Digging Hills – Neal Asher interviewed

Neal Asher, whose Hilldiggers was reviewed a couple of days ago on the blog, kindly answered some questions about it.

UPDATE: Neal is signing books at Forbidden Planet on July 7th. 
Who or what are your influences?

As I say in the acknowledgements in The Skinner, ‘…those excellent people whose names stretch through the alphabet from Aldiss to Zelazny’. It’s difficult to really single out writers, and other influences, because a lot has been going in through my eyes and ears over a long period of time. Really, it’s a question I don’t like answering because I just end up with a list of names and titles, and always forget a few.

You came to people’s attention during the earlier boom in British sf, though you’d been writing for some time before that. Did you ever feel part of the euphoria at the time? Unlike some of the authors who came through, I’ve always felt that you had a conservative strand to your writing. Did that perhaps separate you?

I never noticed any euphoria at the time, except my own at being taken on by a big publisher. My guess would be that if you asked the same question of any of the authors of that purported time you’d get the same sort of answer. Really, it’s only as I’ve got a few books down the line that I’ve realised that mine are minority views in accepted SF political dogma. This does make me feel a bit of an outsider, but no more than I ever was by wanting to write SF in the first place.

You raise the question of morality about the ongoing war: can we ever side above conflict? Was Hilldiggers an attempt to undermine the typical military sf vision of war or is it a reflection of contemporary politics?

It’s just a murkier vision closer to what real war is about: shades of grey and not good and evil. I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what the typical military SF vision of war is. I think that’s probably one of those labels which, when inspected closely, turns out not to cover all the holes. Certainly the book is influenced by contemporary events, very few books aren’t. You could go back to influences here, I guess.

Your earlier novels felt a little like Tennyson’s “nature red in tooth and claw” but this book is about consequences (in part). What inspired the change?

I dreamed up one scene and worked from there. Inspiration for me happens at the keyboard. I don’t analyse it, I just do it. I’m not so sure this is a change, rather a progression. I’m getting older and wiser … or maybe more hard-wired.

You confront the reader with some thing that is completely alien and amoral in the Worm. How easy or difficult is it to imagine the truly alien and its motives?

Very difficult. It seems the best way to approach it is by describing human reaction to it. I wonder if anything that can be encompassed by the human imagination can ever be described as truly alien. And I also wonder if imagination exceeds reality in this case and when or if we find it the so-called truly alien it will turn out prosaic: little green men from Alpha Centauri with their flying saucers and anal probes.

The novel has quite a few strands to it, some of which build the back story as well as being a meta-narrative. Was this to push your own boundaries as a writer or are you setting up a new universe?

I’m not setting up a new universe here, and my books always have many strands in them. The only new universes from me – other than the Polity – are in my short stories or in Cowl. As for pushing my boundaries, yes, I always try to, but not to the cost of my readers.

Will you come back to the Polity?

Though Hilldiggers was set outside the Polity, it was still in that universe. But yes, I’ll come back to the centre of it all. I’m now working on the editing of Line War for Macmillan, the fifth Cormac book, whilst also working on a short book for Night Shade’s about Cormac’s early years. Then further down the line there’s a short story collection to do, then I’ll revisit the time of The Skinner, then maybe tell the story of the gabbleducks … I haven’t run out of stories yet.

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