Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Acceptable in the '80s: The First Warhammer Novels

Many readers maybe surprised that GW's ambitions towards literature did not begin with the Black Library. Its a topic that I have covered before in the very early days of this blog and if you are after a swift overview of GW Books as they were in the 1980s have a quick browse through my article here. 

Issue 117 of White Dwarf saw the first major preview of the forthcoming Warhammer Novels range. And in the pre-internet age, it was the first time that any of us fans knew that there was to be written stories about our beloved Warhammer World. I knew instantly that I would be tracking down these books and devouring them. Even better, though. The preview came with a short story to get you into the swing of things, No Gold in the Grey Mountains, which is I guess the first published 'Warhammer' story. 

Before we delve further into the historical evidence, its is worth considering what actually inspired the lead designers of Warhammer, and later Rogue Trader, to produce the background that they did. Interestingly enough, Rick Priestley and Tony Ackland contributed to a fascinating conversation about this topic on the Oldhammer Facebook group over the last few days. I have edited that conversation and included it here for prosperity. 

Rick Priestley: Michael Moorcock - of which there was a great deal about in the 70s! Robert E Howard - well specifically the Conan stories which were extended and added to by L Sprague de Camp. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Those are the most influential ones really - though there was a lot of fantasy about. Dune and 2000AD - well that's 40K really - to which you have to add Dr Who, Blakes 7, Star Trek, Star Wars and such like - Heavy Metal magazine had some good stuff in it in the day. James Branch Cabell - well that's very Bryan - if we're going down that route I'd put Lord Dunsany ahead of JBC - both very enjoyable but not really very Warhammer (though Dunsany Time and the Gods has some very Warhammerish/sub-Moorcock elements to it). I suspect Bored of the Rings was a bigger influence than any of the more cerebral fiction - nailed Halfings I think!

Tony Ackland: Moorcock was a big influence on Bryan's ideas for developing Warhammer. Realm of Chaos and elements of 40K have their origins in both the Elric and Hawkmoon stories. Lone Sloane from Druillet provided the origin of the Red Redemption. Heinlein's Starship Troopers were the starting point for the Space Marines before morphing into something very different. Nemesis the Warlock from 2000AD was a big influence on 40K. That reminds me of the early days when I used to call in the newsagent's to pick up 3 copies of 2000AD. One for Bryan, one for Tom Meier, and one for myself. I recall Bryan lending me several Jame Branch Cabell books. Interesting reading but more philosophical than straight fantasy. We both had read a lot of Jack Vance, and Robert Sheckley, but although both of us were fans of their work they never really played much or any part in the Development of Warhammer. There was a time when Howard Chaykiin's Cody Starbuck would have infuenced Rogue Trader 40K. But that was soon left behind. Although a certain game of Target's owes those tales a big debt.

Tony Ackland:Origins? Of course all fantasy games of the period used a strange amalgam of Howard and Tolkien as a foundation. When it comes to Dune it's definitely more the movie than the book that had an influence. Of course there probably aren't that many people who are aware of an independent black and white, science fiction and fantasy anthology comic called Star Reach which both Bryan and I used to read when we could get hold of it. I think a few ideas from it were considered but possibly not used. But like Heavy Metal and the short lived Epic it would have contributed to the overall ethos.

Rick Priestley:With the original 40K book - it was for sure the book Dune - and it's many sequels - that were a big influence on me - that trick of the little quote from an imaginary retrospective history that was at the start of every chapter - I used that idea for a lot of 40K quotes and snippets in the old days. The film might have influenced the figure designers - I don't know - but I always thought it was a bit of a let down after the book - can't think of anything specific to the film that's an influence - the god-like Emperor of 40K owes a lot to Leto in Children of.. and God Emperor of... although there are other influences too... not least real religious predecessors! Though that is also true of Dune of course. Space Marines - well I hadn't read Starship Troopers when I wrote 40K (though I've read it since) so I'm not sure it was much of an influence on me - the figure design - I guess there was a tradition of SF models in that style (Laserburn/StarGuard etc) but the thing that inspired me was the Souther Trooper design in Rogue Trooper (2000AD) + the idea of making them 'Chaos Warriors'. If you look at the back of the helmet shape of the original SMs you'll see it looks a lot like the Souther helmet - whilst the pointy beaky front echos the Souther gasmask. We reworked the design a lot (Bob Naismith came up with the final image) but it started with a pencil sketch I did inspired by the 2000AD Southers. The various proto-marines all got released into a generic 'adventurer' code or some such IIRC.

Tony Ackland:  I remember the Souther influence on the original "Womble" marines. Interesting that with the numerous changes of artist that Rogue Trooper had that, that look disappeared from the comic. Bryan was the one keen on Starship Troopers, Heinlein was definitely another influence on him. He lent me quite a few that I had missed. Loved the original Dune but I must admit I never really got into the later Dune books. I know that John Blanche was influenced by Baron Harkonnen from the movie. And he referred it to some of the freelance artists working on 40K. I had read most of REH but was more a fan of Solomon Kane than Conan. One day somebody might make a movie on one of his characters that doesn't change the character or feature a stupid origin segment which is totally at odds with the original material. Of course I can't leave out Howard Phillips Lovecraft , Clark Ashton Smith, and Fritz Leiber as influences. And before I forget there is Poul Anderson who certainly had an infuence on both Bryan and myself. Guess which Warhammer creature is based on Anderson character?

Rick PriestleyHarry Harrison too for 40K.. almost forgot... especially Stainless Steel Rat and Deathworld series. Richard Halliwell was especially into Philip Hose Farmer - Riverworld series I remember. I read a lot of classic SF and fantasy too: Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, EE Doc Smith (yes I know! Harrison's 'Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers' was a classic send up of the genre), the John Norman Gor books (the ones with the raunchy covers you remember), Edgar Rice Burroughs obviously, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Anne McCaffrey... I'm not sure what of this is influential in terms of Warhammer and 40K and what isn't... I don't think we thought about it much at the time! Funny about John Blanche being influenced by the Dune movie ratrher than the book because John never did read anything! It was always a struggle getting him to draw from a written description, and in the end you just had to let him do what he wanted and change the text to fit! I think John's whole relationship to Warhammer was visual - I don't think he really had much interest in the ideas or narrative behind the image - let alone the game - bless!

Tony Ackland: Although he did like book of Clockwork Orange. But generally he wasn't into written SF and Fantasy. Is it possible to read EE "Doc" Smith after Star Smashers? The Gor books! Dom-sub fetishism loosely disguised as fantasy. Classic Norm Eastman art would not have been out of place on those covers! Lots of authors who helped shape the mindset I suppose. Had you read any E R Eddison?

Rick Priestley: Hi Tony - you know I never have, though I think we have a copy of The Worm Ouroboros somewhere - must be contemporary with James Branch Cabell and Dunsany - sounds like an interesting character. Apparently, he considered Tolkien's fantasy a bit 'soft' - mind you Moorcock was/is no fan either as he gives Tolkien a right slagging in Wizardry and Wild Romance - which is a must read for anyone who is at all into the history of the Genre - he rates Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword as hugely influential though - I know it was one of Jes Goodwin's faves.

Tony Ackland: Long time since I've read the Broken Sword. I remember people accusing him of stealing his dwarves names from Tolkien. He pointed out that Tolkien took his names from the same source-The Book of Dwarves. Though It is an unusual book for Anderson. The Polesotechnic League and Terran Empire stories are a must for any SF fan. 

As you can see from this page, the first two novels were Zaragoz and Drachenfels along with two anthologies; Ignorant Armies and Wolf Riders. If you glance back up at the top page, you will see that this article also mentioned other planned books, namely the first book in the Konrad sequence, the two Dark Future novels and Ystareth, which was obviously the original name for Plague Daemon. What strikes me looking back on these is the quality that oozes from the pictures and book covers as anyone who owns one of these first editions will know. I have heard from my sources that these books were formatted a larger size than normally, which caused problems with book sellers stocking the new books on their shelves. Another matter worth considering, is that all the novels and many of the short stories were penned by 'proper' sci/fi and fantasy authors rather than 'part timers' that spew out many of the more modern BL books. Just reading the prose of No Gold in the Grey Mountains is enough to show you that these stories are of a very different callibre than the majority of the Black Library ones. 

Oddly, there were no Rogue Trader 40k books originally planned. I wonder why?

I will be reviewing each book in the sequence as the time comes (and I actually read them) but with the summer 
holiday fast approaching I shall have plenty of time to read them! Until then, here is a scan of No Gold In the Grey Mountains. Have a read a see what you think compared to the more modern fiction? Better? The same? Worse? 

What are your thoughts?


  1. Don't you count Ian Watson's 'Inquisitor' series as being RT books? ;-)

    Having read GW fiction both old and modern, the older books are generally much better written in my view. They benefit from being set in the War hammer or 40k settings, but without the need (obligation?) to only include recognizable units from army lists.

    1. I do, yes, but they were not part of the this initial release. This makes me wonder why there were no sci-fi Rogue Trader books from th every beginning. I guess fantasy was still considered king back then!

  2. I like Dan Abnett's new stuff quite a lot, but (being an older Hammerer) I'd agree - the stuff back in the day was better, weirder and darker. What was that short story in WD, the one with the Grey Wizard? That is one of my favourite short stories of any genre.

  3. I read quite a few of these as a kid, Drachenfels and Konrad were great from what I can remember.
    Was "Red Thirst" not in the first release as well?

    I still have a very worn copy of Wolf Riders and reread some of the stories in it now and again.

  4. Could you maybe upload it as an PDF file? Can't read it properly as images. :)
    A list over the old book (by release date) would also be very appreciated.
    Since WFRP 1st Edition got me into Warhammer I have always loved reading warhammer novels that caught the same atmosphere.

    Also, thumbs up for all the hard and nice work you are doing! :)

  5. The early Warhammer books were the best game fiction I ever read. Good enough that my poet/writer girlfriend at the time picked up Drachenfels and read the whole thing without complaint... then asked if I had more.

  6. I own 4 of the large format novels. I have to say the early stuff is pretty solid and enjoyable to read. Seemingly matching with the times though, all the books got more ridiculous and superhero-esque versus the original dark and dangerous fantasy.

    I thought Brian Craig's ordeo trilogy managed to stay pretty consistent. The gotrek series degenerated very fast. And it was sad to see the later inquisitor stuff didn't (IMO) hold a candle to the original novel. I can't shake a feeling that Ian Watson simply didn't want to write the later books.

  7. Drachenfels is still one of my all-time faves. Would make for a great film or HBO mini-series too.

  8. I love the Genevieve novels, they're absolute gems. I've been slowly collecting up novels from the early releases for a while. I've got Wolf Riders and managed to snag a copy of Ignorant Armies, which has a couple of corkers, including a story about a Slann space adventurer who gets lost in the Chaos Wastes looking for a spaceship. I only need a couple of Orfeo and Konrad books, plus Inquisitor, and I think I've got everything!

  9. Hey james...excellent article as usual. I've actually never read any of these and would like to pick up a selection...I've combed through your previous post with all the fantasy books summarized...but would love to see a list of the Dark Future, and Rogue Trader books...can you point me toward a list of those?

    Keep up the good work!

  10. The Konrad trilogy shaped my view of Chaos in the Old World and still do, despite my copies sitting their for the last 15 years waiting to be read again.

    Beasts in Velvet is a good read, the sort of Warhammer book that won't be written today.

    1. Beasts in Velvet pretty much captures the atmosphere of the Empire for WFRP1e - a rotten society of corrupt nobles and corrupted revolutionaries, leaving only a very little space for an honest man (or halfling) to attempt to do a little good.

      Speaking of Warhammer books that wouldn't be written today, I am sure that there is a short story in one of the early anthologies in which a young noble is initiated into adulthood by killing a unicorn and eating the... well... ejaculate... produced in its death throes.

  11. Excellent article, I still have my very beaten up copies of Drachenfels and Wolfriders.
    Somehow my copy of Space Marine got lost.

  12. Konrad was my first quickly followed by Drachenfels, then which ever volume had the Gotrek and Felix story set in the Border Princes, sadly never did get hold of the others to read them at the time.

    Last year (2014) I got the Genevieve collection by the Black Library in a charity shop for £1, damn they were good stories.....