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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meeting Richard Williams

The best laid plans
Unfortunately last Saturday's planned trip to Claymore fell through. I'm in a bit of a downswing just now and my main symptom is sleep disturbance, typical phase 1 for me. And so Friday night dragged on into Saturday morning leaving me facing 2 hours sleep before I was supposed to get up to catch an early bus to Edinburgh. The result was inevitable. Ah well, c'est la vie.

But still...
I did manage to make it to GW Glasgow on Friday afternoon to meet Black Library author Richard Williams. Richard proved friendly and easy-going as you'd expect and I passed a pleasant hour or so sharing his company with the other fans who'd turned out to meet him.

The inevitable signage
I'd taken along my copy of Liber Chaotica as planned. I'd thought that'd be all but Steve- the local manager, had managed to rustle up some copies of the currently out of print Reiksguard, in search of which I'd visited the store only the previous day and which had then been strangely absent from the shelves; so I bought that. As William and I prepared to pose for a couple of photos I figured that it'd be churlish not also to pick up a copy of the latest- and current, BL book in which Richard's writing has seen print: the anthology Legends of the Space Marines.

I seek the secret of success in Richard's mind as he signs over his soul to the Ruinous Powers 'just one more time'

Richard had some Scythes of the Empereror stickers to hand out; they're the chapter which features in his story in Legends of the Space Marines. I promptly stuck one of these inside my copy. In addition Richard'd had a little widget specially made which he used to emboss a wreathed skull inside copies of Reiksguard. Speaking simultaneously as they did of his pride in his BL work and of his remembrance of the other side of the fan experience, these were nice touches on Richard's part.

Offerings to appease the Ruinous Powers

Chat and stuff
One of the first questions I asked Richard was what had brought him north to Glasgow. It turned out that he was up in Scotland because KDC Theatre are at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a production of Ups & Downs- a play he's scripted, and so he'd decided to combine the trip with visits to GW Edinburgh and Glasgow. Ups & Downs features 5 souls in the afterlife's waiting room who face the business of filling out their application forms for heaven or hell, forms which are part of the Holy Ghost's newly streamlined system for final judgement. The show runs every day at noon until the 15th (that's this Sunday) and it sounds intriguing. I'm going to try and make the trip to see it.

With the other fans present we talked too about which armies we collect. Richard confessed to being more a random collector than an actual army-builder, although he did talk of an Alaitoc craftworld Eldar army (a craftworld of whose Pathfinders I have particularly painful memories) which he fields without Aspect Warriors in keeping with his theme of a scouting force. As a by the way, Andy- whose approach to army-building is as clean-shaven and cheese-free as it is possible to get, has suggested that Aspect Warriors are actually quite in keeping with Richard's theme because they're the full-time warrior castes as opposed to the citizen reservists represented by the Guardians. It'd work for me!

While talking about his writing Richard revealed that he'd used one of the Total War series of computer games- Medieval or Medieval II I expect, to stage a major battle from Reiksguard so that he could get a feel for its scale and of how it might look as it developed. This was very much to the delight of one young fan who was a big fan of the computer games too. I've only played the first of the series- Shogun: Total War, and that just a few times on its release back in 2000. The game impressed me like few others and I can see that the Total War engine would be ideal to help writers visualise the sort of huge battles which are common in fantasy novels.

A quick review
Reiksguard is going to have to work its way up my read pile, but I had time to read 'Orphans of the Kraken', Richard's story in Legends of the Space Marines. I liked it. I thought I'd better double check before I wrote anything about the story, so I read it again. I still liked it.

'Orphans of the Kraken' features Brother Sergeant Tiresias of the Scythes of the Emperor chapter. The story is set in the aftermath of the Scythes' near destruction at the hands of Hive Fleet Kraken. With the chapter's strength reduced to a fraction of normal and its homeworld destroyed so that most of the Scythes' geneseed has been lost forever, the new chapter master has adopted a long-term strategy of survival and recruitment to rebuild the chapter. Tiresias' role in this is to lead the new recruits in recovery missions, a role which leaves him bitter and resentful because he believes his new chapter master's strategy is futile and he'd rather see the Scythes just go out in a suitably martial blaze of glory.

Taking this premise, Richard's short and atmospheric opening immediately sets the story on a tragic arc. Then it's straight into Tiresias' lastest mission with his squad of neophytes, all of whom he regards as strictly second rate compared to his many dead battle brothers. The mission is to search for possible surviving Scythes battle brothers who might somehow be alive aboard a Tyranid bioship. Scenes of exploration and epic discovery, and well-crafted action sequences are combined with flashbacks which develop Tiresias' relationship with his neophytes so that his self-indulgent deathwish ultimately becomes a surprisingly thoughtful tale of redemption.

To say much more about 'Orphans of the Kraken' would risk spoilers. I have to note though that its theme has a special appeal to this DIY chapter master. I've written before about how Penumbra's Talons was founded single-handedly and on the spot by Franken Lar. The Talons were eventually recognised as a Chapter in the 4th Founding. This means that the Talons went through a long period- both during the Belonian Heresy Wars and after, in which a small nucleus of battle brothers would have been operating essentially unofficially. Even after their authorised founding the new chapter would have been sorely under strength and so would've had to be careful in how they committed their precious resources while simultaneously upholding their standing as Astartes. No prizes for spotting any similarities with Richard's story of the rebuilding of the Scythes.

A well-written story with that special geek appeal? Job well done Richard I have to say.

One last teaser
Richard told us that there is talk at BL of commissioning him to write to a novel featuring the Scythes of the Emperor. That was all the information he could give us last Friday. I'd probably buy it on the strength of 'Orphans of the Kraken' alone. Will I still feel that way after a play and a novel? Time will tell I guess. ;)
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