Review: ‘Eye of Medusa’ by David Guymer

—- An overview, in brief —-

I loved the actual science and efforts at serious sci-fi-ing of 40k. In depiction of characters and factions, Guymer works in some brilliant examinations of psychology of people, of astute insights on the human condition. It’s terribly compelling speculative fiction, through and through.

—- Anyway, on with the show —-

Some weeks ago, I picked up the first of the in-flight Iron Hands trilogy: “Eye of Medusa” by David Guymer. This is coming off the back of a year’s worth of Space Marine and Inquisitorial stories (which is also still underway), amongst some other fiction too. By the cover, I wasn’t entirely enthused (mainly as the art style’s not to my tastes, but you know what they say). Similarly, I had reservations about reading an entire novel on the Iron Hands and Adeptus Mechanicus. To put it mildly: they’re ostensibly quite boring, or at least at the inhuman ends of the continuum. Both factions being machine-obsessed, war-obsessed perfectionists whose central tenet might be summed up as “things that are human and humane are weak, the machine is strong”.

So, to my joy: I was wholly wrong in my misgivings. (And wholly correct in my disposal towards David Guymer as an author – I’d recently read his “Thorgrim“, which is a tremendous novel, albeit one of many tremendous Warhammer Fantasy novels.) In any event, I was very pleased with this turn of events.

In short: it was hugely creative, deeply psychological, and forged an excellent ‘hard SF’ edge to the mad baroque fantasy that 40k ought to be. Not by distracting asides into the nitty-gritty of real science, nor by invoking mindless streams of technobabble – rather, by seeding and decorating the world with what to me felt the right ideas and right observations, to make the setting not only be vile, but alive and vivid. Being fairly interested in both science and sci-fi, it’s pleasing to read a book that’s fairly relentless in its dedication to seeing the genre being done well.

As an aside: you may hear the phrase bolter porn bandied about; I prefer to chalk it up to the same bad name that’s given for a lot of women-targeted fiction: dick lit. Suitably disparaging. The idea being fairly simple: lasers and guns and bombs and explosions, not a huge degree of exploration of the human condition. Much of the Black Library fare is all-too-often written off by the online commentariat (even by myself, at times!) for being too heavy handed on focussing on action and not sufficiently deft at tickling my taste buds for character journeys, depictions, and plot. I digress.

In that regard: this is most assuredly not bolter porn, nor dick lit. Indeed, it has music! And kissing! And romance! Not integral to the plot in a overwhelming way, but neither were they casually disregarded or overlooked as irrelevant to the topics at hand.

Indeed, the psychology of this novel is in principle very simple. Ostensibly at the foremost of the story, you have the ambitions of a man proceeding with his job in the face of competent but questionable senior management, and difficult, but not entirely unhelpful co-workers. A companion plot is the ambitions of a woman proceeding in her job, in the face of competent but questionable senior management, and difficult, but not entirely unhelpful co-workers.

In essence, it’s fairly relatable. So to speak…

Within the lore of the setting, these two are further distinguished: one is a transhuman “Space Marine” – a genetically and technologically enhanced supersoldier, interfacing with his new duties. The other is a transhuman “tech priest” – a religiously and technologically enhanced supercleric, interfacing with her new duties. Should they be depicted on screen, I could envision they’d be easily interpreted as ‘inhuman monsters’ by audiences, is perhaps no insignificant detail. (And that exploration of humanity is never lost throughout, for my tastes at least.)

As you can see: there’s no shortage of dovetailing or rooms for literary comparison. My take, here and above, is deliberately trivialising: instead of being a “mere two-hander” depicting two similar-but-not-identical-strands, Guymer manages to weave these (and additional oddities, both in the lore, in the background, and in the narrative structure itself) to play with some incredible concepts and tell an absolutely staggering tail that sits in equal parts ‘slice of life’, ‘action scene’, and ‘psychological conspiracy thriller’.

It’s tense, mind-boggling, huge in scale and scope, yet also deeply personal and utterly compelling. It covers bias, it deals with the propagation of ideas (both figuratively, and also in terms of literal memes – “We should consider a purge of his meme-core.”), it looks at the causes, expressions, and impacts of anger, of abuse, of discipline.

It’s not mild in its take, yet it also manages to be exceedingly mature in its depiction – neither trivialising nor glorifying.

On a point of personal taste: I found it to be dense in detail. Not casually so – breathing life into strange decisions, making curious aspects of the IP’s setting dance with life in a way that previously seemed awkward and offputtingly peculiar. (Google the ‘Clan Raukaan’ supplement to see some brains dribble from the minds of some of the internet’s… finest?)

Indeed, there’s some brave (and in my esteem: very well-executed) structural choices in the prose. Flash-backs that aren’t explicitly explained, changes of opinion that aren’t adumbrated. These choices are ones I can imagine many writers struggling with (and, alas, editors! [Let alone readers…]). Yet, the limited use of them, the tact with which they’re applied leads them to be very effective. They illustrate the points they’re intended to, without being so intrusive or obscure that casual readers will be left outraged at the author’s time-wasting.

These elements of discontinuity, disjointedness, in retrospect are a large deal of my fascination with the book – it is not merely telling a story, but it is telling a convoluted story in a suitably uncomplicated way, something that should be lauded. (Such is the temptation to go the other direction: to overcomplicate relatively simple stories). This non-linearity (in a mathematical sense, in addition to the literary), isn’t such a curious choice, given the plot, but it is a brave and laudable one: the capacity to get it wrong, or execute it less than elegantly presumably haunts many authors.

(Perhaps the outrage or irritation at a perceived lack of elegance only really manifests in the minds of harsh and self-appointed critics who’ve been banging the same drum for many decades; a cohort that I certainly wouldn’t ever fall into! In any case, I’d encourage authors to disregard it, in the main…)

I mentioned the Clan Raukaan fiasco. That can be summarised as follows: some games developers wrote some new fiction to accompany a game supplement, one that introduced a huge new element to the lore, but that also diametrically opposed much of what had been written before. This inconsistence was vexing, for many. (I’d attest to it myself; it seemed needless contrarianism.) It introduced a whole new dimension of religiosity seemingly borrowed from elsewhere in the stories.

In context of this novel, if you set yourself the challenge of reconciling these two inconsistent accounts, I would attest that you couldn’t do this simply by telling a simple story in the conventional sense. Your usual bells and whistles not only wouldn’t be good here, but it’d end up propagating the inconsistency and perhaps even exacerbating the problem. (See also: Protocols For Sleeping Canines, Pedestrian Impacts Against Vespidae Nests etc.)

In the novel that Guymer’s actually written, in the moderate concepts and modest use of some structural conceits, he’s managed something astonishing. In parallel to the philosophies described within his novel, that are central to the variety of conflicts throughout, he’s literally lived and worked an aspect of his own story: a story that might as well be about breaking and fixing things that angry idiots on the internet are furious about.

In telling that story, I’d contend he’s managed to fix a thing and leave it far stronger and more detailed than it was before.

Hell, he’s told a hell of a story in amongst doing that. I loved it.

It’s one of the most intensely bleak and horrifyingly brutal books BL has published, yet it steered well clear of being stomach churning in its graphic imagery. With institutionalised abuse as one of the main concepts dealt with in the story, alongside genocide on a terrifying scale, and bizarre technocratic dogmatists front and centre… it’s easy to see where an author might go wrong. Intellectually, so many of the things herein are deeply repugnant, and yet Guymer gives categorically no warmth to the idea of rehabilitating or emulating the ideas in any way. What he does manage is something absolutely compelling: a hellish nightmare that nevertheless tells a deeply compelling story, being intellectually revolting without actually turning the stomach of the reader.

It’s not an easy book to sing the praises of, but it absolutely deserves praise!

Space Marine! And an Interview with a Legend

Space Marine

Its Friday, and today the Bolthole is bringing you something rather special – an exclusive interview with legendary British science fiction author, Ian Watson. As you should know, Ian Watson was involved at the very inception of Games Workshop deciding that their worlds were so epic that they deserved their own novels. Ian’s novels such as Space Marine, Draco, Harlequin and Chaos Child are both excellent stories in their own right, and were successful enough to encourage the start of what we all benefit from today, with the Black Library producing such an excellent range of tie-in fiction to our beloved worlds.

What follows are a couple of reviews of Space Marine, a novel widely regarded as a classic, followed by that exclusive interview with the man himself. So without further ado, and with less of my waffle, I hand over to fellow Bolthole member, Chun, for his take.


The plot isn’t anything extraordinary: three young boys from very different class-strata of a Necromundan hive are drafted into the Imperial Fists, and we follow them as they undergo training and their first missions as Adeptus Astartes. But, oh, the execution…!

Gloriously, breathlessly, bonkers. I’m pretty sure that Watson was taking the piss with this, but he did it gleefully and in a never less than an entertaining manner. He delighted in dirty schoolboy humour, bordered on the homoerotic, pushed boundaries of horror (one Tzeentch possession scene is particularly vivid) – especially where the fourteen year old target audience is concerned.

Yet, thinking about it, perhaps Watson’s approach is really the only honest way to depict the grimdark of the 40th millennium: how could anybody maintain their sanity in such a universe? Even the super-human Astartes must succumb in one way or another – there are only degrees of insanity.

Not canon any more (squats abound!), but this still should be read by any 40k fan willing to look toward the true dark side of this most stygian of settings – which, even in the book’s inherent silliness, is here revealed in full. And it should be read because nobody else wrote about Space Marines like Watson did… I wonder if they would even dare these days.


Thanks to Chun for that review. Inspired by this, I recently re-read Space Marine. Conveniently it is now available from the Black Library as an ebook. It is an enjoyable read that harks back to the Rogue Trader era of Warhammer 40k. Modern readers will no doubt find some of the lore conflicted, but its worth remembering that at the time of writing the universe was so much less defined than it is now, and the novel now stands as a convenient time portal back to that era. Of particular note is the sequence during which the lead characters hack their way in to a tyranid bio-vessel – and how the 1993 version of tyranids is so different to what we have now.

Well worth a read, as I said, and available on the Black Library website right now!

Now on with the interview!!

Hi Ian, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. Firstly, Space Marine, and the Inquisition trilogy which started with Draco, were the first “proper” novels set in the Warhammer 40k universe. I know it was a little while ago, but was there much input from Games Workshop at the time, or were you left to your own devices in terms of how you chose to interpret the setting?

Go back quarter of a century and Mr Big was Bryan Ansell, Managing Director/Owner of GW who wanted to read “real” novels by “real” novelists set in his beloved Warhammer domains. As intermediary Bryan hired David Pringle, editor of Britain’s leading SF magazine Interzone, operating from Brighton as GW books. David had already recruited half a dozen authors who regularly contributed stories to Interzone, but no one would touch Warhammer 40K with a bargepole. So it fell to me to read Rogue Trader and many other encyclopedic publications which Nottingham HQ proceeded to send me, including printouts of nonfiction work-in-progress such as the manual of Necromunda, and much else. Bryan Ansell did send me quite a long letter lovingly detailing the sounds which 40K weaponry should make, so that I should be geared up sensually to describe combat. As far as I’m aware (though beware of false memory!) I was given no instructions at all regarding plot or characters and I simply made up the story, within the constraints of what I knew about the 40K universe. I toured the 40K universe, and after a few years the GW games designers decided that they disapproved of a broad approach, compared with single-action novels set on single worlds. (Those are more compatible with games, of course.)

You’ve commented to me that the books went through a period of not being supported by Games Workshop or Black Library. Are you glad that they are again available to purchase through the Black Library, given that to many they were the first taste of Warhammer fiction they got.

I may be the only case of a proven good-seller (modesty forbids “best-seller”) being sabotaged by his own publisher. (In fact I’m probably not the only!) Example: (and I pour another glass of red wine to loosen my tongue)… GW’s chosen publisher Boxtree bravely decided to launch my Harlequin (= Draco # 2) as the first ever handsome somewhat expensive large hardback ‘Collectors Edition’ and sent a couple of hundred copies to Games Day at Birmingham, where I would be present to sign. When I arrived in Birmingham, Mr X of GW appeared surprised at this hardback initiative.

            Despite the price—of 15.99 Pounds in 1994—sales were brisk. Two hours later, Mr X came by my signing place and I happily reported, “All gone!” Now I thought that Mr X would be happy, but all he said was “Oh really?” and hurried away.  Next day, GW banned Harlequin from all Games Workshop Shops throughout the UK with the excuse that the book was too big for their shelves. I soon realised that the book was perceived as competing with cardboard boxes containing some bits of plastic (i.e. the games), costing about 30 quid, for which there was a much higher profit margin.

            A few days later, W.H. Smith banned GW books from their shelves in any towns where there was already a Games Workshop Shop. Now my books were doubly banned—from shops where they were already banned for a different reason!

            Okay, the Black Library did try to be supportive despite the dislike by the games designers for my books on the grounds of the books being too comprehensive and also, as the years passed by, no longer representing accurately the 40K world which the designers were busy altering. Thus the Inquisition War trilogy did come into existence, and Space Marine was finally permitted back into existence as a high-priced print-on-demand item, never to be sold in shops but only through GW’s website. By the time that this happened, tattered copies of the original paperback Space Marine were selling on eBay sometimes for as high as a hundred Pounds. This may be flattering for the author but is also distinctly frustrating financially. Better a 7.5% royalty on 5 Pounds than zero royalty on 100 Pounds…

Parts of the books, Space Marine in particular, seem to have been written deliberately tongue in cheek – was that intentional on your part, or just how it turned out?

Tongue in cheek? Superstrength lingual organ in between gluteus maximus buttocks? Are you trying to be provocative, Sir?

            Okay, a bit of a subtext developed of its own imaginative accord (honest injun!) while I was writing Space Marine. Novels need characters endowed with some personality. How to imbue a  Citadel Miniature, identical to a hundred others, with personality? Difficult! Probably Space Marines are ‘in reality’ biologically neuter. I can’t actually remember, and I’ve no idea if this topic has been explored elsewhere and elsewhen. But give me a monastery and I can’t fail to imagine certain urges arising, even if libido must be cathected elsewhere, as Freud might say. Supposing that Marines continue to possess any libido after their arduous physical transformation into superhumans.

            GW HQ in Nottingham did tell me that I would need to rewrite ‘naughty’ parts of Space Marine, but at very that moment GW Books in Brighton ceased, and it was 9 months until GW HQ hooked up with media packager Boxtree based in London as the new producer of Black Library fiction. In the meantime Nottingham forgot about me needing to rewrite bits of Space Marine, and I saw no reason to remind anybody, since those were bits that I particularly liked. Consequently Boxtree published Space Marine exactly as they had received it from Nottingham, unaltered. Consequently the book sold out but then spent a decade in the wilderness instead of being reprinted. By virtue of periodical humorous hints from me, the Black Library finally produced a print-on-demand edition, priced high, and not for sale in any GW shops where it might corrupt the young (and where the shelves might be the wrong size).

Would you have any interest in writing for Black Library or Games Workshop again, or has that ship sailed?

It’s a long time since I was in the demented mindset that conceived my four 40K novels, but also back then I pretty much had free rein, and I strongly doubt that this would apply today.

            However, EXCLUSIVE TO THE BOLTHOLE!!, I have just looked inside my 2009 copy of The Inquisition War trilogy and I found a piece of paper handwritten by me titled “INQ 4” which must be notes for a possible sequel to Chaos Child. “M’L pregnant”, says the paper first of all. That’s Meh’Lindi, my Assassin heroine. Was I affected by Ripley of Alien? No, no, now I remember! Meh-Lindi would be pregnant by Inquisitor Jaq, from the time when they copulated devoutly on board Tormentum Malorum. Next, Yes! “Jaq’s baby kidnapped by Tyranids; Jaq contacts the Hive-Mind.”And next: “Grimm rescues” and “Lex and Imperial Fists again.” Oh I see the way this is going. And finally: “Genost = Gnostic + Genes” (what does this imply?).

            Omigosh, a complete story-line! Including a heroic rescue by Grimm the Squat—whom editorial idiot vandals turned into banal ‘Grill the Tech Priest’ for a reprint of my 40K short story “Warped Stars”, just because Tyranids ate all of the Squats subsequent to my novels.

            No, no, I must not even think about writing this sequel. The games designer tech priests would ruin everything.

Our forum membership is made up of many amateur authors – have you any advice for those starting out?

Read a lot! Not just the area of fiction that you’re aiming your talents at but non-fiction stuff too. Astronomy, biology, history. Don’t imitate published authors whom you admire; try to branch out, be original, aim for your own unique narrative voice. Don’t get upset by rejections; carry on. If accepted, don’t rest on laurels; it might be two years till an accepted story is published, whether on paper or electronically—so get on writing.

            After you write something which you reckon is good, wait a week or two then read it again before you show it to anybody else. And never send something unread by yourself to another human.

            Oh, and don’t have hissy fits. This is counter-productive.

I know your writing career since writing Space Marine has been pretty diverse, with everything from script writing to erotica on your resume. What are you currently working on?

Along with a collaborator friend of mine, Andy West, I’m revising our “Plague Novel”, The Waters of Destiny, which originally appeared a few years ago as three ebooks published by Palabaristas SL, the epublisher set up by my wife, Cristina Macía, translator of Game of Thrones, author of cookbooks, mother of dragons.  We have withdrawn the ebooks because of the revised hardbacks and paperbacks coming next year (2018) from NewCon Press in the UK, though the book’s website is still at  The Waters of Destiny (approximately 200,000 words) is about how a fanatical Arab doctor of genius could, in the 12th Century, funded by the Assassins of Alamut, and within the mindset and medical technology of the time, have worked out the source of the big killer Black Death, and could have stored what he isolated, with terrible consequences for our present day. The big killer disease, which ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages, was a viral haemorrhagic fever (like Ebola) with a very high kill rate which spread from human to human, and was not Bubonic Plague which is spread by rat fleas. The history is confused because you could have outbreaks of Haemorrhagic Plague and Bubonic Plague at the same time. The Middle Ages were nasty that way, sort of like Necromunda. In fact before I began to write Inquisitor (= Draco) Bryan Ansell told me to read A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century by historian Barbara Tuchman. If you run out of Black Library fiction to read, A Distant Mirror is a good substitute. Anyway, the big killer Black Death has gone into hiding, back to its reservoir (in southern Ethiopia, perhaps). If this true Black Death—with its long infection period—re-emerges in our modern world instantly superconnected by air travel, there’ll be a ghastly global pandemic. The Waters of Destiny is about this, and also about religious fanaticism, both Islamic and Christian.

            I worked with a collaborator because neither of us could have coped on our own. The amount of material to find out about just expanded and expanded.

            Aside from this, I’m getting on with a sequel to my “spacetime opera”, The Brain From Beyond, published by PS Publishing in 2016. I ought to be much further ahead with this, but Cristina and I co-organised the Barcelona Eurocon (November 2017) which was a mountain of work—unpaid, just in case anyone thinks we profited except from the satisfaction of making hundreds of people happy 🙂 And then this thing happened and that thing happened: an event in Barcelona about Climate Change Fiction, an event about Frankenstein at El Escorial just outside Madrid, things which take time to prepare for. Besides, I have notes for half a dozen short stories which I’m hungry to get to. I don’t actually write very fast, and I rewrite a lot. I don’t even read very fast—so who am I advising to read a lot! 

Thanks again to Ian for taking the time to answer some questions. Meanwhile if you want an alternative view on Space Marine you could do worse than check out the review on Track of Words.

Let us know what you think of this post, on here or twitter, and be great to see you at the Bolthole, if you aren’t already a member!

First and Only – a classic, or better best forgotten? Ath reviews

Over at the Bolthole, we like to remember the good things. The Gaunts’ Ghosts series, written by the superb Dan Abnett, has been going since 1999(!). Over the coming months we will be taking a fresh look at the series, reviewing the novels and seeing how they fit into Warhammer 40k as we know it now.

Kicking us off is a review of the series opener, but is First and Only a classic novel, or merely the start of something greater? Athelassan has put together this excellent review for you. If you are interested in forming your own opinion, the novel is soon available in print through the Black Library as part of the “Founding” omnibus, incorporating the first three novels in the series.


Without further ado, I will hand over to Ath…

First and Only
By Dan Abnett, 1999

It is always hard to review a book like First and Only. This was, after all, the book that started it all: the first 40K novel published by Black Library, and the opening instalment in its longest-running and probably most successful series. Such a book is unavoidably compared to its successors and is difficult to appreciate without the shadow of that context.

The story, for those unaware, follows a regiment in the Imperial Guard, the eponymous Tanith First (and Only), so called because after its first founding the planet was destroyed by a Chaos fleet, leaving only one battalion surviving of the three initially raised. They’re fighting on the front lines of the Sabbath Crusade when they encounter a mysterious message encoded with unheard-of levels of security. This draws them into a situation with potential ramifications stretching far beyond the Crusade itself – and all the while they are struggling with a deadly rivalry with another regiment.

Their commander is Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and this is probably the novel in the series with most focus on him personally, giving us flashbacks to his childhood and training, and with incidents from his past coming back to affect the main plot. There is perhaps an air of the trite about this, the level of coincidence piling up as the story goes on, but never quite crosses the line into the absurd or the preposterous.

In contrast to Gaunt, most of the Tanith characters are fairly lightly sketched. Those who will become the core cast of the series are present and visible but at this point in the story they are hard to distinguish from the rest. The number of names thrown at the reader is large, and with a limited space to develop so many characters, the Tanith inevitably form more of a background to the plot than a fundamental part of it.

That is not to say that the characters feel like they are making up the numbers, but there is little scope to develop them beyond broad strokes. Some, like Rawne, are intriguing; others feel archetypal, like Corbec, the bluff colonel, Bragg, the amiable but slightly slow big fellow, or Larkin, the quirky sniper, who seem to have drifted in from central casting. Those au fait with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series will spot some familiar faces, even if the names are changed.

In some ways, this makes this novel atypical of the Ghosts series, where normally Gaunt is more distant, and the main Tanith characters are the focus, with much more attention paid to their abilities and personalities. (It has always stood slightly apart from its successors even in appearance, the spine of First and Only‘s first edition having a red background while the next four novels had the same style but a green background). It is probably for this sense of not being a typical Ghosts novel as much as anything that the novel is controversial among fans of the series, with some considering it barely worth the read.

I would disagree with them. Something which I think this novel achieves better than any of its successors is to portray the faceless nature of war in the 41st millennium and the expendability of its human personnel. As the first novel, where the main characters of the series have yet to become apparent, there is a strong sense, rare in Black Library fiction and the Ghosts series in particular, that anyone can die, with characters being introduced on one page and immediately being killed without fanfare. The third Ghost to be named is (implicitly) executed by firing squad within the page. Some of the characters who receive most attention are revealed as decoy secondary protagonists who die before the book is out. That the characters are for the most part unremarkable without special abilities gives them an individual vulnerability and powerlessness entirely appropriate to the setting.

This is just as well, because much of the rest of it is rather at odds with the setting itself. Dan Abnett famously had an incomplete grasp of the intricacies of the 40K universe when this novel was written and as such a number of the details fall foul of a number of howlers which are sure to bother the more uptight afficionados among its readership. The MacGuffin in the plot, once revealed, seems almost impossibly significant while at the same time being strangely personal – and this is something which perhaps damages the rest of the series. Having saved the universe in their first book, how can anything the Ghosts face from now on measure up?

The prose is also a little hesitant and clunky in places, Mr Abnett perhaps still finding his feet with the format in his first full-length novel. It is by no means badly written but it is certainly less elegant and polished than his work would later become, and this may also account for the structure of the novel which borders on the cliché even if it never quite falls foul of it.

So the book has its flaws, but I would suggest these flaws are no more significant than those in the now-classic Inquisition WarSpace Marine or Genevieve. The book has enough about it that the fact its depth of imagination occasionally strays outside that which is strictly speaking sanctioned by the rulebooks feels like a positive feature as much as anything: it’s adding the sort of depth to the setting which I think the novels are ultimately supposed to be doing.

Similarly, I think that its differences from the rest of the Ghosts series are more of an asset than a liability. More than almost any of its successors this feels like an Imperial Guard novel, rather than a Tanith novel. Inasmuch as it is derivative, this is inarguable – albeit a criticism that remains valid for many other Ghosts books – but that derivation was at the core of what 40K used to be. In a universe with such little truly original context, an engaging story told well is about as much as we can ask for, and First and Only absolutely delivers on that.

Thanks Ath.

Talking of the classic Warhammer 40k novel, Space Marine, keep an eye out for a future review of the book, accompanied by a short interview with the author himself, Ian Watson!

See you in the Bolthole!


The Imperium of Man just got Darker!

Dark Imperium is both the name of the new Warhammer 40,000 boxed set available from Games Workshop and the name of the accompanying novel from Black Library written by Guy Haley, by all accounts a prolific and entertaining wordsmith. He kindly agreed to do a short interview with us which follows below.

Dark Imperium

But onto the book!

Dark Imperium catches us up with the recent events in the Warhammer 40000 universe as Games Workshop move the story on, and push the fragile Imperium of Man that bit closer to the abyss. Whether or not you approve of the changes, Guy Haley certainly brings the entertainment. It is a good and rapid read. Starting with the climatic fight between Gulliman and Fulgrim after the Horus Heresy has ended (you know, the one that put Gulliman in stasis for, oh about 10000 years!) we then skip forward to the here and now, and Gulliman’s efforts to stabilise the situation and restore the Imperium. In using Gulliman’s viewpoint, we get to see a fresh take on the Imperium, and how far it has fallen from the high ideals of the great crusade. The loss of knowledge, the increase in superstition, and some home-truths about how the Emperor may have manipulated the primarchs and indeed humanity by not necessarily furnishing them with the whole truth. I found this fascinating, and having not read many Black Library books recently, a really good way of getting back into the universe and looking at it through new eyes. Unsurprisingly, both the new Primaris Marines and the Death Guard from the new box set feature quite heavily, and things are nicely set up for an encounter between Gulliman and Mortarion as the trilogy progresses.

Overall then, Dark Imperium is a good novel, a fresh take on Warhammer 40000 and an entertaining read that I would recommend.

As I mentioned above, Guy kindly agreed to do a short interview for us…

Hi Guy, thanks for agreeing to do this short interview. How are you today?

No problem. I am surprisingly relaxed after a frantic couple of months. The deadline fear will return soon enough, but for now I’m spending a few days catching up on my BL reading before my next project. It’s nice to have time to read!

Dark Imperium is your latest novel for the Black Library. How did it feel to be responsible for helping move the background forward in line with the latest edition of the Warhammer 40k tabletop rules?

Well, I was really, really pleased they chose me. That they’d ask me to write such an important book sort of indicated to me how much BL value my work, so that did a lot to dispel my usual authorly insecurities. I mean, I’m surrounded by stellar authors like Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and Dan Abnett to name but three of my very talented colleagues. To be given a book of this magnitude of importance suggests that maybe I might be good as them one day.

Did you feel under any particular pressure when writing the book?

Absolutely. This is the single most important event in 40k since the Horus Heresy! The background is all new, some of it was still being defined as I began writing, I had to fill in a lot of gaps to flesh out the game world into a novel. Now, we do that anyway, but in this case I was tinkering with the very engines of the universe, rather than, say, coming up with cult practises for a minor chapter. To make sure I got it write I had a lot of back and forth with the Games Workshop Studio, which was great, because it is really, really important to me that what is in the game books is in the novels, and what is in the novels is in the game books. There was a collaborative feel to the process that has only grown since I finished writing it. Unusually for me, the scope and scale of the story changed while I was writing, necessitating the addition of some fairly major chunks. I usually write what I write then get the thumbs up. This time we agreed I needed to put more action into my second draft. So it was a challenging book to write, but worth it.

And of course, this kind of book attracts far more attention than some of the things I write. Pretty much everyone who has ever played 40k is going to be interested in knowing what happens in the novel, even if they don’t read it. That brings a whole new level of scrutiny. That makes me sweat a bit.

The story opens with the climactic encounter between Gulliman and Fulgrim – was it hard to write that part – so long a part of 40k lore – and them move forwards 10000 years to the “present” 40k story and pick up with Gulliman suddenly in a different era and yet still continuing the same war?

Not really. The battle at Thessala is such an iconic moment in the lore that I was dead set on writing it. In a sense, I kind of shoe horned it in, I suppose, because I wanted to write it. My excuse is that I wanted this book to link all eras of 40k together – the Heresy, the pre-Noctis Aeterna and the new now, with little hints to 40k’s deep time histories. That it is the same war is kind of the point. The Imperium thought it won the Horus Heresy, when in many, many ways it did not. The effect of that realisation on Guilliman is a major theme to the story, and I’ll be continuing that in books two and three. Did I mention it’s a trilogy? It’s a trilogy.

I know you are a gamer – have you picked up a copy of the new boxed set yet? The Death Guard models are disgustingly beautiful!

Of course! I have the boxed set and the new indexes. I played my first game last week. Good fun, though my Orks died in droves, then I lost.

I actually have a Death Guard army too. You can read about how I’m going about updating it on the Warhammer Community Website in a month or so. I love the new Primaris Marines too, I’m dithering over whether I should paint them as Novamarines or Blood Angels. Before that though, I’m working on a promethium refinery built from the new Sector Mechanicus kits. That’ll be up in a couple of weeks. Actually, I need to get on with it, so I’m cutting this answer short.

You also have released a number of books outside of the Games Workshop universes, particularly your Dreaming Cities series. How do you find the process of creating a novel differs when writing within or without such predefined constraints?

One of the reasons I can write so many books a year (last year, I worked out I wrote 650,000 words of fiction, give or take) is that I vary what I write, and how I write it. In my “own” fiction, I can make up whatever I want, and sometimes that is liberating and useful. On the other hand, writing in a shared universe with lots of restrictions makes you more creative. Sometimes that means it is easier, sometimes harder. For me, the important thing is to make sure I do a variety of projects.

A  number of the Bolthole membership harbour dreams to make it as authors. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has helped you become a successful author?


There is no one piece of advice, I’m afraid. I always wanted to be a novelist, but I was a journalist for twelve years before I got a publishing contract. I interviewed lots of publishers, authors and agents in that time, and grilled them for tips. They all said different things. Being a journalist helped me the most. It trained me to write, and produce material of a reasonable standard to tight deadlines. However, I have also met a lot of would-be authors who aren’t and won’t be journalists. These are my top tips for you: Seek out advice from people who are involved in the industry. Don’t pester. If they help you, be nice. Do not be offended if what they say is negative (it will be to begin with), or let it go to your head if it is positive (which, once you get past a certain point, it will be). Join a writing group – I found that really useful, as there was feedback and an incentive to produce material. But above all, write. Nobody ever became a writer by not writing.

Finally, I recently became a father and I know you have a son. How do you find time to write?!

A lot of people ask me this, but in actual fact it’s no mystery: writing is my job. I work for about six hours a day usually, sometimes in the evening but mostly during working hours. My boy is nearly nine, he’s been at school for years, and is at an after school club three afternoons a week. I got my first two publishing contracts just as the last magazine I was on, Death Ray, went bust. My wife went back to work full time, I stayed at home. Even then I was working. It’s a job. We all manage to find time to earn our crust. It is significantly harder though when it is a hobby or an ambition. I remember that. You have to carve out time then, and that can be tricky.

Thanks Guy!

You can catch up on Guy’s Ork army and his terrain project over on the Warhammer Community website.

Next week we will have a review of the iconic Warhammer 40000 novel Space Marine by Ian Watson which is 24 years young but still entertaining!

Expect more reviews in the following weeks. We are also putting together a project reviewing the many Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, and I intend to update this blog with my attempts to put together a Space Marine army based around the new Primaris Marines. See the forum and the twitter feed for more, and expect some updates when I’ve got them!

If you are interested in contributing to this blog please contact Squiggle over at the Bolthole forum or on twitter.

Far Worlds: A Universe-Spanning Anthology.

Far Worlds

Across the unfathomably vast depths of space, the cylindrical nomad, known by some as ‘The Drift Engine’, travels the slow route between stars. Alone, it crosses the black gulf, where men freeze and stories die. But sometimes, it finds context amidst the void; intrigue, laughter, hate, madness and love, tales as diverse as life itself, in all its complex forms. The Far Worlds Anthology takes you on a journey to explore just some of these tales…

Good day my fellow Blogholers! It’s that time of a year again; the stars are right, and the latest Bolthole anthology, Far Worlds, is almost ready to escape its bonds and run amok across the universe (or the internet, whatever)!

This is the third of the anthologies produced and published by the Bolthole, and it has been my and He2etic’s[1] third time as co-editors, with ever-vigilant and grammatically merciless Hanna Gribble joining us as the final editor in our triad. This is also the third time the talented mister Mesones has lent his artistic skills to the beautiful cover art, pictured above.[2] But Manuel has gone above and beyond for this anthology, and has created illustrations for each of the main stories featured in the book.

Work started on our latest offering almost as soon as the last anthology, the engrossing Marching Time, was on the shelves. We have some returning authors, but also a slew of new faces, ready to impress you with their tales.

This year’s collection of short stories is linked together not by theme, as was the case in The Black Wind’s Whispers and Marching Time, but by setting. All the exotic far worlds depicted in the stories this year all takes place within the same universe, but otherwise could not be more different. We wanted to see our authors really go to town on creating whatever alien civilisation and story they wanted. No genres were off the table, from romance stories and comedies, to the more traditional speculative fiction and fantasy genres. Our only stipulations were that Earth could not be referenced, and that there were to be no shortcuts around the lightspeed barrier; if they wanted to leave their systems, it would be the long way round. Space is big, and we wanted it to feel big. Interstellar travel should feel like an almost insurmountable odyssey, not a long haul coach ride.

With such a vast canvas open to them, our authors have really delivered some great stories. Here are the main stories appearing in the anthology:

Anomaly, by Jonathan Ward
Rainer, by Heidi Ruby Miller
The Lost and Found, by Kerri Fitzgerald
Helzenthrax, by A. R. Aston
City Blue, by Edward Smith
Golden Planet, by Evan Purcell
A Pelnodan Bounty, by James Fadeley
Bequeathal, by K. Ceres Wright
Salvation Comes, by Simon Farrow
Endaris, by Michael J. Hollows
Alone, by Alex Helm
The War Room, by Michael Seese
Shard of Heaven, by Damir Salkovic
And finally, The Drift Engine.

In addition, a wealth of bonus flash fiction will be included to satiate your literary hunger. Overall, this will be the biggest, most jam-packed anthology yet, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

Thanks for reading!

[1] Real name James Fadeley to his friends, and the various bounty hunters on his trail…
[2] Lots of threes involved in this anthology it seems huh? Conspiracy theorists, feel free to go nuts!

Far Worlds will be released 25th March 2014, available at, in kindle and paperback format. For more information on the anthology and its authors, please visit our Facebook page, for author interviews, free goodies and art!

Interview with William King

Today we interview one of the Black Library fandom’s favourite authors, the legendary William King. He’s responsible for creating the iconic Gotrek, Felix and Thanquol characters in Warhammer Fantasy, and for writing the Ragnar series in Warhammer 40,000 and more recently the Tyrion and Teclis and Macharius series. He’s also written a number of stories in his own settings. William King

Your latest novel Bane of Malekith, the third in the Tyrion and Teclis trilogy, is out now. What was the writing process for the book? Can you describe how you go about working on a novel?

The second question is tricky to answer since the process varies from book to book. The Tyrion and Teclis trilogy was probably a unique case among all the books I have written. They were done one after the other in the space of about nine months and then revised in about another 5 months.

The trilogy was in many ways the easiest thing to write I have ever attempted. I set myself the goal of writing a minimum of 1000 words EVERY day come rain or shine and I pretty much stuck with that until the books were done. I even spent an hour writing in a Costa coffee house in Qatar in the middle of the night to keep up my unbroken run.

I spent many years brooding on the story which probably helped make things flow. I wrote the original outline for it way back in the early 90s in the first High Elf army book so I was pretty clear what I wanted to write. The characters themselves have been pretty strongly defined and mostly I just wanted to show how they became who they are today. I wanted them to be believable as heroes and still sympathetic.

Bane of MalekithAs for my usual writing process, it’s pretty simple. I almost always work from an outline – which is handy since Black Library requires me to send them one before they will issue a contract. This outline provides a guide for the actual writing. I don’t try to stick to it religiously. Some things that look great in the outline don’t actually work when you come to write them and conversely there are always things that take on a life of their own as they escape from your brain onto the page.

As I go through the first draft, I tend to stop and go back occasionally and rewrite things the light of what has happened since I wrote them. I put in foreshadowing, bits of stuff that I now know will be important to let the reader know about and so on.

Once I have written the first draft, I go over the book a number of times, trying to make sure everything is consistent. Sometimes there are large changes needed at this stage as flaws become evident. Eventually the thing is done, sent to the editors. More changes are often required at this stage. There is a backwards and forwards process until the book is done.

Are there any parts of the book that were a particular struggle to write, and any you are now especially pleased with?

As I said above this trilogy was probably the easiest thing I have ever written, with the possible exception of Daemonslayer, which was written after a similarly long gestation period. It was an enormously pleasurable experience. There are lots of things in the books I like – in particular the depictions of Aenarion, Caledor, Malekith and Morathi. In Bane of Malekith I like the way Malekith comes across. I also like the final set of duels between Tyrion and Urian and Malekith and Teclis. I am pleased with the opening chess game between Caledor and Death as well, which is, as I am sure many people will have spotted, a reference to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.Gotrek and Felix

Do you have any particular literary influences or sources you draw inspiration from in your writing?

Robert E Howard, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock and Tolkien all spring to mind. Less obviously Lawrence Block, George Orwell and, this is going to sound bizarre, Charles Dickens. He had a brilliant way with creating memorable characters.

Readers sometimes comment that you have a great ability to portray details of character or setting with just a few well-chosen words. Is this an element of your writing that you’ve consciously developed, or has it always come naturally?

See my comment about Dickens above. He has a knack for giving characters memorable mannerisms (Orwell comments on this in his essay on Dickens). It’s one of the things I try to do—like Gotrek running his thumb along the blade of his axe as he ponders violence. When creating a character I try and come up with three really memorable things—a look, a mannerism, an attitude and I build on it.

With settings, it’s the same. I try and find small details that will be convincing to the reader. I look for the sort of things that make me nod and think, yes, that’s how it would be.

How do you approach character development? Do you prefer to see how the characters evolve as the story progresses, or do you tend to plan out character arcs before starting to write?

I tend just to let the characters run from where they start. My basic philosophy of character creation is find characters you like and understand and then torture them. By this I mean cause them difficulties, take away their stuff, pick on their loved ones etc.

Again though, when I pause to think about things, I would need to add that this varies from book to book. Sometimes I have a definite aim in mind. With Tyrion and Teclis I wanted to show how they got to be heroes. With Gotrek and Felix and Grey Seer Thanquol, I just ran with what was happening in the stories and left the characters to their own devices. You can see what happened.

Writers seem to have different patterns when they’re involved in their writing. Is the writing process for you a lonely one or do you become more social?

I’ve never been the world’s most sociable man. I enjoy being on my own. I think it helps. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to say since I have a very supportive family.

You’ve been writing now for over twenty years. How have you found that the world of publishing has changed in that time?

It’s a different world now, completely and utterly. The single biggest change has come in the past five years with the rise of indie publishing and Amazon’s Kindle store. I have sold something like 40000 indie books in the past couple of years. The royalty rate on those books is something like 10 times as much as those on a conventionally published book so that’s a significant shift.

I think the whole industry is in turmoil. We’ve seen giant bookstore chains close shop and more and more people shift to e-readers. The process has only just started. That said, I do think Black Library is incredibly well-placed to weather the changes. It has its own loyal audience and control of at least part of its distribution chain

Fist of DemetriusCan you remember when you started writing, and do you have any advice for aspiring writers now?

I can remember it like it was yesterday but the world has changed so much that nothing I learned in terms of the business side of things would be useful today. On the other hand, some advice never goes out of fashion. Write what you love. Write the best stories you can. Read a lot. Write a lot. Don’t expect to be an overnight success. Learn to manage money. I know those all sound like clichés, but there’s a reason for that. They are all true and will most likely remain so for as long as people write books in the hope of selling them.

You did a lot of work on developing the Warhammer setting as a designer. Do you find that has made it easier or harder to write fiction set in the world, and has that changed over time?

It was easier when I started but it has gotten harder as the Warhammer world had been changed and expanded and so many more books have been written.

You’ve written in a variety of settings. Do you prefer working in an original setting of your own or with somebody else’s IP?

It depends! (You’ll notice a trend in my answers here as once again I sit on the fence.) In some ways writing in somebody else’s IP is easier because the world has already been created and you have very clear guidelines as to what is expected.

In some ways, writing your own stuff is easier because you don’t need to worry about what other writers may be doing. When I am writing my Kormak sword and sorcery novels or my Terrarch gunpowder fantasies, I am free to do pretty much as I please, up to and including blowing up the world if I want. I am pretty certain I could not get away with doing that (in Warhammer fantasy at least, in 40K there are a lot of worlds).

In Warhammer as more books are written by more writers, the number of things you can write about tends to narrow because somebody else may be doing something you would like to do.

Also, if I may introduce a note of crass commercialism into matters, if you are working in somebody else’s IP there is usually some certainty that there is a market for it and that you will be paid. If you are working on your own stuff, unless you are already a well-established writer, that is not a given.City of Strife

Who would you say is your favourite character among those you’ve written?

It’s really hard to make that choice, I like them all.  Gotrek and Felix come first but as a team!  If I absolutely had to pick just the one character, probably Grey Seer Thanquol. He was pure fun to write.

In your heart of hearts, do you prefer Dwarfs, or Elves?

Elves. Most of the time. Although I would probably rather go out drinking with dwarves.

After the conclusion of the Macharius trilogy, do you have plans for any more novels we should look out for?

There are some things being discussed but I am not allowed to talk about them at the present moment. Sorry about that!

Profound thanks to Mr King for taking the time to answer our questions! For more of his thoughts, see his blog at

A Fond Farewell

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

It’s the night of ghouls, goblins and ghosts. And like them, I’m gone in the morning.

I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun finding and interviewing artists and writers. But as much as I’ve enjoyed it, it’s time for me to get back to focusing on my writing career. I’m stepping down as the main content provider for the Bolthole blog.

So what does that mean for the blog? Well, the community has pitched ideas and concepts. Many of which sound great and promising. And I’m sure the RiaR will continue. I hope they have an easier time overcoming some of the challenges and issues I faced, and hope they can find an enduring passion for it.

Time will tell.

But before I go, I wanted to give a huge thanks to every author, publisher and artist who contributed to the blog. Their time and insight have made this a treasure trove of lessons and wisdom. A titanic thanks to Manuel Mesones for the background. And both he and the rest of my friends for their enduring support in trying times.

It’s only fitting that it should end on the only holiday when we take off our costumes and wear our real faces, as Zac Gorman perfectly explained. Even if others don’t realize they do it.

So own the night while you can. Happy Halloween!

-James Fadeley