Asher, Neal 1961–
Asher, Neal 1961–
(Neal L. Asher)
PERSONAL: Born 1961, in Billericay, Essex, England; married; wife's name, Caroline.
ADDRESSES: Home—Essex, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Tor Books, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Author. Also worked as milling machine operator and programmer of computerized machine tools, 1979–87; worked in landscaping, 1987–2003.
AWARDS, HONORS: British Fantasy Society Award nominatee, 1999, for stories "Sucker" and "Mason's Rats III"; SF Review Best Book designation, 2002, for The Skinner.
Mindgames: Fool's Mate (novella), Gordon McGregor Paperback, 1992.
The Parasite (novella), Tanjen (Leicester, England), 1996.
The Engineer (short story collection), Tanjen (Leicester England), 1998.
Mason's Rats (short story collection), Kimota Publishing (Preston, England), 1999.
Runcible Tales (short story collection), Piper's Ash (Chippenham, Wiltshire, England), 1999.
Africa Zero (novella), Cosmos Books, 2001.
Gridlinked (novel), Pan Macmillan (London, England), 2001, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Skinner (novel), Pan Macmillan (London, England), 2002, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Line of Polity (novel), Pan Macmillan (London, England), 2003.
Cowl, Tor Books (London, England), 2004 Tor Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Brass Man (novel), Tor Books (London, England), 2005.
The Voyage of the Sable Keech (novel), Tor Books (London, England), 2006.
Contributor of short stories to numerous magazines, and to the anthology, Spectrum 8.
Asher's work has been translated into German.
SIDELIGHTS: British science-fiction and fantasy author Neal Asher worked variously as a machinist and gardener while his short stories and novellas were published in magazines and small-press editions in England. In 2000 all that changed with a three-book contract that resulted in a loose trilogy of novels comprised of Gridlinked, The Line of Polity, and Brass Man. Other novels by Asher include Cowl and The Skinner. Eventually published in the United States, Asher's stories and novels, set in different worlds and often involving time travel and confrontations with aliens, are, according to Duncan Lawie writing for The Zone, "highly readable, fast paced and gripping books with subtly complex plots and well realised settings." They also include a great deal of violence; not only are humans ripped apart, but their robotic artificial-intelligence (AI) partners also meet unpleasant fates.
Beginning his writing career as a teenager, Asher published his first short story in 1989. Novellas and short story collections made up his published work until publication of Gridlinked in 2001. These more recent short stories provided inspiration for many of Asher's novels. For example, the idea of the Runcible, a teleportation mechanism, was introduced in Runcible Tales, and later reprised for the novels Gridlinked and The Line of Polity. The novel The Skinner owes its plot to "Scatterjay" and "Snairls," two stories in the collection The Engineer. The title novella of this collection is about the galactic recovery of an ancient escape pod from a long-dead civilization. When put into some water, the crab-like occupant of the pod begins to create elaborate nanotechnology instruments looking exactly like humans. These human reproductions also have a built-in memory of a huge selection of now-ancient videos. The same collection also introduces Polity, an empire in a far-distant universe that has also been used in Asher's novels. John D. Owen, reviewing The Engineer for Infinity Plus online, presciently stated: "If Asher could flesh out his stories into full-blown works, I'm sure that he would find himself many more readers."
In Gridlinked Asher posits Polity, an interstellar government in the distant future that rules the universe in a basically benevolent manner. When separatist terrorists on the planet Cheyne III rebel against the central government, it is the job of super agent Ian Cormac of Earth Central Security to infiltrate the terrorist network and put an end to their bombings. In Cormac's attempts to stop the group, the sister of the terrorist leader, Arian Pelter, is killed. Then Cormac is summoned to an even more urgent mission. Traveling through the teleporting "runcible" machine, he arrives at the planet Samarkand, where the entire population has been killed. Here Cormac has to deal with the ancient and powerful Dragon, and combat psychopaths, mercenaries, and androids while investigating the cause of this planetary holocaust. Meanwhile, he also has to watch his back against the vengeance-seeking terrorist Pelter. Throughout the novel, the emphasis is on action. As Asher told Lawie, "What kind of fiction am I writing? I'm writing action-centred science fiction with big boys' toys and alien creatures and so forth. I don't want to get that wrapped up in the psychology."
Lisa DuMond, writing for SFSite.com, praised the "gritty, gloves-off voice" of Gridlinked and described action-hero Cormac as "a battle-scarred veteran, an almost indestructible agent for the Polity, his abilities almost super-human." This amazing ability is partly the result of Cormac being "gridlinked," that is, connected to the AI that runs the entire society. Cormac has been gridlinked for far longer than is recommended; on his mission to Samarkand, he goes off the link and attempts to also regain part of his humanity. Shaun Green, writing for Yet Another Book Review Web site, found Gridlinked a "highly enjoyable read, and [it] serves as an excellent introduction to the Polity." Green also noted that Asher "has flung all of the requisite elements of a dynamic and highly enjoyable space opera into this novel."
The world of Polity and the adventures of Cormac are continued in The Line of Polity and Brass Man. Tomas L. Martin, writing in SF Crows Nest online, called the second novel in the series, a hefty 663-page book, "lengthy but satisfying." The scope is far wider in The Line of Polity than in Gridlinked. Here Cormac is on the trail of a larger-than-life villain named Skellor. However, once again Cormac's initial mission is curtailed when he receives word that his old nemesis, Dragon, has been spotted near the planet Masada, where a revolt against the ruling clergy is brewing. Cormac sets off in a spaceship for the distant planet and a battle with the powerful alien, not suspecting that his enemy Skellor has stowed away on the same ship and is now fortified by nanotechnology and AI, making him a deadly rival for Cormac. Martin went on to call The Line of Polity "a compelling story." Similarly, Graham Connor, reviewing the same novel for Concatenation online described it as "purist escape," and also noted that the book is "fast paced with a clean, if somewhat violent style." Asher's third book about Polity, Brass Man, appeared in 2005, and once again Cormac is on the trail of the bad guys. Skellor returns in this novel as one of those malevolent characters, as is Mr. Crane, a golem whose brass armor gives the book its title. Writing for the online Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary, Rick Kleffel called Brass Man "grand science fiction adventure, bristling with ideas, action, excitement and wit." Martin, writing in SF Crows Nest, dubbed the same novel an "exhilarating new space epic."
With The Skinner Asher deals with a separate world, the planet Spatterjay, where a virus has made all life forms able to resist any damage and gives them virtual immortality. The planet, mostly water, is ruled by the Old Captains, and life forms include a grisly assortment, including giant leeches. Three visitors arrive on this planet, one of whom is Keech, a long-dead policeman kept alive cybernetically. Keech hopes to track down a group of pirates. Erlin is another arrival; infected by the Spatterjay virus, she is also in effect immortal and has come looking for one of the Old Captains. The third visitor is Janer, employed by a hornet hive mind. These three, however, have little idea of the malevolence awaiting them on Spatterjay. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found The Skinner a "rousing space opera," and also noted: "Asher will definitely appeal to connoisseurs of sophisticated adventure-oriented SF." More praise came from Regina Schroeder, writing for Booklist, who felt "Asher beautifully realizes the background to this wild adventure." A critic for Kirkus Reviews concluded: "The whole impressive, ingenious enterprise hurtles along at a high-octane clip while swinging with nonchalant abandon between horror and comedy." Keech, from The Skinner, is reprised in the 2006 title, The Voyage of the Sable Keech.
Asher presents a stand-alone title with Cowl, a time-travel book with a twist. Set in the future, the novel opens amid a war between two super-human races, the Umbrathane and the Heliothane. Cowl, a modified Heliothane, has changed sides, and is sent back in time by the Umbrathanes. The Heliothanes now want to kill Cowl, and thus he faces not only enemies in the past worlds he travels through, but also from his own time. One of these threats is Tack, a programmed assassin, sent by the Heliothanes. A critic for Kirkus Reviews commended the "crackling energy and slam-bang action" of the novel, but also noted that "absent noteworthy or appealing characters, [it is] hard to care about what comes next." Other reviewers had less-qualified praise. A contributor for Publishers Weekly, for example, called Cowl "an excellent read," and further noted that the title "should increase the author's growing reputation." Jackie Cassada, writing for Library Journal, concluded that "fans of techno-military sf should find this tale satisfying."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2004, Regina Schroeder, review of The Skinner, p. 1047.
Entertainment Weekly, April 23, 2004, Noah Robischon, "SF 101," review of The Skinner, p. 86.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of The Skinner, p. 1492; March 15, 2005, review of Cowl, p. 322.
Library Journal, May 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of Cowl, p. 111.
Publishers Weekly, January 26, 2004, review of The Skinner, p. 235; April 4, 2005, review of Cowl, p. 47.
Agony Column Reviews and Commentary, http://trashotron.com/agony/ (April 14, 2005), Rick Kleffel, review of Brass Man.
AuthorTrek.com, http://www.authortrek.com/ (August 11, 2005), Kevin Patrick Mahoney, "Neal L. Asher Interview."
ComputerCrowsNest.com, http://www.computercrowsnest.com/ (August 11, 2005), Tomas L. Martin, "Neal Asher Interview."
Concatenation Web site, http://www.concatenation.org/ (August 11, 2005), Graham Connor, review of The Line of Polity.
Infinity Plus, http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (July 11, 1998), John D. Owen, review of The Engineer.
Neal Asher Home Page, http://www.nealasher.com (August 11, 2005).
SF Crows Nest, http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/ (August 11, 2005), Tomas L. Martin, review of The Line of Polity; Tomas L. Martin, review of Brass Man.
SFSite.com, http://www.sfsite.com/ (August 11, 2005), Lisa DuMond, "A Conversation with Neal Asher."
Yet Another Book Review Web site, http://www.yetanotherbookreview.com/ (August 11, 2005), Shaun Green, review of Gridlinked.
Zone, http://www.zone-sf.com/ (August 11, 2005), Duncan Lawie, "Neal Asher: A Couple of Pints at the Quart Pot."