The Repairer of Reputations: The Tracer of Lost Persons by Robert Chambers
Underground Reading: Quas Starbrite by James R. Berry

PK Interview: Sam Sykes (Part 1)

Mr. Sykes' debut novel, Tome of the Undergates, was one of last year's hottest and most intriguing releases. In just a few weeks, he follows it up with the greatly-anticipated Black Halo

Thanks to the power of the internet, we're able to get interviews from authors in far-off, overseas lands. In Sam Sykes' case, it also took a taser and a court order. 


Let's start with a question that seems oft-pondered and never-asked, do you play Dungeons & Dragons? The relationship between the Tome of the Undergates' adventurers and a traditional D&D party has been flagged up by a few reviewers.

Tome of the Undergates Yeah, I played D&D.  Not as much as some people might accuse me of, perhaps; I never really had enough patience for it.  I would get bored and aggressive after awhile, which, playing with three other dudes about sixteen, would inevitably lead to terrible things.  There's no way to say this without being at least a little embarrassed, but a lot of my formative years as a writer were dominated by Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, which were taken from D&D pretty directly. I say a little embarrassed, because it's not quite as lofty as others who might talk through their nose about how they are a true child of Tolkien and adhere strictly to the rules of true myth and the hymns of Robert E. Howard, but fuck that.  I loved those books. Dual wielding dark elves with magic panthers 4 lyfe.

The truth is that I wrote Tome of the Undergates back when I was fourteen and finished it when I was around seventeen. At that iteration, it pretty much blew. I had written a pretty competent Forgotten Realms-esque story, but I hadn't written my story. That's when I started branching out, reading more, having that defining moment where every kid's perception of reality is shattered by George R.R. Martin.  I kept a lot of the original foundations from when I was fourteen for the original story (sometimes, I think, maybe too much), but no, it's not a D&D adventure.

I mean, fuck, how could it be? Four melee classes? A party of completely conflicting alignments?  A cleric that chose healing and good as her domains?  Who the hell would run with those nerds?  I don't think Denaos evenknows what Combat Reflexes is, let alone how to use it.

On a back-of-a-napkin summary, Tome of the Undergates is actually a very traditional-sounding fantasy adventure - adventurers search of a lost treasure, stumble on ancient terror, realise lost powers... how would you describe how your book differentiates itself from your standard dungeon-crawling fantasy epic?

Well, for one, I guess I'd say the quest isn't the main thrust of the plot.  The characters are.  Their conflicts are what shapes the plot, their motivations are what affects it.  It would be a fairly bog-standard whatever if not for the fact that these people do not like each other, do not like themselves and don't want to be doing what they're doing.  As it stands, they are doing what they're doing, together, and how they deal with that is what forms the action.

Character drives plot.  Not the other way around.

I also felt that the your touch (dodgy!) was made abundantly clear from the first page - with an extremely jaded look at what defines an “adventurer.” This unique shift in perspective colours the entire novel. This may be a chicken or egg question, but at what point into writing the novel did you really sit down and define what being an adventurer meant in your world (or any fantasy)?

Well, with my early influences being made clear, I had read a lot of adventure stories.  Hell, even in the old Conan stories, what made an adventurer seemed to be pretty universal.  I understood them to be a profession of people whose main source of livelihood was breaking into peoples' homes, beating the shit out of them and taking their stuff.  I mean, half the time, the monsters they killed weren't even doing anything other than having something the adventurers wanted.

What I didn't understand was why they were celebrated and praised as heroes for committing armed robbery and murder.  I mean, sure, the great Oogy Boogy of Chattanoogy is dead, but what does an adventurer do after he's out of gold and there aren't any monsters to fight?  And why would he even go after dangerous beasts with sharp fangs and fiery breath when you can just as easily beat up a peasant and take his shit?

Everything after that sort of fell into place.  Adventurers associate with savage races and monsters.  Adventurers are brigands and thieves masquerading as warriors.  Adventurers hold nothing dear.  Why wouldn't they be hated, bitter and jaded?

You’ve famously written on romance in fantasy on your blog (well, you’ve famously written about quite a few aspects of fantasy in your blog)... and Tome of the Undergates sets up a couple pairs of star-crossed lovers.

Do we see any sort of (cough) fulfillment in Black Halo?

Black Halo Oh, yes, total fulfillment.  I mean, the kind of fulfillment that comes from a woman being fascinated by a man she's well-aware she should see as a disease and a man who hears voices in his head telling him to kill the woman he loves.

Relationships being a big part of characters, and with these particular characters being particularly broken, we'll see a lot of how the characters come to terms with each other when they can't come to terms with themselves. 

Also, sexual education from a pubescent boy nerd who's never seen another person naked that he didn't draw himself.

And what about Lenk? He seems possessed by a Sykesian (oooh) spin on the traditional role of the chosen one. I suppose it is too much to ask that he manages to take control of his new powers? (Or wrestle free of them?)

Well, I'll say that Lenk begins to learn more about his everpresent companion.  There's a lot of charming conversation between them in the moments when one of them isn't having an intense evolutionary debate with a talking monkey (I think you'll like that part).

I'd love to say more, but I can't think of how to do it without ruining it for everyone.


Mr. Sykes does say more on Thursday, in the second half of our interview. We go a little off-piste to talk about "genre", haters and pee.