Guest Interview with Mark Iles on Gardens of Earth

Hello and welcome one and all, to my Blog!

Today I have a special feature for you all as we welcome Mark Iles to the stage to talk a bit about his new novel, Gardens of Earth. I was given the opportunity to ask Mark some questions about his novel and the process of writing it. But first… what exactly is Gardens of Earth? Take a look at the blurb below! 

Corporate greed supported by incompetent surveyors leads to the colonisation of a distant world, ominously dubbed ‘Halloween’, that turns out not to be uninhabited after all. The aliens, soon called Spooks by military units deployed to protect the colonists, can adopt the physical form of an opponent’s deepest fear and then use it to kill them.

The colony is massacred and as retaliation the orbiting human navy nuke the planet. In revenge, the Spooks invade Earth. In a last-minute attempt to avert the war, Seethan Bodell, a marine combat pilot sent home from the front with PTSD, is given a top-secret research spacecraft, and a mission to travel into the past along with his co-pilot and secret lover Rose, to prevent the original landing on Halloween and stop the war from ever happening.

But the mission goes wrong, causing a tragedy later known as The Sundering, decimating the world and tearing reality, while Seethan’s ship is flung into the future.

The Spooks win the war and claim ownership of Earth. He wakes, alone, in his ejector seat with no sign of either Rose or his vessel. When he realises that his technology no longer works, his desperation to find Rose becomes all the more urgent – her android body won’t survive long in this new Earth. Gardens of Earth is the first book of The Sundering Chronicles. The story tackles alien war, a future that may be considered either dystopian or utopian, depending on who you ask, and a protagonist coping with his demons in an unfamiliar and stressful environment – not to mention immediate threats from a pathological serial killer, the remnants of Earth’s inhabitants now living in a sparse pre-industrial society under the watchful eye of the Spooks, and returning human colonists intent on reclaiming Earth.

So as you can see, the novel takes a grim look at the far dystopian future. It features time and space travel, disaster wrought by corporate greed, and unique characters with complex inner conflicts. What’s not to love? I’m already excited, but let’s see what Mark himself had to say!

One of my favourite parts of writing science fiction is, of course, the worldbuilding. I have talked extensively about the worldbuilding of my own novel, Riftmaster, but could you tell us a bit about how the process works for you?

Initially I come up with a story and timeframe, then investigate what society will be like in my timeline – and then how my story will fit into it. There are the many possible ecological and biological changes – let alone technical ones – to think about. If say, I have a castle in a story (or a fort, as in my paranormal tale Connoisseur of the Bizarre) I’ll actually visit such a place. I’ll sit and use mindfulness to drink in the scene. It can be anything from the sound of feet on the floor, the feel of the walls, to the well-worn steps, what it overlooks, and so forth. I also use images, saving them to use for a scene that I might have – then describing that image in depth works well for me. Alien worlds can be hard but again I use the same processes and research to overcome any barriers.

The characters that drive the story seem to be incredibly strong, with a focus on the relationships between them. Did you have a favourite to write about?

Seethan Bodell is a complicated fellow, who not only has to deal with his PTSD but it’s effects on his job and friendships. There’s also the fact that he’s in love with an artificial person. Envisaging the prejudice that such a relationship might attract – and how Seethan might deal with it – leads to interesting character development. As my protagonist, Seethan was of course my favourite; but I also greatly enjoyed the concept of the twisted Alan Wrong. After all, let’s face it, if androids eventually develop intellectually and emotionally, who’s to say they might not at some time develop self-destructive tendencies or fall in love?

The setting of your book appears to be rather melancholy, with it taking place in the far future after a cataclysmic war. But, would you say that the focus here is on recovery from the aftermath, rather than finding a ‘fix’?

For me it’s the recovery angle, both for the world itself and the races concerned. History shows us that enemies often become friends and allies, and of course my story reflects that. But how would any survivors get on with the aliens following such a catastrophe? I loved that the Spooks healed the Earth, brought forth creatures that were extinct, and moved others around in the world to different places. If we were in their shoes could we forgive another race for what they have done; or would we become sick, bitter, and twisted.

The relationship between main characters Seethan and Rose, particularly the discrimination they face for being a human/android couple, seems in some ways to parallel same-sex and LGBTQ+ relationships. Was this intentional, and did you find it a difficult narrative to approach?

It was indeed intentional, after all there has always been love, hate, and war – and, in my eyes, I suspect there always will be. Looking at the same-sex relationship struggles allowed me to put this into the perspective of human and artificial people, issues that could so easily occur in the future. Just look at how many once taboo subjects have become the norm. It’s the struggle to get there that fascinates me, it’s such a bizarre repetitive cycle.

I noticed that this is book one, so we can expect to see future works that turn the Sundering Chronicles into larger series or universe. Will the next entries feature the same characters and ongoing narrative, or will each instalment be completely unique, with only a few interlocking threads?

The same characters will be in the following books and, yes, it’s in an expanding universe that explores the some of the avenues covered in ‘Gardens’. GoE can, of course be read as a stand-alone, but will be complimented by the paths travelled in the following books. I always put myself in my characters’ shoes, asking of course what would they want and how would they achieve it, what would prevent them doing so, and the varied outcomes. The great thing about scifi is that you are rarely limited by the ‘what if’ of other genres. It leaves your mind open to explore so much more.

As you can see, Gardens of Earth is a vibrant story, with unique characters and complex themes. But that’s not all I have to share with you today! I also have the pleasure of bringing you this exclusive excerpt, which gives a small taster of the book’s themes and dystopian future setting.

“They should make those silver freaks join the military and send them out there, instead of our boys,” the old lady said after a while.

Feeling a twinge of annoyance at the same old argument, Seethan pursed his lips and stared at her. “You already know what my thoughts are on artificial people. They have as much right to a decent life as anyone else. Besides, you know that they aren’t allowed in the fighting arms of the military. People are afraid that giving androids guns and battle experience is a bad idea. But let’s change the subject, shall we? By the way, you can get in serious trouble for calling androids ‘silver freaks’. That’s racist, and you know it.”

“They’re just like the immigrants,” she pursued. “There are too many of them. Someone should put their foot down.”

“You mean the refugees from Enceladus? We have a duty to look out for each other in times of disaster, even if it is Saturn’s moon. Disasters happen all the time, one day we might need help ourselves. What happens then, if we deny others?”

She ignored him.

Just thinking about Enceladus made Seethan shudder. A volcanic eruption and the resulting quakes had breached the dome protecting the citizens from the toxic atmosphere and deadly cold. The losses had been catastrophic. He thrust the thoughts away and said, “Besides, my family were immigrants once too.”

“They were?” she asked, eyes widening with surprise.

“Yeah. They arrived in England with the Normans.”

Mark Iles, Gardens of Earth

So there we have it! A fantastic look at a great new book. Thanks a lot for joining me here today, and special thanks to Mark for inviting me to join this tour! For the last leg, check out Ira Nayman’s post on the matter. And be sure to come back tomorrow for Jason Kurt Easter’s Interview! If you’re interested in checking out Gardens of Earth, Check out the links below, and stay tuned for next time!

About the Author

Born and raised in Slough, Mark Iles began studying the martial arts when he was 14 and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 17. A voracious reader he used to devour up to three paperbacks a day – primarily science fiction, fantasy, and horror – by the likes of John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Ray Bradbury, Brian Lumley, Frank Herbert, Stephen King, and a plethora of others. After The Falklands War Mark was drafted to Hong Kong, where he began writing features, for a variety of martial arts magazines, and short stories for a wide range of markets.

In 2012 he decided to challenge himself and undertook an MA in Professional Writing, followed by Diplomas in Copywriting and Proofreading. With over 200 short stories and articles under his belt the book he wrote for his MA Project, A Pride of Lions was published by Solstice – followed by two other novels, a short story collection, and four novellas. His latest novel, Gardens of Earth, book 1 of The Sundering Chronicles, is published by Elsewhen Press on 6th August, as eBook, and in October as hard copy. Currently Mark is working on the second in the series, as well as another short story collection. Now a 9th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo, Mark is still involved in martial arts and has also written both a book and an app on the subject.

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