High Five with Sam Sykes

sam sykes

This week’s victim participator in our joyously inane High Five feature is none other than Sam Sykes, author of the Aeon’s Gate trilogy of fantasy novels. Sam’s books feature more sword fighting than is healthy for a single reader to consume in one sitting and more quips than you can shake a quiver of arrows at. Also, huge sea monsters. He writes alarmingly insightful articles over on his blog, but don’t tell him we said that.

So, how are things in the world of Sam Sykes? You’ve just finished your Aeons Gate series, which concluded with The Skybound Sea – how do you feel now that the series is over? And what’s next on your radar?

I’m doing all right, really.  I took a few moments to reflect on the end of The Aeons’ Gate before I leapt right into the next project.  There’s a new trilogy on the way that I’m planning on announcing in the near future and the first of it is almost done.

The end of The Aeons’ Gate is an interesting experiment, just to see how far I’ve come from the original.

Tome of the Undergates was pure, unadulterated joy.  It was all about fighting pirates with curious accents and impeccable pronunciations.  It was all about battling hideous sea monsters rising from the deep.  It was all about magic powers and swords and stabbing.  And while it was fun, it was much like a child jumping up and down, trying to tell you what he liked best about a movie.

Black Halo and The Skybound Sea progressively focused that energy.  It was still about fighting people like the netherlings, huge hulking purple women, but with stakes and consequences more realized.  It was still about creatures from the deep, but understanding where they came from and why they’re scary.  It was about magic–and its price–and swords–and the cost of violence–and stabbing–and how stabby you can get.

My next book will be even stronger.

Skybound Sea

Exciting times. Anyone that’s read your books will know that you love a bit of sea monster action. Tell us what your favourite nautical monstrosity is and why. You can pick more than one if you like, because we’re nice like that. 

So, somewhere down in the abyss, there’s this creature called the hatchetfish (I think that’s its name, anyway).  Now, when you’re a predator in the deep dark and you look up, you can see a dim blue halo of fuzzy blue light.  It’s all that remains of the sun down here, just a whisper of what we see on the surface.  Now, most prey fish appear as stark black shadows against the light, making them easy to pick out. The hatchetfish, though, has reflective scales on its underbelly that bend the light and make it blend in with the blue, evading detection.

But that’s not my favorite.

See, in the abyss, evolution occurs like an arms race.  Where one creature evolves a defense to escape a predator, another predator will evolve an attack to counter it.  And this being a world of pitch black, one of the biggest offenses is possessing bioluminescence (that is, lights created by the body).  One such creature, the Black Dragonfish, has evolved patches of red bioluminescence beneath its eyes that act like headlights, spraying the world in a bright red hell.  When it looks up, its headlights reflect against the hatchetfish’s underbelly and that allows it to pick it out and devour it.

All of my monsters are based, in some part, on creatures alive and well today (Sermonics are anglerfish, Abysmyths are gulper eels, Frogmen are blobfish), and Daga-Mer, the great old god of the deep whose heartbeat funnels a luminescent pulse through his body, is inspired by the Black Dragonfish.

Black Halo

You, SAMWISE THE VIII, are the lord of a pretty-but-slightly-boring pastoral kingdom, full of rivers and hills and fields with fluffy bunnies in, not to mention villages of peasants with dubious personal hygiene. But now the peace is threatened by the evil warlord JOE ABERCROMBIUS. You must defend your kingdom and people! Before you meet this dastardly villain in combat, you must choose you WAR MOUNT from the list below. 

a) BILLY the flying Great White shark. Powerful jaws and wicked teeth, but turns like a bus. Also has to be hosed down regularly. 

b) BOOMER the giant bullfrog. Can scatter enemy troops with his huge tongue, but his swamp-like stench means you run the risk of passing out at an awkward moment. Or vomiting down your shiny armour, which is only marginally better.

c) BLOWHARD the grizzly bear. A veteran of many brawls and the only bear known to have successfully defeated Zangief from Street Fighter 2, but also cranky and highly flatulent. 

Which WAR MOUNT do you choose and why? For bonus points, tell us what you’d do to the nefarious warlord JOE ABERCROMBIUS if you managed to best him in combat. 

Oh, Boomer, definitely.  You’re using vomit like it’s a bad thing. Personally, I think Joe would shit himself if he saw a colossal, greasy green monster bounding toward him, tongue lolling in the wind like a fleshing banner, while I ride into battle, my warcries mingled with the digestive juices pouring out of my mouth and painting the sky green and yellow.

And if I managed to defeat him?  I think I’d force him to give me a blurb.  But only a kind of nice one, so you know he did it against his will.

Tome of the Undergates

Boomer is our choice too, mainly because he has the best name. Who wouldn’t want a giant bullfrog called Boomer? It’s like the sort of thing you dream about as a kid. Anyway,  we’re big fans of Breaking Bad. Which means the mental image we have of Albuquerque is that it’s filled with gangsters and scarily intense chemistry-teachers-turned-methlords. Since you live sort-of-near Albuquerque (4.5 hours away by car according to Googlemap, which means you must go there all the time) we feel you should set us right on what a nice place it really is…or isn’t. 

Its portrayal of Albuquerque is really not that far off.  It’s not a nice city.  Or rather, it is nice as nice was defined by elderly people back in the 60’s.  The town carries with it a certain…I want to say “gravelly” texture to it.  Stucco and plaster hold tiles depicting faux Mexican designs in obnoxious colors to random spots.  Lacquered wood juts out of walls in huge, reaching timbers.  It’s a city built in a cold badlands and it shows.  The beige and orange colors of the town fade to a dismal gray when its cloudy and burst when its sunny.

The whole place is full of little hole in the wall joints: dingy little Mexican restaurants, cheap motels, dirty roads where dirty people hang out at the intersections.  I couldn’t comment on the drug trade, though.

Maybe we like cold badlands. Maybe you’ve just sold it to us. Or maybe not. Anyway, we say “J for Jetpack”, you say “J for…”?


Michael Jackson.  He had some good music.

He really did. Thanks Sam! 

Previous High Five features:

Amy McCulloch

Mark Charan Newton

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