Heresy & Black Legion chatter in the mail this morning…
Here’s a fun one, in my inbox today. Not sure if serious.
“Is The Master of Mankind about Horus? I heard you want to tie things into your Warmaster Chronicles?”
Firstly, The Warmaster Chronicles isn’t what I call it. I call it “The Black Legion Series”, or “Rise of the Warmaster”, or “That series I’m likely to spend the next 15 years of my life writing”. The Warmaster Chronicles sounds like a badass newspaper, or a very angry blog. If it’s a play on Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles, then that’s very clever and I love you, as that’s exactly the feel I’m going for (and have said a bunch of times that I love that breed of historical fiction, a la Bernard Cornwell; Steven Pressfield, et al). I may steal this reference and pretend I said it first, so thanks for that.
If it’s not a reference to that, then I guess I hate you. I’m assuming it is a reference, though. I bang on about those books enough at every signing, after all.
However, to business. First, incredulity.
Is that a real question? You’re asking if a novel called The Master of Mankind would be about Horus?
I want to hate you for that, but I’ve only got myself to blame by doing titles like The First Heretic and Betrayer – titles which apply to several characters in the novels they represent. So, okay, you win this round.
It’d be about the Master of Mankind, as in the Emperor of Man. I mean, seriously, I’m trying to be obvious for once. The idea came from several chats with Alan Merrett, and this ancient piece of art, which is one of my fave 40K images of all time:
But it’s at least a year away, so you’ll have to excuse me not mentioning it as more than a plan, at this point. I know there are lists out there naming Dan and Graham’s next 2-3 HH novels, but I need to sit and nurse this one in dignified silence, as it’d be a beast.
As for tying into my Black Legion series, I’m actually more of the opposite. Part of 40K’s appeal is the inconsistency. The IP folks have explained to me oh-so many times that 40K writing is about every author having their own sandbox, their own sectioned-off corner of the setting, to do with as they please and show their perceptions. It’s not Star Wars, with that same aggressive continuity shrinking the galaxy word by word, annihilating all mystery. Which is why when there’s something like Kharn getting the same voice actor in an HH audio drama and a 40K audio drama, I just don’t really care. My Lorgar isn’t Anthony Reynolds’s Lorgar. My Fabius Bile won’t be Jim Swallow’s Fabius Bile. My Logan Grimnar isn’t Bill King’s Logan Grimnar. And so on. I’m not bound by what they’ve done before, and they’re not bound by what I’ve done.
That’s very much the point of the license as it was explained to me by George Mann, by Alan Merrett, by friendly folks in the IP department. And it’s why 40K is much less “tie-in fiction” than many other licenses. You get the bare bones of a colossal universe, and that’s it. You’re not writing characters that have been on TV for 10 years, bound to their personalities and pasts. There’re degrees of Tie-In, and 40K is at the loosest end of it. The Heresy series is the exception, as it’s very much a different set of rules to usual 40K writing. Continuity matters a great deal because it’s a single storyline with multiple authors, with established beats and immense character crossover. But in 40K, as long as you’re not passing off core lore mistakes as personal style, continuity is very much not the point of the license. Individual perception, from gamer to reader to author, is everything. It’s what you see of the setting. It’s what you bring to it. it’s taking what you like, and throwing it into the mix. Reading the novels is about enjoying other people’s perspectives, and seeing how they match/contrast your own. Not about them feeding you drips of information to be slavishly obeyed.
Marc Gascoigne said it best in an old quote, when he was Head of Black Library:
“Keep in mind Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 are worlds where half truths, lies, propaganda, politics, legends and myths exist. The absolute truth which is implied when you talk about “canonical background” will never be known because of this. Everything we know about these worlds is from the viewpoints of people in them which are as a result incomplete and even sometimes incorrect. The truth is mutable, debatable and lost as the victors write the history…
Here’s our standard line: Yes it’s all official, but remember that we’re reporting back from a time where stories aren’t always true, or at least 100% accurate. if it has the 40K logo on it, it exists in the 40K universe. Or it was a legend that may well have happened. Or a rumour that may or may not have any truth behind it.
Let’s put it another way: anything with a 40K logo on it is as official as any Codex… and at least as crammed full of rumours, distorted legends and half-truths.
I think the real problem for me, and I speak for no other, is that the topic as a “big question” doesn’t matter. It’s all as true as everything else, and all just as false/half-remembered/sort-of-true. The answer you are seeking is “Yes and no” or perhaps “Sometimes”. And for me, that’s the end of it.
Now, ask us some specifics, eg can Black Templars spit acid and we can answer that one, and many others. But again note that answer may well be “sometimes” or “it varies” or “depends”.
But is it all true? Yes and no. Even though some of it is plainly contradictory? Yes and no. Do we deliberately contradict, retell with differences? Yes we do. Is the newer the stuff the truer it is? Yes and no. In some cases is it true that the older stuff is the truest? Yes and no. Maybe and sometimes. Depends and it varies.
It’s a decaying universe without GPS and galaxy-wide communication, where precious facts are clung to long after they have been changed out of all recognition. Read A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M Miller, about monks toiling to hold onto facts in the aftermath of a nucelar war; that nails it for me.“
The key, of course, is not to outright contradict things too much out of professional respect and personal courtesy. And I do my best there, too. I kept Sahaal as an important part of the Night Lords Legion, but I brought him back down to earth in terms of being as flawed as the rest of the Legionnaires, making sure the other characters noticed the treacherous things he’d done to the Legion, or the things he was incorrect about, which a lot of fans obviously ignored or forgave as we all often do with a cool protagonist. We see a wider picture, but the people living in that universe with a character may not, or may have different perspectives to us. And still, several characters liked him lots, while others disliked him – the same as every Night Lord in authority. I didn’t want to mention him very much because he’s not my guy, but he’s tricky because that novel was written when the license was in a different place, and stuff was published then that really wouldn’t get past the loremasters and IP hounds now. Black Library had… looser standards of adhering to the IP (even a cursory glance will show that’s true), and 40K is a different beast now. Some of the claims made by Sahaal (which are revealed as lies in the end of LotN – as they counteract the established Index Astartes lore even then about how the Legion functioned) would be considered much less believable or true now, compared with the age when that novel offered an incredibly rare and unchallenged first-look at a primarch. I liked LotN, so I made the referential nods, and only contradicted the tiny stuff that no longer flew, license-wise.
But tying stuff really close together is actually something I rarely do, in the 30K to 40K divide, and I’m in no rush to make any references between the Heresy series and the Black Legion series. Obviously, there’ll need to be some for realism, but they’re separate deals, and I like to keep them that way. The only frontloading I’ve done for the Warmaster Chronicles at all is the short story ‘Extinction’, which was me doing something different for a change, and trying to write a trailer of sorts, just for kicks. None of those characters are even in the novel (for obvious reasons) and the main character in the series isn’t even in ‘Extinction’. Nor, incidentally, are any of the other principal characters, with the exception of Abaddon. So you can probably see I’m keeping all Black Legion stuff on the down-low for now. It’ll come when it comes. It doesn’t need frontloading. I don’t need to write about Horus and the Sons of Horus now, to prime the Black Legion series. Trust me, that will carry its own weight. It’s the Traitor Legions fighting each other in Hell, before rising to become the threat we all know them as in 40K. It doesn’t need me capering through the HH series and doing prologue novels: the Black Legion’s prologue is the Heresy itself. That’ll serve nicely.
As for self-references, I usually avoid them. Writing so much Chaos stuff means I’m probably in the easiest position to have that level of crossover between characters who were there at the Heresy and still around in 40K, but that’s not really my angle. Dan was comfortable making Enuncia show up in the Heresy as well as his 40K Inquisitor stuff (and it worked great), but I’m not so keen on tying things that closely together with my own work. I like the distance. I’m already a little uneasy at the fact I’ll need to sneak major Warmaster Chronicles (I really like that term – thanks, dude) characters into the Heresy series, just so they’re shown somewhere in the background, rather than exploding out of the unrealistic tides of nowhere. I might have Telemachon mentioned in a scene where the Emperor’s Children show up, or Inaros with the Thousand Sons. But that’s it, at this stage.
Part of the reason it’s not my angle is that I’m trying to show a greater number of Traitor characters that actually die, that aren’t around in 40K, because from my perspective there’s enough focus on the main 40K Big Bads. If none of the Red Team die in the HH series, then they’d win the war. So the point of a character like Argel Tal is that he’s not around in 40K. He’s a major character in the 30K era, but he dies in the heresy. The Traitor Legions lose, after all. They need to take real casualties.
And another part of the reason is that I just get uncomfortable with too many heavy-handed references, as it makes the universe feel too small. Like how Boba Fett is the “greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy.” Uh. Okay. I’m not really sure if that takes into account the size of a galaxy, and the number of planets in it. I can’t name the greatest soldier/bounty hunter/plumber in one city, let alone a nation, a world, a solar system, a subsector, a segmentum, or a galaxy… but whatever. Showing a spread of warships, and naming one of them as the Covenant of Blood? I like that. That’s real. Having Talos show up in a Heresy-era Night Lords novel would a bit too much for me, similar to having a major Black Legion series character being front and centre in the Heresy series. There are other important characters, tens of thousands of them, that don’t get the airtime. Some of them will rise and shine, too.