April Tomorrow

This weekend we were hit with another round of snow. I can’t help but think it’s the last. I feel it, I just do. Today, the weather will be around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius). Here’s hoping it gets sunnier.

But I took advantage of the cold weather to stay in and enjoy some books, movies and television. I decided to challenge myself this month: I’m giving up alcohol until April 30th, trying to work out (even just 20 minutes) five days a week, and am brushing up on my French using Duolingo. If you’re interested in learning a new language, I recommend it.

The weekend wasn’t without challenges. I had some difficulties in formatting the print edition of Far Worlds. But thus far, I think I’ve got it and checked all potential problems. The formatting, at least on the preview screen, looks good. The details appear to be all there. I’m just waiting on the last bit of the cover and we’ll stamp out the proof version. If all goes well, I can safely say my publishing skills have gained a level.

The book has occupied my time with its complexities. It has increased my respect (again) for writer and publishers. Every little nuance and detail that we take for granted as readers was someone’s hard work and effort to learn how to do it.

But at the same time, I really do want to get back into story craft and writing. A few very interesting submission windows have come my way and I can’t wait to get started on a few new tales. It won’t be much longer and I’ve got a lot to make up for.

On the reading side of things, I’ve finished A Dance with Dragons. After some thought, I’ve decided not to read the freely available chapters on GRRM’s website. I’m looking forward to The Winds of Winter, but I don’t want to read a few chapters and then have to reread them when details change in the final product.

Because murder. That's why.

Because murder. That’s why.

Finally free to put down anything involving A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve returned to the Horus Heresy at last with Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Betrayer, burning through 100 pages in 2 days.

My absence from the Warhammer universe seems to have restored some of the wonder of reading the primarchs in action and some of the awe as to what the warp is capable of. There’s splendor and depth here, as our understanding of the Horus Heresy from the context of the 40k universe has always been the ‘what’, while the actual book series explains the ‘why’.

My weekend wasn’t without some lighter fare as well. Over at a friends’ place, we watched Pitch Perfect with Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. The movie seemed to borrow strong elements from Bridesmaids, managing to be funny without coming off as a chick flick. It would have been possible to swap out the female roles for male ones with little lost in the translation. I suppose there was a little predictability to it, but it never loses sight of being fun and funny, so there’s nothing to complain about.

Finally, I broke the seal and started watching the third season of United States of Tara. The second season had proved so incredibly preachy that I was almost turned off for good. I had a hard time putting up with the judgmental sentiments and the overtly delivered political messages.

Thankfully, Diablo Cody and her associated writers seemed to have realized they had gone too far and tried (too late) to dial it back. The third season has been enjoyable and interesting, emphasizing what the second season should have been. All the family members get their own plots of which are satisfying, with the exception of Tara’s sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) whose thread is okay- not great.

The writers finally found ways to make the kids interesting. The son is working on a movie with his boyfriend and another kid, which buds into some intriguing conflicts of their own (the kind only Showtime or HBO would have the guts to try.) It took some work to make anything of daughter, but now that they’ve set her up as a flight attendant, her story lines actually seem to bring something to the table.

Still, we’re only at episode 6 and there are three hours of the show left. One can rule a season as bad and quit, but ‘good’ should be reserved until it’s over.

Here’s to April.

Advertisements

Writer Pep Talk

This Guy.Shopping for a Space Marine chapter to write about is hard.

Very hard.

From what I can tell, the first and some of the second founding chapters are the most interesting, and the ones that everyone wants to read about the most. After browsing through the Black Library’s current selection of Space Marine books, there are very few books about non First Founding Space Marine chapters.

My theory? It’s those amazing Horus Heresy stories. We associate what happens mostly to those Legions. We’re drawn to the Imperial Fists, Blood Angels and Iron Warriors, because those names have been around a long, long time. Guys like the Brazen Claws, Chosen of Nemeroth and Minotaurs? Not so much.

Take a nobody and make them interesting. That’s a big challenge.

I’ve been at this for a few years now. Only this year, I’m more serious than ever. I’ve been published a few times in other, non-Black Library anthologies and I’m going to continue to be published whether or not I ever make it into the BL. Win, lose or draw, writing is what I do and what I’m going to continue to do, big leagues or not.

A few years ago, I was content to be the same as a thousand other fans out there, who wait for the submission window, shoot them something, and then do nothing else with their career. I was content to do fan fictions before, now I want more than that. I’m serious about writing.

I’m hungry for something bigger.

I can understand how other people can be disgusted by that. The thought of writing for total pocket change. Having to not only work creative, but editing and marketing and finances. Being an artist sounds totally beautiful, but when they hear about the sheer amount of work that has to be done to get published and keep getting published, they see the ugly. The guys who try, fail and give up thought they were going to get a runaway hit.

Life doesn’t work like that. Even the best had to hammer it, and hammer it hard.

You get told you can’t do prose?
You keep writing.
You get that rubber stamp template rejection letter?
You keep writing.
Your story bombs?
You keep writing.

And you keep writing, writing, writing. And you don’t stop. No matter who says no, you keep writing.

Maybe I started this with some thoughts about writing for the Black Library. But there is so much more to it. Maybe you, who is reading this, wants to get accepted by BL, or Tor or Random House or whomever else out there. Weird Tales, Dark Moon Digest. Maybe you want Stephen King to say your work inspired him to write again. Maybe you want to write that book that is so incredible, even J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell and Robert E. Howard get out of their graves to go get a copy. Whoever you want to get published by is just the symptom. Writing is the disease.

Keep writing.

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.

Horus Rising

"Onward! Rock for the rock god!" -Warcry of the Facemelters Legion

"Onward! Rock for the rock god!" -Warcry of the Facemelters Legion

There is pulp fiction, which we read to be entertained and sometimes become the stuff of our day dreams. It’s just for fun.

Then there’s the intelligently written pieces, which we read and we walk away feeling as though we have learned something. As if we have made some discovery.

And then there are the philosophical pieces. And in my opinion, these are the deepest and most powerful pieces. The books we read that may offer a coalition of ideas, views and perspectives that threaten to permanently change one’s frame of mind.

So which of these three is Horus Rising by Dan Abnett?

When I first learned that the Horus Heresy was going to become a new book series, I knew that it had to be something special. The worlds of Warhammer 40,000 have been devised and built around this one colossal event, that brought the Great Crusade to an end and started a darker age of decay.

Anyone with any knowledge of the lore knows that this is a horrendously tall order. Warhammer 40k has been around for decades, and the hype surrounding this cannot be easily understanding among the fans.

Horus Rising is nothing like the usual fare we get from the Black Library for many reasons. First, it’s a stage setter. Nothing major happens in the book, with the exception of a few tiny details that effect things to come. The entire purpose of the book is to set the stage for the rest of the Horus Heresy itself through the events of the Great Crusade and the politics and thinking of the time.

Another great aspect, and the reason Horus Rising is a great tale, is the philosophies behind it. Throughout the Legions, Remembrancers (artistically minded historians) begin to try and captivate the the memories of the Great Crusade in their work, while Iterators pushed to spread the Imperial truth throughout the universe. Their stories add a missing human element that makes the book great, while at the same time shedding light on the world of differences between an Astartes and a human.

Speaking of Iterators, Kyrill Sindermann almost instantly became my favorite character in the Horus Heresy. In the introductory conversation Sindermann has with the protagonist Garviel Loken, my mind almost immediately puts the face of Alfred Molina on the Iterator. The conversation reveals not only the character but the underlying thoughts and philosophies of the Imperial truth, which are not without wisdom. The phrase that has remained with me was Mol- I mean Sindermann’s statement to the effect of, “It is right that makes might, and let us hope it is never the other way around!”

Sindermann and thinkers like him separate this book as an intelligent, thought stirring piece from the rest of the pulp fiction out there.

One might worry that my next phrase may give away plot spoilers, but like episodes I through III of the Star Wars trilogy, we all kind of know what’s going to happen eventually. But the book ends on an innocent seeming note when Loken casually admits that they are going to the moon of Davin. In my mind, I hear that mischievous oboe play three notes, a low, then high, then the same low one. Someone out there is up to no good.

Angels of Darkness

The current cover.

The current cover.

Angels of Darkness, by Gav Thorpe, was my first Warhammer 40k novel.

For a newcomer as I was, it was an extremely rough ride. It is a short book but at the same time, there is a lot going on which related to the background. The Horus Heresy, the splintering of the Dark Angels Space Marine legion. The recruiting trials of neophytes and the correlations of the planetary governments who are hosting the Adeptus Astartes.

It was a smack in the face.

The first thing that startled me were the neophyte trials. The main character, a Dark Angels Chaplain named Boreas, descends with his command squad upon a tribal world. The tribesmen greet the warriors and summon forth several youths who compete for the right to return with the Dark Angels and begin training to become Astartes. After the physically challenging trials, only three are left.

Of these three, one fails. What occurs after was a cultural shock to me. It was a wake up call as to the nature of the society that is the Imperium, and what some feel are the necessities it takes to survive in this war torn future. But like an initiate myself I somehow got over what happened and continued to read, muddled as I was. There were surprises yet in store.

Without giving away any spoilers or surprises, Angels of Darkness was one of two somewhat controversial titles (in an entertaining way), the other being Simon Spurrier’s Lord of the Night. Like Spurrier’s masterpiece, Thorpe’s book revolves around a character who has been alive since the Horus Heresy, and who provides a unique first hand perspective about the events.

The original cover.

The original cover. I actually think this is the better looking of the two.

The historically connect character in this book was a prisoner of the Dark Angels, a man named Astelan. A former lord of a planet and one of the Dark Angels’ coveted fallen, half the book is spent covering the torture and interrogation of Astelan, who insists on his innocence. One of the most powerful character moments in Black Library history occurred when Astelan was offered a choice, and the decision he chooses comes at great personal cost.

Another similarity between Angels of Darkness and Lord of the Night was in the manner it was told. The two books went back and forth between two different perspectives on the chapters. The different was that while Angels of Darkness involved the same characters at different times, Lord of the Night involved two different characters at the same time. Thorpe’s work bounces back and forth between the past and the present. The present offers another, different plot which loosely connects to the past. However, the present story seems pale and of less importance to the revelations that occur during Astelan’s interrogation.

I cannot claim in good conscious that Angels of Darkness is a great novel for fresh fans. People who know and understand enough of the background will find an unforgettable story that rocks what they know to the core. But the newcomer will be lost and confused, like being dropped in white water rapids when they don’t know yet how to swim. But for those of us who consider ourselves Warhammer 40k fans, Angels of Darkness is a must read.

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.

Nemesis

HEY KIDS BE SURE TO FLOSS OR I'LL COME FOR YOU!

GET ABOARD THE MURDER TRAIN!

Nemesis has been brewing on my book shelf for a long time. Staring at me with evil eyes. I can’t really explain why I was reluctant to read it. It may be the lack of huge names in the Dramatis Personae listing. Oh, you got Rogal Dorn, Malcador the Sigillite, Erebus and Valdor. But as you look at the huge cast of people you’ve never heard of, you just know that this story isn’t really about the big names. It also slows my roll that we all know that Horus didn’t meet his end with a bullet ventilating his skull. So part of me wondered, what’s the point of this book?

The first half of the book dives into Imperial politics, highlighting the Officio Assassinorium’s bickering and the usual mission to take the best and brightest from each of the six major houses to go after Horus. All of this is changes back and forth between the growing roster of the Execution Force and a murder investigation that is occurring on a distant planet. The book was getting boring around page 200 as Swallow took his time, giving each assassin a long introduction that allowed the reader to find out a little bit about each of the Execution and what their powers were.

On one hand, this really slowed down the pace of the book, even if it these scenes were laced with action. But on the other hand, I suddenly realized that there really hasn’t been that much writing on the various assassins of the Imperium. Execution forces are extremely, extremely rare occurrences. Daemonic incursions seem to happen more often. This was a prime chance to write about the Officio Assassinorium as a whole.

Although the book’s pace slowed, it suddenly redeemed itself half way through, just out of the blue. And began to move towards the overall purpose, building itself towards a climax laced with the theme that needed to be told in order to put some elements of the overall Horus Heresy in perspective. Much like the first three books, Horus Rising, False Gods and Galaxy in Flames, it turned out that there was an underlying theme within the Nemesis. It just waited until towards the end to really address it.

Nemesis proved to be a rewarding piece despite how open and closed it is. Sure, we all know that the mission posed is a failure, but it does reveal some crucial insights into the thinking within the Imperium and Horus. You could skip it, but you may miss something. If you haven’t already, check it out.

And now for the unofficial theme song to Nemesis. Complete with puppies.