A Great Story Complimented by a Great Reader.

It seems like a guy called Paul enjoyed The Skinner, The Voyage of the Sable Keech and Orbus on Audible:

I’ve been a huge fan of Iain M Banks for a long time, loved the early works of Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and read the hardcopy of Neal Asher’s first full length published novel ‘Gridlinked’ years ago, not long after it’s publication.

Somehow I then lost track of Neal, but fortunately rediscovered him via Audible. I’ve listened to The Skinner (Book 1), The Voyage of The Sable Keech (Book 2) and am currently a few chapters into Orbus (Book 3). I’ve listened to these back to back, unremittingly, and with great relish.

Over the years I’ve always been excited to learn of a favorite author’s new work, and somehow ‘losing touch’ with Asher is great – all of a sudden I have a wealth of published material to enjoy en masse, rather then being drip-fed as novels are published. Of course now, as I’m engrossed in the third and final Spatterjay audiobook, I am hoping that Audible and Neal’s publisher get together and publish more of Neal’s back catalog in audio format.

So a few words about the series. Spatterjay is a very interesting place – from it’s ecology, to it’s early colonisation, to it’s present situation on the edge of the Polity – all of these diverse influences come together through rich characterisations of visiting Polity humans (both alive and dead), Polity AI, Prador with dirty secrets that need to be forgotten, 700 year old virally-modified superhumans who can handle a sailing boat and bend steel, and my personal favorite, drones with Attitude.

I’m not talking about snotty Culture drones, replete with sarcasm and irony. No, I’m talking about 700 year old Polity War Drones with secret upgrades and a Northern accent. The type of Drone that says ‘F*** me!’ when it sees a Prador, or ‘B******s!’ when it doesn’t believe a ship AI. If you thought Skaffen-Amtiskaw was cool, wait until you meet Sniper!

William Gaminara does a fabulous job on the reading, and has the characters down pat – he brings the books to life.

More Asher on Audible please!

The audble link is over to the right of this post between ‘followers’ and ‘uptweets’. If you go there you can listen to samples of the books being read by Mr Gaminara.

5 Desert Island Reads – Andy Oliver

Here are another five desert island reads (once again demonstrating that my fans can’t count) for you to pore over and discuss whilst I bugger off down to Hastings for a few days to eat fish and chips and drink red wine.

Hi Neal,

Here are my desert island books. Sorry for the poor quality photo – was taken on my phone as I cannot find our camera, and also for for my dog’s ass – he would not move out the way!

Like others have found I really struggled to cut the list down so I also have cheated slightly. Rendezvous with Rama & The Stars My Destination are both quite small you see – so I figured that they would only take up the room of one larger book (self justification, self justification).

I walked along my shelves and could easily have doubled the number I ended up with, but I made a deliberate choice to not have books others have chosen (with one exception, more on that later), so there are no Asher, Banks or Baxter, however the choices for those would have been the Skinner (first Asher book I read and look where that got me 😉 ), Banks would have been possibly Player of Games, but that would have been a difficult choice, and for Baxter well, god knows. As someone mentioned – he turns his hand at everything and is pretty damn good at it all!!

So, onto my choices:

Rendezvous with Rama (and the follow up Rama books too) – Arther C Clarke – 2001 may be a seminal work and it truly is a good book but the Rama sequence is an epic journey of a story. I this when I was about 17 ro 18, and it has shaped my reading ever since, I very quickly had to read the following trilogy of Rama books. I was always drawn to SF, but I think this book sealed the deal.

The story follows an alien cylinder which enters the solar system so we send an crew to find out what it is. We follow the crew through there exploration and slow understanding of the vessel only to be left wanting more at the end. Then followed a series (3 more) of books which take you onto a universal scale tour finally exploring the true meaning of our place in the universe.


The stars my destination (Tiger Tiger) – Alfred Bester – my only double of someone else (I think), but I had to have this here. I read this in one night, I was just lost in the story. The story of Gully Foyle is intense and dramatic. Revenge and murder are both beautifully shown in the story. Our protagonist develops from a feckless nobody into a one man killing machine with high intelligence and, more than a desire, a necessity, to succeed in his mission.

The Descent – I read this before the movie came out, again when I was 19 or 20. Its the story of an underground world of ‘monsters’ who became more advanced than us, but then lost the skills and smarts (or just stopped learning) while we on the surface kept on expanding. If I remember correctly a group of explorers go wandering, get into trouble, then it escalates with the army becoming involved. There is war, massive scale death, ambushes and deception.

Hmm, haven’t read it in quite a while so need to re read it – I’m struggling to remember the finer details of the story, but it made enough of an impression for me to choose it here.

Altered Carbon – the first of Richard Morgans Kovac’s trilogy, and also Morgans first novel. Its a fast paced blitz through a short period of Kovacs life. He is a former Envoy – a special forces solider – who has been forcible ‘hired’ by a man who is part of the long lived ‘Meths’ (Methuselah), This man was killed but everyone has a cortical stack which records the essence of the person. This can be backed (if you have the money) up so Bancroft only lost 24 hrs – now he wants to know why.

The only way to truly kill people is to blow out the stack and hope they don’t have a backup somewhere.

Inverted World – Christopher Priest, I had not read any Priest stuff before but this definitely makes me want to (he also wrote the Prestige which was a film with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman). The story here follows a city which travels along tracks to stay ahead of time. The residents of the city have to build the tracks ahead of them, and rip them up from behind. Along the way they encounter ‘natives’ from outside the city who the occasionally trade with. Often the trade involved the ‘loan’ of women who are used for breeding to ensure the city’s population remains topped up.

The story follows one man growing up and becoming an explorer who helps to produce the route that the city must take. These explorers age artificially quickly, due to the nature of the world. Big revelations and a fantastic slow reveal twist make this a brilliant read.

Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts. This is an excellent, comedic tale that starts with Stalin calling together a (dozen perhaps) SF authors from across Russia to write a story about alien invasion and domestic terror. This is to be used to replace the waning threat of America so that Stalin can keep the Russian citizens under control.

Quite quickly the group is disbanded and told to forget everything they have thought of ‘or else!’

Years later the story they wrote appears to be coming true. The story is excellently written with some fantastic laugh out loud sections, (the torture section where our protagonist turns the questions around on his questioner – I had to read twice because I kept laughing!), but its not all jokes. There is a very good twisting story that keeps moving from start to end.

Definitely recommended – as is ‘Dragon with a girl Tattoo’, a recent Roberts book parodying a certain Swedish novel that has recently been making waves!

What’s left…

Oh, that’s it – I’ve finished my list!! Doh

I can certainly recommend all the above for people to read. Hope that above has made good reading.


Andy (Osh on the comments section occasionally)

Bugger – just remembered about Joe Haldeman – Peace and War (forever war series), another I would happily have on my island, but thankfully that’s been covered by someone else!

Oh – and any spelling mistakes have obviously occurred while Neal put this on his blog as opposed to during my typing!! Honests…

5 Desert Island Reads — Phil Middleton

Hello Neal,

Well, that was a challenge and if you give me another ten minutes I’ll change them all again.

One thing I have now noticed is that most of the books I read these days are multiple volume stories. There are many authors I could include, ASHER, Hamilton, Clark, Reynolds, Banks but it’s always nice to have some variation. Of course if I washed up on a desert island with my luck the only other survivor would be the crate of Mills and Boon!

Jack the Bodiless by Julian May. After borrowing The Saga of the Exiles from a friend and thoroughly enjoying it I moved on to this, The Galactic Milieu series. Mankind’s telepathic abilities awake and while they argue and fight among themselves the rest of the galaxy watches, for a while anyway. I just liked the concept and as most of the story was set in modern times you can relate to it a little more. Unfortunately Mays later books did nothing for me.

Illium by Dan Simmons. Now here’s an author that can knock out a mean book. Dan, as already mentioned by Rob Darby, is probably best known for The Hyperion books, which I have read, but my preference is for Illium/Olympus. The siege of Troy mixed with sentient robots and strange goings-on on planet earth, what more could you ask for. Dan is one of these authors who can turn his hand to anything it appears; SF, detectives, horror.

Evolution by Stephen Baxter. Where does this man get his ideas from? Mammoths, alternate history, “human” civilizations existing at the micron size, to name but a few. I have yet to find a Baxter book I didn’t enjoy. I would have to place him as my second favourite author…………..can you guess who’s first?

The Gap into Conflict by Stephen Donaldson. This, of course, represents the whole Gap series. Having read “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” and being very impressed by a fantasy that didn’t obviously rip off the Lord of the Rings I think Donaldson made an exceptional debut in scfi. He has since chosen to revisit Thomas Covenant but hopefully he may write some more scfi in the future.

The Silkie by A E Van Vogt. This I’ve had for a long time so it must have something going for it. If I remember correctly it’s about genetically modified humans. I don’t know if I’ve read any more of his books and certainly can’t name any. This obviously needs more investigation

So there you go, hardest bit of work I’ve done all week!


Best regards

Phil Middleton
Purchasing and Logistics Manager

Last Argument of Kings — Joe Abercrombie

This was a hugely enjoyable completion to the trilogy. What else is there to say? Okay: great characters I really cared about, pain that really hurt, the dirt blood and reality of battles in which people are hacking at each other with effing great meat cleavers and, very very loosely paraphrasing Arthur C Clarke, magic with the drawbacks of technology, especially the kind of technology that appeared at the end of the cold war and has haunted us ever since. I also have to acknowledge wry hat-tips here, and in the other books, to various, ahem, famous speeches and scenes both in reality and fiction. Immediately springing to mind from the last book are The Caves of Moria, whilst in this one we have Churchill… And for me, it’s been wonderful to discover that I still like fantasy, or rather, I like fantasy that’s done well. Nice one Mr Abercrombie.  

No Hoopers Live Here.

Here’s a picture Richard Ayling snapped while out and about, to which I just had to add the news story below. He snapped in darkness, hence the graininess. Shades of stumbling on a pub called The Slaughered Lamb in the night…

Police baffled by the gruesome murder of a merchant seaman. Forensics officers were seen entering property here, and an inside source informs us that numerous metallic ‘spiders’ were found in the cellar, along with an aquarium full of large ‘worms’. However, our source cannot explain why officers are consulting with a taxidermist, or why a purported witness to this crime now requires psychiatric counselling.

5 Desert Island Reads — Hitch

Firstly, oh my god this is hard! Five isn’t enough! I just hope the rest of my books somehow float my way.

Ok. My five, based on re-readabilty, memories and keeping my sanity whilst I survive on Coconut Vodka and Banana Daiquiris:

1) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Ironic, Witty, Hilarious, Genius. A book and a tale I have read and listenned to for many years wrote by a man who once shook my hand and made me very nearly find religion, though perhaps not the kind that Pope dude would enjoy! I have read the entire series so many times I cannot count the number and it is the #1 choice for me if stuck on a desert island.

2) Ender’s Game. Some love it, some hate it. I adore it and find the personalities and social ingenuity involved, brilliant. Like all the books here, it make my brain come alive and see IMAX in my head. I first read it fairly recently, Emma had it and I’d heard of it but never read it. Then I moved to her place and slowly worked my way around her bookcase and found, for me, and instant classic.

3) Gridlinked. Has to be that one. I love Cowl, I love The Skinner and the rest but to me Gridlinked is the best. It was my introduction to Neal and was right down my alley with its license to kill Agent Cormac. A thrill ride all the way with enough sub plots and twists to make me read over and over. This one I would read when I started to feel my first dose of apathy, to kick start me back into surviving.

4) Battlefield Earth. I know, I know, and I do not care. The author was a complete nut job, this is now certain. The writing isn’t even that good and is very simplistic and child like in parts but its one of the first ‘proper’ Sci-Fi books I read as I got older and I fucking love it. In my opinion only the Revelation Space series has come close to the epic scope of humanity this book offers. Everytime I read it my childhood comes back and I dream of Flash Gordon.

5) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The GF hates this book, with a passion, one that I cannot understand. In terms of writing this is, to me, the best book I have ever read. The alternate past in which it lives is one I dearly wish was the real one. I don’t tend to enjoy ‘fantasy’ books but then again I don’t rate this as fantasy. Its about magic, yes, but more than that, its about the Magicians and once I pick this up I cannot fail to read from the miniscule starts to the fatalistic ends of the key characters. My only regret is that Susanna Clarke seems to be a one hit wonder, but then again it means I don’t have to sneak another book onto the island!

I will say this. If ever stranded on an island with just these five books, I would survive, partly due to them. I would also be found crying at night over everything else I had to leave behind and missed, a lot of those tears would be over Clarke, Reynolds, Gaiman, Pratchett… Oh god, the list is endless.

/me waves to a passing ship and begs a look at the library.


5 Desert Island Reads — Rob Dalby

Hi Neal

It’s proved incredibly difficult to cut this down to five, and since two of the five would have been yours (The Skinner and The Technician) I decided to arbitrarily exclude your stuff in order to not look too much like I was blowing smoke up your you-know what..

Others bubbling under the top five would be David Brin’s Brightness Reef (representing it’s trilogy), The Illium and Olympos duet by Dan Simmons (as well as his The Terror which I think is Sci-Fi for reasons too complicated to go into here) and Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls.

Anyway, on to the five.

The Integral Trees by Larry Niven.
One of Larry’s lesser known works (along with it’s sequel The Smoke Ring) and from the period when he was arguably past his best, but for me the story of Sharls Davis Kendy, Checker of the starship Discipline, keeping his ancient watching brief shows that Niven’s huge imagination was still as fertile as ever, with it’s description of a long-lost society of humans growing up among the bizarre vegetation and creatures of a gas torus.

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
To some extent this is representing it’s three siblings (Hyperion, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion) but this one is my favourite of the four. Simmons has a remarkable talent in creating an entire , fully realised, civilisation within a single novel where others might take a whole sequence to get to the same amount of detail, and the world of the Hegemony of Man is one which we would love to live in, at least until we find there is a worm buried in the apple. It’s crammed with breath-taking vignettes, and I’ve been haunted by the final choice of Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone since I first read the book getting on for 20 years ago.

Helliconia by Brian Aldiss
Perhaps cheating a little here, but my version of The Grand Old Man of British Sci-fi’s best work has all three volumes of the Heliconia cycle in one book, so I am having it as one of my five. There is a wonderful sense of momentum – the slow tumbling cycle of history, in the complex dance of the two stars of the Heliconia system and the effects the resulting centuries-long seasons have on the fortunes of the two sentient species of the world. There are discomforting parallels (for me) between the way our society seems to be developing and the parallel story of the deteriorating Human mission to Heliconia observing the planet below from their space station.

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
For me the mark of great Sci-FI is to create so compelling a world that as soon as you put down the book you want to know what happens next – want to go back there. I’d hate to think that Reynolds might not revisit the remarkable society of the Terminal World, which he leaves with many questions unanswered. Much of the pleasure in the book comes from following the clues Reynolds leaves as to the real nature of the world he is describing.

Surface Detail by Iain M Banks
A return to form for Banks, whose sci-fi output has been (for me at least) disappointing of late. I read it in one sitting while crossing the Atlantic in a B747, and the wonderful twist at the end, dropped in so gently it feels like an afterthought, more than made up for the six hour delay in leaving London. It’s always great to visit the Culture (another society we’d surely love to live in – and for me a sort of mirror image of the Polity) and Banks has excelled in creating another in his long line of memorable villains and slightly punchable sort-of-heroes.

Anyway, that’s the top five, at least for today. Probably be completely different by tomorrow



Peter Watts Necrotizing

Peter Watts, author of the superb Blindsight and the pretty shit hot Starfish, Maelstrom and Behemoth, has NOT been having a good time. Last year he was getting roughed up by border police and now he has something called necrotizing fasciitis. Do not click on this link if you are squeamish. Seriously.

Best wishes to you Peter, and get someone to put a harpoon in that vicious fucking gremlin that keeps following you around.

His blog is here. Avoid the ‘Moving Pictures’ post if you want to enjoy your lunch.

And go and buy his books. You won’t regret it.

5 Desert Island Reads — Todd Sanders

First…curse you Neal Asher for limiting it to five books.

That out of the way I am subverting your rules slightly in order to pick ‘some’ of my most favourite books – ones I’d always want to have with me. Let’s pretend 9 is 5 in new math.

Crown of Infinity – John Faucette: For some reason I come back and back to this book. It has elements of Cordwainer Smith in it, early grand ‘today-style’ serious grunge space opera (echoes of Reynolds, Asher, Mieville and Banks within), with cybernetic human/machine/ship amalgams and a story of revenge that takes millennia. I do not know much about Faucette other than he is paired with a number of other authors in many of my Ace Doubles.

Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester: SF Grandmaster with good reason. This book currently seems in fad again with everyone calling ‘teleporting’ – ‘jaunting’. While based on a classic French novel – The Count of Monte Cristo – it is a fundamental building block to many later cyberpunk tropes. For me it is a guilty pleasure if I need a quick and bracing read.

Rynemonn – Terry Dowling: I quickly fell in love with the tales of Tom Tyson when i first found these stories collected in 4 books and a few anthologies. One part Cordwainer Smith, one part Moorcock, one part lowtechpunk, one part just damn fine literature. This is the ‘current’ final story collection in the series and collects many of my favorite stories, the last one of which “Sewing Whole Cloth”. I have read probably 20 times and, each time, I find the ending strikes me in a different way.

Use of Weapons – Iain M. Banks: As I look at the books I’ve picked I find most of them have a common theme of revenge and love. This is certainly no exception to that. It is my personal favorite Banks novel. I thought the ending stunning and it still moves me.

Time Enough For Love – Robert Heinlein: I’ve read all of Heinlein’s works over and over (and though I know he is currently out of favor for many of his views he is still and forever will be one of the founding fathers of SF). This book strikes me as him at the top of his game in the long novel form. I feel for Lazarus in this as he watches those he loves grow old around him. The chapter with him and his wife being held hostage by rapists and Lazarus’ subsequent solution to that dilemma is still exciting even though I know what will happen. This is one of the few books in my collection with a cracked spine and well-worn pages. And that is saying something for me.

The Confluence Trilogy – Paul McAuley: To me – a beautiful circular trilogy/bildungsroman about a boy growing to manhood and the mistakes he makes. McAuley had a wonderful mix of Ringworld style world building with a variety of cultures of different technology levels and biological types. Of special interest to me is that the 3 volumes are circular and end where they begin. I once read all 3 of these twice through and found the second immediate reading does change after you read all the books the first time and arrive at the circular point and begin again.

Last Legends of Earth – A.A. Attanasio: I think he remains little known as an author but I quite enjoy this book and have read it several times. It is the 4th in a series with massive overlapping of narratives in multiple instances of time and space. It has an Olaf Stapledon eon-spanning feel to it. Again another book of love and revenge and how the two intertwine.

Souls in the Great Machine – Sean McMullen: Australian air-punk (not even steampunk level tech allowed in this alternate Australian future) featuring living computers made of slaved mathematicians, a huge cast of Canterbury Tales style characters and a unique to me plot mystery solved over the course of the three books of the trilogy.

Elric – Michael Moorcock – still my favorite fantasy series. What more can be said?