MH: You are definitely lighter than Abercrombie. Reading his work you'd think he be a depressive with a violent streak. Reading your work could make you think you hate the water and might have some issues making friends.
SS: My loathing of the water, like a salmon writhing through my subconscious current, actually spawns from my inability to digest fish. Cursed with a crippling iodine allergy, I have been kept far, far away from the world of delectable seafood that you decent, godly people enjoy. My relationships, career and three marriages all collapsed due to my intolerance for their tender flesh. Flung far from society, I harbored my grudge against the ichthyoid menace until it became the manifesto you just read.
Right, then. Let me put on my serious face for a moment...
MH: Thanks for joining me in my little neck of the blogosphere. Firstly, can you tell me what first drew you to Fantasy? I definitely feel like you played a bit of D n D growing up.
SS: It'd be fairly accurate to describe my D&D experience as "a bit." It feels slightly shameful to admit it, especially with so many people claiming that I copy and pasted a campaign into the book, but I haven't actually played a whole lot of the game itself. I owned a lot of books on the subject and read them voraciously, but I lacked the patience to put them to play. I actually became a fan of D&D after I was attracted to books like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. I still hold those dear to my heart, as I devoured them messily from age 12 to 15, but by that point, I was finding the books a little hard to accept. You had adventures, but they were always a little too cut and dry for me (get money, stab bitches). Which segues nicely into your next question.
MH: Tome of the Undergates follows a small group of people you call Adventurers. Why Adventurers? And what is it that so many people in that world find revolting about them?
SS: I did, actually, start writing about adventurers because that's what I thought people wrote about in fantasy. By this time, I was reading a lot of new and interesting stuff, though, and when I went back to my story, I realized I had just written the same story that everyone else had. That wasn't what altered the story's path, though, so much as the fact that nothing made sense to me.
Adventuring is, as we've been led to believe, a pretty dangerous job: people pick up swords and, without any guarantee of ever coming back, go into dark, dirty places to perform an act that basically boils down to murdering someone and stealing all their stuff. Why would they be noble, kind-hearted and good? Why wouldn't they be greedy, spiteful and a little suicidal? That all sort of spiraled out of hand as I started questioning the ideas of fantasy that we sort of accept as real. Why would humans hate orcs but get along with elves? Why would priests be instantly armed with unshakable faith? Why would a wizard, someone who can bend the laws of reality to his whim, ever feel the need to acknowledge a higher power? Why would savages be noble and teach us more about ourselves than civilization ever could and not...you know, smearing themselves with feces and eating brains?
So I guess the answer to the cause for revulsion: if you met a dude who ran around killing people and taking their stuff, would you like him?
MH: Besides to help pay for your rent and dog food why should everyone get Tome of the Undergates? What do you think sets it apart from other fantasy books? I'm especially interested because you pointed out that nearly all the reviews of Tome thus far have mentioned wildly different aspects.
SS: Well, my ape fighting circuit takes care of rent, so no worries about that.
Really, I think the answer is right there, isn't it? Everyone has been taking different things from TOME and I couldn't be happier about that. Some people enjoy the fight scenes, some enjoy the characters, some enjoy the monsters; many frequently enjoy all three. I think that everyone will find at least something they like about the book because the book itself is a little hard to explain. There are moments of grittiness, to be sure, but even amidst the violence and the animosity, there are moments of tenderness and compassion amongst the characters. There's worldbuilding, of course, but a lot of it comes from the people who live in the world, rather than scenery and history.
The best endorsement I can give it is that, whatever they've loved, whatever they've hated, nobody reading TOME has been bored.
MH: You've been making quite a name for yourself through your blog, twitter, and various review blogs. You've even giving yourself the moniker "angriest man alive." Which just begs the question what would you do if a Carebear walked up to you and wanted a little cuddle from you?
SS: Are we talking Carebears proper or those degenerate swine known as the Carebear cousins? Who thought of that, anyway? "You know what Carebears are missing? Mental illnesses. Give that to them and they are effing set."
I really don't have a choice in being the angriest man alive. It was scientifically proven after my blood was tested for anger and the sample jumped clean off the slide and assumed the doctor's identity, sleeping with his wife, raising his children and eating his food while painting the man proper as an impostor and forcing him to stare from a prison made of lies into the horror that was once his own flesh.
MH: I was thinking the regular variety Carebears. Next I have something of a challenge for you and if you aren't up for it I would totally understand. Have you ever written much flash fiction? If so I'll give you a couple thoughts and leave it to you to write me an instant classic masterpiece. There is a restaurant. One room is left vacant except for a old rickety ladder is in the corner. That room's ceiling is covered with a variety of old doors. A little boy wanders in there. Go!
SS: The people above are hungry. This is what mama tells me. I go downstairs because we need more. We need more, she says, because the people are always hungry. I go in and I find the ladder. The doors start shaking. Mama knows what's behind them. I only know voices. I know the one behind the red door that says mean things, calling me words I can't find in the dictionary we have. I know the one behind the blue door that cries all the time and won't listen to me when I ask it to please be quiet. I know the one behind the green door that used to scream and cry but then started talking softly, telling me things about children my age who run on grass and get toys to play with. The doors never stop shaking until I leave. Today, though, one of them isn't shaking. I pick up the ladder and walk beneath it. It's the blue door. I'm sad. But I go up there, anyway. I wonder what the voice looks like. I wonder if maybe it's just sleeping and maybe I can talk to it today. But probably not. The people above are hungry.
MH: Wow! I didn't know you had it in you. This is creepy and cool at the same time. I'm proud to be the first to publish it.
Besides your short story Humane Killer with Diana Gabaldon in The Dragon Book are there any shorts available or that are planned to be published? Or are you just concentrating on the Aeons' Gate series? What are we in store for in the future from you?
SS: Humane Killer is pretty much it, I'm afraid. We'll see what happens later, but for the moment, I'm working hard to bring out BLACK HALO (the next in the Aeons' Gate Series), and after that, the third book. So You can definitely look forward to those in the impending years.
MH: You recently attended Eastercon, which is one of the bigger Cons in the UK. How was the experience? Also, just how many authors did you lick while there?
(image courtesy of Kamvision)
SS: Eastercon was something of a hoot. It was my second time in Britain, the first time being to meet everyone at Gollancz. I got to meet Joe Abercrombie in passing there, but the actions I took sealed our bitter, blood-deep hatred for each other. It was inevitable, really. We were two opposing forces; nothing quite so dramatic as fire and ice or light and darkness, more of a mild opposition...like cabbage and turnips. Of course, you already know he's cabbage. He just sort of looks like cabbage, doesn't he?
Anyway, I didn't get to lick anyone else. In fact, Mr. Newton, in addition to having eyelashes like moth wings, has the reflexes of a rabid koala. He quickly tumbled away from me the moment he knew what was happening and scrambled up a nearby tree, where he remained for the rest of the Con. I did, however, get to threaten to spit in his editor's mouth. You would have thought she'd be more grateful for the fact that I didn't...
MH: If Sam Sykes were a book what kind of book would he be?
I've played this out a million times and it always ends like that.
MH: What are 2 things about you most people don’t know? Do you have a helper monkey to feed and bathe you?
SS I've been told I'm actually quite sweet, which may contradict the image many people have of me being naturally vengeful and sasquatchesque. Aside from that, I suppose one thing people don't know about me is that I never tell people things they don't know about me for fear that they are squirreling away secrets to use against me should I become wealthy, famous and/or possessed of super powers.
Of course, I already have super powers, but I'm not telling you what they are. One of them does involve a monkey, though. I've already said too much.
MH: What is your preferred type of hat? Do you have a horned helm somewhere around the house?
SS: You know, for awhile, I was really into hats when I was in high school. I have no idea why, really; they just seemed like a fun thing to collect. At my pinnacle, I had an army pith helmet, a fez, a top hat, a bowler derby (which I still have), a deerstalker cap and a coonskin cap. My most prized hat, however, was a replica of an 1800s British military helmet. You know, the kind that's all upright and sort of like a cone-head that the British used to wear when they went around kicking the world's collective nuts for a few decades?
I liked this one because, unlike many people my age, I actually had a British friend who would wear it and instantly assume an air of authority, which usually meant he would declare manifest destiny and take my sandwich. "For king and country," he claimed. I was going to argue with him, but he did have the helmet to prove it.
I've been sorely tempted to buy a horned helmet every time I go to the Renaissance Festival, but I've not yet mustered the nerve, mostly out of fear that it will go too well with my drinking horn and one day my ex-wife will read the headline: "HAIRLESS VIKING ARRESTED FOR PUBLIC INDECENCY, CALLING THE PRESIDENT AN 'OWLHOOT.'" None of us need to see that.
MH: And I'll leave the final word with you.
SS: Well, shit, man, everyone's read your review (and other fine reviews) of TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, so I guess if this interview convinces anyone to buy it, that's great. I'd have to wonder what was wrong with the other interviews I gave, though. What, were they just not wacky enough? Will you only support my ostentatious bachelor lifestyle if I dance for you like a mandrill? IS THIS WHAT YOU WANTED TO SEE?!
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