I just bought and read Neal Asher’s new novella THE BOSCH. This is a very gripping and entrancing story, and at 276 (e-book) for 59 pages it is well worth the purchase.

In discussing science fiction stories about vastly superior alien intelligences or about far future civilisations it is customary to cite Clarke’s Third Law:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

This law applies to the enunciative content of a story, and signals a tendency towards the convergence of SF and Fantasy. One often forgets to state the corollary of this “law” at the level of enunciation:

Any story about a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from myth, legend, fairy tale, or dream narrative.

THE BOSCH takes place in a far future, “post-Polity”, i.e. in the same universe as Asher’s Polity cycle, but long after the Polity itself has been and gone. It takes place on a planet with at least two moons, a Red Moon and a Green Moon. So not on Earth as we know it.

The two moons Green and Red may symbolise two aspects of the Goddess of this planet, a “Nature” Goddess that corresponds to Gaia for Earth. Her name is “Yoon”. This is the first word of the novella: “Yoon swims towards the lake of the Progenitors”.

(Note on pronunciation: “Yoon” rhymes with “Moon”, but given the prominence of bio-technology, one could also pronounce “Yo-on”, to rhyme with the Greek “zo-on”).

Yoon, a seemingly beautiful young woman, then surfaces from the “pellucid waters” she is swimming in, onto a beautiful beach and all around is pristine and beautiful. However very rapidly this innocence (Green) is violated by a gang of of five outworlders, and an inexorable, implacable quest for vengeance ensues (Red).

These transgressors have violated a Goddess consubstantial with the planet itself, as we soon learn, but as we should have realised from from the realised first paragraph: “She encompasses the world and it lies within her”.

Yoon goes from mode Green to mode Red, and conjures up (i.e. biotechnically engineers) some very creepy monsters, called the “Bosch” as they resemble characters straight from a Hieronymous Bosch painting, and “Retribution” is sought.

The Goddess is a scientific wonder but also an artistic masterpiece, and her retribution will be a scientific lesson in poetic justice, and also in diplomatic relations – for she is also the Sovereign political agent of the planet.

The plot plays out like a Greek myth embedded in a Tragedy embedded in a Lovecraftian horror embedded in a noir detective story embedded in a planetary opera embedded in a nightmare. On her quest for retribution Yoon is more like a Terminator than the naive Venus of the opening paragraphs.

The novella’s story is one of beauty, sex, love, and violence (in fact mostly violence), and the sense of wonder that far future world-building provides, when done well. It is full of ideas, embedded in striking images and teaseful twists.

The waves of invention (Asher’s own Green) maintain the same frenetic cadence as the gusts of violence (Asher’s Red). Catharsis ensues.


Neal Asher’s Blog:

Page devoted to THE BOSCH:


THE LAST HUMAN: talking intelligently (or not) about higher intelligences


THE LAST HUMAN is a new science fiction novel by Zack Jordan. A great pleasure to read, this book synthesizes a lot of influences and several genres of SF. It combines the sense of wonder of a big idea space opera, the thrilling adventures and realisations of a cosmic young adult coming of age story, with the whimsical humour of post-Douglas Adams jaunt through a bio-culturally diverse galaxy.


The novel is very pleasant to read, and the plot is very engaging. (I read it over two days) and it’s difficult to tear yourself away from it, as the intrigue and the frequent reveals, twists, and reversals are well conducted.


The novel is based on a brilliant (but not unprecedented) idea: to make intelligence and its different degrees an integral part of the construction of the world (world building) and not only the structure of the personality (characterization). The lower tiers usually have no idea what is going on, and the higher one climbs the tiers the more god-like the entity’s understanding and power.

EXECUTION: the conceit of higher intelligences

Nevertheless, the execution does not fully rise to the height of this ambitious idea. The conception of a hierarchy of tiers of intelligence is interesting, it is an important theme of SF (for example Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, The Marching Morons by Cyril Kornbluth, or Understand by Ted Chiang). Zack Jordan makes an original contribution to this theme of intelligence/stupidity. However, the description of the thought processes of tiers higher than the human level often leaves something to be desired. Zack Jordan is at his best on this conceit (in both senses) of higher intelligence when he shows it at work in the production of seeming luck and coincidence as part of the general manipulation of lower tier intelligences.

YA: YOUNG ADULT (or Young Arthropod)?

It’s certainly a coming of age story, but is it really Young Adult? Admittedly, the heroine, Sarya the Daughter, is a young adult, the adoptive daughter of a gigantic spider foster-mother, Shenya the Widow (one may note that the names of the first two characters we meet end in “ya”). We see Sarya grow intellectually and morally, as she progress in her understanding of her world and its background. The story begins as in many YA novels with the heroine to be, Sarya the Daughter, on the point of having to decide on her future profession and of being stuck for life with her unsatisfactory (and unfair!) corresponding social status.


For me, the answer to the question of whether THE LAST HUMAN is basically another YA dystopian novel, or whether it merely contains elements of this type of story alongside those of many other types, is related to the appreciation of humour that permeates much of his style. A close affinity for the works of H2G2 by Douglas Adams is omnipresent, but, as this comparison shows, this type of humour is not necessarily reserved for “young” literature. One can also think of DIMENSION OF MIRACLES by Robert Sheckley, where the hero gets tired of meeting so many quasi-divine entities, repetitiously awe-inspiring and overwhelming in their superiority, and ends up becoming quite jaded about them.


The novel is interesting in that it does not begin with, or develop into, the realisation that one is living in a dystopia as in so many YA SF novels (or, more likely, series), nor does it plunge us into a utopia. The final realisation (“final”, awaiting a probable second volume) is that Sarya is living in an in-between society, which one could call a “meso-topia”.

So the novel is a real pleasure to read. I hesitated for too long before finally deciding to read it, convinced by this review (in French):

(Note: there have been some mixed reactions to the novel, but it only disappoints if one considers that a partial awkwardness in execution overshadows the grand ambition of the design.

Note: one can find a video of the author reading the whole first chapter of THE LAST HUMAN here.