Coming soon: Timberwolf
Another rare blog entry, and a shameless plug. Hey, what did you expect? My new book, ‘Timberwolf’, is out this summer. It’s the Dieselpunk Panzers-and-Sorcery novel you never knew you needed in your life – but do. I've been working on this, on-and-off, for nearly eighteen months and it weighs in at a hefty 135-thousand words.
Meet Axel Geist of Stassia. Stassia's weirdly similar to (but entirely different from) late Weimar / Nazi-era Germany. Axel's a simple soul, a gadabout who fancies himself a gigolo, bon vivant and fraudster. When a totalitarian regime seizes power, he enters a world of dissidents, sorcerers and Old Gods, once-powerful deities whose power waxes and wanes. Then, Axel's life is changed forever by the Timberwolves, the regime's fanatical warrior elite. It's a story of survival, war, love, espionage and how, sometimes, the most you can hope for is to be the least evil bastard in the room.
Oh, and it’s got panzers. I’ve never hidden my armoured vehicle fetish – I couldn’t resist putting my own in the story. Only the one, of course, enough to scratch the itch. Happy hours spent researching end-of-WW2 Nazi super-armour, inspiring the Manticore tanks featured in the book. Nerd? Moi? And Axel’s escapades are inspired by stuff-that-really-happened (military history freaks will recognise the climactic battle). Extra points for spotting Walter Schellenberg references, as Stassia’s secret police and intelligence services begin kicking doors in.
It seemed natural to write Timberwolf, ideas spilling onto the page (easily enough for a trilogy if the first book generates enough interest). I’m a fully-fledged member of the Airfix Generation, a childhood steeped in WW2 cultural references. The Guns of Navarone. Operation Crossbow. Sten guns. The Battle of the Bulge and The Longest Day. Battle comic. Tamiya model kits… I’d spend Sunday mornings sitting outside the pub waiting for my dad, talking to men in their early sixties, men who’d fought at Tobruk and El Alamein, Sicily and Normandy. And I’m a Londoner - Gran would tell me about the Blitz, rationing and National Dried Egg. This stuff’s seared into my creative DNA – leading to Timberwolf’s crazy mosaic of the 1940s, besides being packed full of Easter eggs referencing favourite stories from the world of science-fiction, fantasy, espionage and Sven Hassel-style WW2 pulp. Spiked, as is my wont, with dark humour.
This is nothing new - there's no shortage of WW2-inspired fantasy – Nazi zombies, Wolfenstein, Iron Sky, dammit why not throw in some Indiana Jones? But the series that really fired me up? Wolfhound Century (which I reviewed here), by Peter Higgins. Set in a Soviet Russia-that-isn’t, Higgins’ trilogy is a totally different creature than mine – elegant, poetic and thoughtful. Fantasy as literary fiction. Mine, on the other hand, is unashamedly pulpy fun. Yet Higgins' work was startling to me, something new and fresh, despite reality being a recurring springboard for fantasy – after all, wasn’t Game of Thrones based on The War of the Roses? Isn't the genre dominated by analogues of medieval Europe? Of course it is, to an almost unhealthy extent. Which is why Higgins intrigued and inspired me so much (although Michael Moorcock and China Miéville have been blowing-the-bloody-doors off this kinda thing for years). Why not have a fantasy mirroring the real-world USSR? Wolfhound Century, improbably, spun my mind back to a Sunday-afternoon-war-movie childhood, to the hilariously grim WW2 pulp I loved (Sven Hassel should be credited with inventing the type of Grimdark nihilism that led to Warhammer 30K, he really should).
I was going to list the books, genres, movies and games that inspired Timberwolf, but I decided against it. I'm fired-up by the idea of readers spotting Easter eggs, calling them out, enjoying them… criticizing them even. Some are obvious, others aren’t. And there are dozens, waiting to be spotted. And if you don’t? No problem. It won’t detract from the story one bit, I promise.
And yet… given I love this piece so much, and there’s a scene in Timberwolf intended as the warmest homage to it, I give you this. The utterly brilliant Severija - Zu Asche, Zu Staub, from Babylon Berlin.