I mentioned this in my Facebook/Twitter splurging a few days back, but If I don’t get another chance to say it before the Big Day when 2012 becomes 2013, then Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, and a Happy New Year to everyone whose eyes fall over these words.
The last 12 months have been tough, enlightening, and amazing. Alexander came along, and is already walking (as long as he has something nearby to grab onto). I wrote my second Horus Heresy novel over the course of 9 months, which was “the hardest one to write yet”, just like I say about everything I write. Every novel is the hardest while I’m writing it, and the one I hate the most once it’s released. I think that’s just a hazard of the job. When you spend ages making something and that many people are staring at it, it doesn’t matter what they say. All you see are the holes and imperfections.
In other news, I constructed my games room (not on my own, obviously), so now I can say “Gentlemen, to the Aaronorium” with a straight face. I might even start saying it to strangers in the street. I’ll do it without blinking, for maximum effect.
This is the first year I’ve ever been in a position not to be freaking out that I’ll end up in the gutter come tax month, and you might think that finding my feet financially (along with being married for a year, and having a baby boy) would encourage me to actually get some writing done much faster than usual. Nice theory.
However, if you thought that, you’d be wrong. I’m still as slow as ever.
I’m currently getting close to finishing Blood & Fire, which is a little (well, a quite long, actually) tale featuring the words Season of Fire, Armageddon, Celestial Lions, Grimaldus, as well as the name of a certain Chapter that dresses in a blackish templarish way, and – of course – the name of a certain stormtrooper has been mentioned more than once.
After Blood & Fire, I’m starting The Talon of Horus, and I couldn’t be more psyched about it. Not much to say at this stage, except that the main character will be at the right hand of Abaddon through the fall of the Sons of Horus and the rise of the Black Legion, over the course of 10,000 years. Yeah, unless I get killed or banned from touching the IP, this series threatens to be a long one. If you’ve read Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles (about “King” Arthur) or Steven Pressfield’s novels of Ancient Greece (Gates of Fire; Tides of War; The Afghan Campaign, etc.) then you’ll know the atmosphere.
The main character’s name is Inaros Khayon, though he has many, many, many titles by 999.M41, and hardly anyone knows his real name by then.
I’m dimly aware that I owe a few updates about my Heresy and 40K armies, so that’ll be inbound in January.
But thank you for enjoying what I do – evidently enough for me to have done it for another year. Thanks for all the feedback, and for taking time to review anything you’ve reviewed on blogs, on Amazon, on Goodreads, or wherever else. Best wishes (along with the blessing of your deity of choice, if appropriate) from the newly forged Dembski-Bowden family, on this Christmas morning.
They found the file and have posted it online.
My legal department is mobilising as I type these words. The term “savage, savage lawsuit, dude” has been used in the presence of the correct hand gestures – and blood sacrifices to gods both old and new.
P.S. Can you call me later today, after about 1pm? Ta.
I saw on a forum the other day, that someone said “Here’s a link to Aaron’s blog: he’s nothing like the other BL authors.”
That’s pretty ominous, right there. My blood, it ran cold. Maybe that’s what Marketing are always on about when they say I should behave.
So, right. Yes. To business.
Helsreach is out today.
That sort of sneakalised up on me.
I’m not in a particularly good headspace at the moment, and part of that is tied to my beloved publisher, Black Library. I’m behind on deadlines (Breaking News at 11, right?), and finding it hard to focus on work, due to something I’m furious about behind the scenes. It sort of makes everything else taste like crap, and I have intense trouble with my temper when it comes to letting things go, even if they have nothing to do with me. Don’t ask what it is, I won’t bring it up again; I’m just trying to provide an overview. In short, I’m gutted I’m missing a close friend’s birthday party this weekend, and niggles I should be able to ignore are getting under my skin.
I’m sure it would all be solved if I could just speed up, but the days of me easily churning out 3,000-4,000 words in well under 10 hours are well and truly gone. And I’m sort of okay with that, honestly. I write all the better for it.
The first review I’ve seen for it is killer, and doubly interesting because it’s by someone who hasn’t read a 40K novel before. Behold: http://www.njoe.com/2010/04/16/a-galaxy-not-so-far-away-review-helsreach-by-aaron-dembski-bowden/.
My friends, guildies and countrymen who’ve read Soul Hunter, with no experience of the setting, have mentioned a few concepts and scenes where they struggled to understand exactly what was going on. Usually, this involves the warp, which is one of the defining characteristics of 40K, and one of the cooler aspects that sets it apart from a lot of other sci-fi. But it’s definitely a difficult idea to wrap your grey skulljunk around, because even after all these years, the setting’s most hardcore fans can’t agree on how it behaves. Of course, being Chaos, it can behave however it likes, but whatever. You know what I mean. It’s some high concept jazz, right there.
Helsreach, by comparison to Soul Hunter, is going to be a little more accessible, for better or worse.
But I wanted to cover something about what’s between the covers, because Helsreach was a very difficult book to write, it came out nothing like I’d expected, and I want to explain a little about why.
This information is a month or two old, and has done the rounds on various forums in the meantime, but it still sums up my thoughts on the process and the book that came out the other side.
Overall, honestly, it was a difficult book, and the characters are difficult to like. Conversely, I think it’s quite easy to respect them.
The coolest thing anyone has said about the book so far was this:
“While I don’t play any of the GW games, I read a lot of their material and I’ve always liked the Black Templars. While I don’t claim to be an expert on any of the Space Marine chapters, I am quite well read on the actual Templar Knights and I know my s**t when it comes to the military and in particular the airborne infantry.
I really enjoyed it. The Templars are some serious dudes and I think you captured that very well. You captured the military ethos very well, and although Space Marines tend to me a lot more extreme, the way you’ve portrayed the brotherhood side of it was fantastic.”
And honestly, that’s one of the most enervating, inspiring things anyone has ever said about my work.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to experience something 24/7 to be able to portray it convincingly in fiction. If you did, fiction would barely exist. And it’s easy to be misled anyway, like, say, being told someone is a race driver/soldier/travel agent and then giving their their descriptions of races/battle/booking plane flights extra credence, despite the fact they’ve never actually driven in a race/seen combat/sent anyone on holiday. “Your focus determines your reality,” said that guy in that piece of shit film.
This’ll be pretty long. I won’t hunt you down and kill you for not reading it.
*** *** ***
1. Everyone who has read it so far has either liked it, or loved it. What I’m seeing mostly is that people who don’t like the Black Templars as a Chapter, seem to really struggle to like most of the characters, because these guys are absolutely unforgiving, inhuman, cold-hearted knights. They’re the only Chapter that is still on the Emperor’s Great Crusade; they never defend – they always attack, so they don’t play well with other Chapters all the time (especially the humane ones like the Salamanders); and they’re the ones that ritually chain their weapons to their armour, so they never drop them. That’s not saying they’re the best, but it is saying they have a very different mindset to other Chapters – because they do. Hitting a Chapter’s unique perspective is a big part of Marine writing. And these guys are unbelievably hardcore, so Templar fans have loved it. But the people who prefer, say, Guard novels or less militant Chapters have tended to like the writing style, but not the characters so much, because they’re prototypical Templars. Grimaldus especially – he’s not a particularly likable guy.
2. For research, not only did I get photocopies of absolutely everything GW had in the archives, as well as using my own copies of Codex: Black Templars and Codex: Armageddon, I also spoke to one of the guys (on more than one occasion) that had written most of the official BT fluff published. And despite all of that, I’ve still seen one or two references here and there on forums, where people say “THIS HAS TO BE IN HELSREACH OR THE AUTHOR IS AN IDIOT”, and those thing aren’t in there (and never would have been) because Minor Point X never once showed up anywhere in all of the BT lore I read. You see that kind of thing mentioned about any book, by any person, in licensed fiction, and the advice is always to ignore it. The difference is, I actually care. I love the fluff, and go to a lot of trouble to include everything I can. (Really, my office is wallpapered with photocopies from GW’s archives.) So things like that always make me curious about a book’s reception.
3. The writing style is… different. With the greatest respect to a lot of BL’s back catalogue, I haven’t enjoyed a lot of it (same as I don’t enjoy a lot of sci-fi and fantasy overall), because a good chunk of it is – in my opinion – action pulp aimed at teenagers. I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds, here. I know the American market is different to the UK one, and I’ve butted heads with various BL insiders on more than one occasion, with none of us giving ground, about how they underestimate their readership.
(Note: They’re a lot more informed than me, so maybe I should shut up, but fuck me if I don’t just love the sound of my own self-righteousness. I’m actually learning to drop this bone of contention and let another dog take it – as I said, this was all originally written a chunk of time ago.)
So, y’know, action pulp. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just don’t aim to write that way – and say what you will about pretension and delusions of grandeur, I don’t think I do write that way. Neither do several of the other authors who do hired gun work for BL.
I knew I was writing what was essentially a summer blockbuster action movie, since it was a Space Marine Battles book, and try as a I might, I’m not a fan of summer blockbuster action movies. I think Michael Bay makes boring films; the various X-Men/Wolverine films bored me to death; and 300 was one of the few films I’ve almost walked out of, because I found it so dull. That doesn’t mean there’s no violence or action (there’s plenty – even more than Rynn’s World, several people have said) but the struggles aren’t always defined by bolters and chainswords. What I found much more interesting was the way Astartes relate to each other and to humans, and the way Space Marines react when they’re locked into a situation where they’re not going to just deploy, win, and leave, like they usually would. They’re trapped there, and they’re going to die.
In that vein, people going into Helsreach and expecting a victorious crusade of ork-killing awesomeness are going to be disappointed. It’s a tale of how the Imperium almost loses a massive hive city, day by day, inch by inch, and the invaders pay for every road in blood. Grimaldus isn’t a young, cool and handsome god of war. He’s a knight wracked by internal conflict, who has been exiled to die a very worthless death on the surface of Armageddon, while his brothers are getting all the glory in the orbital war, led by High Marshal Helbrecht. He begs not to be left behind – the story is about how he comes to terms with it, and how he deals with the people of the city who keep expecting miracles from him and his small handful of knights. He inspires them, sure. He has some great speeches, and they see him as a hero. But he’s a difficult hero. He doesn’t understand the humans, and he’s bitter at being sent to Helsreach.
I talked about this on another forum, last week:
I think Helsreach is probably the deepest look into the Astartes mindset – at least that I’ve read, and I’ve read most of BL’s books – with regards to how they deal with humans. As a Chaplain, Grimaldus is essentially as austere and removed from humanity as a Space Marine can possibly be, to the point where I wrote him as essentially autistic. Especially in the first-person sections.
I think it made him unlikable just as often as it made him likable, and cold just as often as it made him sympathetic. In dealing with abandonment, friendship, the death of his ‘father’, the disrespect of his brothers, and human emotion and relationships – he was essentially, like you say, a child. Not childish, but definitely naive to a certain degree. Astartes aren’t good with humans, after all.
Insofar as Helsreach had a ‘point’, it was to present the most ruthless and distant type of Astartes, of the most uncompromising Chapter*, and show how different he was from humans. F’rex, half the time when he’s talking to Andrej, he doesn’t know how to respond to certain jokes or questions, so he just says nothing at all. He doesn’t understand how people can fall in love in war, or why their brains allow them to focus on such things. He doesn’t even understand how or why the more humane Chapters fight to defend the people of the Imperium, when he’s still fighting to expand the Emperor’s domain.
He didn’t even come to Armageddon to defend the people. He came there because he was told to go there. The people irritate him; they get in the way, they get killed, they keep demanding things of him when he’s expecting nothing more than a glorious death worthy of his Chapter. If anything, the most emotion he shows to humans is when they annoy him by their constant demands on his time. But he doesn’t hate them, he just… has no capacity to understand them. He lacks empathy for any other living being that’s not tied to his duty.
Which is why the only real bond he forms outside the Chapter is with the princeps of Legio Invigilata, who has spent countless years cut off from real human contact, floating in a coffin.
* – The Black Templars are the only Chapter still fighting the Great Crusade as originally laid out by the Emperor and primarchs, and they chain their weapons to their armour so they don’t ever, ever drop them. They’re also the closest to Legion size, and very much carry the flame of those ancient days with them.
I have to admit they’re pretty much the most uncompromising bastards out there.
The forthcoming Sabbat Worlds Anthology is kind of a big deal for me.
Dan squirms with embarrassment every time I go on about it, so I’ll cut it short here. Really though, you should’ve seen his face when I brought it up at dinner once. I thought he was going to sprout a neck-frill and spit blinding goo into my eyes like a Kentish Dilophosaurus.
In short, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: several other writers (of which I’m lucky enough to be one) are getting to do short stories set in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. My story is called ‘Regicide’, and it’s set on Balhaut, the day after Warmaster Slaydo and Archon Nadzybar duel to the death. Macaroth has just ascended to the office of Warmaster. Yesterday, Gaunt and the Hyrkans brought down the Oligarchy Gate, and in the ruins of Balopolis…
SHE SPOKE THE words with a knife in her hand and a lie on her lips.
‘Tell me what happened, and I’ll let you live.’
Even if he had nothing else left, he still had his voice. She hadn’t taken his tongue.
‘You know what happened,’ he said.
In the knife’s reflection, he caught a glimpse of what was left of his face. The smile he couldn’t seem to shake was a mess of split lips and bloody gums.
Her face was covered by a carnival mask. Only her eyes showed through, and they didn’t look human.
She said ‘Do not struggle,’ as if she expected him to actually obey.
Do not struggle. Now there was an amusing idea.
His shins and wrists were leashed together by pulley ropes. It looked like they came from an Imperial Guard tank. Probably his tank, he realised. Either way, there’d be no breaking free in a hurry. Even with her knife in his hands, it would take an age to saw through these ropes.
His head sagged back into the mud and the dust. While his eyes ached too much to see clearly, the sky met his sore gaze with bruises of its own. Choked and grey – heaven promised a storm – but the moon yet showed through cracks in the caul of clouds.
He lay in the rubble, knowing that before this place was a ruin, it was a battlefield, and before it was a battlefield, it was a public marketplace. Apparently something of a pilgrim trap, where relics and icons of dubious validity found their way from sweating hands into bandaged ones; a desperate industry based around hope, fueled by deceit and copper coins.
He blinked sweat from his aching eyes and wondered where his weapons were.
‘Tell me,’ she came even closer, and the knife turned in the moonlight, ‘what happened on the eighteenth hour of the tenth day.’
Already the words felt like a legend. The eighteenth hour of the tenth day. She whispered it like some sacred date from antiquity, when it was only yesterday.
‘You know what happened,’ he said again.
‘Tell me,’ she repeated, feverish in her curiosity, betraying her need.
His smile cracked into something more, promoting itself to a laugh – a laugh that felt good even though it hurt like hell. The sound was made by a punctured lung, flawed by cracked ribs, and left his body through bleeding lips. But it was still a laugh.
She used her knife as she’d been using it for over an hour now: to scrawl letters of pain across his bare chest. ‘Tell me,’ she whispered, ‘what happened.’
He could smell his own blood, rich over the scent of scorched stone. He could see it, trickling falls of red painting his torso below the jagged cuts.
‘You know what happened, witch. You lost the war.’
The First Heretic hits the halfway mark this week. There’s still a chance it’ll be the length of Horus Rising rather than Fulgrim.
I didn’t really notice the chapter headings much in the previous Heresy books, but conversely, it’s one of the things I’m having the most fun playing about with. I like the teasing snippets of what’s to come, which isn’t as clever as some decent foreshadowing, but is still just a little bit haunting if you nail it right. I can show the first six chapters, but I think it gets into spoiler territory if I go into the seventh and beyond. (I’m on the eleventh at the moment.) With that in mind:
— — —
The Perfect City / False Angels / Day of Judgement
Serrated Sun / Devastation / Aurelian
Blood Demands Blood / Sigillite / The Master of Mankind
A Legion Kneels / If Ultramar Burns / Grey
Voice of the Emperor / New Eyes / The Soul’s Fuel
The Old Ways / Never Human / End this World
— — —
Now, onto business. There’s been a few developments rattling around behind the scenes of The Aaron Show since I last crossed paths with a human being that wasn’t my fiancee. The fact is, I’m tired of dealing with you. I’m a professional now, and it’s time to act like one. I’m doing what Marketing wants. I’m focusing on hitting deadlines instead of hitting readers in the solar plexuses (plexus…es? Plexi? Plexiius…) with construction hammers, and I’m taking classes to learn how to smile without blood smeared all over my lips.
To that end, I’ve hired an agent.
An agent is useful for many things, such as telling my editor Nick: “Uh, it’s almost finished, just need one more week”, or replying to the many beautiful women that send me photos of themselves in their underwear. I’d do those things myself, but frankly, I’m enslaved to do a job, and it’s time to get it done.
So for the rest of this entry, the questions that people won’t shut the fuck up about will be answered by my agent, Brett Duckley, from Duckley & Pondsworth Literary Services.
- Aaron said he’d never do a Night Lords novel in the Horus Heresy. What’s the deal with that?
Ha, yeah, he’s a joker. Listen, babe. Wait… are you a girl? Whatever. Listen, babe. I see where you’re coming from. I really do. But you have to understand, when my client said he’d never do a Night Lords book, he was really, really drunk. And high, too. He walked in the wrong circles for a while, y’know? He was hanging out with these Red India– uh, Native American shaman guys, and he was rocked off his balls on this weird whiskey made from buffalo milk, as well as some really brutal peyote.
I’m not even kidding. He tried to fucking scalp me with a tomahawk axe he found in his car. “Stay cool,'” I told him. “It’s me, man. It’s Brett. I’m just a duck.”
So let’s just say that he came back to Earth and changed his mind. We’ll leave it at that. His next Horus Heresy book will probably be a Night Lords book, set in the Age of Darkness period – the several years after the Dropsite Massacres and before the Siege of Terra.
He likes the name The Shadow Crusade (or The Silent Crusade), but doubts Marketing will, because they never like his names. He wanted Soul Hunter to be called In Midnight Clad.
And no, he doesn’t think that’s gay. Shut the hell up.
- Does he still want to write a new Grey Knights series?
Obviously, I can neither confirm nor deny whether it’s happening at this stage, but let’s just say that my client – according to the man himself – is “reasonably certain” he can nail this one down, and that if he did get a shot at “the Grey fucking Knights, man” then he’d be writing it “like, I don’t know, next year maybe”.
- Will Book X have Character Y in it, from author Z’s book?
I like you, kid. So this one’s for free: That question? That question you asked right there? My client finds that literally the most bastardly annoying question in the world. If you want to finish this interview with your balls attached to your body, you should probably stop asking it. Different writers have different interpretations of the 40K setting. Just… just get over it. We can still be friends.
- What short stories does he have out this year?
Too many. This is killing his novel flow, for real.
- ‘At Gaius Point’ is in Legends of the Space Marines, and is about the Flesh Tearers.
- ‘The Core’ is in Fear the Alien, and features First Claw, from Soul Hunter.
- Throne of Lies is his audiobook, also featuring First Claw.
- ‘Regicide’ is his story for the Sabbat Worlds Anthology, which is almost finished.
- ‘Savage Weapons’ is his story for the Horus Heresy anthology, Age of Darkness.
- His story for the working-titled ‘Favourite Recipes of the Space Marines’ may or may not have a working title itself, and that title may or may not be ‘Despoiler’.
- …and a secret one, too.
- I emailed him to ask if Loken was alive, but he never answered.
Jesus feathery Christ, boy. Let’s clear this up, shall we? My client is tired of being messaged on Facebook about this. He’s tired of the emails. He’s sick of the private messages on Warseer, Bolter & Chainsword, and Heresy Online. Mostly, he needs to stay the fuck off those forums, because they take up too much time and he needs to be writing instead of image-searching for Black Templar conversions. Lazy bastard. But whatever. Let’s wrap this bad boy up once and for all.
Loken is alive. Dan Abnett has said so himself, in terms as plain as my client’s first girlfriend. Stop asking. Just… just stop asking. If you keep asking, my client will be forced to choke some people, and really, no one needs that. No one wants to die by his hands. He’s a man of peace now. He’s done killing.
For the record, at his first Horus Heresy meeting, my client argued that it looked too much like Loken had died in Galaxy in Flames, and it wasn’t written vaguely enough for a convincing return. Ol’ Loken’s story looked finished. But this goes above one little opinion. Loken was always intended to survive, which is why Dan says on his videos and at numerous signings that “Loken is alive” and “Loken was always intended to survive”. So stop asking me. I mean… Aaron. Stop asking Aaron. Yes.
- Aaron’s cat is called Loken. Are you suuuuuuure you’re not being vague and playing a trick on us?
What are you, a masochist? Look at me. I’m a duck. Just looking at a duck makes people happy. Why aren’t you happy? Why do you keep asking these mentalist questions? Aaron’s cat is alive, and so is Garviel Loken, the Horus Heresy character. Now stop going on about it.
- How will Loken return?
Shut the hell up. That’s how.
- What mandatory public appearances will Aaron be making in the near future?
As few as possible. He leaves his house three times a day. Firstly, for an hour, to drive Katie to work. Secondly, for half an hour, to beat up his punchbag. Thirdly, to pick Katie up from the playgroup/school/child-building where she looks after stunted Irish goblins.
Apart from those necessary adventures, he’ll be in Chicago at the end of the month for Adepticon, and maybe in Belfast/Dublin at the GW stores, if Marketing can talk him into it. But they probably can’t. He wants to beat up his punchbag and play D&D with his friends instead.
- What advice can he give a new writer?
My client feels that needs an entire post to itself, and will likely be done next week, now that these annoying questions are done with.
Brett Duckley – Duckley & Pondsworth Literary Services.