As an avid nerd, I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, etc., particularly in the licensed sub-genre, that maybe the average joe doesn’t really get to. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, some of it I’d rather forget, and some of it I can’t. In both good and bad ways. In this installment I’m endeavoring to point out some of the very good writers you may walk right past just because of the section in which their book (or e-book) is organized. The only thing I’m loosely basing the “aren’t reading” distinction on is bestseller and general knowledge of the writer. It’s all subjective. I’ve done no research, for I am lazy.
I discovered Dan Abnett because I am a pure, unadulterated, and unapologetic pile of geek. He started his work in comic books and graphic novels back in the late 80’s, and that’s probably what he’s best known for. I won’t bore you with the bibliography, I’ll just say this: Did you like Guardians of the Galaxy? If you did, thank Dan. He wrote the comic it was based off of about 5-6 years ago, reinventing all the characters so America could digest them years later. And I don’t think he even got mentioned in the credits.
But comic books aren’t where I discovered him. It’s even worse. In college I got sucked into Warhammer 40K. Since you probably don’t know what that is, I’ll elucidate: It’s a table-top miniatures game from Britain. Books spun off from that game have created an entire universe of literature that’s sold millions of copies worldwide. Still confused? Take Dungeons and Dragons, plus blindingly expensive toys, plus dice, tape measurers, and math, cram it all in a blender and you will create something that even the nerds regard as nerdy: Warhammer 40K.
Dan was a wildly successful author for Black Library (Warhammer 40K’s publisher), and in my opinion their most skilled writer as well. He created two particularly enjoyable series that I’d recommend to any Sci-Fi fan – Gaunt’s Ghosts, a military-based saga of 14 books with memorable characters (that he isn’t shy about killing), A-plus dialogue, and very cool villains. The other is an ongoing set of longer novels, which involves a spin-off, and then a spin-off of spin-off. We’ll call it the Eisenhorn/Ravenor Saga, currently at 7 books and counting. If you like intrigue, sciency magic, illicit affairs, and extended meta-plots, this one’s for you.
Finally, after 400 words, the point: He hasn’t just written nerdy, licensed fiction. He has two stand-alone works, one fantasy, one sci-fi, that everyone should try if you’re fans of either genre. Or both. Or neither:
Embedded—A very cool, science fiction take on embedded journalism. In this case the journalist is literally cybernetically embedded into a soldier to experience and report on an interstellar war. If you like war fiction of any kind, this is for you.
Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero— Little bit of everything, from sci-fi to fantasy to steampunk, regicide conspiracies and a reluctant hero. Might seem like a lot to bite off, but it works. Action and hilarity ensue.
And here’s why you should be reading these books:
1) Action – Bit of a weird selling point for an author, but it’s one of Dan’s biggest strengths. He has a talent for describing conflict action sequences, from grand scale battles to one-on-one duels that is unparalleled. I can modestly say I’ve read a lot of books, fiction and non-fiction, that depend on combat and physical conflict as major elements of plot. Definitely more than most. I have yet to encounter any author, famous, infamous, classic, or contemporary, that can lay out a detailed description of a fight or a battle so precisely that I can picture it crystal clear in my mind while still keeping the fast, frenetic pace that makes prose combat feel authentic. It’s the right mix of frenzy and fine-pointing that makes him a master at this. I will re-read certain parts of his books when I write combat in my own stories, and I would recommend any other authors do the same. He could teach a class (seriously) on how to pace, when to be short, when to pause, and what kind of details to include. Embedded in particular revolves around the fight scenes, and anyone struggling with how to write firearm combat should check this book out just for learning purposes.
2) Dialogue—Several of my favorite comic book writers also transition into prose very well, and dialogue is always one of the keys to their success. When you’re used to only having dialogue to express motion and emotion in a story, you tend to focus and develop the verbalized interaction between characters, or even internal monologue, and it’s apparent Dan fits that mold as well. Witty back and forth abounds, particularly in Triumff, which is more dialogue-driven than any other story he writes. Now he’s certainly no Shakespeare, and none of it is exactly deep and thought-provoking, but for pure entertainment it’s a ten.
3) Character—Dan has a talent for creating some of the most entertaining, consistent characters in this genre. In fantasy and sci-fi, we can kind of gloss over the little details, like believable characters, because the setting is so unbelievable that it seems to fit in. But even if he’s writing an alien, Dan manages to make them all come-off very human. It sets him apart for a lot of the other genre-specific writers, particularly in his licensed works. He lets faults as well as strengths drive their actions and reactions. He’s not afraid to inflict the worst on his characters and make it their own damn fault.
4) And also he’s bald and has a beard. Gotta help a Brother out.
Hopefully, I will convince someone to pick up one of the books I mentioned here. Because whoever does, they won’t put it down.