I get asked about writing advice all the time, and all the time I refuse to give it because there are others out there doing it better, with far more qualifications in that regard.
But I’ll tell you a story. A story I don’t like thinking about, and don’t often tell.
First, go watch this. It’s a trailer for a movie called Captain Harlock: Space Pirate.
Go on, watch it. I’ll be right here waiting.
I hope you watched it. Now here’s my story.
In 2012, I was a guest of dubious honour at the SFX Weekender. Anyone who knows me well also knows that any time I’m in public it’s automatically the worst day of my life because of that very reason, but even for the barely contained flesh-host of anxieties that the world calls Aaron Dembski-Bowden, that was a particularly tough convention. It lasted several days. There were thousands of people. I had a deadline. People kept recognising me while I was walking to the bar, or taking a piss, or trying to think.
I know, I know – First World problems / it’s such a hard life, etc. I’m not complaining; I’m not saying my life is terrible. My life is awesome. I’m just giving context.
I’m a very private person, held together by white lies and black thread, and I was already in a state of acute discomfort when it came time to sit on a Space Opera discussion panel with three of the best and most famous writers in the science-fiction genre. I was one of five authors asked to be on the panel – and while I’m kinda used to Dan Abnett now (we harass each other over Skype and email often enough), sitting with him on a panel with Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton was nothing short of skull-fuckingly terrifying. I can recall being this scared only two other times: my driving test, and the Black Library Weekender 2012 quiz show, when everyone cheered at the announcement of my name.
At the SFX Weekender, the panel I was already dreading started off with one of the other authors inviting another writerly friend into the group. Which meant there wasn’t enough room at the table. Which meant the last person in line one was left slightly in the shadows, off the edge of the table. This, of course, was me. I could’ve solved it with two seconds of “Can you shuffle up a little?” but I was concentrating hard on trying to look like a normal human being, and not a poor copy of one that was having trouble breathing. I pulsed telepathically to Dan, telling him to notice that I looked like some kind of shadowy loser, and move everyone along on my behalf, but Dan was too busy being effortlessly cool.
Here’s a picture of the scene itself, that I can scarcely bring myself to look at.
I remember practically nothing of what I said, and I don’t really care. What should’ve been one of the coolest moments of my career was an anxiety-blighted nightmare, and getting to meet two of sci-fi’s best and brightest writers (whose work I’d been reading and loving for years) turned into an hour-long war not to get up and go back to my room to hide in the current Word.doc, shielded by my headphones.
I do remember, much to my torment, opening with a pointlessly defiant defence of “why I’m writing tie-in fiction”, citing how the money was so good, as if: a) I’ve ever done this for the fucking money, or b) Any of the people at this table gave a shit about that, or c) Anyone had mentioned it in the first place. I quite literally opened with a knee-jerk lie about myself, nothing to do with the topic, because I felt so defensive. Representing yourself poorly is often a side-effect of serious anxiety issues, and of course, in a beautifully dark cycle, people’s opinions of you are one of the things you get most anxious about. But I don’t want to go into my headspace too much. It’s not hugely relevant.
After the panel ended, Dan got up, smiled and said something that I no longer remember, then swanned away Dannishly to his Next Thing. I had a Next Thing as well, but I could barely move. Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, and the others grouped together, talking on the other end of the table – and why wouldn’t they? They were friends and colleagues, after all. I could’ve gone over to them and insinuated myself in their circle, but I was too shaken, and too self-conscious. Their circle also reminded me unpleasantly of when I’d been in India as a kid, and seen a pack of vultures surrounding a dead dog. You couldn’t see any of the birds’ faces, just black shoulders and black wings, as they picked at what remained of the carcass in their midst. As an idiot kid amazed at how dense this flock of creatures was, I picked up a rock and threw it at the locked wall of vultures. It wasn’t much of a rock, and it bounced harmlessly off one of the birds’ wings, apparently unnoticed. But it was like a rugby scrum: there was no way in or out of it.
There was nothing confrontational or exclusionary about the authors’ huddle, but that was how I felt just seeing it. I saw the vultures again, which put a shitty capstone on an already shitty morning.
I remember, very clearly, wanting someone to come up to me and start a fight. If they did that, then I could hurt them and it wouldn’t be my fault, since I’d not started it. I wanted something else to be damaged for once, instead of myself. I wanted externalisation. Expression. Blunt and stupid as it was.
In a moment that ranks as one of the Top Ten things I’m most grateful for in my entire life, my friend Mark (better known to the world as author Mark C. Newton) came up to me and smiled.
“That went well,” he said.
Reality returned with those words. Back to trying to fake a real person’s facial expressions; back to smiling and hoping it didn’t look false. Everyday normality. I said something I don’t remember, and headed away to the Next Thing (which, as I recall, was some signing).
Now, the rest of the Weekender was nowhere near as bad as that experience, and I crossed paths with the various characters in this pointless drama later, in much less idiotic ways. That’s not my point. I try to use my memory of that discussion panel every time I feel myself on the edge of knee-jerk elitism with anything. The sheer irrational emotion of the moment, in how defensive I felt in the presence of established, famous authors. The teeth-clenchingly fervent defence of my work when it wasn’t even being challenged. I think back to that insecurity when I’d otherwise say “This sucks” and move on.
I think about how angry and worried I was, so instinctively certain my heroes were looking down at me and what I did. Whether they were or not is irrelevant – it’s my reaction and thought process that was so unhealthy, so boxed-in.
Which brings me back to Captain Harlock: Space Pirate.
I watched that trailer last night, and my thoughts went like this:
“An anime thing? Ugh. Jesus, this narration is agonisingly cheesy. Oh my God, more Final Fantasy-style girl-boys with shit hair. Christ, this is every cliche’ ever, condensed into a single trailer. That spaceship looks hilarious. Who’d fucking build that? Their uniforms look like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
My elitism kicked in with brutal force, as it often does with everyone who likes anything, when they instinctively confuse “What I like” with “What’s objectively good”. This trailer didn’t look like ‘serious’ sci-fi, therefore the movie would be shit. The characters were Final Fantasytastic, so they were stupid. And so on. You see it everywhere, most often with movie reviews, but anywhere there’s an opinion, you’ll find that kind of bias. “It’s not my thing, therefore here are the reasons why it’s terrible.”
Except… I don’t need all my sci-fi and fantasy to be serious, or to be presented in a certain tone. I love The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favourite films. Christ, I love Babylon 5, but I can never bring myself to argue when someone points out all its bad points. The fucking thing was a triumph for me in spite of a bajillion flaws. I like Star Wars. I like family films. Yet I hated this trailer because Ha-ha, it looks silly and Japanese and a skull spaceship and lol anime amirite.
I caught myself doing it, and rewatched the trailer. Now, I have no idea what Captain Harlock is beyond this trailer, but on a second watching, my thoughts were like this:
“This looks… cute. That ship is so fucking melodramatic, but I dig it. It suits the setting. That fat guy with the goggles looks like he’ll be awesome. The battle scenes look cool as shit. Who’s that green girl? That looks like a difficult love story. I love that shit. The art direction on this is pretty damn unique. Those deep-sea diver guys look all kinds of rad. The captain has an alien bird-thing! I love animal companions in sci-fi and fantasy, they’re one of my fave things ever. I’m all over that. Damn, that guy hugging the hologram – his wife must be dead or something. These space battles look fucking killer. Oh shit, that green girl is, like, dissolving or something. I bet she becomes human.”
Like I said, I have no idea what this movie is about, other than it’s apparently based on an older cartoon. But beyond my knee-jerk bias, this has a huge chunk of the stuff I love in a good story. Fucking spaceships at war. Massive baroque-looking warships and huge boarding actions. Themes and concepts I try to put in most of my own writing, and the same ideas and ideals that are in the stuff I love to read. There’s an animal companion (of a dark kind…) in The Talon of Horus. There’s a complicated love story somewhere in everything I write, and the one(s) in The Talon of Horus are loud and proud, much like the Chief and Cortana in Halo – it doesn’t need to be traditional love, it’s more a matter of loyalty and affection, above and beyond the call. And I’ve always said that if I ever get to write a novel about the Space Wolves, fuck you, the main character will be best pals with a Fenrisian Blackmane wolf, and I don’t care what anyone says. Warriors and loyal beasts = rad.
So, if you want any advice about writing, it all comes back to that old adage of “Read, read, read” and “Watch, watch, watch”. I’m not advocating changing your tastes. I’m not advocating liking stuff that sucks. I’m advocating trying something new and seeing how it goes, because elitism may be a toasty and comforting blanket to wrap around yourself, but it’s also a sign of insecurity. After a while, it starts to stunt your growth. Read outside your favourite genre. Do the same with movies. Look for the universal appeal in things you wouldn’t usually consider. The best science-fiction and fantasy is the best because it’s about people and creatures in believable, nuanced situations, and we see their actions and reactions as believable in context. If it could happen anywhere, not just in space or Krynn or Middle-Earth, or wherever, then it’s got a good foundation.
Don’t let yourself be comforted by your own secret fear and jaded anger. I promise you, it’s not a pleasant way to be. I almost pissed all over what looks like a fun fairy tale in space (that Alexander’s sure to love, and that I’d have loved as a kid) out of knee-jerk elitism. Because 40K is so super-serious. Because I’m so worthy and above anime, or whatever.
And now I can’t wait for this film.
On the other hand, maybe just ignore my stupid over-analysing. Katie watched the Captain Harlock trailer, too. This was her reply:
“Emo Sky Pirates. Sold.”
A video I made for distant friends and family, showing a bunch of photos and footage of Shakes in his first year on this wonderful world we call Terra.
It’s my first ever attempt to edit a video together (which is polite-talk for “Amateur as fuck”) and it took me about 4 hours to do. As Alex’s photos are still spread across 800 computers belonging to several people, there are a lot of family members and events that didn’t make it into this, but I did my best with the photos I had in easy reach.
I tried to thread a narrative through it, with photos on the verses and video on the choruses, telling a little tale and speeding up as it goes along.
Excuse the black bars early on from my phone being vertical. I was young and reckless. Looks best in 1080p and full-screen, natch.
Well, because you asked so nicely (and as a reward for 5,000 Likes on Facebook), here’s the cover for The Talon of Horus.
Don’t say I never give you anything.
The Traitors (consisting of Eddie, Alan and Ead) have hobbied and lobbied about 16,000,000 times harder than me and John on the Loyalist side, meaning that in the absence of any Blue Team information, here’s a feature-length cavalcade of good juju from the Red Team.
Me and John have got to get into gear, or the Space Wolves and Blood Angels are going to have a pretty poor showing. Part of my problem is that I’m not all that keen on my test Wolves, and I keep wanting to use all their names in a Heresy novel instead of as army background. But mostly, it’s just that Eddie’s upset me because my Marines look shit. I’ll have to man up.
Here’s this update’s Contents List:
- Eddie’s Fallen Angels – including background text: “Caliban’s Wrath”.
- Alan’s Alpha Legion.
- Ead’s Iron Warriors – including background text: “Rakharyz Tactical Squad” and “Zhukar the Unyielding”.
First up, everyone’s favourite disgustingly talented asshole: Eddie Eccles of the First Legion, with his vile Fallen Angels that I’m not jealous of at all, and that don’t make me cry.
— — —
“It’s been a pretty busy month of Dark Angels hobby.
After furious hours of painting, twenty Knight-Legionaries and a Contemptor Dreadnought are complete and ready to kick ass and chew gum (and in the 31st millennium, shipping tithes and warp-storm interference has lead to an acute shortage of Legion approved gum).
“While writing this, I’m not yet sure if the rest of the Heretical Five (that’s a rare Enid Blyton novel BTW) will have finished their pledges. My suspicion is that some of them may not have had such a productive hobby month as myself. Unlike them of course, I do not have the disadvantage of adoring children or a social life. As always, loved ones have proven a huge obstacle to productivity (unless they can be trained to assemble plastic kits and basecoat.)
I have to remember though, with this challenge, the hobby is only half the battle (the other half is knowledge as all good G.I.Joe fans know). I also have to come up with some awesome-cool background for my army, that goes beyond my usual fallback story of “Here are some Space Marines – fuck em up!”.
While in the hobby or gaming sphere, I feel i can hold my my own with the best of them, my writing credentials don’t hold up to much scrutiny (GCSE grade B!). I am, after all, in the company of a New York Times bestselling author, one of BL’s up’n coming stars, the man behind the quite excellent Horus Heresy Betrayal and Ead, who can also write words good.
Still, I will strive to do what I can. My hope is, that through spending considerable time amongst talented authors, some of their skill will have leached into me via osmosis. Much like pig-farmers inevitably smell of manure, and most nuclear scientists are slightly radioactive and sterile. It is, I grant you, a bit of a long shot.
You can read my background below, or you could just skip straight ahead and read Aaron’s much better background (which is kind of like a free HH novelette if you think about it (a novelette is created when a novel and a novella love each other very much))
So what’s next for the First Legion?
I’ve always wanted a Land Raider.
In the many Marine armies I have collected over the years, none of them have had a Land Raider and it’s high time that was rectified.”
“I’m a big fan of the new Dark Angel 40k fighter with the mini-chapel on its back, and I wanted something similar for the Raider. I kind of see the Dark Angel tanks being extensions of their Order monastery-castles back on Caliban, so that’s what I built: a rolling fortress-church with the firepower of half a company.
(I know you can’t actually put the guns that it has on a Land Raider, but so what? you’re not the boss of me, I can do what I like.)
With any luck Arrogance’s Redoubt will be painted ready for the next blog update.
If I get the time, I might even look at doing some Terminator’s by next month as well.
Aaron asked me to slow down a little, but I’m just going to carry on painting even more stuff to make him look bad.(sorry Aaron).
Until next time – Eddie.”
— — —
High Castellan Yvain paced the corridors of his ship. There was nothing else to do. Along the grand avenues of Caliban’s Wrath, his slow footfalls were heavy echoes in the reverential silence.
Three months since the 25th Knights Company of the Dark Angels had last seen battle. If you could call it a battle.
Even pacification was probably to strong a word. The extermination a lost colony of humanity, clinging to an inhospitable rock on the wrong side of nowhere. They had refused to be enlightened, so they had been destroyed. The human inhabitants of Al Baradad had fought bravely, and against most invader’s that might have been enough. But against the Emperor’s Angels, the outcome was never in doubt. They had died to a man. Would he have done differently? If the Lion had opted for war against this new Imperium rather than brotherhood. Would he not have fought and died for his home? for Caliban? he knew the answer, and it did not sit well with him.
Three months since that battle.
Not a bolt fired in anger or a foe to match blade against. The 312 Legionaries aboard Caliban’s Wrath kept busy as best they could: the training cages rang with the clash of black steel and distant echoes of the firing range could be heard across half the ship. Nothing outwardly had changed, but a dark foreboding had settled across the ship during it’s painstaking crawl back towards civilisation. 92 days of blindly stumbling through a turbulent warp until being spat out, time and again into the silent vastness of the void. Freak warp storms had made what should have been a simple trip back to Imperial space into a gruelling ordeal for the ships navigators.
But the journey back from Al Baradad had not been without incident.
While passing through the althorn cluster, the Wrath of Caliban has stumbled upon the crippled Ravenguard battleship Shadowfall. The Dark Angels had naturally offered aid to the stricken vessel. In response, the Ravenguard ship had fired up its warp drive and made an immediate jump. Why the crew of a Legion ship felt that such action was necessary was a serious cause for concern. A concern that several of his officers had voiced. He had no answers for them. Castellan Yvain had a horrible suspicion that not all was well in the Galaxy, but with the apparent inability of his astropaths to contact anyone who wasn’t standing on the same room as themselves, it didn’t look like he would have answers any time soon.
The vox buzzed into discordant activity.
The distorted voice of First Knight-Seargent Caradoc crackled to life in his ear.
Yvain reached a hand to his helmet-mounted receiver.
”I’m in the Librarium. It’s the Archivist. I think you need to get here right away.”
The Archivist was the longest serving member of the First Legion’s Librarian Corps. He was as old as anything could be in this new age, and his body was wearied as much by time as by the ethereal powers that had drained his vitality in exchange for the power of the warp. He seldom wore his armour out of battle, and instead adopted the simple robed attire of a scribe. His hair was long, a silvered main that framed a face as ancient as the rock of Caliban.
All of this, Yvain had seen before.
But the screaming. That was new.
The Archivist pulsed with power. Two Knight-Legionaries were doing their best to hold him, but waves of invisible force buffeted everything around him, it tore books from their shelves, and sent servo skulls clattering across the room.
His eyes were fire. Golden orbs of psychic power that bled pulsar light. His voice was a void cry of despair.
“He’s been like this for ten minutes”
Knight-Seargent Caradoc addressed the Castellan as he entered.
Yvain strode over to the struggling Librarian. Caradoc moved in beside him, a hand wandering to rest on the pommel of his sword.
“Brother, what is happening to you?”
The Archivist turned his head jerkily to regard the Castellan. Slowly, the thrashing stopped and the screaming died away. He held the Yvain’s gaze with eyes that faded slowly from a solar flare to oceanic green.
Then he spoke, and his words were a choir. None of the voices were his.
“Hear me, brother.
Our Imperium is undone.
The Lion will fall, the sword will shatter and we will be lost.
The carrion’s call will bring death to us on wings of bone.
Let all loyal sons of Caliban return to her, and we may yet save her soul, and with it, our own.”
The Archivist’s head slumped and silence reigned, broken only by the ragged breathing of the ancient Librarian.
Knight-Seargent Caradoc was the first to speak.
“What was that about?”
Yvain regarded the unconscious figure of the Archivist.
“I do not know brother, but I think we need to get back to Caliban. Right now.”
— — —
— — —
So, that’s Eddie’s immense contribution. He has a lot more on the go than that Land Raider, but that can wait until next time.
Next in line is Alan, with his Alpha Legion. He’s less of a talker than Eddie. Alan, like me, is knee-deep in the dead, fighting back the Deadline Beast. It makes him terse and, dare I say, more heroic. More authorly.
He also has the fine excuse of screwing his arm up recently, and being busy at work on the next book in the Horus Heresy range, following on from Betrayal.
— — —
And to round things off with yet more shamefully significant progress, the mighty Ead (he of Forge World’s Minotaurs fame). He’s been Iron Warrioring like a boss, using these bad boys in some official playtesting, as well as getting a bunch of shit-hot thematic background text done, too.
Ead and Eddie are plainly kicking all our arses to heck and back.
Rakharyz Tactical Squad: The I Tactical squad of the CMLXXXVIth Grand Company, Rakharyz Tactical Squad has long been a keystone of Warsmith-General Mitras’s battlefield success, and the squad has stormed ramparts and breaches both human and xenos alike in their Crusade to reunite the scattered fiefs of humanity.
Traditionally, the sergeant of Rakharyz eschews the more esoteric weapons of the Iron Warriors in favour of the trusted bolter, and the high-capacity box and drum magazines used by the squad are something of a signature. Their method of war is to obliterate the foe beneath a merciless storm of accurate bolter fire and a punishing advance, and while every shot is made to count, it is not uncommon for the members of the squad to expend thousands of rounds in any given engagement. The squad habitually refuses a Rhino, operating constantly at or close to their full strength of twenty battle-brothers through greatly-expedited implantation and hypno-indoctrination procedures, and the apothecarion’s grafting of augmetic limbs to charred stumps and replacing ravaged nerves with micro-fibre cabling. They embody the IV Legion’s doctrine of unyielding advance and concentrated firepower, breaching strongpoints and redoubts with their dogged stubbornness and brutal volley fire. The unforgiving nature of their chosen role means that few engagements end without injury to the brothers of Rakharyz.
Their bloodiest undertaking was the destruction of the Nozhetarushi, the Technomancers; a human civilisation that unrepentantly made war against the CMLXXXVIth Grand Company and their Crusade fleet. Scattered across a handful of worlds, the Nozhetarushi utilised hideous and blasphemous technologies; machines guided by abhorrent intelligences that did not require symbiosis with man to operate. A long and brutal campaign ensued, and finally only a single world remained in the hands of the misguided Nozhetarushi. The Imperial Army cohorts of the 986th were scattered before the punishing firepower of the terrible sentiences that served as warriors, and with the line beginning to crumble, Rakharyz marched forward, bolters braced tight to shoulders. The massed fire of the Nozhetarushi flailed at them, casting Iron Warriors from their feet, yet Rakharyz took not a backward step; their fallen rose and took up their bolters in bloodied hands. As soon as they entered bolter range, a great volley rang out, many of the battle-brothers firing with a single hand due variously to the loss of their limbs, or the need to bear their wounded fellows. For over a kilometre of shattered ground, the squad advanced, firing a volley with each stride, their shells blasting apart the mechanical warriors that stood against them, until they stood even unto the heart of the last redoubt, the ruin of their foes smote upon the rubble about them in shards and rags both artificial and biological. Sergeant Zhestok himself, one arm torn from his body and his war-plate haning in shreds about him, planted the Aquila through the chest of the last lord of the Nozhetarushi, and declared the Technomancers destroyed. Eighteen members of the squad were rated unfit for combat following their assault into the breach, and it would be seven compliances before Rakharyz stood at full strength once more.
Zhukar the Unyielding: Brother Zhukhar stood alongside Centurion-Marshall Uborevich in the Emperor’s name, purging heinous agri-cults in the Nordafrik Conclaves and debased data-warlock tribes in the ravaged cities of the Francks, earning a reputation for unerring marksmanship, cold strategy and merciless humours.
When the Wars of Unification became the Great Crusade, the CMLXXXVIth Grand Company voyaged far from Terra and their Legion brothers alike, reclaiming world after world from the clutches of Old Night. They fought xenos predators and tainted petty-fiefdoms alike, and always did Zhukhar form the tip of the Iron Warrior’s spear, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tauromanch; matching his commander’s hammer blows with brutal firepower. Upon the benighted world of 15-986-22, the Iron Warriors stood against a nameless xeno-kind, strange creatures that took the forms of others to disguise their own, armed with beam weapons of an unknown design. The fighting was cruel and constant, and casualties were high, forcing the Iron Warriors to construct long chains of redoubts and fortifications to house their supplies and for their Apothecaries to minister to the wounded.
The largest of these was ringed with many-layered defences; bunkers and trenches in an impenetrable pattern, and it was here that Zhukhar’s command came under an attack in unprecedented strength. The xenos-breed seemingly ignored the defence lines, attacking directly into the central keep and seeking out wounded Space Marines with blasphemous vigour. Zhukhar ordered his brothers to withdraw, personally forming the rearguard and pacing steadily backwards. His rotor cannon burned red-hot with his ceaseless fire, and the alien beam-weapons inflicted terrible wounds upon him.
Zhukhar cared not and despite his torn flesh managed to overload the great antomantic arc-reactor that powered the keep, outnumbered hundreds of times over. The resulting blast engulfed the majority of the xenos force, and Uborevich the Tauromanch was able to isolate and destroy the remainder with ease. Zhukhar’s remains, blind and horribly rent, were recovered in the midst of the shattered keep and by some fluke chance life still burned in him.
The Contemptor-pattern dreadnought Ferrus Pertinax had recently been delivered to the CMLXXXVIth by the Mechanicum Forge-Barque that accompanied the fleet, and Zhukhar – already being called The Unyielding for his stubborn and uncaring defence – was entombed within it. The weapon he so often fielding in life was replaced with an early-pattern Kheres assault cannon, and restored, Zhukhar yet stands alongside his Centurion-Master in war undending.
I can hardly believe it, but I started The Talon of Horus today. The book I’ve been wanting to write since forever.
The rough plan (very, very rough, remember) is to open the Black Legion Series with a trilogy: The Talon of Horus, The Black Legion, and Chaos Ascendant. I’ve been saying it in interviews and on panels for years, and it’s such a rush now it’s finally coming to pass.
The sheer scale of possibility has had me delaying this series a few times, because it’s the story of… everything. It could last for years and years. I originally pitched it as 2-3 novels, but my editors have mentioned that it might work better as a long-running series. “Your ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts‘,” are the words being used.
The scale terrified me, the way it would terrify anyone with at least half an eye towards all the possibilities on the table. It’s the story of the Chaos Marines after the Scouring, from the first years of the Legion Wars in the Eye of Terror, right up to… well, that’s the thing. Right up to wherever I want to take it. It could go anywhere. The story of the Black Legion is the story of the Chaos Marines themselves, the Armies of the Damned, across 10,000 years of spite, sin, and war.
So. Here we go. The story of the last days of the Sons of Horus, driven to extinction by the Traitor Legions, yet reborn from the same bloodlines.
Excuse the pointless update, but I was just going through my Old Republic screenshots folder. For some reason, Katie and Emma are completely missing the good-time wholesome ‘family movie’ aspect of the whole deal. In practically every image I have of them both, they’re negotiating as pictured below. I think in the last one Katie’s even going to execute that motherfucker.
Meanwhile, Steve and I are peaceful, calm souls WHO ONLY STICK TO CANONICAL LIGHTSABER COLOURS FROM NOW ON, OKAY, FUCKHEAD? NO MORE YELLOW, YEAH? THANKS, MAN.
Alexander is 1 today. A year ago, this was happening: http://aarondembskibowden.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/dear-fuchsia-part-iiib-dear-alexander/
Here’re the Word.docs I’ve got going on in the January/February/March period. Hey, I never promised this game would a) Be regular; or b) Be any fun.
As you can probably guess from the background, I finished TWD. In all honesty, The Walking Dead game deserves a much better post than I’m capable of making, but I’ll give it a shot at some point. For now, let’s just say I finished it about two weeks ago, and it was one of the most intense, evocative storytelling experiences of my whole life. I think it’s won about 100 Game of the Year awards by this point, and it deserves every single fucking one of them.
I was crying so hard at the end, when I went downstairs to tell Katie it was over, I was having trouble talking and breathing. That’s not an exaggeration. It may be less than cool, sure, but it’s not an exaggeration.
As for the actual Desktop Watch, it runs a little like this:
- Howl of the Birthworld is my first Space Wolf pack, for ToFH.
- Blood & Fire (Rewrite) – A sequel story to Helsreach, where Grimaldus intervenes with the Celestial Lions before they can destroy themselves. I did almost all of it in first-person present tense, then decided I hated it, and spent three days rewriting it first-person past tense. It’s almost finished now.
- First King of Rome – Is a secret.
- Blood in the Water – A Horus Heresy Blood Angel short story, and a prequel to Master of Mankind, my next HH novel.
- The Lord Inquisitor – The current script for The Lord Inquisitor movie, obviously.
The first month of our Tale of Five Heretics is getting close to its update, and it’ll come as no surprise for y’all to learn that in the time it’s taken me and John to build and paint 5 Marines each, Eddie has painted 20, as well as a converted Contemptor Dreadnought, and managed to build a Land Raider just for kicks.
A Tale of Five Heretics: Dramatis Personae
I – IV – VI – IX – XX
After infinite delays, let’s talk some hobby. Specifically, let’s talk Heresy armies.
As my 40K campaign grows ever-larger, I find it’s sprawling into this behemoth that almost defies discussion. Battle reports are tough to write out, because we’ve not played any traditional battles. Instead, the fights are a matter of ad hoc narrative deciding the game. Like 5 Chaos players all using a Lord and one squad as an ambushing strike to ambush the same 1-Commander / 1-retinue counterparts on the Imperial side, representing an assassination attempt as the Blue Team’s commanders gathered on neutral ground. Another of the battles involved the Eldar, Imperials and Chaos forces beating the snot out of each other downtable, while the Adeptus Mechanicus happily shelled all three forces from the objective zone.
So it’s happening – that’s a good thing – but it’s difficult to sum up. I love the new edition. You might think I have to say that, but that’s an assumption which doesn’t take into account how often I’m in trouble with my publisher Black Library (and the powerful, nay, monolithic entity that is Games Workshop behind it). I wasn’t huge on 5th Edition; a lot of its rules reminded me why I’ve always been more of a Warhammer Fantasy player. But I digress. I love 6th Edition.
The next 40K weekend will take us to 1,500pts. Since the last meetup was an icebreaker to get everyone acquainted and learn the rules, that weekend (which will take place in my new games room: The Aaronorium), will be the real deal. I’ll be able to discuss it with a little more coherency closer to the time.
So I’ll backburner all that for a while, and talk some Heresy. I’ve set this up before, with hobby talk and avoiding author bias. No more excuses. Time to get into it.
Here’s my ragged attempt to build a Heresy army with some friends. Katie said no. Her 40K Marines are enough work. Thus, I went hunting beyond the borders of the family unit. If anyone has any mega-inspiring advice, pictures of their own armies, or any general chatter, feel free to chime in with whatever you feel like. Consider this an open book.
We’ll start at the beginning. That seems wise.
So who’s doing this with me, and what armies are we all playing?
This is Eddie. In the future, when Eddie’s writing, I’ll use this delicious green text, right here.
A cursory Google check (or perhaps your own unpleasant memories) will reveal the uncomfortable truth that Eddie is ferociously, ball-achingly good at Warhammer Fantasy. He’s been at a bunch of tournaments where he took home every award (except sportsmanship. Ha!) and my fave story about him illustrates this point nicely. Before I really knew who Eddie was, I knew this about him: At a tournament, there was one award – a measly lone certificate out of about a dozen in total – that his team hadn’t claimed. The tournament organisers wanted to share it in a joint-first-prize situation with another team. Eddie’s team resisted this act of honest and merciful charity, pointing out that they deserved it because they’d won more games and earned more points. The organiser tried one last time, one last vain hope to appeal to the sense of kindness that Eddie had clearly left in his car.
ORGANISER: “How about we share this prize? Look, you’ve won all the others. Some of these guys just came here to play games with their collections.”
EDDIE: “I collect trophies.”
Given my utter disinterest in the whole concept of tournaments, you’d think I’d despise Eddie for this attitude. I don’t despise him. I fear him. That’s a crucial difference.
Eddie works in Black Library, as some of marketing overlord. I’m not even sure what he does anymore, to be honest. That place is like the Webway when it comes to who’s doing what, why, and where. All I can reliably say about my publisher is that I have a dinosaur picture I need to send to Rachel, Princess of eBooks.
Eddie is fated – nay, destined isn’t too strong a word – to make the rest of us look like absolute hacks in this project. His conversions are irritatingly masterful; his painting is frustratingly superb (“Ooooh, I’m Eddie, I can fucking wet blend, lah-di-dah”), and he also paints shockingly quick compared to, say, me. But then, so does everyone in full possession of at least one limb. As we’ve discussed, I’m really slow.
Eddie’s Legion: The Dark Angels.
His first month’s pledge is absolutely ludicrous compared to the rest of us (I’ve begged him to slow down). Here’s what he had to say about choosing an army, and the first month’s pledge:
“Picking a Space Marine army is tough.
There’s a lot of choice, and they’re all awesome in their own way, (even the yellow ones). It’s not a decision to rush. Colour schemes must be considered, tactics, play style, background.
Its not like the olden days when all you had to do was pick your favourite primary colour. These days, the legions and chapters have their own identities and heroes, histories and tragedies.
When all said and done though, it still comes down to the same basic male calculus that you use to pick you favourite super hero: who would win in a fight. (its batman by the way)
The Dark Angels were the first Warhammer 40,000 army I ever collected back in the Age of Strife(second edition). To me, the sons of Caliban embody 40k like no other Legion, proper Space Marines: knights in space. Anyone who chooses to go to battle wielding a sword when perfectly functioning guns are available, must be the ultimate badass (see also, Optimus Prime and Jedi).
Also, they have those stylish robes – the Dark Angels are a legion that isn’t willing to compromise fashion for battlefield utility.
At the time of the Horus Heresy, the Dark Angels went to battle in stylish black.
Armies composed of entirely black miniatures can sometimes look less than awe inspiring on the tabletop, so I have covered my warriors in a Blessed Load-out of Imperial Neo-classical Gadgets (BLING). The Dark Angel plastic kits are amazingly generous when it comes to spare components, and I supplemented these with ForgeWorld MKIII marines, mainly for the techno-knightly look of the Iron Armour helmets.
My main inspiration for the paint scheme is going to be this awesome looking piece of Horus Heresy art by Neil Roberts. I’m going to try for some chequered shoulder pads on the units (we’ll see how that turns out).
as well as the power armoured Marines, I built a dreadnought.
I love dreadnoughts. To me, nothing sums up the gothic tragedy of 40k like a half dead hero of legend in a walking tank. This ancient champion has refused to let his near-death stop him going to battle with a sword, and now strides to war swinging a 4m long blade of calibanite steel. A weapon whose awesomeness is matched only by it’s impracticality.
The next addition to the army will likely be some vehicles (because the First Legion isn’t going to walk to battle!) and maybe some kind of character to lead the force.
Watch this space!
(the space in question being Segmentum Obscurus)”
This is John French. The man who inevitably ends up chairmanning and overseeing every games weekend we have, because… well, just because. You may know him as an author for Black Library (and if you don’t, you really should), and every time I go over to Nottingham for Heresy meetings or BL events, I have dinner and drinks with John to chew over the complicated chaos of fatherhood, writing, gaming, and being married. It should be noted that he always blows the candle out on our restaurant table, in case it looks romantic and/or gay.
Or maybe he’s scared of fire? I don’t know. It could be.
John has a hand in the Forge World side of things, too – he writes material for the Horus Heresy rulebooks. When he writes here, I’ll use this rather attractive dark red font. Like so.
John’s Legion: The Blood Angels.
He has to play the Blood Angels, since I bought him a bunch of Blood Angel bitz for his birthday, effectively guilting him into a corner.
Having seen the first WIP pics of John’s Blood Angel Destroyers, I look forward to the uproar of “WHY ARE THEY WEARING SANGUINARY GUARD DEATH MASKS?” and so on. Also, John was the first to mention the sacred words: “I’m going to use bits of Mk7 and 8 armour without giving a shit in the slightest. I’m also going to convert a Storm Talon and Nephilim.”
The purist in me shudders just a little at that. On one hand, I know that an Armour Mark is something built with a thousand variations on a thousand forge worlds. The Marks we see are a template, and individual forges, foundries, manufactories and artisans will design their own versions and equivalents. I know the Space Marine Legions had hundreds of vehicles we’ve still not seen, and never will, and that in 40K that scale is magnified a hundredfold. Yeah. I get it, I really do. I love that. Scale, people. Scale.
But if I see something that’s clearly an Errant-pattern collar without some fantastic unit description and cool lore behind it, then I’ll pop his eyes out with an ice cream scoop, and ask Phil Kelly if he wants to join, over John’s twitching corpse.
If you’re reading this here, you probably know who I am, already. If you don’t, no worries, you’re not missing much. I drink, I write, I scowl. This is life.
My Legion: The Space Wolves.
I chose the Space Wolves for several reasons. Firstly, most importantly, tribal/clan fantasy races are my absolute Number One joy. I love the primal archetypes and shamanic mysticism of it all, as well as the deviations and variants between the noble/ignorant savage tropes. Think of the Cimmerians and Vanir in Robert E. Howard’s works. Orcs, trolls and tauren in WarCraft. The Aztecs. The Vikings. The Mongols. Slaine, the Celtic Fantasy series. The Thirteen Tribes of Werewolf: the Apocalypse. The list goes on and on, and I’m trying to be at least relatively brief. I don’t assume these cultures are better, deeper or more profound than any other, just that I find them fascinating to read and write about.
Secondly, I love the Space Wolves, because I love pretty much every Legion. The Space Wolves will have a longer wait than most Legions when it comes to bitz from Forge World, given that the next rulebook looks like Isstvan V, but they have some awesome bitz already available from GW in the basic Space Wolf pack. So we’ll see how that goes.
Speaking of packs, that’s what comes next. One of my favourite themes in fantasy and sci-fi is the feeling of a pack of characters. A coterie, a brotherhood, a warband. They don’t have to get on well, but they have to be close. it has to be them against the world.
You see it done to perfection in Robin Hobb’s writing, where FitzChivalry and Nighteyes are their own pack: it’s them back to back, against the whole world. Bernard Cornwell does it, too – Derfel Cadarn’s warband of wandering spearmen, with their shields marked by the Star of Powys in reflection of Derfel’s bride. They even have the little traditions that make these things actually matter: the warriors of the warband that went with Merlin on the hunt for one of the Treasures of Britain have five-pointed stars painted on their shields, but those who remained behind to guard their farms only have four-pointed stars. That’s what I love: the notion of a pack having its own rituals and rights of passage, unknown to most outsiders. It was a vibe I wanted to show with First Claw, and I hope to show with Abaddon and Khayon’s inner circle, in The Talon of Horus.
I really want that feeling with my Space Wolves. Every squad will be its own pack, with its own legends, heroes, traditions, markings, and rituals. I hope I can have it reflect in the models, as well as the background I’ll do for them.
Admittedly, I hesitated with the Space Wolves because – as I’ve said before – I try to avoid playing anything I write about. That’s pretty cowardly, so it’s time to knuckle up and ignore anyone who’s ignorant enough to genuinely think that implies bias one way or the other. People will always, always generate their own reasons for why other people do things, and no matter how wrong they are, reasonable discussion rarely changes anything.
I was tempted by several other Legions.
- The Salamanders, because I think they look seriously lovely on the tabletop. A dead attractive green, and I love writing about fire.
- The Blood Angels, because red is one of the few colours I can paint to an acceptable standard. And, as I’ve confessed before, they’re my favourite Legion. First among equals, at least.
- The Dark Angels, because… so many bitz. So very many awesome bitz. Also, because of Lynn Dunlop – a reader we met at the Black Library Weeeknder – who made Alexander this freaking incredible Dark Angel Chapter jumpsuit:
On the other shoulder, it says AD-B II.
Which is, objectively, just too awesome.
For my first month’s work, I’ll stick to a modest single squad. Given that it’s Heresy-style and squads are 10-20 guys, it might actually be a quarter of a squad. But, y’know, leave me alone.
This is Alan.
For Alan, choosing a Legion was something of a nightmare, because avoiding spoilers is an absolute bitch. He was originally going to do [LEGION NAME HIDDEN TO PRESERVE MY PRECIOUS CAREER], but wouldn’t even be able to show his models, because of… well, because of spoilers. In the end, he settled on a Legion that I think he’s got quite a bit to say about. I’m not sure how much will make it out of super-secret emails, but bear with me – our jobs make opening up about the hobby pretty difficult.
Alan’s Legion: The Alpha Legion.
As a point of interest, Alan ends up sharing dual campaign management roles at 40K weekends, assigned the onerous task of saying “You need 3s to hit” and “Roll anything but a 1″ about eight-hundred-and-seventy-four times a day. He shoulders this burden with a patient smile and a mug of tea close at hand (even when Katie makes him and John build three (yes, three) Rhinos and Razorbacks the night before we’re all supposed to play).
I suspect his models will come out looking second-best after Eddie’s, because Alan has a John Blanche-style of painting going on with his 40K Adeptus Mechanicus, and it looks absolutely killer.
And here’s Ead, rounding out the batch. I’ve seen Ead’s Minotaurs a billion times (and if you’ve got the Badab War books, so have you), even going up to see a bunch of them in the Citadel Miniatures Gallery at HQ. Ead’s always a sane and stable presence in my professional life, which I appreciate immensely, but he also drinks the most random shit at the Games Day after-party – and gets me to drink it, too – which I appreciate a great deal more.
He’s also informally a member of my test reader circle, and rolls his eyes every time I try to be cool and call a heavy bolter a “bolter cannon”. It’s slang, you Forge World son of a bitch.
Anyway, Ead’s basically lovely. Getting him into this was a bit of a trial, as Ead does Minotaurs, Minotaurs, and nothing but Minotaurs. I expected him to say no, so I added him to the secret Facebook group without his permission and started acting like he’d already agreed to join in.
Guilt. A potent weapon. Works every time.
Ead’s Legion: The Iron Warriors.
So here’s Ead, in his glorious blue-grey font, saying why he chose the Iron Warriors:
I just knew he’d bring up the Minotaurs somewhere in that.
So there we go. That’s the introductions done.
— — — — — —
— — — — — —
- Every month, a minimum of 5 models, or one Codex unit entry from Horus Heresy Legion Army List.
- Every unit and character has to come with at least 300 words of history, personalisation, and background.
- No spoilers from future Heresy releases, despite our spoilertastic jobs.
- No crying more than once a week over Eddie’s progress photos.
- Eddie: 10-20 Dark Angels, 1 Contemptor-pattern Dreadnought.
- John: Blood Angel Destroyer Squad.
- Aaron: Space Wolf Tactical Squad.
- Alan: Alpha Legion Veteran Squad.
- Ead: Iron Warriors Contemptor-pattern Dreadnought.
Deadline Date / Next Post:
- Monday the 11th of February.
- Potential Theme for Next Month’s Task: “Dreadnought Month”. Other suggestions are totally welcome.
I usually couldn’t care less about spoilers, but if anyone ruins this for me, I will hunt them down and slowly spread Marmite over their juicy, squishy eyeballs.
I will then eat their eyeballs, like Marmite-stained, gooey gobstoppers.
The Walking Dead, so far, is breathtaking. I’m just gutted I missed out on the episodic release system, as that seemed like it would’ve added to the anticipation.
My only problem is that it’s really reinforcing the fact that I’ve almost entirely stopped playing single-player games, the last few years. Without a really worthwhile storyline (and I realise that’s relative) I’ve been feeling for a long while that single-player games are something a little like busy work. They eat time, and I have nothing to show for it at the end. I don’t go for unlocking achievements, so that’s meaningless to me. I rarely feel some massive splurge of inspiration after a game, the way I do for a good movie or a great novel.
Curiously, I’ve never enjoyed Halo on my own, but in co-op it was always one of the best ways to spend a weekend with my friend Barney. Similarly, Civ V is an astounding motherfucker of a game, but whereas I can spend 10-hours straight on Skype, playing Civ with Ben – when I load a solo game I just feel like, well, I have other shit to be doing. I’ve clocked up about 400 hours in Civ V, and only about 15 of them were on my own.
Anyone who knows me will be well aware than I’m a fantastically insular creature. I need to spend most of every day alone, or I get distracted, tired, irritable. Even on a 40K weekend with a bunch of my best friends and funnest acquaintances visiting, when it comes to playing card games and watching movies at the end of each night, I usually need to retreat to my office and detox from the press of humanity, while they all have fun downstairs. It’s not about enjoyment, but endurance. I’ll have a great day, but the constant press of “Am I showing the right emotion of my face? How do I reply to what he just said? Why did she say that? What is he thinking?” presses in on me, sucking up the immeasurable fluid from my brain-battery. People tire me very quickly. My involvement in conversations begins high, and trickles down to almost nothing by the day’s end. My head will be too slow to think of anything to say, and I’ll be second-guessing everything that comes to mind. Far easier to stay quiet, and even better to retreat.
So I’d have thought single-player games would be one of my main hobbies (like reading is), but I think at some point over the last few years, it’s mutated into gaming becoming a largely social deal for me. Part of that might be because I live 8,000,000 miles from all my friends, so although I usually hate the phone (if my tinnitus is bad, I can’t read lips over the phone), Skype is something of a lifeline. I mean, I do practically everything alone, and prefer it that way. If I gamed alone as well, I’d never see other humans.
Some of it surely comes down to the fact that some things are better with other people. You laugh more at movies if other people are there, laughing with you. But again, that’s not all of it.
I reckon the core deal is that most single player games aren’t made for me, or people like me. Skyrim was amazing, but so light on interaction and storyline that all I could think about while playing it is how incredible it would be as a co-op game. Heading into dungeons together, one as a mage or a thief; the other as a warrior, and so on. If the game offers you no interaction to fuel the immersion, I tend to need it elsewhere. And despite Skyrim’s beautiful setting, the lore was pretty thin on the ground, and the NPCs were never anything more than cardboard cut-outs with limited scripts. So I needed other “living” characters to make it real.
Like I said, “worthwhile” storylines are relative. I can’t stand military worship games like Call of Duty or Medal of Honour, and their infinite ilk, but Transformers: Fall of Cybertron kicked me in the balls hard enough that my soul felt it. Playing through that was a moving experience: it felt literally like my childhood had come to life, caught up with me, and wanted to know if I could come out and play one last time. Presumably, after waving farewell to me, Fall of Cybertron will then vanish to go play with another kid in need of a secret best friend, or something. The same with War for Cybertron, actually. Here were the same feelings I’d had as a kid – that potency of imagination – brought out before me again. People slated the gameplay of both games. I barely noticed the gameplay of either one. I was hanging out on Cybertron, running alongside the characters as Optimus became the Last Prime; as Megatron attacked the Ark before it could reach Earth.
I literally teared up at the moment you stand on the Iacon Highway, with all that road stretching before you across Cybertron, and Optimus finally, finally tells you to “Transform and roll out.” I don’t give a shit how lame that sounds. That was the sunny days of my youth, right there. I’ve waited my whole life for him to say that to me. The immersion was masterful. High Moon Studios, the guys behind the Transformers games, recreated the emotional intensity of the best novels and movies for me, right there in that moment. Emotion. Immersion. Involvement. Feeling like you’re there. Giving a shit.
Very few other games have appealed to me on that level, or through awesome enough characterisation and storylines, in a long while. The last to do it was Half-Life II, which I still regard as the best game ever made. Before that? Jade Empire (which, in my rush, I shamefully missed off this list originally). Before that? Knights of the Old Republic II. Before that? Republic Commando; KotOR I; Planescape: Torment; Baldur’s Gate I & II.
I love Left 4 Dead; Civ; Portal, and Halo – with other players. Specifically with my friends. And I thought Portal I & II were great fun, approaching the above games in similar intensity without quite reaching it.
But right now, I’m only half an hour or so into The Walking Dead (love the comic book style graphics, by the way) and it took insane effort to log out and get some work done. I keep thinking about saving that little girl, and the decisions I’m making with everyone I meet, and wanting to know Lee’s story, and and and and and–
And that’s a good thing. This game is stellar. It makes me give a shit.