Monday, 3 October 2011

Interview | Sam Sykes, Foe to All Hills

 As you've probably guessed from the title, Sam Sykes has kindly bestowed upon us his presence to answer some questions - regarding his series (The Aeons' Gate), crimes (against humanity), and foes (the aforementioned hills). Sam is the author of the multiply fantastic Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo. Welcome to the blog!

Thanks for agreeing to do this interro- interview with me! Anyway, Mr Sykes, let us begin with a tough one.
Readings of ’Tome of the Undergates’ have been legislated against in three countries as of June 22nd, under the grounds of ’crimes against humanity’. How do you respond to these accusations?
And even a real question next. :P
I don’t think anybody can deny that the Librarian’s duel in BLACK HALO had distinct overtones of awesomeness to it. Will we be seeing more of Venarie and the Librarians in Book 3, or do you plan to leave it nicely mysterious?

I respond, as I always have responded to such wild allegations: with verve, vigor, venom and vermin.  I do declare, with veracity, that those who would level such accusations against Tome do not fear the book, but what the book stands for.  Those people who would declare that a book is not glorious because it involves a pointy-eared woman shooting people indiscriminately and crotch-stomping as an acceptable means of conflict resolution are those who unlawfully and unethically discriminate against a woman's right to shoot people full of arrows and those who would deny our very rights as human beings to drive our heels vigorously into peoples' genitals as a means of making our point. 

Verve!  Vigor!  Venom!  And then I throw rats at them.

People who like Bralston are going to weep.

I've definitely noticed - rats as debate are sadly neglected in the arena of academic argument. So, onto the subject of... Cover art. The Great Moher Debate has reached even our shady corner of the internet, followed by the Monotone Sykes Debacle in the form of your guest post ( So are you a fan of the older-school fantasy covers (I'm not even going to mention thews here)? 

I'll preface this by saying I like bloggers a lot.  I have some issues with how a lot of blogs are conducted, but Aidan is a good friend of mine and I think he puts a lot of thought into his reviews and what he says.  That said, though, I don't think he's ever going to be satisfied with the cover art to my books.  This isn't a personal problem of Aidan's, mind, nor is it really specific to him.  But book bloggers read a lot of books.  It takes a lot to impress them and what it takes is usually not suitable for newer authors.

Authors who have been around for awhile can afford to be more creative with their covers, it's true, because they have a reputation, a standing fanbase and a bunch of other factors that mean that the vast majority of readers won't judge them by their covers.  For newer authors, we need to catch the eye quicker, hence setting water on fire.  As for my particular favored covers, I can appreciate all kinds.  I like the stark symbols and contrasting colors on covers like Sophia McDougall's books, but I can also appreciate a girl in tight pants on an urban fantasy cover.  The one thing I really don't like is landscapes.  But that's just because I hate hills.  Because my father was killed by a hill. 

Now, the inevitable inspiration question. Tome points out just how welcome 'Adventurers' would be in a real society (ie. not at all), and really brings up the tensions between the typical mismatched group. Is there anything in particular which inspired this? (Other than a lack of hills) 

Really, it's just a desire to see fantasy tropes carried out to its logical conclusion.  I used to read a lot of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books and, as far as I could tell, adventurers were celebrated thugs.  They went out, found someone's home, broke into it and killed the inhabitants so they could steal their shit.  I mean, most of the time it was monsters doing nothing but minding their own business out in the middle of nowhere when suddenly OH SHIT OH GOD ADVENTURERS CHRIST GOD DAMN IT WHY DID I KEEP THAT MAGIC SWORD I KNEW THEY WOULD COME FOR IT OH FUCK BUT IT WAS SO SHINY OH GOD OH NO PLEASE NO NOT MY CHILDREN NOOOOOOOOO...

...and somehow they got honored and rewarded for it.  That didn't quite make a whole lot of sense to me, since traditionally, no one trusts mercenaries, who at least have contracts, so why would you trust someone who doesn't even have one?

That could actually be a quote, methinks. Telling the children to throw away that nasty magic sword behind the bushes. Or else. So, on to another traditional subject - the future. Have you any plans for after the Aeons' Gate is finished?  

I do.  I can tell you no more.  They're a secret.  To everyone.

When you're reading fantasy yourself, what's your preferred book length - short and concise, or doorstopper epics (a la Malazan)?  

It doesn't really matter.  I've put aside some very vast tomes before and picked up what ought to be smaller pieces. I've lately become enamored with Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, much to my own befuddlement.  I mean, given the crazy crap that I write, I wouldn't have expected myself to enjoy stories about fashion, dirigibles and vampires, but she's got talent, skill and most importantly, heart, so it's a joy to read.

I've tried to get through the first book of Malazan six times now.  Maybe the seventh one will finally pan out.

What's the fantasy archetypal character or cliche you still enjoy most? 

Oho, a vaguely loaded question, but one I think well worth answering.

I think when we talk about cliches, we're always thinking of the same thing (hence the term): the same old, bearded wizard, the same noble savage barbarian, the same graceful, quick-witted rogue.  If you want to leave it at that, I don't like any of those cliches for the reason that there's no real logic behind them.  They're exactly what you would expect them to be because you expect them to be that.

But I'm still a fan of Scott Lynch's explanation on cliches: cliches are cliches because we enjoy them and there's really no bad cliches, just bad ways to use them.  And in fact, if we were to go decrying EVERY wizard, barbarian, rogue, we'd be short on a lot of fantasy.  So in fact, I quite like the cliches that are used interestingly, such as when the old, bearded wizard is actually incredibly old and bitter and engaged in a power struggle with his fellow wizards (Abercrombie) or when the savage barbarian finds compassion weird and exotic (Martin) or when the rogue is actually a colossal coward and talented only at one thing (Lynch).

One of my favorite cliches, though, has to be the fantasy relationship (hero and heroine fall in love, etc.) just because I think few people actually pay attention to it these days.  It's always taken as a given or a side-note and I think we're really seeing a lot of new authors actually begin to give a crap about how people are attracted to each other, rather than "well, adventure's over, let's shag."

Ha, loaded questions are always best... (Now I get to practice my cliched villain dialogue). I have to admit a fondness for a wizard with a twist like Bayaz.

Talking of other cliches: demons. In The Aeons' Gate, they seem to have their own perspective on things. So just to get the outside bet in, is Ulbecetonth the hero of the novels? And as for relationships, who's the romantic interest for the Kraken Queen?

Ulbecetonth is a mother with a desperate need to be reunited with her children.  Sounds like a hero to me.

As to the second question...Hahaha...hahahahaha...HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

And if that's not ominous... The Skybound Sea: A Lovecraftian Romance?

Well, thank you very much for letting me interview you - and rest assured, you'll be getting the war crimes verdi- blog link soonish. And I'm very much looking forward to your promised scene of Lenk romancing the Kraken Queen. :P 

It was my pleasure.  Thanks for having me on!

Sam Sykes' novels are published by Pyr and are available not only in Croatia, but everywhere else as well. You can find them on Amazon here: Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons' Gate, Book 1) and Black Halo (The Aeons' Gate, Book 2)

Questions or comments? Comment below and tell me!


  1. Fun interview, he seems like he's a cool guy! I haven't heard the term "shag" for a while... Good word..Shag... Must be a british word.

  2. He is. Sam Sykes practically defines his own species, or at least a slightly esoteric part of it. And so it is - a very British word. Not that I use it much either! (No, we're too busy drinking tea to, um, speak :P )

  3. You know your projects stand out of the herd. There is something special about them. It seems to me all of them are really brilliant! Timothy Sykes