No Hope

“Hey, did anyone hear back about Xaphan the Faceless?”

There was a long pause in the Shoutbox. Shadowhawk asked why.

I pointed out that the cover art for Treacheries of the Space Marines used the same art that was mentioned during the re-opened submission window. And the book was due in a mere four months, suggesting they likely found someone with promise. I knew it couldn’t be me, so I hoped it was at least one of us.

Then Narry dropped the bomb. There were no guarantees that they picked anyone from their submissions. One of the reasons they’re called submission windows and not competitions is because there are no guaranteed winners.

In the grim future, not everyone survives.

I decided, after hearing this, to go ahead and restart my final Black Library submission. I dug up an old interview with Laurie Goulding and read it over a few times. 500 to 1000 words. Forget plot, just prose. My current piece was plot oriented. But guys like Goulding wanted to see if I really got the Imperium.

I’m sighing as I type and think about this. How many times have I really ever taken the submission window very seriously? Once or twice perhaps. First, there was my one and only novel submission. Then there was the Xaphan story. And I took both fairly seriously. I edited, I thought it out. I tried plots that were stronger than I was used to writing.

Leaving a few extra hours for the time zone difference, I have two days.

It sucks, because everytime I sit down to write, I get stuck. This never happens with my original fiction, during which time I’m already charged and ready to go and just hit the page typing. And it’s not writer’s block. I can see the goddamn image in my mind.

I see the worlds of the Imperium. With their vast structures and arches that reach for the skies. The double headed eagle flutters on flags and banners that hang from every parapet. Carvings of skulls embedded in nooks along the walls, each etched with names of hundreds of menials who had somehow distinguished themselves, followed by the old axioms of Imperial truth. Mere hundreds, out ofbillionswho had given their lives away to be cogs of flesh, powering the grand war engine.

The tired masses, willfully slaving away at the assembly belts, as servitors march up and down the ranks to collect the occasional dud bolter round in a protective bin. Vox caster servo-skulls hover and bob in the air, broadcasting the occasional reminder that every menial owes not only their life to the Emperor, but their death as well.

A woman pauses to rub the sweat from her brow with fatless, boney fingers. The sweat stings her eyes horribly as it mingles with the light chemical clouds that permeate the air. There are no vents in the room, while the worst of the toxins are belched from towering stacks, dumped upon the atmosphere of a dying world overrun by humanity.

All of this. All of this to feed the war machine. The machine that powers the Eternal War. To turn every battle into a charnel house. To manufacture death for the sake of this shadow of life. Not one individual, not even billions, mean anything before the needs of the Imperium.

To save humanity, our humanity must be denied.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a virtue. To know this life and no other. To not dream beyond one’s station. To know this cruelty and misery is the greatest achievement of these toiling masses who are ground to the bone.

“Forward!” Their masters scream. They must give everything they have. If they have children, they must be marshalled and marched, gun in hand, to die so that the Imperium can go on for just one more day. A precious few shall even become Space Marines, and masters of death they shall be.

And when they are spent, when they have nothing, when they are nothing, they can still pay back their endless blood debt to Him on Terra with the coin of their death.

But somehow, just sit down to write that idea out and… the hammer goes click instead of bang.

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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.

Le Conte Est Morte

My god, if he added banana slices, he would have killed us all...

My god, if he added banana slices, he would have killed us all...

My second short story is dead.

I let my creativity get ahead of my planning. The story that was developing was a good one, full of investigation and somehow blending some action in there as well. But half way through the process, I stopped and stared at it. And I realized that I had failed to accomplish the overall goal of the submission window: To introduce Xaphan the faceless to the reader.

Sure I eventually do it, but I do so at the end. And Xaphan’s reputation is covered through hearsay and rumors, which would be fine if this were a novel and I had time for that. But still I do not really introduce the audience to Xaphan, face to… faceless.

Narrativium suggested that I rewrite and improve on it, adding Xaphan in. But doing so would be a different piece whose storytelling quality I cannot guarantee. I can recycle the characters and maybe an idea or two but that’s all.

What also saddened me was that the overall technique I use to introduce Xaphan was little different from the previous short story, of which I am much more satisfied with but need to rewrite to make the story more concise. The difference being is that Xaphan is introduced early, and is constant throughout the story. That and the ending is way more satisfying with Xaphan leaving his mark on the Imperium. Not in a gigantic, universe shattering way, but large enough to be a nuisance.  If I’m going to use the same approach, I might as well just use the better one.

Back to the drawing board.

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.