Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Writing Advice: The Toasty Corpse-Shroud of Elitism

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.

Just looking at this makes me shiver.

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.”

May 10, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

54 Comments »

  1. Hi. I have see the original anime serie years a go and this is one of my favourites, I have 45 years old, with Mazinger Z and other old series. The show was, in the year I saw, with 15-16 years old, and I watch this in the Spanish TVE1, when only we are two chanels, in the final of 80´s.
    I don´t know how was the movie, if is like FFVII or the new Starship Trooper movies, I want to see this.

    Comment by Juan Manuel Vallejo | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  2. That Keeper of Secrets currently using you as a meat-suit really has a lot of issues man.

    Comment by dcbrave | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  3. As a huge anime fan, and a huge fan of your work, I’d just like to say thank you for giving it a second look, and I look forward to your commentary once you get a chance to watch it.

    Oh and interesting thing: Harlock already gets namedropped in a bit of 40k stuff, specifically Dark heresy. Rogue Trader Haarlock.

    😉

    Comment by Bill H | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  4. Your honesty is hilarious. Thank you for being so transparent. Keep killin’ it, ADB, cause you friggin rock my brains.

    Comment by godzigla | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  5. Got to say that I thought the trailer was awesome and, upon seeing certain things, my brain was shouting ‘STEAMPUNK ANIME MOTHER FUCKER!’

    Also, if you’re feeling a bit defensive about writing tie-in, why not come up with your own world, or work with someone on a world of your own making, pimp it like a pimp with pimples and get that published? That way you can hopefully tell your inner enemy to go fuck himself.

    I can recommend reading Mental Strength: Condition Your Mind Achieve Your Goals which was written by a martial arts friend of mine, and which gave me the mental strength to go out and write my martial arts book (martial artists are far bitchier and far HARDER than fanboys :)), and so might help you.

    Comment by mattsylvester | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  6. The Space Wolves book is a good idea… To be honest, if I had to get up and talk about writing, it would be, “I like writing…” then start sweating, and then collapse in a gibbering heap on the stage…

    Comment by shavenwookiee | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  7. Y’know, I used to be an anime fan before it got all cutesy, and I turned away. But lately, I’ve been looking back and have been shocked at how smart certain shows and movies are. And even when it isn’t that great, there are sometimes a number of absolute bad-ass ideas in there to draw ideas from. I watched an episode of Golgo 13 (so-bad-it’s-kind-good show) and was shocked to discover you can ricochet a bullet off of water. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricochet#Target_material

    No matter how bad it is, there’s always something to recycle from it.

    Comment by lygris | May 10, 2013 | Reply

    • Oh man golgo 13. That show is hilarious on so many levels. Ever played the NES game?

      Comment by Bill H | May 10, 2013 | Reply

      • Hahah, yes. Yes I did, Bill H.

        Comment by lygris | May 10, 2013

  8. A fine post, a sentiment I try to live by when it comes to judging (lest I be judged!).

    Not to come over all pissy or dickish but I have a small point to make: I get you obviously feel you’re not able to give advice to aspiring writers, but remember how you felt sitting with your writing idols, I can well imagine it takes immense courage from those who do ask your advice to sit themselves in front of the keyboard and ask, purely because you are (in their eyes) a literary hero. I, for example, have many questions about First Claw as I’m currently modelling them, but no way could I summon the courage to contact you directly! Hell I’m on holiday in Spain waiting for my transfer coach and I still procrastinated like mad about posting this in case I get lynched or something!

    Perhaps it’s something you could blog about to save people contacting you individually? A sort of brief run down of how you go about your work.

    Btw, Prince of Crows was my holiday reading. Late to the party i know but ‘effing loved it!

    Comment by Steven Johnston | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  9. LOL. First thing Aaron, it is time you recognize that you are a world famous author that deserves to sit at that table. The fact that you constantly feel uneasy and out of sorts is a good thing, it will keep you grounded. Secondly Captain Harlock one of several linked Animes from the 70s and 80s, the other two being Galaxy Express and Queen Emeraldas (definitely check out Queen Emeraldas, I think it would be right up your alley). Personally I have never watched that much Captain Harlock but thank you for bringing this trailer to my attention. Course I spent the whole thing looking for Emeraldas as she is my favorite character from the series though I have to agree, the plump guy where goggles definitely looks like a badass.

    Comment by Jay Powell | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  10. The best thing is that the original anime was a big inspiration for a little game way back in the darkness of the early 80s called “Rogue Trader” which then evoleved into our 40K universe as we know it. Just look at the anime.
    “Massive baroque-looking warships” anyone :)? With huge frakking skulls at the prow!

    Comment by Victor2050 | May 10, 2013 | Reply

    • Yeah, I laughed at Aaron’s statement about the ship 🙂

      Comment by mattsylvester | May 10, 2013 | Reply

      • Yeah, that’s definitely my point, too. I mean, 50% of this trailer could literally be from a 40K movie. But elitism taints everything if you let it.

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | May 10, 2013

      • I made that mistake with martial arts, mainly because my instructors were ‘TKD is great, we don’t need to know anything else’. I got suckered for a couple of years. Take a look at that book link. It’s really good.

        Comment by mattsylvester | May 10, 2013

    • I too couldn’t help but grin at the skull-ship quote :p

      “The best thing is that the original anime was a big inspiration for a little game way back in the darkness of the early 80s called “Rogue Trader” which then evoleved into our 40K universe as we know it.”

      Is there a source for this?

      As I recall anime was much less of a thing back then, and especially so among the Priestley generation. It also seems Harlock is more reminiscent of current 40k than Rogue Trader, which looked a lot less skull-y in the beginning and more generic sf.

      Certainly I’d expect there to be a couple of references, if not an outright acknowledgement, in the original book if Harlock was a big influence.

      I don’t really mean to be combatative, it’s just that I’m surprised since the original RT gave me absolutely zero manga/anime vibes and this is the first I’ve heard of any such thing.

      Comment by ADS | May 10, 2013 | Reply

      • I cant give a direct source for this claim, it’s one of those things you read somewhere on the internet and think to yourself ” yeah, that makes sense”. I tried to find the page again, but no luck so far. And perhaps “big inspiration” was a bit to much :). But there are a few nods in the original RT to Haarlock in form of the Haarlock Dynasty and their members, not to forget the Haarlock’s Legacy Trilogy for the Dark Heresy RPG. I think it’s a kind of tribute to the origins of the whole thing, but i could be dead wrong about everything. Have to ask Priestley and the others to get a final answer.

        Comment by Victor2050 | May 11, 2013

      • Intriguingly, John and Alan (who wrote those RPG books with the Haarlock reference) had this to say:

        JOHN: Actually we took the name from a sign in Amsterdam… True strory. Someone once took us to task about the influence of the carton on the adventure arc, he was bit confused that point We had never heard of it. Parallel evolution and a love of Joseph Conrad.

        ALAN: Indeed, although I may have seen some of it waaay back in the mists of time when all this was wildebeests and I was a lad and forgot, you never know I can’t rule it out (along with Yamato message from space, space adventure cobra, robotech etc) … but I’m not sure it was big in the UK back in the day, or perhaps much like Battle of the Planets (read g-force) may have been subbed into a parallel universe…..but as John says, the name inspiration was on a sign in Amsterdam when I was over there just prior to writing it…there was also a shop called Xenos …true story

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | May 11, 2013

    • Yeah, as soon as i saw it I thought to myself “You could just slap the Rogue Trader label on this and call it a day”.

      Comment by Shane Barton | May 11, 2013 | Reply

      • A sign in Amsterdam? Great story! Thank you for the info. Seems i was dead wrong about it :). Oh, and another thing, i’m german and the shop, Xenos, i saw one in Halle an der Saale when i visited my Girlfriend, and i laughed for nearly 5 minutes. She didn’t understand :).

        Comment by Victor2050 | May 11, 2013

  11. Harlock was pointless, looks like it is still pointless. SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO F TEH W w0000t111!!1111

    Comment by kballs | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  12. I remember sitting in the lobby at World Fantasy in San Jose a few years ago, looking around at everybody laughing and having a good time, and thinking, everybody here is in the club except me. I gotta publish a non-tie-in book so I can get in the club and laugh and have a good time with all the cool kids. Then I published a non-tie in book and went to World Fantasy in San Diego and sat in the lobby, looking around at everybody laughing and having a good time, and thinking, everybody here is in the club except me.

    That con opened up for me, and by the end of it, I was indeed laughing and having a good time, but not because I’d published a book, but instead because I had, in the intervening two years between the cons, finally accreted enough friends in the community that there were people there who could introduce me into those closed circles of vultures. As an introvert, I’ve always found that it is not being able to introduce myself to people that is my greatest bar to inclusion. I’ll stand in a corner turning myself inside out and stabbing my exposed intestines with knives while trying to get up the courage to introduce myself to Michael Shae or whoever it is. If I have a native guide to get me over that wall, I’m generally okay.

    So, what I’m saying is. If you’re ever at a con where I know folks, I’ll do my best to trail blaze for you, if you’ll do likewise in the opposite situation.

    Comment by nathanrlong | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  13. Katie’s right, you are overanalyzing it. Space pirates, with the leader voiced by Mark Sheppard? Sold.

    Comment by Lord of the Night | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  14. Watched the trailer, first thought – “That’s basically anime’d Warhammer 40,000. Love it.”

    Comment by Raziel | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  15. I teach 7th and 8th grade English in California, and I cannot tell you how hard I work to get this point across to my students. My very first lesson of the year is teaching the difference between objective quality and subjective opinion, in fact, although I use chocolate of varying qualities to make the point. It saddens me to see how many wonderful things kids that age miss out on, simply because popular opinion (or, God help us, the INTERNET) has turned against some genre, style, artist, or author.

    I find it interesting that you paint yourself as being painfully shy, then show some massive cajones by posting this about yourself and standing up to every pretentious jerkwad who ever tried to ruin someone else’s fun.

    Comment by J-P | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  16. Wow ADB you sure love yourself a lot. Don’t compare yourself to Dan… you are not even close. Lucky for you the BL needs someone to crank out fanboi shlock.

    Comment by Big Black Fiend | May 10, 2013 | Reply

    • I think you crucially misunderstood every single word in that post if you honestly came to that conclusion about comparisons (what comparisons to Dan did I make, exactly?), but no sweat. Didn’t you write this: http://greenblowfly.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/positive-versus-negative.html? It’s great advice, dude. Worth thinking about again, given your curious bile. Looks like you’ve fallen off the wagon.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | May 10, 2013 | Reply

      • I know nothing about this, but the guy you linked to uses the signature “Black Blow Fly” not “Big Black Fiend”, so I thought I’d point that out in case this is a case of mistaken identity.

        Comment by ADS | May 10, 2013

      • Same email addresses, etc. WordPress blogs show you all that stuff behind the console.

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | May 10, 2013

    • Fuck this comment. Unless you were being deliberately sarcastic… in which case, fuck this comment. 😉

      Comment by Judge of the Change | May 10, 2013 | Reply

    • hey man, this is a really cool way to respond to a post about dealing with anxiety during a public appearance. Let’s do lunch sometime.

      Comment by Tim Ward | May 12, 2013 | Reply

    • Literally, what the f**k?! Okay, to tackle that pretentious bit ‘o’ bullshit bit by bit:

      1) This is Aaron’s BLOG, genius. A good part of what you read here will be, understandably, about what he is thinking. If you’re going to childishly believe that’s because he ‘loves himself a lot’, then a) you clearly haven’t read a great deal of the stuff he posts on here and b) you really should head somewhere else.

      2) To take a job as demanding as Aaron’s and label it as ‘cranking out fanboi shlock’ as you so eloquently put it is, even by the standards of the internet, the most bigoted and myopic things you could ever say about ANY writer. Least of all this one, thank you. Believe me, when you actually WRITE novels whose word-counts span into six-figures – which I have, by the way – you’ll appreciate how bloody arduous and painful, not to mention exhausting, process it actually is. Given Aaron has successfully done this eight times in the four short years he’s been working for Black Library, and been widely credited as one of BL’s finest authors to date, I think he’s earnt his right to ‘compare himself to Dan’.

      3) Quite frankly, learn to spell. ‘Shlock’ isn’t a proper word, and fanboy has a ‘y’ in it.

      V.

      Comment by Vijay | May 15, 2013 | Reply

  17. Reblogged this on Tales of a wargaming butterfly.

    Comment by richards2507 | May 10, 2013 | Reply

  18. Stay exactly as you are man, your my favorite black library author and in the top 3 of my favorite authors I currently read. I’ve read far too many authors that have become massive names and then seemed to have lost the point, if being a bit nervous about these things keeps you writing the books I love then it’s all good as far as I’m concerned

    Comment by Dan | May 11, 2013 | Reply

  19. More on topic,

    detaching yourself from destructive thoughts is a big part of both cognitive behavioral therapy as well as a bunch of meditation techniques and there’s decent evidence for positive effects in both cases. If you haven’t, I’d recommend trying *something* along those lines, because there’s a pretty good chance it could be helpful.

    Comment by ADS | May 11, 2013 | Reply

  20. You know when you guys all came over here for the Expo? I hadn’t slept for a week. I spent the entire week bricking it that you were all having this shitty time at my shitty little event and there are still times when I think,

    “holy fuck they would never come back because they were just being nice to me when really they think the whole thing was a loser fest and oh god I can’t believe I was going on about fucking cave bears and meteorites to Dan Abnett and I served vegetables to Graham McNeill and oh my gods I asked these guys for writing advice and they gave it to me they must have wanted to slap my fangirl face for being so presumptuous and okay just please let me curl up and die in the corner now.”

    Which is a weird way of saying how you felt on that table I felt when you were here. It doesn’t matter, really, how nice people are to me because my anxiety will always replace “hey Gemma” with “who the fuck are you and why are you in my face?”. Strangely I find it reassuring to know that successful people (as in people like you who have already achieved what I want) feel the same way as I do, albeit in a different context.

    See? I made your anxiety issues all about me. I feel better now.

    Comment by Gemma Noon | May 12, 2013 | Reply

  21. Yeah, so glad to hear it’s not just me Aaron… I still wonder why people bother listening to me when I’m at the front of lecture theatre talking about aerodynamics, CFD and engine design… and why is someone paying me to do it?!?!

    While I know you will never 100 % believe it (personal experience speaking here!), you are every bit as good as those guys!

    Comment by Debi Marie Roberts | May 12, 2013 | Reply

  22. Video: Down.

    Comment by Tim Ward | May 12, 2013 | Reply

  23. Aaron, even though I was reading most of this going “BUT HE’S A GREAT WRITER, WHAT’S HIS DEAL” I feel ya. I can’t really judge anyone for disliking spotlit, crowds-of-hundreds attention. Not like I’ve experienced it, but as a gradually recovering social phobic I’m not too keen on talking in a meeting room of 8 people, so… I’d imagine it’s worse. Maybe you could get started on being a ‘noted recluse’? Salinger rocked that shit.

    Don’t feel bad about writing tie-in fiction (well, I know your post actually made it clear that you don’t, but don’t even THINK about feeling bad for it). I see some BL stuff as ‘just’ tie in fiction that I’d never read unless I was desperate to know everything that happened in the Age Of Darkness, for example. But yours (and Dan’s) I just see as great fiction, full stop. Sure it helps that I was a giant Chaos nerd in my pre-teens and I know a lot of the terminology and mythology you throw around. But I also feel confident I could tell my 40k hating friends to pick up Soul Hunter and they’d get hooked.

    I just read Prince Of Crows followed shortly by Betrayer and then listened to Butchers Nails. That trio of stories just about killed me. The end of Prince Of Crows made me feel like I felt first time I watched The Empire Strikes back, and I *almost* cried actual manly tears at Angron’s walk on the surface of Nuceria. So yeah, your characters are sometimes available to pick up in plastic or resin form. But they’re also a lot more real to me than many characters in ‘straight’, non-wargame-associated fiction.

    See, that vultures eating a dog’s corpse story could have been gross, but you somehow gave that shit an element of class and made it into, like, an analogy for SFX Weekender. That’s fuckin’ talent. Crazy.

    Anyway. This is a bit embarrassing, cause you don’t seem too crazy on fervent internet praise. Bottom line is: your shit is hella tight brah. Keep on goin’ back in.

    Comment by machen impostor | May 13, 2013 | Reply

  24. Your comment on openness to new fiction is really one of the reasons why I love 40k so much. The 40k Universe has every single awesome point of Sci-Fi built into it at some point. Its makes sense that it would from the semi RPG background it was built from, but there is amazing freedom for authors to apply their talent to. Keeping an open mind to those possibilities is probably one of the reasons you are such a beloved author who can create characters that everyone relates to even with their superhuman capabilities. On the contrary to feeling bad about writing “tie-in” fiction, I reason that GOOD tie-in fiction is immensely difficult to create while still being original and entertaining. Writing about something everyone knows everything about….and it has to sound new? lol thats a bit crazy. But you guys at the BL do it all the time and it blows me away. Its my secret deep dark dream to write 40k books someday, so keep being a good example man 😀

    Comment by ed krups | May 13, 2013 | Reply

  25. You were nervous for your drivers’ test? Ha. Granny got into my car and I thought, ‘I got this’. No problems whatsoever, confidence galore.

    Comment by TheSGC | May 16, 2013 | Reply

  26. Your comments about Captain Harlock really disheartened me, Aaron, mostly because I’ve just gotten into W40K and I consider to be my favorite author of the bunch. I realize it’s your own opinion but I guess it’s similar to when a kid thinks “Mommy, daddy, please stop fighting.” as I enjoy media from across one ends of the earth to the other and yes, that list includes both 40K AND Anime.

    Harlock is influential and is a piece of history. He is THE Archetypal Space Pirate and his adventures along with Matusmoto’s other co-authored work, Space Battleship Yamato, have successfuly cemented Space Opera for the Japanese (need I even mention that one of the unit in Starcraft II is the Captain from Yamato?)

    Anyway, didn’t mean to come across as preaching. I guess I’ve put you on a pedestal and was taken aback by your dismissing something so rashly and impulsively. Keep on writing.

    Comment by TKS | May 19, 2013 | Reply

    • That’s exactly my point, though. It was a stupid dismissal. Which is why it’s good it only lasted 3 seconds. If I’d kept it, it’d have been an opinion. But it didn’t last long enough to be an opinion.

      Everyone (not just sci-fi and fantasy fans) have very inbuilt knee-jerk dismissal reflexes, sometimes. Having them is fine, so long as you recognise them and don’t let them be toxic or stupid.

      (Where influence and “THE space pirate” is concerned, though… that’s always subjective. I have a long history of loving space pirates, and I’d never heard of Harlock, but I’d heard of countless others that had influenced and inspired me. Similarly, several other sci-fi and 40K writers I know hadn’t heard of him at all, despite having the same passions as me (and ranging from ages 25 to 50), so while he clearly informed a lot of your perspective, it’s not as universal or ubiquitous for everyone, or the genre itself. Besides, THE space pirate is Han fuckin’ Solo, whether he calls himself a smuggler or not.)

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | May 20, 2013 | Reply

      • Han Solo calls himself a smuggler because thats what he does….smuggle 😛
        He never raided any vessels. Besides, if you read up on the early versions and the whole creative process that Lucas went through, it was obvious that Han Solo is a homage to Flash Gordon and other 50-60s icons. Sure you can argue that the expanded universe might have included some pirating aspects but concerning the original material and solely on whats been shown in screen, Piracy is Harlock’s schtick baby. 🙂

        I’ve never even heard of 40k before 2011 but I wouldnt make the awful mistake of labelling The Master Chief as the original space marine, that’d be just me making my fondess for Halo’s character blind me to the facts.

        Psyche! You thought I’d follow that line of reasoning and infer that 40K created space marines. Naw, I was just making a point.

        Comment by TKS | May 20, 2013

      • Han Solo is famously a space pirate. Don’t let an in-universe noun lead you wildly into wrongness. I never said he was the first. He’s just The One That Matters Most These Days. Hell, he’s even here, loud and proud: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_pirates. I’m hardly blind to his Flash Gordon roots, but still.

        You seem, like, desperate for me to acknowledge Harlock as the Ultimate Guy, but seeing as literally every science-fiction author I talked to in the last few weeks has never heard of him (or barely had, naming it as a Japanese thing that never really took off with them), surely it’s not that hard to see how it’s an influential thing in some circles, but not in others. I’m not making the point that he’s not influential, just that if you have little to do with the Japanese side of it, then he’s a footnote at best. I mean, in this very thread, we’ve had readers and fans saying that he’s a major influence on specific 40K authors, and those very same authors – who were mentioned by name as being inspired by him – had never heard of him.

        Sometimes, dude, it’s enough that something looks cool. People aren’t making mistakes or being blind to any facts. I get that he’s influential. But you’re now talking to a science-fiction author who grew up loving space pirates, who is friends with several science-fiction authors who love space pirates, and none of us knew who he was until a few weeks ago. It’s not like any of us were mystically resistant to him, or avoided him. This would’ve been right up all our streets.

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | May 20, 2013

  27. Aaron, I’m with you on the opinion that most anime these days is reprocessed drivel, but I think most fans of science fiction and animation would acknowledge that certain anime films / series of the past were influential and in most circles considered classics of animation as a whole. Akira, Ghost in the Shell (films and anime series), Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Macross, Jin Roh, Gigantor, handful of the Miyazaki films… I’m sure I’m missing several. I’m by no means an expert on Japanese animation nor an avid fan, but even I, a complete layman when it comes to the subject, kinda know this stuff just through nerd osmosis. Am I off base? Either way, if you haven’t seen any of the aforementioned films / anime series, I’d recommend giving them a watch. I’d venture to guess that you’d especially enjoy Ghost in the Shell.

    BTW, by no means am I trying to say that you’re a complete poser if you haven’t seen or appreciate some of the “classics” of Japanese animation. For all I know British kids growing up in the late 80’s through the 90’s didn’t have the same exposure or access that their American counterparts had.

    Anyhow man, I love your books and keep doing what you’re doing.

    Comment by tyroneslothrop | May 25, 2013 | Reply

  28. Oh and two of the coolest things ever happen to be Japanese, Samurais and Ninjas. Even if you can’t immediately appreciate their animation you can at least appreciate those two things… or at least I’d hope so. 🙂

    Oh and I found it cool that Alan mentioned Yamato and Robotech (aka Macross) in his statement, so the awareness even during his generation was apparently there.

    Comment by tyroneslothrop | May 25, 2013 | Reply

  29. Just for clarity sake. I didn’t mean to imply in my above posts that you can’t appreciate anime. I was just making an inference based on your admitted elitism when it comes to most anime. I actually posses the same elitist mental block when it comes to most of it.

    Comment by tyroneslothrop | May 25, 2013 | Reply

  30. It’s not really elitism to dismiss something out of hand based on previous experiences with similar subjects. I dismiss putting my hand in a fire because I know it’ll get burned the same way as a stove top. I dismiss anime because I know from having to live with Asians for years I will dislike the way it looks and the incredibly sensory assaulting art styles. I’m not being an elitist, I just know what I like and do not like.

    Also, you’re way to hard on yourself, brother. People aren’t that bad, and being shy is a sure way to miss out on a ton if life experience and meeting new people.

    Comment by Matt Quick | May 26, 2013 | Reply

  31. Its prophetic Aaron..being in the shadows is far more preferable when creating genius

    Comment by Jon Sullivan | May 28, 2013 | Reply

  32. I really liked this blog post. From the point of view of someone who is deeply introverted, to the point of experiencing similar anxieties to those described in almost every situation involving other people, it’s nice to have a reminder that most of that stuff is in my head and that other people have to deal with it too. (Although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It is horrible.) And it’s always nice to be reminded you can find things you like in places you don’t expect ,if you have the balls to swallow your pride long enough to give it a shot. Something I could probably do with being reminded of more often to be honest.

    (Also I’m not sure where people seem to have gotten the idea Aaron thinks anime isn’t influential? My own understanding is that Aaron is using anime as an example of something he’s not normally into that can be good and contain things he can like and be influenced by. Maybe I’m way off, but I thought the central advice was, to paraphrase massively, ‘expand your pool of influences’. If it’s because he hasn’t heard of this captain haarlock I’m not really surprised. Anime strikes me as being a lot less popular in europe than it is in america. Aside from anime aimed at younger children (Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Dragonball Z) it’s not on TV (or wasn’t when I stopped watching tv ~3 years ago) and often cripplingly expensive. It’s getting more popular, but I’d hazard a guess most people over ~25 would have had very limited exposure to anything outside the most major of classics.)

    I guess I should apologize now to anyone who’s been dragged back to this thread by my necroposting. Sorry. *runs*

    Comment by sycopat | June 25, 2013 | Reply

  33. Is that Lego head, seven o’clock of centre with the burners, modelled on you?

    Comment by Mike french | November 3, 2013 | Reply


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