“Look upon me, navigator, with the eye that sees my soul.”
Storm Constantine’s only Black Library story, Lacrymata is the closest thing to a love story you’re likely to see set in the 41st millennium. It follows the crew of a warp-faring trading vessel, dispatched by its parent family to retrieve and return with a cargo of potentially dangerous narcotics. Solonaetz, its scarred and fragile navigator, strikes up a friendship with the fey astropath Shivania that soon blossoms into something more, much to the captain’s discomfort. When travelling through the warp though, emotions can be very dangerous…and doubly so for psykers.
This is far from the usual 40k battlefields, instead focusing on the fringes of the setting with a story that’s small…but also rather grand at the same time. Vivid, haunting descriptions of towering warp constructs, the bustling surface of the vessel’s destination world, and even the ship itself paint a rich and textured picture of the 40k universe, so despite the story’s brevity and simplicity there’s a sense of scale to the whole thing. Solonaetz and Shivania are well drawn and interesting, sharing in each other’s sense of isolation and alienation; they are after all both mutants, of a sort. It’s an unusual story, but a beguiling one.
Warhammer and 40k stories don’t get much more old-school than this; it was first published WAY before Black Library existed, before 40k had even reached its second edition, so the setting was wilder and much less structured than it is today. That being said, the anthology that this story was included in (more on which later) was reprinted eleven years later with some or all of the stories revised to bring them more in line with the background at the time. I wasn’t able to get my hands on an original copy, so I can’t be sure what (if anything) was changed with this particular story, but it’s still a rare gem of a 40k tale and one WELL worth looking out for.
How does it hold up against the 40k setting as of 2017, though? That’s the big question…
Well first of all, it really is unusual to find a story based in a Games Workshop setting that not only doesn’t have any real fighting, but is also essentially a love story…albeit a pretty twisted one. When you factor in the characters and their roles – navigator, astropath, ship’s captain – as well as the plot of the story, there’s very little familiar ground here, so instead we need to look at the bigger concepts to compare it against other stories – the warp, psykers, the nature of the Imperium.
Those concepts are all present and correct, but a little different to what you might expect today. For example Solonaetz sees the warp as something much less malevolent than how it’s usually depicted now; more of a natural phenomenon to be charted than anything else, despite the dangers. He even sees a warp phantom that reminds him of a message he forgot to send to his mother, the sort of throwaway, human touch that’s often lacking in modern Black Library fiction, but somehow feels a little too…ordinary at the same time. It’s a theme that recurs throughout, with plenty of little touches that give a feel of normalcy to dialogue and exposition which you probably wouldn’t see in a more recent story.
That being said, the way Constantine describes the warp and how Solonaetz perceives and interacts with it…it’s really rather beautiful, and reminiscent in a way of someone like John French who has a knack for painting dark but vivid pictures of the warp and Chaos. Despite being a (sort of) love story this is also really quite creepy; there’s a sense of impending danger that comes from clever storytelling rather than gunfire or daemons, and the overall tone is suitably dark and ominous for a story set in the 41st millennium
For me, it feels like a 40k story written by someone who’s approached the task much more as a straight-up storyteller than as a fan of the setting – there’s no lack of authenticity, just a focus on the commonplace and not the fantastical. It’s resulted in a story that definitely does veer away from the norm, but works beautifully on its own – arguably more than a lot of modern day 40k and Warhammer stories do. It also does a lovely job of expanding upon the setting, showing the other side of life in the Imperium that books like the Eisenhorn trilogy do so well, and reminding the reader that it’s not just soldiers who populate the Imperium.
As I mentioned earlier, this is (in one form or another) a VERY old story, in 40k terms – it’s part of the Deathwing anthology, which was originally published way back in 1990 by Boxtree (I think). The version I read came from the 2001 re-release of the same anthology, which also included some new stories by names like Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill, and – happily – is still available to this day as an ebook. You can pick up the whole anthology from either Black Library or Amazon for a bargain £6.99, or just this story from Black Library for £1.99 – you might as well pick up the full ebook, as it’s much better value!
I hope you enjoyed this instalment of Forgotten Texts. 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. Check back next week for the next instalment where I’ll be taking a look at another story from the Black Library archives.