Today At Boundary’s Edge, I am pleased to be joined by author Marc Collins. Readers of this blog may know him best for his Warhammer Crime novel Grim Repast, and will no doubt be pleased to learn that he has more Black Library novels on the way. Without further ado, let’s get to that interview.
Q1: Welcome to At Boundary’s Edge. For those who don’t know you, please introduce yourself.
I’m Marc Collins. I live in Glasgow, Scotland and my day job is working as a Biomedical Scientist in the NHS. I started out with Black Library through the Open Submissions Window in 2018, with the short story “Ghosts of Iron”. I’ve written a number of short stories in Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Crime and the Horus Heresy. In addition I’ve written three novels: Grim Repast, Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne and Void King.
My only other fiction release was the short story “A Thing Called Duty” for the anthology “Imps and Minions” from tdotSpec.
Q2: This month you’ve got *two* novels coming out from Black Library. What can you tell us about them?
“Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne” is a Warhammer 40k Character Novel, concerning the titular High Marshal of the Black Templars. Chastised by Roboute Guilliman, Helbrecht dedicates himself to a penitent undertaking in order to find a relic of Rogal Dorn upon a world which has been left ruined for ten thousand years of atonement. Accompanied by only a small squad, he must face down a returned ancient enemy.
“Void King” concerns the Rogue Trader dynasties which make up the Davamir Compact – an ancient organisation formed for mutual profit when the Great Crusade first raged. When Roboute Guilliman returns to lead the Imperium, planning his Indomitus Crusade, he commands the Compact to find a way across the Great Rift. As the dynasties of the Lamertines, the Helvintrs and the Radrexxus gather to attempt the impossible, they are assailed by betrayal which will threaten their ambitions and mankind’s future.
Q3: Science Fiction is a broad genre. What is it that appeals to you?
I guess what most appeals to me about Science Fiction is the sheer potential of it. There’s so much that can be done, so many stories that can be told. I’ve always loved Science Fiction, especially the works of the late great Iain M Banks, and getting to write it professionally is a dream come true. Especially when dealing with something like Warhammer 40k.
There’s a hopefulness and a terror in Science Fiction. We build or enjoy worlds of limitless possibility and darkest dystopia. We spend time getting to know them and then we tend to blow them up or tear them down. Sci-fi is usually about subverting or upsetting the status quo in some way, whether you’re a gutter runner in some terrible future city or a galactic conqueror. And that’s always fun.
Q4: Your first Black Library novel GRIM REPAST was a detective story. Now you’re tackling Space Marines with one book and Rogue Traders with another. What’s it like jumping from one corner of the universe to another so rapidly?
I’ve got to be honest, it’s been amazing fun. There’s so much variety in the 40k universe and I’ve been able to play with an incredible cross-section of it. Varangantua is a rich tapestry of collaborating authors, each building a part of a greater whole – sometimes directly, as in The Vorbis Conspiracy – and it’s wonderful to be a collaborator in it. General 40k also provides a lot of different angles. Helbrecht is a much more straight forward sort of a story, with a good sense of introspection. The Rogue Trader dynasties of Void King are powerful and independent, rulers in their own right, and yet bound by ancient pacts and oaths. Each one shines a light on a different facet of the Imperium and the galaxy.
Whether crime novel, war novel or political adventure, each one has its place in the setting. So many interesting stories and angles have been written in the last few years that still feel utterly at home in 40k.
Q5: Warhammer 40,000 is one of the origin points of the grimdark movement, but the way it’s been handled has changed a lot over the years. What does grimdark mean to you?
For me grimdark is some combination of fighting hopeless battles in broken worlds, for tarnished ideals, with blunted weapons. It isn’t an absence of hope, but rather hope as a luxury. Grimdark fiction speaks to something primal, usually something survival based. It isn’t kind or safe, it can be a slog or a burden, but ultimately it invokes an admiration of pushing on through the ashes. We have a preoccupation with dystopia. Why? Because we want to see how people and societies deal with the worst case scenario. Who we end up as in the dark.
Q6: With how varied your stories are, do you find there are themes you keep coming back to?
Faith, I would say, is the predominant one. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to address faith and duty. Whether that’s the Ad Mech, Genestealer Cults, Black Templars or Sisters of Battle, or whether it’s the personal sense of responsibility of men like Drask. With my own little corner of Varangantua and the setting of “Helbrecht” I also try to drive home just how terrible a place the Imperium can be. Whether in casual or monumental cruelty. Both are themes I hope to carry forward and develop in my work.
Q7: Warhammer has a fairly unique crossover of fiction and hobby. Have you ever built or painted models based on characters from your own books?
Unfortunately not, as at this point I lack the skill necessary. I do, however, have a Black Templars box sitting waiting to be assembled, so watch this space…
Q8: The past few years have seen a real surge of Black Library books shining a light on new corners of the universe. Aside from the Crime and Horror ranges, there’s been a lot more xenos on the pages lately. Is there an author (aside from yourself) that you’d recommend to someone looking for Warhammer fiction that’s a little bit different?
The only answer I can give to that is, without a doubt, Peter Fehervari. I have been hooked on his work since I first read “Fire Caste” and have devoured every scrap of the “Dark Coil” sequence as it has come up. Fehervari possesses a rich dark imagination and the stories he tells are quintessentially 40k and yet so much more. He has carved out this wonderfully broken little niche and peopled it with lost souls and tormented heroes. The Dark Coil and the Angels Penitent are just stunning inventions and subversions and I honestly cannot wait to see where his work goes and develops.
Now it’s time for a quickfire round I like to call d20 Questions. The rules are simple. I have a list of twenty questions, and I have a d20. I roll, and we see what questions we get. Let’s go.
Q4/20: You’re stuck on a drifting spaceship. Which science fiction character do you call for help?
Jean Le Flambeur from the Quantum Thief and its follow-up novels. Not only would he do it with style, but he’d probably hang out for a drink afterwards. Really rocking that gentleman thief in space aesthetic.
Q5/20: What was the first science fiction book you read?
The first one I really have concrete memories of reading was “Nightlamp” by Jack Vance, which I think was bought on a whim for me by my parents. Before I found sci-fi I mostly read mythology and horror. With a smattering of fantasy.
Q8/20: What science fiction food do you wish was real?
The Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. Because why not . From 40k, similarly, it would be NeoScotia’s Distillarius Superior. Space whisky all the way.
What’s the best way for people to get updates on you and your work?
I would like to thank Marc for coming on the blog for this interview. Grim Repast is available for purchase now. Helbrecht: Knight of the Throne is currently available for pre-order through Games Workshop, and will release on the 15th. Void King will go up for pre-order on the 15th, and will release through Games Workshop on the 22nd.