Sacking Alexandria: Musing on Black Library and the Horus Heresy Novels

Blades_of_The_TraitorI am a failed tabletop gamer. As far as confessions go, I’m not exactly seeking a priest to whisper a secret sin. Is it something I would like absolving of? Yes. Will I ever rectify it? Possibly. I live in a world with an unfortunate amount of hobbies, be that a blessing or a curse. When it comes to getting time to paint it’s not often, therefore I don’t make progress, and I’m painfully aware that with every layer of paint I put on it I’m taking my miniature a step further away from what I see in my mind’s eye. Every brush stroke is an act of violent self-abuse. As a person who’s never had an issue generally achieving something I set my body to, be it from as picking up weights in the gym, to learning kickboxing to more relevant things such as sculpting or drawing it generally comes quickly. Painting minis however seems to be my Everest. As a result, all too often my relaxing time becomes bouts of intense rage, followed by aggressive self-frustration and ends with me giving 4cm high plastic space men a withering cold glare. This leaves me with a catch 22 of sorts. I really, really think it’s awesome, I’m just too infuriated by myself to make them come to life, but I want to enjoy the glorious world of militant space fascists. So there is only one answer for me.


Someone once considered this being advanced and promising.

Someone once considered this being advanced and promising.

Growing up I was apparently ahead of my time for reading, however, this didn’t particularly last too long. At some point in school, there was this after school class where you could go to learn how to speed read. I 100% thought not a chance I’m spending any more time after school, and I’m pretty sure that I kept the money, spent it on something else, and hid somewhere till I was expected home. (In the spirit of confession, something I also did with my guitar lesson money, sorry Dad if you’re reading this).

My time robbing my parents money and not going to guitar lessons prepared me for an NYHC band.

My time robbing my parent’s money, and not going to guitar lessons, prepared me for a NYHC band.

My point is, regardless of if, I’m not some heavyweight power reader now, I still can read. And do I enjoy reading? Well, you only need to see the vast piles of books I’ve got backlogged. From one genre to another, I will probably never finish all of my books, I hoard them. I buy more books than I can hope to read. I still make my way through them though, because it’s a pleasure.

So I feel I’ve bored you enough with my rampant Narcissism. You know a bit about me, my hopes, my failings, my shit hair. Where does this fit in? Nearly 20 years ago, I picked up a small mini I thought was awesome in a second hand trade store, my dad bought it for me, I had no idea what it was only that it looked awesome (it was, looking back, in fact a Dark Angel), I had no intention of using it to actually play, I didn’t at that time even know it had a purpose apart from looking cool and shooting imaginary lasers at a terminator figure 5 times its height. That was the end of that. 10 years ago at a mate’s house, I found some GW stuff and I kind of knew about it, I’d seen the store walking by and thought it looked cool, but that was the extent of it, so I picked up his rule book. I had a flick through and read the fluff and has totally hooked. The next step for me was going online and reading, nay, devouring all the information I could find on the Lexicanum in a similar way I do chocolate post painting-failure. At that point, it was me totally sold.

600 words in, and I’ll start to finally become relevant, my apologies. To follow up my online reading, I turned my attention to books eventually settling somehow on the Horus Heresy. I was utterly gripped by them. I bought more and more and with intermittent pauses where I had to concentrate and engage with other hobbies or work, research or Uni, I kept going through.

It has pretty much been plain sailing, I loved (yes you read that past tense) what the Black Library of GW was producing. Some of you may have read my Black Library weekender review, if not, read it (part 1 and part 2), and you’ll have seen I gave the event an all but gushing review. They really was about looking after the fans who came along. Not so much about filling pockets and pressure sales. Even the Black Library Live event was pretty good, on its smaller scale. I had generally only good things to say about it. The only downside was some of the clowns who’d bought tickets dragging the author questions along like the body of Hector around the walls of Troy. (editor – no more questions about the 2 lost primarchs, or who’d win in a fight between x and y!!)

So we’ve established the fact that I’ve had a pretty smooth relationship so far. The issue is if I was just writing about the size of my boner for the Black Library, it’d be a shit article and you’d just send me to my room with a box of Kleenex and a written consent not to share any more of my justifiably embarrassing ideas. However, not so the case. I feel this relationship has soured. Much like in many adolescent relationships, it starts out so well and then the irritating habits creep in until you can’t bare it. Allow me to me regale you with a tale of failed love and blossoming hate.

When I first started buying The Horus Heresy, there was a single format. Just one. A lovely format with some shiny writing down the side which pleased the hoarding magpie that I am. I can collect these books, they’ll look great on my bookshelf (read as floor)

Bookshelves man, that like, GW capitalism, you know, from The Man.

Bookshelves man, that like, GW capitalism, you know, from The Man.

I continued my collection for quite a while and was pretty happy. Then somewhere along the highway, audiobooks of The Horus Heresy popped up. This served as a mild irritation as these side stories weren’t committed to prose to be collected on my bookshelf floor. This being said, I tried to listen to some of them. I’m pretty sure the face I pulled would be the same as if someone rammed a dog shit up my nose. The utter revulsion at hearing the terrible voice acting of some of these clowns, and the background sounds just on repeat like a fucking DVD home menu. It sounded cheap to say the least. I simply couldn’t listen to it. So as a result it ruled out audiobooks for me. I felt like there were holes appearing already in my understanding of a story I’d invested time and money in. My reaction was simply to think, well it can’t be central to the story because it would have to be in the written books if it was. The only issue with it is there became a proliferation of these. It felt like a dilution of my understanding. My ire rises.

I love my dinky little format books, I’ve invested time in them. They’ve taken me on a journey. Me and them. So the next thing I find out is the introduction of these large format editions. Well that I could deal with, however, they started bringing out this format first. That’s really cool Black Library, but now I have to pay more if I want to keep up with the story, or even wait longer for my edition to be published. But wait, in addition they now they have a premium, large, all singing all dancing format, that will do everything including grant wishes and pleasure your mother in bed. Okay, it won’t do those, but it’s a hardback. Whilst on paper (no pun intended) I love this format. It has internal artwork by my boy Karl Richardson, it’s hardback and it looks nice. It also costs the same amount you’d have to pay Bono to keep his mouth shut for year. The fact that these editions come out before the one I’ve spent time and money collecting really bothers me. Black Library knows it will fuck up a collection and how it sits on shelves, which as pathetic as it sounds is kind of important to me and I’m sure others. However the tactic is plainly obvious, it’s not simply to provide the fans with something they want, it’s to squeeze out the money from them by saying “fuck you, if you want to read the next part you have to buy this shiny Bono-price edition because you’re getting fuck all else for a year.”

So I’ve raged about audiobooks and edition formats. My temper is yet not spent. Now there are other novella editions alongside the novels themselves. I don’t have an issue with these per se. In fact, I’ve even bought some which have been inside the anthologies because I’ve enjoyed the artwork on the front. This may seem contradictory but, well, but nothing, it is. I just like them . . . Ok so here’s where my issue starts to develop. Ebooks. Now I’m not arsed that there’s these short reads. That’s a cool concept. What my issue is with it, is it feels like they’ve taken the pages and whilst screaming nonsensically with a blind mixture of explosive emotion have flung them through an industrial fan.



Basically it leaves you picking up pieces saying “where the fuck does this bit go?!” Some people may retort “ah but yes they’ve given you a timeline on the Black Library website!” Well fuck off that doesn’t take into account their million short stories for 99p. The Christmas advent calendar served to fuck me off beyond belief. I don’t particularly want to pay 60 quid for the occasional story which adds to the lore of my interest. Inevitably they release them individually, but the thing is where do you find them? It’s not easy. The Horus Heresy ones contribute to the lore we’ve been reading, but is now spread across multiple formats. How are you supposed to easily reference them or keep up?! The fact that some of these stories end up in anthologies which are published as part of the series while some float through the warp gives us little indication of direction. The backwards and forwards jumping of the content of the books only serves to add to the confusion. I spoke with Chris Kaye, as an oracle into this confusing world they have created, and to our understanding, they have published/intending to publish 5 anthologies in the last 12 months.

In this melee of narrative war there is simply no victor. The fans are taking a massive kick in the nutsack, by someone who either is calculating money and rubbing their hands, or is running through an office screaming, upturning tables and flinging papers into the air then grabbing your ears and endlessly howling into your face without breaking eye contact.

Brainstorming continues at Black Library HQ.

Brainstorming continues at Black Library HQ.

My point is, it’s either Black Libraries SCUD missile directed at your wallet for a campaign of shock and awe or it’s a bunch of logic less lunatics feverishly banging out narrative bumsquirts, with no real comprehension or consideration for the recipients anymore. It bring to mind the idiom of monkeys, typewriters, time and Shakespeare. The problem however, is growing like syphilis in a brothel, it’s spreading out beyond the pages of The Heresy and into the 40k world, with super special edition version of pre-orders and hand numbering all spiralling into a dick-punching abyss of pennilessness. The thing is with this, I don’t think even the writers enjoy it, how could they? They’re having their characters bastardised and spread like thin like butter on a soccer pitch (intentional, fuck you) sized slice of toast. I’m sure this is the work of the higher ups, and not then creators of such an incredible world giving it a thumbs up.

They sensed my wallet had got more than 5 metres from a computer. Email received, ironically, as i write this piece

So as somewhat of an open letter to the Black Library, please, find your way back in to the loving arms of our relationship of pace, simplicity and consideration, rather than the aggressive way you simply pull my wallet’s pants down and give it a listless, glazed-eyed fucking.

"When we first met there was romance and curious beauty, now all they want to do is go straight to the wallet then roll over."

“When we first met there was romance and curious beauty, now all they want to do is go straight to the wallet, then roll over.”

Essentially what I’m telling you is the longer this goes on I can feel myself nearing a Mongol-level literary extinction event. Now after reading that link, I’ve salvaged the excuse for this article existing. Knowing is half the battle brothers.

"Hold brothers, just one more short story about Kharn clipping his toenails and then we turn the Nottingham Canal black with ink."

“Hold brothers, just one more short story about Kharn clipping his toenails, and then we turn the Nottingham Canal black with ink.”

4 thoughts on “Sacking Alexandria: Musing on Black Library and the Horus Heresy Novels

  1. I didn’t like the rules, I questioned the wisdom of making models so big they needed there own carry case (multiple carry cases), I harrumphed at the exploding size of the armies, I loved the stories though. Really really liked them. And then the audio books happened. You are on the money with that, it soured the last enjoyment I had with GW. Now? I just couldn’t care about it. The first books were fresh and new: limited edition stories? Turned away.

    Great article by the way, solidified a lot of thoughts for me, thank you!

  2. Couldn’t agree more with everything you mention – I rememeber with fond memories the days when I started reading the HH and I had a huge backlog to catch up on, every time I finished one I knew I still had plenty more to go. Now it’s just frustrating and annoying knowing the stories and plotlines are carrying on in audiobooks and ebooks and novellas – it flat out pisses me off and has kinda killed my love for it. They’ve lost sight of the initial mission and have gone rogue – it’s all about the benjamins and not the bolters these days… shame. Oh and yeah, those stupid oversized editions were where the rot set in, bloody stupid.

  3. I’ve been opposed to the idea of the Horus Heresy from the beginning. Great scads of novels robbing the pre-history of the Imperium of all its myth and mystery? No thanks. I preferred ‘only the Emperor knows and you, dear reader, will just have to use your imagination or read Paradise Lost’. Once you have a series of novels you have a canon and once you have a canon… oh, fuck, here they come. Can you hear them? Clomp, clomp, clomp… that’s the sound of fanboy footfalls. And I bet none of ’em have read Milton.

    As for the rash of GW content across formats and editions and limitations… I honestly think it’s a frantic thrash and flail to put product out there, because some people will buy anything if you put the little yellow letters on the corner. That and the knowledge that fanboys will buy the same thing four times for completism’s sake. GW’s ideal customer is the equivalent of those record collectors who have to have every possible mix of that one song, including the one on that obscure EP that only came out in Mongolia, but hates bootlegs and downloading with a passion bordering on insanity.

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