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Author Recommendation: Neal Asher

Several months ago I wrote an opinion post recommending a number of currently working UK genre writers to North American readers. At that time I threatened to post, weekly, a brief synopsis of their work to date in alphabetical order, and reasons why North American fans should read them. Unfortunately, my time herding skills fell victim to managing the burgeoning career of a five-year-old entropy elemental. So here, months later, is the first of those recommendations.

Neal Asher

When Geoff Ryman nailed the Mundane SF Manifesto to the door of the church, Neal Asher was inside saying mass. Everything that Mundane science fiction is, Neal Asher is not, and vice-versa. Asher’s strength is space opera, and he qualifies under my own, admittedly subjective, litmus test for New Space Opera that requires an author to deal with the potential of the singularity (even if only by explaining why it hasn’t happened). As I count, Asher counters the concept of singularity in , not one, but four, different, intelligently conceived arguments over the course of his eleven Polity novels.

Neal Asher made his first short fiction sale in 1989 and, although he published several novellas and a substantial amount of short fiction in the ’90s, 2001’s GRIDLINKED was his first novel and would have to be considered his breakout work. GRIDLINKED is set in Asher’s “Polity”, an interstellar confederation governed by AIs, which Asher had been developing in some of his previous short work, and introduces us to Ian Cormac, a Bond-ish ~ Retief-ish ~ Flandry-ish special agent of The Polity. The success of GRIDLINKED initiated a prolific cascade of novels (twelve, in all) over the last eight years. Of his twelve novels, eleven are set in the Polity milieu, and five feature agent Ian Cormac.

Asher has cited Iain Banks as an influence, and although it’s tempting to look at the AI-run Polity as an incipient Culture, there is too much divergence and originality in Asher’s work to consider The Polity as derivative. Asher’s work is also more overtly operatic than Banks’. It is set on a large stage and populated by a complex, hierarchic array of AIs (Polity and planetary governors, ships, androids, and military drones), hybrids ( human/AI symbiotic “haimans” and golems carrying dead human uploads), humans (augmented, unaugmented and malodorously reanimated), well-drawn aliens, exotic alien constructs, and what is, perhaps, the most astonishing and entertaining menagerie of alien fauna in modern SF. He has also gifted us with a recurring character that may be the most interesting and complex patchwork monster since Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. In a move intended to afflict the Lords of Mundane with apoplexy, Asher has built not one but two systems of FTL transit into his Polity universe: Traditional shipboard travel via “U-Space” and instantaneous matter and communication transmission via “runcible” (one of several examples of Asher’s mild fascination with the poetry of Edward Lear). Asher’s voice is colorful, direct and confident. He’s never met a fight he didn’t like, and he’s met a lot. If conflicts advance plots, then Asher’s novels usually reach redshift less than halfway in. And, unlike most current U.K. genre writers, Asher’s work tends to be largely apolitical.

Does Neal Asher write escapist fiction? Yes. Is it intelligent and internally consistent escapist literature? Yes, absolutely. You will never feel guilty after reading an Asher novel. Why should you read Neal Asher? Because it’s fun, dammit. Don’t discount the appeal and value of a superior, adult version of what drew most of us to the genre early in our lives.

If you read short fiction, “Runcible Tales” is an anthology that predates GRIDLINKED and is an excellent introduction to the Polity milieu. There is also a fair amount of non-Polity short work written before 2000 that I have not read and can neither recommend or condemn. Asher’s one non-Polity novel is COWL , which is a kind of “big picture” time travel book. The plotting is ingenious and it’s probably his most darkly humorous novel, but I didn’t think it worked quite as well as his NSO offerings.

Following is a bibliography of Neal Asher’s Polity Universe novels in chronological reading (not publication date) order.

  1. Prador Moon
  2. The Shadow of the Scorpion (Cormac prequel)
  3. Gridlinked (Cormac novel)
  4. The Line of Polity (Cormac novel)
  5. Brass Man (Cormac novel)
  6. Polity Agent (Cormac novel)
  7. Line War (Cormac novel)
  8. The Skinner (Spatterjay novel)
  9. The Voyage of the Sable Keech (Spatterjay novel)
  10. Orbus (due from TOR in September 2009 – Spatterjay novel)
  11. Hilldiggers (Spatterjay connection)
Posted in Books & Authors June 30th, 2009 by Shadow

Buzz Aldrin: Rapper

Legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin recently teamed up with Snoop Dogg and Talib Kweli to record “Rocket Experience.” The song is available for purchase on iTunes, and a portion of the proceeds will go to support the work of the National Space Society, the Planetary Society and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

There’s also a “making of” video on Funny or Die.

(via Weird Universe)

Posted in Ephemera, Space June 29th, 2009 by Chip
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Attic of Astounding Artifacts

GearheadDoc Atomic is a collector of vintage toys from the “space craze” of the 50s and 60s. I like this bit from his “origins” post:

But soon, the second level kicked in and age began to matter. The vintage toys were a direct, physical connection to previous science-fiction and robot fans. They were owned and played with by some kid who might have been me if I’d been born a few decades earlier. I began to see the reproductions as merely models of how people today thought of the past. The original toys, though, felt like the actual memories.

The site is brand-new, but he’s already got plenty of posts that lovingly detail his rayguns and robots. Gorgeous stuff.

Link (via Geek Orthodox)

Posted in Ephemera June 26th, 2009 by Chip
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Clockworks: Steampunk Webcomic

ClockworksShawn Gaston, who was the artist half of the short-lived-but-amusing RPG webcomic Chainmail Bikini, has launched a new project.

Clockworks is a steampunk/fantasy story, set in a world of giant stompy robots, outlawed magic, forgotten and dangerous old gods, ether driven mad science, and goggle wearing heroes who travel the world in search of danger and adventure.

Sounds like fun.

Link (via Twenty Sided)

Posted in Computers & Internet June 25th, 2009 by Chip
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Plant Science

This isn’t science fiction or even the sort of space science that we usually mention here, but yesterday Discoblog linked to an article detailing a study which suggests that talking to your plants actually can make them grow better. Researchers recorded volunteer “plant whisperers” and played the recordings to tomato plants (via headphones attached to the plants at root level, which I find endlessly amusing). Plants that were talked to demonstrated greater growth than a control group, and womens’ voices seemed to work better than mens’.

The thing that makes me happiest about this article is the information that one of the recordings played to the tomatoes was a reading from Day of the Triffids.

Posted in News, Science June 24th, 2009 by Chip
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Alice in Wonderland Photos


Slice of SciFi has just posted several promotional photos from the upcoming Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland. (You can also see a couple of images of the sets at SciFi Wire.)

I don’t believe I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Posted in News June 23rd, 2009 by Chip
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I Have No Words

Just…just click.

Posted in Movies & TV June 22nd, 2009 by Chip
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Miéville’s New Literary Movements

Amazon’s new Omnivoracious blog has a guest post by author China Miéville, discussing five literary movements that haven’t happened yet (he suggests naming the movements in advance and then writing books to fit them, which certainly would save a lot of time). He includes tips to help writers exploring a particular movement sound more erudite and avant-garde.

What to say: ‘Fiction of justice beyond an eschatological horizon is exoneration.’

What not to say: ‘Will Smith sucked but overgrown New York looked kewl.’

I particularly like his “Noird” category, although I was sort of under the impression that that’s what he already writes.

Link (via Big Dumb Object)

Posted in Books & Authors June 19th, 2009 by Chip
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1977 Star Wars Article

Article PhotoFantastic Flashbacks is a brand-new SF blog spun off from the Monster Memories “classic creatures” blog. They’ve just posted some scans of a Time Magazine article from 1977, discussing that new Star Wars movie that was just about to debut.

Given the ubiquity of SW in pop culture today, there’s kind of a time-capsule feel to an article written for an audience who’d never heard of a Wookiee. It’s neat.

Posted in Movies & TV June 18th, 2009 by Chip
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Seen Online

“Readers Digest Condensed Battlefield Earth!” “But Johnny was not afraid. And the blue tinge faded. Suck suck suck. The end.”
— sharkey

Bonotrooper: “I stiiiiill… haven’t foooound… the droids I was looking for.”

My parents went to this planet whose dominant life-form lacks lateral symmetry, and all I got was this stupid F-shirt.
— perlmonks

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Kung Fu Monkey

I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass… and I have a *lot* of bubble gum. You can all relax. Look! Bubbles!

I hate to break it to you, but there’s no “asshole” in team, either.

Posted in Ephemera June 17th, 2009 by Chip
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