SCI-FI and horror author Michael Brookes’ day job involves creating interesting worlds and characters to tell stories for the games industry. Compelling and intelligent, his novels cross the great divide of the traditional sci-fi and horror genres to provide readers with unique plots, intriguing characters and multi-faceted story lines that keep the pages turning. Michael writes with polished finesse and his distinctive approach to fiction is exciting, refreshing and ingenious.
1. Who do you think you are, Michael Brookes?
Like everyone I am many things, most of my time is spent working and writing so they provide convenient labels for what I do and what I think about. My day job is an Executive Producer for an independent video game developer. I’ve always enjoyed playing games and to spend my time developing new ones is a great way to earn a living.
I’m also a writer, mostly in the horror and science fiction genres. Although I consider myself a writer of stories, if those stories take me across genre boundaries then that is fine.
I also volunteer as a technical editor for my local community magazine Littleport Life. Pretty much everything I do involves writing in some way.
2. We all love our heroes in fiction, why did you choose an anti-hero as the main protagonist of The Cult of Me?
It’s always fun writing evil characters, in many ways they can be more ambiguous compared to ‘good’ characters. I enjoy featuring paradox and juxtaposition in my story and there is something fun in having an evil man doing good things for the wrong reasons.
For the protagonist in The Cult of Me I wanted a human character to balance the more obviously powerful angels and demons that he would be coming up against throughout the trilogy.
3. How much of your day job influences the plot of your stories?
Games are a relatively new form of telling stories, most games tell the story in a linear fashion, the same as most books or films. However for some games the manner in which the player can explore the story is much wider.
A good example of this is the game I am currently working on called Elite: Dangerous. It’s a space game set in our galaxy, but a thousand years in the future. The entire galaxy is available for the player to explore and there is a rich history building up to the game’s starting point.
With such a vast area (400 billion stars) we can’t rely on traditional storytelling to provide interest and contest to the player. World building itself is nothing new, but the freedom that the player has is something only really possible via an interactive media like games. To facilitate this we use procedural generation of content not only for the locations, but also for the narrative. This means that the player experiences their own stories with common elements shared by other players in the game. It also means that the narratives evolve with the world automatically as well as through injection of events by us as the developers into the game world.
It’s an exciting development in the way that stories can be told and something I’m proud to be a part of.
4. To what extent is Faust 2.0 an allegory of the darker side of the internet?
The internet does have its dark side, this is most notable by the crime, hacking and content like snuff films and child pornography that exists. This really is a reflection on us as the users rather than the technology itself. For the most part it’s how a technology is used that makes it good or bad.
However there is an intrinsic danger to some technologies, one such concept is called the ‘Technological Singularity’. This is the idea that technology can reach a stage that its evolution races beyond our ability to understand or control it. One of the possible triggers for such an event is that of an emergent artificial intelligence. Faust 2.0 explores this specific idea, but is also the first in a series of books that looks at other possible triggers.
5. Amazon is changing the way in which readers choose to read. Do you agree and why?
I’ll admit that, despite my love of technology, I was a late adopter of ebooks. Now I’m a convert and I read almost exclusively on my Kindle. That being said, I do still love the feel of a physical book, but the convenience of ebooks has won me over.
What Amazon has done is not new, the technology has been around for years, what they have done is made a successful business out of it. More importantly they have made it an accepted technology and that has brought with it the empowerment for self-publishing with the potential to reach a wide audience.
Naturally that has resulted in a flood of releases and the quality of many of those has resulted in a poor reputation for self and indie publishing. That’s why I believe that we have a responsibility to make sure that what we release is of a standard. While telling a good story should always be the prime factor we also need to make sure that our work is properly edited and proofread.
6. I see that Milton’s take on Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost is your favourite story. You say it’s ‘sublime’. Is it Milton’s unorthodox approach to traditional philosophical and theological argument that hooks you or simply his skill as a wordsmith?
For me there are two things that are guaranteed to attract my interest. The first (and foremost) is the big idea. I love stories that tackle big ideas and Paradise lost takes on the biggest ideas of all. Who are we? What is our place in the universe? How did we come to be? Milton tackles all of these questions and more. Not only that, he puts them into a context that we can appreciate.
Also, his writing demonstrates the majesty of his faith in a way that even those of us who don’t have it can see what it means. With modern understanding its easy to pick holes in Milton’s presentation, but you can see how he married the revelations of his time with his religious convictions.
His ability to craft words has also stood the test of time. It’s tricky for many modern readers, but well worth the effort.
7. What in your life encouraged you to become a fiction writer?
I’ve always loved reading. Books have provided a gateway to worlds and experiences that were impossible by other means. Reading other people’s stories inspired stories of my own, or questions that I wanted to address. Paradise lost is a good example here, when I read it God doesn’t come across very well. I’m sure that wasn’t Milton’s understanding, but without Milton’s faith and his perspective, my view is different. So I asked, if God is real, why would he ignore his creation in the way that he seems to have done? That question led to The Cult of Me and The Third Path trilogy.
8. What comes first: character; scene or plot?
It varies although it usually starts with a question or a scenario. What if God is real, yet our understanding of science is also real? How would a being who came into being with perfect self-awareness but no sense of identity come to identify itself? Sometimes I’m inspired by an odd thought or scenario that then turns into a story.
9. An Odder Quintet is a selection of stories with dark twists to the plots. As an obviously experienced writer, how do you maintain that element of shock when it’s all been done – whether well or badly – so many times before?
I write stories primarily for myself and I’m fortunate that others enjoy them as well. Some of my endings (especially for the novels) are planned in advance, others evolve along with the story. Many of the dark twists come from understanding who can gain from the circumstance they are in. My favourite twist is from a story called The Yellow Lady from my first short story collection An Odd Quartet. That started as a simple ghost story, but how the story resolved itself evolved as I wrote it, but I was pleased by the twist.
10. Do you have a work in progress? If so, tell us what we can look forward to.
I’m currently in the editing phase for my next novel Sun Dragon, it’s a more traditional science fiction story of the first manned mission to Mars after a rover has discovered actual life on the planet. You can of course expect my trademark twist on the tale!
You can learn more about Michael on his blog at: http://thecultofme.blogspot.co.uk/
Buy his books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michael-Brookes/e/B008OGD8KG