Author Interview – James Swallow

The author interview for today is with one of my top favourite authors currently writing for Black Library – James Swallow. His work and I have had tumultuous relationship over the years and lately it has gotten stronger and stronger because whenever I read any of his novels or audio dramas of late, I continue to be impressed. He is one of the most prolific authors, in terms of both output and diversity, I know and certainly one of the most consistent in recent years.

Jim is also one of the few authors writing for Black Library who have been featured on the New York Times Bestsellers List, for his Horus Heresy novel Nemesis, a story about assassins and their mission to kill the Warmaster Horus. His upcoming novel Fear To Tread, another Horus Heresy story, has already generated a lot of positive buzz given that it features the Blood Angels Legion and their angelic Primarch Sanguinius himself, both of which he has a lot of experience with, the former more so. Let’s see what Scribe Award winner has to say about his work.

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Author Interview – Rob Sanders

Well after that really long break in between, we have another author interview for you guys ready to go. Today we are chatting with Rob Sanders, one of the best and brightest of the authors currently writing for Black Library as he explains his writing process and his thoughts about the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Rob Sanders has had success after success since he started writing in the war-torn galaxy of the far future and the future also looks bright for him as well. Especially since his two recent releases, the Space Marine Battles novel Legion of the Damned and his novella The Serpent Beneath in The Primarchs anthology have taken off at full speed. So let’s see what he has to say.

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Author Interview – Gav Thorpe

Monday is here and that means we have another interview! The guest of honour on the blog today is Gav Thorpe, game designer and author extraordinaire. As he himself says in this in-depth interview, he has been with Games Workshop’s two settings for a long, long time and he has racked up a credits list like few others in that time.

He is most famous for his Last Chancers novels which star a remarkable Penal Legion regiment of the Imperial Guard, his Path of the Eldar novels which give some of the most in-depth look into this ancient elder race of the galaxy, his Slaves to Darkness trilogy which was written in the early days of the Old World and many, many others. He has also written rulesets and lore for a variety of factions in both settings, particularly the mid-generation rules.

He has enjoyed great success with his work over the years and the future looks bright for him. Let’s see what the man himself has to say.

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Author Interview – Dan Abnett

Hi folks. My apologies for the long interlude since our last author interview, with Word Bearers expert Anthony Reynolds no less. The time has been good though because we have a great line-up ready for you guys. Starting off with a bang and some great enthusiasm is one of Black Library’s most prolific and senior authors, Dan Abnett.

Dan Abnett has written a lot on a lot of different things over the years, whether it is for Black Library alone or elsewhere. He has dabbled in a multitude of formats, whether it be comics or novels, short stories or background texts. Some of his most popular and endearing credits include the Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, several Horus Heresy titles, the Malus Darkblade novels and comics or some stand-alone stuff like Brothers of the Snake or, until only a few months ago, Gilead’s Blood.

There are a lot of interesting revelations and juicy bits of information in the interview so let’s see what we have!

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Author Interview – Anthony Reynolds

Hello folks, and welcome to what will be the last author interview for February. Today, we have Anthony Reynolds himself in the spotlight as he talks about the Word Bearers, Bretonnians, Villains and his future works.

Anthony Reynolds brought the Word Bearers Chaos Legion to the forefront with his excellent novels featuring the Dark Apostle Marduk and his battle-brothers of the 34th Host. He has also written about the Knights of Bretonnia, telling the tale of one in particular, Calard, and Chlod. And of course, he has also worked extensively with the Games Workshop Design Studio in the past so he has seen both sides of the lore and has helped shape it.

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Author Interview – Chris Wraight

Monday, monday, monday. Another monday, another interview. Today it is Chris Wraight, long-time freelance writer for Black Library, who takes a stroll through these parts and talks about how he got started and his works: past, present and future.

As most of you know, and for those who don’t, Chris wrote the phenomenal Battle of The Fang novel for the Space Marine Battles series, and has also had great success in Warhammer Fantasy with his Warhammer Heroes novels and his Empire Army novels. Chris has also taken tentative steps into the Horus Heresy series with his short story Rebirth, featuring the Thousand Sons and by all accounts, 2012 looks like it is going to be a great year for him.

So here’s Chris himself!

Shadowhawk: How did you get started with writing for Black Library and what attracted you to the two Warhammer settings?

Chris: A long time ago, almost out of the blue, I submitted a short story for an open competition BL was running. I was invited to work it up for publication, with the result that it appeared in the Invasion! anthology. A couple of novels followed, about which it’s probably kindest to say that they, er, showed some potential. Thankfully the editors at Black Library persevered, and since Iron Company I’ve begun to feel quite a bit more at home in the Old World.

Shadowhawk: You are a veteran for Warhammer Fantasy with quite a few novels and short stories under your belt. Which format do you prefer over the other?

Chris: Novels are what it’s all about, really. Shorter fiction is less stressful to write and offers opportunities to do cool things, but in terms of author satisfaction there’s nothing quite like looking at the spine of a finished book sitting on your bookshelf. They’re tough to plot out and infuriatingly hard to finish, but absolutely worth it in the end.

Shadowhawk: Battle of the Fang, your Space Marine Battles novel featuring the Space Wolves and Thousand Sons is lauded as one of the best in the series. How did you approach the material and what inspired you to take on this particular event?

Chris: I was asked by Nick Kyme to draw up a proposal for Battle of the Fang. I believe the story was slated to be part of the Space Marine Battles series right from the start, but scheduling issues meant that it went without an author for quite a while. Since starting out with Black Library I’d always been keen to try writing 40K, and I’d previously been given a try-out with the short story Runes in one of the Space Marine anthologies, so when the chance came to work on the project I leapt at it.

In some ways, doing a Space Marine Battles book was an ideal first outing for a novel-length project, as the basic plot for it already existed. In most other respects, though, it was a hard story to write. The Space Wolves are about as popular a faction as any, and at the time of writing the book they hadn’t had a novel featuring them for a while. I knew that Prospero Burns would be out beforehand, which was bound to be a massive event. There were also elements of the story – such as the starting premise and Magnus turning up – that were very difficult to know how to handle. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to draw everything together (which made the book quite late), so it’s nice that many readers seem to have enjoyed the end result. You’re never going to satisfy everyone about every aspect of your take on something, particularly when some fans have a very clear idea about how certain events should pan out before even picking up the book, but the majority of the feedback has been encouraging.

Shadowhawk: How much inspiration did you draw from Dan’s Prospero Burns and Bill’s Ragnar novels? Did you communicate with either of them for this project?

Chris: I spoke to Dan a number of times while writing, and he was enormously helpful. Prospero Burns was finished off while I was about halfway through Battle of the Fang, and I made quite a few changes to the drafts to try to reflect his (incredible) reimagining of the Wolves. I also read, and re-read, the first four Space Wolf books, which were similarly useful in getting a feel for the Chapter. I’d like to think that while my Space Wolves incorporate concepts from both Bill’s and Dan’s treatment of them, they have a few features of their own too. One of the nice things about working in a shared universe, after all, is the chance you get to leave some ideas of your own out there.

Shadowhawk: Your next novel for Warhammer 40,000 is another Space Marine Battles novel, this time featuring the Iron Hands. You have previously written a short story for them in Hammer & Bolter. Why the Iron Hands?

Chris: No one else was doing them. J

Shadowhawk: Both the Iron Hands and the Space Wolves are non-traditional chapters who diverge quite a bit from the Codex Astartes and have some very strong ideologies of their own carried over from the days of the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy. What has it been like to delve into their unique culture and their psyche?

Chris: The Space Wolves are a very popular and a very likeable Chapter: they’re dynamic, individual, and occupy a unique space in the 40K mythos. The Iron Hands are the opposite: they’re grim, agonised and gloomy. That makes the Wolves far easier to write about, since you have some of the material for creating characters to identify with. The Iron Hands are more difficult. In some ways, that’s a more satisfying challenge – making the unlikeable interesting. In Wrath of Iron, the Iron Hands don’t pull any punches – they’re not nice, they’re not nuanced and they’re not misunderstood. Just as some Traitor Legions embody a lot of admirable features, some Loyalists really are pretty screwed up, and the Iron Hands are about as badly damaged as they come. There are, however, stories to be told about how and why they came to be the way they are, and how they relate to the rest of the Imperium.

Shadowhawk: Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg are getting their second outing in the upcoming novel Swords of the Emperor. These two are also among the first heroes of the Old World to be featured in the Warhammer Heroes novels. How did you get started with both of them?

Chris: Writing for Schwarzhelm and Helborg was great, as neither character had a huge amount of worked-out background already in print. I took the text in the Empire Army Book as the starting point, together with the fantastic artwork, and tried to give each of them proper personalities. They’re very different men: Schwarzhelm’s dour, reserved and only really good at a certain kind of fighting, whereas Helborg’s accomplished, brash and a more natural leader of men. Of all the projects I’ve written for Black Library, I probably enjoyed the two Swords books the most, mostly due to the freedom I felt I had with the story and characters.

Shadowhawk: What can you tell us about Swords of the Emperor itself?

Chris: Swords of the Emperor is an anthology containing the novels Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance. It will also contain the short stories ‘Feast of Horrors’ (featuring Schwarzhelm) and ‘Duty and Honour’ (starring Helborg). The second of those is new for the anthology, and sees Kurt in action in Bretonnia.

Shadowhawk: You have written extensively for the Empire before so how was the experience writing for the High Elves in your novella Dragonmage? Will there be any possible sequels to the story contained therein?

Chris: Writing Dragonmage was actually quite hard, as it turned out, and the novella ended up going through a couple of drafts. Nick Kyme, my editor for that one, had a lot of input into the finished result and improved it hugely. I guess the issue was largely down to switching between the Empire, which is a low fantasy setting, and the world of the High Elves, which is a bit more epic and mythical. It’s been good to read the feedback to the final product, though, which squeezed quite a lot of story into a relatively short package and seems to have gone down well. I don’t expect we’ll see a sequel, although I’ll be writing High Elves again as part of the War of Vengeance series. The first book in that sequence will be Nick’s The Great Betrayal. My follow-up has the provisional title Master of Dragons, and, as you’d expect, has a whole lot of fire-breathing, stuntie-crushing action planned for it.

Shadowhawk: Any plans to tackle the Horus Heresy? And what faction, event, character would you like to explore next?

Chris: Nothing that’s ready to talk about, I’m afraid. In terms of future projects in general, I’ve got High Elves, Space Wolves and White Scars all on the horizon.

Shadowhawk: With the Games Day 2011 Anthology, we got the first peak into Luthor Huss in your short story The March of Doom. The novel itself is coming out next month. Warrior Priests are not like the other soldiers of the Empire, so what was it like to get into the psyche of one?

Chris: I took the view that if Fantasy had Space Marines in it, then Huss would be one. Warrior Priests share the same asceticism, devotion and martial prowess – they even look a bit the same. Huss isn’t quite your average Warrior Priest, though; he’s a bit more extreme than most, and more interesting too. The tone set in The March of Doom is very much the same as that in Luthor Huss, so anyone who enjoyed the anthology story will hopefully like the novel too. Huss is a bit like Schwarzhelm, but with an added dose of religious fervour. He’s another one of those uncompromising, brutal characters that Warhammer seems to generate. As ever, the interest in such a character come from why someone would end up like that, and there’s a good deal too on the nature and limitations of faith.

Shadowhawk: Who and/or what has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Chris: Some of the influences you end up with aren’t that helpful. I think I’ve inherited a strong dose of Tolkienese from being obsessed with The Lord of the Rings as a child. I love Tolkien, but I don’t really want to write like him. I still do from time to time, unfortunately, but it’s something I’m working on. Otherwise, I admire a lot of different writers, most of whom have little in common with one another. Right now I’m reading a very good book by Margaret Atwood on science fiction, which is already giving me ideas.

Shadowhawk: Have any of your characters ever challenged you straight up or otherwise while writing them?

Chris: Lots do. I found writing Space Wolves very hard. Space Marines in general are hard. Elves are quite hard, too. Actually it’s all quite difficult, now I come to think about it.

Shadowhawk: What helps you get into the writing mindset?

Chris: Ah, that depends. Some days it all seems to work well, and I get up from the desk having typed several thousand words of stuff I’m quite pleased with; others, it’s a challenge getting anything on the page. I listen to a lot of film scores when I’m writing, partly to try to get into the right frame of mind. A good Black Library book should be a bit filmic, I think. For Wrath of Iron, that ended up being the OST from Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films. Suitably dour.

Shadowhawk: What are you looking forward to the most in terms of your own work for 2012?

Chris: Getting back to writing about dragons, and writing an encounter between two gentlemen, one of whom may or may not be Horus, the other of whom may or may not be the Khan.

Shadowhawk: Anything else happening this year you are absolutely stoked for?

Chris: Um. The Olympics?

Shadowhawk: If all your leading characters got into a cross-universe deathmatch, who would you root for and why?

Chris: A secondary character called Pieter Verstohlen, who first popped up in Sword of Justice. He wouldn’t last five minutes of course, but I’d hope he’d find a way to hang in there a bit longer than anyone expected. One day, if the stars align, he’ll get another novel. In fact, I’d love him to have a whole series (though don’t hold your breath for that).

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I hope you all enjoyed that interview folks. Coming later this week is the January (Black Library) Artwork Round-up and a blogpost on ePublishing, so stay tuned through the week!

Horus Heresy: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett (A Review)

Today, we bring to you another book review, this one by a reader who was completely new to the Warhammer 40,000 setting and whose first point of introduction to the setting was the first novel of the Horus Heresy series. It is quite an interesting review and I hope you all enjoy it.

Warning: Here be spoilers.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get in medias res. No, we need another disclaimer. I am not a 40K expert. More than once while reading this book, I was rushing off to ask one of my more knowledgeable friends “But what does X mean?” “What is a Y?” and “Can Space Marines have sex?” Ah, scratch that last one, the answer is obvious in the book (and for, the record, it’s ‘No.’). But, still, even I know how this will end. Horus falls to Chaos, so do half his brothers, there’s a huge war, lots of characters you like die, and in the end the Emperor Shoots the Dog – Horus – and becomes a human vegetable. It’s kind of like watching the Star Wars prequels. We all know Anakin becomes Darth Vader. The point is how it happens.

Well, very differently. Horus is not Anakin. Chaos is not Palpatine (it’s a lot more gross ^^). The book takes a very interesting approach to the basic plot of tragedy. For it to be a tragedy you need to be invested in the main character – but knowing what the reader knows, she’ll be reluctant to do so. Generally speaking, emotional investment in the characters and the story is difficult. The Imperium of Man is so far from our world, from our way of thinking that you struggle to sympathize. It doesn’t help that the beginning opens with a) a huge deception and b) a very distanced and ‘epic’ tolkienesque approach to story telling. “I was there the day Horus killed the Emperor.” “Wtf?”

Eventually, it’s cleared up that this was a different Emperor and you find out that the book is told in two distinct voices, one that is History speaking through the work of documentarist Mersadie Oliton, and one that is History happening, through the limited 3rd person POV of Garviel Loken, a legion Captain of the Luna Wolves, and rememberancers Oliton, Karkasy and Keeler. To be honest, the history book sequences aren’t that good. Abnett strives for a tone similar to the Silmarillion but it simply doesn’t work that well. But the other sequences are far better. The use of the rememberancers as storytellers is inspired: their job is to be there and witness, to show the people of Terra what is happening in the Great Crusade, and probably where their tax money is going to. Since they are all artists, not reporters, their approach to their job is very different since it is quite whimsical, eclectic and – in case of Karkasy – sarcastic. Like the reader, they are professional witnesses, but they do not just observe, they comment, they judge, they interpret. And, like the reader, they are not socialised in the militaristic culture of the Astartes, seeing it all with detachment and maybe even disdain.

Karkasy walking through the demolished capital of 63-19 is one of the more memorable sequences. A major problem of science fiction told at this scale is how to make foreign cultures memorable. How to present them as something relatable but at the same time fundamentally different from the standard, and to do so in a couple of pages or minutes of screen time. Here it works impressively. The same is done again with the Interex, which is more exotic and therefore more superficial, but still interesting.

For a story told about a character’s fall to darkness, the author made an interesting decision on how to go about it. The newly-established Imperium of Man is a very alien environment for the 21st century reader. It is violently imperialistic, autocratic, fundamentalist. Its soldiers are not human, but something different, of enormous size, physically enhanced, biologically different, and mentally conditioned.

As I understand it, a baseline human boy is taken, implanted with enhanced organs and cybernetics, conditioned, hypnotized, maybe brainwashed. This sounds revolting and abhorrent for us and in the beginning; we get exactly what we expect. A world is brutally conquered, and when Loken shows… humanity or maybe just compassion, his Warmaster pops in and executes the enemy leader with ruthless aplomb and a sarcastic quip. When the rememberancer meets Loken, her first impression of him is his inhumanity, his mixture of beauty and grotesque exaggeration of human traits. We learn that he cannot feel fear, and when he puts her down for saying something that – we must assume – went against his conditioning, the word she thinks is that he is brutal. Only then, when the reader is reminded of all his preconceived notions, do we look beneath the surface. Loken is inducted into the Warmaster’s inner circle, and we are introduced to the iterators: the propaganda and reeducation ‘teachers’ who bring conquered worlds in line. And we see them debate, discuss, doubt. We see the questions asked that we have been asking from the start and they are answered. It isn’t that all of the answers are what we agree to. But we see the questions exist. We learn the Emperor has been giving up power on account of a civilian administration and catching flak for it. On Terra herself.

This isn’t yet the Imperium of 40K. And Horus has not yet become the setting’s fusion of Lucifer and Kain. In fact, after his rather unflattering introduction, we learn a lot more about him. And about Loken. We see Horus comfort a distraught soldier, we see him be kind, gentle. We see him politically savvy, and later as a son who was loved by his father and dearly loves him (and misses him) in return. In these moments, it is irrelevant he is three meters tall and that his father is an immortal with godlike powers. Suddenly, there is the humanity, both in him and in Loken that we have been missing – and taught not to expect. And the knowledge of the fall rears its head and we ask how this can happen, when we understand it is not a foregone conclusion.

Horus certainly has flaws. He has quite an ego for one. He struggles with his role, with the enormous responsibility, with the weight of his choices. In the end, he argues against slavish adherence to dogma and for a more responsible approach. And, when in the last chapter, he fights what seems to be a last stand against overwhelming odds – the author echoes our feelings, by stepping back and saying how much History has become skewed and distorted by the knowledge of what happens next. How the horrible end makes everyone forget the noble beginning, thus echoing the reader’s own preconceptions from the start. In the end, you are sorry. Sorry for this brilliant, complex individual who will be remembered only as a monster. I did not read the other books yet, and so far, I feel that Horus is the setting’s Old Yeller. The brave, courageous creature that through no fault of his own becomes infected with a terrible ‘disease’ and has to be put down by the one who loved him most. And this sadness colors my perception of the book more than anything else.