Guest Post: “Building the Polity” by Neal Asher

Building the Polity was a gradual process for me that started back in the 80s when, searching for somewhere, anywhere to get something published, I discovered the small presses. These were mostly A5 chapbooks (though some were larger) published from someone’s home and with a readership of no more than a couple of hundred. My interest was SFF so I ordered anything related and read it. I discovered that most of the stories were science fiction whereas before I’d been working on a fantasy trilogy, which now still resides in my files.

So science fiction… Even the fantasy I was working on leaned more in that direction anyway – I was more inclined towards the logical consistency you find in SF while the supposed fantasy elements were technological – super-science. I started off with a story about a man whose cryogenically frozen brain tissue was used to run the body of a cyborg player in a game similar to American football. He was then used as a disposable asset to kill off some revolutionaries. The story was called “Another England” and was published in a magazine called Back Brain Recluse in 1989. However there was very little of the Polity there.

The Polity first appeared in a story about an agent stealing a sample of an exotic hull metal from an alien ship – a doctor mycelium sustaining his body despite the horrific injuries he received during this mission – and him then delivering a nano-tech weapon to destroyed that metal. From this I had huge crab-like aliens attacking the ‘Human Polity’ in ships whose armour our weapons could not penetrate, also appearing was a mysterious human who worked for the AIs running human civilization. His name was Horace Blegg. Elements of the kind of technology I would later use also appeared.

One night I had a weird nightmare. I was standing on a bridge over a stream. In the water I could see things that I at first thought were trout until one of them reared its leech mouth out of the water. Later I saw big blue long-fingered hands reaching out of dense jungle to grab a man, he was later deposited on a flat rock, skinned alive and still moving. In the nightmare I could not tell whether that man was me or someone else. This translated into a short story called Spatterjay – of sailing ships where the sails were bat-like living creatures, of a world where the primary predators were leeches who spread a virus that made their prey an immortal food source. An old captain beached his ship on an island he soon realised was the one where another captain, turned into a monster by the virus that imparted immortality, had been stranded. What ensued was a hunt of this monster, seen through the eyes of a woman called Erlin Tazer Three Indomial – a Polity scientist and observer. One guy lost his skin, but his fellow crewmembers put it back on him. The monster they were hunting was called the Skinner.

Other short stories ensued. Some in primitive environments like the world of Spatterjay, one in a realm controlled by humans who had taken the biotech route and were parasites in the bodies of giant floating snails and another where they lived in the bladders of giant seaweed cities. High-tech stuff too with a hunt for Golem androids by a collector of antiquities who had to use a ‘four-seasons changer’ to biologically alter his body to survive a planet’s ‘world tide’. Cyborgs, almost indestructible androids, conniving AIs and irascible war drones, fast highly destructive space ship battles, nano-tech, FTL ships, early diasporas from Earth, instantaneous matter transmission between worlds through runcibles. All of these stories were set in the then inchoate Polity.

Finally I came to writing a book in this setting and as I did so I knew that the Polity had to be big and very complicated, firstly to contain the stories I had told and secondly to contain the stories I wanted to tell. The book was called Gridlinked and in this I started to link all those disparate elements in the short stories together. I hawked that around to various publishers and what happened there is another tale. Meanwhile I looked at two of my short stories – Spatterjay and the one about the floating snails – dumped characters from those on the world of Spatterjay and wrote The Skinner. A coherent whole now began to appear – a process of explaining and gluing things together.

In the end, it all grew in the telling.


Author Photo by Will Ireland

Neal Asher‘s The Infinity Engine is out now, published in the UK by Tor Books, and in the US by Night Shade Books. Here’s the synopsis:

A man battles for his life, two AIs vie for supremacy and a civilization hangs in the balance…

Several forces now pursue rogue artificial intelligence Penny Royal, hungry for revenge or redemption. And the Brockle is the most dangerous of all. This criminal swarm-robot AI has escaped its confinement and is upgrading itself, becoming ever more powerful in anticipation of a deadly showdown.

Events also escalate aboard the damaged war factory station where Penny Royal was constructed. Here Thorvald Spear, alien prador, and an assassin drone struggle to stay alive, battling insane AIs and technology gone wild. Then the Weaver arrives – last of the Atheter, resurrected from a race that suicided two million years ago. But what could it contribute to Penny Royal’s tortuous plans?

And beyond the war factory a black hole conceals a tantalizing secret which could destroy the Polity. As AIs, humans and prador clash at its boundary, will anything survive their explosive final confrontation?

Neal Asher is the author of the Agent Cormac, the Polity and Spatterjay series, among many others.

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