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Writing Space Marines

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and it’s all been Space Marine related. Black Tide, Soul Hunter, Rynn’s World, Salamander, A Thousand Sons and now the second Space Wolf omnibus. All very different books, and all with a different take on how to write the Emperor’s Finest.

Space Marines have changed quite a bit over the years. I remember when they were basically psychos in power armour, drawn from penal colonies and unleashed on humans as often as anything else. They’ve gradually changed to become more noble and less feral. Of course, there are exceptions – the Flesh Tearers are an interesting chapter, as are Nick Kyme’s Marines Malevolent. But the archetype of a marine, taken from the Ultramarine core, has evolved.

As a result, creating Space Marine characters is a more interesting challenge. These guys are superhumans in the universe of 40K, far beyond the comprehension of those they protect. They don’t feel fear, and have an unswerving dedication to their military goals. They don’t fall in love, they don’t suffer anxiety, they don’t worry about philosophy or ethics. At worst, then, they’re going to be pretty boring – just automata in ceramite jackets. Seeing what authors have done to avoid this is interesting. As ever, the compelling characters are the flawed ones, the guys struggling with some weakness or challenge. Space Marines aren’t immune from this kind of thing – in the degenerate universe of 40K there’s plenty of scope to flesh this out. Whether it’s Flesh Tearers battling against their gene-seed flaws or Salamanders struggling with battlefield grief, there’s lots to play with.

So, superhuman and human. That’s the deal. I’m going to be working on this stuff for the next few weeks, and very much looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’m interested in your views on this. What are the most absorbing Space Marine characters in the BL canon? Why?

The best answer wins… the satisfaction of seeing their name immortalised here. Yes, really.

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Categories: Warhammer 40K
  1. 28 March, 2010 at 11:41

    First up today:

    I find the most engrossing SM characters those with a strict sense of honour and right. I refer to several during the first few HH books:
    Iacton Qruze (books 3 & 4)
    Tarik Torgaddon (books 1-3)
    Garviel Loken (books 1-3)
    Zahariel (Dark Angels bits)
    Alpaharius (Legion)
    Saul Tarvitz (books 2-4)
    Nathaniel Garro (books 3-4)

    These characters embody what it means to be a Space Marine for me. An unfaltering sense of duty and an unquestioning and unshakeable faith in the good they are about to do.

    But it’s more than that. It’s the flaws of personality, the chinks in the armour, the fact that these unyielding weapons of war *think* and decide their own fates. Having read precious few of the Space Marine books outside of the HH I am decidely at a disadvantage here, but there are few characters who really stand out for me. It’s not the character who screams “WAR!” that I empathise with, but those who say “Hang on… Why?”

    Garviel Loken and Tarik Torgaddon are the two most noble and intelligent characters throughout the whole series so far who really did try to do the right thing and stood until their (some would say it isn’t…) last. Their nobility was true right until the end.

    Of all, though, my favourite has to be Ahriman from the Thousand Sons. A real wise head in the legion who could see his primarch was about to become the stroppy teenager. What a book.

    Would be interested to see your take on the Space Marines Mr. W.

  2. Uncle Le
    30 March, 2010 at 13:11

    Apart from afore mentioned Nathaniel Garro I would name Zso Sahaal from ‘Lord of the Night’ and Boreas from ‘Angels of Darkness’.

    Sahaal finds himself alone in the foreign galaxy set ten thousand of years from his own time. He is lost. He is robbed and enraged. He attempts to find precious item stolen from him and at the same time he struggles to find himself in this new and hostile world. And the tragedy for his still noble spirit is that at the very end he finds out that he was also betrayed… But is there some new place for him in this world? (if anyone didn’t read the book then can find out)
    There is a lot of feelings and emotions for the one of Adeptus Astartes caught in the very difficult situation.

    Always loyal to his Chapter Boreas finds himself in the situation when all his beliefs questioned. What path to choose?

    Nathaniel Garro changes during the book (‘Flight of the Eisenstein’), at the start he is quite simple good hero of Astartes, loyal and secular. And to the end the matter of faith rises before him. When whole world around him goes haywire and the battle brothers become enemies only faith can save him.

    I like when protagonists have emotions, find themselves at the intersection of different paths, have to make tough decisions, overcome theirselves and – of course – endure!

    • chriswraight
      31 March, 2010 at 10:02

      All good choices (thought I confess I haven’t read Lord of the Night). I’m going to make the controversial suggestion that Chaos Marines are a tad more interesting than your average loyalist in this respect. Without exception, they’ve had to make the difficult decision.

  3. chriswraight
    31 March, 2010 at 09:59

    Tim Kenyon :

    But it’s more than that. It’s the flaws of personality, the chinks in the armour, the fact that these unyielding weapons of war *think* and decide their own fates. Having read precious few of the Space Marine books outside of the HH I am decidely at a disadvantage here, but there are few characters who really stand out for me. It’s not the character who screams “WAR!” that I empathise with, but those who say “Hang on… Why?”

    Indeed, but this is tricky. SMs are psycho-conditioned killing machines, so their scope for saying ‘Why?’ is very limited. 30K marines are a bit different – they haven’t had 10,000 years of indoctrination and decay to deal with.

    Garviel Loken and Tarik Torgaddon are the two most noble and intelligent characters throughout the whole series so far who really did try to do the right thing and stood until their (some would say it isn’t…) last. Their nobility was true right until the end.

    Of all, though, my favourite has to be Ahriman from the Thousand Sons. A real wise head in the legion who could see his primarch was about to become the stroppy teenager. What a book.

    Yes, Graham McNeill paints him very well, I think. I like Ahriman too – there’s a great story to be written about the Rubric and afterwards…

  4. 31 March, 2010 at 19:08

    I’m inclined to agree that the decision the traitor legions have made has been a tough one, but what I liked about Loken, Torgaddon, Garro, and the ilk is that they consciously chose to follow their instincts and not their orders. It’s why I’m trying to characterise Marines that think for themselves and question authority; and the authority’s lack of comprehension at what to do when the marine does that.

    Hence, I think, taken to its logical conclusion gives us the Chaos Space Marines.

    Mr. W. This conversation is serving as something of an inspiration to get the next part of my book done.

  5. 31 March, 2010 at 21:07

    Hi Chris

    You wouldn’t happen to be working with the Imperial Fists, would you?

    • chriswraight
      1 April, 2010 at 09:39

      Nope! As far as I know, Chris Roberson is writing Imperial Fists for BL at the moment. I’ve only just submitted the manuscript for a WHF novel, so my Space Marine writing days are in their infancy, and at present I just have one short story in the pipeline.

  6. chriswraight
    1 April, 2010 at 09:43

    Tim Kenyon :

    Mr. W. This conversation is serving as something of an inspiration to get the next part of my book done.

    Good luck with that 🙂 Have you thought about posting some of your stuff up on the Bolthole? There’s an increasing amount of fiction up there, and lots of people queueing up to give feedback.

  7. 1 April, 2010 at 17:41

    Will be doing in the next few weeks. I have a short to finish this weekend and a synopsis to write for the May submissions date and then the post up on the bolthole. But thank you.

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