Shake Hands With Danger

Stephen Knight’s career was cut short by brain cancer in 1985, but he’ll forever be remembered for two books. The first is 1976’s Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, in which he aired a unique theory that the Ripper murders were carried out not by a single individual but by a trio of assassins acting, they believed, in the best interest of the British Crown and of Freemasonry. The second is 1984’s The Brotherhood, an investigation into the level of undue influence exercised in particular professions and social institutions by Freemasonry and Freemasons.

Specifying “Freemasonry and Freemasons” is important to Knight’s thesis, because he is careful to draw a distinction between Freemasonry as an institution and Freemasons as the people who occupy that institution. The great majority of anti-Masonic literature over the years has concentrated on attacking the institution of Freemasonry itself, alleging that it is purposefully and deliberately designed as a sinister edifice of corruption.

To an extent, The Final Solution fell into this trap a little – giving credibility to the nonsense garbage conspiracy theories promulgated by Leo Taxil in the 19th Century, before he gave a speech exposing all of his anti-Masonic work as a hoax, a prank played on the (predominantly Catholic) anti-Masonic conspiracy theory underground which went further than Taxil ever expected, simply because the conspiracy theorists were so credulous that Taxil simply couldn’t dream up a claim so absurd that they wouldn’t swallow it. In fact, Knight went so far as to make the claim that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion – a document which has been comprehensively debunked over and over again – was actually a credible internal document from the global conspiracy, just disguised a little so that all the crimes of the Freemasons would end up being blamed on the Jewish people if it got out.

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Wickedly Fun and Damnably Entertaining

You can see, almost, the thought process behind The Wicked and the Damned. You’re working on setting up the Warhammer Horror line and want something fresh to release alongside Maledictions and the reprint of Drachenfels. The phrase “Warhammer Horror” naturally makes you think of Hammer Horror and other classic Brit-horror studios of yesteryear, and that in turn makes you think of the old tradition of the portmanteau horror movie – a set of short and essentially unrelated short films strung together to feature length by a framing story offering a context in which each story is told in turn.

In the case of The Wicked and the Damned, the framing story is set on the cemetery world of Silence, to which three people have been drawn under mysterious circumstances. These three people are the protagonists and narrators of the three novellas framed by the framing story; they aren’t sure how they came to Silence but they feel compelled to tell their stories. Gosh, what could the secret of them being brought here be? (They’re fucking dead and it’s so obvious they’re dead that this barely counts as a twist.)

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Maledictions Or Malapropisms?

The undignified, blubbering, grumpy weeping on the part of certain Warhammer fans when it comes to the Warhammer Adventures line of kid’s novels set in the Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000 universe certainly involved a lot of utter bullshit being spouted. The entitled self-appointed gatekeepers of the hobby couldn’t be honest and direct about some of their objections – such as the prominence of girls, PoC, and girls who are PoC in the proposed fiction series – so they had to talk a lot of nonsense which was demonstrably untrue.

An oft-repeated claim, for instance, was that the settings in question weren’t suitable for kids – this despite the fact that the books are pitched at a reading age of 8-12 year olds, an age which happens to match a good many hobbyists’ first encounters with Warhammer in its various flavours more or less exactly. A related complaint, equally unfounded, was that the Warhammer Adventures line would herald the Bowdlerisation of the settings, with disturbing material excised by dint of being not suitable for kids.

The latter complaint was especially ridiculous, since it could only sustain itself if you only paid attention to the Warhammer Adventures announcement and didn’t give any consideration to the other new fiction line Black Library had announced at more or less the same time. This line was Warhammer Horror, an imprint for stories set in any of the Warhammer universes which put a particular emphasis on their horror-oriented aspects – of which there are a great many. This is precisely the material which dullard nerd gatekeepers would have us believe Games Workshop was about to censor forever for the sake of capturing an 8-to-12-year old demographic which, so far as I can tell, they’ve rarely actually lost.

Maledictions is part of the first wave of Warhammer Horror releases – an anthology of short stories (with, concerningly, no editor credit) offering up a range of all-new horror stories in the Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar settings. Although the book doesn’t separate the stories out into a 40K section and an Age of Sigmar section, I will deal with the stories from the two sections separately anyway because my level of exposure to the settings differs greatly.

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The Wild World of Matthew Reilly

One of the things I contracted during my stint writing for Ferretbrain was an appreciation for the work of Matthew Reilly. It was Sonia that put us on to the case, and I haven’t looked back since.

Reilly’s books are like candyfloss to me – a sticky, sweet treat which I know full well will have no nutritional value, and in many respects are kind of a huge mess, but which works anyway. They’re perfect Kindlegold because, though published as thick tomes (thanks to large fonts and margins), I’d argue that e-reader is the perfect format to read Reilly’s material in – slim, portable, discreet, and usually with enough power to last the whole plane ride these days.

It’s possible that, like Garth Marenghi, Matthew Reilly has written more books than he’s read.

If I had to compare Matthew Reilly to any other author, it would be to Philippe from Achewood‘s occasional attempts to write a novel, except specifically within the genre of action movies. On the Philippe side of the equation, you have this five-year-old hyperactivity, this kinetic determination to wow you with the next amazing plot twist; on the action movie side of the equation, you have more or less every action movie trope and cliche turned up to 11 and then made weird.

If Reilly wrote an an obscure and difficult-to-follow style, he’d be classified as an outsider artist, but as it stands for a “bad author” he writes remarkably well, at least in the sense that you can understand what is going on, the basic character points of any particular individual are quickly and clearly communicated (if only because you’ve seen versions of these characters in dozens of action movies before), and he often displays a distinctive visual imagination. A lot of the time he puts significant effort into helping you visualise the action, to the extent of putting actual diagrams in his books sometimes, and this is transparently because he’s desperate for someone to make an action movie of his work and he wants to illustrate with his writing just how cool the visuals would be.

Below the break, I’ll cover a quick rundown of the various Reilly offerings I’ve tried out…

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The Current, the Coil, and the Nurse

Once upon a time there was a group of performance artists called COUM, who transformed into a band called Throbbing Gristle, who crafted a thing called “industrial music” out of the toxic sludge of mid-1970s Britain’s malaise. Eventually, that band broke up, and two of its members – Genesis P-Orridge and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson – went on to form Psychic TV, a new band with an associated chaos magick occult movement called Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth. Important contributors to both the first two Psychic TV albums (Force the Hand of Chance and Dreams Less Sweet) and the early propaganda and doctrines of TOPI included John Balance, a Throbbing Gristle fan who’d begun a relationship with Sleazy which would last the rest of his life, and David Tibet, an eccentric young man who was in the middle of a serious Aleister Crowley phase.

Meanwhile, gentle-natured music nerd and big time Krautrock fan Steven Stapleton had formed – and soon became the sole consistent member of – Nurse With Wound, whose surrealist experiments with sound tended to be lumped in with the “industrial” movement because Throbbing Gristle was the only thing which anyone felt able to compare it with.

Tensions arose within Psychic TV – with Sleazy, Balance, and Tibet all dropping out and establishing new projects. Sleazy and Balance would form the core of electronic industrial pioneers Coil; David Tibet would start producing nightmare soundscapes with a rotating cast of collaborators under the overall project name of Current 93. Befriending David Tibet, Stapleton soon became Current 93’s in-house producer, a position he’d hold more or less consistently for the next quarter of a century or so, and Stapleton, Tibet, Sleazy, and Balance would spend much of their future careers trading ideas with each other.

Eventually, all three projects would in their own way start expressing a strange and deeply non-traditional take on old-style pastoralism. David Tibet eventually reconfigured Current 93 as one of the most important exponents of what you could call “weird folk” of the latter 20th/early 21st Century, with musical partners such as Douglas Pearce from the controversial Death In June and, ultimately replacing Douglas, Current 93 superfan Michael Cashmore aiding him in producing some of the most delicately melancholy music ever produced. Coil would move to Weston-Super-Mare and start producing a more prog-oriented brand of “lunar music” as a counterpoint to the harsh “solar music” of their early career. Stapleton would move with his partner Diana Rogerson, who’d hit the industrial scene as part of the BDSM-themed performance art unit Fistfuck, to establish a family artistic commune in the west of Ireland, creating strange sculptures deep in the rural wilderness even as he continues to produce nightmare industrial soundscapes.

And through their various musical releases, the bands in question have produced a musical expression of rural and urban Englands which are very different from the sanitised take on the land that the authorities would have been comfortable with – what author David Keenan calls England’s Hidden Reverse.

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It’s Grim and Dark For Kids Too

12-year-old Zelia Lor is the daughter of starfaring archaeologist Elise Lor. When the Terminator-esque Necrons attack a world that the Lor family are conducting excavations on, Zelia must hustle to escape. Zelia is separated from Elise in the evacuation, but ends up forming a small posse of survivors along with two kids about her age – Talen is a rough boy who fell in with the underhive gangs when he ran away from home to avoid being pressganged into the Imperial Guard, whilst Mekki is a young acolyte of the Adeptus Mechanicus who Elise has been caring for. Escaping the planet in the company of Erasmus, assistant scholar to Elise, they soon encounter Fleapit – a Jokaero, a member of an orangutan-like race of hyper-intelligent gadgeteer apes, who only Mekki can properly understand. However, there’s still a Necron Hunter on their trail. Are they just having really shitty luck, or is there a reason the Necron is so intent on catching up with them?

Attack of the Necron is the first book in the Warped Galaxies series of Warhammer 40,000 novels. On top of that, Warped Galaxies is the first series of 40K-related books to come out under the banner of Warhammer Adventures – a new category of Black Library books consisting of stories aimed at kids. The general reading level is 8-11ish – so we’re not talking YA, more the sort of reading level of the first couple of Harry Potter books.

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Lords of Chaos, Friends of Tyranny

With its movie adaptation finally releasing (to lukewarm reviews), it’s a good time to take a look at Lords of Chaos. This is the book which in many ways solidified the myths surrounding the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 1990s.

Not that it necessarily took much to do that. It was more or less inevitable that the Norwegian wave of black metal in the early 1990s would cast a long shadow. Along with a creative explosion which set a new bar for extreme metal, it was also a scene built around a volatile set of key personalities who, so intent on outdoing each other in establishing an “evil” reputation, ended up resorting to increasingly extreme acts.

There are few things messier than a pissing contest that’s gone out of control, and what happened in the 1990s black metal scene is no exception to that. Dead, lead singer of Mayhem (the band at the forefront of the new wave of black metal) performed on a stage decorated with severed pig’s heads, buried his clothes so that they’d smell like the grave, and engaged in alarming acts of self-harm onstage. Eventually he shot himself to death in the band’s communal house; band leader Euronymous, the scene’s major ringleader, took photos of the scene which eventually got used as the cover to a quasi-official Mayhem bootleg, Dawn of the Blackhearts. Picking up on previous waves of extreme metal’s embrace of Satanism, Norse heathenism, and general aggressive anti-Christianity, multiple members of the scene took to burning churches – including beautiful historic stave churches. Varg Vikernes used a photo of a burned church as the cover of the Burzum EP Aske, and was closely involved in many of the burnings. Faust, drummer of Emperor, callously murdered Magne Andreasson, supposedly not out of any sort of homophobic motive but simply for the sake of venting aggression.

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