As the flames of treachery spread outwards through the Imperium, Horus mobilises those forces who are loyal to him, and plots to subvert or destroy those who stand agaist him. A battle is being fought for the heart and soul of all the Imperial forces – the Astartes, the Imperial Army, the Titan Legions and more. In this epic story, author Graham McNeill tells the story of the civil war on Mars, and the genesis of the Dark Mechanicum.
Mechanicum was a book born out of The Kaban Project (see Short Stories) where I discovered a rich, untapped seam of story that no-one had really dug into yet. At the point this story falls, I’d written a lot of Space Marine shooty death kill in space, and fancied a change. This, combined with my newfound love for all things Martian, made me convinced that this should be my next Heresy novel. It also convinced me that there would be no Space Marines in it as viewpoint characters. The Heresy starts as an inter-Legion civil war, but by this point in the story, the conflict has spread far beyond just the Legions. Now everyone’s involved.
I had a pretty robust plot in place before I started, but despite that, this was a killer, cast-iron bitch of a book to get going. I didn’t know why, as I had the plot and knew where the story was going. I ground through the first few chapters, tossing in Martian locations willy nilly and ploughing on regardless of the fact that it was proving to be a complete pain in the neck. At about 20,000 words I stopped writing and sat back to look at what the problem was. Turned out it was my world-building. I hadn’t done nearly enough and was just making it up as I went along. Now that might be exactly what you imagine I do day in day out, and it sort of is, but it also sort of isn’t. I usually draw maps, construct elaborate back stories and scenarios for my characters and worlds to have gone through before I start work. This time I hadn’t and it was biting me in the nethers badly. By a sheer fluke (or fate) all the locations I’d named for the action to be happening in was all within the same quadrangle of Mars, a complete accident, but a happy one, as it turned out to have some great geographical features I could incorporate into the story. I spent a lot of time naming places, working out what was where and how things worked before getting back to my typing. And lo and behold, the words flowed. Now that I knew how the planet worked, I could seamlessly move my characters around it. I’d gotten blasé about my need to do prep work up front and I’d paid the price. Well, it’s a lesson well learned, and I won’t be doing that again.
And speaking of characters, Mechanicum introduced my first female lead character, Dalia. She was a great character to write, and gave the story a fresh perspective, as she wasn’t a fighter at all. Any threats she and her pals met along the way would have to be met by cunning and cleverness as opposed to bolters and chainswords, which made for some tense scenes where you didn’t know how our brave heroes were going to triumph. Dalia’s last name was also a bit of a gag too, as Cythera is the name of one of the Ionian islands, traditionally associated with the Greek God Aphrodite (known to the Romans as…Venus). So women really were from Venus, and the men from Mars. Not much of gag, but I like those little connections that are there to be made by astute readers. There’s loads more of them throughout my Heresy books…
The story itself centred around the idea of the death of technology, how the enlightened times of 30k fell to the superstitious darkness of 40k. It detailed the fall of Mars, and served as a backdrop to the secret of Mars, the creature that dwells beneath the sands. The Dragon. This is a topic I was wary of touching, but knew I had to. I went about it in a way that was ambiguous enough to be open to debate, but concrete enough that I knew exactly what was what and if you joined enough dots, the readers could too. As to the Emperor’s ‘taming’ of the Dragon on Earth…my view was that the story told by the book was allegorical, told by the book in a way that a mortal mind could comprehend it. And as to how the dragon got to Mars…it’s the Emperor, the greatest psyker the galaxy’s ever seen. Librarian’s can cast Gate…imagine how much more powerful the Emperor’s version would be…?
In the end, Mechanicum was a book I loved writing, and one where the ending differed vastly from what I had originally planned. In a good way. When you start to get tight on your word count (or in my case, fly wantonly past it…) you need to start thinking cleverly about how to bring the book in without compromising the story. And that’s where the idea of the Dragon’s Keeper came about, which has, in turn given me some great ideas for a series of books I’ll be tackling next year.