We’ve all seen movies and TV shows in which someone is forced to commit a crime on someone else’s behalf because the latter is holding the former’s loved one hostage. But while that’s also the premise of Mike Brook’s new sci-fi novel Dark Deeds (paperback, Kindle) — the third in his Keiko series after Dark Run and Dark Sky — in talking to Brooks about this novel, he revealed that the kidnap victim in his story didn’t just sit back and let this all play out.
For those unfamiliar with your Keiko series, what is it about, what is Dark Deeds about, and how does Dark Deeds connect both narratively and chronologically to the previous novels, Dark Run and Dark Sky?
The Keiko series is about a starship of the same name and, more importantly, the crew of it. They’re a mismatched group with a variety of checkered pasts — hence why they’re scratching a living on a battered freighter — and the work they can find isn’t always legal, and certainly isn’t always safe. It’s set in the future where humanity has developed faster-than-light travel but not faster-than-light communication, so news only travels as fast as a person can carry it. Basically, it’s a galaxy-wide Wild West feel where, if you’re quick and cunning enough, you can outrun your own bad news.
Dark Deeds is basically a heist movie. Only a book. And in space. It follows on directly from Dark Sky, in that the reason they need to do the heist is because a Very Bad Man has got the crew over a barrel. But while there are references to the previous books, you should be able to pick it up and have it work as a stand-alone novel. I mean, if you’ve got someone threatening to send people face-first into a bandsaw, you can probably pick up that he’s a Very Bad Man without needing to have read the characters’ previous interactions with him.
True. So, where did the idea for Dark Deeds come from, and how different is the finished version from that original idea?
Well, I said it was basically a heist movie, so take your pick. I suppose something like Ocean’s Eleven, but I didn’t want to include the reality-breaking level of complexity involved in that. That’s certainly the “feel” I was going for, though.
There’s also gangster movie elements, because Tamara Rourke is taken hostage by the gangster making them do this stuff, but the thing about Rourke is she’s not going to just sit there and wait to be rescued, so she starts causing trouble herself.
As for how different it is to the original idea…well, there’s one relatively major event that happens which I hadn’t envisaged when I started writing it, but seemed like it had to happen once I’d started. And that has knock-on effects. But to be fair, the original idea was pretty loose anyway.
Like the other books, Dark Deeds is a sci-fi novel. But there are a lot of subgenres in science fiction. Where do you see Dark Deeds — and in fact the rest of the Keiko series — fitting in and why there?
The worst person to describe the genre of something is the creator, I always think. If you ask a musician what genre their band is they’ll likely come up with something like “post-hardcore-thrash-tech-melodeath” or something, which serves absolutely no purpose except to make them feel smug.
Then again, I’m in a punk band, and we’re very definitely a punk band, so take from that what you will. Maybe that I have limited imagination?
But anyway, I’ve decided I feel comfortable with describing the Keiko series as “grimy space opera,” in that while they fly around across the galaxy, it’s not all shiny and clean like Star Trek: stuff’s dirty, and things break down, and there’s probably something somewhere held together with the 26th century equivalent of duct tape. But even though you can probably call it space opera, most of the series has taken place on planets, and I don’t know if that counts.
In our earlier interviews about Dark Run and Dark Sky [which you can read here and here, respectfully], you said those books were somewhat influenced by Firefly, Blade Runner, and the tabletop war game Necromunda. Is it safe to assume that they were an influence on Dark Deeds as well?
Certainly still an influence. Thinking about it, there’s a market scene in Dark Deeds that feels similar to when Deckard goes to the market in Blade Runner, at least in terms of how I envisaged it in my head. I like markets, I’ve realized: most of the things I’ve written feature them somewhere. I like the jam-packed feel of them, how different things are all crowded up together with no real rhyme or reason. Camden Market in London is a big favorite, and I found the souks fascinating when I visited Marrakesh in Morocco once.
Dark Deeds also sounds like it might be influenced by some noir-ish crime novels or movies.
I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure what noir is, without looking it up. So the answer is: possibly, but not that I can say for sure.
Are there any other writers, or specific books, that had an influence on Dark Deeds, maybe ones that were not an influence on Dark Run or Dark Sky?
Not that I can think of, specifically. But it’s worth bearing in mind that — apart from the edits — I wrote this in 2015, so it’s a while ago now.
Ah. Well, then, you might have trouble with this one as well. Are there any movies, TV shows, or games that influenced Dark Deeds?
Not sure about that, really. I suppose there will be. A lot of my inspiration doesn’t come from other “creative” stuff, if you like, but science articles and so on. So the planet that most of the action takes place on is in a binary star system, which doesn’t matter to the story in any real way, but came about because I’d been reading articles about them and decided I wanted to set something there. Part of the hustle they work involves the futuristic equivalent of MMA, which was obviously influenced by the fact I watch a lot of that.
As we mentioned, Dark Deeds is the third book in your Keiko series, which you’ve said will ultimately encompass five novels. Without spoiling anything, what can you tell us about books four and five? Do you know when they’ll be out, how the series ends, which of them will be called Dark Chocolate…?
Nothing, no, yes, and none of them. Probably in that order.
In theory, books four and five are called Dark Words and Dark Days, respectively. They feature the story widening out and becoming a little more all-encompassing, and basically a couple of the crew have to stop running from their pasts and face up to them. And yes, I know how the series ends.
As to when they’ll be out…I haven’t even got a contract for them. Saga initially contracted me for Dark Run and Dark Sky, and then took me on for a third with Dark Deeds. I suspect we’ll have to see how well that and Dark Deeds does before I find out if they want any more novels from me. If they don’t, I’ll have to work out what I’m going to do with the rest of the series. I guess I’ll self-publish if I have to. There’s a couple of friends of mine whom I think would throttle me if I didn’t end the series for them to read. Which is nice, I suppose…
When we talked about Dark Sky, you said there were also two short stories in the Keiko series, “Redemption Waits” and “Going To Church.” Have you written any more since then?
I haven’t, no. I have done a few short stories, but not in the Keiko universe. Amongst other things, I’ve started freelancing for Games Workshop’s Black Library imprint. And I’ve also been working on my next novel project. It’s not that I don’t want to write other Keiko short stories, it’s just that there’s so many other things I want to write too.
What are you doing for Black Library?
Well, not a huge amount yet. I’ve written one short story about an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor and her retinue, and I’m currently working on one about Tempestus Scions — known as “Stormtroopers” to us who remember that far back — but I’m hoping to do more. I’m trying to low-key inject a bit of diversity into the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which has long been renowned as being exceptionally white male-dominated in terms of characters. The Inquisition story has two of its main characters as female, a background character is agender, and the Inquisitor herself is black. Happily the feedback I’m getting is that Black Library are aware of the historical imbalance of their product and are actively looking at trying to shake things up a bit, so it sounds like my efforts are going to be welcomed rather than merely tolerated.
Going back to Dark Deeds, has there been any interest in adapting the Keiko series into a movie, TV show, or video game?
Nothing solid. I think any of the formats could work, though I’m not much of a gamer, so I don’t know exactly how well that would work. For a direct adaption, a movie would probably be better: these aren’t doorstoppers like A Song Of Ice And Fire; if you were going to get ten episodes a series, or whatever, out of them, there’d probably have to be a lot of additional stuff thrown in. Though that could definitely be fun, too.
If it was going to be made into a movie, show, or game, who would you like to see star in it?
Hmm. The problem with picking stars is that it relies on knowing actors. I don’t watch a great deal of TV, or even many movies, and what I do watch is usually big flash-bang stuff like the Marvel films. They tend to be fairly white-centric, sadly, and certainly don’t feature many Chinese actors. And most of Dark Deeds is set on a primarily Chinese-run planet. But one thing I’d be very definite about, if I had any say in it, is that the actors should reflect the ethnicity of the character: there shouldn’t be any white-washing, or “they’re not white so it’s all the same really”-type stuff. I’d definitely want someone with actual Maori heritage playing Apirana, for example.
Finally, if someone’s enjoyed Dark Run, Dark Sky, and Dark Deeds, what would you suggest they read while waiting for Dark Words and Dark Days to come out?
I’ve been really enjoying K.B. Wagers’ Behind The Throne [the first book in her Indranan War trilogy that’s followed by After The Crown and Beyond The Empire], which is a similar space-opera bent to mine, and even uses the same form of faster-than-light transport. It’s set in a female-dominated space empire where a criminal gunrunner is dragged back home to fulfil her role as heir to the throne and has to unravel a huge conspiracy. I’m only partway through, but it feels fresh and unique. I think if people enjoyed the Keiko series, they’d likely enjoy that. [And if you’d like to know more, check out my interview with K.B. Wagers here.]
From a completely different place, I’d also suggest Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn. It’s a novel from the Black Library, and is Warhammer 40,000 fiction. Black Library have a huge range of authors, some of whose work I like more than others, but Abnett is absolutely top-quality in terms of the imagination and depth he creates. Eisenhorn — which is technically three books, but usually compiled together as an anthology — is about an Imperial Inquisitor, essentially a secret policeman in the Imperium, the far future galactic “civilization.” It’s the opposite side of the law to the Keiko series, but it has the same dark-and-dirty feel, grubbing about through shady practices and uncertain allies. That said, it’s far, far darker than my books: Warhammer 40,000 was the original “grimdark,” and you won’t find a clearer demonstration of that than in Dan Abnett’s writing. Some of the stuff he comes up with makes me look up from the page and go “how on earth did you imagine that?” Though sometimes grotesque, it’s truly compelling reading, with brilliantly-drawn characters.