Douglas R. Cobb: Neal, I hope you and your family are doing well! Did you get any SF books this year under the Christmas tree? How about giving any as gifts?

Neal Asher: I didn’t get any books actually under the tree but before Christmas I acquired Quantum Thief by Hanu Rajaniemi, Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and the first of the Lost Fleet books by Jack Campbell: Dauntless. In different ways I enjoyed all three of these and have reviewed them on my blog. I’ve also just read Unto Leviathan by Richard Paul Russo, which was another good one I’ve yet to review. Since Christmas I got Caroline to buy me the next of the Lost Fleet books – Fearless – which I’ll dive into after I’ve finished reading The New Space Opera edited by Dozois and Strahan. It’s a book like many on my shelves: retained because it has one of my short stories in it but which I’ve never before got round to reading.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, Neal, but one of my favourite books of yours is Brass Man, though I really have loved reading all of your novels (the ones I’ve had the opportunity to read, anyway). Perhaps it’s because your “hero,” Ian Cormac, is so three-dimensional, and conflicted on different levels. Perhaps it’s also because of the split personalities and dangerous nature of the title character, a golem android called Mr Crane, who desperately desires to integrate his personalities.

Do you know if there are any plans to make Brass Man into a movie or television series? It would be remarkable, if done well. Or, same question for your other novels. Will any that you know of be made into movies in the future?

I’ve had a few inquiries from various companies. One was from Blue Train Entertainment concerning Gridlinked and one was from Fox concerning Hilldiggers, but they came to nothing. The closest I’ve come to ‘breaking into Hollywood’ is with a number of my short stories which made up two-thirds of a Heavy Metal movie that was being developed by Tim Miller at Blur Studios along with such people as David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, Alien 3), Kevin Eastman (owner of Heavy Metal magazine and creator of the Ninja turtles) and subsequently other people were to be involved, like Gore Verbinski, Guillermo del Toro, Tarsem, Peter Chung and Jeff Fowler (film buffs will know these names) and latterly James Cameron. This was looked at and dropped by Paramount, hawked around other companies including Tom Cruise’s one (apparently he cast an eye over my story Snow in the Desert and reckoned it would make a good feature-length film by itself). This went on for a while with me seeing some excellent artwork, story boards etc then fizzled this year with the franchise being sold on. However, Snow in the Desert is now being ‘developed’ but whether that will come to anything I don’t know.

Link: Click on The Skinner BlogSpot for more info.

How long ago was it that you came up with the idea to do the Ian Cormac series, and why did you choose that name for the hero of the series? Which Cormac novel is your favourite, if you have one?

Cormac first appeared in a short story called Dragon in the Flower which I wrote maybe 20 years ago, so remembering why I chose the name might be a bit problematic. Maybe I chose it because of its somewhat double meaning (it can mean ‘legend’ but it can also mean ‘son of corruption’) though I suspect, like many of the names I choose, this was something I found out after the fact.

Dragon in the Flower appears in a magazine called Hadrosaur Tales (issue 8) and is now incorporated into Gridlinked (the first Cormac book), which I wrote at around about the time I was having some success in the small presses. Two small publishing companies, at one time or another, were going to publish it, and both went bankrupt before they did. When Macmillan took it on in 1999, it was too short at about 65,000 words and I expanded it to 135,000 including the ‘B plotline’ in which Mr Crane was introduced. I never set out to write a series, though I did have about 10,000 words of the next book, The Line of Polity, ready to work with (and I threw them away and started again), but publishers want that next book and the tale grew in the telling. The next book, Brass Man, was written in response to my own feelings about, and the fan reaction to, Mr Crane, and is my favourite of the series.

Could you please tell our readers, those who might be unfamiliar with your novels, what the “Polity,” is, and what Runcible Gates are?

Different SF writers have different names for their interstellar civilization. Ian M Banks has the Culture, Star trek has the Federation and the Dominion, empires and kingdoms have been used too. The Polity was my own particular take on this. I wanted something big, sprawling and complicated in which I could set just about any SF story. Its inception was in numerous short stories where similar technology might be used, similar alien life, agents, characters and gradually grew almost like a crystal forming. Runcible gates where a hat-tip to the ansible, but grew into a science whose nomenclature evolved from the poem The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear (a tachyon, for example, is called ‘pea-green’). I wanted my Polity linked up by spaceships and instantaneous matter transmission and the runcible gates are the latter, giving people the ability to step across light-years in an instant.

I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about Prador Moon now, Neal. Who are the Prador, and who is Jebel “U-cap” Krong? How did he get his nickname?

The Prador are the archetypal nasty aliens that have been explored at length in fiction and, because of my long-time love of sea-life – especially the kind of stuff you find under rocks at low tide – they ended up being crablike. Like so much in my books they grew in the telling. I started out with horrible flesh-eating monsters but then, because that wasn’t enough, started constructing their biology and society. I felt the need to join up the dots and explain why they are what they are.

Jebel U-cap Krong is a product of war with such a vicious species. Having lost his arm to one of them during an initial encounter, and then fighting them during the subsequent Prador/Human war, he grew to hate them so much he wanted to kill them up close, which in his case meant sneaking up on them and sticking a gecko mines to their carapaces. His name was Jebel Krong and he acquired the ‘U-cap’ later because he was Jebel up-close-and-personal Krong.

Being crab-like creatures, how do the Prador drive their spaceships, not having fingers/opposable thumbs?

As detailed in the books the Prador have arms with manipulator hands which are generally folded up against their underside until needed. The adults lose most of their limbs as they grow older, but use their pheromones to enslave their children. In past times some of their first-children would have grown to adulthood, overcome that pheromonal control then eventually killed and eaten their father. However, technology has enabled the fathers to extend their control over their children, and to even enslave human beings, so live a long and limbless life.

Great answers, Neal! Now, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about Shadow of the Scorpion before I ask one or two others. Cormac’s past is gone into in some detail in Shadow of the Scorpion, which I thought was pretty cool. When does Cormac first sees an iron scorpion? What importance does it (eventually) have for him?

As a child Cormac first sees the iron scorpion drone Amistad, but if I go into the reasons behind that then I’ll give too much of the plot away. Suffice to say that Amistad was a comrade in arms of Cormac’s father, who was fighting during the Prador/Human war. The drone is important because it helps Cormac the adult resolve some … memory issues that have been with him since his childhood.

Shadow of the Scorpion, like all of your novels, really, has many excellent battle scenes in it. What gives you the inspiration to write such realistic and violent scenes? Cormac still is a likable character, despite his violent nature, as is Jebel Krong. What about Jebel makes him an idol to the young Ian Cormac?

Battle is violent and I try to portray it as realistically as possible considering the effects of the weapons involved. How well, or otherwise, I do this comes down to years of reading and writing and, probably, years of watching violent films! Jebel is a hero to the young Cormac in the same way as various characters are the heroes of children who were around during any battle or war in history. I imagine German children during the World War I all worshipped or wanted to be the Red Baron, and during the next world war thought Rommel was cool. Wartime cultures need their heroes, especially when they’re losing.

Here’s your chance for some rum company who happens to see this review (like that’ll happen–but, who knows?) to send you a case of rum, Neal. What is your favourite brand of rum, if any? When drinking beer, do you have a favourite brand? When working on a novel, how many words do you try to churn out per day Oohh, Aah–a three-part question here–no credit for only giving a partial answer)?

First I have to make it clear that I don’t drink the stuff when I’m writing! Usually when people ask me what my favourite drink is I reply, ‘Any one with alcohol in it’ but that’s not strictly true. I absolutely hate Southern Comfort because it reminds me of a medicine I used to take as a child. I have no particular favourite rum, though, when I do occasionally buy some it is either Lambs or Captain Morgan. As for beer, in England it’s usually IPA during the winter and Stella Artois during the summer. However, since I’m not often in England during the summer I generally drink Mythos lager next to a Cretan beach.

When I’m writing a book I try to write 2,000 words a day for five days a week – aiming for 10,000 a week. I’ll start with a blog post or a journal entry or maybe even an interview like this one to warm up (though this isn’t included in the word count), then read through and edit the previous day’s work on the book before continuing. I don’t always hit the target and it all goes out the window once editing begins, either on the book in question or one that’s come back from the publisher. Even so, I’m still well ahead of my publisher.

And now, for the final question(s) of the interview! Are you currently working on a new novel? If so, what’s going to be the name, and when will it be in the brick & mortar stores? Or, conversely, do you have a new one out now, and if so, please provide the name of it and a brief synopsis for my readers. And, to let them know more about you, would you please leave a link (or more) for them to click on?

As I said previously: I’m well ahead of my publisher. This year they published The Departure, which is the first book of a trilogy telling the story of the early years of the ‘Owner’, who is a character appearing in some of my stories in The Engineer ReConditioned. Here’s the blurb:

Like Wellsian war machines the shepherds stride into riots to grab up the ringleaders and drag them off to Inspectorate HQ for adjustment, unless they are in shredding mode, in which case their captives visit community digesters, or rather whatever of them has not been washed down the street drains.

Pain inducers are used for adjustment, and soon the Committee will have the power to edit human minds, but not yet, twelve billion human beings need to die before Earth can be stabilized, but by turning large portions of Earth into concentration camps this is achievable, especially when the Argus satellite laser network comes fully online…

Alan Saul has taken a different route to disposal, waking as he does inside a crate on the conveyor into the Calais incinerator. How he got there he does not know, but he does remember the pain and the face of his interrogator. Janus speaks to Saul through the hardware implanted in his skull, sketching the nightmare world for him. And Saul decides to bring it all crashing down…

I’ve also written the next two books in this trilogy. The first of these is Zero Point, which is currently going through the editorial process and will be published in the middle of 2012:

The billions of Zero Asset citizens of Earth are free from their sectors, free from the prospect of extermination from orbit, for Alan Saul has all but annihilated the Committee by dropping the Argus satellite laser network on it. The shepherds, spiderguns and razorbirds are somnolent, govnet is down and Inspectorate HQs are smoking craters. But power abhors a vacuum and, scrambling from the ruins, comes Serene Galahad. She must act before the remnants of Committee power are overrun by the masses. And she has the means.

Var Delex knows that Earth will eventually reach out to Antares Base and, because of her position under Chairman Messina, knows that the warship the Alexander is still available. An even more immediate problem is Argus Station hurtling towards the red planet, with whomever, or whatever trashed Earth still aboard. Var must maintain her grip on power and find a way for them all to survive.

As he firmly establishes his rule, Alan Saul delves into the secrets of Argus Station: the results of ghastly experiments in Humanoid Unit Development, a madman who may hold the keys to interstellar flight and Hannah Neumann, whose research might unlock eternity. But the agents of Earth are still determined to exact their vengeance, and the killing will soon begin.

I’ve completed the first draft of the last of these, Jupiter War, and have put it to one side so as to get some distance from it, before going through it again. This book will be published in 2013. Right now I’m working on a new Polity book called Penny Royal, which is the name of a ‘black AI’ that has appeared in a short story of mine called Alien Archaeology and in The Technician, incidentally a book where a favourite of yours reappears: Amistad, the scorpion drone…

Hmmm…this might well be the best interview I’ve ever given! I don’t like to brag (only to excess), but the truth’s the truth! Of course, having someone that’s such an iconic Mil SF author to interview is what really has made this interview the amazing thing of beauty that it is (I say with all modesty). I look forward to reading/reviewing more of your novels in the coming years, Neal, and I highly recommend them to all of my readers who love science fiction!