Neal kindly took some time to answer some questions from SFX …
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More from The SFX Summer Of SF Reading
Zero Point is the second novel to feature Alan Saul. How difficult is it to write someone who's effectively a superhero (or maybe super-anti-hero) and keep him interesting?
“Whenever you’re writing about superheroes you must never forget the kryptonite. Such a character can rapidly become boring – and the plot can speed towards a dead end – if the character does not have weaknesses an enemy can exploit. Alan Saul, though able to control computers and robots all around him, is still human and can still die ... or can he? Also, because he’s in some respects an anti-hero he’s a lot less predictable, which is another way of maintaining interest.”
The other main characters in the book seem to be Serene Galahad and Var Delex. Will they occupy much of the book?
“Yes, they will. Var Delex is integral to the whole trilogy and in a very odd sense one of the biggest reasons for its existence, while Serene Galahad is Saul’s arch enemy.”
Will the story continue beyond Zero Point ? You've been writing a book called Penny Royal , yes?
“The story does continue beyond Zero Point with a book called Jupiter War , which I’ve finished and delivered to Pan Macmillan’s Tor UK. Those reading my blog now will learn about what I’m writing now which is a series of books concerning the black AI Penny Royal, who appeared in a short story of mine called ‘Alien Archaeology’ and in my book The Technician .”
Your work typically combines elements of space opera with cyberpunk-noir. Was this a conscious thing or was it just how your style developed?
“It’s just the way my style developed. Most writers essentially start out by aping the stuff they love to read and both of those fall in that category, then they develop their own style and head off in their own direction, from ‘the shoulders of giants’.”
By your usually prolific standards, it seems an age since the last book – why the delay?
“Well, I have been producing a book for Macmillan every year since 2000. I guess the idea of me being prolific stems from those books previously inserted in between my contracted books. The short story collection The Gabble was one, and just a matter of compiling a bunch of short stories I’d published elsewhere. Shadow Of The Scorpion and Prador Moon were two others I wrote for Night Shade Books and which were subsequently taken on by Macmillan. Admittedly I haven’t written much more than my yearly contracted books lately, so you’re getting merely one book a year, but still, I am now about a year ahead of my contract.”
Going back, you've been, in your own words, an "engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter and builder". Does that make life as a full-time writer sweeter?
“I think that if your aim in life over many years has been to be a full time writer it doesn’t matter what work you did before because achieving your aim is always sweet. Also, having worked in other areas for 20 years makes it sweeter still. In a way I’m glad I didn’t become a full time writer many years ago because those 20 years certainly make me appreciate my position now. I will add that the variety of work is a good resource for a writer too, just as with any life experience.”
You still spend much of your time in Crete. How is that at the moment? Your blog suggests a certain frustration with Greece's political process and a certain sadness at ordinary people's lives being ruined...
“It doesn’t affect me too much since my work isn’t based in Crete – I can open a laptop anywhere in the world and be doing my job. However, Greece has beautiful islands and beaches, it has copious natural resources, it has people (generally outside the bureaucracy) who are prepared to work hard, but all this is wasted by the idiocies of the Greek system: its corrupt politicians, its nepotism, the lies told to get it into the Euro and the result of that, its ridiculous closed shops and the greed in some quarters. It’s annoying, and I see Greeks I know suffering as a result, frustrated, powerless, being screwed by idiot red tape, punitive taxes and the general intransigence of officialdom. Such a waste.”
What are you reading at the moment and whose SF do you rate?
“At the moment I’m reading some collections of very old SF short stories purchased at bargain price to my Kindle and being amused at just how much the writers of the previous century got wrong. You have to chuckle when a spacecraft goes off course because it blew a transistor. The present SF writers I rate (and I mean those writing now) include Iain M Banks, Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds, Peter Watts, Robert Reed, with a couple of more recent ones being Hannu Rajaniemi and Paolo Bacigalupi.”
Thank you Neal Asher
Questions by Jonathan Wright