The news is out there! My next Black Library novel features the elite of the elite, the best fighting force of Cadia: the Kasrkin!
When Black Library asked me to write about the Kasrkin, I thought through what these soldiers would be like. They are the elite forces of a militarised society, bred and trained for war. The obvious parallel are our own special forces. I have been privileged to know some ex-special forces soldiers and they are extraordinary men. So I used them as my inspiration in writing this story of the Kasrkin, as well as my research on the very first special forces, the Long Range Desert Group.
I hope you will enjoy this story of the Kasrkin, dispatched into the heart of a pitiless desert to find and rescue an Imperial general. But there are others hunting the general too…
There’s not much hope in the grim darkness of the far future. In the 41st millennium, mankind is trapped into a decaying regime that manages to combine the worst aspects of late period Soviet communism (which was real) with medieval theocratic fascism (an entirely modern imagining) while being beset from all quadrants by enemies that really are worse than your worst nightmares. To navigate this universe, some people dive deep into nihilism – and there are 40k writers who will serve that up with complimentary bolters. But for myself I prefer something a little different, a little lighter, a little more, well… hopeful? Hopeful might be stretching the point so perhaps humane would be a better term.
A more humane take on the 41st millennium? It might seem a contradiction in terms, but it is possible. For that, there are few better 40k writers than Darius Hinks. A writer who manifestly cares about the people he puts on the page, he creates characters that are both believable and humane (even when they’re aliens) and rather than the endless carnage of eternal warfare looks, in this book, at one of the places where humans and xenos exist in uneasy truce in the face of something greater and more inexplicable than all of them: the Blackstone Fortress. Ascension brings the two-volume saga to an end but if Darius could ever find some way of bringing Janus Draik and his crew back from the places they end up at the finish of the story, I for one would be delighted to read more of their adventures.
I had a great conversation with Dr Guy Windsor, the dean of Historical European Martial Arts instructors, for his podcast, talking about Orcs in space, swords in suitcases and how exactly Anglo-Saxon warriors held their swords and what they did with them. To hear the podcast, go here.
In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war… sort of has to be, since it’s all based on a war game and if people weren’t fighting there wouldn’t be a game. But despite all the grimness, all the darkness, and all the war, the galaxy of the 40th (and now 41st) millennium can be a thrilling place to visit, particularly when your guide is Dan (The Man) Abnett – the writer who first got me reading Warhammer stories and one of the best, and hardest working, writers today. I’ve followed Dan’s stories of the soldiers and officers of the Tanith First and Only through all its many volumes, as the Man has written out his own vision of the 40k future in the Sabbat Worlds and they are among the best war fiction you could read anywhere. So it was a great honour to be asked to contribute a story to this anthology – edited by the Man himself (eeeeekkkkk!) – along with other 40k writers. It’s Dan’s sandbox and he has kindly invited us in to play. The story I’ve written for the anthology is, I think, the best 40k story I’ve written so far and it sits beside some other great writers. It’s an honour to be included among them. Here’s the full line-up of stories and writers.
This is What Victory Feels Like (Forever the Same) by Dan Abnett Whose Voice is Heard No More by Graham McNeill Glory Flight by Robert Rath The Death of the Prophet by Marc Collins Nineteen-Three Coreward, Resolved by Matthew Farrer The Tomb of Vichres by Justin D Hill Deep by Edoardo Albert Armaduke by John French Indomitable Spirit by Rachel Harrison From There to Here by Dan Abnett
Sabbat War is now available to pre-order from the Black Library website, here, and goes on sale on 19 June. It’s going to be good (in the grim, dark, 40k manner of good of course).
Caiaphas Cain, reluctant hero of the Imperium, is back and this time he’s got a planet full of Orks and Necrons to deal with – and he’s not happy about it. One of the joys of this series are the footnotes provided to Cain’s unreliable and unpublished (within its 40k milieu) memoirs by Inquisitor Amberley Vail, a frequent associate and sparring partner for Cain and one of the stronger female characters within 40k. It’s a trope borrowed from the Flashman books, where Macdonald Fraser posed as the editor of the long-lost papers of Harry Flashman, but Mitchell takes the idea further by having Vail be a protagonist within some of the stories as well as a sardonic commentator, via a series of footnotes, to Cain’s adventures as well. It’s a great ploy that plays with all sorts of ideas of metafiction and helps put the Caiaphas Cain books into a different category from almost all other 40k fiction.
In a galaxy where those creatures that don’t want to eat you desire to tear your soul from your body, there usually isn’t anything much to laugh about. Indeed, humour is notably absent from almost all the books set in the 40k universe – the setting is called ‘grimdark’ for a reason!
So it was with great joy and a certain amount of relief that I started reading Sandy Mitchell’s first book about Imperial Commissar Caiaphas Cain for the realisation comes quickly: this is 40k but with a twist via Flashman and Blackadder. Indeed, in a universe as mad as 40k, the only sane response is to laugh in the face of the thirsting gods – while doing one’s best to secure a safe billet in an out-of-the-way logistics camp a very, very, very long way from any front lines. In the tradition of Flashman and, in particular, the First World War edition of Edmund Blackadder, Caiaphas Cain, newly appointed enforcer for the Imperium, tries to do exactly that. But, also following firmly in Flashman’s footsteps, Cain gains himself a reputation for heroism that sees him being dispatched to all the most dangerous hotspots in the Galaxy where he attempts to survive by a mixture of cunning and cowardice. Of course, in the face of enemies, and if there’s no where to run, Cain actually proves quite a capable fighter and an even better motivator of others to do the fighting for him. What’s particularly entertaining is his sardonic attitude to everything in the Imperium, from the Imperial Creed to his fellow Commissars. My only complaint is that Mitchell got to do this first: I would have loved to have had the chance to try writing such a character within 40k.
There was a question, extant in publishing in the 1990s, that I think I can now answer: who (or what) killed horror? Back in the 1980s, on the back of the huge success of Stephen King, Clive Barker, James Herbert and Peter Straub, horror was the big genre, with publishers greenlighting pretty well everything calculated to scare the reader.
And then, horror died. The readers stopped buying, the publishers stopped publishing and those writers who had started off in the genre had to find another outlet for their talents – or another career entirely. The usual reason given for the sudden collapse of the market was over saturation: too many books by too many mediocre authors. But that has scarcely been a problem for chick lit, or detective fiction so why did horror fiction crash?
I think it was because, for horror to be truly frightening, there has to be an underlying belief, on the part of the writer as well as the reader, that there is something worse than dying. There has to be consequences for moral choices that transcend merely pain and suffering, which, however bad, will terminate in death, and a sense of the possibility that we, as human beings, can fall into an eternal state that cuts us off completely from what we are and what we should be. For horror to work, there has to be a profound sense that, while human beings enter this world as human beings, it is possible for us to leave it as creatures anywhere on a hierarchy from the basest and most depraved to the highest and most exalted, and that these possibilities carry on after death. For a horror that is based purely on this world becomes, in the end, nothing more than torture porn, variations on the suffering that can be inflicted on to the physical body and a mind that is conceived as nothing more than an emanation of the physical. As such, horror loses its horror, for death brings down the curtain on all suffering and cuts every story, well, dead.
This is exactly what happened with the decline and fall of the horror genre: it devolved into variations on how to cause pain, with Clive Barker’s Cenobites representing the terminal perfection of this view of horror: pain as ecstasy, horror devolved into a sado-masochistic forever.
But in the Warhammer 40k universe, there really are things that are worse than dying. Accepting the premises of the universe, with its pervasive dread of a corruption that can continue far past death itself, there is the possibility of reworking the necessary tropes to make horror work, to return it to its Victorian prime, and I’m pleased to say that Graham McNeil takes the opportunity in his stride. Indeed, with the nods to M.R. James, doyen of Victorian ghost fiction, in the book, it’s clear that he knows exactly what he’s doing in The Colonel’s Monograph. There are worse things than dying and McNeil lets that deepening dread seep through the controlled prose of this taut novella. A fine addition to the 40k universe.
This is the first in the new Black Library novella series and Iron Resolve gets the set off to a storming start with its transplanting of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift from Natal, South Africa, to the jungle planet of Kallash in the 41st millennium. What’s more, it’s the field hospital in Kallash that suddenly finds itself under attack from an army of feral Orcs. They don’t seem to do Victoria Crosses for the servants of the Emperor, but a fair few of them would have deserved the honour by the end of the novella. A diverting and entertaining read. Get Iron Resolve here.
I’ve often dreamed of having a foreign-language edition of one of my books published but I must admit I never thought that the very first foreign-language translations – into French and German no less – of one of my stories would be Warhammer 40k! But there they are: Herren des Sturms, Lords of the Storm and Seigneurs de la Tempête. All available from Black Library and all good retailers from tomorrow, 9 November.