Though it only lasted long enough for fourteen episodes and a movie, Joss Whedon’s space Western TV series Firefly and its cinematic continuation Serenity has been far more influential than you might expect. Consider Mike Brook’s sci-fi novel Dark Run (paperback, digital), which follows a group of intergalactic smugglers who, in a different life, would probably rub elbows with Mal Reynolds, Zoe, and the crew of Serenity‘s titular spaceship. Though in talking to Brooks about the book, it seems there was a bigger influence on Dark Run than Whedon’s cult TV show.
I like to start with the basics. What is Dark Run about?
Dark Run is an action-adventure space opera about the crew of a freighter spaceship called the Keiko, and how what should be a fairly routine smuggling operation — the “Dark Run” of the title — sees them landing a long way over their heads in a deadly mess of politics and treachery.
Where did the original idea for Dark Run come from, and how close is the final book to that original concept?
The original concept would have come from, if anywhere, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn, as that was the first series I read where the protagonists find out at the end that what they’ve been working towards is actually not what they thought at all; that deception of characters and reader stuck with me. I’d come up with a vague storyline several years ago, but when I went back to it, most things changed apart from that deception element. However, even that got moved forward in the story so the second half of the book is about dealing with the consequences of that.
Aside from Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn, what other books and authors do you consider to be the biggest influence on Dark Run, both in terms of what you wrote and how you wrote it?
That’s actually a really tough question. As I mentioned above, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn really influenced the thematic feel of the novel. As for everything else, there’s not so much of a debt to books that I can think of. I was certainly influenced by Joss Whedon’s Firefly series, and some of the “feel” of it came from things like Blade Runner and Games Workshop’s Necromunda game; the idea that by the time we get to the future some things will still be grubby and old rather than having a Star Trek-style shiny cleanness.
The book is centered around a group of mercs and smugglers. In deciding how they would act, did you research how real smugglers and soldiers of fortune behave, did you base it on works of fiction, or did you just make it up?
Oh no, their behavior is all mine, no research there. I mean, I thought a bit about what sort of skills, and indeed temperaments, you’d need to do what they do, but I didn’t research real life. I’ve no idea how I’d even do that, for one thing. Another reason is that I know my own brain, to a certain extent: I can either make stuff up, or I can research in detail and potentially get lost in it. If I’d researched that far I’d probably find myself literally duplicating whatever I’d found. Better to just make the characters up and have them behave and interact however feels naturally to me.
Kirkus Reviews said called the book an “old-fashioned space Western.” Do you think this is accurate, do you think it is a space Western?
I’ve never watched many Westerns, so I can’t really comment on that with any great authority. I suspect that choice of description might be linked to the fact that Dark Run does owe a certain debt to Firefly, which has been repeatedly described as a “space Western” series. However, I think Firefly‘s got more Western elements than Dark Run does.
Dark Run is part of what you’re calling the Keiko series, and in fact there’s already a sequel called Dark Sky, though it’s only available digitally to those of us who live in the colonies. What is Dark Sky about, and how does it connect to Dark Run, both chronologically and narratively?
First of all, I think I’m correct in saying that you can get Dark Sky not just digitally but as an audiobook from Audible.
Anyway, Dark Sky is set very shortly after Dark Run, and details how the crew get caught up and trapped in a revolution on a subterranean mining planet. It widens the focus onto a couple of other crew members, particularly Tamara Rourke, and provides them all with some slightly more complex moral choices than Dark Run does.
When in the process of writing Dark Run did you realize it was just the first part of a larger story?
Before I’d started writing it. My agent Rob and I had just been rejected at the last hurdle with another novel by my UK publisher, and I was working out what to approach them with next. I had lots of different ideas, it was just a case of which one we thought was most marketable. After some discussion we decided that a small-focus sci-fi series about a bunch of rogues might work. Perceived wisdom at the time was that in terms of genre fiction most publishers would want the potential for a series rather than a one-off novel, particularly from a debut author, so it was always going to be the opening point for a series.
Without spoiling anything, do you know how many books will ultimately be in the Keiko series?
Five. I’m not ruling out the possibility of other books set in the same universe, should there be a market for them, but in terms of the story arc for the Keiko‘s crew there’s five books. Unless I suddenly have a brainwave or realization of how I really need to get another book in there somewhere.
How much of it do you have planned out? And do you have the endgame in mind already?
Book 3 is written, Book 4 is pretty well planned out, and Book 5 is loosely planned. However, yes, I know the endgame.
Do you know when Dark Sky will be available physically in the U.S.?
March 2017 is the current plan I believe, but one thing I’ve learned is that in publishing dates can change without warning.
There’s also a short story called “Redemption Waits” that’s part of the Keiko series. Will that be included in the American version of Dark Sky? And where does it fit in with the rest of the books, chronologically?
Redemption Waits is set before Dark Run by a year or so, I guess. I’m not aware of any plans to include it with Dark Sky, although I wouldn’t object to the notion.
Speaking of short stories, you have three that are part of your Irregulars series: “Under Construction,” “Hunting Shadows,” and “Running Repairs.” Are there any plans to collect these stories into a single volume? Or are you thinking you’ll collect these three, “Redemption Waits,” and other stories into a collection?
It’s a notion I’ve toyed with on occasion, but I don’t think there’s much point doing it at this point. Maybe a bit further down the road when, fingers crossed, a few more people have heard of me and might actually buy it….
Are you also planning to do any Irregulars novels?
I already have. The first one was the novel that Rob and I got knocked back with from my UK publisher. They’d rejected it not because it wasn’t good enough, but because they decided they already had as much urban fantasy as they wanted. Urban fantasy is a pretty saturated market at the moment, by all accounts, so I can understand why someone wouldn’t take a risk on it with a debut author. So there’s actually three Irregulars novels on my hard drive, though two of them would need rewriting, as they were written before I’d been picked up by Rob. So if I can find someone who wants to publish an urban fantasy series by me then yeah, that’s the plan.
Going back to Dark Run, has there been any interest from Hollywood to turn it into a movie or TV series? If so, what can you tell us about it?
You may think that…but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Oh…kay. If Dark Run was being made into a movie or TV show, the producers would never ask you who they should cast, even though you wrote the book and created the characters and know more about this stuff than they do. But if they did, who would you cast as the main characters and why?
Well, I might know more about the characters, but not about actors and who would work well for it. However, as I’ve said elsewhere, my main wish would be that the diversity of the cast is respected. I wouldn’t want any whitewashing, gender-swapping, or anything like that. Drift shouldn’t become white, Tamara shouldn’t become Thomas, etc.
In terms of actual casting, I think WWE’s Alberto Del Rio would certainly look right for Ichabod Drift. He’s Mexican, he’s the right height, if a bit buff, and looks as I’d imagined facially. Plus, pro wrestling involves quite a bit of acting anyway. I don’t watch Gotham myself, but friends who do say that Jada Pinkett-Smith’s turn as Fish Mooney in it would translate brilliantly to playing Tamara Rourke. I think Sophie Turner [Game Of Thrones] would work really well as Jenna, assuming she could hold down an American accent.
Other people have suggested Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for Apirana, but for one thing he’s not really big enough — yes, I know — and, for another, though he has Pacific Islander heritage, it’s Samoan rather than Maori. But then again, I don’t know of any 6’8″ Maori actors… Harry Shum, Jr. [from Glee] might be a good call for Kuai, Damian Lynch [Dragon Age: Inquisition], who reads the audiobooks, might be a good choice for Micah, while Grace Huang [The Man With The Iron Fists 2] is older than Jia but, from what I’ve seen of her, can pull off the intensity and death stare, so as long as she knows a huge selection of Mandarin swear words she’d be fine.
In terms of Nicolas Kelsier, when writing him I always imagined him looking like Bill Nighy and sounding like Jon Hurt. Charles Dance [Game Of Thrones] would be a good halfway house between those two.
Lastly, if someone really likes Dark Run, what would you recommend they read next and why?
You could do a lot worse than reading the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding. It’s a similar notion, although in a more steampunk setting; airships rather than spaceships, and so on.