Sources of Inspiration: Black Library Audio

Black Library Audio Books and Audio Dramas

During my high school years I became fascinated with early 20th Century culture to such an extent that I used to check out from our local library recordings of 1920s radio broadcasts and shows.  I loved the genre and it feels like something that has become lost as we’ve become a more screen-based society.

When I heard that Black Library produced audio dramas and audio books it immediately piqued my interest and I tried one.

The first one I bought was Raven’s Flight by Gav Thorpe as it was the most prominently displayed on the website at the time.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’d listened to audio books before where it is merely an author or a celebrity reading the text.  In some cases, as with some Star Wars books the reading was accompanied by sound effects as well.  In the case of the Black Library audio books and dramas it is far more like the radio shows I found as a teenager.  They are acted rather than read, the sound effects are integral and take place during the performance as though you were listening to a film rather than watching it.

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Since then I’ve obtained all of the audio dramas that sounded the least bit interesting and I’ve never heard a bad one.  There have been one or two where the plot took a turn that made me less of a fan of it, but none have been poorly made, badly written, or subpar in performance or production.  As last time I’ll list some of my favorites and/or favorite aspects of them, again in no particular order:

Chosen of Khorne by Anthony Reynolds: This one had such an impact I spent weeks drawing a picture related to it.  Chris Fairbanks’ performance as Kharn is incredible, the story is tight, and the production is excellent.  I’m a staunch 40K loyalist and even I loved this traitors’ story!

Trials of Azrael by CZ Dunn: As a Dark Angels fan I have a lot of options for audio dramas but this one has remained my favorite.  While it has a few plot questions, the resolution and acting is so good I can ignore them and just enjoy it.  Plus Dark Angels story + Chris Fairbanks as Kharn + Pandorax campaign make it extra appealing.

The Garro series by James Swallow: One of the best series and follows on from the Horus Heresy novels (Flight of the Eisenstein to be specific).  Garro, former battle captain of the Death Guard now servant of Malcador the Sigillite has a number of excellent stories and some of the best-produced dramas I’ve experienced.  Toby Longworth if by far my favorite voice talent in the Black Library audio drama pool and his Garro is tight, grizzled, and fiercely passionate about his cause, even when it runs counter to his masters’ goals.  By all means listen to them in order but Sword of Truth remains my favorite.

Veil of Darkness by Nick Kyme: I’m not an Ultramarines fan nor am I a Cato Sicarius fan but this story is one of the best.  Very well acted (Sicarius has a youthful arrogance to his voice that matches the character perfectly) and with one of the best single-stories I’ve heard it has been in my car’s CD player a number of times since I first gave it a listen.

Caiphas Cain – Dead in the Water & Caiphas Cain – The Devil you Know by Sandy Mitchell: Toby Longworth strikes again turning in a tremendous performance both as the elder Cain narrating his adventures and the youthful Cain experiencing them (as well as all kinds of characters in between) mixed with the great production, Sandy Mitchell’s wry writing style comes off perfectly and provides an excellent complement to the written character.

The Sigillite by Chris Wraight: This one is actually two parallel stories, one told in flashback the other taking place as the same character discovers the importance of his previous actions.  Once again Longworth shines, this time as Malcador, giving him a voice full of power, age, weariness, fear, and awe.  It’s a remarkable story.

Censure by Nick Kyme: A Horus Heresy story about Sergeant Aeonid Thiel and his experiences on his return to destruction-ravaged Calth.  He faces not only the remnants of abandoned Word Bearers but the environment itself.  His penal legion companion and he have an almost Lethal Weapon level of interaction.

Deathwatch: Mission Purge by Gav Thorpe: A wonderful single-story of a Deathwatch inspection led by Captain Artemis himself on a rogue trader’s ship.  Of course everything goes wrong and the motley xenos hunters have to fight their way out of danger.  It has a very unique feel and one of the best climactic music stings I’ve ever heard…

The Glorious Tomb by Guy Haley: A surprisingly moving story from the perspective of a fatally wounded Black Templar kept alive to continue his fight for centuries from inside a dreadnought.  You hear his confusion over the passage of time, his distance from the outside world, his pain and mental anguish.  It extremely potent and very well performed…you guessed it Toby Longworth is back to give one of the most powerful performances I’ve heard to date.

Shorts:

  • Warmaster: An amazing soliloquy. The now fallen Horus justifies his actions to a silent audience.  If I had to do a reading for an acting class I’d choose this one.
  • Veritas Ferrum: a small story-driven by the main character of Durun Atticus as he navigates his strike cruiser Veritas Ferrum into the catastrophe as Isstvan V. The performances and productions shine again as wily tactics and loss of humanity take center stage.
  • The Eightfold Path: Chris Fairbanks as Kharn in the fighting pits. It’s Kharn narration for 13 minutes and as glorious as one would expect.  Worth it just for his rueful bloody laugh if nothing else.
  • With Baited Breath: A Raven Guard captain finds a dying guardsman and listens to his story. Great deeds…

There are countless others that have been spun repeatedly in my various CD players and queued into a playlist on my various devices.  If you’re a new 40k fan these stories are EXCELLENT for mood and storytelling; setting the tone for the Grim Dark in a way more accessible than some weird people may find the dense omnibuses or the numerous, long-running series.  For established fans they are a great way to hear well-known stories brought to terrific life with care and thoughtfulness.

Black Library Audio Link!

Bad Teacher May Deserve a Sequel

Bad Teacher

Diaz and Smith in a bar. Photo from: aceshowbiz.com

I rarely think a movie needs a sequel, but Bad Teacher is on that short list. The movie, starring Cameron Diaz, tells the story of a lazy, irresponsible teacher who is beyond materialistic and selfish. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times on TV, but recently I watched the unrated extended version. After that, I knew why it needs a sequel – in a good way of course.

  • It’s a good comedy. There have been some pretty good ones over the last few years, but most modern comedies try to shock the audience or gross them out (eg. excessive vomiting). However, Bad Teacher is funny because of the dialogue. Sure, there is one bathroom scene and it can be a little immature, but the dialogue and conflicts are well written. It is pretty adult but not over the top or trying to disgust you.
  • Fun, distinct characters. The people make or break it. The story can be solid, but if the characters suck, the movie will. Bad Teacher has a great cast who feed off each other, and in many cases, opposites attract. I’d love to see these characters together again. Aside from Diaz, the movie stars:
    • Lucy Punch (crazy but good teacher who cares about the kids), Jason Segel (cool gym teacher who likes to smoke weed), Justin Timberlake (preppy, geeky substitute teacher), Phyllis Smith (teacher and the best best friend ever), and John Michael Higgins (dolphin-loving principal).
    • Diaz is terrible, but you can’t help but like her. She’s selfish, manipulative, mean, and horrible with kids. And it’s so funny. Smith is a great asset to the movie because she seems like the average teacher, but she’s fun and the most supportive person ever. People need to be that kind of best friend. Punch plays a great teacher – the kind who freak us out a little with their enthusiasm for learning – and I could so see Segel as a gym teacher in another life.
  • School environment. I really like movies that take place in schools, especially when they’re not dramas. Bad Teacher portrays the school life well. For example, Diaz receives a $37 gift card from the staff as a going-away engagement present. I was surprised by how well the actors play teachers, and I know a lot of teachers. The kids are great too. Noah Munck (Gibby from iCarly) and Kathryn Newton (teen girl in Paranormal Activity 4) are two students you may know.
  • The end. SPOILER alert! At the end of the movie, Diaz starts a new school year as a guidance counselor, doesn’t get the boob job, and is dating Segel, which is a cute match. It’s a very good ending because she is much better at counseling, but I want to see her in that role. Diaz as a guidance counselor would be awesome. Her advice is real. The kind of advice that’s sometimes hard to give and take (I give a lot of this kind of advice, so I can relate and appreciate it).
  • The sequel factor. The movie isn’t highly rated, so a sequel will probably never happen. However the end wraps everything up so well, if you enjoy the movie, you want more. That’s a good sign of a good movie. You watch it, enjoy it, and think I could rewatch that or I wish there was more. Good films make the audience want more.

If you like comedies or want to chill to a movie, check it out. It’s good fun.

Sources of Inspiration: The Black Library

Sources of Inspiration

With a new year and the hope of my own creative wellspring finally pouring forth I thought I’d take the time to examine some of the sources for my creative inspiration.  This week I’m starting with a humbling catalogue of the Grim Dark (and world of fantasy) that is the Black Library.

Named after a library of esoteric and powerful knowledge, Games Workshop’s publishing wing is a remarkably diverse and impressive publishing enterprise.  From gothic sci fi, to rousing action, and from grim brutality, to raucous humor, the Black Library offers something for everyone, and indeed I was a fan of the stories prior to partaking in the table top game that spawned them, my first novel being the Assault on Black Reach which I purchased shortly after buying the starter set of the same name.

I find the worlds depicted by the Black Library authors to be deep and complete.  Everything has layers upon layers and builds atop decades of history already put into the stories and characters within.

Some of the authors are terrific, some are quite good and the same can be said for the quality of the stories they tell, but I can honestly say I’ve never read a bad one.  Merely some less impressive than others.  I thought I’d give a breakdown of some of my favorites, broken down by broad type and in no particular order of superlative.

Favorite Series

  • Horus Heresy by Various: Simply some of the best science fiction you’ll read anywhere. The series is vast and deep, providing a prequel view of some of the famed characters you may do battle with on the tabletop.  The first four novels are sequential and could have been printed on pure gold leaf they are so ostentatiously brilliant.  Want to know how the whole thing started?  Here’s how.  And if you don’t feel a pang of tragedy at Isstvan something is broken in your soul…
  • Caiphas Cain by Sandy Mitchell: Can the grim dark future be wry and funny? With a rakish and self-serving (at least according to him) hero like Commissar Cain you beter believe they can be.  Sandy Mitchell (aka Alex Stewart) created a hero both likable and slightly devious.  He’s altruistic and at the same time totally self-obsessed, told in the first person (with commentary footnotes from another reader, Inquisitor Amberley Vail) it’s marvelous at giving a personal obscured perspective on things.  The series takes him from his humble beginnings seeking a quiet posting away from danger to all over the galaxy fighting every kind of enemy on every front.  Each novel is different and each one spectacular.  If you need a laugh and great adventure, pour yourself a glass of someone else’s best Amasec and open a Caiphas Cain book.
  • Last Chancers by Gav Thorpe: Gav Thorpe is my personal favorite Black Library author and his take on the penal conscript legion of Colonel Schaeffer one of his best works. I read the whole thing at night during a week-long trip to Chicago and loved every bit of it.  The first novel is by far the best, but by the time you reach the third book’s rousing conclusion you really have a chance to look back and see how far these characters have come.

Favorite Short Stories/Novellas

  • Yarrick Chains of Golgotha by David Annandale: This novella/short story is simply stunning in its narrative. From the capture of the imposing Commissar Sebastian Yarrick by his arch nemesis to his exciting attempts at escape, this one has you hooked from the beginning.  When you get to the end and see just HOW dangerous his infamous and nefarious captor really is to him and the Imperium it’s hard not to start the book over and read it all the way through again.  I know I did.  Very few books can make me say, “Ohh…whoa” out loud like this one did at its conclusion.
  • Survivor by Steve Parker: The tale of a young boy surviving in the ruins after an ork invasion. It’s a great story with a sharp narrative, but the reveal of the boy’s identity makes it even more powerful.  A short read but one that definitely sticks with you.
  • Dark Vengeance by CZ Dunn: Some 40k players are all about the win. Others are all about the story.  I’m in the latter category and this story is a great example of the game brought to narrative.  Released to coincide with the 6th Edition starter set, Dark Vengeance tells the story of the characters and armies you get with that box.  Not only that but you get a relatively realistic portrayal of how a battle between these two armies can usually play out on the table; who lives, who dies, who’s valuable and who’s just a pawn.  A great place for beginners who are just getting into the game with the starter set!

Favorite One Offs/Unique

  • Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon: This one’s tagline got me: “Basic Training: Four Months. Planetary Transportation: Seven Weeks. Life Expectancy…Fifteen Hours.” I loved this book.  Not only is it 40k World War I style, but it’s also 40k told small.  Not great heroes or famous battles, just one of trillions of guardsmen and one of millions of battles.  The story doesn’t revolve around our heroes and neither do the events.  We merely see a vast war through their very small scope.  It’s All Quiet on the Western Front with orks and lasguns and simply a terrific read.
  • Deff Skwadron by Gordon Rennie & Paul Jeacock : A 40k comic about ork fighter pilots. It’s as good as it sounds.  Let’s face it orks are funny and brutal.  Their single minded desire to fight and kill is highly entertaining and this comic captures that mood both in a great set up and magnificent orky-art.  If you read no other 40k comic definitely check this one out.
  • Headtaker by David Guymer: It’s not ALL the grim dark! This fantasy story revolves around my favorite fantasy battles character.  With all the betrayal and backstabbing you’d expect from skaven…Queek Headtaker leads his armies, fighting against his allies as much as his foes…and showing everyone who really is the most clever rat in the under empire.

Next week I’ll tackle the audio drama/audio book arm of Black Library which is definitely worth its own separate study!

Black Library Website