Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Horus Heresy - Black Library's Challenge

While trying to organize my review for Mechanicus I started thinking about the unique challenges faced by Black Library writers. In short a writer must integrate themselves into an existing universe while conforming to a predefined canon, style, and tone. That is no mean feat. Thinking on this idea further I was trying to decide what exactly defines the Horus Heresy.

When trying to define the writing style of Warhammer 40K, you really have to think sci-fantasy. Warhammer 40K is nominally sci-fi but perhaps more accurate to be called sci-fantasy and even more accurately, dystopian gothic sci-fantasy. This style is most keenly felt in the diction choice both through spoken dialog and description. Black Library uses anachronistic word selection which conveys a sense of age and authority to the text. In addition, Black Library has cultivated a pidgin language of pseudo-Latin techno-speak. Perhaps the greatest aspect of this unique pidgin is how it manages to merge science and religion through root word choices, creating a high description word selection.

Where the Horus Heresy differs is that it is not dystopian. It is still gothic sci-fantasy but the fledgling Imperium has not yet lost its innocence. This is found in the diction choice. The dialog and description is decidedly more positive, everything is tinged with a sense of anticipation. The galaxy is falling to the might of the Emperor and his Legions. The Horus Heresy is the zenith of the Imperium. This diction choice directly supports the narrative them of the Horus Heresy. Mankind is ascendant. Horus Heresy is about man at his finest with the galaxy firmly in his grip.

This is itself in direct contradiction to Warhammer 40K where the galaxy is in a slow decline to stagnation; a stagnation of both spirit and mind. Whereas Warhammer 40K is full of heroes facing valiantly fighting a loosing battle, Horus Heresy is still an age of conquest and glory. The Emperor and his Primarchs walk with mankind. In Warhammer 40K the Emperor and the Primarchs are nearly myth, cloaked so heavily in mysticism from the passage of time.

So, when I am reading a Horus Heresy novel I really look to see how well an author captures the feel of the Horus Heresy universe; the sense of hope and glory. I can’t imagine how tricky this must be for the Black Library’s long time contributing authors as due to the amount of time they have spent in the Warhammer 40K universe proper and its distinctly different style. Not only does the author have to capture the unique pidgin and cleave to the canon but they also have to reverse course on the theme of the universe. This fact is of the utmost importance because after all, everyone knows the end of the Horus Heresy story. If the Black Library and its writers do not build up the narrative enough then the fall will impact weakening the most pivotal moment of the entire Warhammer 40K universe. Now that is a daunting challenge...fit for a Space Marine.

Image Source: The Black Library

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