Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter rabbit

So, Happy Easter. I hope you get all the chocolatey egg related loveliness you need.

At what seemed like an almost leisurely pace, I’ve been working on the Horus Heresy exclusive short for Games Day, my half of a double header with Graham, like a brace of pistols*. It proved to be an excellent way of easing myself back into all that Horusy goodness after long sojourns with the Ghosts, the Inquisition and, uh, Torchwood.

It’s sometimes hard to get back into the right mindset when starting a fresh project. The sheer number of characters in Gaunt, for example, makes it quite a demanding exercise when you sit down and think “Right, where was I?”

I began to assemble material for Horus work and was struck by how dense and complex the Heresy strand has become, after only a few books. It’s partly because it’s 30K and not 40K , and they do things differently there, but it’s also down to the fact that the Heresy is about main players and cosmic events. Writing 40K, you can (in a manner of speaking at least) occupy a little corner of your own and allow the 40K Universe to just BE as a backdrop. Any, shall we say, aberrations, can be chalked down to it being just one incident in the middle of a billion billion world scheme of things. In 30K, one false move and you’ve rewritten history. I’m consulting a different source book, note pad, post it or manuscript every couple of lines.

In the next week or so, I’m going to GW HQ to present my pitch for the next Horus book. I’ll let you know what their verdict is. Let’s hope it’s not “Are you off your chuff? You can’t do that!”

Now let’s all join hands and sing a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” for the Black Library, ten years old this past week. Which means that, at some point last year, I became the freelance equivalent of a ten year veteran. How time flies when you’re burning the galaxy.

An Easter Joke (in the spirit of all things chocolatey)

Q: What do you call a hobbit’s thingy?
A: A hobnob.

Today’s joke was brought to you courtesy of Lily’s friend Hannah Lloyd. So do not be taking issue with me.

* Hmm... just got a ‘battery low’ warning on my Simile-O-Meter.


Anonymous said...

I loved the gaunts ghost series. I think Necropolis was my favorite.

A question though, did you purposley never put in any Space Marines aside from those chaos ones? I always wondered how the Gaunt crew would react towards the "super soldiers".

The very first 40k novel I read was your Horus Heresy book and I have been hooked on them ever since.

Keep up the good work and please give Agun Soric some peace or a happy ending.


Martin said...

Hum, that's an interesting question. Space Marines in GG would be interesting. The Iron Snakes, Silver Guard, Imperial Fists and White Scars have Troops in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. I'd prefer the Silver Guard for an appearance. The Snakes already got their good propaganda in a novel, and the others are first founding ones, popular enough.

Pleeeeeeaaaaaaase, some Space Marines in the next GG... *doggy-whelp eyes*

Jesse said...

Ooh! The Fremen! Space Sunnis! Well, Buddhist-Sunnis at any rate. I haven't read the Dune books in ages, mind, but from what I remember of them they were pretty much the equivalent of the mujahideen. That is to say they were bedouin insurgents with a politically palatable agenda (Oh, and control over a thriving drug trade). As it's been said "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Sorry if I got up on a soapbox last thread, I'm still working on a few niggling PTSD issues. You are right, Dan. It is 30k, not 40k. Rather than terrorists, the Alpha Legion at the time of the Horus Heresy were more like CIA or MI5 types. Space Secret Agents. For example: wide mission parameters, meticulous multi-layered planning with redundant back-up plans; use of on-the-ground intel sources; use of subterfuge and PsyOp. Their fall to Chaos may be ascribed to the 'youngest sibling syndrome' of their Primarch.

As for publish and be damned, I totally agree. If I wrote as fiction I wouldn't have to submit the manuscript to the army. Hell, Richard Marcinko got away with it in his Rogue Warrior books (utter wastes of otherwise perfectly useful paper that those books are...).

Writing as fiction I would also be far less likely to have somber-looking men in dark suits escort me to Kansas and instruct me to break big rocks into little rocks.

Ok. So. Writing a book. Where do I start? What do I need to do? I've written short-stories before, but I've never attempted anything longer than 10 pages. Help a guy out.

Boom said...

I would think that you would have a fair amount of leeway Dan. Granted you have to follow what has already been written in the various novels, codices, and other material but there is still a 8,000(give or take) year gap between the Heresy/Post-Heresy and the 40th millennium. That's a pretty big cushion for history "corrections" or changes. The only exceptions to this would be the Dark Angels and possibly the Space Wolves since they have already had books written that go into the history of the legions at the time of the Heresy.

Jesse, that's a really good way of thinking of the Alpha Legion. I would have never looked at them as CIA or MI5 but most of the info that there is on them would seem to fit that description to a "t". Although I'm sure if that were the popular view then there would be more than a few jokes about them "going off the reservation".

Toymachine said...

I too liked it when space-marines appeared in GG, like the metla gunner in First & Only or the chasing group in Traitor General. Pity they died so fast yet not so fast, If you get my drift.

But I also loved the bit in Guns of Tanith (My favourite GG, methinks) where Slaith says "Khorne" and people start to puke.

More Dark God related tales!
If your taking sugestions, of course. The next Arc may be very weird and Wonderful, and nothing like we expect. Or so I hope.

Jesse said...

Last bit for the day: 'G' and I have a standing bet over what happened to old Soric. We both know what we would LIKE to see happen, which is Agun coming back as a sanctioned psyker. 'G' is betting that this will be the case. I'm betting that the old son-of-a-witch ended up as Kellogg's Emperor Flakes (a good source of Astronomicon and part of a complete breakfast!).

BTW Dan, I'm hoping to lose the bet. I would happily give up five bucks to see Agun again.

Oh, and out of curiosity, should I refer to you who started the thread as 'Anonymous' or 'Adam?' Either way, I hope Dan grants your request.

Xhalax said...

Well 40K isn't any easier to explain away either....for I've spent many an hour trying to impress upon my parents the enjoyment I get from pushing little figures around the board. And why there are so many cries of anguish and thumps from me throwing books around the room coz I don't like where they're going.

Saberrox said...

As long as they're Abnett Space Marines(tm) with winning personalities and semi-realistic superhuman abilities, I, too, would like to see the Ghosts working along with some of the good guy Marines. It certainly worked well the other way 'round, when Gaunt, Rawne, and the Geroen crew had to fight Uthingy and his couple Chaos Marines.

It is now six days until I get to read Eisenhorn. Ha-ROO. Ha-ROO. Ha-ROO.

Nik said...

Jesse - Hi.

On terrorism: I'm fascinated by the psychology of it, and by the differences in national attitudes towards it.

I would never presume to question your responses, given that they're front line, but I do have some thoughts.

If terrorism is a bi-product of Empire building, then the British have a long experience of it, in all its forms. The Irish, I suppose, are the obvious example. 100 years of Irish terrorism put me in the way of terrorist bombings twice, once in the early seventies when I lived in a garrison town where the local 'squaddie' pub was blown up only a few hundred yards from my house, and again in the eighties in London.

"There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." We're not waiting for the next bang, we simply know it's coming. There is no real anticipation, only a kind of resignation - I suspect it makes us keen at the intelligence level and calm at the bang.

"Terror often arises from a pervasive sense of disestablishment; that things are in the unmaking."
I think this is closer to what a nation feels when terror is a new threat, and if this is the fear, then Of course a nation reacts to protect itself and its values.

Neither quote was a response to a question about terrorism, but the first is from a british national, and the second from an american.

If you got this far, here's the pay off. For anyone out there who's interested, but to Jesse, of course, some thoughts on writing.

You know my credentials, such as they are, so I'll just get straight on with it.

The best writers are the best readers.

Write what you know about, and that includes things that you are interested in and/or are happy to research.



Don't worry about stamina. 80 to 100 thousand words to finish a novel sounds like a lot, because it is. Think in terms of chapters, or events.


Use what you already know: people, places, emotions, machines. If you get stuck for a character the chances are that you already know him, and if you don't then he probably doesn't exist in the real world and won't work.


Write the way you think/the way you speak. Don't use a word or sentence structure that you wouldn't use when telling your story to someone out loud.

Don't agonise over sentences, paragraphs, spelling, grammar and all that stuff. That's what a good editor is for.

Do use punctuation intuitively. It's like breathing, and the editor can tell a lot by how you choose to use punctuation, even if it isn't, strictly correct.

Don't get clever. Fancy forms and structures done right look pretentious, done wrong make you look like an idiot.

Make it easy on yourself:
1 - Have the plot worked out. Write it down in some form, as bullet points, a venn diagram, a 'thought-tree', or however you like, and go back to it when you need to.

2 - Introduce one character at a time and know who each one is.

3 - Remember place, time, person, thing. When you get stuck, go back to these first principles and the plot should re-emerge.

4 - Stay on track. If you get distracted by a new idea, write it down and use it later or in another story. Including everything in one effort will exhaust you and turn your story into an incomprehensible mess.

5 - Find someone to be your first reader. For preference this should be someone you know to be cleverer than you are, and who doesn't care whether or not they hurt your feelings. (I could tell you stories about this :->). This person is your spouse or parent, only in rare circumstances!

I'm not going to speak for Black Library, but they do publish novels, and they do like their writers to have an understanding of Games Workshop games. Black Library also has a new imprint called Solaris for serious, original work.

Finally, if Dan contradicts any of the above, then do as he tells you. What do I know?



Jesse said...

Nik, you're my friggin' hero.

That is exactly what I was looking for. Creativity and drive I can do. I needed a starting point, a 'how to', if you will. I needed intel. What to expect. If I know what's coming, I can prep for it. 80-100 thousand words, to finish one novel? See, if I had just started without knowing that, I would think myself a failure. I hope you don't mind, but I printed out your post and taped it to my computer desk.

Last night I spoke with my wife at length about the idea of writing a book. She has encouraged me to do just that for as long as we've been married. I guess I just needed to hear it from somebody with an objective opinion. By the way, she says 'Thank you.'

So it looks like I'll start punching keys after church this afternoon.

As I am military and don't have the luxury of hours to write every day, I anticipate it taking a year or two to finish writing a book, but at the end, you and Dan will have top-billing in the dedication.


P.S. Ok, I'm ready for the stories. I know a great many people more clever than myself, but they are mostly my friends and care about my feelings. Where do I go to find an objective reader?

Soapy said...

I'll volunteer!

I promise to kick your a$$ about prose, find every plot hole, redundant character and wobbly concept and tell you how rubbish you are in the name of motivation.

Failing that I always find military men are quite happy to tell you the truth no matter how it makes you feel. How about your buddy?

Good luck Jesse,

Toymachine said...

<"100 years of Irish terrorism put me in the way of terrorist bombings twice">

Sorry Nik, but theres a huge diffrence between terrorism and the Irish "payback" attacks caused by unease between Irish & English people dating way back to the plantations. I wouldnt have supported them, but try to understand: We probably have two really diffrent versions of the same story.

Irish children are grown up into a very "anti-english" society. Being Irish, I experienced it first hand. The plantations in the 16th century affected every familly in Ireland and relations between Ireland and England never fully repaired.

Take Gereon for example. There were Irish groups (later on the IRA) who did decide violence was the only answer and struck back. They operated in small groups, and, as jesse correctly points out, is not unlike terrorists, but I hope you can see where they were coming from. Im not saying that these attacks justify anything but they were very diffrent from terrorist bombings etc.

Jesse said...

Soapy, you're hired!

Is it alright if I pay you in beer?

Nik said...

Jesse - Just between you and me... if you can manage to write a chapter, I will consider reading it. Please, please, please, to everyone else - this is a one time offer only and Jesse got there first.

Toymachine - I'm sorry if I expressed myself badly. What I was trying to say is that national views to terrorism are dependent on a number of factors. The Irish thing was an illustration, given that we accept IRA action as 'terrorist'. I tend to the pacifist, but fully understand that people who are persecuted or under duress, or who feel themselves to be so, can and do justify actions that might otherwise be seen as aberrant or even abhorent. Conversely to being a pacifist I am also in favour of grass roots politics - that's how so much has been achieved, after all.

Toymachine said...

No no, Nik, your Ok!

I know you meant no offence. I just wanted to elaborate that not all Irish people are terrorists.

(eyes dart about in suspicious fashion... shoves the leprachaun suit behind him)


+...we are the green. we shall inherit the earth...+

Jesse said...

Nik, you are amazingly generous and I would be honored. I will begin work immediately. If you wish independent conversation, my email address is

I had intended to write more to you about the causes of and solutions for global terrorism, but I think I made a bad enough hash of a post that started with an Easter theme. Therefor, on that note:

Happy Easter to all!

inquis122 said...

I largely think that the views on what is and what is not terrorism has largely to do with ones personal sense of "good" and "evil"(assuming you believe in concepts of good and evil) For example, I imagine many Iraqi's(and I'm not in the military so feel free to harshly critique this) who lost family members via shock and awe or elsewise view America as evil just as we view the 9/11 terrorists as evil. Once you have labeled something as evil, its not hard to see someone going beyond the norm in an attempt to erase it. That doesn't mean that terrorism should be condoned, just that it can be understood and empathized with. The Alpha Legion don't have much background(yet...) but I imagine that their terrorist ideologies have to do with their own sense of destroying evil.

Jack said...

I can't really agree with the Alpha Legion as terrorists or CIA/MI5. The latter strikes me as very much an Inquisition thing: infiltrated agents until the situation blows up and they need to call in the Guard. The Alpha Legion were/are an entire LEGION of Space Marines, with their own fleet, their own attached units of Guards, armored vehicles, titans, etc. The fact that the Marines functioned in a more 'subtle' manner than many other Legions is a note of emphasis, but I don't think it classifies their entire approach as an open-ended, scrabbling-for-resources image that is generally assigned to most 'terrorist' groups, who strike inconsistently and almost always with a distinct agenda against an overwhelming opponent.

The definition of 'terrorism' is, of course, heavily dependent on the observer. Some people call it 'terror'; others call it 'the only way we can be heard without being annihilated.'

Jeff said...

I have to agree with a lot of what Jesse says as far as terrorism, but as far as a CIA/ MI-5 analogy, I'd have to disagree.

In the end, they are still astartes, in power armor and not exactly covert. For an astartes...sure...but in comparison to how say, an inquisitorial retinue's way of doung business...there is little to compare.

Astartes will end up going in with big guns, where an Inquisitor may slip in an operative or assassin to take out one guy which is more of my views of a CIA/ MI-5/6 sort of thing.

Soapy said...

I think the MI5/CIA thing may have been taken too literally. Don't think four man team going in to bump off pro-Soviet bean salesman, think company sized force going in to take out pro Orkist.....orks.

Not wishing to speak for him but I think Jesse was getting more at the fact that they are dispersed to watch and listen to the enemy where he thinks he is safe. Their 'field office' could be companies strong but still covert in the context of the Great Crusade. The intel gathering stage is where they get their jollies (freaky spooks) and the wet work is just the money shot.

As for having a magic sack full of military resources to call upon I'm sure the average inteligence officer can find a goon or two do hitty stuff but without the metaphorical men with fake moustaches and trench coats sitting it the cafe eaves dropping you can't get the muscle where it's needed.

Or have I got that all wrong?

Rory said...

Brilliant Joke! ;)

Jesse said...

Bravo, Soapy!

The CIA/MI5 references were meant only to hilight the Alpha Legion's predilection for misdirection, recon and espionage prior to the arm-socket tearing and nostril-raping.

I'm sure that once the show kicked-off they were every bit the 7'6" power-armored goliaths that the Astartes were meant to be.

Sorry all if I left that somewhat murky.

Matthew F. said...

I don’t think there’s any doubting the martial (as opposed to espionage) credentials of the Alphas. Their original writeup said that it was their martial pride that brought about their downfall, and that after they sided with Horus:

+++joyously the Alpha Legion clashed with loyalist Space Marines on Istvaan V and the campaigns thereafter. Here at last was an opponent fully as tough, as war-trained, as ferocious as themselves. The brethren of the Hydra inflicted stinging defeats on the loyalists at Tallarn, Yarant and dozens of smaller outposts before moving onwards into the Ultima Segmentum like an all-destroying comet. The Alpha Legion became entirely separated from the forces of Horus but continued to wage war on all that they came across. By the end of the Heresy they were inventing objectives and missions of their own to fulfil their war-lust without reference to their allies.+++

It’s not incompatible with an insurgency-style war ethic, but it doesn’t speak to me of a Legion disposed to terrorism of the “leave a bomb in a restaurant and run away” breed.

Disclaimer: I admit it’s an old writeup (second-edition Chaos Codex, p15) but as far as I recall their Index Astartes article there hasn’t been an enormous contradiction. I’d have to reread the HH artbooks to double-confirm it though. I’m also aware that the Heresy novels grow out of a lot of behind-the-scenes work, so of course there’s probably more on the Alphas that we’re not yet privy to.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

"The intel gathering stage is where they get their jollies (freaky spooks) and the wet work is just the money shot." Thanks Soapy...that was enough to force lukewarm coffee all over the keyboard. Money shot. Man, that hurt.

As far as intel gathering, it's not really done as much with troops as much as with folks who blend in with the environs. Astartes don't really blend in very well, and anren't the most "covert" of forces.

However, in comparison to other astartes, I figure they are the most able at being sneaky aside from maybe Raven Guard or the like.

I guess it's all relative. In comparison to a Titan or Ultramarines...Alpha Legion is pretty doggone covert.
;) In a warzone, they can pull off being recon elements and even almost terrorist cells, maybe even stirring up trouble amongst a population (being the nigh-godlike creatures they are).

I see what Jesse is saying and in a certain perspective he's very much right.

As far as seeing Space Marines in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, I'm hesitant. The Ghosts are hard-pimpin' as far as Imperial Guardsmen go, but they are still just men...where Astartes are godlike behemoths that are far superior to us mere mortals...and having two in the same "scene" would make the Ghosts look "lesser" (and it should). I hate the idea of downplaying the badassitude of the Space Marines to fit them in an IG novel. I don't want to see the Ghosts one-upped in their own book, but I don't want to see Astartes downplayed either.

Maybe a Deathwatch Team in sector with The Tanith, holding off a horde where the IG was getting slaughtered...allowing the Ghosts to slip away. Maybe.

I would love to see Agun Soric again (sanctioned psyker?) but then I don't want the 40k universe to be all fluffy and bright, where the good guys always win. I like to have situations where the protagonists are always in very real peril, able to die at any moment...and NOBODY is safe.

I like my "Grim Future" to be grim, and if Dan wipes out the Ghosts to a man just before they achieve their decomissioning and settling down on Planet long as it is dramatic, I'm for it. I'd love to see Brin Milo again (older and all badass).


Toymachine said...

If you do include space marines Dan, make sure they get off on the wrong foot as the ghosts (like the bluebloods).

Imagine Rawne saying "who the feth do you think you are?" and then the space marine stands up and is twice as tall as the major.


Anonymous said...

Yeah seeing the way rawne would react to the space marines would be interesting. I loved the way Feygor reacted to everything.

I just think there would be some interesting dynamics between the Tanith and space marines.


Stephen S said...

the Writing information you posted is really useful information to know Nik. Think I might keep it in mind...if I ever decide to write AND have something in my head that could be turned into a story.

I think it would be interesting to see Space Marines interacting with the Ghosts more...both Imperial and Chaos...mainly because I like seeing Chaos Marines getting killed by regular guardsmen...

though it really poses the question, I know Chaos Legions are the same size as the original Space Marine Legions (theoretically) but they dont have the same recruitment processes as the current SM Chapters, plus with various members becoming Aspiring Champions and generally getting turned either into Daemon Princes, Daemons or Spawn, surely the original Legions must be getting a little low on numbers by now, particularly the world eaters...hell, they fight and kill each other!

I know this is 40k, and so there will always be chaos, and a key part of that are the Chaos Marines, but even so...some of the legions must be a little low on numbers?

Toymachine - A Muril guy eh? Yeah...I did prefer her, and if she was still alive I would still prefer her, but when it comes to the ghosts women...there is no way I'm going for Criid...dont want Caffran coming after me for messing with his girl, and I just like Banda.

lordy said...

@Stephen S
Prehaps, but there is (or so it seems) a constant influx of new chapters rebelling against the Emperor.

Fabius Bile also possess's the technology to create new marines, and sells the technology on - for a price.

What I've always found odd, is alll SM books which dwell on geneseed always say that without it there's no way to make new Space Marines, and so it has to be havested from the dead, ect ect. They always imply that they can't simply grow geneseed. In which case, the Imperial numbers would be thinning about as much as the Chaos, as about equal numbers turned.

Soapy said...

Rawne V Space Marine. Intersting. Frankly if it was 'bar-room style' and they were fronting up to each other Rawne would be throatless and bleeding his last inside a minute, it's a Space Marine after all. On a battle field, who knows.

Rawne's done Daemons, daemon vessels, big scary chaos body guards, trench warfare, black marketeers, guardsmen, cultists, orks, intense cold, serious wounds, a foxy sniper, and his camping badge on Gereon. Where incidentally he faced down wire-wolves, Chaos marines and any number of weeks without fresh draws(you try it!). Like the other Lost he's got no fear left and a big pair of brass ones. He'd have a go. And good luck to him.

On marines in general I'd love to see them deployed in the same theatre as the Ghosts. Whenever there are guard and marines together I get the feeling that the foot sloggers are thinking one of two things:
A: Space Marines?! Cooooooool. I'd rush into hell for the godlike fellahs, I surely would. They're great.
B: WooHoo some one hard to do all the fighting whilst we pull a cooshy garrison job. Score!

I can just see Gaunt and co cocking a snook in the Astartes general direction and popping off to get the job done whilst the big lugs were still praying over their guns!
That being said having read the BotS preview chapter I get the impresion tha Dan marines would be way, way cool.

Oh bum, it appears I'm an option A. Drat.

Stay lucky,

Saberrox said...

Rawne could absolutely own a Space Marine, no question about it. Gaunt's own ability with the Sondar sword overshadows how brutally effective the Major--and yes, he's 'the major'--is in a fight. Like most of the First and Only, give him some cover to work with and he'll get the drop on the enemy.

Mkvenner is probably most effective of all the ghosts in hand-to-hand, one-on-one combat, but that's just because he's so damn good, not because there aren't a multitude of other badass hand-to-hand ghosts - Gaunt, Mkoll, Rawne, Bragg, Kolea...


By the way, anyone here remember Sergeant Blane? That guy was really cool. Too bad he never made it out of the first book.

Stephen S said...


Ahh, yeah...I'd forgotten about Bile, and those chapters that turn.

As for the Space Marines losing numbers as fast as the Chaos Marines, I seem to remember that all SM chapters are required to send a proportion of all their geneseed to a massive analysis and storage area near Terra - where it's analysed for contamination, loss of various organs, and viability for the creation of new Chapters. Its also used as storage so that if something bad happens to the Chapter, they can draw on that Geneseed to rebuild their they'll go into seclusion until they've reached viable numbers again, or resort to smaller, raiding combat - like the Crimson Fists. Plus, of course, as well as this massive vault somewhere near terra, each chapter has its own secure Vault for a similar purpose, and is rumoured to be able to survive at least a direct nuclear hit, and possibly, depending on the option chosen I expect, Exterminatus.

Boom said...

Stephen S, I'm going to take a page out of Graham McNeill's Dead Sky, Black Sun.

=====Possible Spoiler=====

In Dead Sky, Black Sun the Iron Warriors were creating space marines from other space marines(captured ones I guess). Basically copying their DNA I think.

I'm sure the other legions have something along those lines except Thousand Sons and probably the Death Guard. And like others said there's always Bile.

As for seeing SMs next to the Ghost I don't think I'd want to see that. It would just seem out of place. I mean SMs either go in first and the IG clean up or they go in if the IG can't get the job done. The only plausible situation that I could see would be if the Ghosts went to a world where an SM Commander was in charge of the war on that world and Gaunt had to go to HQ to get orders.

Anonymous said...

I understand if they never get put in, I just always like SM interaction with normal people in Mcneils books and Dans books. Then on top of that the Tanith have some of the coolest characters in any book. Add that together you have something I want to read.

*SPOILER Question*

When you kill guys like Bragg or my favorite Feygor, is that something you know way ahead of time, like several books ahead or is it a spur of the moment?

Anyway, I finally got my Ravenor Rogue and I love it so far. Keep up the great work Dan.