The Bosch

 

The Bosch is a short novella of 21,000 words, written after nightmares about a far future biotech world and subsequently leafing through a Hieronymus Bosch art book.

Set in a far future after the Polity of my books has passed into history, The Bosch tells the story of how, when your biotechnology is sufficiently advanced, you can create the monsters others only imagined. When you are the ruler of a world, based on such tech, and have lived for thousands of years, perhaps you have become numb to mere human concerns. But a crime has been committed and restitution must be made, by raising the Bosch.

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Reviews:Terence Blake on Xeno Swarm wrote:

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The novella’s story is one of beauty, sex, love, and violence (in fact mostly violence), and the sense of wonder that far future world-building provides, when done well. It is full of ideas, embedded in striking images and teaseful twists.


Mason’s Rats

Mason has a rat problem on his farm, a serious problem, for these rats are armed and dangerous. But he soon learns that rats in suits are even worse.

What do you do when rats invade your barn? Kill them or negotiate? Mason finds out the hard way that force does not always work!

An allegory of war and violence? A statement on the arms race? Neal Asher’s work takes Orwell’s Animal Farm into a grimly humorous future where evolution is outrunning humanity.

You may never trust a rat again!

“I’ve never read anything like MASON’S RATS before … it’s sharp, funny and highly inventive. There’s more fun in this one slim volume than in many a full-length novel!”
– Stephen Gallagher

 

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Reviews:Brett Bligh on DooYoo wrote:

When George Orwell wrote ‘Animal Farm’, he was very obviously not simply writing a children’s tale about a group of revolutionary animals who manage to wrest control of the farm away from the farmer and form an animal’s paradise, only for the revolution’s leaders to succumb inevitably to the same corruption which they had so despised in the farmer. Animal Farm, as probably most of the country are aware, is a none-too-subtle allegory of the Russian revolution, through which Orwell sought to discredit the USSR as no better than the capitalist states it opposed. With the USSR now dismantled and socialism itself no longer on the mainstream political agenda (at least for the moment), it was perhaps inevitable that someone would seek to re-use the basis of Animal Farm — that of the human-animal relationship on a farm as a representation of the class relationship of society — in a different context, one arguably more relevant to the current political climate. ‘Mason’s Rats’, by Neal L. Asher, is just such an example of this re-use. Mason’s Rats is published as a small-press chapbook containing three related short stories: Mason’s Rats I, which was originally published as ‘Mason’s Rats’ in Orion Magazine issue 2, Mason’s Rats II, which was originally published in Orion issue 4, and Mason’s Rats III, which is original to this volume. In Mason’s Rats I, we are introduced to Mason, a rather enigmatic character who is proprietor and sole live employee of a huge automated farm. When his farm is invaded by mutated rats possessed of high intelligence, Mason calls in the Traptech company which sells automatic devices intended to deal with infestation problems. Unfortunately, the rats on Mason’s farm are a little TOO intelligent for the successively more vicious machines provided by Traptech, and Mason must seek a rather unconventional solution
to his problem … a truce with the rats, and an accommodation which allows them to live on a certain section of his farm. In Mason’s Rats II the farm is invaded by a group of black rat’s from neighbouring Smith’s farm, and Mason must not only manage to find a way to accommodate both his existing colony of [brown] rats and the new arrivals, but also find a way of ridding himself of the pesky salesmen who just will not stop arriving at the farm to give him advice on how to ‘solve’ his little problem… Finally, in Mason’s Rats III, Mason is faced with the problem of a government inspector who has received reports of the large rat colonies which Mason is allowing to exist on his property and who is convinced that such a thing cannot possibly be hygienic or proper. Mason’s choice is a stark one: get rid of the rats or lose his farming licence. So, given the history of the farm allegory as a tool for political comment, and given a chapbook containing no less than 3 such tales clearly intended to fit this pattern, one question remains — precisely what is Asher trying to say? It is my belief that to find the answer to his question we must look back at the original intention of Animal Farm as a pastiche of socialism, and then consider logically that so-called ‘ideology’ which many of those in the ‘new Labour’ party would have us believe is the successor to socialism: Tony Blair’s “Third Way”. The Third Way is essentially an ideology which states that the differences between the needs of the majority (as addressed by socialism) and the needs of the economically and politically powerful minority (as addressed by capitalism) can only be reconciled by an ‘alliance’ between the various social classes of modern society or, at times, by actually denying that such class divisions exist. Hence Tony Blair supports (or at least pa
ys lip-service to) trade unions, whilst insisting that they form constructive relationships (“social partnerships”) with the capitalists (employers and their representatives). It is my belief that this is what Mason’s Rats attempts to represent; it is also my belief that the book unfortunately does not actually examine this ideology in any depth, let alone provide a critique of it, however this disappointment is partly mitigated by the book’s very short length — such a critique would require a much lengthier set of stories in order to be even slightly meaningful. In the system as introduced in Mason’ Rats I, therefore, we have an industrial relationship at the heart of society which is three-fold: the working-class and their organisations (the unions), which are represented here by the rats; the employers and their organisations (CBI?), as represented by the farmer; and, finally, the government, as represented by the Traptech corporation. Following this allegory through, what we obtain is actually quite a worrying (and certainly rather distasteful) view of modern society and the views held by many of those in it. The rats [working class] are essentially to be viewed as a rather distasteful infestation who are only really tolerated because the farmer [employers] take pity on them. The employers, therefore, are attempting to form a constructive relationship based on good faith with the workers — hence the Third Way reference — whilst the government (as represented by Traptech) constantly intervene [a reference to ACAS?], usually on the side of the employers. The first two allegorical connections made above will be rather controversial and obviously do not represent the views held by the vast majority of the population, however it is certainly true that this view IS held by a select and very powerful few — especially those who make speeches at the CBI — and, perhaps more threateningl
y, is increasingly the way in which relations between corporations and employees occur, at a time when multinationals can announce mass redundancies at the drop of a hat and move between one country and another at will in search of cheaper and more flexible labour costs. The third allegorical connection, that of government intervening on the behalf of the employer rather than the employee, is unfortunately much more recognisable, with this having been the policy of successive conservative governments for living memory and the de facto bias of Labour government policies since 1997. Perhaps the stage at which this reading of the story fails to cohere is when we consider the ending, in which Mason the farmer intervenes on behalf of the rats against the Traptech corporation. Can anyone, no matter whether they be an adherent to Blairism and the social partnership ideology or not, honestly imagine a corporation acting in a hostile manner to a government which had entered an industrial dispute on its side? No, I thought not, and it is here where I believe Asher to be making the point, albeit in a manner which is far more obscure than subtle, that the Third Way is an inherently ludicrous ideology, and that so-called ‘partnership’ agreements do not hold water under close [or even any] scrutiny. To be honest, whilst it was possible to read meaning into Mason’s Rats I, as indeed I attempted to do above, it was extremely difficult to find anything major hidden in the depths of the second story, which seems to be a close repetition of the events in the previous sequence with only a slightly different ending. Mason’s Rats II concludes with a similar arrangement to the first story, with the exception of the employment by Mason of the black rats as guards of his farm, with orders to shoot — using a cleverly constructed gun which fires metal bolt pellets — anyone approaching the farm who happens to be wearing a suit. To
me, it is difficult to interpret this tale as anything other than a brief and flippant (and admittedly rather enjoyable in a light-hearted kind of way) story about animals and a farmer, with the allegorical potential here far reduced. The only possible interpretation would have to be that in order to advance the working class must somehow ally itself with the bourgeois corporations against the government, and hence thereby defend it interests. This would seem very suspect indeed; just as with the first tale, the conclusions may be patently ludicrous, but here they do not expose any set of beliefs that actually exist, and hence I must conclude their actual target to be somewhere far away from the British political scene in a realm at which possibly only the author himself can guess. Nice story, though! The third story, imaginatively entitled Mason’s Rats III, is by far the longest piece in the volume and continues this trend, with the intrepid farmer having to actually team up with the rats in order to outwit the government. In this case, however, I am inclined to take the view that Asher has written an allegory of the immigrant worker industry, with companies vying to take advantage of low wage workers who do not expect to be treated in accordance with official employment legislation, and hence making larger profits than they would were their set-up more above board. The European Union has recently cited Britain as one of the countries in the EU whose economy uses illicit workforces to the largest extent, and hence the scale and importance of this problem cannot be underestimated, especially since for every immigrant worker working for paltry wages and in terrible conditions in this country, it is possible that another was killed or otherwise failed to arrive here at all. Not only is the use of such people in sweatshop conditions unsavoury, therefore, but the entire industry of human smuggling is an utterly abhorrent one which the government
is correct to clamp down upon (although inflammatory statement regarding ‘bogus’ asylum seekers by British politicians and press certainly do not meet with my approval). Unfortunately, however, although Mason’s Rats III can certainly be read as an example of a company fighting to hide its illicit workers from an inquisitive authority, there is very little in the way of actual criticism of this practice, and hence the story falls short of its potential. Of course, the central reason for my interpreting this story according to political allegory is based upon the notion that this volume is a deliberate encroachment on the territory of Orwell, which I think is pretty valid assumption given not only the book’s blatant style but also its back cover blurb. It is, however, also very possible to enjoy this trio of short stories purely ‘as is’, and in this context I would have to note that they are, without exception, simply written and unpretentious little tales which zip along at a fair old pace and provide the reader with more than a few wry smiles. It is quite nice, for once, to read a book which does not contain the padding so commonplace in modern publishing — the ideas here are enough to properly fill 34 pages, and so that’s exactly what Asher chooses to do. Were this topic to be expanded to a 400-page novel, I feel it would lose it point and its impact amongst the daed forest of extraneous pages rather quickly. The back cover asks whether Mason’s Rats is “[a]n allegory on war and violence? A statement on the arms race?” Personally, I find it quite difficult to focus upon these tales as either of these, but as I have already shown, that does not mean I think the contents herein to be completely devoid of meaning. Although this volume is a small press item (to get hold of a copy, the best place to look would be BBR Distribution at http://www.bbr-online.com/catalogue/, since both Kimota, the publisher, and Amazon seem to have run out of copies), Neal Asher is certainly not a writer who deserves to be condemned to such limited exposure. Indeed, his first full-length professional novel, ‘Gridlinked’, has just been published by Macmillan. On the basis of this slim volume alone, I intend to read it. Recommended.


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Cowl

COWL: He is the summit of human evolution, and more vicious than any prehistoric beast.

Available from Amazon in paperback and kindle. Also from the Book Depository (free international shipping).

In Cowl Neal Asher seems to be doing to the time-travel adventure what he has been doing to space opera and planetary romance: to pump it full of performance-enhancing substances and send it crashing through a gigantically expanded version of its traditional milieu, exploding the big sets and sending body parts flying in all directions. -- Locus (Russell Letson)

'Readers with a taste for dense, high-concept science fiction will find much to admire in Neal Asher's Cowl' -- Washington Post.'Neal Asher can do no wrong, it seems. He possesses the ability to take on mammoth themes and make them original, credible and dynamic. Not to be read on a plane - this book deserves your full attention'  -- Dreamwatch (Colin Baker).

In the far future, the Heliothane Dominion is triumphant in the solar system, after a bitter war with their Umbrathane progenitors. But some of the enemy have escaped into the past, where they could position themselves to wreak havoc across time. The worst of these is Cowl, an artificially forced advance in human evolution … who is no longer human.

Polly knows no more than how to obtain the funds to support her habits. She is unprepared for her involvement with Nandru Jurgens, a Taskforce soldier, and the killers pursuing him. Nor is she able to resist the powerful attraction of the alien tor, which she is impelled to pull onto her arm… But she must learn fast as she is dragged back through time, not least that to the denizens of some eras, she is little more than a food.

Initially, the fragment of tor imbedded in Tack’s wrist is the extent of his value to the Heliothane – a point that is brought home to him with bloody abruptness. But he is a vat-grown programmable killer employed by U-gov, and no stranger to violence. His long journey into the lethal world of the Heliothane is only beginning, and the extent of his mission just becoming apparent. And he must become more, he must change, and be changed…   

Meanwhile, hunting throughout time and the alternates, Cowl’s pet, the torbeast, grows vast and dangerous. It sheds its scales where its master orders. They are tors – organic time machines to bring human samples to Cowl. And the beast feeds…

REVIEW LINKS

Excellent review by Paul Di Filippo here of the American issue of Cowl:http://www.scifi.com/sfw/advance/11_books.html

http://www.sff.tigerheron.com/editors-sf-picks-0508.php

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Reviews:Kirkus on Kirkus Reviews wrote:

Time-travel yarn, in the ultra-violent tradition of The Skinner (2003).

Centuries from now, the eugenicist-supermen Umbrathane are fighting a destructive war with the super-supermen Heliothane. Cowl, a genetically modified Heliothane, allies himself with the Umbrathane and time-travels back to the remote past, before higher lifeforms evolved. What he does there isn’t entirely clear, but engineer Goron and the other Heliothane want Cowl dead. Time is multiply tracked, with every change in a timeline giving rise to multitudes of new tracks (which is why Umbrathane and Heliothane can’t use time travel to wipe each other out). A monstrous, insatiable creature called the Torbeast, partly controlled by Cowl, sheds temporally active scales called “tors.” These tors attach themselves parasitically and irremovably to humans and drag them into the past to meet Cowl, to whom their DNA is of interest. Not so far in the future, meanwhile, teenaged, drug-addicted whore Polly helps warrior Nandru tussle with programmed government assassin Tack over a McGuffin. Though Tack kills Nandru, an intelligent device containing Nandru’s mentality implants itself in Polly, and both Polly and Tack acquire tors. Polly’s soon cures her drug addiction but causes her to eat voraciously while dragging her back through WWII, past Henry VIII and the Roman Emperor Claudius into the Stone Age. Traveler, a Heliothane, captures Tack, rebuilds and reprograms him, and aims him at Cowl.

Asher’s time-travel rationale holds up, amid the crackling energy and slam-bang action. The big drawback here: it’s impossible to understand the motivations of the movers and shakers—Asher’s belated explanations don’t help—and thus, absent noteworthy or appealing characters, hard to care about what comes next.

Mark Chitty on Walker of Worlds wrote:

Cowl, the genetically modified preterhuman of the title, has traveled back to beyond the Nodus (where life first began) in an attempt to change the future of life on earth to suit his views. He checks his progress by sampling DNA from humans of the future that are bought back through time by use of a tor. These tors are distributed by the torbeast, Cowl’s pet, a huge monster that has been created to travel through time at will – providing it has enough energy, which it gets from devouring humans of the future. . .

Go to review.

Andi Shechter on January Magazine wrote:

Did someone get the license of that book? Phew, I'm exhausted. Cowl is my first taste of Neal Asher and it was a whirlwind. Even at a not-huge 320 pages, I felt like I'd read an enormous adventure of a book, in no small part because of the number of ideas Asher packed into the novel. . .

Go to review.


Shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick Award.

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Hilldiggers

HILLDIGGERS

Available from Amazon in paperback and kindle. Also from the Book Depository (free international shipping).

What we have is a wonderfully rich and complex tale that happily flips between giving the mind something to weighty mull over and pleasing its baser, thrill-seeking desires -- Jonnie Bryant (Deathray)

If there's a more enjoyable and provocative sci-fi action saga this year, we'll be seriously surprised. -- Saxon Bullock (SFX)

A very political novel about the conflicts between the military and civilians, between the war and post-war generations, and balancing truth and reconciliation. -- Anthony Brown (Starburst)

A terrible war once raged between the two rival planets within a distant solar system. Over the centuries their human inhabitants had ‘adapted’ themselves to the extremely different conditions of their new homes, far outside Polity influence..

In the midst of this merciless conflict, one side encountered a bizarre object suspected of being a cosmic superstring employed as a new weapon by the rival side. Their attack on it caused the object to collapse into four parts, each found to be packed either with alien technology or some unknown form of life. Pending further study, these were quickly encased inside four separate Ozark cylinders, and stored in a massively secure space station in orbit.

Sometime later, while conducting research on this alien entity they now call ‘the Worm’, a female scientist falls pregnant and susequently gives birth to quads. She then inexplicably commits suicide by walking directly out into space…

The war was finally brought to an end by use of new weapons arising as a result of research of the Worm. These were employed by giant space dreadnoughts nicknamed ‘hilldiggers’ –– and their destructive power created new mountain ranges out of the vanquished planet’s terrain. Twenty years after the dust has settled, those four exceptionally talented orphans have grown up to assume varying degrees of power and influence within a post-war society.

And one of this exceptional breed now seems determined to gain total control over the deadly hilldiggers. But why?

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Shadow of the Scorpion

War destroys everything, even memory.

Available from Amazon in paperback, American paperback and kindle. Also from the Book Depository (free international shipping)..

I love the way he can create believable and hugely enjoyable worlds and his story telling skills are second to none' -- SFFworld

‘Neal Asher's latest novel, Shadow of the Scorpion, is an insane, sexy war story full of giant explosions on alien worlds. It's also a well-plotted exploration of the way violence destroys everything, even memory' -- io9

Raised to adulthood during the end of the war between the human Polity and the vicious arthropoid race, the Prador, Ian Cormac is haunted by childhood memories of a sinister scorpion-shaped war drone and the burden of losses he doesn't remember. In the years following the war, he signs up with Earth Central Security, and is sent out to help either restore or simply maintain order on worlds devastated by Prador bombardment. There he discovers that though the old enemy remains as murderous as ever, it is not anywhere near as perfidious or dangerous as some of his fellow humans, some of them closer to him than he would like. Amidst the ruins left by wartime genocides, he discovers in himself a cold capacity for violence, learns some horrible truths about his own past and, set upon a course of vengeance, tries merely to stay alive.

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The Technician

Available from Amazon in paperback and kindle. Also from the Book Depository (free international shipping).

- a new Polity novel can be as enjoyable as ever and now I want more of this series too!! – Fantasy Book Critic

The Technician is no doubt one of the best new novels I have read this year. It got a fantastic inner journey with fast-paced alien-world action. – Cybermage

I know that when a tale from him arrives that I’m going to get a story that I absolutely love. – Falcata Times

The Technician was awesome. – Walker of Worlds

Jeremiah Tombs, erstwhile religious policeman and only living survivor of a hooder attack, has escaped his sanatorium. The scorpion drone Amistad lets him run, calculating that a series of confrontations with reality will finally heal his mind and permit access to the valuable information it migh contain, for it was the near mythical Technician that attacked him all those years ago, and it did something to his mind that even the AIs don’t understand.

The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist

The amphidapt Chanter pursues the Technician in his mudmarine, trying to understand the grotesque sculptures of bones the creature makes with its victim’s remains, trying to understand its art. To solve the puzzle that is Tombs, he is recruited by Amistad, along with ex-rebel Commander Lief Grant, and the lethal black AI Penny Royal, whom everyone thought was dead.

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Mindgames: Fool’s Mate

An original Gordon McGregor Paperback in the Club 199 series.

Jason Carroll, an ex SAS man 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, discovers there is an afterlife ...

Resurrected on an endless flat plain he is forced to play a deadly game. Moved as a pawn at the whim of the gods in a fight to the death with warriors from all ages of Earth's history. Killed again only to be resurrected again … and again.

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Prador Moon

PRADOR MOON

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Neal Asher takes on first contact, Polity style. This original novel recounts the first contact between the aggressive Prador aliens, and the Polity Collective as it is forced to retool its society to a war footing. The overwhelming brute force of the Prador dreadnaughts causes several worlds and space stations to be overrun. Prador Moon follows the initial Polity defeats, to the first draws, and culminates in what might be the first Polity victory, told from the point of view of two unlikely heroes.

The back cover of Asher's latest has the heading, "It's first contact . . . Polity style!" If you guessed that involved tea and crumpets, you're slightly off the mark. The opening chapter describes the first meeting between Prador emissaries and a human Polity ambassador, the latter being promptly lifted by one claw belonging to the former, and then snipped in two. The first diplomatic meeting between the two races thus marks a bloody and explosive beginning to total war. -- J J S Boyce (Green Man Review)

This being a Neal Asher novel, however, these issues do not tend to incite esoteric, multi-page conversations exploring the finer points of morality. As in the previous five Polity books and his extra-continuum novel Cowl, Asher is content to raise the issues for the reader to think about while his enraged combatants proceed to rip each other's intestines out. -- Scifi.com

I wasn't sure I was going to really enjoy this book when if first fell into my hands, but by the end of the first chapter, I had become convinced that this was a new universe I was going to want to explore. -- Paul Haggerty (sfrevu)

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The Parasite

Kindle edition on Amazon here.

‘Anybody who cares about the future of British literary SF should check it out’ – SFX.

‘Top quality SF from one of the genre’s hotshot new talents’ – Dragon’s Breath.

‘High grade SF’ – Tony Lee.

Jack Smith is the pilot of a comet miner. On his final mission, the one that will make him rich, he encounters something in the hold of his ship, something that has been held in the ice of a comet for millennia...

He evades quarantine with deceptive ease. On Earth he has dealings with the Sao Paulo underworld and leaves death behind him. On his trail is the indefatigable Chris Golem, and someone else who will go to any lengths to hide the truth about Jack.

Set in a future of military takeovers, rising sea levels, and satellite industries and weapons, this is a story of high tech subterfuge and violence which asks what it is to be human.

And what might humans become?

Another Tanjen original (ISBN 0-9527183-1-6).

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