Release Day Interview: The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan


The Cold Commands by Richard MorganRichard K. Morgan has never shied away from the gritty.

He created the anti-hero Takeshi Kovacs, one of the best characters in science fiction. Richard didn’t stop there. He has done some incredibly bold things with The Steel Remains, Book I of his epic fantasy series A Land Fit For Heroes, and those story ideas were either applauded or hated.

And when people are polarized on a book and are talking about it, it means it’s great.

Now, in The Cold Commands, Richard continues his foray into epic fantasy by continuing the story of Ringil Eskiath. Here is a bit more about the novel:

With The Steel Remains, award-winning science fiction writer Richard K. Morgan turned his talents to sword and sorcery. The result: a genre-busting masterwork hailed as a milestone in contemporary epic fantasy. Now Morgan continues the riveting saga of Ringil Eskiath—Gil, for short—a peerless warrior whose love for other men has made him an outcast and pariah.

Only a select few have earned the right to call Gil friend. One is Egar, the Dragonbane, a fierce Majak fighter who comes to respect a heart as savage and loyal as his own. Another is Archeth, the last remaining daughter of an otherworldly race called the Kiriath, who once used their advanced technology to save the world from the dark magic of the Aldrain—only to depart for reasons as mysterious as their arrival. Yet even Egar and Archeth have learned to fear the doom that clings to their friend like a grim shadow . . . or the curse of a bitter god.

Now one of the Kiriath’s uncanny machine intelligences has fallen from orbit—with a message that humanity faces a grave new danger (or, rather, an ancient one): a creature called the Illwrack Changeling, a boy raised to manhood in the ghostly between-world realm of the Grey Places, home to the Aldrain. A human raised as one of them—and, some say, the lover of one of their greatest warriors—until, in a time lost to legend, he was vanquished. Wrapped in sorcerous slumber, hidden away on an island that drifts between this world and the Grey Places, the Illwrack Changeling is stirring. And when he wakes, the Aldrain will rally to him and return in force—this time without the Kiriath to stop them.

An expedition is outfitted for the long and arduous sea journey to find the lost island of the Illwrack Changeling. Aboard are Gil, Egar, and Archeth: each fleeing from ghosts of the past, each seeking redemption in whatever lies ahead. But redemption doesn’t come cheap these days. Nor, for that matter, does survival. Not even for Ringil Eskiath. Or anyone—god or mortal—who would seek to use him as a pawn.

Since I am excited about this book release, I asked Richard to answer some questions about his work, his characters, the epic fantasy genre, and what he’s working on right now. The interview is below. Get to reading!


Shawn Speakman: THE COLD COMMANDS, the second book in your gritty epic fantasy series, is in fine bookstores now! Tell us a little bit about THE STEEL REMAINS, its new sequel, and why now is the perfect time for people to read them both.

Richard K. Morgan: The Steel Remains was my small-scale attempt to do what I’d always talked a good fight about doing – import the staples of the noir template into a fantasy universe and see if they stand up. And the good news is that they sure do! Steel had thuggish back-alley violence in spades, dubious causes and alliances, lurid sex as a mainspring motivator, betrayals and trade-offs, corrupt social structures and endemic abuse of power, damaged anti-heroes and protagonist self-loathing to the hilt. Now, in The Cold Commands, you get to revisit that all that good stuff, in greater depth and for longer. For all those who wanted to know what happened to Ringil Angeleyes and his friends next – now you have some answers. And, ultimately, a whole new bunch of questions! Buckle up, enjoy the ride!

SS: You are known for your dark and realistic characters. Do the three main characters spend more time together in THE COLD COMMANDS than in the first novel?

RKM: You know, without actually going back and doing a page count, I’d be hard pushed to say for certain. Ringil, Egar and Archeth start out in The Cold Commands the same way they did in Steel – separated by distance and their own personal obsessions. In that sense the new book is still very definitely a three-strand narrative. But the coming together is a little different this time – rather than the novel building towards a fairly traditional climactic meeting at the end, as Steel did, this time around it’s a more nuanced collision, one whose full shape and implications you hopefully won’t see coming until each twist hits.

SS: Fantasy fans either loved THE STEEL REMAINS or felt it was too graphic. Does THE COLD COMMANDS keep the high level of graphic? Do you ever feel any pressure from fans to tone things down?

RKM: I wouldn’t say I feel it as pressure – if you’re serious about your writing (as opposed to just serious about maximising your income from it), you can’t afford to worry about whether people will like what you write – but sure, I’m aware that there’s a big constituency out there among the fantasy readership who wanted a more pastel-shaded sugar-coated approach to the material. And yeah, they’re going to be as upset this time around as they were last. The Cold Commands is in every sense as graphic, brutal and true to life as its predecessor. Sex is sticky, carrying a blade for a living leaves lasting scars, swords make a bloody mess. There are no good or bad guys, only more or less moral choices in difficult circumstances and the less-than-satisfactory fallout that follows. In other word, it’s a lot like real life. If that’s anathema to what you want from your fantasy, well, then – you have been warned!

SS: What is it about this fantasy series that separates it from what is currently being written?

RKM: The truth is that I don’t read an awful lot of fantasy, so I’m really not able to judge how much similar stuff is out there; certainly, “gritty” has become a bit of byword recently, so that alone wouldn’t differentiate what I’m doing. But I think there are probably a couple of other factors which made Steel and now make The Cold Commands unusual in the genre. The first is that the narrative lens is resolutely close-focus – there are no cineramascope battle sequences or “great hall” scenes, no cast of teeming thousands or momentous historical events; what you get instead are tight, desperate moments of lethal struggle in darkened places, whispers and plotting behind the scenes, bad-tempered small-scale violence, ill-managed rage and personal guilt, snapshots at street level of ordinary people the great historical process has already side-swiped in passing and damaged beyond repair. You get the human wreckage, if you like, of great deeds already done (and the sneaking suspicion that they may not have been all that great in the first place). The novels inhabit a time of bitter aftermath, something that anyone who’s lived through the Bush era should relate to very well. Which leads me to my second factor, that of applicability – these novels, just like my science fiction (and, some would argue, like all science fiction) are very much a mirror held up to the world we live in today. I’m not interested in the wistful “knights of old” outlook, or the distant abstracted monomyth escapades of idealized heroes – my intention is that anyone reading The Cold Commands should feel a constant sense of relevance in the narrative, an eerie familiarity of issue and circumstance, a intense sense of now. And that does seem to be something that the fantasy genre as a whole works quite hard at shying away from.

SS: THE COLD COMMANDS took several years to write. First, it is a great deal longer in word count than THE STEEL REMAINS, but you also encountered some interesting hardships with it. Can you talk about the difficulties you faced in writing THE COLD COMMANDS?

RKM: Yeah, the main problem was that in Steel, I’d accomplished the task I set myself a little too cleanly for my own good. I wrote the book to a solid conclusion without ever thinking about what might come next. That might sound a bit odd, coming from a man who’s signed up with publishers on both sides of the Atlantic for a fantasy trilogy, but I’m just not accustomed to writing any other way. My Kovacs books, which might loosely be described as a trilogy, all came out as stand-alones and so has everything else I’ve written. Trying to plan beyond the narrative arc of the novel I’m currently writing just doesn’t come naturally. My characters tend to end up knocked pretty solidly into the pockets I’ve chosen for them by the end of the book, even if they theoretically have a life afterward – and that was certainly the case with Ringil, Egar and Archeth at the end of Steel. Which left me with a tough task when it came to jump-starting the new narrative! It took a while to see what and where the best potentials were, to bring in a bunch of new characters, to broaden the focal lens a bit and really relax into a slightly more epic-scale narrative. And – as you’ll see when you’ve read The Cold Commands for yourself – I was determined that this time, I wouldn’t leave myself stuck in the same place for the third book. So I did a little bit of forward planning for book three as well, laid some groundwork, set up some pointers and strewed all that stuff obliquely across the current narrative. In that sense, Cold is probably the least standalone novel I’ve ever written – though it does have its own dizzying crescendo and sickeningly solid full stop – and I have to say, that’s a slightly weird feeling. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, it’s a whole new dynamic. Which in itself has been a bit of a trip.

SS: What’s next? Will you start the third book in the series? If you’ve already started it, how far are you into it? Does it have a tentative title?

RKM: The third book is already underway, working title The Dark Defiles. A fair portion of the narrative is still up for grabs, but the groundwork done in The Cold Commands is standing me in good stead, and I’m finding it much easier to get up speed. The characters all have enough outstanding business from Cold to launch them right back into play. So I think I can safely say you won’t be waiting as long for the next one!

The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan is in fine bookstores today!