Jupiter War in paperback and the Neal Asher interview
This month we release the stunning conclusion to Neal Asher's Owner trilogy: Jupiter War in paperback! Here, war is coming to the depths of space and a ton of high-octane SF plotting is about to be unleashed...
Alan Saul is now part human and part machine and he craves the stars, but can't leave yet. His sister Var is trapped on Mars, on the wrong side of a rebellion, and his human side won't let her die. Meanwhile his nemesis, earth's dictator Serena Galahad is on his tail. As she hides her crimes from a cowed populace, she prepares her warships to engage Saul in a terrifying display of interstellar vengeance. Events build to a climax and earth's future lies in the balance...
As it's the end of a trilogy, we asked Neal a few questions about themes in his books overall, what he makes of AI enhancements (and would he want them!) and what's the next adventure for him... Answers below!
What do you think your books have in common; do you have any favourite plot twists, character foibles or ideas you like to explore?
I have numerous favourite themes in my books so I’ll start off with the most obvious ones. Upgrading I think is a constant and important one. My characters are variously boosted – their muscles made more dense and powerful and bones strengthened to take the load – enhanced with joint torque motors and other technological additions, even given entirely knew Golem bodies. The Old Captains are physically enhanced by the Spatterjay virus to the point where they’re practically indestructible and as strong as bulldozers. Cormac, with his gridlink is an obvious example of mental upgrading, as are subsidiary characters with their various styles of aug. Then, of course, when you get to Alan Saul, you have a human mind amalgamated with an AI copy of itself and able to expand into, and utilize and control, computer networks.
And all this copying of minds, rebuilding of bodies or even swapping bodies, stems from another of my favourite themes: immortality. Once you have the kind of technology described in the Polity books, or the organic back-up systems in the Owner books, the possibilities of real corporeal immortality have arrived. Then of course there are other things to consider like boredom. I’ve speculated on an ennui barrier where the immortal find, at about age 200, that nothing seems new and they then take up increasingly dangerous pursuits to assuage the boredom. Thinking on this leads into another theme that I explored in Shadow of the Scorpion and am looking into more and more now: mental editing. So you are bored with something? Erase it from your mind and do it again. Too many painful experiences in your past? Edit them out and start again. In this respect Alan Saul starts out, in The Departure, as a mental blank slate. But in the end what are all these themes? They’re about changing things we’ve been unable to affect very much: limitations on intelligence and physical ability, the shape of our minds, and the death sentence we are all born with.
You have written Agent Cormac, Spatterjay and Polity series novels. Is there anything about the Owner series that’s different to your previous works?
The Polity novels are essentially optimistic in outlook. Sickness and the inevitability of death have been banished. In the Polity greed and corruption of human rule have been mostly removed and it is a realm of plenty ruled over by (mostly) beneficent artificial intelligences. What are the fashionable terms? It’s a post-scarcity society etc. However, the world of the Owner series is much closer to home and a near-future possibility. It’s a dystopia based on my extrapolation of many of the worst aspects of today’s world. Some people don’t like the questions this poses about their ideology – I wasn’t aiming to comfort anyone.
I guess Google glasses are the closest we have to AI enhancements at the moment. To use a basic analogy, putting an informational/social media overlay directly over your vision, instead of distanced via a smart phone. Are you excited by this, or maybe it doesn’t go far enough into the future to really grab you?
Here’s the thing. I bought a smartphone because I thought it would come in very handy and well, it does, but just for making phone calls. All the other options on it are too small and fiddly, or too expensive, or of no more benefit to me than some toy, and mostly it sits in a drawer. The Ipad I recently bought has provided everything I needed when I was considering a smartphone. It’s easy to use and that’s essential. Yes I love all these new advances which are steadily eroding the barrier between mind and machine, but personally I want the device in my hands to be useful, a tool. I don’t want to the under-development thing that requires me learning a whole new set of skills.
Would you want to have AI enhancements like your protagonist Alan Saul, or perhaps a lesser version of this?
Would I want the kind of power usually only available to some mythical demi-god and the chance of living forever? Tough question… Of course I would want them. Hell, I could write three or four books at once and play the computer games I’ve been avoiding. I could copy-edit perfectly at the same time as doing my accounts and making the right investments, meanwhile controlling the robot lawnmower outside and maybe running some agribot to dig the garden and prune the roses. For normal old me there just isn’t enough time in the day, really.
What’s the next adventure for you – can you give us a snapshot your new series?
When I wrote Brass Man that was in response to what fans were saying about Mr Crane in Gridlinked and, of course, my own feelings about that big brass Golem. He was a fascinating creation and they, and I, wanted to know more about him. Another ‘character’ like that is an artificial intelligence, whose body form is similar to that of a giant black sea urchin, who first put in an appearance in the short story Alien Archaeology and then appeared in The Technician. Here again is another creature the fans like, and I like, so I decided to tell the story of Penny Royal the black AI.
The story begins shortly after the events in The Technician, with the quest for vengeance of a bio-espionage officer resurrected from mem-crystal a century after the war between the Polity and the prador. It concerns the transformation (another of my favourite themes) of Isobel Satomi, Graveyard crime lord. Renegade prador abound, one of whom is undergoing his own grotesque transformation, and there might be some upsets involving the odd giant dreadnought or state-of-the-art Polity attack ship. It concerns the Weaver, a gabbleduck and only sentient example of the Atheter – a race that committed a form of suicide two million years ago. And it concerns Penny Royal, of course, who is once again on the move and might not be quite as ‘safe’ now as people had supposed, who in fact might be the most dangerous AI in existence. The title is Dark Intelligence and it's out early next year.