“All that is foul and pestilent will be washed away…”
Set in the Necromunda underhive, Alex Hammond’s 1997 short story The Demon Bottle follows hapless half-ratskin Sarak as he attempts, without much success, to get his life back on track. Dependent on cheap booze and dubious pills and scraping a living as a pest exterminator, he dreams of life in the heady heights of the Spire as an escape from the harsh realities of the underhive. When his debts are called in however, he finds himself hunting some unusually dangerous pests.
Necromunda stories tend to be smaller scale than 40k and this is no different, forgoing huge battles in favour of one man against the odds…which in this case involve dangerous beasties, disgusting mutants and troublesome debt collectors. Sarak makes an entertaining protagonist, needing just a couple of quick scenes to set his character up nicely before the action kicks in, while the plot is simple but effective. Structured to take place over the course of a single day it’s a fun story, full of classic Necromunda touches, that does a good job of demonstrating just how tough life can be down in the underhive. It definitely benefits from at least some prior knowledge of the setting, though.
Necromunda is a fascinating setting and one that still has a pretty big following, at least for the game itself. If you’re not familiar with the setting or the game, check this Wikipedia article out. There hasn’t been a new Necromunda story since something like 2011, although the series of novels from 2005-2007 were reissued a little while ago…and with the rumours of a new version of the game coming out of the Specialist Games department at some point it looks like this might be rectified in the near-ish future.
This particular story came out just a couple of years after the game was released, long before the novels, and it’s one of maybe a dozen or so to be written around that time. It makes for quite an interesting read, as it’s very much a product of that era’s style, which was somewhere between the 80s Rogue Trader period and the modern day 40k setting. Many of the concepts we’re now very familiar with were more variable back then, so for example while the idea of using a psychic drug to induce spontaneous daemonic possession would feel a little out of place in 40k today, here…it works.
That’s also down to this being a Necromunda story, which like I said in the review means it’s on a smaller, more personal scale. Since this was written we’ve had stories set away from the battlefields, like Dan Abnett’s inquisition series or Matt Farrer’s Shira Calpurnia books, but at the time that was quite rare to see. Even now, there still hasn’t been much written that looks at life down at the bottom of the food chain – most protagonists are soldiers, or if not then they’re Inquisitors, Arbites or other warlike characters. This is very different, looking as it does at the life of someone who’s almost (but not quite) sunk as low as it’s possible to go in the Imperium.
So it feels quite different to most of the stories you’ll read that are set (even loosely) in the 40k universe, partially because of its setting and partially because of the era in which it was written. It’s also a touch darker than some of the Necromunda stories were, at least thematically – don’t expect a happy ending here. That’s perhaps what helps the most to keep it within the Black Library style, as while it doesn’t look at galaxy-wide horrors it does deal with a very personal level of misfortune.
It’s also just a good story on its own, and definitely worth checking out if you can get hold of it. Speaking of which…like Salvation last week, it might not be easy to get your hands on a copy of this story. You’ve got a few options to try: it was first published in Inferno! issue 1, but that’s probably pretty rare these days. After that it was included in the Status: Deadzone anthology in 2000, and then the Necromunda Omnibus 1 in 2011, one of which you might be able to find second hand online. They’re both worth checking out if you’re a Necromunda fan, so keep your fingers crossed.
As with last week, the other option is to lobby Black Library to release this (and the other classic Necromunda short stories) in ebook. Given what’s been mentioned by Specialist Games, it might not be such a long shot this time…!
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of Forgotten Texts, and a quick look back at Necromunda. If there are any classic Black Library stories that you would like to put forward for a review, please do let me know, and likewise if you’ve got any comments or feedback.