RAPID FIRE: James Swallow Talks Corsair: The Face of the Void

Welcome to this instalment of Rapid Fire, my ongoing series of quick interviews with Black Library authors talking about their new releases. These are short and sweet interviews, with the idea being that each author will answer (more or less) the same questions – by the end of each interview I hope you will have a good idea of what the new book (or audio drama) is about, what inspired it and why you might want to read or listen to it.

In this instalment I spoke to long-serving Black Library author James Swallow about his latest audio drama Corsair: The Face of the Void, which is available to buy right now.

Without further ado let’s crack on with the interview – over to James.

Track of Words: What’s the elevator pitch summary for Corsair: The Face of the Void?

James Swallow: Everyone on board the Rogue Trader starship Corsair is running from something, chasing something or hiding something. In the tradition of gritty action-adventure sci-fi like Blake’s 7, Farscape and Firefly, this is the story of a disparate and down-at-heel crew dragged into a world of piracy, warfare and high intrigue across the fringes of the Imperium.

ToW: Without spoiling anything, who are the main characters and what do we need to know about them?

JS: Captain Athene Santiago is a Rogue Trader with a letter of marque to explore the Imperium’s shadowy outlands, maintain lines of communication and even defend against mankind’s enemies; but the name she has now is not the one she was born with, and beneath her reckless and opportunist nature is a secret loss she can never reveal, known only to her and the mindless servitor Nine-Theta, the last relic of her forgotten life. The erudite and ruthless aeldari Ranger Ophidis is a wanderer from his species walking the Path of the Outcast. His life is bound by an oath he swore to protect Santiago in repayment of an old debt, but he is also hunting a target that he will risk everything – and everyone – to kill.

Kyteal, Corsair’s volatile genius enginseer, is desperate to find a way back into the good graces of the Adeptus Mechanicus after being exiled as punishment for defying the will of Mars. Konnor Mage was an Imperial navy fighter pilot before he turned his hand to flying starships, after the endless, futile grind of war broke his spirit and sent him in search of a new life; but the past he left behind is not finished with him yet. And along with the Corsair’s enigmatic and ephemeral Navigator Icaylian, a dark potential will be discovered that will threaten the future of the entire crew.

ToW: Where and when is it set?

JS: The story takes place in the Zeist Sector, in the Ultima Segmentum, in late M41.

ToW: Is there anything that you’d recommend readers check out before listening to this?

JS: Listen to more audio dramas, and not just Black Library ones! Audio is a fantastic medium for storytelling, and it’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there.

[If you fancy having a look at what’s available, here’s a link to Amazon where I’ve searched for sci-fi and fantasy audios under one hour (to find audio dramas, rather than full-length audiobooks)]

ToW: Why this story? What made you want to write this in particular?

JS: I wanted to try something new. I’ve often said this – there’s a whole lot of narrative source material to draw from in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, more than enough to keep any writer busy for a long time. But most of the tales I’ve told in that universe (and indeed, most of the stuff that is published by Black Library) centers on Space Marines, because they’re the most popular element of that fictional world. Writing Corsair was a deliberate choice to work with very different types of characters from parts of the lore I’d never touched before.

Also, I really enjoy writing audio stories, and it was interesting to go back to writing a script with no narration in it in traditional radio style, fully carried by the plot and characters.

ToW: Are there any particular challenges, or benefits, to writing about characters like Rogue Traders, who are a bit different to the usual Space Marines, Guardsmen etc?

JS: Writing a mismatched crew of reprobates like Santiago’s means there’s a lot of character variation to play with, and as they’re (more or less!) regular humans, it’s easier to get to grips with them than the more martial and monastic natures of the Astartes.

ToW: What were your main influences when writing it? Did you draw upon any real-life experience to help you plan or write it?

JS: I’ve got plenty of prior form writing about various starship crews, from Star Trek’s Enterprise and Voyager, to the Liberator from Blake’s 7, and I’ve always felt than a ‘crew on a ship getting into trouble’ format would be fun to drop into the 41st millennium. I drew influence from all those kinds of sci-fi stories, not just from movies and TV but from prose fiction as well. The idea at the core is easy to grasp for listeners, and it means you can jump straight into the plotline without lots of set-up – which is ideal for something fast-paced and action packed like Corsair.

As for real-life experience, I drew on my earliest professional writing gigs on Star Trek Voyager as a way to spin up the core concept and structure for the stories. Also my past career as a space pirate might have helped.

ToW: How does the final product compare to your original concept? Has anything changed much from your first ideas?

JS: It’s pretty close to how it was on the page. There were some choices in casting for the roles that meant certain character elements had to be altered, but there were also things that evolved out of the performances that were unexpected – and cool! The neat thing about working with actors is that you always get something new and different from their participation.

ToW: How does this story compare to the rest of your work? Is it a familiar style, or a departure?

JS: As I said above, it’s a different take for me on the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but a familiar kind of story trope, so in a way its blending things I really enjoy to create something new.

ToW: Do you have plans to continue any aspects of this story, or is it a standalone piece?

JS: I’m glad you asked! The Face of the Void is essentially the “pilot episode” for a Corsair series, setting up a set of characters and situations that can play out over multiple stories. It was designed that way from the ground up, so I’m hoping that if listeners enjoy this first audio and want to know more about Santiago and her crew, we can go on to further adventures with them. This ship has plenty of stories to reveal, and that’s just from me; I also like the idea of opening up Corsair as a series with multiple writers – so if you want more, tell Black Library!


Big thanks as always to James for taking the time to answer these questions. Click here for my review of Corsair: The Face of the Void! If you fancy taking a look at some other Rapid Fire interviews, just click here.

If you’ve got any questions, comments or other thoughts please do let me know in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter, or by emailing me at michael@trackofwords.com.

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