Like fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore and other authors, sci-fi writer Neal Asher has set many of his novels in the same fictional universe, one that encompasses the Splatterjay trilogy [The Skinner, The Voyage Of The Sable Keech, and Orbus], hisAgent Cormac tetralogy [Gridlinked, The Line Of Polity, Brass Man, Polity Agent, and Line War], and the three books in his Transformation series [Dark Intelligence, War Factory, and Infinite Engine]. In the following email interview, he discusses The Soldier (hardcover, Kindle), the first book in a new connected trilogy he’s calling Rise Of The Jain.
I always like to start with a quick plot recap. So, what is The Soldier about?
A hidden corner of space is swarming with lethal alien technology, a danger to all sentient life. It’s guarded by Orlandine, who must keep it contained at any cost, as it has the power to destroy entire civilizations. She schemes from her state-of-the-art weapons station, with only an alien intelligence to share her vigil. But she doesn’t share everything with Dragon…
Orlandine is hatching a plan to obliterate this technology, removing its threat forever. For some will do anything to exploit this ancient weaponry, created by a long-dead race called The Jain. This includes activating a Jain super-soldier, which may breach even Orlandine’s defences.
Meanwhile, humanity and the alien prador empire keep a careful watch over this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. However, things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed — and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.
Where did you get the idea for The Soldier, and how different is the finished version from that original idea?
In my Agent Cormac series, there were two characters who headed off to do something “numinous.” I simply decided to continue their story and take a closer look at the Jain, which I and my readers find interesting. Beyond that there was no original idea. I don’t work like that.
The Soldier is a science fiction novel, but is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that you think describes the book best?
My stuff has been described as space opera, biotech, and post cyber-punk, whatever that means. In this case I would define it more as the former.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on The Soldier, in terms of both what you wrote and how you wrote it, but are not things you’d consider big influences on your earlier work?
It’s a truth that writers start out imitating the things they love, be those books, other writers, films, or whatever, but in time find their own voices. I know that my reading, mostly sci-fi/fantasy, over the years has had its influence. But now, after twenty-five or so books, and a couple of million words of published fiction out there, I do have my own voice. I really can’t think of any new influences; it’s all very self-referential.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had an impact onThe Soldier?
Well, I don’t play video games because that’s one more distraction from the work I don’t need. I even, long ago, deleted stuff like Solitaire from my computer. As for the films and TV shows, so many are so unremittingly bad that I hope not, while the good ones, with modern CGI, are simply more able to display on the screen what sci-fi writers and readers have been seeing in their skulls for half a century. So no, nothing there has had an impact.
You’ve said that The Soldier is the first book in a trilogy that’s called Rise Of The Jain, and that this trilogy is also part of your Polity series that already includes the Agent Cormac novels, the Splatterjay trilogy, and the Transformation trilogy. Before we go any further, does someone need to have read all of the other Polity books to understand what’s going on with The Soldier and the Rise Of The Jain trilogy?
There’s a big complicated milieu created throughout these books but no, I don’t see it is necessary to read the other books to understand and enjoy what is going on in The Soldier. Throughout my writing career, editors have always been on my back about explaining stuff, so that’s what I tend to do, though hopefully in an entertaining way. I’ve also found that few of the readers who enjoy my books have come in right at the start. Often they will have picked up something mid series, quite possibly not understood a lot of it, but then dived into the rest and enjoyed the process of discovery.
Do you think The Soldier, and by extension the rest of the Rise Of The Jain trilogy, is the best place to start with this series, or should someone start somewhere else? And why?
It would be a good a place to start as any. If you like it you like it. My books are a bit like Marmite.
So what can you tell us about the other books in the Rise Of The Jain trilogy? Specifically, do you know when they’ll be out, what they’re called, etc.?
In my computer they are currently filed as Jain II and III. The second book may well be called The Warships, while I’m toying with the title The Humans for the last one. If the usual schedule is followed, the others will come out at yearly intervals.
A lot of readers, myself included, like to wait until a whole series is available before reading it. Do you think we should wait until the rest of the Rise Of The Jain trilogy is available before reading The Soldier?
As with any trilogy first and second books will have loose ends, so if that irritates you should wait until you can read the whole lot. However, I always aim to give each book a satisfying ending in itself while maintaining the story arc.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Soldier, and their looking for something to read while waiting for the second book to come out, which of your novels would you suggest they read and why that?
Perhaps the books to go back to would be those of the Agent Cormac series, since main characters in Rise Of The Jain appeared there. But as you have noted above, there’s plenty to choose from.