Infinity Engine is the third and final novel in the Transformation Series from the incredible Neal Asher, with a new trilogy, Rise of the Jain, on the way. We asked Neal five burning questions about everything from writing, to television and his own incredible books.
1. What is your short 'elevator pitch' for Infinity Engine?
It is the beginning of the universe, and the end.
2. We are at Book 3 of the Transformation series, how are the stakes raised in Infinity Engine?
It has been a wild ride but it has to come to an end. When I set out to write a book or a series of books I don’t plan, there are no post-it notes above my desk, in fact I’m as eager to know what comes next as I hope the reader is. All my creations have a purpose (well, if it turns out they don’t they end up deleted either by editing or laser carbine) and Penny Royal – that ‘dark intelligence’ – revealed its purpose as the series progressed. Here you have a rogue AI who is a potential paradigm changer in a massive human and AI Polity. It should therefore not be surprising that its purpose and its aims are tremendous. Penny Royal has the power to transform just about anything, including people, and ultimately it can use that power on itself.
3. Did you have a favourite character to write in the Transformation series, and if so, why?
Opinions on my characters vary from cardboard and flat to wonderful – it’s all a matter of perspective and really I think more to do with how the reader enjoyed, or not, the story. I enjoy writing my human characters and getting into the intricacies of the workings of their minds, but I don’t want to do too much of that simply because it slows down the story. But the characters that interest me the most are the non-human ones. I like my drones – machines made for the apparently cold, ruthless and efficient destruction of an enemy who are irascible, sometimes comedic and often cock a snoop at authority. I like my aliens because I can imagine the completely different societies they arise from, the ways that they will think that in some cases will be similar to that of human beings (they are evolved creatures after all) and sometimes wildly different. And my AIs: godlike patience with the slow development of humanity contrasted with super-fast thought and instant access to masses of information. Sverl, my favourite character in the books, is a combination of them all. He was an alien prador who had a cultural problem. Believing in the superiority of the prador he could not understand why the Polity, with its weak humans and detestable AIs, came close to defeating his kind. He went to Penny Royal for answers and as ever, in deals with that devil, got more than he bargained for. His transformation turned him into a tri-part being: prador, human and AI. In him I could illustrate what people think it means to be each of these, and how that might not be right. I relished that, just as I relished his grotesque physical transformation and the final truth of his existence.
4. Which book, film or TV programme do you always recommend to people and why?
I do make recommendations but with no expectation that what I recommend will be enjoyed. It is all subjective. Because of its insight, even though written quite a few years ago, I often recommend the book Half-Past Human by T J Bass. For me it perfectly depicts a future Earth if we don’t get up and leave. Trillions live in cylinder cities underground while the Earth’s surface is all for agriculture. All animals are extinct. The humans don’t use large resources – they are four-toed nebbishes with rosewater blood. There’s a Sharps Committee that goes around taking away anything a person might harm himself with – the ultimate extension of today’s Health and Safety. The humans are programmable and are the drones in a vast human hive with no purpose beyond continuing to exist. It’s a dystopia but an enjoyable one with the introduction of the Buckeyes – original high-resource humans. But it is also a good lesson in where homogenizing humanity to fit some ideas of what society is will take us.
5. What's your top writing tip?
My top writing tip remains the same: write. You learn to run a marathon by running. And there is no rolled-up trouser leg and special handshake that will expedite you to success. You just have to write well.
Check out the opening here.