Black Library Weekender

Friday night, I arrived at the Belfry hotel. Having checked and taken a seat at the bar, I noticed Sarah Cawkwell talking with friends and family. Another gentleman looked familiar, and after a drink and a though, I realized it was William King.

Brother Jhonas here was actually quite chill.

I let them be for the time being, waiting for fans to show up as I read Fear to Tread and sipped on beers. Soon, other fans started showing up. It didn’t take long to identify each other. I wasn’t the only American there, about three others showed up that I know of, probably a few more.

Then the gold tickets showed up with the other Black Library authors. I recognized faces immediately. Dan Abnett, James Swallow, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Graham McNeill, Andy Smilie, Chris Wraight. Sarah came over and we chatted for a bit. Then Clint Werner showed up and I had a chance to meet the man face to face.

The BLW hadn’t even started and it was already awesome.

Saturday morning, everything was set up. An Ultramarine statue was in the lobby. Rachel (known on the Bolthole as “Raye Raye”) worked with several other staff members to sell various merchandise, ranging from the most recent novels, art posters, hardback chapbooks and novellas. Before going crazy, I decided to get some breakfast.

Although not all meals at the Belfry were equal, the breakfast was fairly good. A buffet offered many basics, ranging from cereal to fruits, baked goods (the croissants with the filling were most excellent). Various meats and items were available which I tried including the black pudding (not to my liking) and a special salami (very much to my liking.)

Now, I would love to burden your eyes with photos of the various seminars and events they had. Truth be told, the lights that were over the speakers and authors gave them an overbearing shadowy look that did not come across well on the camera.

I’ll have to ask Cawkwell what she calls this pose later.

But the seminars were impressive and information. There was the “Writing for the Black Library” bit, where we covered a range of basic do’s and don’ts. Although I had done some strong research into writing for them, I learned several new things about submitting my work. There was the “Space Marine Battles” feature, where we had a chance to dive into the critical differences between regular Space Marine tales and these particular events. I scored an autograph from Gav Thorpe, though I wish I brought my copy of The Last Chancers.

There was Q&A with Dan Abnett. Signatures with Swallow, Werner and Sarah Cawkwell. That night we had an amusing quiz session with teams of the authors which, of course, the audience won.

I skipped the pitch proposal, where fans had sixty seconds to shoot a story idea.  I wanted to play, but a combination of jet lag and homesickness struck, so I sat at the bar and just drew for a while.

On Sunday, we were invited to one final presentation before the BLW came to a close. By now, the cat is out of the bag, but the announcement was the new Horus Heresy Musical, directed by the Coen brothers.

I kid.

A mix of the Bolthole crew.

The Horus Heresy graphic novel. During the conference, we heard one of the editors talk about how expensive it was to produce the art. That prose is so much more cheap than art. Apparently, they had to say a lot of things in order to side step and not give away the big surprise.

But the surprise is fairly big. A 100 page graphic novel of the Horus Heresy, at least the first we’ll receive. It may not be a movie or a Horus Heresy game, but it’s definitely something far more visual than the books and audio we’ve been receiving.

It was great to put faces to names, hang with fellow nerds and chat a bit with the creative minds who write such awesome fiction. Given the cost of traveling to England, I probably won’t be able to do it again for sometime.

So I’m going to end this blog post with a straight gallery of various pictures I took below. I’ll do a ‘cut off’ for the slower machines, so it’ll be up to you to see the rest if you want. But I hope every Warhammer fan gets a chance to attend the BLW someday.

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Prospero Burns

I'm not certain it was cold on Prospero when they destroyed it..

I'm not certain it was cold on Prospero when they destroyed it... just sayin'.

I waited far too long to read this. As much as I love the stories of the Horus Heresy, I need time to relax my mind, write my own stuff and read other, often classical or historical, literature. Maybe I’m not a good fan for that reason. Or maybe in doing so, I get a perspective or a view that is somewhat different than most.

Prospero Burns was the counter story to A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill. Such two authored tales run the risk of creating contradicting stories, and I admit a growing desire to re-read A Thousand Sons to ensure that my recollection of it was accurate.

Still, I’m not writing to talk about McNeill’s piece, but Abnett’s. The story is great. On so many levels, it’s entirely different than the tone set by the rest of the Horus Heresy series.

The story revolves around Kasper Hawser, a gentleman who volunteers to record the stories and events of the Space Wolves. The sons of Russ, of course, do not play by the same rules of the rest of the legions. Never have, never will.

And as you might imagine, this gives rise to all kinds of new terms and phrases that go into what I personally refer to as the Abnettionary.

The most important of these phrases, to this book anyway, is skjald (which I believe is pronounced like sk-yahld). You see, the Space Wolves do not seem to have bothered with Remembrancers like the rest of the legions. But they do have a role for story tellers. They desire individuals who are willing to memorize and tell their tales. They refuse to have them recorded in writing or cameras.

And that is the role for Kasper Hawser, aka Ahmad Ibn Rustah. Hmm, if that name sounds a touch familiar, it might have been inspired by the actual Persian explorer. I also wonder if the story draws some from Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, or the better known movie The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas.

Other ideas to be borrowed may be in the form of Ursula L. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, in that names give power over individuals and things. But such an idea was long in the Daemonhunter’s codex, mentioned in a wargear item called the ‘Grimoire of True Names.’

Finally, there are the anthropological questions about the marks of aversion. This one stumps me. My knowledge of ancient and primitive cultures is limited. While I’m reasonably confident that this idea may have come from another, more historic source, I can’t guess what. Well, as they say in the book, ‘I recognize my failing and will be sure to correct it.’

So as you see here, an awful lot of study and brain work seemed to have gone into creating this book. And it shows. But as much as I’d like to mention the plot and story details, I cannot do so without risking giving away some serious twists and turns. Kasper Hawser is something of an unreliable narrator.

But Prospero Burns is a proud piece, one that satisfies yet leaves us hungry. It is both intelligent and detail oriented, and yet full of action and intrigue. I started the book with an unimpressed vision of what the Space Wolves were like, and finished it with my opinion changed. The ending is a mixture of curiosity and wonder, and while one can never call a Warhammer story a truly ‘happy ending’, there is an uplifting aspect that will make Prospero Burns stay with you.

P.S. My buddy, Rob P, mentioned something called the ‘Eye of Horus’ or ‘Wedjat.’ You can check out its Wikipedia article, but basically it’s one strong example of those marks of aversion. It’s meaning very firmly connects the fictional source to the historical one.

Fulgrim

Not enough coffee for a witty remark this morning...

Not enough coffee for witty remarks just yet.

I’m not going to lie. I was a little adverse to reading this book for a short while. Let’s just say it’s an American thing many of us picked up in the 80s and 90s, when our heroes weren’t supposed to be beautiful. Guys like Bruce Willis and Kurt Russell played these bad ass roles where their characters were injured and made unattractive in the course of their conflict.

Oddly, if this book had come to me about 10 years ago and I had been into Warhammer 40k back then, I would have been all over it. In the past I was more into Japanese animation with heroes so gorgeous, the line between masculine and feminine disappears. I’m long over my pretty boy phase.

Another thing to discuss came up when I was talking to a friend. Also a Warhammer fan, he asked me what the real danger of Slaanesh was. The problems of Nurgle and Khorne were obvious, the threat of Tzeentch was more subtle but still there.

What is the threat Slaanesh really imposes? It’s a problem every parent faces for their pubescent teenage children. There is the threat of STDs and pregnancy. Obsessions too are an aspect, like a relationship where one side is far more possessive than what is reasonable. And then there are those whose limitations are so small, it’s dangerous. Like David Carradine.

And not just sex, since he is the lord of excess. It’s an issue when someone drinks themselves to death on alcohol, or eats their way to a heart attack. And I think anyone who has met a serious artist has seen some antics that worry them, such as the artist not eating or sleeping to finish their workload. There are drug users as well, some of whom push themselves into over dosing at times. Slaanesh is a god you don’t see coming because he is in the most mundane of activities we take for granted as being human.

I write all this because it’s what I gathered from reading Fulgrim by Graham McNeill. It’s a perspective changer. My rantings above were not a digression from the review. They are the point. McNeill takes the reader on a wild ride that blows several stereotypes and misconceptions out of the water. And the story that unfolds from the pages is disturbing and sobering enough that even non-Warhammer 40k fans will find something of value here, as McNeill succeeds in making the line between fan and casual book reader thinner than ever before.

The Ultramarines Omnibus

Probably as close to good guys are you're going to get.

Probably as close to good guys are you're going to get.

A good book to read for the uninitiated? One for chaps who are new to the works of the Black Library?

Well, that’s kind of tough to answer. Some books are easier than others to figure out and understand. But there’s no escaping that a person’s first trip into Warhammer 40k is likely to be like slamming a person’s head into a bucket of ice cold water. There’s a lot to learn, from the terminology to the factions, the history of each race.

So I can’t say with absolutely certainty, but Graham McNeill’s The Ultramarines Omnibus is probably going to be one of the better bets.

The Ultramarines Space Marine chapter is probably one of the few who are fairly more benevolent than most. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe. Nothing in the universe is ever that simple, and the moral grey areas lend themselves to complexities that make almost every faction and character more well rounded than we are ever first led to believe. But for a new guy, this is fine.

In Nightbringer, Uriel Ventris is the main character of the series, who is captain of the 4th Company. Together with his ally and close friend Pasanius, the 4th Company is sent to look into the civil unrest and Dark Eldar raids against the planet of Pavonis. I cannot really say much more without risking plot spoilers.

Of the three books in the trilogy, Nightbringer is actually my least favorite. It goes for some mystery elements that do not particularly mesh with the direction Ultramarines are expected to take in my opinion. But for the new guy, the first of the three books will do them a favor in illustrating the infighting and complications of life and politics on just about every world in the Imperium. Still, despite any personal misgivings about the first book, the second and third ones make up for it.

I'm just glad Uriel looks nothing at all like Bruce Campbell...

I'm just glad Uriel looks nothing at all like Bruce Campbell...

In Warriors of Ultramar, Uriel Ventris joins Chief Librarian Tiberius in forging an alliance with the Mortifactors, another Space Marine chapter descended from Roboute Guilliman. Together they join in the defense of Tarsis Ultra, who is in the path of a Tyranid fleet. Given that Tyranids cannot be reasoned with and seek to devour all the bio-matter on a planet (including yours truly), you would think the story would be straight forward good guys versus the bad dudes. But McNeill isn’t going to let the reader off that easy. In the defense of the system, various characters sacrifice lives to protect Tarsis Ultra. Or to save their own bacon.

Dead Sky Black Sun takes place very shortly after Warriors of Ultramar and, ironically, as a direct result of Uriel Ventris’ actions within the previous book. Punished for not sticking to the Codex Astartes, Uriel Ventris is stripped of command of the 4th Company and sent with his friend Pasanius on a quest of redemption. Due to an unforeseen and very bloody supernatural intervention however, Ventris and Pasanius are dumped on Medrengard, the industrial world home to the unforgiving Iron Warriors legion.  The situation is even worse given the power struggle between two Iron Warrior factions, one of whom is led by Warsmith Honsou. Who is Honsou, you may ask? I haven’t time to explain. But at the rate this guy is accumulating fame, you’ll find out sooner or later.

Dead Sky Black Sun has a back story to it that is told in McNeill’s other book, Storm of Iron. A first time reader can probably wing it without too much difficulty, but the previous book answers many questions that may pop up throughout Uriel Ventris’ quest on the Iron Warrior’s home world.

Given how much the Black Library sees the Space Marines as the most integral part of the Warhammer 40k universe, a new guy is going to have to get initiated with the Astartes sometime. Graham McNeill is probably the best author on the subject. Hence The Ultramarines Omnibus is probably going to be one of the best choices for bringing new fans on board.