Monday, 8 June 2015

Bleak Rumours Surrounding Black Library

Talking about Games Workshop these days is always a problematic subject. Given how hard the company tries to hold its cards to its chest and the lack of community interaction, it's often hard to get confirmed or viable information. As such this is one which has been put off for quite some time, both not to sound like a broken record and because, ultimately, what's here are rumours. What you're going to read is just going to be what's been personally pieced together from what we've seen rather than anything with any truly official backing, and it's only a string of recent events which have prompted this to be published.

Those who have been active on the Eternal Crusade forums might have noticed Graham McNeill's recent announcement. Posted on his blog and re-posted on several major forums, the long-time author of Iron Warriors, Ultramarines, Thousand Sons and the Adeptus Mechanicus is moving from the UK to California. Not only that, but he's moving countries in order to work with producing the lore for another company: Riot Games, or in other words, League of LegendsMcNeill's actual blog and statements can be found here, but he specifically stated the following in regards to his current work:

"Ah, but what does this mean for all things Warhammer…?
Well, first and foremost, I’m a writer, so I’m not going to stop writing books any more than I’m going to choose to stop breathing. I’m still working on my current Horus Heresy novel, The Crimson King (I’ve just handed in the first half…) and will continue to write for the Black Library. Clearly my output will diminish, what with having a full time, salaried day job, but I’ll still be keeping my hand in. I have stories of Uriel Ventris yet to tell and the Battle for Macragge isn’t going to write itself. And, having been involved with the Horus Heresy series since its very opening act, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to show up for its final dramas and its curtain calls. Expect the odd quick read or audio to pop up here and there too. In short, I’m still going to keep you entertained with grim tales from the 41st Millennium, the Horus Heresy and beyond."

Hopeful words indeed, but it's the fact that he's only now stating his output would slow which remains concerning. Love him or hate him for his efforts, McNeill is one of the big three authors producing work for the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and much of his career has been built from expanding upon their lore. While he's certainly delved into other universes, that has only been a relatively recent development with the likes of his Cthulhu trilogy and I, Mengsk. To so suddenly jump from working for one company to another, mid-series no less, is a blow to the setting and would slow production of future novels.

However, then you have to consider something else: We've actually been seeing this a lot lately from Black Library's major authors. Think about it for a second, of all the writers involved in Warhammer fiction and producing their big novels, how many big names have we suddenly seen diverge into new projects:

For starters, consider Dan Abnett of Eisenhorn, Gaunt's Ghosts and Brothers of the Snake fame. While he's worked on everything from Transformers to Guardians of the Galaxy and his own individual novels, Abnett has been one of the core authors helping to better expand upon the setting. Abnett himself is in the middle of several big series, from a third and apparently final act focusing upon Eisenhorn to the Horus Heresy and even a Double Eagle sequel. All have been fan favourites, yet all have gone oddly unremarked upon, and instead we have seen him pushing for new territories. He was responsible for Alien: Isolation's script, is working on Dreadnought (the video game, not the armoured war sarcophagi) and his long awaited novel The Warmaster seems to have gone unremarked upon. Look up what he's been producing and you'll find five or six different dates when it was expected to be published, from this month all the way back to December 2013 and October 2014.

Now, given his nature, Abnett might have still not raised too many eyebrows, but then think of something else: Where's Aaron Dembski-Bowden's work in all this? The man is a near universal fan favourite. He's working on Master of Mankind, the Horus Heresy again and his much lauded Black Legion series. Yet despite this, it's been announced that he's now working on an entirely different project. Look to his blog and there's less commentary upon future Black Library projects than there is his webcomic Road to Jove. Also, on an unrelated note, please take a look at Road to Jove, it's off to one hell of a start.

Still, this could just be seen as branching out despite the lack of full novels, yet then atop of all this there are a few bigger factors. For starters, when has the last full novel you saw with James Swallow's name on it? When was the last time you saw something set in the Old World or Grim Darkness of the Far Future universes by Sandy Mitchell? When was the last time you saw something new by William King or Andy Chambers? It's been years for a full story in all of those cases, and in the latter two it's especially surprising given their successes helming major trilogies. At best we have seen one or two short stories, but nothing lengthy or substantial. This isn't some small fraction of their talent pool either, all are veterans when it comes to writing this universe with substantial numbers of fans.

Look to Black Library's latest releases and what do you see instead? Re-releases and short stories by the bucket load. There's yet another release of Spear of Macragge, Plague Harvest, and Veil of Darkness, along with War of the Fang, and those are just the recent ones. We're now also seeing Xenos, Nightbringer and Warriors of Ultramar - the second of which had a special anniversary re-release mere months ago - along with others such as Angels of Darkness. Even the Horus Heresy series, Black Library's flagship success of late, has devolved into an endless parade of short stories and novella length anthologies.

The new material we do see is peppered between these releases, often by newer or lesser known authors by comparison to those mentioned such as David Annandale, Josh Reynolds and others. All talented men to be sure, and no offense to their skill as writers, but it's still a curious move. It shows that, all of a sudden, the most talked about names seem to have suddenly lessened the flow of their work for this company, and Black Library is relying more and more heavily upon older re-releases as a crutch than it ever has in past eras. These seem to have replaced the constant stream of new novels by other authors, and the new ones we get are almost inevitably released at first in a full hardcopy format. This was true to some degree with the big series, yet now it's happening even for those without any established fandom for them, such as Rob Sanders' Mechanicus duology.

I am going to be blunt here: I think Black Library is in a worse state than we know. With all this happening, it seems to point towards the company being in trouble, trying to lessen costs while boosting sales however it can. This has, of course, been going on for some time but it's the fact that so many of the higher-up names seem to have moved away which has highlighted just how bad this problem might be. That and a few other incidents of the past years which has seen the company stumbling into crisis after crisis it seems.

One of the big ones of late seems to have been the fate of Dark Hunters: Umbra Sumus, which has gone unremarked upon for sometime. Some of you might have seen this series promoted some time ago, about another space marine chapter with a great deal of effort to hype their inclusion. Many promises were made and focus put onto how this was one of Jaghatai Khan's chapters and what differed them from so many of their contemporaries. Yet after so much artwork and promotional material, all of a sudden everything went silent. Atop of this, blog posts and early extracts were removed entirely along with pretty much any evidence on Black Library's website at all. This was certainly surprising given this was set to be their new big release, so what happened? The answer: Lawyers, but not Games Workshop's for once.

An urban fantasy series written by Sherrilyn Kenyon just happened to be named Dark-Hunter and reports have come in that law related headbutting ensued. You can find a few comments here and here which cover the bare basics, and how Black Library is allegedly burning their new novels by the truckload. Also, as an aside, while this might be Games Workshop being bullied for a nice change, it's eyebrow raising to see this coming from a franchise which has novels like Devil May Cry in it. This was certainly a blow to them to be sure, and given how we have seen nothing so simple as a basic title change seems things did not go well. 

The next big sudden issue seems to have been the continued lawsuit surrounding the apparent plagarism relating to Flesh and Iron. The last novel in the abruptly shortened Bastion Wars series came under fire when it was released back in 2010, and was both abruptly removed from shelves. Following this, the author Henry Zhou abruptly stopped writing for Black Library. So what happened? Supposedly Zhou had lifted sections wholesale from another novel titled House to House with some minor editing. This would be bad enough, but this book was the memoirs of an Iraq War veteran. Well, this problem has arisen again, not long after Black Library decided it was time to re-print the entire series in omnibus form, resulting in another lawsuit. This time the author is going the extra mile to get his revenge, using it as a point to sue the living hell out of the company. You can find the full information here.

Now, both of these are bad, and combined with the sudden semi-departure of their big writers, it's a situation which I don't see them escaping from any time soon. Both are certainly costly events, and even if they're settled out of court I can't see them ending well. Perhaps the worst part is the sheer lack of information when it comes to the people buying their products. Rather than commenting upon the reasons for Dark Hunters' sudden disappearance, fans are forced to hunt down answers for themselves with no information as to why a novel they were looking forwards to is gone. The Facebook and Twitter pages have been nuked, and there is little to no promotion outside of the company for their works.

Everything from basic news reports to review copies have gone down the drain and only a couple of years back reviewing outlets were having severe trouble getting hold of any news. You often had to fight tooth and nail to get review copies, even weeks after launch sometimes, and the steady flow of ebooks rapidly slowed as the company underwent massive restructuring. The last things any of us heard were staff members forced to take on multiple other duties, before everything stopped entirely. Suffice to say, this lack of any copies of works or even any basic form of communication is what ultimately kills a company, as it leaves no one to offer publicity for your books.

All of this together, as mentioned before, suggests that Black Library is not in a good way. Not a good one at all. While many of us had hoped that the publisher might survive should Games Workshop crash and burn, it instead seems that it could be in an even worse state than we knew. While I sincerely hope I am completely wrong in this matter, it's hard to ignore all of this piling up, and how the publisher seems to run into one problem after another. Unless someone comes forwards and speaks about the internal state of the company or produces hard facts to refute this, such rumours like these and signs of ill omen are not going to just be ignored by the fandom.

If you have your own opinions on this matter, thoughts or ideas please feel free to comment below. As ever with these sorts of articles, this is more opinion stringing together news than it is any solid fact, so let's hear a few more voices in this matter.


  1. I can't speak for most of the books on here, since I mostly stopped buying BL after Necromunda got discontinued, but I do feel that I need to point out that if the Horus Heresy series is starting to stagnate, it might be because the series has reached saturation and the authors have grown tired of writing for it.

    How many books are in that series now? 31? Yeah, short stories might be the result of several authors having grown tired of Writing for it, or they've plain ran out of ideas for the series. SM VS CSM must get rather samey to write after book number 20 or so...

    1. Apparently the series was always planned to be around 50 novels (I don't know if that includes the anthologies like The Primarch, Age of Darkness, etc., or not).

  2. It's around thirty, I've been keeping vague track because I've been trying to catch up for about three years now :( Still only on Legion, need to get one of the bookshops around my area to order in Battle for the Abyss I think.

    Will be sad if the Black Library ends, the novels are one of the ways I've kept up the hobby while avoiding the tabletop game.

    1. Battle for the Abyss is one of only two HH novels that I couldn't finish. It's a bit of a mess. If you skip it, you won't miss anything.

  3. Wow, I knew something strange was going on with BL put with all this information it really gets clear that very much is wrong. Hope they will pull throu, as I have enjoyed several of there books.

  4. Honestly I did notice that BL were putting out less books, but I didn't pay much attention to it (I figured the writers might have slowed down or something) but now that writers are leaving for other groups it's getting a little worrying. I at least hope they'll wrap up the Horus Heresy (preferably sooner than later) before they close, as I'm sure that'll happen eventually.

  5. I just want to say well done and thanks for teasing out the possible patterns here, doing the related research and going to the trouble of writing it all up. We'll know in time how much of it is in fact the case, but this is another great example of what an interested and hard-working individual with a blog can contribute to the general understanding.

  6. Honestly, I think one of the main problems that has plagued BL since its inception is its disregard for publishing norms - they act as if they want all the benefits of being a "real" publisher (reviews, New York Times ranking, etc.), but at the same time brook no dissent - I know of at least two reviewers who were black listed for voicing criticism (and I'm not talking about the vitriolic bile that the internet can too often give rise to - this was reasoned, calm criticism).

    The Dark Hunters saga is a real blow, as I really don't think anyone would have got the two series confused. It's such a generic term, too. But, there is a certain poetic irony, given GW's own trigger-finger deployment of lawyers.

    One of their publicists was a (non-BL) published author in his own right, and he did a great job of courting reviewers and growing a non-dedicated-fan reviewer base. His replacement ended up being a BL author. Then there seemed to be a string of shake-ups that left contacts vague. About a year ago, they went completely dark - not even perfunctory "thank yous" for sending through review links, etc. (for books reviewers paid for, as opposed to got free, as that doesn't happen any more).

  7. Amazing how relevant this article is even now. SK sues again...

    1. Yes, I heard about that particular new incident and it's almost as ludicrous as the last one. She seems to be suing anyone with a vague relation to her books at the moment, no matter how tangential the link might be.

      I'm almost tempted to start counting the days until she pulls a Fine Bros. and tries to trademark everything remotely related to her series :P

  8. When a company like BL or GW starts putting out loads of short stories which when read have the feel or makeup of what could have been a very good novel - then it's time to step back and ask yourself the question - what is going on here?
    Only answer I have is - they took a good thing and ran it into the ground, milked every bit of cash out of it and now it withers and dies.

  9. Hey, just saw this article (as of July 2016). Has there been any change in the situation at BL?

    1. Hard to tell in all honesty. I want to say no given that there has been a big push for new things and we have seen the Horus Heresy back in full swing, some genuinely great Age of Sigmar novels and fantastic audio dramas. At the same time, Dan Abnett seems to be writing exclusively for DC Comics and we only hear the occasional mention of Dembski-Bowden's new works. Whatever the case, Black Library isn't dead but I can't comment upon its state of health any more than I could when first writing this one.

    2. Well, I don't read Age of Sigmar (WH Fantasy has never been my thing, even as genre fiction, with some very few fantastic exceptions from the late 80s/early 90s), but what you said a year ago definitely holds true:
      - no more Dan Abnett, who is clearly the best and most popular writer BL has maybe ever had;
      - very few novels, instead pretty standard short stories or, at most, novellas, that are sold are a vastly-inflated prices;
      - most of the novels they have put out in the last couple of years have been very standard, unimaginative fare, obviously targeted at 10-15 year olds much more than adults, and very much with instructions to product place the game ("Look, there's a Punisher, look there's a 'master-crafted' power-sword");
      - conversely, very few non-battle-centered novels along the lines of the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies.

      What I'd be curious about is who could people talk to who could confirm (or contradict) your analysis. Is anyone talking about this anywhere on the Internet?

  10. That certainly puts BLs recent opening towards selling their eBooks over Amazon in a new light...

  11. I love the Horus Heresy books. I am a big fan of Dan Abnett especially. I love the story but it seems to have stalled.....And asking 15.99 for each book is absurd. I hope Dan is the author to finish the story of the Heresy...I still read Horus Rising quite a bit.I hope the flow of the story speeds up, I really want to know about what happens when Horus reaches the Sol system..The series needs to be completed, and Dan is the one to lead the charge. I hate to see the main authors get side tracked with other projects, but that's just me being greedy and impatient for new material...I'm really interested in the outcome..