Interview: Gordon Rennie
author of Execution Hour

This month, we were lucky enough to convince Gordon Rennie to give us a brief interview regarding his efforts on BFG-themed novels. Specifically, we refer his book Execution Hour and its upcoming sequel, Shadow Point. Gordon Rennie traditionally writes short stories for Inferno and for graphic novels such as Daemonifuge, but has extended his range into novels as well, much to our enjoyment.

CS: I'd like to thank Gordon for agreeing to this interview and taking the time out of his day to do it. :-)

CS: Warhammer 40K fiction (of "fluff" as we tend to call it) exists primarily to support the gaming systems based around it. Despite this fact, it often seems to be quite popular on its own. What are your thoughts on what makes the 40K universe is so alluring?

GR: A strong, interesting background. It's the anti-Star Trek view of the future which I like so much about it. In Star Trek, everything is bright, shiny and ultra-optimistic. In Warhammer 40K, it's miserable, grim and relentlessly brutal. Being a real miserable Scottish git, I very much empathise with the latter kind of science fiction universe.

CS: I see! So, is this what drew you to the genre as an author?

GR: Well, it's certainly what drew me as miserable Scottish git. I like the fact that so much W40K background is drawn from history. I read a lot of history - the past always interests me more than the future - and I really like how you can play about with all sorts of historical references within the 40K universe. Also, for reasons which still elude me, I studied Latin at school, and writing W40K fiction as last gives me an outlet to use all that bloody useless Latin I know!

CS: I hear that... What's it like collaborating with an artist to produce a graphic novel like Daemonifuge or Bloodquest?

GR: I've actually been making a living writing comics for 12 years now. Like Dan Abnett, I'm much more known for comics stuff than novels, so it's kind of the norm for me. It's writing novels - ie. words without the pictures - is the tricky new skill I've had to learn.

CS: So, do you play GW Games much or are you simply interested in their narrative aspects?

GR: I have played them, and I was a bit of a fan about 12 years ago, before I ever worked for GW, but I haven't played them for some time now. It's really the background rather than the gaming stuff whcih interests me now. That said, I did utterly wipe out the oppostion (in the form of Bloodquest artist Colin MacNeil) the one time I did play BFG.

CS: Leoten Semper, Commissar Kyogen and the Lord Solar Macharius are portrayed in the comic that shipped with the BFG box set. Did you always have plans for these characters or did you retroactively decide to flesh them out?

GR: That strip was very much a prototype work in progress kind of thing. The game was still in the planning stages when Colin and I were asked to do it, and a lot of the background material hadn't been completed, hence why we had to wing it in various places during the story.

I enjoyed doing it, and we wanted to do more, but I thought that the BFG concept wasn't best suited to the comic strip format. Giant space battles featuring huge lumbering 3km long warships look kind of cramped in an 8-page comic strip with 5 or 6 panels a page, especially when your actual characters can do little else but stand around watching all this on monitor screens and issuing orders to each other. You kind of lose the sense of the scale of these things, so I thought that prose fiction was a better option. I had already done one or two text stories for Inferno, so GW were keen for me to do a few BFG ones. I did two - 'Baptism of Fire' and 'Matters of Honour' - which were eventually incporporated into Execution Hour.

CS: Did GW specifically commission you for a BFG-themed novel or did you decide to choose the Gothic War setting spontaneously?

GR: After the Inferno short stories (and presumbly the favourable response to them) they were quite keen to commission me to do a longer BFG novel.

CS: Did you anticipate the kind of fan response to Execution Hour that has occured?

GR: I've never really come across any big fan response to it, I'm afraid. Obviouly the severe (and thankful) lack of Space Marines in it was where I went wrong with it, popularity-wise. Maybe I should add some Space Wolves into Shadow Point to boost its sales a bit more ;-)

I'm quite happy with the fact that people who've read it seem to like it. It's been getting good word of mouth on forums like the Yahoo BFG list, and apparently GW consider it to be something of a sleeper hit. But, yeah, next time, definitely more Space Marines, more battles and less plot...

CS: So, how did you prepare to write about the Gothic war?

GR: I read a lot of naval history stuff, everything from Trafalgar to the Battle of Midway, often drawing from the same sources that the games designers got their inspiration from. The feel of BFG is very much Nelson era British Royal Navy, with ships of the line etc, but you can also clearly see elements of WWI dreadnought battleships etc. Mix in some Battle of Midway background, since the Macharius is a carrier ship, but certainly nothing more modern than WWII. The whole 40K background is deliberately low-tech and archaic, and I think the mistake a lot of would-be 40K fiction writers make is in not realising this. I swear, if I see one more fan-fic story where Space Marines or Imperial Guard talk like the Colonial Marines from 'Aliens'...

CS: When will Shadow Point be taking place relative to Execution Hour?

GR: It's set four years after the first novel.

CS: And what kind of races/powers will we be seeing in Shadow Point?

GR: The Imperium, and Chaos, of course. They're not central to the plot, but I threw orks into the mix as well. We catch up with the Macharius and its crew in the middle of a big battle against an ork fleet, since I fugured a book about a giant space war should have a giant space battle somewhere near its beginning. I'll probably have ork players gunning for me for the rest of my life, since I'm afraid the poor old greenskins really do get it in the neck in Shadow Point.

There's also Eldar in the book. Lots of Eldar, in fact. More of them, and more about them, than I think we've ever seen in any GW fiction before. One of the book's main characters is an Eldar Farseer, and some of the secondary characters include an Eldar Exarch and an Eldar cruiser commander. We also get to see inside the Webway and a bit of what life is like aboard an Eldar Craftworld.

Oh, and there's another W40K race playing a very central role in the book, but I can't reveal who they are yet... Let's just say that, up until this point, no-one knew about their involvement with the Gothic Sector War.

Abaddon fans will be glad to know he's back in the book, although, as with Execution Hour, he's really very much in the background of things. Lord Admiral Ravensburg was a brief walk-on part, and Inquisitor Horst, who appears all through the Battlefleet Gothic background fluff, is very much a central character in this novel.

CS: Might you be portraying the alliances between the Eldar and Imperials mentioned in the BFG rulebook?

GR: No comment. ;-)

CS: It was worth a try. :-) How about a return of the Adeptus Arbites crew?

GR: No. They were just for Execution Hour, although they might pop up somewhere else sometime. Marshal Byzantane has featured in one or two stories I've done for the Warhammer Monthly comic, and I think there's enough mileage in him for a novel of his own some day, but I've nothing definite in mind.

The point of the Arbites in Execution Hour was to show more of the Imperium forces than just the Imperial Navy (and, being a big Judge Dredd fan, I've always got a kick out of the the Arbites) and to introduce more ground-based action into the story rather than just making it a series of space battles. In Shadow Point, Inquisitor Horst and the Eldar more than fill in the gap left by the Arbites.

CS: Are we going to see any more new ships in Shadow Point?

GR: Like the Arbites' Punisher class strike cruiser? No, I'm afraid there's no new ship types in Shadow Point. And no Planet Killer, either!

CS: Awww... darn!

GR: On the plus side, it does have the biggest space battle in Imperium history since the end of the Horus Heresy...

CS: Cool! Can we expect futher novels in this series? Are you planning on playing out scenes from the entire Gothic war?

GR: The vague intention as always to do three of them, set at various crucial points over the course of the war, and generally telling the story of the history of it. Execution Hour was the Dunkirk story, with Abaddon on the attack and Battlefleet Gothic with its back to the wall and basically just trying to survive. Shadow Point is set midway through the war, at one of its main turning points. The last one would be set at the end of the war, and really focus on the role of the Blackstones. My provisional title for it is 'Suicide Run', although, at the moment, its so far ahead in the future that I can't say when or if it would be happening.

CS: We look forward to it. :-)

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