat get burned up as fuel and protein generally gets used for repairs. If you eat more than your energy needs these get stored first as glycogen in your liver and muscles and then as fat. When you eat less than your energy needs the body first burns the glycogen and then the fat. This is very simple and the basis of the calories in calories out idea.

So just eat less and move more and everything will be rosy, right? This would be true if the body wasn’t very stubborn about hanging onto its resources. It annoyingly reacts to a dearth by making you hungry, miserable and, by prompting your base metabolic rate to drop, it allows you to become cold and tired. But there are ways to beat this system.

One of the biggest health problems in the world today is metabolic syndrome. This is due to a change of diet over the last half a century. We are eating too many processed carbs, constantly in energy storage mode and getting fatter and sicker as a result.

This is where the ketogenic diet comes in and why it has been such a success. By eating fat instead of carbs you switch your body over to fat burning. That in itself makes you more metabolically flexible but is not the main advantage. In fat burning mode the body easily transitions, when you eat less, to burning its own fat. Also, not eating carbs you lose the insulin spikes and crashes that result in cravings. Carbohydrates are addictive. We all know, during a meal, that though we can’t eat another lump of meat or cheese, we can happily consume a thousand calories of dessert on top. The keto diet makes you less hungry.

My venture into it on this occasion came about when after months of weight training and eating anything I reached 200lbs and had acquired an extra chin. In February of last year I first did a fast that burned up the glycogen (dropping about 5lbs) and cut the carbs. I wasn’t strictly keto because I did not replace all carbs with fat but increased the amount of protein I was eating too, which is apparently a good idea for someone my age. I was also exercising hard (6 hours weight training plus long walks each week).

Everything went great. In six months I dropped 30lbs while putting on muscle and took 7 inches off my belly measurement. For me, this was not just about appearance but I also wanted to reverse some of the damage from 40 years of smoking, eating crap and going on the piss. After of six months I hit a weight loss plateau, tiredness and low mood, and then seemingly all at once aching tendons/joints throughout my body with the worst being my right shoulder. I assumed I was ‘over trained’ and started taking rests from heaving weights about. But the malaise would not go away and I still had to put a hot beanbag on my shoulder and take pain killers.

Now, here’s the thing. Bringing down your insulin, which is a driver of metabolic syndrome on a high carb diet, is a good thing. But insulin is also a driver of growth and helps the body to build and heal. A mistake many make in the keto community and one I was prone to as well is that it’s a kind of slow poison and for your health you really need to keep those ketone readings up and thus your insulin down. Well, no, it’s in the body for a reason. Regarding it as deleterious is as ludicrous as the present day regard for cholesterol. So in the back of my mind I suspected I might need some carbs while, at the same time, felt that perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently ‘fat adapted’, that I was still addicted to carbs and I needed to suffer further to attain that goal. Then, still feeling like shite, I read someone on Facebook suggesting carbs and decided fuck it, and went shopping.

I didn’t start with the best of carbs, eating a Snickers bar while walking out of the supermarket then inhaling two packets of cookies when I got home, then a chocolate bar later. The effects were very fast. First I lost a nagging headache that had been recurring for some time. In the evening when getting up to go to the toilet I noticed my joints didn’t ache so much and my shoulder felt a lot better. This morning there’s just a slight nag in my shoulder and nothing elsewhere. I feel warmer, clear headed and the low mood has dispersed. And now, as is ever the case with stuff like this, 20-20 hindsight is kicking in.

I realise now that, over those six months, though I was losing fat and gaining muscle, I was also declining in other ways. At the start I was weight training three days a week and on other days either going for long walks or shorter ones during which I was jogging longer and longer distances. The longer walks stopped about three months in along with the jogging on the short walks. Maybe a month or so after that what I could do in the gym reached a plateau and later began to decline. The short walks became less frequent and increasingly arduous – knees, hips and ankles not feeling great. Meanwhile my mental function was going down. My mood was increasingly low and it seemed the only way I could raise it was exercise. Writing was getting harder and plot threads slithering from my grasp. My practicing Greek declined and more recently stopped.

Now, could this be because I simply wasn’t getting the required calories to function at optimum? But . . . I was eating low carb/keto, getting ketone readings every day between 2.0 and 3.0mmol/L. Obviously I was fat adapted by this point and burning my own fat and even now have plenty of calories available there. Surely I should have been fine?

One of the premises behind a low carb diet (keto, paleo and carnivore) is that it is, in essence, a return to something closer to the ancestral diet. For hundreds of thousands of years as hunter gatherers we would grab up what was seasonal in the vegetable world without a lot of carbohydrates involved, but preferred meat and fat because they gave us what we needed. Inventions like bread are anathema since grains are only a recent thing in terms of human history. Our fruits and vegetables have been bred to be too loaded with carbs (sugars) and are bad for us. So why, I wonder, did I go into a steady decline over those months while eating what my body really required? Other people do fine on this kind of eating – thrive in fact. Well this is where I think the keto, paleo and carnivore advocates have got things a bit wrong.

We have evolved under agriculture. A prime example of this concerns milk. Beyond the milk we had as babies the stuff was not part of our ‘ancestral diet’. A hangover from this is that many people are lactose intolerant. However, many are not. Grains not being part of the ancestral diet fall into the same category. A small number of people are gluten intolerant (plus a larger number because it’s fashionable) but most are not. Think on the tens of thousands of years it took to selectively breed our crops. Did we remain static and unchanged during that process? Of course we didn’t. The child whose body rebelled against any of these products when they were all that was available sickened, maybe died or maybe survived but didn’t breed – rejected as being unhealthy, dying young or dying in childbirth. The one who was fine with them lived, perhaps into robust breeding health. Darwinian.

But it’s complicated. It is true that some will do well on keto, paleo or carnivore. That they do well is probably not as some claim because it is ‘the proper human diet’ but because genetically they are more closely related to those ancestors. Then there’s adaptation and age. Maybe you can by epigenetic means easily adapt to these diets when you’re young, but likely it’s not so easy when you’ve been eating carbs as a staple for five or six decades. Maybe I could adapt but how much misery do I want to go through to do so? It’s quite possible I would need to do it for ten years, sacrificing my health in more deleterious ways in the process. I could end up perfectly fat adapted with my internal organs clear of the dangerous fat, and my knees needing to be replaced.

I’ve come to the conclusion now that carbs are something I require. I’ll either include a small amount daily or cycle them – maybe eating low carb for three weeks then snaffling pasta and bread for a week. I just have to keep a close eye on the process. I’ve no regrets about the six months low carb and am pleased with the results. I experimented and found out that it’s not sustainable, at least for me. Perhaps you disagree with all I’ve written here or some of the points made and that’s fine. Maybe I’ll disagree with it in a few months time too.

You do you and I’ll be me.

Zero Alcohol

Checking back through my journal I see it was the 12th of June 2021 when, after returning from a 6 mile kayak run, I supped on a freezing cold beer in Revans – a Cretan beach bar – and didn’t enjoy it. I then had a glass of red wine and found that better, then proceeded to drink three half-litre carafes of the stuff. The result of this was a hangover that lasted for three days and no wish to have any alcohol at all.

After a couple of weeks I had a case of the roaring shits which, I ascertained, might well have been my guts shedding years of damage. My general health and mood improved and I found the anxiety I had often been prey to started diminishing. But then I lapsed on day 72, had a couple of false starts on stopping again, then got back on track on the 5th September 2021. This time I went for 302 days to July of the following year. Why did I drink this time? Because I was overpowered by my terrible alcohol addiction? No, not really.

On the two occasions above when I gave up I never felt any strong craving for the stuff – just on the first occasion an odd kind of physical puzzlement and defeat of expectation because, at so-and-so point in time I should be feeling this way with some beers inside me. And every time I started again it was because I was in a bar and had kow-towed to social pressure, almost certainly cumulative, to drink.

During the second lapse I didn’t drink enough to actually get drunk and half the time was wondering why I was bothering with the stuff. I kept quitting for a week, or two, then lapsing again, and then quit on 21st August 2022. What helped with this were some occurrences that made me realise I no longer wanted to keep my kayak at the beach bar, and which led to me going off to join a gym on the other side of the island.

Now I have to add that the dates, upon checking my journal, have come as a surprise to me. I was all set for writing a blog post, today, talking about having given up for a year. However, a series of brain farts in my recording ‘zero alcohol days’ has led me to miscount. Today is not day 365 ‘sober’ but day 378.

Still, it’s worth celebrating, with a cup of tea.

Diet and Exercise Update

Time to assess where I’m at with exercise, and with eating in a way that raises my ketones but is not strictly ketogenic i.e. I’m eating high protein and not the high fat of that diet.

Prior to February last year I was doing 6 hours of weight training in the gym each week, along with three or four combinations of walking and jogging over a few miles. The latter, without getting into technicalities of VO2 Max, was because I knew I wasn’t getting out-of-breath enough. One of the realities of exercise I’ve learned that it is often what you want to do the least that you need the most. At the time I wasn’t paying much attention to my carbs and as a result, even though I put on a lot of muscle, I ballooned to 200lbs. I saw that on the scale on Feb 25th, noted the acquisition of an extra chin and decided that wasn’t good enough.

Starting out with a couple of fasts I ate my way through remaining carbs in the house and bought no more. Prior to coming to Crete I ate my way though remaining food so on the last day had something like a couple of eggs and a handful of nuts. I arrived in Crete during Easter and, the shops being closed, I ate tinned sardines and some chickpeas over a few days. Then when I could shop I bought only meat, eggs and veg. I’ve detailed in other posts what happened thereafter: constant high ketones, an initial big drop in weight followed by a steady loss of a couple of pounds a week. During Spring into Summer as I my garden started producing I lived on salads with the addition sardines and boiled eggs, followed later by a second small plate of nuts, cheese, sausage and pickles in the evening. Meanwhile I hit the gym here doing the usual 6 hours (but in temperatures much higher) and started walking and jogging in the mountains – substantially different from Essex with slopes that are in places as much as 45 degrees.

Weight loss has continued but has been slowing down while muscle has increased. My average weight last week was 174lbs – so a 26lbs loss – while my waist measurement around at the level of the belly button has gone down from 40” to 34”. The latter is a great look in a T-shirt but not so appealing without, since I have wrinkled skin on my belly because of all the fat that has disappeared. The same applies to my arse, which I am now down on the bones of while being able to pinch up an inch or more of skin. So where do I stop?

According to even the inaccurate measures of BMI I am now in the healthy range. However, I’m aware that by no means have I shed my accumulation of fat and, more importantly, insulin-resistant fat, of the last 30 or so years. My ‘fighting weight’ when I was in my mid twenties was 154lbs (Shotokan karate, 2-3 lessons a week prior to club competitions at Crystal Palace), but getting there would be ridiculous. I do have a lot more muscle than I did then so maybe at 20lbs heavier I’m about right? I’m not sure. It could be that my perception of fat around my middle is all due to the amount of loose skin I now have, though there is still a lump of something under it around the belly button. .

Damn it. As part of my gym routine I’m now doing 150 sit ups on an inclined bench and other abs exercises. I will keep going as I am until I can actually see the abs I’m building. Only then will it be time to assess matters and maybe increase my calorie intake. However, with the results I’ve had I’m never going back to eating processed carbs. Maybe some fruit or sweet potatoes as a treat, but that’s all.


My Other Stuff – Updated

Further additions here you’ll find down near the bottom. Two books published by Ian Whates of Newcon Press. The publication of Lockdown Tales was where I also discovered the excellent artwork of Vincent Sammy, who I got to do the new covers you’ll find here.

Since being taken on by Macmillan I’ve published over 30 books, but not all of them are from that publisher. I’m not a writer who had instant success with a big publisher. As I have noted elsewhere, I climbed every step of the ladder, sometimes with people stepping on my fingers. I’ve had numerous short stories published in magazines that no longer exist now, novellas and collections similarly launched by ‘small presses’ that went to the wall, and others that didn’t and are still selling some of my old stuff.

All of this happened before the advent of Kindle and Amazon’s POD (print-on-demand) books. I went from sending stuff by post along with return postage to that excellent invention called email. Wow! I could send stuff without having to print it out! Though, admittedly, at the time small presses insisted on hard copy before any emailing happened. Then, as now, there were many wannabe writers who would have created an email deluge.

Anyway, since being taken on by Macmillan I’ve published a fair bit of this earlier stuff on Amazon. Recently, because I could, I published a 21,000 word novella called The Bosch, and again discovered there are plenty of fans who don’t know about ‘My Other Stuff’.

I’ll go through, kinda, in order of original publication. The first that was not a short story was a novella I originally titled To Die But Once. I’d found out about a press aiming to sell airport short reads called ‘Club 199’ and sent this effort of to them. It surprised the hell out of me to get an offer for it of £1,000 and I snatched it up. The novella (45,000 words) was duly published but then, not long after and (I think) due to changes in the ‘Net Book Agreement’, Club 199 went down the pan. I didn’t much like their title change to Mindgames:Fool’s Mate either because it reads like an observation. Up in my loft I have about twenty or so of the originals in shrink wrap – bought from a distributor who tracked me down in later years. I may sell them off one day.

Mindgames: Fool’s Mate

Jason Carroll, an ex SAS soldier and contract killer is convinced he will die in action. It is thus embarrassing when he is run over by a bus. It is even more embarrassing when he, an atheist, realises there is an afterlife…Resurrected on a huge flat plain, he is forced to play a deadly game. Moved as a pawn to the whim of the Gods in a fight to the death with warriors from all ages of earth’s history. Killed again and again only to be resurrected.

The General, the Grim Reaper and Anubis are some of the strange beings who direct this grisly entertainment. Is it real or only in his decaying mind. Who is the Clown? It there anywhere to escape to?

While this was being published I was banging out stories to those small magazines when a new small press called Tanjen took an interest. First up they published a 40,000 words novella called The Parasite. After that they published a collection of short stories called The Engineer. Tanjen was another of those small publishers that went to the wall. The Engineer is still published by Wildside Press in the US (available here too) but under the new title The Engineer ReConditioned with a couple of extra stories. The Parasite I published myself – again in a generic cover.

The Engineer ReConditioned

After mining complex ices deep in the Solar System, Jack Smith is concerned about his profit margin, but is it him who doesn’t want to face quarantine or something squirming inside him? The Cryon Corporation Director, Geoffry Haven, is also concerned about the bottom line and might consider Jack an expense he can no longer afford, though perhaps suitable for a starring role in a snuff movie. Meanwhile, the human and unhuman agents of World Health must investigate. Perhaps it’s time to deploy vat-grown killers and an anti-photon weapon, because the parasite is coming to Earth, and it’s hungry.

The Parasite was first published by Tanjen Ltd as an illustrated novella back in 1996. Tanjen closed down a number of years later and since then the novella has been difficult if not impossible to obtain. There are copies out there, but checking recently I haven’t seen one for below $50.00, which is a hell of a lot for something only 130 pages long and perhaps only for completists. I’ve edited it again, thought I haven’t been too heavy-handed since I didn’t want to deliver something that had completely ceased to be the original. This is my first attempt at self-publishing through Amazon Kindle. I hope you all enjoy it!

“Once again, Neal Asher gives his reader a meal of such exquisite taste that you’re left like Oliver, desiring more.” – Authortrek

The Parasite

Mysterious aliens … ruthless terrorists … androids with attitude … genetic manipulation … punch-ups with lasers … giant spaceships … what more could you want? This great collection of 10 short stories by the author of Gridlinked, The Skinner, In the Line of Polity, and many more is a great read!

I also, at some point, did a couple of longish stories called Africa Zero and The Army of God and the Sauraman. These were first published in a magazine, but are now published under the single title Africa Zero by Wildside Press. Only available in paperback I think.

Africa Zero

The novellas Africa Zero and Africa Plus One in one book. The Collector rampages across a far future Africa populated with gene-spliced vampires, resurrected mammoth, and nutters with APWs. But he can handle it.

In the late nineties, still looking to find homes for my stories, I came across a publisher called Piper’s Ash and sent them a few stories. They published five short stories under the title Runcible Tales and kept on selling this little chapbook even after I was taken on by Macmillan. When they too finally went to the wall I stuck that on Amazon too:

Runcible Tales

This is a ‘chapbook’ of five short stories so not very long (about 30,000 words). It consists of: 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.

Another small collection was Mason’s Rats. These three short stories were first published in a magazine, then published in the form of a booklet the editor of that mag distributed at an SF convention for publicity. Yup, those too, though you can only get them on kindle as the amount of text is too small for POD.

Mason’s Rats

With the above I’d about caught up with the novellas and collections. However, I still had (and still have) numerous short stories that need a home. To that end I put together a collection of them called Owning the Future – this title because some are set in the ‘Owner’ universe of my books, some in the Polity and some elsewhere.

Owning the future

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 is 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

One outlier people may not know about is a short story, published in my collection for Macmillan The Gabble, that they put out for publicity by itself. This is Snow in the Desert.

Snow in the Desert

In the parched, arid wastes of this far-flung Polity world, Snow is being hunted. With a prize on his head and his life in danger, trust is a luxury he can’t afford. Hirald, pale and deadly in the blistering heat, is an ambiguous presence. But who is she? What does she want from him?

Mankind has sought Snow’s secret for thousands of years, and blood will flow in the desert before it’s revealed.

Snow in the Desert is compelling, brutal and lingers long after the final word: the perfect introduction to Neal Asher’s Polity universe fiction.

Next up is that novella I mentioned above The Bosch. This was a story that sprang from a weird dream followed by picking up a Hieronymus Bosch art book in the early morning before I’d properly woken up. The dream state transfers over somewhat to the writing.

The Bosch

Being ahead of my publishing schedule a few years back I turned to writing short stories again, but found on the whole they were turning into novellas. For most of them I had plenty of time on my hands because I was writing them in the midst of lockdown. It then seemed a good idea to publish them as a collection called:

Lockdown Tales

Of course the fucking lockdowns went on for a lot longer than they should have, well, in fact they shouldn’t have happened at all. In that time I wrote some more novellas which, inevitably, because the collection:

Lockdown Tales II

And still, after all this, I had loads of stuff left in my files. I’m known for science fiction and that work ends up as a book or in some story collection. But as over the years I scrabbled around to find my opening I also wrote fantasy and other stuff that doesn’t comfortably take a label. These stories were mouldering on my hard drive for years and it was time to scrub them up and put them out there. I included in this the three Mason’s Rats stories because in themselves they’re not enough to make a POD book, and the story Bad Travelling – these you may have seen on Tim Miller’s ‘Love, Death and Robots’ on Netflix. In all the collection is not just SF or just fantasy, but it is:


So there we are up to date. I have no doubt I’ll be updating this again in the future when I start churning out something more than my books for Macmillan. Not for a while, however, I’m stuck into writing a huge trilogy at the moment.


Where do I Start? – Updated

As the number of my published books has climbed people have often asked me, ‘Where do I start?’ to which, over the last few years I’ve been answering with the original version of this article. Things have moved on now and there are books I have to add. With the total now at plus 30 books I guess it can be a daunting prospect for the new reader, but I understand why many want to start when they see the enthusiasm of those who have been reading for some time. And it is to those long-time fans I turn to for anecdotal guidance.

But first let me give you some idea of what these books (also novellas and short stories), are all about. Many of the books set in the ‘Polity’. This is a future in which AIs control the ‘Human Polity’ – a vast civilization taking up a large portion of the galaxy. Books about this future form the main body of my work, which consists of series, trilogies and ones that stand alone. I have also written books outside of the Polity set in other futures, but there are not so many of them. These are The Owner Trilogy – a dystopian near future – a one-off time-travel book called Cowl, and a few novellas published before I was taken on by Macmillan. The only books where you will find these futures are mixed together, is in some short story collections.

The Owner Trilogy

My fans often tell me of which books introduced them to my work. Quite often they will have picked up something in the middle of a series and, enjoying that, moved on to the rest to discover the order of the books. Others, who read my books from the beginning, prefer publication order, but publication order is not the series, or chronological order of this future. For example, publication order of the first books with Macmillan was: Gridlinked (Cormac book 1), The Skinner (Spatterjay book 1), The Line of Polity (Cormac book 2), Cowl (stand-alone time-travel), Brass Man (Cormac book 3) and The Voyage of the Sable Keech (Spatterjay book 2). So you can see they’re a bit all over the place. To add confusion, while these were being published, I also wrote and published two books for Night Shade Books in the US, which were later published in the UK. These were Prador Moon (A Polity prequel) and Shadow of the Scorpion (A Cormac prequel).


Now, putting aside the fact that some prefer The Owner trilogy to the Polity books, or prefer Cowl, I’ll concentrate on the Polity books because with those is where confusion arises:

The consensus of opinion I have gleaned from social media, is that you should start either right at the beginning with Prador Moon and then follow through chronologically, or you should read the first two series I wrote. The latter means: starting from Gridlinked and reading the Cormac series, then starting with The Skinner and reading the Spatterjay series. Actual chronological order I’ll put below.

However (there’s always one of those), in the chronology of the Polity future, the Spatterjay trilogy comes after trilogies I wrote later – Transformation and Rise of the Jain. But some feel it better to read the Spatterjay trilogy (after the Cormac series) before moving onto Transformation and Rise of the Jain because my writing has changed over time and you will have a better grasp of the ones written later by reading those written earlier.

Sorry if that confused you – I’m trying to be as clear as possible.

So here, for your edification, is the chronological order of the earlier books as they lie in this Polity future, but not the order in which I wrote them. I am leaving out three that can be inserted into this order until the end of this article for reasons I’ll detail then:

Prador Moon

A war between the Polity and the alien prador is often referred to in the later books. This prequel tells a story about its beginning. It’s a short action read and a good introduction that does not have the complications of the later books.

Shadow of the Scorpion

This prequel tells the story of Ian Cormac growing into adulthood. He goes from childhood to military service in the ruination left by the prador-human war, is haunted by memories of his missing father and by the mysterious intermittent presence of a scorpion war drone.

Cormac Series

Cormac is now an agent of Earth Central Security. He starts being gridlinked i.e. had computer hardware in his skull linking him to the AI net, but is taken offline to recover his humanity as he investigates threats to humanity: separatists terrorists, a giant alien probe called Dragon, and ancient lethal alien Jain technology. The books are: Gridlinked, The Line of Polity, Brass Man, Polity Agent and Line War.

The Technician

This stand-alone Polity book tells the story set on the planet Masada, which appeared in The Line of Polity. It concerns the Atheter race who committed a form of racial suicide by sacrificing their intelligence two million years ago, a biomech war machine they left behind and an even more dangerous mechanism left to ensure their choice.

 The Transformation Trilogy

A character in The Technician is the black AI called Penny Royal. This trilogy concerns a resurrected soldier from the war seeking to avenge an atrocity committed by Penny Royal during that conflict, restitution and absolution, and apotheosis.

The Rise of the Jain

At the end of the Cormac series the haiman (a combination of AI and human) Orlandine is woken up by Dragon after two hundred years frozen. They have a job to do, which is to guard the Polity against an infestation of Jain technology in an accretion disk. Together they create a defence of thousands of giant weapons platforms, but Orlandine’s idea to hoover up the Jain tech using a black hole might not be the best one she had. . .


Three travellers arrive on the oceanic planet Spatterjay, where humans are immortal and very tough by dint of a virus imparted by the leeches of that world, where living sails make contracts with the Old Captains on the ships and an ancient war drone called Sniper is growing bored. They are Janer, who carries the eyes of a hornet hive mind, Erlin who wants to find an Old Captain to teach her how to live, and Sable Keech a policeman who hasn’t allowed being dead for seven hundred years get in the way of hunting down villains. Things are about to turn nasty, what with the old enemy the prador and evil the Skinner arising.


A Polity ambassador arrives in a system where a terrible war once raged between the two rival planets where the human inhabitants have ‘adapted’ to their worlds. He knows that during their war, one side captured a bizarre object suspected of being a cosmic superstring and is investigating. It is stored in the four Ozark cylinders of a massively secure space station in orbit. A woman fell pregnant while conducting research on this alien entity they now call ‘the Worm’, and gave birth to quads. Grown up now, one of this exceptional breed seems determined to gain total control of the deadly hilldiggers – giant dreadnoughts used to end that war.

The Gabble

And here’s a collection of short stories mostly set in the Polity and often related to the events above. It can fill in some nerdish detail but it can also be a starting point if short stories are your thing.

Now onto those three books I mentioned earlier. Obviously, necessitating this article and with a mass of books like mine, the points of entry come at the start of series and trilogies and with stand alone books. I know from my publisher that with a series the sale of books steadily declines the further into a series you go. People pick them up and seeing ‘book two of so-and-so’ put them aside again. As a partial remedy to this I decided to write three stand alone books throughout my last contract. These points of access are scattered through the Polity chronology:

Jack Four

With this book I decided to get away from the highly technical, the clash of massive space dreadnoughts and invasive alien technology to tell the tale of a clone handed over to the prador for experimentation. It tracks his search for vengeance and identity and while including the usual weird alien life is on a more personal level.


This is the tale of a colonization attempt that occurs just prior to the prador-human war. As such it falls at about the same time as prador moon. The colony world is a hostile one with a particularly vicious predator apparently missed in the initial survey, and is cut off by the start of the war. The colonists must adapt in ways that take them beyond the human and, while doing so, discover how they have been manipulated by Polity AIs.

War Bodies

My Latest Book
On his Cyberat home world, during a rebellion, Piper discovers the abilities his parents bred into him. These are also of interest to the Polity people who have arrived to close a back door into the Polity the prador might use. His destiny is to face a much more dangerous enemy than the Old Guard of the oppressive regime he grew up under.

So there you have it. You can follow through chronologically or you can sort of go by publication order. I leave it up to you. I will add, that from a recent discussion on all this, that for many readers it did not matter where they started. I’ve seen those that started from the end of the Cormac series with Line War, others who started with Dark Intelligence. In general, if you enjoy my writing, it doesn’t matter too much. You will find your way.

Happy reading!

Redemption – Will Jordan

Since I really enjoy the Critical Drinker’s You Tube videos I felt I should give one of his books a try – written under his real name Will Jordan (I think). An action scene and a soldier apparently dying in the desert got me into the book, then other stuff kicked me out. It started to drag a few chapters in with character sketches and scene setting. Much of this seemed to consist of laborious info-dumps and I felt this writer had failed to grasp the basic principle of ‘show don’t tell’. At least this was my initial impression and I put the book aside.

But then the internet came to the rescue by crashing in my Cretan village for ten days. I’d managed to download some books during a brief spell when it came back on again but, since I seem to be on a reading jag I was soon scrabbling round for more to read. So I thought I’d give Redemption another go.


It seemed I’d opted out of the book just before the good stuff started. What I got thereafter was an action thriller right through to the end with characters that grew on me along the way. Sure, the hero Ryan Drake annoyed me with his vulnerabilities and I felt he could do with the occasional kick up the arse. Some scenes slid into bathos and/or had the emotional sensibility of, well, a neophyte writer. I also have to add that it was a source of amusement to me that the character Anya was a kick-ass, zero-compromise petite blond woman who could kill trained soldiers with her bare hands. Contrast that to the Critical Drinker’s take on Hollywood boss-bitches. However, other characters, like Dietrich, had an arc that was a joy to read. The action scenes were spot on and I suspect well researched, just as were the locations. And the story itself (after that initial phase) rolled on at a good pace and came to a satisfying conclusion with, of course, a nice scattering of hooks to pull the reader into the next book.

Thinking about my initial reaction to this book I realized that just because Will Jordan as the Critical Drinker is high profile doesn’t mean he was never a new writer labouring through his first book. We do tend to be more critical of those who are in the limelight and in some way successful – a lot less forgiving. This also being the first time I’ve gotten so deep into reading for the best part of a decade, maybe my reading mojo wasn’t up to speed when I started it. It could also be that the critical facility Jordan applies to films was applied here in his first book with a heavy hand. He was being too meticulous about laying the groundwork from which the story springs, and he was ‘telling’ us stuff about characters they later ‘showed’ us.

However many years ago Jordan wrote it, Redemption was a good start. I will try the next book in the series on the assumption that the faults I mentioned will go away. And I do want to know where this story and these characters are going.

Internet Break

My internet is not always 100% either in the UK or on Crete. Sometimes is slows down so that loading circle appears in the middle of watching something and sometimes it disconnects completely. I suppose it might be due to a hundred million Americans waking up and checking their phones, or a mouse ate a wire somewhere or the sun decided to thwack a burst of radiation in our general direction. It can be irritating but, generally, never lasts for long.

On Crete since I’ve been here the internet dropping out was becoming more and more noticeable then, last week, it shut off completely. I expected it to come back on sometime later, as always, and so filled in time reading some Greek. It didn’t come back on and when I stepped outside my neighbour asked me if I had internet. No. And that seemed to be the case for the whole village.

I learned that the provider was having technical problems. Okay, whatever – my problem was not getting the service I was paying for. Various people in the village phoned up the provider to complain. I got on with other things: learning Greek, writing and reading books. When the internet fired up again, rather than check my emails, my first thought was to buy and download some more books. Good thing I did because the thing went off again. I went to the shop where I signed up for the internet and complained. They were sales of course and I needed to phone a certain number to find out what was going on. It was the same number others had been calling and being told it’ll be fixed in two hours. Now it turns out this ‘technical issue’ requires some equipment to be shipped from Athens.

You’d think I’d be angry. I was initially but that soon faded. Now with over a week having passed since the internet first dropped out I’m glad. It has been a real eye-opener for me just how mentally disruptive is the constant flood of information at the touch of a screen. It fills the mind up with incomplete equations, hundreds of images, fragments and blobs of information and the angry shouting of the mob. Without that option there I can think more clearly, enjoy books more and generally feel a lot calmer. I’ve even been contemplating the idea of doing without that flood and using the internet maybe once a week at a café in Sitia.

But I know that once all those lights are lit up on the modem I’ll be back to scrolling, sucking up fragments and getting annoyed at things over which I have no influence at all.
However, I have been becoming less and less inclined to use the information drug. I think this has a lot to do with a general boredom with social media – I’ve become jaded with it. I make sure to get 200 words down before I even look. I tend to read and post articles and watch informative videos rather than scroll now. And I definitely don’t bother arguing with strangers online. This brief outage has pushed me further in the direction of away – away from the madding crowd.