The future of authorship and the creation of worlds: The Black Library

Before I start this post, I should explain: I cannot claim to be the biggest Warhammer afficionado, I don’t own any of the maps or armies, and I am relatively new even to the books. I am not here to critique, praise, or discuss plot in detail. But, having read a handful of the Horus Heresy series of books, I am convinced that the model of writing which they represent is the future of authorship, and more generally, media.

For those of you who are not familiar, the Black Library is the fiction publishing arm of Games Workshop, creators of the well-known, much-played Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 games, and they explore the universe(s) in which those games are set. The books published through the Black Library share a clearly recognizable lore and tone, and draw heavily from various and sundry influences including elves, orcs, demons, Greco-Roman, Germanic, and Norse mythology, as well as a wide array of other cultures, traditions, and legends.

What makes the Black Library so fascinating is that each book in the series is written by a revolving panel of writers and explores overlapping, but not necessarily directly consecutive, storylines within the broader universe. By collaborating, the committee of authors creates a coherent, rich timeline with deep storylines and – above all – a rapidly growing base of content. To put this in perspective, consider: the Horus Heresy series, the one I am familiar with, has been written since 2006. In that time, 30 novels have been published (some full-length, some combinations of short stories and novellas). And that is only a minority portion of the larger Black Library canon.

Some novels are indubitably better than others (and of course the series is not looking to appeal to every reader), but the fundamental, deeply impressive fact remains: if you are interested in Warhammer, there is, from the moment you start, an ocean of material awaiting you. And it is ever-growing.

Author collaborations are not necessarily a new thing – in some form, they have existed for some time – and of course Warhammer provides a fertile lore from which to draw, but to the best of my knowledge, the Black Library is unique, or at least remarkable, for the way in which collaboration is embraced, and for the speed and uniformity of content which it produces. The trend towards open-source universes is growing, of course: other authors (notably Hugh Howey and his Wool series) have begun to embrace the idea, while Amazon even supports monetized fan fiction for a variety of titles, but for now, at this moment, I have not yet seen anything to match the effectiveness of the Black Library’s approach. Where reliance on a single creator (such as George R. R. Martin) may be the default approach, with a clear plot and limited cast of characters, it is also achingly slow. By comparison, a lore-driven, universe-exploring, creation by committee process keeps readers satisfied steadily and unrelentingly. I expect to see much more of it in future.

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