Story behind Zero Point by Neal Asher

I’m known for my Polity books of which, since 2000, Macmillan have published 13. The only book not set in the Polity I’ve had published since that date was Cowl. This was a time-travel novel which went on to be shortlisted for the Philip K Dick award. Though in the Polity I deliberately created a setting in which I could tell just about any science fiction story, a writer can find himself in a cleft stick when writing ‘more of the same’. You can become stale, exhausted and formulaic, however, try to write something different and your fans can end up pillorying you for not providing what they wanted. I felt the need for a change; I needed to get out of a rut. I also felt it a good idea, from a career perspective, to wean my readers off of the Polity and perhaps acquire new readers with something new.

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As is often the case when I’m thinking about writing a new book I looked to the many short stories I have produced over the last 30 years. The Skinner for example, which was my second book for Macmillan, takes its genesis from two short stories published in the small presses prior to 2000: Snairls and Spatterjay. In the case of the Owner trilogy, of which Zero Point is the middle book. I looked at some stories that appeared in my collection The Engineer (ReConditioned): The Owner, Proctors and Tiger Tiger. These concerned a character called the Owner, who was a man over 10,000 years old and the ‘owner of worlds’. He was far in advance of the rest of humanity who generally kept out of his territory. He terraformed worlds and laid strictures on the populations of those worlds because of what had happened to Earth in the past... Upon re-reading those stories I thought it might be an idea to tell the story of how he came to be.

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Now, the Owner trilogy, consisting of The Departure, Zero Point and Jupiter war, are set in a near-future dystopia. I didn’t set out to write a dystopia but, having written more Owner stories since those in The Engineer, I found one of them (published in a Gardner Dozois collection) did concern an Earth that had fallen under totalitarian rule and so went from there. The reaction to that aspect of these books has been interesting. In creating a dystopia I had to create one I believed in and there I entered an area dangerous for writers of current day politics. The dystopia is how I see the future of authoritarian socialism i.e. an Earth dominated by something akin to the USSR. I’ve since found the division of opinion on these books is along political lines, which is a shame.

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At this point I guess other writers would talk about planning out the story, making notes and perhaps designing the story arc. I don’t write like that. Essentially, I make it up as I go along. I started by deciding on a name for this owner character. His first name comes from an old friend who died a number of years ago – Alan – while his second name ... well, it just surfaced in my mind. I then took this character and put him, sans memory, in a box on a conveyor belt leading into the Calais trash incinerator. Thereafter I just told the story and built the world as it came to me, at the keyboard, writing 2,000 words a day five days a week. Certainly there were strictures because I was aiming at creating that character in those stories lying 10,000 years in the future. There had to be proctors – semi-organic androids – at his command, his power to control his environment and his mentality had to grow and, at some point, there had to be a particular space ship with a particular name...

All three books are done, and now I’ve returned to the Polity to tell a story of black AIs, renegade prador and ancient alien technologies...        

Neal Asher
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