This one was done in 2015 and I think for Barnes & Noble:
Interview question Neal Asher
(Interview by Ryan Britt)
*You’ve been described as a military science fiction writer, even though your various novels seem to be so much more. Are you comfortable with this label? What makes good military science fiction?
No it’s not a label I am comfortable with because it feels too narrow. I do like my battles but I also like building ecologies, creating monsters of every stripe including the human kind, exploring the consequences of technology like mind recording, taking a close look at what immortality might mean and much other stuff besides. I’ve read fiction that does fall squarely under that label and always felt there to be large elements missing from its depiction of the future. Often aspects of what the future might hold are neglected: how humans and their society might have changed, the new weapons and their effect on tactics (often I’ve read fiction where the battles are just the past supplanted into the future and upgraded with lasers) – the thinking needs to be wider. Good military fiction would logically be the kind that does not neglect these.
*Funnily, you’re also claimed by the cyberpunk subgenre. Your Wikipedia page even calls you “post-cyberpunk.” Other than your books, what’s your favorite cyberpunk thing ever?
I’m not even sure what the label means – in fact I’ll have to go look it up – and don’t pseuds just love using sticking that word ‘post’ on things? Well … judging by ‘high tech and low life, post-industrial cultures, megacorporations etc’ I’d say that my fiction has elements of these. But it’s just another narrow label used by those who like to discuss SF and makes me tired just thinking about it. I guess, if we want to go there, my favourite cyberpunk thing would be Blade Runner.
*Your Polity universe is interesting for a lot of reasons, but partly because it spans the majority of your various works. This reminds me a little of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner books, or the sprawling “future history” of Asimov. What are the challenges in this kind of vast mutli-book world building? Or in other words, do you sometimes fantasize about ditching all this and writing a new novel set in a totally different continuity?
The biggest challenge I guess is continuity errors. The more I write set in the Polity the more I have to check in previous books. There are the simple things like what is the colour of prador blood, then there’s the more difficult stuff like what technologies are extant, especially when my Polity stories span a thousand years. Actually I haven’t fantasized about writing novels set in a new continuity but done so. The Owner trilogy is not set in the Polity. The reason I wrote that is because if you write in one setting, no matter how wide, you can become stale. The danger of course is that when you step out of that setting the fans can pillory you for it. But I’ll never ditch the Polity because there’s still a lot of fun to be had there. I stepped out of it for a while with the Owner then came back to it refreshed with the Transformation books.
*You concluded the “Owner” series not too long ago and now the “Transformation” series has started. For fans of your books, what’s tonally different for this series versus the previous? Are we dealing with a Revolver/Rubber Soul situation, or is this more like Magical Mystery Tour?
The Owner trilogy was my shot at thinking hard about the future and writing a dystopia, though one based on some short stories I did long ago (they appear in The Engineer ReConditioned and elsewhere). The Polity, though it can be quite rough, is a lot more optimistic and being set further into the future enters Clarke’s realm of science bordering on magic. Despite the constrictions of those continuity errors mentioned above, I can let rip in the Polity – the Owner was more constrained by being closer to the present.
*You’ve got an AI ship in Dark Intelligence—“Penny Royal”—can you talk a little about the inspiration for that?
Penny Royal first turned up as a throw-away character in a story (published in Asimov’s) called Alien Archaeology. The AI was the go-to mad scientist to get something high tech done. I brought him back in The Technician and there he grew in the telling as something enigmatic and dangerous. In a way my readers are a little bit responsible for what happened next – similar to what happened in my 5 book Cormac series. In the first book, Gridlinked, I wrote about a character called Mr Crane – a rather large android made of brass – and the readers came back at me about that saying just how much they enjoyed him. The third book of the series I wrapped around Mr Crane. It was called Brass Man. But it was also my choice because I’m a fan at heart and really enjoyed writing about Mr Crane too. In Dark Intelligence I revisited Penny Royal. My readers rather liked that creation, and I like it too. Other elements have now been incorporated, like my reading on swarm robots and ideas about distributed intelligence, and in Dark Intelligence and the ensuing books Penny Royal has grown in the telling. Hugely.
*Speaking of intelligent spaceships and connected hiveminds, what are your thoughts on Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword?
No thoughts. I haven’t read them.
*I’ve read somewhere that your patronus (from Harry Potter) would be a lobster, but what’s your favorite dinosaur?
I was going to say velociraptor because I like the name and the idea of something so vicious and fast. But the one that has stuck with me is the troodon. This is the dinosaur Dale Russell based his dinosauroid on – dinosaur man. It is also the basis of the dracomen – creatures in my Polity books created by the interstellar entity Dragon as a taunt to humankind. The troodon also turns up in a story I did for Asimov’s called The Other Gun. There it was an enjoyably lethal sidekick for the main character.
*In your books you’ve got a lot of crazy science fiction conflicts occurring to people. Of all the things you’ve put your characters through, which one of those ideas scares you the most, personally?
None of them really scares me because most are unlikely in my lifetime. I guess the idea of immortality combined with endless torture is pretty grim, which is why it’s the big stick wielded by religion. Closer to home is stuff in the Owner books: the technology to utterly control the populace in the hands of authoritarian government.
*You’ve got a bit of a Rip Van Winkle story at the start of Dark Intelligence; someone waking up after a century of being dead. This seems like both classic Buck Rogers mixed with Alien: Resurrection. From Twain to Sleeper, why is this notion so compelling for writers?
For me the appeal had more to do with ideas about immortality, mind recording and past sins coming back to haunt us. I also like the aspect of the timespan involved. But I guess the appeal in most cases is perspective – bringing back someone from the past to see the changes.
*Your parents both loved science fiction. What would you say to a young writer who’s parents hate science fiction?
*What can readers expect from the next book in the “Transformation” series?
They can expect numerous twists and turns, growing insight into what Penny Royal is up to, the introduction of a few more seriously odd characters and, I hope, another wild ride.