The Dark Tower by C. S. Lewis

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An unexpectedly dark and unsettling tale of inter-dimensional travel, monstrous creatures and alternate realities. A powerful read that grips you right to the end.

C. S. Lewis is renowned worldwide for his children’s fantasy novels, especially the Chronicles of Narnia, but his less known works include a trilogy of science fiction novels plus an unfinished fourth (The Dark Tower.) An intended fourth entry to The Cosmic Trilogy, it was never finished or published. It was discovered among paperwork being destroyed after Lewis’ death by the lawyer of his estate and, despite evidence suggesting that segments of this work were read at the famous gatherings of The Inklings (a group of literary enthusiasts, including Tolkien, who were mostly associated with the University of Oxford who met and read excerpts and discussed fantasy and science fiction literature) there was controversy around the authenticity of the writings.

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Less well-known are C. S. Lewis’s science fiction novels.

It is estimated that this story was written in the early forties, predating his more famous fantasy works (and some elements from this story seem to make their way into the Chronicles of Narnia which wasn’t published until the early fifties.) The intriguing nature of this story is how it starts off with several scientists discussing the nature of time travel and ends up being a gothic-horror story about inter-dimensional travel.

One of the academics, Orfieu, discloses to his companions that, as time travel itself is impossible he has focused his research into simply viewing time, and has created a machine called the chronoscope. This device lets the men view a fixed but undisclosed place they call ‘The Othertime’. It is a dark and oppressive place, where The Stingingman (a man with a large, seeping horn growing through his skull) stabs volunteers in the stomach, injecting them with venom and transforming them into willing automaton-like slaves called Jerkies (because of their movements) who are laboring to complete construction of a great but dark tower.

Orfieu’s assistant, Scudamour, discovers with horror that he has an exact double in this Othertime, who as the story progresses, is imprisoned and mutates into the next Stingingman, replacing the previous one. One of the other academics observes that this incomplete building is actually a replica of the new Cambridge University Library, where the men are presently situated as they observe all this.

I shall leave any plot discussion here so to avoid spoiling the story. There are a few twists and a few genuinely unsettling moments. Stylistically, this story is unlike anything of Lewis’s that I have read, and this is also the basis as to why the authenticity is still debated by academics. The story is dark and uncomfortable to read – the setting is unidentifiable (possibly set in post-war time) but feels like it could be a Victorian gothic story, with the sense of growing dread and nihilism common in H. P. Lovecraft’s works. The characters, though underdeveloped due to the unfinished nature of the story, are suitably sympathetic with clear motivations.

I was thoroughly enjoying this story and was sorely disappointed when it came to an abrupt, unfinished end. The Dark Tower and Other Stories discusses the story in more depth, and pre-warns readers that it is missing sections and unfinished, but this does nothing to diminish the feeling of disappointment as such a gripping and dread-inducing tale is suddenly ended.

For fans of Lovecraft or C. S. Lewis or cosmic-horror in general, this story is a great look into the creative prowess of a man who could write for children and adults alike, a man who refused to be categorized as a genre writer.

The Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

625603“It is the 31st millenium. Under the benevolent leadership of the Immortal Emporer the Imperium of Man has stretched out across the galaxy. It is a golden age of discovery and conquest. But now, on the eve of victory, the Emperor leaves the front lines, entrusting the great crusade to his favorite son, Horus. Promoted to Warmaster, can the idealistic Horus carry out the Emperor’s grand plan, or will this promotion sow the seeds of heresy among his brothers?”

For anyone not familiar with the Warhammer 40K franchise it can be daunting to look at the three pages of dramatis personae and wonder what you have gotten yourself into. 40,000 years in the future, mankind is spread throughout the cosmos, waging wars on a grandscale with all matter of sentient and non-sentient life; monstrous aliens, robotic-lifeforms, chaotic demonspawn, rogue factions of humans, magic-wielding races of advanced beings… Warhammer is full on. Imagine Star Wars on steroids, mixed with Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, and everything written by Dickson, Busby and Heinlein.

Horus Rising is the first in the Horus Heresy trilogy, documenting his fall to the forces of chaos. The Imperium of Man is a complex Roman-inspired civilization split into countless factions and legions, all with varying alliances and ethos despite all fighting under the banner of the Emperor. Taken from wikipedia:

Horus Rising, the series opener, starts its real time narrative in the early years of the 31st millennium, during the 203rd year of the Great Crusade. It describes the rise to power of Horus Lupercal, Primarch of the “Luna Wolves” Legion of Space Marines, and the most versatile and favoured “son” of the Emperor. The Emperor has recently appointed him Warmaster, overall commander of Imperial military forces, and has left him in charge of the Crusade; he then returns to Terra, where in relative isolation is undertaking a secret project that even Horus is not privy to. Much of the focus of this novel is on Garviel Loken, Captain of the Luna Wolves’ 10th Company. He becomes a member of the Mournival, an informal advisory body to Horus, and participates in Crusade campaigns against anti-Imperials and aliens, referred to in the series as “xenos”. The story also hints at tensions in the nascent Imperium, exacerbated by the Emperor’s absence and actions – these are common themes in following books.

Though the scope of the franchise is galactic, and the vastness of the context for this book alone is enormous, the story relies on many small, quit and personal moments that make the characters unique and interesting. It is a heartbreaking tragedy to watch Horus on his path, knowing he will fall to darkness and many lives will be lost. It is a tribute to Dan Abnett that Horus is so well written, that we like the character and we feel a connection to him. And this makes his inevitable fall hurt so much more to witness.

But Horus is a primarch of the Space Marines – he is the pinnacle of genetic engineering and military training. And this means the book is drenched in sweat and blood and diesel and gasoline fumes and hydraulic fluid from mechs and robots and war machines, and the pages are littered with corpses that are burned, crippled, evaporated, dismembered or eaten. Dan Abnett has a skill for successfully blending the rough, testosterone-injected madness of future warfare with the quiet contemplation of philosophers and scholars and strategists.

You do not need to know anything of the Warhammer universe to enjoy this book. There are several pages of backstory and quotes and the dramatis personae at the front to bring any new reader up to speed quickly. Dan Abnett’s writing style is concise and well paced and you are instantly drawn into his world. For lovers of military science fiction or vast galactic military space operas, this book – and this franchise – is an absolute must.

A solid 8.5/10.

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

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Reader’s Digest edition translated by Philip Schuyler Allen

Twenty Thousand Leagues, written in 1870, is arguably one of the greatest classic Science Fiction books written by a man whom many consider to have created the genre of science fiction writing.

A scientist and his servant are rescued at sea by Captain Nemo, a brilliant engineer and captain of the giant submersible ship, the Nautilus. They are held captive onboard the vessel and go with Nemo as he travels the entire world, exploring the seven seas: from volcanic islands to wrecks and ruins, from under water caves to the Antarctic ice shelves and encountering all manner of sea life along the way; both beautiful and hostile. But Nemo holds many secrets, and as the men become resigned to their life at sea they begin to suspect their course has a sinister element.

The copy of the novel reviewed here is a Hardback edition with a gilt cover showing a submarine and purports to contain the complete text of Verne’s original masterpiece. It was translated into English by Philip Schuyler Allen in 1922 and has since been reprinted by Reader’s Digest. This translation is considered by some to be one of the best English translations out there.

1. Biography and Translation

To appreciate the genius that is Twenty Thousand Leagues, we must first understand Jules Verne himself, the history of the book, and the socio-political environment that he was writing in. Jules Verne (1828-1905) was a French author whom, despite his amazing array of adventure stories, is purported to have never left France. This however is inaccurate as, between 1859 and 1887 he traveled between the UK, Scandinavia, Europe and North America.

Twenty Thousand Leagues was just one entry into a series called “The Extraordinary Voyages.” This was to be a most ambitious project that, throughout his career, dominated his works. His aim was to write about the sky, earth, ocean, space, forests, cities and peoples of the world, and to lead the Victorian readers through a journey of ‘the history of the universe’

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In 1873 Mercier Lewis translated Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: An Underwater Tour of the World) into English for the first time. With this translation nearly a quarter of the original text was cut out, and numerous translation errors were made.

Whatever the reasons for the mistranslations, this became the standard English version for over a century. This version also served for a while as ‘the definitive’ copy, and was used time and time again for adaptations and further translations, spreading the mistakes and diluting the original text rapidly.

Twenty Thousand Leagues has been re-translated time and time again, each time it has improved in some areas whilst suffered in others. Many of the inaccuracies and weak plot-elements previously attributed to Verne have been identified as mistranslations or poor editing by publishers. Unfortunately, these mistakes have often seen Verne’s work labeled as ‘children’s fiction’ and it has often been under appreciated or over looked. It is suggested that if the reader understands French then they should read the original French text, as it offers a more compelling and complex adventure than even the best English copy today.

In 1863 the Polish rose up against the Russian Empire. Nemo was originally to have been a Polish refugee seeking revenge against the Russian Czar who had massacred his family. This character background would have made for a drastically different Nemo, and thus a much darker and more pessimistic adventure. Sales of Verne’s works were very high in Russia, and the editor strongly opposed the character, fearing a sales backlash. After some discussion a compromise was made, and Verne created the character of Nemo as the famous trope that he now is – an enigmatic nobody with a mysterious yet tragic past (Nemo is literally latin for No One.)

2. The Science of Twenty Thousand Leagues

The greatest accomplishment of this book is the sheer scientific accuracy. Verne was one of those historical figures who had an amazing and uncanny ability to accurately predict technological and societal changes (The greatest example being his long-forgotten book Paris in The Twentieth Century – rediscovered a hundred years after it was written.)

The Nautilus is no coal and steam operated ship: It is a giant, iron-clad submersible powered by electricity. The electricity is generated from sodium/magnesium batteries which extract sodium from the ocean itself, and this in turn powers the motors, electric lights and life-support systems; the brilliant Nemo also has weapons that fire “electric bullets” to kill or stun sea-life as necessary.

Among many other ideas included are air-locks, SCUBA equipment, halogen lights, synthetic rubber and wetsuits, electromagnetic coils in the submarine motors, a salt-water distillation plant and even advanced manouvering techniques such as hydroplaning and motorized ballast pumps. The genius of these ideas was in the fact that electricity was still a novel discovery – Michael Faraday only having created the electric dynamo in 1837, and Tesla not fathering the birth of commercial electricity until the end of the 19th Century – and that the oceans had not yet been explored.

Jacques Cousteau was inspired by Twenty Thousand Leagues and even helped refine modern diving apparatus into what became known as SCUBA gear in the 1940’s – about sixty years after Verne described it, and Neoprene (synthetic rubber) wetsuits not being invented until the early 1950’s. In the 1880’s submarines were beginning to be built and the diving systems were functionally identical to those described by Verne. It wasn’t long before the Spanish Navy built the worlds first electric submarine in 1887. The Piezar – a device only recently patented in 2005, and as you read this, currently being implemented into American and European police and military arms, is a non-lethal stun gun that fires an electrically charged shell from a gun that also acts just as Verne imagined.

3. Substance and Style

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Disney’s definitive film based on Verne’s book.

Let’s start with labels – everyone loves labels. Modern readers typically classify Verne’s work as Steampunk – Victorian science fiction where fictional technology was limited by the existing steam-based technology at the time, and where there is a strong Colonial or Victorian aesthetic. I would argue that, to further sub-label Twenty Thousand Leagues, that it would be classified in the two genres of Hard Science (fiction dominated by technically accurate descriptions and calculations and often full of scientific jargon,) and Teslapunk (a relatively obscure offshoot from Steampunk, where technology is dominated and limited by electricity instead of steam but retains the Victorian aesthetic.)

Labels did not apply in Verne’s day. There were simple genres, and this was a Science Fiction Adventure book. No more, no less. The science does not distract from the story, rather it drives and enhances it. Readers in the late 1800’s expected to learn as well as be educated, and this book does that well through fantastic descriptions of the undersea landscapes, lifeforms, sea-life behavior, and even man’s place in the world.

The book takes you to almost every conceivable ocean environment, including some that are purely fiction. The world was still largely unexplored, and the oceans were a mystery, so it is a marvel that the book is still relevant nearly a hundred and fifty years after being written, and with a few exceptions (Sperm whale behaviour, shark hunting behaviours, and the geography and fauna of the South Pole) still remains accurate. The aforementioned inaccuracies are forgivable, as animal behaviours had not properly being studied yet – most of what we know attributed to Cousteau or Attenborough – and the South Pole was not to be reached until Roald Amundsen’s expedition in 1914.

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Verne, ever the Victorian Ideal, was a gentleman and a scholar.

The main characters are a French scientist, his servant, and a crewman from their ship. Initially they are part of a campaign to track down a giant narwhal thought to be attacking ships. Their ship is attacked, they are cast overboard, and are eventually grudgingly rescued by The Nautilus and her crew. The three men are forbidden from leaving the Nautilus and are carried around the world in literature’s greatest undersea milieu story ever.

Professor Pierre Aronnax and his associates Conseil and Ned Land, are our protagonists. Aronnax takes centre stage while the others play supporting roles. Nemo plays a complex character who walks the line between hero, anti-hero and villain – some see him as the main villain of the story, but truthfully the only real antagonist here is the ocean and nature herself. This book was written in a time when man and his inventions were setting out into the world to conquer the land and seas. The chaotic and anarchic qualities of nature made her the perfect foe for a world entering it’s great industrial revolution, where man now functioned on logic and mathematics, and anything that inhibited technological development or discovery was a foe to mankind and to science itself.

The characters are all likable, and though Verne struggles with the humorous scenes, they are few in number and help to develop the characters in ways that prove important to the plot later in the book. Often Victorian writers suffer from flowery language – Verne, however, avoids this pitfall though he does have a tendency to resort to ‘grocery-lists’ when naming species of fish present. In general the prose is fantastic and this version is well translated and a fantastic read. The opening line immediately grabs your attention and holds you until the books end.

The year of grace 1866 was made memorable by a marvelous event which doubtless still lingers in men’s minds. No explanation for this strange occurrence was found, and it soon came to be generally regarded as inexplicable.

When reading this book it is important to think of it in terms of a Victorian audience – all concepts in this book were foreign or radical, and it was an astonishing read to a world yet still dependent on wooden ships powered by coal and steam. Twenty Thousand Leagues leaves the reader, today, just as astounded by the book as it did to readers in 1870, and for the same reasons. The settings and characters are amazing, but the science is absolutely astounding. Twenty Thousand Leagues is timeless – just as in the 1870’s, readers now are still astounded by the science. But rather than be amazed at how far ahead of us it is, we marvel now at how far ahead it was in it’s time – we marvel that Verne could imagine technologies and social constructs, some of which are still now only being developed and refined. And as ever, just like space travel, we will always marvel at the alien underwater world Nemo lives in – because it is one the majority of us shall never explore in our lifetimes and we must rely on works like Verne’s to take us there.

There were several parts of the book which pull you out of the narrative and into the real world due to their shocking nature. For example, the crewman often wear clothes made from fur seal skins, and among the many ocean delights they feast upon, there is one instance where our main characters feast upon roast tortoise and sautéed dolphin livers. Conservationism, though a subject explored briefly and lightly in this book, was still a long way from being a strong movement.

A brilliant read, and a stoic classic that will keep astounding many more generations of readers. Recommended to anyone that loves Steampunk, Adventure Stories, Science Fiction, or Travel Stories.

Sources/Credits

  1. Jules Verne – Wikipedia.
  2. After Word – Clifton Fadiman (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea) ISBN 0-89577-347-3
  3. The North American Jules Verne Society, Inc
  4. 8 Jules Verne Inventions That Came True – National Geographic
  5. Nautilus – Wikipedia

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The Gabble and other stories by Neal Asher

51ixjg7tpjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Gabble is a fantastic introduction to Neal Asher’s signature style of writing for those who are unfamiliar with his work, and for fans it is a wonderful expansion with both familiar and unfamiliar worlds and characters. Each story is set within his Polity universe, a violent and gory post-cyberpunk future where worlds are ruled by powerful AI’s and humans are augmented with whatever genetic, biological or mechanical enhancements they can afford.

Each story is a stand-alone tale that requires no previous knowledge to enjoy. They all have similar themes and concepts and character tropes and are all connected through a disciplined attention to detail.

Asher often employs the same character types in the same settings with similar conflicts, but this is not a criticism. He is an author that writes what the fans want – what they want is consistency of style and elements, and with each story he delivers on this: fast-paced action, deliriously-imagined monsters and world designs, tough and sexy characters and symbiotic and parasitic technologies integrated into living creatures. If one loves labels they could throw around biopunk, hardscience, post-human, post-cyberpunk or even technoir.

But at it’s core his stories are good old space opera: world-spanning politics and intrigue, the constant threat of war or disease, and the constant presence of the seemingly omnipotent AI that govern worlds – age-old themes of betrayal and revenge, love and honour, evolution and recidivism.

The first story is Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck. It is a fantastic introduction to the book sets the mood for the following stories. Well paced and simply-described with characters and villains that are easy to relate to and invest in. The world is violent and strange and alien, and the creatures within even more so.

There are several novella-length stories in the middle of this book which could threaten to distance the first-time reader with their reliance on canonical knowledge, but are still thoroughly enjoyable and are well placed in the book. The following stories are shorter with faster paces and some very exciting scenes, and the final story is the titular The Gabble. Reading this book is like surfing: you get carried along in the currents, your adrenaline pumping as you are gently carried up a large swell; and suddenly you are thrust over the precipice of the breaking water and you have an exhilarating ride through the roiling foam and the thundering waters until you reach the shore, full of endorphins and ready to head back out into even deeper waters.

If you would like to know more about Neal Asher you can read our interview with him here, or visit his blog The Skinner or visit his website here.

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An Interview with Neal Asher

blogger-image-122741601I have recently had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Neal Asher, one of the UK’s top Science Fiction authors. His works are gritty and violent and (the vast majority) of his works set in the distant future are often labeled as post-cyberpunk due to the themes in his stories. His work is highly imaginative and can be found in stores and on bookshelves all around the world.

1) Will the Yellow Tower series ever be published? The synopses sound great and the readers report is positive. Does the Neal Asher brand suffer from type-classing, or does the UK market have an overabundance of fantasy novels at the moment which is holding these back?

Neal: I don’t know if it will ever be published. My problem is that now I could get the thing published easily. If Macmillan did not want to take it on there are other big publishers that would definitely take a long hard look at it, and there are smaller publishers who would take it without a second thought just to have something with my name on it to sell. I have to be careful. I am not satisfied with it at all. It is about the first thing I wrote, the fantasy that took me up the first stretch of the learning curve. It is also something I wrote 2 million published words ago and I have learned a great deal since then. If I published it as it stands readers would grab it expecting the kind of stuff I’m writing now, but find something simply not very good. The only way it will ever be published is if I have the time and inclination to sit down and rewrite it completely. I don’t at the moment. I prefer writing my next science fiction book.

2) What is the book you are most proud of? Is there a book you could wish you had written different?

Neal: I am proud of them all for different reasons and in different ways. I love The Skinner because it was one I took the most pleasure in writing and it is the one most well received, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the raw start that was Gridlinked, and how I developed the story in the ensuing books. I’m proud of Cowl and how I dealt with time travel. I’m proud of The Departure because of the risk I took there. It is difficult to say … I think it is probably Brass Man. I had the pleasure in writing it that I had with The Skinner but it was hard enjoyable work to do what I wanted to do, and set the course of the rest of the series. But ask me this question in a few weeks and I will probably have changed my mind.

3) The publishing industry is at a crossroads with digital and paper-based publications; Do you think the accessibility of self-publishing will dilute talent by allowing anyone to publish, or do you think it will foster a movement of growth and inspiration?

Neal: Yes, with the ease of self-publishing a lot of crap will be out there, but a lot of talent that gets ignored by the publishing industry has a chance to get noticed. What will happen, as time goes on, is that new filtering mechanisms will come into play. A publisher pays money out to put a hard copy on the shelf of a book shop and this is a guarantor of some degree of quality. That is not available in the electronic world. People will rely on reviews, rankings on places like Amazon, trusted websites, and their own discernment if they are able to read a few pages.

4) Your novels are full of highly complicated plots, creatures, characters and technology – How do you organize all your ideas and how do you maintain continuity? Are there visual elements in your planning stages, like brainstorms or maps etc?

Neal: Heh, if there was an easy explanation for that then everyone would to it. My brain is a chaos of ideas and images when I write a book and somehow it gets organised throughout the writing process. Anyway, it’s the nature of the human brain to organise stuff and look for patterns and that’s what I do – usually after I’ve first written a bunch of stuff. I do of course check for continuity errors by reading preceding books again and/or running searches through them. I do occasionally sketch out diagrams like the ship the Sable Keech or the space station Argus in The Departure.

12570973_10153933248568223_483142410_n5) I often find myself getting bogged down in the context of the story, getting lost behind so many good ideas that are irrelevant to what I’m writing. How do you avoid getting lost in your inspiration?

Neal: I’m writing as a reader so if something is meandering along for too long it is time for people to speak or, alternatively, try to kill each other. Story is all, so if I have a good idea but it is or becomes irrelevant to the story I cut it out. It can always be used elsewhere. However, I do sometimes waffle on a bit too much about something that fascinates me and that’s where a good editor comes in to tell me to cut it out, to get to the point.

6) How much of yourself do you put into your characters and worlds?

Neal: It comes from me and is therefore everything of myself. If I am writing a psychopath then I will of course ask myself how I would behave if I were that person. How would I behave if I was made of metal, loaded with weapons and shaped like a scorpion? It is all from within. If I am describing an alien world or environment then I am writing about the stuff that interests me. You will, for example, see a lot about parasites and mycology in my books, which have been long time interests of mine.

7) How many times does one of your manuscripts get edited (on average) before the publisher is satisfied enough to put it into print?

Neal: Beside my own editing, and there is a lot of that, it can go through two or three stages with the publisher. The editor goes over it, may pass it on to another editor to go over, and then the copy editor goes over it for detail and house style. I then also have a look at the final version and can make more changes if I wish. I don’t. by then I’m bored out of my skull by it.

8) I believe, based on your comment on your own blog, that I am owed an explanation of Gabbleducks? I don’t know how you came up with the idea, or were able to execute it so well, but it was simultaneously one of the strangest, quirkiest and most terrifying things I had read. Congratulations. Just what on earth (or, rather – what off earth) inspired these creatures?

Neal: I believe I’ve been asked this question before and thought about it before. My parents called me a gabbleduck when I was young because I would not shut up talking nonsense. I then recollect early on in junior school, in an art class, making a papier mache model. It looked a bit like a duck, but a sinister misshapen one. Somehow, out of that lot, arose the creatures you see on the planet Masada.

9) New Zealand is, geographically, similar in size to the UK but we only have just over 4 million population. It is almost a cultural sin to not ask a foreigner about NZ so I find myself obligated to ask: Have you ever been to New Zealand? What are your opinions of NZ (real or imagined)?

Neal: My deceased wife had relatives over there and we went for a visit once. Lovely countryside that reminded me of Scotland, but a stretched out version with seemingly more open space. It was a great looking place, but it’s an awful long way to go to see what appeared to be little different from parts of the UK. Then again, I was there a month so there is no way I could see all it has to offer. I was also there when the weather wasn’t great. Particular recollections for me? The high points? I enjoyed the hot springs of Hanmer, and I loved a lengthy meal of New Zealand mussels, bread and white wine!

Are you familiar with any NZ films or books?

Neal: Not particularly, but then how often is any distinction made? Is Lord of the Rings a New Zealand film?

10) What do you foresee for yourself for 2016? What predictions do you make for the world for 2016?

Neal: My life is up in the air at the moment and what shape it will land in over the next year I have no idea. I’m moving from my current location in the UK to a place called Hastings because I want to try out living in a town, which I’ve never done before. Yet, I have a place on the island of Crete and may, because of a romantic interest, end up just staying there. Meanwhile I will endeavour to write more Polity books. Who knows? Perhaps I should ask someone who writes about the future… Oops.

As for the world of 2016. One summer I took my last look at BBC news before I left England for Crete and didn’t read a news story or look at one on the TV for 7 months. When I got back to England and turned on the TV it was as if I had never gone away. For 2016 I predict: same shit, different year.

11) The Wikipedia entry on you has very little information, despite your biographical details being on your site. One thing that isn’t mentioned is your family. Do you have any children?

Neal: I married late in life and neither Caroline or I wanted children.

12) If your life story was being told as a big-budget film, who would portray you best? I see Michael Cane doing a bang-up job.

Neal: Hell I don’t know. I often get asked who should play characters in my books if they ever get turned into films. I cannot answer because I don’t really know who is who in the acting world.

13) Have you seen The Force Awakens? Ignoring the fan response and the critics, what was your opinion of the story in the film?

Neal: Not seen it yet. I may slope off down the cinema sometime soon or get it on DVD. Other concerns occupy my time too intensively at the moment.

You can learn more about Neal Asher and his works by visiting his blog The Skinner or visiting his website here. You can find his novels at any decent book stores worldwide or order directly from PanMacmillan. You can read the second part of my interview with Neal Asher on my blog about depression here.

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White Dwarf Magazine

gw-60249999302White Dwarf was first published in 1977  and, edited by Ian Livingstone, specialised mainly in Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. Eventually, when Games Workshop began producing their own miniatures, the magazine branched off from D&D to be it’s own separate brand, dedicated to Games Workshop products.

Almost 40 years later and the magazine is more popular than ever, and is a major source of inspiration for artists, writers, gamers and model makers worldwide. Each issue of the magazine serves to market the latest Games Workshop products, mainly: Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000, Lord of The Rings, Necromunda and The Black Library. The Black Library is the stand-out division as it produces novels, audio-books, graphic novels and comics, all centred within the Warhammer Games Universe with under 700 different novels and anthologies so far.

White Dwarf magazine also has game reports written up into a fictional account of battle, short stories to expand on backstory for product lines, and incredible artwork – often there are detailed sketches and concept art or full colour paintings. White Dwarf is a fantastic source of inspiration for anyone interested in Science Fiction or Fantasy.

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Mortal Gods by Jonathan Fast (part one)

2271892Her skin was sea-blue, so fine as to be almost transparent. The scintillation of light across it seemed to be caused by some sparkling oil, possibly cosmetic or else an effusion of the flesh. Her neck was long, thin and graceful; her face, surrounded by a halo of fleecy white hair, was dominated by huge almond eyes. Nose and mouth combined in a pliant beak, giving her the profile of a hawk.

And thus are we introduced to the strange and reclusive Alta-Tyberians: a species destined to extinction unless the scientists at MutaGen Corporation can find the fault in Alta-Ty DNA and prevent further generations of deformities and sterility.

Nicholas Harmon – a failed genetic engineer now working as public relations officer – is chosen to accompany Hali, the Alta-Ty emissary who brought the frozen samples of sperms and ova to MutaGen. While she is on Sifra-Mesa Spaceport (cloning and genetic engineering being outlawed sciences on Earth) she witnesses the murders of two Lifestylers – God-like genetic constructs that are worshipped across the galaxy.

It is at this point that the story starts taking twists and turns in unexpected directions. It becomes an inter-dimensional murder mystery layered with political intrigue, social rhetoric, decent action scenes and some crazy adventures that give it a 50’s pulp science fiction vibe.

Nick Harmon is bigoted and chauvinistic and makes no effort to disguise the fact. His attitude towards women and aliens, the casual use of strong swear words in some scenes and the numerous sex scenes (a mix of equally erotic and uncomfortable to read,) make this book a futuristic blaxploitation story but with an updated colour pallet.

This feel is further fuelled by the almost-African features of Hali on the cover and the constant retrofuturistic language and technology used throughout the book. And yet, these elements are redeemed; the science is, still to this day, relatively accurate, the political environment surprisingly close to post 9-11 America (this book being written in 1978), and Nicholas Harmon actually has a deep and thorough character arc.

Pepper this with a mixture of hard-science, biopunk and some technoir elements (imagine The Matrix and Blade Runner and the Alien franchise had a bastard child), and add some intriguing ideas and compelling plot, and you get an incredibly unique and entertaining story.

See Mortal Gods (part two) for an interview with Jonathan Fast.

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