For the Emperor!
January 23, 2010 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Dan Abnett, writer for 2000ad, DC Comics and some of the more well regarded Warhammer 40k novels, has been guest blogging this week at the Borders Sci-Fi blog Babel Clash. Topics have include working with other peoples characters and writing within the Warhammer 40k universe. Fellow Black Library writer Graham McNeill is now taking up the reigns.
posted by Artw (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Nice! Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series is pretty much the best thing to come out of Warhammer 40K since Bolt Thrower -- great characters, plenty of action, and a good deal of interesting moral ambiguity, all of which the 40K books sorely need. Plus, he's not afraid to kill everyone, with complete and total disregard for how much popularity/nobility/centrality the characters do or don't have.

Too bad Blood Pact wasn't very good... but there's a lot of setup for the next one in it, so maybe that'll redeem it a bit.
posted by vorfeed at 4:26 PM on January 23, 2010

posted by The Whelk at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2010

Thanks for this. DnA are my favorite comics writers right now. Guardians of the Galaxy is unbelievably good.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2010

Emperors do reign, and they may take up the crown, but it's reins that get taken up. Sorry to rain on your typo.
posted by willF at 4:56 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

No love for Nova?

Blue blazes!

Can we please derail this thread into an in-depth analysis and critique of cosmic Marvel books from The Annihilation War forward, including the death and resurrection of Black Bolt, the role of Phylla-Vell/Moondragon as both a figurative and literal Martyr, the Inhumans leading the Kree, and why the hell Jack Flag is even in the books at all? Cuz that would be awesome.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:19 PM on January 23, 2010

Actually I'd like to know which 40K novels I should start with to a) give me an enjoyable read and b) give me a good overview of the 40K universe and c) make me want to read more. The starting point, if you will. Because from what I can tell there are approximately seven hundred and thirty two novels.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:56 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, you can try, but it all sounds suspiciously like heresey to me.
posted by Artw at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually I'd like to know which 40K novels I should start with

There are a number oh 40K omnibus editions, I would start with these two. Oh, and this one.
posted by MikeMc at 6:02 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

From a review of "Let the Galaxy Burn!":

for those interested in introducing others to the world of warhammer 40,000 or if you're a new comer, i can't recommend a better book to begin with.

"Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Throne of Khorne!"
posted by MikeMc at 6:12 PM on January 23, 2010

1000 pages ought to keep me going for a little while. Thanks MikeMc!
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:18 PM on January 23, 2010

I'd start with Caiaphas Cain for 40k novels. It's deliberate very black comedy. (And only read warhammer/40k novels based on recommendations - most of them are terrible)
posted by Francis at 6:29 PM on January 23, 2010

Whoa, I work at Borders and I didn't know about their SciFi blog. Huh.
posted by moons in june at 6:30 PM on January 23, 2010

Seconding the Caiaphas Cain recommendation. Fun as hell.
posted by rifflesby at 6:51 PM on January 23, 2010

I'm with MikeMc: start with Let the Galaxy Burn, and then get Gaunt's Ghosts - The Founding and Eisenhorn omnibi. From there, go through the rest of Abnett's stuff, starting with the rest of the Gaunt books. Then, if you're still interested, read Gav Thorpe and/or Graham McNeill's stuff.

I have to disagree with Francis and rifflesby, though -- I thought the Ciaphas Cain books were awful. They're poorly written, predictable, and unfunny. Even more so if you've seen Blackadder Goes Forth, since that's where they're (shamelessly) ripped off from... only with a quarter of the class and wit.

I do agree that most of the non-Abnett 40K books aren't good; most of them are very same-y, and all of them (even the best ones!) suffer from horrible and/or nonexistent editing. I've read probably twenty of them, and the one that stands out the most is Fulgrim -- the ending is brutal, as it should be! Gordon Rennie's old Battlefleet Gothic books (Shadow Point and Execution Hour) are also ahead of the pack, but are also out-of-print. Other than that, the 40K books aren't great. Most of them do make fun airplane/doctor's office/laundromat reads, though, which is why I've read twenty of 'em... that, and Paperback Swap.
posted by vorfeed at 7:13 PM on January 23, 2010

I started with the Grey Knights omnibus. I think the other trilogies mentioned so far are more than adequate, but the Grey Knights omnibus better displays the fanaticism and the touch of magic (i.e. psykers and psionics) that comes with the Warhammer 40K world.

Also, here's hoping the funding comes through for the Ultramarines movie!
posted by taumeson at 7:22 PM on January 23, 2010

BOP, I would love to! I'll answer your last question by saying that including Jack Flagg is a excellent way to remind the reader how ridiculous everything they're seeing is. His role in the 42 breakout and his constant "I hate cosmic stuff" refrain work as a counterpoint almost as well as Groot's "I AM GROOT".

And bring back Cosmo!
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 7:32 PM on January 23, 2010

The Cain books are pretty limp, and extraordinarily repetitive. Pretty much the only Dan Abnett's novels are worth it, with the Eisenhorn books being his best work, then the Ravenor and Gaunt books. The Eisenhorn, Ravenor, and two Gaunt omnibuses are tremendous thousands of pages of reading.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 8:20 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

taking up the reigns.

No, he's taking up the reins. I'm afraid that little error just cost you 2 HP.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:38 PM on January 23, 2010

You might want to try the Inquisition War Trilogy by Ian Watson. Very old-school 40k. It still has squats (space dwarves) in it, which no longer exist and according to the game's designer never existed. So bonus points for heresy.
posted by Peztopiary at 9:51 PM on January 23, 2010

I've probably bored you all with thsi link before, but here's Ian Watson on Stanley Kubrick breifly considering a Warhammer film:

What a magpie Stanley was, seizing on whatever I might mention. A book I owned about The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: he must borrow it. Papal Indulgences; and I was faxing him information. I had written a novel entitled Inquisitor set in the wacky far-future world of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000; he wanted a pre-publication printout right away. "Who knows, Ian?" he mused. "Maybe this is my next movie?" I arranged for Games Workshop to send him samples of their games and artwork and obtained for him from fantasy artist Ian Miller a portfolio of drawings of monsters. Anything could be grist to the mill, now or at some future date.

I think one of Gordon Rennie's books might have had the Halfling home planet being destroyed... unlike the Squats I think they still exist in WH40K. I really liked the Rennie books and often recommend them to people, but vorfeed is the only other person iknow of whose actually read the buggers. If you can find them they are great - very Hornblower meets the battle of Midway in the bizarre medieval space future. His Warhammer Fantasy book, Zavant, is pretty neat too - it's basically the Warhammer version of the guy from The Name of The Rose.

Oh, and if you want more fun space combat from Gordon Rennie I canhighly recommend The 86ers, a comic about a fighter squadron based in an asteroid belt in the Rogue Trooper universe (where is also ONLY WAR, though this less space-medieval and a bit more space-American Civil War, space-WWI and space-WWII). I have to warn you though that he stopped writing it before teh end and it was finished off by some hack. Well, me actually.

(/end horrible self promote)

(/but seriously, if you liekd the Excecution Hour books there's a fair chance you'll like it)
posted by Artw at 10:36 PM on January 23, 2010

Well dang, if you guys think the Cain books were lousy, I must be in for something pretty frickin' sweet when my copies of Gaunt's Ghosts and Eisenhorn arrive from Amazon.
posted by rifflesby at 10:55 PM on January 23, 2010

why did they get rid of squats? They were my favorite.
posted by empath at 11:01 PM on January 23, 2010

On teh subject of 2000ad stories, but slightly more on topic:Abnett's Kingdom is really very good.

(The 2000ad strip he's probably best known for is Sinister Dexter, the future hitmen story which started as a bit of a Pulp Fiction rip off before becoming it's own thing. But I'm afarid to say that it always bored me to tears and I eventually stopped reading it, even when it was part of a comic I'd already bought. )
posted by Artw at 11:08 PM on January 23, 2010

Jack Flagg is a excellent way to remind the reader how ridiculous everything they're seeing is

That's true. It also reads to me like a wink to the long-time sufferer of shitty cosmic Marvel (post-Kirby, of course). The whole conceit of the Guardians is so absurd (does Star-Lord have any powers beyond talking stuff to death? A sentient raccoon with a raygun? Drax the Destroyer cracking jokes?) that I guess they needed Flagg (and his stripey hair) to balance things out. I could do with a whole lot less Wendell Vaughn, though I see the books are leading up to a big Kill Evil Quasar climax.

Here's what the fanboy in me would like to see in the Marvel U. Asgard falls, Osborne falls, Avengers (meaning Cap, Thor, Iron Man & Clint Barton Hawkeye) reunite, big final battle and right at the end when The Sentry tries to throw the whole planet into the sun, the Guardians, Nova, and Quasar show up and kick his ass. Call me a dreamer.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:37 PM on January 23, 2010

I always saw a lot of Tomas de Torquemada's Termight Empire in the 40K Imperial setup. But then I haven't played it for twenty years. But then again I just found my 1988 rulebook in the attic last month! Maybe it's a sign...
posted by alasdair at 4:58 AM on January 24, 2010

I haven't thought about 40K since seventh grade in the mid-nineties, when it overran our school. this post has given me a flashback of huge amounts of universe trivia I had memorized and stored in the back of my head. I don't read SF or Fantasy anymore, let alone SF-Fantasy, but I definitely remember the 40K world as a hugely awesome work of imagination.
posted by moorooka at 5:46 AM on January 24, 2010

Alasdair - if you've got the rulebook with the womble helmetted marines on the front I believe there's a suggested reading list that basically lists all of the things they ripped off (er, "borrowed from") to patch together the setting. Not sure Nemesis is in their though- if you ask me it's a big one.

In later additions they got a lot more coy about their magpie behaviour.
posted by Artw at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2010

I love the Eisenhorn and Ravenor sequences so much, I’ll be writing a third, final trilogy - the Bequin books - as soon as I can


I've said it before, but I hope when Dan Abnett wakes up in the morning there is a Games Workshop staffer waiting on his doorstep with fresh milk, warm baked bread, and a sack of money. He's pretty much the only guy fleshing out the 40k universe and should he jump ship to comics or his own setting (Triumff is slowly coming out here in the States, eventually) the Black Library will crumble to dust.

Also, it would be nice to see BL titles on the Kindle. I'd read a lot more of the bad genre fiction (Sorry, Gav) if I could just download them on my way to work in the morning.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:24 AM on January 24, 2010

Oh man I love Quasar. It's ok that you don't like him, he'll protect your universe anyway. I grew up on the shitty cosmic Marvel, not realizing how bad it was at the time. I like that DnA have reworked some of those ideas into great comics. As long as they don't bring back the Infinity Gems.

It sounds like most of your dream is about to come true -- the original Avengers taking over. But I hope they keep Nova and the Guardians out of it -- or else Bendis will snatch them up too.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 9:11 AM on January 24, 2010

The Triumff stuff came about like this: Dan Abnett's career as a Games Workshop writer was fostered and nurtured by the Black Library's editor-in-chief Marc Gascoigne. When the Black Library let Gascoigne go a couple of years ago as part of an unwise cost-cutting exercise he moved to Harper Collins, where he set up their new SF/F imprint Angry Robot. The Triumff books are published by Angry Robot.

(I have a dog in this fight: ten years ago I co-wrote Hammers of Ulric with Dan and Nik.)
posted by Hogshead at 9:58 AM on January 24, 2010

Hmm, it says here that the Squats were eaten by Tyranids.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on January 24, 2010

ArtW - that's the one, 1987, but no sign of a reading list - have you a reference?
posted by alasdair at 2:10 PM on January 24, 2010

DnA are the best writers that Nova ever had, and yes, that includes Fabian Nicieza and even Marv Wolfman; the former did some interesting things with him power-wise, but never really developed his character beyond "slacker from Queens", and Wolfman... he'd drop some really interesting, tantalizing hints about his character and some of his supporting cast (particularly the Sphinx), and then drop them in favor of plot threads involving, for God's sake, the Yellow Claw and some boring cyborg named Doctor Sun. Nthing to the nth degree what m.b.w.b.a.m. says above; the real nightmare is that Bendis, Millar or heaven help us Joe Quesada get interested in the character...
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on January 24, 2010

I think they just didn't want "dwarves in space". And basically they weren't selling any squat miniatures and couldn't be bothered maintaining an extra line.

Squat minis are quite collectible now.
posted by wilful at 3:36 PM on January 24, 2010

ArtW - that's the one, 1987, but no sign of a reading list - have you a reference?

That's the one - maybe it's in preface or appendix or something? I'd be quite interested in the precise text. IIRC Hebert, Heinlein and Haldeman all get a mention.
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on January 24, 2010

I'm not joking when I say that Marvel's cosmic stuff is probably the best 616 stuff they are publishing right now, and probably some of the best that the big two are publishing at the moment. I miss Cosmo, I miss Mantis.
posted by X-Himy at 6:42 AM on January 25, 2010

Due to recommendations on this thread, I just went and bought the omnibus Eisenhorn (so cheap, $16 with no P&P). Should arrive tomorrow, I hope I like it.
posted by wilful at 5:18 PM on January 26, 2010

I finally got Eisenhorn last night. I have lots of travel this month; we'll see if it lives up.

I loved the idea of 40k as a kid - the universe, books and miniatures - but preferred reading the rulebooks to actually playing, and got a total of one Space Marine assembled and painted (but I did a good job on that one, dammit). So, this has appeal.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2010

My gaming buddies and I were always more about AD&D back in the game, and though we tried with WH40K we'd very rarely get through an entire game, as it was complex and fiddly and to a certain extent not as fun as building the armies. We actually played far more Space Hulk and Space Crusade than actual WH40K.

Dawn of War II is pretty much my benchmark for the level of fun I'd want from a WH40k gaming experience now.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2010

Not that anyone is still reading this thread, but based on the recommendations here I went out and picked up Let the Galaxy Burn - it's fucking great!
posted by kbanas at 12:33 PM on February 6, 2010

Now you're going to have to track down Deathwing! cstross represent!
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2010

Not that anyone is still reading this thread, but based on the recommendations here I went out and picked up Let the Galaxy Burn - it's fucking great!

The Emperor is kind indeed. Enjoy!
posted by MikeMc at 5:39 PM on February 6, 2010

Almost finished Eisenhorn. It's OK, I'm happy enough to have bought it, but it aint great literature. Decent plots, but the characters are a bit wooden and the writing a bit overblown.
posted by wilful at 5:48 PM on February 18, 2010

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