Happy Birthday Mike!
That’s right, it’s our Mike’s birthday! If you’re (somehow) unfamiliar with Mike, he’s the chap that’s written over sixty posts here on the Hive. Publicist-botherer-extraordinaire, Mike:
Seeing as his day-job has, understandably, currently taken over everything, Mike’s been absent from the scene for a while. And, we were thinking, it’s pretty shit his birthday is falling during lockdown.
So we’re going to celebrate with our favourite Moments from Mike…
- That time he wrote his very first post on the Hive, and forgot how basic maths works – a review of Kings of the Wyld
Kings of the Wyld is one of those books that could easily transcend the written word, and easily be a summer blockbuster, a TV series (Netflix, I’m looking at you!), or a video game (Dragon Age style or MMORPG springs to mind). I mean, it’s already got its own soundtrack!
It kills me that I can’t give this book a 10 out of 10. Why? Because Eames cranked it all the way to 11. So f*** it, you know what? 11 out of 10. As the saying goes:
They don’t make ‘em like they used to.
2. That time Rosewater scared him a little bit
Rosewater is one of the most compelling, complex and colourful books I have ever read.
Set in near-future Nigeria, 2066 to be exact, the story introduces Kaaro, fraud/cyber investigator and government agent, and the town of Rosewater, which is built around an alien biodome. Once a year the biodome opens and heals people around it. Others have developed powers because of it. Kaaro is one of these. But despite these ‘gifts,’ the aliens’ intent is unknown, and it remains to be seen if they have come in peace, to pick up the pieces of that which man has broken, or something else entirely…
If this sounds complex, then let me tell you this: it is. It’s also a little intimidating.
There are many, MANY moving parts to Rosewater. The machine that is the manuscript is non-linear and uses three different timelines to motor the plot along. Throw into the mix all the set pieces, and you are in for a whirlwind of a ride.
3. That time Mike tried to stir trouble in his interview with Anna Stephens
Of the ‘Class of 2017’ debuts, if you were to have an Avengers-style crossover between your world and that of another, who would it be and why?
Yikes, that’s really tough. I’d like to see Nenn from Ed McDonald’s Blackwing go toe to toe in a dust-up with Major Tara Carter of the West Rank – there’d be blood everywhere, they’d both fight dirty, I don’t know who’d win (I do, it’s Tara, obviously) but they’d absolutely go and get roaring drunk together afterwards.
I’d also like to see how the Blessed One did in the world of Deborah Wolf’s The Dragon’s Legacy, particularly in the Dragon King’s city of Autalon.
4. That time Mike tried to trick us into laughing at Never Die – IT’S NOT FUNNY.
A warrior who refuses to wield one of her swords, a bandit, a fat man, a warrior monk, a leper, and a child who wouldn’t be out of place in a corn circle walk into a bar. Oh, and apart from the kid, they’re walking (un)dead.
Sounds like the start of a joke, right?
NEVER DIE is no laughing matter.
5. That time Mike nearly got kicked out of the Hive – I KID! From his review of God of Gnomes
For full disclosure: Demi Harper is a pen name of Laura M. Hughes, aka @halfstrungharp. She’s the Queen Bee here at the Hive, and she’s a close friend of mine. These did not factor into my decision to give this book…
5 stars. And I genuinely fretted over this decision. Should I give it 4 stars, because I know Demi? Am I being biased?
Lol, no. We give each other enough sh*t for me to be comfortable giving her a ‘true’ rating, and I’ll be damned if I score a book based on anything other than its own merit. (Though large cash sums might persuade me otherwise.)
(Fun fact: 5 is the same number of hours it takes Demi to eat lunch. 1 is the same number of wines it takes before she’s swaying beside the buffet table, snacking on finger foods trying to level-off. Do the math. It’s a long day.)
6. That time Mike tried to get RJ to confess to murder (and went a bit nuts on footnotes) – from his interview with RJ Barker
Seeing as your book is centred on ‘assassins’ (judging a book by its cover, I know, but it does what it says on the tin…I mean, cover), if you were to ‘assassinate’ someone, how would you do it?
Well, obviously I can’t say what I would do, because a good assassin never gives away their methods but I would ideally want something that took effect while I was well away so I didn’t look suspicious. I’m not saying that those who cross me should watch what they eat and drink, but those who cross me should watch what they eat and drink…
7. That time Mike tried to teach us about DnD and made us inexplicably concerned about Gary
You could opt to be a Dwarf warrior named Gimli, a Human wizard named Hermione, or a Drow Elf Ranger named Drizzt.
Or you could flip things entirely on their head and be Gary the Half-orc Cleric who heals and gives aid to others, sworn to help those in need after growing up on the streets in a society which shuns him. Maybe you fancy a character like Gnasher the Gnome Barbarian, who wields an axe bigger than she is tall, with a penchant for kneecaps, whose favourite drink is a Bloody Mary with real orc blood (sorry Gary).
You can be whoever you want to be. And ultimately, race/class is a very small part of what your character is, not who they are.
8. That time Mike told us all about his First Love
It’s no mystery that I’m an avid fan of David Gemmell. He is my idol. The man is big-daddy-of-heroic-fantasy if you ask me. Legend was the first novel that I truly read. I could not read until I was eleven. No, that’s wrong. I did not want to read. Gemmell changed that for me, and he started with Legend.
Sure, the book is an ‘adult’ story, and I was little more than a spotty pre-teen. There’s violence, there’s love…there’s passion. I laughed and I cried. I read about men who stood against death and life itself. I wanted to be one of those men.
9. That time Empire of Sand got him all muddled up
Did I really just say that (above)? ‘One of the most exciting releases of the year.’ REALLY? I try not to use clichés where possible, but, in this instance, it’s true.
This isn’t one of the most exciting releases of the year. This is one of the most exciting releases of the past five if not ten years for me. Sure, anyone in the fantasy community will have heard the call for more diverse fantasy voices and stories, and there have been many (but not enough! MORE PLEASE) to answer this call, but I have yet to come across ANYTHING like Empire of Sand.
10. That time Mike was unhappy with David Wragg’s security choices
I’m not going to ask you who your favourite Black Hawk is – though I’m really, really tempted to. Instead, if you had to choose one member of the Black Hawks to be your personal guard – a la Chel & Prince Tarfel – who would it be, and why?
I’d go with Whisper in a second. On the one hand, she’s calm, professional and experienced, and on the other, she’s probably the only one of them that wouldn’t belittle and needle you all day on a constant basis. Verbally, at least.
*Mike grumbles about not picking Lemon*
11. That time Mike got serious with us about a very important topic. No really, he did (Rage of Dragons)
Speaking personally, as this book did touch me personally on the theme of cost, The Rage of Dragons embraces what it means to be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and made it an accessible topic in a way I hadn’t read before. Without getting ‘heavy’ on the topic, PTSD is something that a lot of people have, and have had throughout history. It affects people differently, for different reasons, and is entirely individual to them based on them as a person. A bit of a taboo subject until recently, it has become more widely acknowledged (and dare I say it, ‘accepted’) in recent years.
12. That time Mike tried to get us reading to our dogs
Griz is a fantastic PoV. Being young in an old, old world, his childlike (note: not childish) curiosity allows the reader to see the world free of cynicism, though it’s not via rose tinted glasses either. Griz’s story doesn’t so much as tell the story of the world, or how it ended, but it does tell us more about how our choices in the present day impacted Griz’s future world, or indeed, any future world. It’s the smallest things, like how tyres and plastics have survived whilst car parks have not, that struck me the most. It’s also these smaller things that you and I, as readers, can make an impact on.
This story is speculative fiction at its best. And yes, there are elements that, at least to me, are ‘YA’ but this is a story for all ages. There’s something for all the family here (including the dog). It’s a tale that can be enjoyed by all, and though there isn’t so much a direct ‘moral of the story’ there is plenty to learn and cherish.
13. That time Mike got Anna Smith Spark very excited
Hi Anna, welcome back to the Fantasy Hive! For those that haven’t met you (and I would say they’ve been living under a rock if they haven’t, but that’s a pretty grimdark place to be, and you’re the ‘queen of grimdark’ so they’re certainly not there!), in less than 50 words, introduce yourself!
Argh! [Fuck, that’s 1/50th of my word limit already]. I’m an ex-fetish model with a PhD in Victorian occultism. I wear shoes that make men moan and wince. I was cover article in the Fortean Times arguing that Erich Von Daniken is more rational than Richard Dawkins. I’m BFS and Gemmell shortlisted. Jo Fletcher calls me a mad poet.
[50! Yes! Yes!]
14. That time Mike laid down the law about eBook eBay Piracy dammit eBay eBook Piracy
Ebay ebook piracy. It’s not as hard to say as ‘Irish wristwatch’ but it’s still pretty tricky – and it’s tricky to unravel as a subject, too…
Ebook piracy is when someone ‘steals’ a copy of your book and puts it online for people to download.
BUT – I hear you cry – isn’t ebook piracy when someone puts it up to download for FREE?
But it also covers someone putting it up to download for $$$.
Both are equally as damaging to an author (lost moneyz) but IMHO someone selling your ebook is worse. (Note: I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of free illegal downloads so don’t @ me).
15. That time Mike reread the wrong series bam chica wah wah (The Lightbringer Reread)
I will add that there is a lotta sexy-time – or at least attempts at getting it on. Especially the first 10 percent or so, and at the end too. 50 Shades of Lightbringer. I kid, I kid. That being said, when it does happen it’s well-written, and purposeful. Additionally, for anyone questioning the emphasis on sex in the story, I implore you to read the author’s note in the book. Everything will make sense with that context. I promise you. There’s a message about love that we can all take something from.
16. That time it just wasn’t quite enough for Mike (Nine Parts Bluster and Other Stories)
The author has a heck of a lot of talent in his little finger – and the rest of the fingers that tap away on that keyboard of his. The thing is, with these four short stories, I never really got the feeling he was stretching himself. That is to say, despite his characters being fully realised, the worlds fleshed and full of life, and the world building built solidly, I wanted MORE. I wanted him to throw me, as the reader, into the deep end of a full-length novel.
17. That time Mike managed to get not-very-much out of Nicholas Eames
Which brings me nicely to what’s coming next. What can you tell us about the upcoming ‘book 3’ of the band?
It’s got an awesome title that I can’t tell you yet, and a wicked cover that I can’t show you yet. It takes place about twenty or so years after the first book (14 years after the second) and features a whole new generation of miscreants! Whereas KINGS OF THE WYLD was inspired by 70’s rock and BLOODY ROSE took most of its cues from 80’s pop, book 3 of THE BAND embodies the reckless, anti-establishment hip-hop and grunge of the early 90’s.
18. That time Mike confronted That Bit in The Poppy War
There is a particular moment in part one, when Rin is faced with a dilemma and a decision, which I won’t cover due to spoilers. Firstly (and you will know the moment when you get to it), I have never heard of a book present this type of dilemma to a character, or indeed the reader, and secondly, Rin’s decision blew me out of the water and left me ‘whu whu whu’ing like a fish trying to breathe. It will probably go down as one of my most memorable moments in fantasy of all time.
19. That time Mike made all the comparisons (Fall)
And talking of grit and guts, the world building is full of it – not to labour the comparisons, but there’s a whole host of ‘x meets y’ on hand. Beyond my first comparison in the opening line, I’d liken FALL to Sin City meets Repo-Men in the world of Halo ODST, with a healthy dose of Black Mirror. FALL raises a grimdark mirror up to the face of our current reality and the state of the world we will pass on to the future if we continue down a path of self-assured destruction. A world in which the poor and rich divide widens, a world in which technological developments become technological dependencies, and a world in which life is taken – not given.
20. That time Mike implied how much of a book hoarder he really is (Interview with Justin Call)
I have to come out and say this: your cover is GORGEOUS! Seriously. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC from Gollancz (thanks Stevie!) and a signed/numbered limited edition from Anderida books (thanks team!). What do you think of the cover?
I absolutely love the cover! The prettiest thing I’ve seen on a book…maybe ever.
The process was an interesting one since it began with Gollancz asking my opinion about style and tone. I told them I wanted something abstract – a symbol or an image that represented the story but which didn’t depict the typical fantasy tropes (like a mysterious figure in a robe/cape, a glowing sword, etc). I actually suggested a drawing of the Hand of Keos (the gold one mentioned in the book), which has an engraving of a fiery anvil with a hammer floating above it. We tried the hand thing, but it just didn’t look right, so we lifted the art from the hand and used that as a template (hence the appearance of the fiery anvil). The hammer was also called a “war falcon” initially, but I think the illustrator, Patrick Knowles, thought it was literally supposed to be a falcon…so that’s what he drew! I recognised the error immediately, but I really liked the image of the bird and asked if we could switch it to a phoenix (since that’s what Annev is often associated with). It had also originally been designed to look like an engraving on a piece of gold metal, but when Patrick revised the illustration, he moved it over to dark teal stone background (beautiful) and changed the engraving to a gold embossing. I was speechless. Couldn’t have been happier with the final product. And then the Gollancz team produced that gorgeous hard cover and…wow. It’s literally a work of art. I can stare at the cover and turn it over in my hands and never get tired of the detail found there. It’s going to be hard to top that!
21. That time everything ticked Mike’s boxes (Vox Machina Origins)
The Good: Art, story, characters, all of it gets 5 stars from me. I might be a little biased as a fan of the show (Critical Role), but Vox Machina Origins is so much more than a ‘companion’ to the series, offering a little something for everyone.
The Bad: If you’ve never seen Critical Role before, especially campaign 1, this might not have the same ring of nostalgia, but that’s not really a bad thing – it’s just another reason why you should watch it!
The Ugly Truth: Vox Machina Origins is a triple-threat treat to fans new, old, and uninitiated. Awesome artwork = check. Superb storytelling = check. Humour, heart, and a heavy right hook of action = check, check, check.
22. That time Mike his voice. Or, well, a voice (Snakewood)
Anyone who is an aspiring writer – heck, anyone who is a writer, unpublished or not – has a lot to take away from reading Snakewood. We’ve all heard the term ‘voice’ and what it means in writing and reading. In Snakewood, Selby taught me more about voice – both that of the author and the character (and, by extent of both, the narrator) – than any other ‘lesson’, ‘how to’, blog or book I have ever read.
The best way I can put Snakewood’s collective ‘voice’ into words is: method writing. Like method acting, but, well, you get the gist.
23. That time Mike acquiesced to his admiration for alliteration in Age of Assassins
But Girton Clubfoot from Age Of Assassins? He’s different. And no, I’m not referring to the fact that he is disabled as being different. In the author’s own words: ‘He is not his disability; it is only a part of him. He does not let it stop or define him.’ Girton is different because he has a whole lotta heart, hope, and with these goes hurt, hand in hand.
Girton is the apprentice to Master Merela Khan, an assassin who saves him at a young age and raises him as an assassin. But rather than raise him in hardship and in harm’s way, Merela has raised him with love and care. And this can be felt throughout the story.
24. That time Mike addressed one of the longest running arguments online – Self Pub Vs Trad (Interview with Evan Winter)
Before being published by Orbit, you self-published Rage of Dragons. What was it that made you switch to the traditional route?
I want to become the best writer that I’m capable of being and though self-publishing is a remarkably good way to tell stories to the world, it means being an entrepreneur as well as a writer. I definitely enjoyed the education, the work, and the mentality that came with running my own one-person ‘publishing house,’ but, having had the experience and then being offered an opportunity to be traditionally published, I chose traditional because I want to focus entirely on the writing. Basically, I want to have the help and support that traditional publishing can offer in order to spend whatever time I have on my writing. Lastly, and as importantly as anything else I’ve said about this, I really felt like my editor understood the story I wanted to tell, and I was excited to have her support, expertise, and talent to help me do more than I’d be able to do on my own.
25. That time Mike made us wish Anna Stephens really would open her own bar (Anna we’d get sooooo hammered!) – Godblind
Every once in a while a book comes along that takes everything you have come to know and like, and doesn’t just raise the bar, it takes a step to the side and puts up its own bar. Sure, in a way it’s still everything you know and like, but for other reasons, you actually don’t know it, and you love it for it. Why? Because it’s going in a different direction, despite starting with similar ingredients.
Anna Stephens’ Godblind is that book, and I cannot wait to see where she takes us – not just for the destination, but for the journey, too. In her own words: ‘My feet are on the path.’
26. That time Mike fell for a Prince, and showed off his alliteration abilities again (The Black Hawks)
The Black Hawks themselves are as colourful as their choice of cussing. They’re not the Kings of the Wyld band of miscreants that the cover hints at (more on this later); instead, they’re a bunch of bitter, black-hearted and black-humoured bastards. They’re the type of people who you’d rather have as friends than enemies. Which, funnily enough, is how Chel falls into their company, alongside his Princely charge. And, for me, it was these two who stole the spotlight from the main act.
The Prince starts off being tedious, but grows to become endearing. And Chel. Well, Chel is fantastic at not being fantastic. He’s just so normal, and that in itself is a joy to read. He’s a bit of a jack of all (ish) trades, master of none, who gets by not on his own good fortune, but more the misfortune of others. And as the story is told through his perspective, it’s a nice change from other highly capable protagonists.
27. That time Mike brought out the dark side of Justin Call.
Sticking with taglines, ‘what if you were destined to be a villain?’; which would you be – hero or villain?
In real life, I think I’m actually a pretty nice guy, and I’m usually looking to help out other people, be a peacemaker, etc. That should make me a hero, right?
At the same time, I’ve been known to be a bit dickish when it comes to ignoring proper social etiquette, I can be uncomfortably blunt and/or dry (depending on my mood), and I frequently revel in the awkwardness of others (I literally thrive in awkward situations). So that pushes me more towards the villain camp. I’m also given to over-analysis, which is another trait more often associated with villains.
28. That time Priest of Bones kept Mike up all night
Ever open a book and within the first few lines know that:
- You’re going to love it
- It’s not just ‘telling’ a story, it’s ‘speaking to you’
- You’re not going to sleep until you finish it
Priest of Bones did this in 3 lines for me.
Actually, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the first sneaking sensation came upon me as I read the cast list.
As readers we are introduced to Tomas Piety and his band of not-so-merry men (and women!) as they return from war. Soldiers scarred physically but more mentally (and accurately so) whose return to civilian life is going to come crashing down around their ears.
29. That time Mike had so much to say that he lost all his thoughts (The Gutter Prayer)
I genuinely don’t know where to start with this one. Admittedly, this is in part because there is SO MUCH I can say about The Gutter Prayer (but don’t have the words to do it justice) but also because there is SO MUCH to say about The Gutter Prayer. Yes, you read that right. So much I can say vs. so much to say.
Bear with me whilst I try and collect my thoughts.
Let’s start with the style, as this is the first thing that struck me dumb. Though, admittedly, looking back, I was more dumbstruck than awestruck when I started the book, as the opening scene really threw me, but I hung on and I’m really glad that I did.
30. That time Nicholas Eames made Mike cry a lot (and Mike revealed so many spoilers for Kings of the Wyld)
‘The best stories make you feel, question or consider something about yourself’. I said this in passing, and ended up posting it on social media. At the time, it sounded like something reasonably bright and somewhat witty to my own ears, but the more those words have rattled around in my head, the more I’ve thought about them.
And why did I say them in the first place? Because Nicholas Eames made me cry.