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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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 1: The First Step Into the Shadows

So, we’re dealing with an iconic 1990s TV series here, in the pilot episode of which (Pilot) we have a young woman showing up dead on the outskirts of a small woodland town in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Thanks to parallels with a number of deaths elsewhere, the FBI become involved, represented in part by a handsome agent who reveals slightly eccentric habits and even more eccentric beliefs. The death turns out to be part of a web of local intrigue that belies the bucolic charm of the town, and there’s frequent hints than higher powers are involved in all this.

This is not, despite all of the above, Twin Peaks; instead we’re dealing with the start of The X-Files, lovingly crafted by Chris Carter, though he’s letting his Peaks fan flag fly here. The first episode sets the formula for most of the series’ “mythology” episodes: Mulder and Scully zoot about uncovering evidence of creepy alien activity, Mulder buys into the supernatural interpretation of events, Scully resists it but increasingly finds herself coming around to Mulder’s point of view step by baby step, they discover some incontrovertible evidence that something outright fuckabooie is going on but the sinister government conspiracy as represented by the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) manages to destroy the evidence yet again.

That’s a formula we’ll see repeated over and over during the run of the series, with incremental bits of additional motifs and recurring thingamuffins creeping in here and there to give the impression that we’re getting somewhere, but a quarter-century later and we all know goddamn well that it isn’t really going anywhere impressive – and with Gillian Anderson comprehensively fed up of the whole thing and no longer willing to come back after the mytharc episodes in 2018’s season 11 bombed, it looks like short of a full reboot we’ve had all the X-Files we’re ever going to get. (Conveniently, nice blu-ray sets of the TV episodes are widely available at a reasonable price, and the HD-remastered episodes are available on iTunes and other platforms at that.)

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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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Dungeon Crawls In Space Are More Fun To Play Than Read

Blackstone Fortress is a tie-in novel. OK, all Warhammer 40,000 novels are tie-in novels by definition, but some are more tie-in novels than others. Whereas many pieces of Warhammer 40,000 fiction take inspiration from the game universe and its various sources of lore, Blackstone Fortress by Darius Hinks is intentionally crafted to coincide with the release of a specific Games Workshop product.

The product in question is Warhammer Quest: Blackstone FortressWarhammer Quest, back in the day, was a sort of followup to the classic HeroQuest boardgames which had such memorable TV advertsHeroQuest itself was Games Workshop’s take on the “dungeon crawl” subcategory of boardgame, which for a long time HeroQuest was the most famed and widely-played example of until it fell out of print, Warhammer Quest superseded it and then also fell out of print, and then new games in the same vein like Descent or Gloomhaven and the like arose to fill the vacuum.

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Rogue One, You’re an Odd One

As much as I liked Solo, that doesn’t seem to have been reflected by the market’s reception of it. I’m inclined to blame three things:

  1. The bizarre decision to not really market it to anywhere near the extent any other Star Wars movie had been promoted.
  2. The especially bizarre decision to yank its release forward to the spring after The Last Jedi came out, rather than putting it in the Star Wars-shaped gap in the release schedule this past December.
  3. The incredibly weird decision to make the protagonist an unshaven straight white dude, because everyone knows that movies about such niche minorities just don’t cut it at the box office.

Either way, Solo‘s stumble has meant that Disney’s given second thoughts to just how much appetite there is for spin-off Star Wars movies, and decided to put a whole swathe of other movies on ice – primarily projects which, liked the proposed Boba Fett and Obi-Wan movies, existed to follow the Rogue One/Solo path of telling some story that the existing canon had hinted at but not already covered.

That’s probably for the best when it comes to the long-term health of the franchise. Ultimately, fiddling about in the shadow of the original trilogy is going to yield diminishing returns; for the purposes of shepherding Star Wars into the future, it’s probably more sensible to look at ways of expanding the boundaries of what Star Wars is about whilst still making it feel distinctly Star Wars. It’s notable that Rian Johnson’s proposed new trilogy – which is explicitly meant to tell a whole new story separate from the arc of Episodes I-IX – was one of the projects which escaped the axe after Solo‘s release, and I suspect that’s for precisely this reason.

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