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.)

Continue reading “Wickedly Fun and Damnably Entertaining”

Advertisements

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.

Continue reading “Maledictions Or Malapropisms?”

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.

Continue reading “It’s Grim and Dark For Kids Too”

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.

Continue reading “Dungeon Crawls In Space Are More Fun To Play Than Read”

Fists of Mediocrity

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.

Regular readers might have noticed that I haven’t actually been reviewing Warhammer 40,000 books quite as regularly as I used to. There’s various reasons for this, a major one being that I just find myself increasingly less interested in Black Library’s output. Interesting experiments like the brief, abortive gamebook like have been cut short, and the dominance of disposable Space Marine-based novels, always a significant feature of the catalogue, seems to be running entirely out of control. Dan Abnett’s output has slowed down alarmingly, and it seems like the Inquisition-based novels which had previously always had a healthy niche in the Library’s output are vanishing entirely, and the Imperial Guard output feels like it’s drying up too (though there was a mild spike this month thanks to the new Guard rules for the tabletop wargame coming out).

It wouldn’t be so bad if the books in question were more entertaining. Although I wouldn’t put any of the Space Marine books I’ve reviewed on here in the category of great literature, a few seem to have had something more going on – Imperial Fists novels like Space Marine and Sons of Dorn played around with exactly how much you can subvert the whole Space Marine deal by riffing on the wackier bits of canon like the Pain Glove, whilst Dan Abnett’s Brothers of the Snake was a nice exercise in adding a little Homeric gravitas to the formula. But I’m not seeing that ambition any more – most of the Warhammer books I’ve read recently have aspired to be nothing more than disposable page-turners, and several fall short even of that standard.

To show you what I mean, here I’ve got a brace of standalone books put out more recently, each surrounding a different descendent Chapter of the Imperial Fists (or the Fists themselves), none of which really qualifies as a “keeper” by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s see how they fare.

Continue reading “Fists of Mediocrity”

Commissar Stuck In a Rut

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.

So, previously we’ve discussed the first few Commissar Cain books by Sandy Mitchell – Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novels surrounding the adventures of a character who’s part spoof of the hero of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, part Blackadder, and part Flashman. They’re entertaining enough, but I found the first three books a little formulaic and was hoping that the novels collected in the second Cain omnibus, Defender of the Imperium, would shake things up a little.

Mitchell, for his part, seems to have felt that the time had come to get a little bit more ambitious with the series. The three novels, whilst they more or less stand alone, have a plot arc running through them that extends for most of the length of Cain’s career. As you might remember from the last articles, the Cain novels are ostensibly reconstructed from the rambling autobiographical notes Cain cobbled together whilst he spent his twilight years as an instructor to the next generation of Imperial Guard Commissars, edited into something coherent and readable by Inquisitor Amberley Vail, who Cain had an occasional working (and a parallel romantic) relationship with over the years – mainly for the entertainment of other Inquisitors, since Cain’s irreverent depiction of the historical events he gets caught up in is decidedly not for public consumption. The conceit here is that Vail assembles these three particular books, each based on an incident at wildly different points in Cain’s career, because they each relate to a particular strand which only came to fruition at the very end of Cain’s career.

Question is, is this mild embellishment really enough to break the series out of the formula it’s had to date? Let’s find out.

Continue reading “Commissar Stuck In a Rut”

Selling Out To Chaos In Three Easy Stages

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.

Those of you who are new to the Warhammer 40,000 setting and perhaps have only been exposed to it my reviews might be inclined to ask “hey… why is the grim darkness of the far future so grim and dark in the first place?” Well, there’s many reasons. (“This universe has many themes…”) In fact, every single major faction in the galaxy is at once one of the worst things ever to happen to the universe as a whole and, at the same time, utterly and irreversibly fucked over and doomed. (Except the orks, who are perfectly happy with a grim dark future where there is only war because they consider war to be the height of lulz.) But from the point of view of humanity and the Imperium of Mankind in particular… well, there’s the fact that hyperspace is alive and hates us and wants to eat us, of course. There’s also the fact that the Emperor of humanity was basically Conan and Ferric Jaggar mashed together and cranked up to 11. There’s the way that humankind has for over 10,000 years thought to exterminate every single other culture in the galaxy expressly because of the Emperor’s guidance. There’s the fact that the venerated and adored peak of human perfection, the Space Marines, are a race of atomic supermen genetically engineered monstrosities created by the Emperor to take over the universe. There’s the way that humanity is only able to navigate the stars in the first place thanks to the daily sacrifice of thousands of psychics to the Emperor.

But the thing which really screws the Imperium over – the thing which transforms it from an abhorrent monstrosity inflicting random cruelty on the galaxy to an abhorrent monstrosity inflicting random cruelty on the galaxy to distract itself from the fact that it’s dying of cancer – is the current status of the Emperor. Kept on life support for the past ten thousand years and more or less incapable of interacting with the outside world beyond the occasional miracle (which might just be the result of humanity’s faith in him resonating in the Warp), the Emperor exerts no control over Imperial policy and yet every major policy is developed as a means of perpetuating his agenda, as interpreted by a monstrous theocracy who consider the war crimes of his crusade to conquer the galaxy to be holy writ. And yet, the fate of the Emperor is the fate of the Imperium. As long as he is alive and is manifestly responsible for the continued viability of space travel there is no real prospect of these fucked up distortions of his maniac designs being abandoned. But the steady state currently imposed on the Imperium as a result of his current predicament can’t last forever because sooner or later entropy will do its work and the Golden Throne will break down. (In fact, in current canon it’s specified that at the end of the 41st Millennium the tech-priests maintaining the Throne discover serious problems with it requring urgent repairs… for which they don’t actually have the spare parts.) When he eventually dies, space travel will suddenly become radically more difficult, if not outright impossible. The resultant shock in the Warp as a result of the Astronomican suddenly cutting off will almost certainly have consequences, but Games Workshop have never specified what they are. (Dan once ran a Dark Heresy game which implied that the Emperor would ultimately become the Chaos God spawned by the fall of humanity, like Slaanesh is the Chaos God spawned by the fall of the Eldar; this isn’t canon but it’s sufficiently consistent with the metaphysic that it doesn’t seem at all unlikely.)

Continue reading “Selling Out To Chaos In Three Easy Stages”