Archive for November, 2011

Look! Look! Look! It’s the cover of my next Richards & Klein novel, Omega Point! This is book two (or should I say part two?). I say part two as really, the first two books are one case. But buy lots, then I shall be able to write more novels featuring this intrepid, post-human investigative duo. I really want to, you know. And I swear that, until the big finale at least, it will be one book per investigation from now on in.

If you don’t know Richards the Class Five AI and his ex-military German cyborg partner, check them out. I’d urge you to  nip out and buy the book, but if you prefer a taster can download “The Nemesis Worm”, a short novella featuring another of the pair’s cases, either off Amazon, or here on this site. Oh, they’re detectives, in the future. It’s way cool, really.

The cover art is by Neil Roberts. Ain’t it grand? Go to Angry Robot’s website for more. I’ll be putting a page up for the book myself this week.

Omega Point is out 24 April in the US and Canada, and 3 May everywhere else.



I always intended this to be a primarily a blog about writing, and about SF. After all, I am a writer, and I’ve been a science fiction journalist since 1997.

The wargaming post I put up the other day, Why I love the beast, my musings on Games Workshop’s high prices and actually why I don’t really care too much, got so many hits I think I’ll be writing about toy goblins again.

Fortunately, this particular entry will cover both. Last week I finished work on Mantic Journal 05, launching the company’s new SF wargame, Warpath. This system follows their fantasy system Kings of War in most respects (entire units as playing pieces, emphasis on morale, timed turns and so forth), and is also written by Alessio Cavatore. It works very well, I have to say, and the ranges of miniatures they have planned are very nice (especially some of the things you haven’t seen yet – the human range is pretty damn fine).

Overall Mantic make some good models, their Undead and Forge Fathers ranges being my personal favourites. They’ve a number of advantages over some other company’s miniatures. They’re very reasonably priced, for a start. 30 Zombies, for example, will set you back a mere £19.99. They’re easy to put together. Although they don’t have quite the range of variation a GW set might have, they’re very quick to get on the battlefield, with an amount of detail that is just right for mass wargame models as it makes them somewhat swifter to paint. Lastly, they’re pretty generic. They’re not as system specific as the likes of War Machine,  so can be used for most games without too much trouble.

That’s where I, and the writing, come in. Besides editing the Mantic Journal (which is shortly to change form, so watch this space), I also write a good deal of the background for Mantic. This is an interesting exercise. For a start, in many cases I’m building on and from what other people have already invented. Not least the model sculptors – who have already decided what kind of weapons and adornment a race uses;  or the system designer – Alessio has thought a l ot about their various strategies of war by the time I get to it. And a lot of the early background was written by Ant Reynolds, especially that for the Undead. So I have to stitch this all together and come up with something new.

Now that things are a bit more organised, I’ve been getting a short brief for every race background I write from Alessio. From this I generate 4000 words covering each of the main units that have been made at length, the ones that haven’t somewhat more briefly, an overview (usually adapted and extended from Alessio’s material) and a short story. This is a lot of fun for a writer to do, and proves a fine exercise in the art of worldbuilding. The restrictions on what can be written are quite tight – as I mentioned, the models are generic, so the world has to be. Then there’s everything else I mention above. From one perspective it can look like an exercise in rearranging old cliches, from the other, it’s a tight bit of mental gymnastics putting a fresh spin on things in a small box. And, like a honey badger turning around in its skin to bite you, the results can be surprising. In a good way.

Um, ignore that mustelid-based analogy, it wasn’t very good. Really, most of my writing is better than that.

Point is, there’s plenty of fresh mileage to be had, even in worlds with dwarf/elves/humans/orcs etc. In this case, the trammels I have make it a satisfying writerly challenge to reinvigorate their narratives.

Argh! I can’t help it. I should hate them, and jump up and down and scream. Have you seen the prices? But by jiminy, those models are just so fine…

I speak of Games Workshop, the Very Big Hobby Company, for whom I once worked as editor of Fictional Albino Shorty magazine, and for whose publishing arm I now write books (this is my disclaimer, so you can add your own bias to the following musing, like that sachet of soy sauce to a pot noodle. I reckon these posts have around the same nutritional content). I’ve been playing GW fantasy and science fiction wargames since I was very, very young. I’ve grown up on its worlds, which led me on to many other things. I’m a devotee, you might say.

Gaming was cheaper then. This was a time when a fantasy skeleton warrior made of toxic lead alloy cost you less than ten pence. Models in those days came in a plastic bag, not dissimilar to those that are often used to house drugs (this is a measured analogy), stapled to a piece of card. I’m sure there are many old bearded males even balder and grumpier than I who feel that “Those were the days”.

Back then, the range of models to be had was quite small, and if you ever did get to put an army together, it weighed so much you needed to buy a donkey or similar pack animal to carry it to a friend’s house. Said friend had to be a very good friend, because you’d be staying there for two weeks, the average duration of a wargame. Now, the games are fast and furious, the models genuine works of art (and light as feathers).

The reason I’m writing this is that this very evening I put together a battlescape for Warhammer 40,000 – for those of you not in the club of sad old dice rollers, never mind. It’s a piece of decoration for a battlefield. This piece, not even a toy soldier, you understand, is so awesome it made me do a little giggle putting it together.

It was also £15.40. That’s cheap in this world, bub.

10p doesn’t buy you much any more, the average model is well over a pound whatever it is made out of – and there aren’t a great many models in GW’s many ranges that deserve the label “average”. There have been an endless series of price hikes that have sent elements of the hobby community hopping mad, not least the last.

This last came in the wake of the company replacing their last metal models (long made of a tough, modelling unfriendly, yet non-toxic, alloy) with a cold-cast plastic resin dubbed by GW’s miniatures brand Citadel as “Finecast”. That this stuff is almost certainly cheaper to buy than metal is neither here nor there, the opportunity arose to put up the prices again, and so they did.

Why do they do this? It drives some of us mental. But let’s look at it objectively. The boom times of The Lord of The Rings movie releases, that brought a lot of money in to GW, are long gone (I saw some unwise choices made there toward the end, but that it was a bubble, and that it was difficult to capitalise because of its transient nature, is undeniable). Their attempt to turn their niche hobby into one that appealed to a mass market was a noble failure. They’ve got to make their money somewhere, and looking in from the outside it looks suspiciously to me like GW is repositioning itself as a business that deals in a niche, high-cost hobby that sells to a small group of customers. Like it used to be, in fact.

Apart from the high cost bit.

Yet £10-20 pounds for a SINGLE character model? Come on! The sad fact is that Warhammer and its sister games are no longer a pocket-money hobby. At today’s prices one could buy a basic regiment every couple of weeks on average pocket money, but to play the game you need a minimum of around five or six things of £20 or so, and that’s not including the paints, scenery, glue and rulebooks.

So why do I continue to shell money out on this ravenous coin beast? And I do, even though my attic is stuffed full of as yet unpainted soldiers. Simple really, the models they make are just so damn cool. The standard of sculpture some of their kits exhibit is breathtaking, and get better every year. Never mind that, say, their ace Blood Dragon Vampire Knights are £61.50 for five (£12.30 each. £12.30 EACH!). They are amazing pieces.

As an aside here, not all their models are that expensive. I am very sure that the price of a particular model has nothing to do with its base production cost, and everything to do with how spectacular it will look in an army, and how powerful it is in the game. Though there is also the less exploitative consideration of price per (manufacturing) unit. Something like the aforementioned regiment is a one or two purchase per undead gamer, unlike for example skeleton warriors for the same army (£15.50 for ten) which would be a multiple purchase. Therefore the cost of the sculpting time, moulding etc is proportionally lower per model for skeletons than vampire knights. I’m not sure we hobbyists always bear this in mind. (Is it 806% lower? Probably not, but still).

I won’t sugar coat it, I had a tough time working at GW, and I found some of the things they did distasteful, a couple downright personally damaging. But then, I suspect I’d find the same in most businesses. I am not cut out for a corporate environment perhaps, or rather, I’m not prepared to embrace my inner bastard in order to flourish in a corporate environment. I’ve seen dark-side Guy, and he’s an A-grade twat. Let’s leave him in his box. But this is not an evil company by a long chalk.

Is GW exploitative toward its customers? Maybe a little. Yeah, I know the ludicrous margin they demand each of their products provide, no, I’m not going to tell you. Are they out to get as much of my money as possible? Almost certainly. But the company doesn’t hold a gun to my head, it gets my cash by making exciting games, models that make me pee myself a bit, and setting them in immersive, complicated worlds. Who cares that these worlds exhibit widespread borrowing from every major SF and fantasy property ever, sometimes very poorly disguised? They were dreamt up by people playing games, and that’s what people do when playing games. The settings have grown well beyond their roots now, and become influential in themselves.

It doesn’t matter. Y’see, if I had £61.50 to spare, I’d probably get me some of those knights, or something similar. The fact is that I don’t have any money at all any more, but if I had, I would. Things are worth what people will pay for them. Hard truth of capitalism, live with it (at least until the end of Western civilisation, which seems scheduled for next Tuesday).

For you angry gamers out there, the crux of the matter is this: Can you really say that someone is abusing you who makes something you want, something you still pay for even while bitching about how much it costs? Not something you need, just would like. Something you can live easily without. To read some forums you’d think the company bosses were pulling a chocolate company stunt on African baby milk, you really would.

The whole thing reminds me of the hobby grumblings back in the 90s that laid the demise of RPGs at GWs feet. This was not really true, the decline of RPGing as a mass passtime is a complex thing. Look what survived though – the very same Amazing Models inc. Why? Mainly because they made really cool stuff, not because they stopped selling Runequest.

There are a lot of miniature producing firms out there now, and some make very good models at much lower prices. But GW’s are still far and away the best. This is why they survived the gaming implosion of the early 90s, and why I still pay up.

Today I went into a Games Workshop and bought some things. Was I horrified by the prices? Hell yeah. Was I excited? Oh indeedy. Am I exploited? Nope.

Damn you Games Workshop, I love your toys. That’s why you’ll always get your hands on my cash, although I reserve the right to weep and swear as I hand it over.

Hello! Many apologies for the long absence. I have been much occupied, first with writing Champion of Mars, then with the Mantic Journal 05. This will be the last magazine in this series in this format, but it will be living on in new form. Watch this space. Then, we’ve had child illnesses, dog training, a lack of childcare and parental visits. Dr Magnus raised a few eyebrows by pulling my son Benny all the way round Westonbirt Arboretum on his little trike when my folks were here. That was fun.

What I’ve been up to (list non-exhaustive)

I started my next book for the Black Library nine days ago. I don’t think I can tell you what it’s all about, but it contains an awful lot of goblins. This is due to be handed in by the end of January, and I think it’s coming on quite well. I’m looking good to hit my deadline comfortably . For once.

A Richards & Klein short story is underway! I’m halfway through. I’m actually going to try to place it with a short story magazine, but if this fails I’ll have it up here. It concerns Richards’ secretary Genie, a ghost, and a gunfight in an illegal fish and chip shop. Once that’s done I will write another, as I’d like to build up a collection of R&K cases.

I have written two features for the next SFX special. I don’t think the topic of the mag is public yet, but think spooky. One is a genuine account of a terrifying experience I had, and I look forward to sharing that with you even though it still gives me the collywobbles.

I’ve also been confirmed to attend the next SFX Weekender, which is shaping up to be the premier multi-media SF event in the UK. If you’re dithering about buying ticket, you now have a reason to come! (I say with ironic self-deprecation, naturally).

Inspired by the Game of Thrones TV series, I have begun the initial phase of plotting on a fantasy epic (stage 1: in my head). I may write a little diary thing on this if I get the time, and post samples and stuff of that ilk so you can see how it works. We’ll see.

I underwent many palpitations at filing my latest tax return, and at one moment looked to be stuck in a deadly mine cart screaming all the way down to the hells of penury. Luckily, I used my guile to escape. I’m guiled out, but I think I won’t go bankrupt. I am going to blog about this.

Lastly, I have taken the opportunity to update my site today. I promise I would. I’m only two weeks late, which seems to be about normal for me. Included for your excitement are:

An interview with Joanne Harris.

An interview with Robin Hobb.

A featurette on Flesh, the 2000 AD dino series, including a good chat with creator Pat Mills.

Several reviews, including one of Hyperdrive.

Magnus finally has his own page.

And my favourite, a rant about the infantilising effect of nostalgia in SF. Read that one, go on. I get mean.