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

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