The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Neal Asher

Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!

Today we’re joined by Neal Asher. Asher has been an engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter, and builder. Now he writes science fiction books, including the Spatterjay series, the Cormac series, and the Owner series. The majority of Asher’s novels and most of his short fiction are all set within one future history, known as the “Polity” universe. Jupiter War, the conclusion to the Owner trilogy, is available now in the UK with a US edition publishing May 6th from Night Shade Books. You can read an excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com!

Join us as we cover subjects ranging from time travel to sunscreen, and more!

Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.

The end of the mid finger on my left hand is wider than normal, the nail distorted and a scar in the end. This was from when I managed to shove it in the path of a mower blade.

Here’s a two-parter: If you could go back in time and change one thing in the past, what would it be? And if you could time travel to the future, who or what would you most like to see?

One thing I’ve understood over the years is that hindsight, as well as being 20/20, can also be thoroughly blinkered. You can look back at that previous evening and say, ‘If only I hadn’t started on the scotch I wouldn’t have a hangover this morning.’ But it could also be true that if you hadn’t started on the scotch you might have walked out of the pub earlier and been run over by a bus. Sure, you could nip back into the past and assassinate Hitler thus negating the atrocities he committed, but the result might then be something worse. Maybe Stalin expands a Soviet empire across the Earth and, as we know, he was no slouch when it came to the concentration camps. Ray Bradbury basically covered this sort of thing in his story “The Sound of Thunder.” So no, I’d change nothing. We’re not extinct yet so that’s good, right?

If I could time travel into the future my first port of call would be the point where medical technology is at its best because, like most people on this planet, I have this aversion to dying.  

Jupiter War Neal AsherDescribe your favorite place to write.

My favourite place to write is at my desk in my house in the mountains of Crete. I produce more there because one big distraction is missing: the internet.

Do you have a favorite underrated author?

I have numbers of them, usually related to only one book. The first to spring to mind is T J Bass and specifically his book Half Past Human. The second is James Kahn and World Enough & Time.

Bad news: You’re about to be marooned alone on a desert island—name the five things you would bring along.

A fishing rod because I’d want to eat, a large lighter filled with plenty of fuel because I’d want to cook, a tent, a sleeping bag and a large bottle of 100% sun block because my lips blister badly if not protected.

Do you have a favorite word?

I try to use the best word for the job. I have had periods when I’ve overused a word, ‘candent’ being one example, but I’m trying not to do that any more.

Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

When I was writing my novella The Parasite I borrowed a book on helminthology from a vet and the things I discovered in there were plenty strange. It was from that book I learned of the complicated multi-stage lifecycles of parasites; how they can change their hosts to increase their own chances of survival—like one parasite of snails that thickened its host’s shell. How they can even tamper with the mental wiring of their hosts—a classic being a parasite that includes ants and sheep in its lifecycle. This one causes its host ant to climb to the top of a grass stalk and cling there whenever it feels the ground shake at the approach of a sheep, so it will be eaten. The stuff in that book led on to numerous short stories involving the strange lifecycles of alien parasites and ultimately to my Spatterjay trilogy: The Skinner, The Voyage of the Sable Keech, & Orbus.   

Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

It has to be Alien from that franchise. It relates to my interest in parasites, since it is based on parasitic wasps. It is also the first alien I saw on film that had overcome the rubber head syndrome—H R Giger’s design was brilliant.

Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?

The fountain of youth because then I could wait to find out whether there is life on Mars, or I could even watch it being established there.

Jupiter War Neal AsherWhat D&D character alignment best describes you first thing in the morning?

My knowledge of D&D is limited to what I’ve seen of it when the characters on The Big Bang Theory have played it. I guess I would have to be a troll because that comes closest to morning clumsiness and sluglike speed of mind.

Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot: Narnia or Middle Earth (or some other fictional realm)…

It would have to be one of Iain M Bank’s Orbitals in his Culture.

What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?

I’m not quite sure what order they came in, but they were the first books of E C Tubb’s Dumarest Saga: The Winds of Gath, Derai, Toyman and Kalin, also the Narnia books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter on Mars series. It might be that I read some Wyndam and Lymington before these, but the memories aren’t clear in my aging mind. At about the same time, like many, I also picked up Lord of the Rings

What would your Patronus/familiar be?

A lobster.

What kind of apocalypse (zombie, robot, environmental, etc.) is most compatible with your survival skills? And what kind of apocalypse would you like to avoid at all costs?

I could get on well enough in a post-apocalyptic world since I’m not one of those authors who crumbles when faced with anything practical. If there were zombies about, or Skynet was in charge, then how well I would survive would depend on how fast the zombies could move or how accurate was the shooting of the robots and, as we well know, these are dependent on plot. Perhaps I’d survive the zombie apocalypse because, having seen various zombie films, I would have the survival traits of not venturing into dark buildings, not walking backwards and not choosing a car with a flat battery.

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