Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holidays May Be Rough, But...

At least you're not that guy!

That's Otis, usually quite jovial, in a rare state of Christmas Scarf Blues. His suffering is your gingerbread cookie.

You wouldn't think blogging would be hard, would you? It's really just writing down your thoughts as you go along. Given that most of the time I voice my thoughts, the typical reaction is a fervent call to the police, though, keeping a sanitary and scheduled series of updates can be pretty irritating.

Especially around the holidays.

Christmas is over, but New Year's is about to begin. Thereafter, as the publishing world begins creeping out of its self-induced Thanksgiving coma, shit gets real. Editors spring to life with new and vengeful vigor. Publicists doll themselves up. And authors? Authors try desperately to keep their deadlines and continue to roll their faces on their keyboards.

Speaking of which, have you seen the contest we're running? Check the blog post right beneath this one for details! Plenty of entries (and severe doubts of my abilities) are rolling in every day! Be sure to add your name to the ARC Giveaway (details here) and see if you can guess how incompetent I am!

Anyway, there's a lot of stuff happening in the post-Christmas/pre-New Year frenzies. Namely, a lot of cool and attractive bloggers are posting their "Favorite Books of '09" lists! The ones I'm following most obsessively: James "The Predator" Long's Speculative Horizons, Adam "Juice" Whitehead's The Wertzone, Patrick "Nobody Remembers My Last Name" of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, Aidan "Hossmaster" Moher's A Dribble of Ink, and Graeme "Killa B" Flory's Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.

I gave them nicknames to make them sound cooler, but it's a little redundant. Also, remember to check out The Book Smugglers, run by the Gruesome Twosome: Ana and Thea. They tend to produce some pretty quality stuff, with the occasional piece of crap.

Anyway, what did you get for your chosen holiday gift-giving extravaganza? Fruitcake? Toys? Video games? Dignity? Self-respect? Insolence?

You'll never use any of that! How about a present you can actually enjoy, like an excerpt from Tome of the Undergates? I already posted one on The Book Smugglers, but here's another one, to see if it tickles your fancy or any other part of you that I shouldn't be touching. Hope you enjoy and have a happy New Year!


The voice began as a mutter, a quiet whisper in the back of his mind. It echoed, singing through his skull, reverberating through his head. His temples throbbed, as though the voice left angry dents each time it rebounded against his skull. Kataria shifted before him, going from sharp and angry to hazy and indistinct. The earth under his feet felt softer, yielding, as though it feared to stand against him.

The voice, however, remained tangible in its clarity.

No more time,’ it uttered, ‘no more talk.

‘More time to what, you fart-sniffer?’ Kataria was hopping from foot to foot, fingers twitching, though before Lenk’s eyes she resembled nothing so much as a shifting blob. ‘Not so brave now?’

‘I . . .’ he began to utter, but his throat tightened, choking him.

‘You what?’

Nothing to say,’ the voice murmured, ‘no more time.
‘What,’ he whispered, ‘is it time for?’

‘What the hell does that mean?’ If she looked at him oddly, he did not see. Her eyes faded into the indistinct blob that she had become. ‘Lenk . . . are you—’

Time,’ the voice uttered, ‘to kill.

‘I’m not—’

Kill,’ it repeated.

‘Not what?’


‘I can’t—’ he whimpered.

No choice.

‘Shut up,’ he tried to snarl, but his voice was weak and small. ‘Shut up!’


‘Lenk . . .’ Kataria’s voice began to fade.



When he had fallen, he could not remember, nor did he know precisely when he had closed his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears, lying twitching upon the earth like a crushed cockroach. When he opened his eyes once more, the world was restored: the ground was solid beneath him, his head no longer ached and he stared up into a pair of eyes, hard and sharp as emeralds.

‘It happened again, didn’t it?’ she asked, kneeling over him. ‘What happened on the Riptide . . . happened again.’

His neck felt stiff when he nodded.

‘Don’t you see, Lenk?’ Her whisper was delicate, soothing. ‘This isn’t going to stop. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s happening to you.’

‘I can’t.’ His whisper was more fragile, a vocal glass pane cracking at the edges. ‘I . . . don’t even know myself.’

‘You can’t even try?’ She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder; he saw her wince at the contact. ‘For your sake, Lenk? For mine?’

‘I . . . don’t . . .’

His voice trailed off into nothingness, punctuated by the harsh narrowing of her eyes. She rose, not swiftly as she usually did, but with all the creaking exhaustion of an elder, far too tired of life. She stared down at him with pity flashing in her eyes once more; he had nowhere to turn to.

‘Then don’t,’ she replied sternly. ‘Lie here . . . and don’t.’

He felt he should urge himself to get up as he heard her boots crunch upon the earth. He felt he should scream at himself to follow her as he heard her slip through the foliage with barely a rustle. He felt he should rise, run screaming after her, tell her everything he needed to until his tongue dried up and fell out of his head.

For all that, he lay on the earth and did not move. For all the commands he knew he should give himself, he could hear but one voice.


His head seared for a moment, then grew cold with a dull ache that gripped his brain in icy fingers. His mind grew colder with every echo, the chill creeping into the back of his eyes, down his throat, into his nose until the sun ceased to have warmth. Breathing became a chore, movement an impossibility, death . . . an appealing consideration.

He closed his eyes, allowing the world to fade away into echoes as the sound, too, faded into nothingness. There was nothing to the world any more, no life, no pain, no sound.

No sound.

He opened his eyes as the realisation came upon him: there was no birdsong, no buzzing of insects.

The prey had stopped making noise.

Cold was banished in a sudden sear of panic. He scrambled to his feet, reaching for his sword, sweeping his gaze about the jungle. Any one of the trees could be the demon, watching him with stark white eyes, talons twitching and ready to smother his head in ooze before eating it.

The only things he saw, however, were shadows and leaves. The only thing he heard was the pounding of his own heart.


The silence was shattered by a faint, quivering voice. It was little more than a whisper, barely audible over the hush of the wind, but it filled Lenk’s ears and refused to leave.

‘Help me.’

He could hear it more clearly now, recognising it. He had heard more than enough dying men to know what one sounded like. For all the clarity of the voice, he could spy no man to go with it, however. Slowly, he eased his gaze across the trees once more and found nothing in the thick gloom.

‘Please,’ the man whimpered, ‘don’t kill me. Don’t kill me.’

There was silence for but a moment.


His eyes followed his ears, sweeping up into the canopy, narrowing upon the white smear in the darkness, improbably pristine. From above, a pair of bleary grey eyes atop a bulbous, beak-like nose stared back, unblinking and brimming with fat, salty tears.

I should run, he thought, the Abysmyth is likely right behind this thing.

No.’ The voice’s reply was slow and grating. ‘It dies.

‘It dies,’ Lenk echoed.

The Omen’s teeth chattered quietly, yellow spikes rattling off each other. Lenk’s ear twitched at the sound of wet meat being slivered. Narrowing his eyes, he spied the single, severed finger ensconced between the creature’s teeth, shredded further into glistening meat with every chatter of its jaws.

‘There are others here.’ Lenk’s voice sounded distant and faint in his own ears, as though he spoke through fog to someone shrouded and invisible. ‘Should we help them?’

Irrelevant,’ the voice replied. ‘Men can die. Demons must die.


The Omen shuffled across the branch, tilting its wrinkled head in an attempt to comprehend. Lenk remained tense, not deceived by the facade of animal innocence. As if sensing this, it tightened its broad mouth into a needle-toothed smile, the severed digit vanishing down its throat with a crunching sound.

It ruffled its feathers once, stretched its head up like a cock preparing to crow and opened its mouth.

‘Gods help me!’ A man’s voice, whetted with terror, echoed through its gaping mouth. ‘Someone! Anyone! HELP ME!

The mimicked plea reverberated through his flesh. His arm tensed, sliding his sword out of its sheath. Like a dog eager to play, the Omen ruffled its feathers, turned about and hopped into the dense foliage of the canopy.

‘It wants help,’ Lenk muttered, watching the white blob vanish into the green.

Then we shall help it.

His legs were numb under his body, moving effortlessly against the earth, sword suddenly so very light in a hand he could no longer feel. He thought he ought to be worried about that, as he suspected he should be worried about following a demonic parasite into the depths of the foliage. He had no ears for those concerns, however.

The ringing cry of the dying man hung from every branch he crept under.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Make me look stupid and win an ARC!

It is true that people love giveaways. Several great nations have been founded on the very concept, with "giveaways" being the number two reason behind national identity behind "What Independence Means to Me" essays.

It is also true that the only thing that people love more than giveaways is making other people depressed. And here, my friends, is an insider secret: no tears are thicker or sweeter than those of authors. They are bottled to make perfume, slathered on like fine oils and if you need a quick burst of energy, just licking them straight off the cheek of an author whose received a bad review, well...there's just nothing like it. I, too, indulge in this practice, having long committed an anonymous, passive-aggressive hatemail campaign against fellow Gollancz author Alex Bell while masquerading under the guise of Jericho Mtumbe, Zimbabwean Mormon attorney.

But enough about my pending lawsuits. The purpose of this blog is to provide you with both a giveaway and an opportunity to make me look dumb, with the arrival of Mr. Sykes' Fantasmagorical Extraoracle Stupidifferic Betting Contest!

You see, just yesterday, I received the final proofs for Tome of the Undergates. Some of you may be familiar with the editing process already, but let me enlighten those of you who aren't.

Step 1: Line editing. This is basically the "meat" of the process, in which the editor who proclaimed to like your book enough to buy it now proceeds to point out how stupid you were when you wrote it. I kid, of course, they don't actually use words as nice as "stupid." Rather, they go line by line and find what works and what doesn't. This is where plot holes are filled, characters are refined, and sweeping changes are made. Frequently, this happens more than once! But when it's done, you go to...

Step 2: Copy editing. This is where a copy-editor, a fine man or woman in the employ of your publisher, goes balls-deep into your writing and starts picking out the sentence fragments, poor word choices, illogical fallacies and just general stupidity. This is also the point where authors and editors both look the most foolish. How foolish, you might ask? As an example: throughout the many, many read-throughs my editor and I did of Tome, neither of us realized that wheel could only spin two ways and it took a copy-editor to catch it. Once they're done with that, though, you reach this part...

Step 3: Final editing. This is basically where it's your last possible chance to change anything at all. This is also when you go the most nuts, because there's a lot to change and you can, usually, only change less than 10% or you wind up having to pay for it.

My friends, it is in this moment, this Final Edit, that Tome of the Undergates finds itself and we find ourselves in a contest of excellent portents.

The Lowdown: We have three (3, III), Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) to give away (bribe) to those interested. The contest is pretty simple, in that it only has one rule.

Guess How Many Mistakes I've Made: You read it correctly! All you have to do is guess how many mistakes I've missed through the editing and, if you're closest to the actual number, you could win one of these fine-ass ARCs!

The Nitty: The book is close to 600 pages long and we can't make more than 10% of an actual change to it, so that would put your odds of finding a mistake at about between 1 and 60? Sounds right, right? So, make your best guess, based on how well you know me or my editor (if you don't know either of us, remember the wheel story).

The Gritty: So, once you've made your guess please send an email (FROM AN ADDRESS YOU CHECK FREQUENTLY; NO THROWAWAY ACCOUNTS, PLEASE) to sam.sykes66@gmail.com with your guess! Corrections are due back by January 13th, so you have until midnight (Arizona time, my time; eff all y'all in other, lamer time zones) on that day to turn in your guess! If you win, we'll send you an email asking for your shipping address and slap it on out to you, personally signed and possibly with an insulting message inside!




Sunday, December 13, 2009

Let's Talk Video Games

It's probably not too hard to believe that a lot of authors are also avid video gamers. Why, Richard Morgan has recently been hired to write plots for video games with (I think) EA? Someday, I, too, may ascend to such a lofty position. For the moment, though, I must be content to merely play them and talk about them.

I suspect, too, that if you're interested in my book, you might also be a fan of video games. To that end, you might find this post, detailing the best of 2009 and the most anticipated of 2010 to be handy.

Without further ado...

God of War Collection

I'm using Amazon for this because I can't find a homepage. Anyway, it may come as a less than shocking confirmation or a horrific surprise that I am a colossal God of War fan. I played both obsessively on the PS2 and, on the PS3, my lust for blood and quicktime events has been rekindled (largely because my PS2 died ages ago).

The gist of the game(s) is as follows: Kratos is a man who is not nice. He sold his soul to Ares, the ancient Greek god of war, in exchange for power. When he decided that this was too much to pay, he went on a rampage across Greece, slaughtering minotaurs, gorgons, skeletons and basically everything out of Clash of the Titans. In God of War 2, he decided that it wasn't the best idea to stop with Ares and swiftly declared war on the rest of the Pantheon.

What I really love about this game, beyond the fact that you can headbutt a minotaur, drive a pair of blades in his open mouth and rip his jaws apart, is the sheer lack of apology and bravado with which Kratos is depicted as a warrior. Yes, he rips off heads. Yes, he rips the eyeballs out of cyclopes. Yes, he impales giant hydra. But that's just what he does.

Did you never play God of War? You might wonder if you are a bad person for not doing so. It's not up to me to pass judgment (but yes, you are awful, play it now).

Dragon Age: Origins

Bioware is a company renowned for awesome RPGs, most of which involving wizards, goblins and the occasional cameo by a Forgotten Realms character. If you played Mass Effect, you're probably aware that they've moved onto somewhat more original and independent project. DA:O is their second project, returning to traditional fantasy roots.

It's labeled a "dark fantasy," and the most I can guess is that this means "there is a lot of blood and some of your group members are a-holes." There's a lot of the old fantasy tropes: elves, mages, dwarves, orcs. But they're done in a very interesting way: elves are second-rate citizens or angry xenophobes, mages are dangerous thrill-seekers, dwarves are underground Hindus, orcs are called something else entirely are born FROM A FOUR-BREASTED ABOMINATION WITH TENTACLES.

It's quite fun, all in all. The story is a little predictable (tell me if you can't spot the treasons coming), but that's not a bad thing, necessarily. The writing and dialogue is top-notch and the combat is very fun, being both great for those who enjoy a seat-of-the-pants playstyle and those who prefer a more tactical approach.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

This is easily my choice for Game of the Year. I can't say enough good things about this game (and this is coming from a man who knows next to nothing about the Batman universe).

The best thing I can say about it is that this is the only game I've seen in awhile that actually invents and brings together an entirely new style of gameplay, namely, predatory. Stealth games aren't new at all, it's true, but to call AA a stealth gameplay would be an understatement that would probably make me deck you. The sheer variety of tools, techniques and abilities with which you have to hunt and take down your enemies is mind-boggling. You have a lot of great methods, it's true, but none are so powerful that they overrule the use of others or make the situations any less tense. The fast, fluid combat is just a bonus on top of that.

Probably my favorite part, though, is the incredible atmosphere. I used to think of Batman's villains as being largely cartoonish caricatures of criminals. It took this game to drive home the fact that the Joker, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy are dangerous psychopaths who would kill you for reasons you can't even fathom. Add to this a decaying, overrun insane asylum with the same kind of tense, macabre wonderland feel that I felt in Bioshock and this game is tops.

I really can't recommend it enough. It is basically the only game I've ever played that made me sad to finish. You're doing yourself a huge disservice if you're not at least trying this game.

Most Anticipated for 2010

God of War 3

In fact, it is possible for God of War to be even better! You have to add the ability to ride a maimed cyclops through a horde of enemies and the pure fun of grabbing a guy by his guts and using him like a battering ram to bowl over your foes, but it can be done. Look for it in March.

Dante's Inferno

This game has proven quite controversial. No, not because of Visceral's attempts to generate publicity by staging fake protests by Christian groups. Rather, it's the fact that they've made a video game of the Divine Comedy in which the poetic observer is replaced by a blood-crazed, morally curious crusader with a giant scythe and a fireball crucifix and are expecting to be taken seriously. I just finished the demo and, for all respects, the gameplay is exactly like God of War. But the style is completely slick (I have a great passion for Renaissance depictions of hell) and God of War had shit hot gameplay, so I'll be giving this one a gander in February.


To be honest, I was severely on the fence about this. The style doesn't entirely jive with me (fire and brimstone demons are a bit passe, as far as I'm concerned) and there's only so much God of War-esque gameplay I can take. Recent developments have suggested it's more akin to a darker, apocalyptic Legend of Zelda than anything else, though. Given that I love the Zelda games and I also love ripping zombies apart, I think this January release will be worth a look or two.

That's that! I hope you find these suggestions useful!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ho Ho Holy Crap

The Holidays are upon us, the time of year where you continue to provide a reason to your friends and relatives to keep talking to you! But, as you no doubt know, love does not come cheaply unless you have a heap of alcohol. Thus, you are faced with two problems: alcohol is an inappropriate gift to give anyone except your editor and one your two areas of expertise are fantasy books and Diwali decorations.

Fortunately for you, I don't think of myself as just a violent, angry man whose thoughts you read in anticipation of the day I finally snap, I think of myself as your friend. Thusly, I am bringing to you, in this very post...

Sam Sykes' Fantasy Book Holiday Buyer's Guide for Misanthropes and Felons

So! What fantasy book do you buy for people? Well, let's take it family member by family member...

For your weird uncle who has flashbacks to a war that has never happened...

A tough sell! What do you buy a guy who has entertained thoughts of smothering you with a pillow? Such a gift must be one to stay his hand. Why not try Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie? I will not lie to you: Abercrombie is a terrible man and a horse thief, but he is an excellent author and this book is probably his best yet. Filled to the brim with violence, intrigue and possible incest, it is the perfect gift to give a family member!

For your mother who sometimes stares at you for a long time and then sighs...

Clearly, you're going to want a book that is so fantastic and joyous that your mother will stop questioning why she had you and start questioning why she didn't have you sooner! Something perhaps a little light on murder and sexual promiscuity...I'll be frank with you, here, though, I haven't read a lot of books that feature this. Clearly, the best way to go is the opposite direction and get The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan (the "K" stands for "Kay," I'm told).

For your strange cousin who you once caught talking to the blender and you swore you'd never tell but oh lord it's just so weird...

Weird, deadpan and surprisingly philosophical perfectly describes one of my favorite urban fantasy authors: Mike Carey and his Felix Castor novels that begin with The Devil You Know. This book is excellent for anyone who finds regular noir to be lacking in paranoiac zombies and regular urban fantasy to be lacking in complex moral issues regarding whether or not it's right to kill a demon with a tin whistle.

For your sister who is wondering if there is life after Dumbledore...

Harry Potter junkies are notoriously hard to shop for. They've read the books, seen the movies and stolen a lock of Alan Rickman's hair already, so what else is there to do beyond stealing a snowy owl and facing the prison charge? Well, it all depends on what you want from them...

If you want them to hate you...

Try Lev Grossman's The Magicians. Don't be fooled, it's an excellent book, but it's pretty free of the innocence, wonder and mystery (replaced with sex, drugs and bestiality...or is it bestiality if it's shapeshifted consenting fox sex?) At any rate, definitely good for those who like a bit of philosophy in their magic school stories.

If you want them to like you...

Then look no further than what is quickly being described as the Potter for adults: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. With a lot of wonder and awkward teenage courtship going on, it's got pretty much everything the maturing fantasy reader could want!

Incidentally, what with this being the time of year where people desperately try to relieve the crushing weight of their guilt by donating to charity, please check out Rothfuss' blog for details on giving to his sponsored charity: Worldbuilders and Heifer International. He's done an immense amount putting his newfound fame to work for the needy, so why not invest a little money in a good deed? If you're not too late, you can get prizes, a general good feeling, and I can personally guarantee you that he will give you a big, furry hug or I will hit him with a crowbar (when you belong to the same publishing house, you can't press charges of threats of violence, this is law). Do keep in mind, though, there is a rumor that his beard eats faces. Consider it carefully when choosing to embrace the beast.

And finally, for that special someone who privately wonders what the noises coming from your basement are...

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (his website isn't loading for me and holy crap have you never heard of google, sheesh) is pretty much one of the best books I've ever read. I'm loathe to call it the everyman's fantasy for fear of diminishing how cool it is, but it is quite appealing to all demographics from children with colorful vocabularies to mafia hitmen.

And that concludes this year's edition! In all seriousness, this guide is pretty much crafted to suggest both some of my favorite books and some fantasy books that are pretty accessible to everyone, no matter how much they've read.

As for me, I will be buying my family prints from my favorite webcomic: Beartato (also known as Nedroid). All gifts send a message and this is one is specifically crafted to be deeply confusing.

Also, I'm not a shill for Amazon.com (see! I didn't link them!), but that is a pretty easy way to buy books, yo.

Happy Holidays! Sleep with one eye open!