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.

Advertisements

Battlefield Science: 3D-printed supplies

Word is that the US military is walking on 3D printing technologies for use on the battlefield…to print food for its soldiers.

It sounds like the technology in question has already been tested and proven in the civilian context, but that the military is working on adapting and customizing the same technology for battlefield use.

While 3D printing food has implications for all kinds of innovation, not least down the road as a survival technology, e.g. enabling distressed soldiers or civilians to harvest edible supplies in their environment and have the machine produce complex foodstuffs from them (once sufficient miniaturization advancements have been performed), the current applications are most interesting for supply chain innovations and cost savings here and now. After all, if it’s possible to provide a group of soldiers in the field the same basic ingredients in bulk and rely on their machine to churn out the necessary supplies (with water added, presumably), it saves all the effort and cost of shipping processed, individualized food halfway around the world to sustain an army.

Following the old adage that an army marches on its stomach, this is nothing short of revolutionary. If portable, sturdy 3D printing of food is achieved, it allows units to become fully self-sustaining, packs potentially lighter (as water makes up most of the weight in food), supply chains shorter, and costs exponentially lower. It adds new meaning to the concept of lightweight, high-speed, sustainable warfare.

And the craziest thing? The technology is (almost) already here.

Celebrate the weekend with on-sale Hard Drop!

That’s right, after a short absence dedicated to writing the Hard Drop sequel, I have returned to announce a SALE: through the weekend, get Hard Drop at up to 2/3 off!

As ever, reach out and get in touch, either here or at @vandervaartwill for more Hard Drop.

Battlefield Science: Instant Wound Clotting

In tech and medicine news today, a new solution for stopping bullet wounds on the battlefield has been announced: XStat, a rapidly expanding sponge that fills the wound and stops bleeding, could stop bleeding, accelerate healing, and save lives on the battlefield.

This is only the latest in a series of recent battlefield innovations which are accelerating the advent of futuristic battlefield scenarios, from AI to Virtual Reality Overlays to killer robots and mechanization. But of all of those updates, this is the first I’ve seen which creates the opportunity to save lives – instead of providing more efficient means of taking them.

Hard Drop Sale Long Weekend!

It’s that time again – starting first thing this Thursday morning, May 29th, get your Hard Drop ON SALE at Amazon. For a limited time, through Sunday night, you can get your hands on this “balls to the wall action thriller” (per one enthusiastic reviewer).

Now is a great time to check out the first book in the Hard Drop series – with more to follow later this year. Check it out here and see for yourself.

And if you’re a Prime member, as ever, Hard Drop is available for FREE via the Kindle Online Lending Library!

The pictures that inspire Hard Drop

Like Hard Drop but prefer a more visual approach to SciFi world-building? Sadly, I can’t claim to be much of an artist, but thanks to the wonder of the internet, I am able to draw inspiration from people who are mindblowingly good. Check out the artists and images that inspire the Hard Drop series on Pinterest at the Hard Drop Board, where I am constantly amazed by new, incredibly detailed and improbably stunning artwork from a variety of artists. Go check it out, and check out their pages, too – you won’t be disappointed!

Sci-Fi Inspirations: Halo

For anyone who has read Hard Drop, it will be pretty darn clear that I’m a Halo fan. Not, mind you, in a ‘best FPS shooter/sci fi franchise ever OMG’-kind of way, but in the sense that I appreciate its engaging, simple-but-dynamic gameplay and storytelling.

More than any other game or franchise, Halo manages at once to be everything to everyone – at once qualifying as a simple, entry-level military-style shooter and as an intense, bullet hell cooperative or multiplayer experience, able to satisfy ‘real’ gamers (by which I mean FPS gamers with talent and fast-twitch reactions, of which I am not one), a blockbuster, deep-lore franchise with spin-off novels and a simple, stereotypical cheeseburger buddy action movie replete with absurdly over-the-top characters (Sergeant Johnson, anyone?) and meme-ready one-liners.

It would be difficult to argue that the series is market-leading for the realism of its gameplay (Call of Duty might take those honors), the intricacy of its weapons systems (Borderlands or perhaps Bioshock), the diversity of attacks possible (Bulletstorm), the depth of its lore (Skyrim, Bioshock, again, Assassin’s Creed), or even the uniqueness of its characters (although it is hard to resist the ultimate strong, silent appeal of Master Chief), but at the same time it is impossible (or at least foolhardy) to deny the appeal of the total package. Admittedly, several of the above-mentioned ‘market-leading’ games are sandbox-style, sprawling, build-your-own-adventure games, and so not directly comparable to Halo – but then, that’s the point. It’s difficult to imagine Halo as anything more than what it is: a very nearly on-rails shooter with a few easter eggs (ammo, weapons) if you turn that extra corner. And yet, that doesn’t matter one iota: the whole thing, put together, is so damn fun that it’s impossible to complain.

What Halo does, in my opinion, better than anyone else is provide solid, unquestionably appealing ingredients which players can then apply in any number of ways to great effect, unlocking a cotton candy veneer of wish fulfillment in the storyline. The systems of other games, including Call of Duty, require greater buy-in, or owe greater debts to realism, or else require the framework of the story to intrude on the gameplay experience (e.g. Assassin’s Creed or Bulletstorm, where you are never able to forget the game dynamics completely), but Halo is the ultimate in what you see is what you get.

The result is an impressive, blockbuster franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. Every new game adds a slightly new dynamic, tweaks leveling, adds new weapons or enemies, but the underlying concept – the user-enabling, all-purpose combat platform – remains cheerfully, gleefully the same. It is this unrepentantly happy approach to science fiction, combat, and story that I have tried to incorporate in my writing – and I am pleased to see, from a number of my reviews, that I have succeeded in doing so.