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From my review of  Nights of Villjamur:

A wonderfully thoughtful read from a strong writer who has the potential to become an even stronger voice in the future.

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From my review of  Book of Transformations:

I’ll take a writer that takes risks and surprises over one that places too much attention on joining the dots and not exploring their creation and fuelling their readers imagination any day.

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Out in paperback 5 July 2012

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The culmination of the Legends of the Red Sun series. This takes us back to Villiren where Commander Brynd Lathera prepares for the coming battle ahead with invaders from the other world. Villjamur is gone, Rika and her sister Eir are all that remains of the Jorsalir line and Brynd is determined that Rika will lead her people in the creation of a new city and new culture. But Villiren has never been a city to play by the rules and, despite the impending threat of destruction, criminal gangs work to undermine everything that Brynd has set out to do. The world is on the brink of destruction and anarchy. . .

Out in Hardback 2 July 2012

London Falling

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal.

Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out. Now, the team must find a ‘suspect’ who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again.

As the group starts to see London’s ancient magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is such a tease! Sadly it’s not published until December :(

Orbus

Orbus is the third book in the Spatterjay series – I know this as William Gaminara reminded me when he started narrating Neal Asher’s return to Sniper and Vrell. This time we the switch in focus to Captain Orbus as he takes us away from the planet Spatterjay and out to the Graveyard, border between the Polity and the Prador Kingdom.

But before we continue I highly recommend reading The Skinner and The Voyage of The Sable Keech  first as Orbus is not a good jumping on point, being the last (so far) in this loosely connecting series. I guess you could read it in isolation but you’d miss a lot what makes Orbus a brilliantly imagined book. If you’re continuing to read I’m including spoilers form now on in. So with that in mind…

Spoiler Warning

Asher has been keeping secrets, the virus of Spatterjay isn’t all that it appears. It is so much more. And the evolution to its true nature is one part of what makes Orbus a crackling read.

At the end of the last book Vrell had entered Vrost’s ship but it’s what he does there which causes the viruses true nature to be revealed and causes the Prador King personally to arrive to finish the job that Vrost has so far failed to do. And you can see why a Prador who is infected with the Spatterjay virus shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Asher also introduces us to the Golgoloth, a myth and a story to scare young Prador, and a creature is that is very real.

Together they create a mix and a direction that I wasn’t expecting after the low level storytelling of the first two as this time the stakes could not be higher for King personally as well as the Kingdom and probably the Polity if the virus manages to get loose, which sounds dramatic, and it is.

Asher gets to stretch himself writing a grand space battle which he handles with fineness as he winds back time to see events from different views and plays out smaller dramas along with the big battle.

Orbus, being an old sea captain, infected with virus and very much mentally tainted by the Polity/Prador war on Spatterjay as explained in The Skinner and The Voyage of Sable Keech makes him a darker hero to follow. And his struggle with killing or saving Vrell at several points makes great reading.

Not that Orbus was expecting this mission when he signed up to Captain the trade ship Gurnard but Asher uses this book to demonstrate the the Polity AIs are quite manipulative and forward thinking.

End Spoiler Warning

The thing I like about Asher is that he’s always pushing and exploring his creation (the Polity). For example I’m going to read The Technician as soon as I can and that is supposed to feature a black (as in magician) AI. Now they might feature in his Agent Cormac series, which after The Technician will be the only books in the Polity I’ve not read, but I know it’s generated a sequel, Penny Royal, that he’s writing now.

But back to Orbus and a question: what should science fiction do? In Asher’s case his science fiction tells a great roller-coaster story and explores survival, genetics, societies, technology and other themes should be present in science-focused fiction. And he manages to show deep thinking without derailing the story he’s chosen to tell.

Though the voice telling this tale is that of William Gaminara who also lifted The Skinnerand The Voyage of Sable Keech off the page. It’s staggering to think that not only does Gaminara have to read for 14 hours plus but he also has to keep up with what voices he’s given to each character and it’s so smoothly done that when he slips (and he did only a handful of times) do you realise how effortless his narration feels.

For me Asher is a master craftsman and makes the Polity one of my favourite storytelling environments. It’s a universe that I’d urge any SF fan to explore right now.

Orbus is out now in paperbook, ebook and audiobook.

New cover hilldiggers

I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that Neal Asher is one of my favourite authors but as with any well-loved writer (especially if you are me) then you can approach the next book of theirs that you pick up with a little trepidation.

Not that I worry about Asher over any other author, actually I worry about him less as the main body of work revolves around the Polity universe, which pretty much means that I know that I’m going to be in for a good ride as the Polity is a wonderful playground.

The Skinner was set on the fringes of the Polity’s reach. Hilldiggers has no Polity interaction at all until that is an ambassador is sent whose arrival restarts a conflict between two worlds that have recently been at peace after the death of millions.

One of Asher’s strengths is how he invests time and imagination into the biology of the worlds he creates and the two warring planets, whose inhabitants have their origins as humans (and Polity history) but have both adapted to individual unique environments. And it’s fascinating to read the evolutions of those races.

The other thing that Asher does is set different world views against each other. Like the insect Prador’s society vs the Polity humans in books like Prador Moon. And the conflict between the two planets and their races is fully exploited here.

Hilldiggers shares a connections with later books such as The Skinner as the ambassador they sent is infected by the splatterjay virus, which allows him to adapt to the extreme environments he surprisingly finds himself in.

Cleverly Asher finds a way to neuter the Polity agents both the obvious (the ambassador) and its hidden observer drone. This does make the story more interesting as a result. They still have influence but it means they don’t interfere with events in the way that stop the conflict reaching genocide.

But for all that this is a story of four children who as born following their mother’s pregancy near an alien artifact. One that one planet has put a lot of research into and gained scientific and military advantages from in the process.

We also follow the view points of several of the main characters, which rather than fragments makes it easier to see the whole jigsaw rather than trying to figure out why one piece won’t fit.

I did however have issues with one of the characters and their motivations, which is always the downside of a multi-view story. You want to get back to the characters you like and can’t see why some of the action can’t take place offstage. Though I didn’t mind seeing from their view. It’s hard to explain who it was or why it didn’t seem quite right without giving away some pivotal plot points.

Not that it spoiled the overall effect but it felt more like the story needs this than the need of the character. However that could just be me comparing threads and finding not as enjoyable as the others.

Hilldiggers is a stand-alone title in the Polity universe but I think reading something like Prador Moon or The Gabble would be better introduction to Neal’s work but for fans this is well worth reading.

This list may sound familiar if you’ve listened to this week’s edition of The Readers (to be fair it’s probably only just gone up) and enjoyed Simon and I sharing our lists after talking about book based New Year’s resolutions.

It’s not quite the same list as I thought that 12 books was a better number than 15* we mentioned but it’s ended up as 13 as I can’t cut this list back any more than I have. I hope you find some books in here that you’re going to look forward to:

January

Dark Eden

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

“You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you. You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.”

 

Diving Belles cover

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wrecker’s lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea. This luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut collection introduces in Lucy Wood a spectacular new voice in contemporary British fiction.

February

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The Secret Book of Sacred Things by Torsten Krol

The coming of the Great Stone to Earth has erased almost everything that used to be. But in one isolated valley, the Church of Selene has found its way back from destruction. Sister Luka and her female converts offer sacrifices to the scarred (and very close) moon that hangs over their convent. It has been this way since the meteor hit. Among the Little Sisters of Selene is twelve year-old Aurora, respected Scribe of the church. She endlessly writes down the name of the moon to keep her in the sky where she belongs. But Rory has a secret book she keeps hidden in her Scribe’s chamber and into this diary she pours out her hopes and desires. Upsetting this fragile equilibrium is Willa, a young tomboy whose flamboyant arrival threatens the hard-won status quo of the sisters’ community. As Rory and Willa inch toward friendship, insurrection grows. But when an unexpected marvel occurs in the sky, it is clear that Rory’s work as the Scribe has failed. The moon is threatening to remake the world all over again…This is The Secret Book of Sacred Things, this is Rory’s story.

Advent

Advent by James Treadwell

Warded from earth, air, water, fire, spirits, thought and sight.

But now magic is rising to the world once more.

And a boy called Gavin, who thinks only that he is a city kid with parents who hate him, and knows only that he sees things no one else will believe, is boarding a train, alone, to Cornwall. No one will be there to meet him.

March

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Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch’s

Peter Grant is learning magic fast. And its just as well – he’s already had run ins with the deadly supernatural children of the Thames and a terrifying killer in Soho. Progression in the Police Force is less easy. Especially when you work in a department of two. A department that doesn’t even officially exist. A department that if you did describe it to most people would get you laughed at. And then there’s his love life. The last person he fell for ended up seriously dead. It wasn’t his fault, but still. Now something horrible is happening in the labyrinth of tunnels that make up the tube system that honeycombs the ancient foundations of London. And delays on the Northern line is the very least of it. Time to call in the Met’s Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9, aka ‘The Folly’. Time to call in PC Peter Grant, Britains Last Wizard.

 

Hide Me Among The Graves

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

“An ancient evil patrols the skies above the Thames, the Romantic poets unite in battle against the Muses, and a parallel world of magic exists in the London streets…Awoken by the poet Christina Rosetti, the vampire Polidori is awake once more. Fiercely protective of his beloved Christina, he bestows upon her the gift of divine poetry…but ensures the violent death of any potential rival for his affections. Trapped by her connection to the undead creature – poised between love, and horror for her immortal soul – Rosetti shuts herself away from the world. But Polidori’s abduction of another young girl compels her to join forces against him. With the aid of her brothers, Gabriel and William, and her sister Maria, she enters London’s unseen underworld. It is a realm of magically protected human familiars, jealous supernatural beings, and hungry ghosts.”

Fated by Benedict Jacka

Fated: An Alex Verus Novel by Benedict Jacka

Camden, North London. A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and the canal. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals, where tourists and moody teenagers mingle, and where you can get your ears pierced and your shoulder tattooed while eating sushi washed down with a can of super strength beer. In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you might find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won’t sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you’re looking for, he might just be able to help. That’s if he’s not too busy avoiding his apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light, and investigating a highly toxic Relic that has just turned up at the British Museum.

April


TheAlchemistOfSoulsThe Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

May


QuestionmarkRailsea by China Mieville

Sham Yes ap Soorap, young doctor’s assistant, is in search of life’s purpose aboard a diesel locomotive on the hunt for the great elusive moldywarpe, Mocker-Jack. But on an old train wreck at the outskirts of the world, Sham discovers an astonishing secret that changes everything: evidence of an impossible journey. A journey left unfinished…which Sham takes it on himself to complete. It’s a decision that might cost him his life.

BlackbirdsBlackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

2312

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The year is 2312. Scientific advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer our only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system, on moons, planets, and in between. But in 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront our past, present, and future. The first event takes place on Mercury, in the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. For Swan Er Hong, it will change her life. Once a designer of worlds, now Swan will be led into a plot to destroy them. 2312 is a bold vision of humanity’s future and a compelling portrait of those individuals who will shape its events.

June

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The City’s Son (The Skyscraper Throne) by Tom Pollock

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen. But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind. This is the first of a series, an urban fable about friends, family and monsters, and how you can’t always tell which is which.

Questionmark

The Long Earth by Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Junior cop Sally Jansson is called out to the house of Willis Lynsey, a reclusive scientist, for an animal-cruelty complaint: the man was seen forcing a horse in through the door of his home. Inside there is no horse. But Sally finds a kind of home-made utility belt. She straps this on – and ‘steps’ sideways into an America covered with virgin forest. Willis came here with equipment and animals, meaning to explore and colonise. And when Sally gets back, she finds Willis has put the secret of the belt on the internet. The great migration has begun…

The Long Earth: our Earth is but one of a chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side in a higher space of possibilities, each differing from its neighbours by a little (or a lot): an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger the worlds get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular version of Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.

On reflection this is a very SFF-centric list. I guess under pressure of selection I go back to familiar territory. Though in my notes I have 50-odd books that I’d love to read that are coming out in the next six-months from all sections. Maybe I just wasn’t confident enough to list them here I was I wasn’t sure of them myself…

What would you have chosen? Have you got any books that you are forthcoming that you can’t wait to read?

 

*The two missing books compared with “The Readers” are “The Devil’s Beat” by Robert Edric &  ”Half Sick Of Shadows” by David Logan

Bookoftransformations

Now I’m not saying the original cover was bad but what a difference a new cover makes to the impression of a book. It’s not quite the finished thing but nothing looks wrong to me. What this really shows is that art and design plays a big big big part in setting the scene for a novel. It’s more in keeping with the paperback UK cover for City of Ruin, which was a great second novel. I’m ashamed to say that The Book of Transformations is on my pile of ‘why haven’t I got to that books’ of 2011.

I spotted the best of the year round-up today of The Scotsman via twitter today and was surprised to see this book:

Sea of Ghosts

I’m not surprised that it is on the list as it had good reviews when it came out. I’m surprised at my reaction to this review:

“Alan Campbell’s Sea Of Ghosts (Tor. £16.99) started a new trilogy, with the shuddering concept of a world where sea-water is poison. From that eerie outset, Campbell weaves a world in which sorcerers and telepaths and magical weapons all build up into a fantasia about quantum physics and entropy.”

A salute to the novels, memoirs and poetry that made it a vintage year for Scottish letters – Books – Scotsman.com

As soon as I got home I tore through the newer arrivals and recovered my review copy. It’s kind of going back to what I was saying about labels – this review manages to encapsulate a sense of intrigue buy using some keywords  - sorcerers, telepaths, magical weapons, quantum physics – am definitely excited again. We sometimes need to pointed in the right direction and keywords/labels do just that.

So good end of the year lists like good blogs they revive interest in books in which interest has cooled as well as discussing newer releases.

What other books from earlier in the year are we in danger of forgetting?

 

Thousand emperors

Blurb:

“Archivist Luc Gabion has finally achieved his life’s goal — of bringing down Winchell Antonov, head of the Black Lotus terrorist organisation, and the scourge of the Tian Di’s stellar empire for countless years.
But instead of feeling victorious, the encounter has left him scarred. Forcibly implanted with a technology far in advance of anything he’s encountered before, Luc sees and hears things he knows he’s not supposed to. Worse, the technology is killing him, slowly. So when he finds himself investigating the murder of one of the Tian Di’s ruling clique, the Thousand Emperors, he knows he’s in real trouble. Any one of them could be the killer, and any one of them could have him put to death on a whim.

Worse, the dead man is the architect of the coming Reunification: two great civilisations, separated for centuries by old enmities, are about to reunite in a new age of peace and prosperity. But it soon becomes clear that someone out there is willing to do anything to make sure that day never comes…”

Author comment:

Those two civilisations, as anyone who’s read Final Days will guess, being those colonies originally controlled either by the Western Coalition or the Pan-Asian Congress (now the Tian Di). As I’ve said before, it’s really a stand-alone set in the future of Final Days, than a direct continuation of FD, which means you don’t have to have read the first (or so I believe) in order to read the second.

Shamelessly taken from Gary’s blog

Bugger that I’m definitely reading Final Days first! But great cover as a tease. :D

Final Days and is out now in Hardback/Kindle

Empire of light

Empire of Light concludes events started in Stealing Light and continued in Nova War. I say concludes but more it draws an arc to a definitive end but leaving the door open for more stories in this world.

I’ve given high praise to the series so far with phrases  like, ‘clever, intelligent, thoughtful, and gripping’ and ‘Gibson has a devious imagination, a sense of bigger picture and a more twists than a corkscrew’. So not a lot to live up to there then.

And does Empire of Light continue that tradition. Yes and no. It’s gripping and I really felt for Dakota in places; I really wanted her to succeed. But we are drawing to the end and all the preparation that has taken place up to now has been leading to this point. So we don’t get a meander through more of Gibson’s mind. Instead we have a gripping race to the finish.

The double-crossing and scheming Trader is shown in a new light, as is Corso and so are the human-piloted Magi ships.

It’s a case of if you’ve read enjoyed Stealing Light and Nova War you’re going to enjoy 
Empire of Light. It’s still filled with some nice twists and turns but it’s more focused and narrowed than I remember the earlier books being with less exposure to new things.

Not sure what to add beyond that. If you enjoy a SF series with a lot of energy the Shoal Sequence is one for you.

Gary Gibson’s latest novel is Final Days is out now in hardback/kindle and Empire of Light is out now in paperback/kindle

Voyage of the sable  298B5D  1

Following on from the events in The Skinner (see my review) we are back again on Splatterjay. Now the last book left a few loose ends and even though Splatterjay has moved on in the last ten years those ends are immediately obvious. But we are here to follow the construction and the inaugural voyage of the Sable Keech, which, unsurprisingly, brings together the cast of The Skinner as well as a few interesting additions.

Now Asher is kind and clever writer as you don’t need to have read The Skinner in order to understand or enjoy this, but I think you should, so I’m not going to spoil it for you by revealing too much of the background to The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Suffice to say Splatterjay is a very dangerous place to be in that book and it focuses on unfinished business.

This time we focus on Taylor Bloc, a reification, who sets sail on a voyage of resurrection for himself and his fellow Kladite followers. As this is happening Janer is working for a hornet hive mind to stop another hive mind agent from obtaining deadly sprine. And to top it off Erlin upsets a whelkus titanicus causing it to rise from the deep. And that’s not all as the prador, Vrell, turns up in the Prologue and sticks around becoming a target for a much bigger threat.

The wonder in Asher’s writing is how he lays down several threads, like the ones above (though there are more revealing ones), and starts twisting them all together. Even the seemingly superfluous but educationally insightful chapter openings on Splatterjay’s flora and fauna are important pieces in the puzzle.

And Splatterjay and the changes in biology caused by its virus to its evolution is very much an overriding personality in this connected series. On first sight it is a backwards place that doesn’t allow the technology of the Polity to have become widespread, which is why the Sable Keech has to rely on sails, both fabric and living, rather than turbines and grav-motors. But by having world that doesn’t have all the Polity’s technology it makes for a much more exciting and primal tale.

This is every much a tale of survival in a brutal and unforgiving environment. Most of the inhabitants are infected with the Splatterjay virus which bestows long-life and resilience on its host but it will also make dramatic mutations on them if they are injured or near death like morphing a tongue into that of a leaches or replacing a lost head with a leaches mouth.

The theme of life, death and survival are explored from several angles in individual stories that come together on the Sable Keech’s voyage. The hive mind agent that Janar is chasing mission is seemingly to obtain sprine, the only thing that can kill Hoopers, the name of Splatterjay’s humanoid inhabitants, outright. Sprine is also an important part of the world’s burgeoning economy. Erlin continues her struggle with having a long, and maybe immortal life. And the prador, Vrell’s, immediate survival is under-threat from a much bigger enemy.

You can tell that biology, its implications and evolutions, are a passion of Asher’s (and if they aren’t he does a great job of faking it) and what makes this stand out from a run-of-the-mill SF novel to one of mastery is that his characters are dense and weighty, his environment feels like a scientific possibilities and  his storytelling skills keeps everything tight, flowing and gripping.

I’m curious about where he’s going to take the next one, Orbus as I’ve got no idea what he has planned (and no I don’t want to read the blurb to find out ;))

Now, so far, I’ve not mentioned the audio side, which isn’t in anyway any comment on William Gaminara’s reading. In fact it should be seen as a ringing endorsement as he really brought everything to life. He gives all the characters their own voice and inflection. With my favourite the personalities of Sniper when played off against the Warden. Gaminara has in some ways spoiled this series as I’m fixated on listening to him read Orbus to me rather than read it myself. He has definitely added another dimension to Asher’s work and one I greatly enjoy.

The Voyage of Sable Keech is not all plain sailing by any means. You don’t need sickbags, unless you’ve got a weak stomach, just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Neal Asher’s new [non Polity]  novelThe Departure (Owner Novel 1) is out on 5 September 2011