The Black Library – have any book you want, as long as it comes in Marine….

black-libraryIt’s been preying on my mind recently that something is missing from the recent and upcoming releases from Black Library, something that was really brought to the fore by my own recent good fortune in getting something published by GW’s local rival Mantic Games.

To tie in with the release of their new skirmish game Deadzone, Mantic opened their doors to submissions for some short stories set on their campaign world of Nexus Psi.

The brief was simple – show off the game setting and some of the factions, and have some fun. Now, for a shooty-gun sci-fi game, the obvious temptation was to go balls out with the boomsticks and knock out some good old war-porn.

However, there was an aspect of the setting that really interested – the super Corporations that controlled the human ‘empire’ and were all about the profit. Way more interesting to my mind than two sets of grunts sexing each other up with ever-increasing sized guns. As it happened, my twisty-turny Corporate espionage piece seemed to hit all the right notes with the guys at Mantic, and instead of making it into the e-book compilation, it’s going to be the only one printed in the actual hard copy campaign book itself.

CLANG!: Details and a name drop here: Mantic Blog – ‘Martin

Excuse me while I take a minute to bask in that awesomeness.

Anyways, that piece of good news, combined with the realisation that I hadn’t bought a Black Library book in an absolute age, got me thinking. Just because I enjoy sci-fi based wargames, not everything has to war based for me to enjoy it. And that’s what’s lacking from Black Library at the moment.

War huh? What is it good for?

Lets take a look at the recent crop of Black Library 40k related releases for a moment (and yes I’m counting Horus Heresy stuff here, don’t get all pedantic):

Just take a moment to scan through all those titles. Notice anything? Aside from the frankly ridiculous number of e-books (for a publishing company, Black Library seems not to want to do any actual physical publishing, thereby cutting those of us who like the actual tangible presence of a book out of most of their output) probably 90% of those books are about Space Marines. Good Marines, bad Marines, Marines of every colour. But basically, if it ain’t power armour, it ain’t in.

Want to read something? Here, have a story about Marines fighting Marines in a power armoured clang-off. Finished that? Great, here’s the same story, but now the Marines are in different colour clothes! Amazing! All done? Cool, have this story about…wait for it….a Marine! ZOMG more bolters!

Really guys? Really? The whole rich setting of Warhammer 40K to choose from and all you want people to write about is Marines fighting?

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a clang-off as much as the next man. In moderation though. I don’t want every damn book I read to be about Marines rark-swoosh-thud-crumping their way through life, whether it’s Heresy or current timeline related. Where are the books about the other important aspects of the Imperium? The Inquisition, the Church, the Arbites, the regular man on the street caught up in events beyond his control? Come to that, where are the books about other races? Bar a handful of books about both flavours of Eldar and a smattering of Tau stuff, anyone who isn’t a power-armour behemoth gets short shrift at the moment.

The Horus Heresy series sounded like a great idea – finally a chance to get a proper look at the most important event in 40k history, and it started strong. Didn’t take long for the rot to set in though, and the recent crop of titles have been mostly disappointing routine Marine punch-fests. But then, what else can you expect from an event that is basically just Marines vs Marine?

Here’s an idea, how about something from the Imperial Army perspective? The Heresy affected the entire Imperium, not just the Astartes, but you wouldn’t know that from the books so far.

Move. Shoot. Rinse. Repeat

But lets get back to 40k.
Back in the day, BL were happy to take some chances, release some ‘civilian’ stories that were absolutely fanstastic. Not just the Eisenhorn and Ravenor series, but also Faith and Fire, the Shira Calpurnia series, Atlas Infernal amongst others. Even the Necromunda related stuff like Status Deadzone and Junktion. That’s the kind of stuff I like to read, and want to see from BL, something a bit different and something that can’t be explored through the game itself to any great degree. No matter how good they are, Marine-fight-books always boil down to a final battle, usually against the odds and it gets very samey and dull after a while. Sadly, BL seem entirely uninterested in releasing anything save that kind of book at the moment, instead foisting the same juvenile war-porn in different clothes every time.

Aside from Abnett’s glorious new Bequin trilogy, the pickings are slim for those of us who want a little more from BL. And with the submission window remaining resolutely closed (even when it was open, their overriding message was ‘show us you can write standard Marine bolter-porn and maybe, maybe, you’ll get to do something else) I see little evidence that anything is going to change soon. I used to pick up every book that BL released, every damn one. I still have boxes full of them in my house. But I honestly cannot remember the last one I bought. I think it was Pariah, so that’s November 2012.

So what gives? Is Black Library scared of taking a chance on non-Marine stuff for some reason? Do they think that we only want to read about good Marines punching bad Marines and vice-versa? Ok, maybe they were stung by Zhou-gate and understandably want to make sure that new writers don’t make the same mistake/lie, but sacrificing originality in favour of mass produced fare is…well…bland.

And that kinda sums up Black Library at the moment. Bland Library. I don’t even want to go into the abused, abandoned and stunted child that the Warhammer Fantasy options. Sometimes it’s just kinder to put something out of its misery and walk away.

Still, least we can read more about how Marines fought Marines then fought some other Marines before having tea and then fighting some non-Marines.


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