Neal Asher (2009)

This Q&A interview originally ran in Death Ray 17, alongside Asher’s story, “Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck.” You can read reviews of The Gabble, The Technician and Prador Moon by clicking on the links.

Neal AsherThere are few writers working in the SF genre now who are quite as much fun as Neal Asher. His stories are good old-fashioned adventures set in a future where mankind is dominated by artificial intelligences. Fortunately, the machines run the show for our good, so there are no Terminator-style shenanigans.

Asher’s stories are full to brimming with the best of action SF – robots, space travel, exotic technology, post-humans and bizarre aliens. But by that, dear readers, we do not mean “pulpy”, oh no. Asher writes compelling, sometimes violent, thrillers, but there are questions he raises regarding who is in charge of whom, and what it really means to be human. One thing that does not change is the heart and mind of man, no matter how many spangly doodads are plugged into his brain, If you want to slap a label on it, call it post-cyberpunk. The Polity has all the cyberpunk bits, but it’s a nicer place to live. Most of the time.

Asher is also a dab hand at alien ecologies; his future is alive with swirling colours, dangerous predators and queer fish. Let it be said, and said loud: the evil Prador space crabs, the alien entity Dragon, the general weirdness of the planet Spatterjay Hoop – no writer does better monsters than Asher.

Guy Haley: First tell us why you have chosen “Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck” for Death Ray readers to enjoy.

Neal Asher: It’s the first gabbleduck story I had published in which I start to look more closely at the weirdness of them, and I like it.

GH: Do you think your Polity is an accurate depiction of the future relationship between men and machines, or is it just fun?

NA: In the context of the Polity I try to suspend the reader’s disbelief as best I can but, frankly, if an accurate depiction of the relationship between man and machine was boring I’d drop it like scorpion sandwich. Always, with me, entertainment first. That being said I do think we will develop artificial intelligence and still be questioning what the hell it is (hence the odd reference in my books to the x-hundreds of revisions of the Turing test); we will be attaching up our wetware to hardware and probably, in years to come, be walking about with memory extensions, increased processing and modems inside our heads. Perhaps a more likely scenario than the machines taking over is that the lines will become so blurred we’ll be almost indistinguishable from them.

GH:It’s mentioned on your website and in a number of other places that you’ve tried writing fantasy on a few occasions. Is this still a genre you’d like to get into?

NA: All those years ago, when I made the decision to pursue this profession, my first aim was to write the good old fantasy trilogy, which I did, along with the first book of a second trilogy. At that point, despite having an agent for a short while, I remained unpublished but didn’t want to stop writing. I thought it pointless continuing with the second trilogy when the first had yet to be placed so turned elsewhere, first doing a contemporary novel (also sitting in my files) then to the British small presses where I got my first successes writing short SF. From that it was a natural progression to longer works, steadily growing success until taken on by Macmillan. I write SF because I enjoy it more now, and I’m known for it and it sells, but one day I will have a go at rewriting the fantasy books, mostly because they are just unfinished business.

GH: Mason’s Rats is one of your other most published “universes”. What was the inspiration behind this? It’s like the Rats of NIMH done in a classic BBC1 comedy style.

NA: There’s only three short stories! But they seem to be stories a lot of people have enjoyed. The inspiration? I guess living in rural Essex and seeing the bureaucratic bullshit farmers have to put up with, and also thoughts on how human beings are now one of the largest evolutionary pressures on all other living creatures on this planet. What’s going to develop intelligence next, and when? And hey, rats with crossbows are cool.

GH: It’s been said to me “Neal Asher gives good monster”. Do you agree?

NA: Well, I hope so, I try. I like my monsters as much as many others do and whilst trying to make them fit properly into some alien ecology I like to also venture into that mythical territory occupied by snarks and jabberwocks. Monsters are fascinating and fun when they’re in a book or film, hence the success of such human monsters as Hannibal Lector and others like the HR Giger Alien. Even in the real world they remain fascinating, hence the interest in serial murderers and surfer-gobbling white sharks. Just not so much fun, though.


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