Well, that’s the common perception. And it’s true sometimes. But not here, or here. It’s been a pleasure to read the various thoughts on Warhammer and moral/cultural differences. I don’t agree with everything that’s been said (of course), but without exception the posts have been courteous and intelligent. Honestly, for a bunch of people who enjoy reading about plague, mutilation and mass slaughter, I’m struck by how nice WH fans are. Is there a link? Hmm.
Anyway, there’s no rest for the wicked. Fresh from dispatching the mammoth manuscript for Sword of Justice, I’m now busy planning a short story before getting stuck into my next novel-length project. The short story is a bit of a departure for me, and I don’t think I can say much about it, other than it involves some [bleeps] engaging with a pack of [censored] on [*&(%!!].
There. Don’t say I never give any spoilers away.
Well, that last post prompted some well thought out responses. I read them with interest. The marvellous Pyroriffic also triggered a parallel discussion here. Head over there if such metaphysical musings float your boat.
I’m interested in people with very relativist positions about morality (i.e., it’s all just a matter of your point of view, etc.). Not sure I buy that. In the real world, there just are some things that are good or bad. Pork pies are good. Mobile phones in cinemas are bad. Texting incessantly in cinemas while the film is playing is very bad. No debate there.
Anyway, back to Warhammer. One of the complications, with regard to morality, is the presence of radically different races. Humans in the warhammer world embody all the traits we’re familiar with. They can be noble, corrupt, lazy, heroic, and everything else (or all of them at the same time). But Dark Elves have an entirely different moral code. It’s built into their nasty, cold-blooded hearts. Even dwarfs, the closest non-humans, have a very different racial view of the world to ‘us’. So what standards should they be judged by? Their own? Humans’? Or is there some objective yardstick we can use?
Best answers win a prize!*
* And the prize is: no more annoying posts about morality in this blog.
Here’s a slightly updated version of the cover I was sent a couple of weeks ago. Darius has been tweaking it a bit, and it still looks just as fantastic. Any excuse to post it again ;-). By the way, I should have credited the artist in my original post. He’s called Cheol joo Lee, and has been responsible for some cracking covers for BL already. It’s a real honour to have his artwork adorning my book.
Anyway, there’s been a great response to my last post, and they’ve got me thinking. WHFB (and 40K) has this great tradition of moral ambiguity. This raises the question of what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actually mean in the Warhammer world. After all, as some posters pointed out, characters like Malus and Horus basically think they’re doing the right thing. There are no ‘cut-out’ evil baddies in Warhammer. Even the most depraved Chaos sorcerer thinks he’s on the side of the angels (so to speak). Does this mean that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ lose their meanings? Is it just one moral system up against another?
Well, no. Not in my conception of it. I love the ambiguity of Warhammer. It’s even more pronounced in 40K – the Imperium can be a terrifying place. But there is – just – a real distinction between the forces of Order and Disorder. The Empire and the Imperium are brutal because they have to be, because the alternatives are ultimately worse. The forces of the archenemy, even though they may have a moral system of their own, have given in to baser, more non-human urges. The reason we care about the survival of the forces of Order is that we recognise that they’re basically part of a moral system we can see as our own (however flawed it may be).
So moral relativity only goes so far, at least as far as I see it. Cue passionate denunciations from Chaos players!
Finally. Later than I’d hoped for, Sword of Justice has been sent off for the first round of editorial comments. While it’s a relief to have it finished (I can sleep again now. Maybe even eat.), this is my least favourite part of the process. I’ve been living with the project for months, and now I’ll find out if it works. It’s just too nerve-wracking.
So I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the whole ethos of Warhammer Fantasy. What makes it tick. What makes it different. Nick Kyme wrote a blogpost a while back on this subject that captures a lot of what I think about it.
The essential thing, it seems to me, is that Warhammer essentially embodies a uniquely British sensibility. That doesn’t mean, of course, that other nationalities can’t enjoy it, or contribute to it, or take it in new directions. But there is something quintessentially UK about the general outlook. Perhaps it’s the fatalism. Most Fantasy is pretty optimistic, pretty uplifting. The good guys win, the bad guys lose. Warhammer’s not like that. Not only do the bad guys win a lot, but there’s a lot less separating good from bad in the first place. Malus Darkblade is a hero, for God’s sake.
The shades of grey, the moral complexity, is what makes Warhammer so interesting. Though there are moments of heroism, snatches of optimism, the overall picture is bleak. And that reflects our national character. We like to see the potential for disaster, the scope for disappointment. Any nation that’s been reduced, within a single generation, from having a world-spanning empire to owning a few islands in the mid-Atlantic and six tanks is going to feel a bit insecure.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being cynical and world-weary has its compensations. It makes a nice change from all that strident confidence out there. And it gave the world Warhammer. If you’ve ever trudged through Bristol city centre on a Monday morning with the wind whipping rain into your face, the buses on strike and the streets still covered with the gruesome remains of the weekend debauchery, then you’ll know all about the Empire. It’s just like that. But with undead, rat-men and mutants too. Brilliant.
Following up from the Games Day post, some of you may have noticed the striking posters around the NEC of someone looking a lot like the great unsmiling protector of the Empire, Ludwig Schwarzhelm. I’m extremely chuffed that this amazing image is going to form the basis of the cover to Sword of Justice – it looks amazing.
For more on how this will look, head over to the Black Library blog here. The insanely talented (and very nice chap) Darius Hinks has done an amazing job on the cover. I’ve yet to see a full mock-up, but the concept’s fantastic and I’m really excited to see how it’ll turn out.
So, that was Games Day! My first appearance at the huge GW/BL bash was certainly something I’ll remember. The scale of the event is massive – three halls of the NEC, all taken up with Warhammer goodness. For me, it was also my first signing gig, and there were plenty of copies of Iron Company up for grabs.
Thanks to all who came to say hi. Being stuck between the gigantic queues for Sandy Mitchell and Gav Thorpe was visually quite odd – I kept hoping some Masters of Magic fans would find their way to my spot through the hordes. Thankfully, there was a steady stream of interest in my new title, and it was great to have the chance to chat some folks I only knew of via the internet. Special thanks to Narry for making the time to chat about all things writerly, Xhalax for elegantly overlooking my terrible spelling of her name, and Pyroriffic for heroically coming to say hello during a tumbleweed period on the desk. It was cool to meet you all, and I hope it’s the first time of many.
So, now there are copies of Iron Company out in the wild, I’m hoping it goes down well. Letting a book go feels like how I imagine parents do when their beloved progeny start their first day at school: you’re pleased to see them stand on their own two feet, but you don’t want the big kids to give them a hard time. Time will tell..
Anyway, now I’m back in Bath I’d better get down to finishing off my next project. As for what that is exactly, I might keep that to myself for a while (at least until Herr Kyme has scoured it and given his dread verdict). For any Warhammer lore buffs, the title should at least give a clue. Anyone who saw the fantastic posters around the BL stand at GD will also be in little doubt who the main character is.
Finishing a project always brings a deep sense of satisfaction. This week saw the completion of Iron Company, my third Warhammer Fantasy book. It’s a more sombre work than the previous two, dealing with a company of Imperial Engineers on campaign in the Middle Mountains. It’ll be out in November, all being well, and I’ll be waiting for the feedback with well-bit fingernails…