Desperately Seeking Slaanesh

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Black Library authors working in the Warhammer fantasy setting are, it’s fair to say, working under far tighter constraints than those working in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It’s true that in both cases there are things which the authors in question cannot do – the Emperor mustn’t be killed, the Empire must not collapse, Chaos cannot get the ultimate win (well, not unless the story in question is explicitly set in the future of the relevant setting as an account of the End of Days). But there are advantages to having an entire galaxy to play in rather than one planet, especially when you consider that most Warhammer novels are only set in one particular area of said planet (the local Holy Roman Empire equivalent).

The major advantage is that you can just crank everything up to eleven and blow up the world when you’re writing for Warhammer 40,000. Sure, you can’t blow up Holy Terra, that’d be naughty, but except under very particular circumstances (probably involving the Horus Heresy series) you’re almost never going to be setting your 40K novel on Earth, or indeed on a world which plays a major part in the canon. If you’re at all sensible, you’re taking advantage of the extremely large canvas the Imperium provides you with and setting your story in a corner of space you’ve made up yourself. Not only does this give you an opportunity to go to town with your worldbuilding whilst still retaining sufficient connections to the wider Imperium to keep the place feeling like part of the 40K universe, it also means you can blow up a planet or two without treading on someone’s toes. In the more cramped surroundings of the Warhammer universe, however, you really have to work to make sure your story doesn’t really have any big long-term ramifications outside of the immediate area it unfolds in – and if you’re in a major city of the Empire, maybe even that’s too much.

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Never Turn Your Back On A Dark Elf

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The vast majority of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 fiction published by the Black Library focuses on the human (or superhuman, in the case of the Space Marines) factions of the game. This is a deliberate policy of theirs, and it is a sensible one. Having taken care to establish exotic and alien backgrounds and psychologies for the various nonhuman creatures in the relevant settings, Games Workshop don’t want that undermined by stories which treat the groups in question as just human beings in funny costumes. They try their best to make sure that those few novels and short stories they do publish from a nonhuman perspective are written by authors who truly “get” the faction in question, and can write about them in a way which gets across the essential differences between them and humans and which is true to the atmosphere, philosophy, and general theme that the faction is based around.

Unfortunately, accurately replicating the psychology of a particular faction doesn’t always lend itself to telling a rewarding and interesting story.

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A Rare Vintage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Brian Stableford, under his pseudonym, was one of the contributors to the earlier line of Warhammer tie-in fiction – the one administered at first by Games Workshop Books and then by Boxtree before that particular arrangement fell apart. His Orfeo trilogy was later reprinted by the Black Library – but that’s nothing special, since they’re reprinted more-or-less the whole original Warhammer Fantasy fiction line. What’s more special is that the Black Library invited him back to write a few more stories for them, a courtesy they didn’t extend to all the early Warhammer authors. (David Ferring, author of Konrad, has never been seen since, thank goodness.)

The Wine of Dreams is Stableford/Craig’s contribution to the new Black Library line of Warhammer novels, and it’s excellent. Hyping up the air of paranoia, mystery, and conspiracy that surrounds the secrets of the Warhammer world, Craig nearly inverts the cliches of the fantasy coming of age story to tell the tale of an innocent tempted by the wiles of Chaos. The innocent in question is Reinmar, scion of the Wieland line dynasty of wine merchants. Reinmar, like all fantasy protagonists who commence their story in their late teens working a dull and mundane job in a sleepy rural town, is bored of his drab everyday life, and yearns for adventure and excitement. This wanderlust would, in any other fantasy novel, lead to a wonderful jaunt to save the land from dire peril, in which the restless youth comes of age, defeats the dark lord, and gets the girl. In the Warhammer world, however, the desire for new experiences makes you bait for the Chaos Gods…

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Heart of the Slayer of the Storm God’s Rage

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. After establishing themselves as producers of (initially unofficial) Dr Who audio dramas, Big Finish Productions have pretty much cornered the market on audio adaptations for an impressive array of SF and fantasy franchises, from Dr Who to Judge Dredd and beyond. It seems odd to me that Games Workshop and the Black Library, intent as they are on dominating all forms of media everywhere in the name of the God-Emperor of Mankind, haven’t reached a deal with Big Finish long ago, but at long last Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000-themed audio adventures are beginning to trickle out. Hopefully these first two timid efforts are the first of many.

I was mildly disappointed to find that Slayer of the Storm God and Heart of Rage aren’t the sort of two-CD audio dramas Big Finish are usually known for; instead, they’re just single-disc audiobooks, the equivalent of slightly expensive short stories, albeit short stories read by professional voice actors that you can listen to in the car. The narration is generally free of studio manipulation, beyond the odd sound effect or snippet of music in the background (usually during fight scenes) and the occasional voice effect for the dialogue of some characters; the packages themselves are fairly bare-bones, with little detail offered in the CD booklet beyond brief biographies of the relevant voice actors and authors.

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The Reading Canary: The Vampire Genevieve

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

Jack Yeovil: Haunting the Old World

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of early Warhammer tie-in novels, many of the first series produced by Games Workshop Books were written by fairly successful SF, fantasy and horror authors under pseudonyms. Kim Newman comes from a horror background, and is known for novels such as Anno Dracula, a peerfic of Dracula depicting a world where Van Helsing’s posse failed to drive Dracula out of England, and the Count ends up ruling the country. It’s not surprising, then, that the stories he wrote for Games Workshop under his Jack Yeovil pseudonym emphasise the more horrific aspects of the Warhammer world, as evidenced by the presence of Genevieve Dieudonne, a centuries-old vampire who does her utmost to resist the baser instincts of her kind and appears in many of the Yeovil tales – enough that Games Workshop and the Black Library have consistently presented her as the main protagonist of the Yeovil stories, even though that’s really not the case. But while the stories that she’s the mascot for are widely-praised by those who follow Warhammer tie-ins, can Genevieve offer anything to outsiders?

The spoiler-free answer is “Yes, but only about half the time”; for the detailed answer, read on.

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The Reading Canary: Gotrek and Felix, The First Omnibus

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

Gotrek and Felix: A Nod To the Elders

In an extremely interesting article on the influence of RPG tie-in fiction on genre fiction as a whole Howard A. Jones, editor of Black Gate, makes a point about the writers of tie-in fiction which I would argue is depressingly true of far too many fantasy authors in general these days:

The author doesn’t realize that the fire and forget spell list came from Vance, or that the elves and hobbits came from Tolkien or that thieves’ guilds came from Lankhmar because they’ve never read the source material … These games wouldn’t exist if Gygax and Arneson hadn’t loved the source material.

I suspect that the reason why tie-in fiction is so universally looked down on, aside from the issue that an awful lot of it is written hastily and published on the cheap in order to exploit a particular franchise, and the fact that the very existence of tie-in fiction in the first place suggests that the publishers view the core property as a franchise to be exploited, and the fact that you have people like R.A. Salvatore and Weis and Hickman cranking it out… Ahem. I suspect that one of the many reasons that people tend to look down on tie-in fiction is that it is frequently (although not always) a product of precisely the sort of ignorance of the source genre on the part of the author, and I can’t help wonder whether it fosters a similar ignorance on the part of readers.

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The Reading Canary: The Konrad Saga

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF fiction, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

Konrad: Mighty Slayer of Rats

It transpires that in the early days of Games Workshop’s production of tie-in novels, one of the co-editors of GW Books (their publishing subsidiary before they reached a deal with Boxtree, which lasted until the foundation of the Black Library, the current Games Workshop publishing arm) was David Pringle, who at the time also edited the widely-respected SF magazine Interzone. This allowed him to draw on a wider range of talent than, say, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons tie-in novels ever could, although many of the people he convinced to write for GW Books chose to write under pseudonyms. David S. Garnett, known more for his revival of classic New Wave SF magazine New Worlds as an anthology series than for his writing, is one of those individuals; under his “David Ferring” pseudonym, he wrote the Konrad Saga, a trilogy of novels set in the Warhammer fantasy world.

Compared to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Warhammer fantasy world hasn’t changed much since its original conception, and so most of the early GW Books output remains in print through the Black Library, in contrast to, say, the Warhammer 40,000 novels written by Ian Watson, which have largely been consigned to the memory hole as being No Longer Canon. But does The Konrad Saga really deserve to remain in print on the grounds that it’s still somewhat consistent with the tabletop wargame it’s based on? Is there anything special about it, beyond the fact that it was amongst the first Warhammer novelisations? Questions like these are what the Canary was hatched to answer…

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