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A reply to Neal Asher, if it is him

Since my blathering has pushed the note off the main page, I feel it only fair to point back to my report on The Skinner, as someone purporting to be Neal Asher has responded to my mockery. To save y’all an extra click, I’ll repeat his comment below:

Vardibidian, 'piscine creatures of the sea' are those that resemble fish but are not fish, not teleosts. They are also distinct from those creatures in the sea neither fish nor fish-like. Best you go find a dictionary to learn the precise meaning of 'piscine'.
And since the email addy was phony, I’ll reply here in public. The problem with the phrase ‘piscine creatures of the sea’ is not at all solved by making it clear that what are being referred to are pseudo-fish. That was actually clear. There is an ancient and dreadful tradition of pseudo-fish in sf, also of pseudo-cows, pseudo-cats, pseudo-bears, and in one case I recall, somebody takes pains to point out that the plant called ‘hemlock’ in the author’s world bears no relation to plant on Old Earth with the same name.

But once you’ve called them piscine, I think I know two things about them: they are creatures, and they live in water. In context, I knew that already, because the scene took place underwater, and I could easily figure out that whatever it was that was being eaten was not being eaten by houses, starships or the platonic idea of Good. Now, I could turn out to be wrong about those things. I hope I would not have mocked you for writing the phrase “piscine starships” or “piscine houses”; such phrases are evocative, rather than annoying. Even had you written about piscine creatures of the sky, I would (I hope) not have singled out that phrase for mockery, nor yet bovine creatures of the sea, or feline cars of the highway, or ursine starships of the vast empty spaces between the stars. Well, I would hope that the phrase ‘ursine starships’ would accompany some explanation of just how the starships were like bears. I suppose one advantage of the phrase ‘piscine creatures of the sea’ appearing in an underwater scene is that it certainly requires no further explanation.

Just so it doesn’t go entirely without saying, Your Humble Blogger has no experience whatsoever as a fiction editor, nor yet as a writer. When I say that the phrase ‘piscine creatures of the sea’ is simply a bad one, and that I can’t imagine any circumstances where any writer should use it, and that I can’t imagine any circumstances where any reader would like it, well, that’s what I say, and you know what to make of that, Gentle Reader. The hat I’m talking through is quite a nice one, but then that, too, is my opinion. I stand by it, both about the hat and about the phrase as well as about the book generally.

Thank you,


"But once you’ve called them piscine, I think I know two things about them: they are creatures, and they live in water."

Piscine: of, relating to, or resembling fish.

You do not know they are creatures and you do not know they are in the sea. A brass dolphin door knocker is piscine. Though it is not for me to agree or disagree with your other statements (99% of criticism is subjective), in this case you got it completely wrong.

To be truly obnoxious, I'll begin by noting that dolphins are not fish, but mammals. However, they are piscine mammals, so a dolphin door knocker could well be described as piscine. In any context where one might describe them as such, my immediate question—how are they like fish, if they are not underwater creatures—would be quickly answered: they look like fish (or at any rate, they look like dolphins, which look like fish). I still maintain that once something has been called piscine, I think I know, or rather I expect, that it is an underwater creature, but then, I grew up in the desert.
So, as a desert-raised boy, I must admit that when I think of creatures of the sea, I by default think of fish. For the benefit of my Gentle Readers, though, the book had already lingered on descriptions of sea creatures that were psuedo-whelks rather than pseudo-fish. So it's perfectly plausible that what was meant in context was that where a reader might have expected the sea creatures in question to be whelk-like, or like krill or like a seahorse or for that matter like nothing on earth, they were in fact like fish. This reader expected them to be more or less like fish; it struck me as shudderingly redundant.
However, I have become convinced, so I will publicly move the phrase from the category of 'writing I think is simply bad' to the category of 'writing I dislike'.
Further, in future if somebody asks me about the book, I will feel compelled to say that the author (or at least someone claiming to be the author) took the time to come to my blog and dispute with me, and that he clearly bested me in that dispute. This is, so far, a unique distinction for Mr. Asher (allegedly), and a welcome one here. Please stick around, I'll be making more errors later.


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