The Account of a Lifetime

January 11, 2014

Demon the Fifth: If you’ll let me be Eleftheria

Though my name is strictly Francis (coupled to my middle name, Thomas, my chosen-by-myself confirmation name, George, and my family names, Loch and O’Hanlon), I’ve been known all my life ‘out there in the real world’ by one name alone: Frank.

Sure, there’s sometimes variations on it, Frankie, most usually, but Frank is where it’s usually centred for me. (Xisor, on the otherhand, is fairly well known and persistent in online use. Though for a while there I was also meeting people who’d only known me online via the conversation “Are you ‘Frank’ from TheSinner?”, which amused me a lot. Apparently I speak exactly like I write.)

Anyhow, the point here is Frank. The phrases you’ll know, ‘Frankly,…’ and ‘If you’ll let me be frank…’ typically come coupled to honesty. But it’s not really honesty that the word and name resonates with, for me. Rather: free.

I understand that derives from the medieval Latin francus, being ‘free’ or perhaps ‘free from obligation’.

And that’s kinda what I wanted to discuss. It’s a concept that’s plagued me for a while, that’s always left me feeling a little isolated and a bit resentful, but nevertheless also empowered and whole. It’s a concept that stands up to inspection as its own thing, a blessing and a curse both. A demon, if you will; at least in the style of this series. I shall begin… (more…)

October 15, 2013

Barry of Espandor

Filed under: Uncategorized — xisor @ 10:46 pm
Tags: , ,

I recently caved and acquired Mark of Calth (or Barry of Espandor as I know it), the Horus Heresy anthology released earlier this year. It hits a wonderful array of notes with a very pleasingly coherent thread (well, many threads: a rope?) running throughout its stories. Kudos, I think, to Laurie Goudling on putting together a rather smashing anthology. (Though with one totie, teeny misgiving amidst it.)

First up was Shards of Erebus, by Guy Hayley. It’s largely the first of his I’d read, except for some very short-shorts (though I acquired “Death of Integrity” at the same time as “Mark of Calth”).

It had, I felt,  stilted and strange prose. Bolthole forumite, Rob P, mentioned on twitter, it can also be seen as really… austere writing. Stripped down. I think, and I might be wrong, it’s what I really aspire to. I’d only really encountered it in the old hard-boiled noir-y PI books. Bare-bones writing, really cool; definitely how I’d want to be able to ‘switch on’ writing (compared to the long-winded drivel I vomit forth now!).

In that regard, I found it a bit jarring to read, but I think I liked it a lot. Conceptually it had some great little nuggets in it, and in contrast to what followed immediately after, I think it was a very astute move: meant that Guy seemed to focus much more on ideas and characters than on doling out words on a page. (more…)

May 2, 2013

Happy Go Lucky

I am a happy-go-lucky scamp who’s actually much more bitter and unhappy than he ever really lets on, who gets easily annoyed by other people dragging their heels, especially friends (at length), when opportunity for something more really interesting awaits within easy reach. Wondering what to do with myself has never really gone away. Hence…?

It’s a somewhat melodramatic statement, but in conversation sometimes outbursts like that do get ejected into the midst of the discussion.

Some might say I have a problem. Just one?

Image

It’s not exactly terrifically poignant, but the sentiment is still there. This last few weeks, perhaps this last two months, have been a markedly bright spot for me. And I’m on the cusp of going onto something else – better, worse – who knows?

It began with the trip to London, then the stag-do in Newcastle, then the escapades on Shetland, then some hi-jinx in Edinburgh. And now, back to Stirling… for what? To where? I think it’ll be nice to go through each in detail.

In the meantime, my objective is to more fruitfully use the time I’m otherwise inclined to squander. The days are long, but meaningful activity is sparse on the ground. To whit, I think I shall just fill out this form and seek out gainful time-wasting. I volunteer for this mission, you might say.

February 20, 2013

Those Special Chapters

Good evening scamps!

A discussion over on The Bolthole’s Shoutbox earlier this afternoon had me thinking (and splurging across the discussion with mentions) of my favourite chapters from books I’ve read over the years.

Perhaps not so uniquely, I’ve grown up with a trio of particularly special book series, books which I think speak to much of the cultural Zeitgeist of modernity, to speak floridly (or horridly). Basically fantasy, arguably mainly children’s literature but certainly adored by many.

The three series I refer to are, of course, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Harry Potter by JK Rowling and the more ancient The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

Of course, there’s a great many other books out there than the three to which I’m referring (and one of those is so vague in my mind I’m feeling compelled to revisit it – perhaps due to lacklustre performance of its cinema edition!), so I thought I’d ask myself (and anyone reading):

Of all the books you’ve read, which specific chapters have stayed with you, vivid and perhaps lodged into your mind? Which just don’t seem to go away, or are always evoked at even the slightest reminder?

Though I forget the naming and specifics of the bit I’m trying to articulate for His Dark Materials, my mind still feels rather sharp when it comes to the other two. So, without further ado…

Shelob’s Lair & The Choices of Master Samwise

Agonising. Perhaps not so terrifying-scary as it’s made to appear in the film, but the stress and agony of Gollum, the sheer loyalty and bravery of Sam are near overwhelming. Though other scenes and moments in the series are perhaps more enchanting or singularly memorable, I can’t overstate how much I feel this duo of chapters totally and, almost entirely, encapsulates the whole saga. (more…)

January 9, 2013

Demon the Fourth: The Extinction Tower

This evening, I was most intrigued to read this thread over on the Bolthole. Directly, it links to Steve Vernon’s Advice for dealing with a bad review in the context of an author.

The Bolthole, being a place for would-be and fledgling write-y types to congregate and share their enthusiasm, to draw on one another for input, feedback, advice, criticism etc… well, we naturally would be inclined to sympathise. For the bulk of the Bolthole, that basically amounts to ‘imagining the completed, released story’, not really much of a leap of imagination: compared to myself, the vast bulk of folks are actually likely to be published. Some of them have a tremendous output even as amateurs. Wacky, hare-brained or embarrassing fan-fiction isn’t really something that’s to be found in the community.

Nevertheless, always one to see a different (and perhaps non-existent) angle to a conversation, I was reminded rather strongly and in quick-succession of a few thoughts and ‘bad reviews’ I’d had myself. Obviously, they’re not bad reviews: I’ve barely created anything, except any vaguely original thought that’s escaped my mouth – which I doubt there are many of.

(more…)

December 31, 2012

Reading Digest & Review: 2012

I’m primarily a BL reader. That’s the ‘main side’ to my hobby of reading, if you will. Or rather, it’s the hobby component of my reading – I love reading generally, but Black Library gets a special place in my heart. Is it convenience? Is it their happy-go-lucky, whimsical charm? Who knows. In any case, I decided to root-out the BL books and keep only the top ones of those, one each from their Fantasy and 40,000 settings.

The rest, however, are ‘merely’ books which I read this year, and given how few there are it’d be churlish to try’n pick out highlights. I’m fortunate, to a large extent, in that the non-BL books I have read this year have all turned out to be pretty decent in one way or another – certainly all have been worth the read, almost all much more than merely ‘worth’ it.

So, in reading order and without further ado:
(more…)

August 27, 2012

Sceptic, Cynic, Stoic: Atheism+

I’ve been away this last week. I had some little opportunities to do some travelling and hobnobbing, so I seized them.

In the middle of the last week, I took the opportunity to spend a day out with many ol’ friends in Edinburgh. We dallied at the festival, perused some shows, drank coffee & tea, visited bookshops and all that jazz. Oh, we laughed. How we laughed!

This weekend, I was treated to an excursion to Glasgow to visit the big ‘Collectormania‘ event. There were hi-jinx and escapades and so forth, but largely it was an extremely enjoyable time to just geek out. That is: indulge in geekery, chat writing, chat TV, chat sci-fi and fantasy, to speculate and remember, to indulge and be inspired. It was an extremely enjoyable weekend!

However, perhaps the most endearing outlook of the entire weekend (excepting the acquisition of some lovely new [err, old] Star Trek books, including a long-desired copy of Robinson’s A Stitch In Time) was a brief conversation with an old friend which eventually hit towards the topic of Atheism+ which is broadly dealt with in Jen McCreight’s BlagHag blog posts ( Conception, Definition, Clarification 1, Declaration, Clarification 2, Greta’s Nuances). Suffice to say, it’s enlightening. Perhaps a tad more than that. It bears something of a story. Gather round, sit down, get comfortable. Everyone has tea? I shall begin…

(more…)

June 20, 2012

Traitors & the Ruinous Powers

Filed under: Books & Media,Cogitations,Horus Heresy — xisor @ 7:56 pm
Tags:

Rahzbad, in light of The Butcher’s Nails opened this little thought which precipitated a bit of speculation and thought on my part.

“Revealing no spoilers in the event that others have not listened, how much do you think the Traitor Legions/Primarchs know about their new found warp allies?” – Rahzbad

My response is thus to run through them in this regard:

Varying Knowledge

Angron & World Eaters:
I think he knows very little, I can’t imagine his legion are well clued up. But could they be fast learners? I think that might be a safe bet. It’s, of course, not necessarily the case. We know Angron’s getting a bit more canny and a bit more focussed, how much of his slide to Khorne is to be predestination, how much is self-determination and how much is… coercion by his brothers?

Mortarion & Death Guard:
Mortarion himself, probably very little. He may suspect a lot and become increasingly anxious/heel-dragging. We know, by contrast, that Typhon is reasonably ‘front line’ in his dabblings and devotions. Quite where the rest of the Legion sit is unclear – it could be a rather Night Haunter-style situation wherein the boss is the last one to ‘properly’ turn bad. (Excluding, of course, Herr Garro & Co.)

Alpharius & the Alpha Legion:
I think they know a fair bit more, but it’s tentative and their knowledge is always filtered through the prism of, in my esteem, Ch7 of Legion – they care only for one singular end: Humanity’s survival. That’s what they optimise against, perhaps in different directions and attempting different angles of attack (e.g. the whole are they traitors? are they loyalists? How could we tell?), so they’re likely learning much of their allies with a mind to slowing the decline of the species.

On the otherhand, they’re also likely to be happy enough (err, happier?) to set it aside when they realise they’re in too deep. In Inquisitorial terms, they’re radicals, at very least. Framing their knowledge that way seems fairly sensible.

Magnus & Thousand Sons:
I think he surely knows a hell of a lot. Especially after Prospero and his chat with Lorgar in Aurelian. That said, he’s also not necessarily fully invested in the Heresy itself. He’s got a schism going on within his legion with Ahriman and, indeed, it’s noted that at least by Battle of the Fang-era, his sorcerers are actually a bit rubbish/unambitious compared with those who left with Ahriman.

That said, he surely still knows more. His tragedy and fall is enhanced if his awareness of exactly how almost wrong or right he was. The curse of his knowledge is that he can see the stupidity of his failures all the more clearly? With that in mind, perhaps he can see even some of the ‘untruths’ that Lorgar is being fed/making true? Moreover, it’s perhaps likely that he’s unable to communicate his insight clearly to others? Alone in an ivory tower…

Lorgar & Word Bearers:
They’re the peak, the top. Surely. Erebus and Kor Phaeron ‘know’, but they’re learning from Lorgar’s revelations. Whilst it comes ‘divinely’ to Lorgar, Erebus & Kor Phaeron (like Typhon?) have to fight for every scrap, to wrestle with reality and unreality to make sure it works. Fortunately, they’re the most faithful too, so that’s alright. Obviously, all this is perhaps coloured by things that Chaos doesn’t want its servants to know/believe in, perhaps that Magnus might have been right, just not right enough, stuff like that.

Horus & the Sons thereof:
It’s a difficult one here. On one hand I think Horus & Abaddon are surely learning intimately as they go (contrast to the opening of False Gods where they have to fight at every turn with the Imperium – they’re ‘free of their chains’ now and able to ascend to the heights they should’ve been achieving during the Crusade?). In that regard, I can see them both learning and knowing the boundaries, perhaps without such vision and support as Lorgar, or clarity as Magnus, but with a more practical and… pragmatic touch than those two bookish types? It accounts for why Horus & Abaddon would be the best ‘vassals’ or ‘figureheads’ for Chaos – they’re not too concerned with the why, but the how.

Fulgrim & the Emperor’s Children:
In a counterpoint to Magnus, I think Fulgrim likely has even more profound insight, but he’s even more distanced with how to convey it. He can impart it, reveal it, but he can’t (or rather… wouldn’t?) teach it or translate it so formally. That would account for why the Emperor’s Children do as they do at the Siege: they’ve learned enough about Chaos that they see it’s not actually about winning? That’s not what the daemons, the gods are after…

Night Haunter & the Night Lords:
I think the case for them not caring is really rather profound, and well explored in both Lord of the Night and ADB’s books, without really being touched on explicitly. Their interests are already inherently chaotic and… devolved, counterproductive, it really doesn’t matter what the details of why they do what they do, only what they do and that they do it at all? A certain nihilism or solipsism in it, but I’m sure tons can still be said on them.

Perutrabo & the Iron Warriors:
Frankly, I really don’t know. I’ve a suspicion it might be a half-way between Lorgar & Night Haunter – a ‘well what have you done for me lately?’ contract. They delve ever deeper, but at a reasonably sedate pace, always trying to get the best cost-benefit ratio out of their Dark Pacts?

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 Space Marine Supremacists & the Ruinous Powers

One of the points that grabbed Rahzbad particularly was the methods used by the Space Marine side of the equation. Whilst for Lorgar, Fulgrim and Mortarion (and perhaps Horus to an extent), they have very plot-centric reasons for learning, we have the Space Marine characters themselves who drive the quest in a very Magnus-style, but aren’t hamstrung by Magnus’ fate.

That is: Ahriman (think Rubric), Erebus (think Know No Fear, Nemesis, False Gods), Kor Phaeron (think Battle for the Abyss, Know No Fear), Typhon (The Lion) and so forth.

There’s an inherently… scientific (or perhaps rigorous?) approach here. They’re not approaching it as ‘true believers’ in an oddly subservient sense, they’re ambitious, frighteningly so. They’re shackling it, and gambling with it and really fighting for every scrap they seem to be getting.

If the Emperor and Chaos are at war with one another, I think the scientific ‘competition’ for knowledge of Chaos, for insight and access to power is really quite a startling point. Is it possible that the Space Marine vassals are not really doing anything that less ambitious than the Emperor, just with less inherent skill/advantage and with relatively bigger challenges facing them?

We think we know a lot about these characters, but what do we really know about their motivations, their ambitions, their worries and the cautions they take?

May 6, 2012

Space Marine Battles – A Series Perspective

Filed under: Books & Media,Reflections,Writing — xisor @ 6:21 pm

This came about thanks to poster Sam Vimes’ thread over on The Bolthole.

Broadly speaking, I read a lot. Perhaps less broadly, a huge portion of it comes from The Black Library. Now, it makes me a very restricted reader in many respects, but I think I’m pretty interested in the writing and ideas; not the mere hack and slash, unrelenting drudgery of the setting.

(Hell, I’d argue that much of that pushing too much of an ‘action focus’ would diminish their product, rather than strengthen it; but that could just be an argument over the choice of words & interpretation amongst the fans and aspiring authors, not the actual philosophy underpinning the publisher’s business – which leads to something I remarked to one of their editors, Nick Kyme, last year: I feel they’ve generally improved over the years; I don’t think the older stuff was bad, oh no, rather – a large proportion of their new publications have been remarkably good.)

Anyway, in keeping with SV’s thoughts, I opened with my views on Steve Parker’s Rynn’s World.  For the blog, I give you an expanded view!

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Rynn’s World by Steve Parker

I raced through this novel in an afternoon & evening back in early 2010 whilst in New Zealand. It’s was thoroughly enjoyed. A nice section of characters, memorable sequences and a remarkably entertaining climax to the novel (“You’ve lost an arm…!” etc), all told, I enjoyed it. The trouble is, compared to Steve’s other works, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would’ve thought. Not that it wasn’t good; it was. Perhaps it was due to reading it very quickly in a pub with many pints of ale. Not superb, but an okay start to a series that, frankly, I was very dubious about.

Good, but it dwelt too much on the action, on the race, on the series of events, not on their significance or on the characters themselves. If anything, its focus was perhaps a little too restricted for my tastes. Still, a fine page turner of a novel, though not quite speaking directly to my heart.

The Gildar Rift by Sarah Cawkwell

The Gildar Rift had a ton to offer and was very enjoyable throughout.

My favourite scene, a slight spoiler, but early enough on I think I’m safe to talk of it. It has to be around 150 pages in – the three Executioner Grand Cruisers appear. As a firm fan of all things space battle, with novels like The Gothic War sitting almost supreme in my esteem, Sarah’s handling of this was particularly enjoyable reading. Memorable, well handled, and certainly refreshing in tone/focus. The armour-fitting scene preceding it very impressively done. Lots of other strong points to the novel, but that ‘sequence’ was a stand-out success for me, a highlight in the midst of a decent story.

As a novel in its own right, it offers a refreshing outlook on Space Marines – somewhat more whimsical and involved in the day-to-day business. The character interactions are less tied to plot development, the prose much more caring about the characters themselves and their role within events, rather than their specific shaping of the plot of the novel. Arguably this is remarkably similar to Rynn’s World in style: characters reacting to things happening. I think The Gildar Rift runs with that though, it’s got a broader cast of characters, with a lot broader focus.

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The Hunt for Voldorious by Andy Hoare

I enjoyed a lot less than the two noted above. Still enjoyed, but it reminded me with what I feel to be the main trouble in Andy Hoare’s writing: he doesn’t push the boat out and be inventive/innovative when he can (for my tastes, o’course). It has one particularly an amazing sequence, early on, when the freedom fighters are trying to sabotage the Teleporter array – wondrously done. But the rest of it, it was all a bit underwhelming. I enjoy his Scars, I enjoy that they’re… pretty damn normal. They’ve got thematic touches, traditions and whatnot, but at their core they’re still Space Marines without all the specialities that other chapters foist upon themselves.

(In that regard, I see the Scars as close to the Imperial Fists, Dark Angels, Raven Guard and Blood Angels – their points of distinction should be nuanced and subtle, not fundamental and overt. That’s in contrast to the likes of the Space Wolves, Salamanders and Iron Hands – each of which really push the boat out on being a bit more odd and fundamentally ‘different’.)

In a broad, somewhat rubbish sense, I think that choice not to delve deeper with the Raven Guard and the Alpha Legion brings about the main issue here, for me. It’s not a simple case of it being a bad novel; as it’s not. But the modern looks on the Alpha Legion (We Are One by John French, for example) really stand out as being a more compelling take on them than Mr Voldorius & Co. here. That said, without spoiling too much, Hoare does a decent job of weaving the nature and legacy of the Scars into the plot in a nice, far from hamfisted manner.

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The Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme

It certainly wasn’t awful, but it’s probably the SMB book I enjoyed the least. As other folks say, it’s effectively one long action scene and the lovely character development, thoughtfulness and curious world-making/invention that marked out Assault on Black Reach and the Salamanders books as being a bit special was sorely missing here. Whilst not especially bad in particular ways, I think it’s safe to say that I was not the most suitable audience for the finished product.

The initial cause for this response & post, SV on the Bolthole, goes on to say he didn’t enjoy it as he felt Sicarius (the captain of the folks involved and main ‘celebrity’ in the book, though a few persist in addition to the core cast of protagonists) was an utterly arrogant twerp. Oddly, I agree, but in on an opposing point: I think Sicarius’ outright brashness holds well in the book, being one of the main strengths in Nick’s writing of the novel. I don’t think it’s propped up so well, overall, but then that’s linked to the book no tickling my fancy so much. The Necrons are interesting, certainly, but in that regard, I’d be very keen to see Nick write a short story or two focussing entirely on the Necrons. He’s got skills, that man, but somehow he’s refused to showcase the ones I like in this novel! *shakes fist*

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The Purging of Kadillus by Gav Thorpe

I really don’t like the prologue and epilogue , I think the rest of the book’s pretty damn enjoyable.

I shall  ‘vent’ my ire here a tad more strongly than the book deserves: The bookends here were a bit too much ‘treading on my heart’ that I could cope with: I prefer non-silly orks (though Andy Chambers does silly & Steve Parker does strange both magnificently in The Arkunasha War and Headhunted respectively), Gav went for a strange slapstick. I also have fervently partisan views on what GW should be doing with the Demiurg… Gav did differently. I was sad. (As something of a spoiler, a certain author made me especially happy with their execution of a certain race in a certain The Primarchs…)

However: I did think the rest of PoK works very well. The format works, the individual stories are neat and interesting. Not excellent throughout, but there’s a few bits that were really thoughtful and, across the entire book, it’s an interesting study in how the Dark Angels actually function when the Fallen aren’t even a question. The latter stories in the novel were, in contrast, especially good. It’s nice to see an author apply themselves to doing, effectively, their own one-author anthology.

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Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

 It’s a wobbly novel in some respects, you can see a few of the decisions that Aaron has since become a bit more savvy at making, but across the board its bloody interesting and, in many regions, extremely good too. Grimauldus’ end is particularly inspiring and memorable, whilst the take on Armageddon, the setup and the set-pieces used in the novel (plus cameo/incidental characters) were really very well done. I’m not sure if I enjoy the novel more than I rate it, or if I rate it technically better than I enjoyed it. Depends when and what I’m thinking about, I suppose! A fine one, though, definitely ‘top tier’.

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Battle of the Fang by Chris Wraight

This was my first experience of Chris Wraight beyond his short Runes.

Deary me, blew me away. This is the first ‘breakthrough’ Space Marine Battle novel that made me think “these won’t only be ‘decent Space Marine novels’, but they can actually just be outright, top-quality novels which happen to have Marine Battles as a focus”. (I should note I’d felt Helsreach, which I’d read prior to this but is similarly decent, was likely to be something of an anomaly; a huge portion of the possible action sequences had simply been skipped over, much to my delight!)

This book, broadly, deals much more intensely with ‘big background themes’, motivations and items which really tie to the fundamentals of the setting. (Though in contrast, I think Helsreach was far smaller scale in its core theme: being a Black Templars Space Marine Chaplain. It was handled very well, but Battle of the Fang really raised the game, in my esteem.)

It’s extremely well written, covers a lot of entertaining characters, pours a lot of insight onto things and really, ultimately, works brilliantly as a third novel in the Prospero Duology alongside Prospero Burns and A Thousand Sons (with Atlas Infernal making for a curiously appropriate Appendix to the setup) It gets into the pathos and all that jazz, really probing at a lot of… issues, and providing very interesting resolutions.

Also, lore nuggets, oh my! It’s thick with background material and references yet all bundled within decent writing and excellent characters.

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The Architect of Fate edited by Christian Dunn
(Authors Sarah Cawkwell, Darius Hinks, Ben Counter & John French)

I really should do all of them individually, but I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I often get stuck in a loop, appropriately, when I do. Each of the novellas is very good, in my eyes. All very different, but tie together in strange ways. Each has more’n a few things which are really very enjoyable about them, each does it well and each tells a fine story.

It’s difficult not to enjoy the format and, for me, to get some wholesome enjoyment from authors I haven’t read so much of. (Well, okay, I’ve read a ton from Ben Counter, but what has he done for me lately? [Actually, The Second Sun was pretty awesome. I'll shut up.] ) Perhaps not quite so full-on-everything as Battle of the Fang, it sits just below that ‘topmost plateau’ of SMB stories, enjoying a place beside Helsreach.

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Legion of the Damned by Rob Sanders

It should be no surprise to anyone that this is my favourite. Beautiful set-pieces, excellent prose, lashings of lovely descriptions. A magnificent protagonist whose head you really get inside. Some magnificent and chilling vignettes, improbable amounts of highly memorable, highly vivid scenes. Like Battle of the Fang, it has pretty much a bit of everything you could possibly want. But I think it offers a bit more too, a bit more insight, a few more lore-nuggets… simply put, I thinkLegion of the Damned speaks on a lot more levels to a much larger audience. It has not just something for everyone, but lots of something for everyone!

I’d say more, but I’d prefer to try to retain some dignity. A wealth of far superior reviewers have said much more insightful things than my shoddy gushing. Nevertheless – terrific novel.

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Kraken by Chris Wraight

Short story, sure, but Chris Wraight’s a delight, still. Simple setup, very well written and, for me, surprisingly emotional. Like The Emperor’s Gift, it paints a very nice view on the Imperium as massively ignorant, even of its own details (that are very well-known to most of us, the reader’s). (Specifically in the local’s reaction to the Space Wolf and their musing on all Space Marines.) A properly enjoyable wee story – I’d strongly recommend it to any/all of you.

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Flesh by Chris Wraight

Precursor to what, I hope, will be Chris Wraight’s ‘return fire’/riposte to Rob Sanders’ Legion of the Damned in Wrath of Iron later this year (of which I believe Mr J. Reynolds, amongst others, has already started praising highly). It, like Kraken is a great wee story. Follows the same conceit of ‘small number of Marines show up to solve local problem’, but that’s a good format and it’s really not an issue in short stories, mainly as it offers a rich opportunity for variety of responses, types and exploration of the Chapters/worlds and so forth.

Anyway, simple setup, wonderful execution. More than that, again like The Emperor’s Gift (and something piqued in The Gildar Rift), it offers an insight into the Techmarines/Mars ‘untold story’, of which I’m keen to see a lot more. Flesh is possibly one of my favourite 40k short stories.

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Action & Consequence + Cause & Effect by Sarah Cawkwell

Two H&B shorts from Sarah tying into the Silver Skulls; simply put – very enjoyable. They take reasonable conceits of ‘extremely small cast doing stuff’ and work a very thoughtful pair of stories around them. Very enjoyable, especially if you like the exploration given in The Gildar Rift (which I did). Cause & Effect is especially interesting in a slightly dry way, mainly a dialogue exploring options, with strange little glimpses in the side. It works very well and demonstrates the pleasant variety we could (and, to an extent, should!) expect from H&B stories. Certainly, it reminds me I’m always happy to gamble on H&B for a good bit of reading.

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The Bitter End by Sarah Cawkwell

Simply a damn good story, again from everyone’s beloved tyrant, Miss Cawkwell. This time focussing on two Chaos Space Marines (one of whom is a particularly well known Tyrant of Badab). A great insight into the shenanigans afoot there, with the benefit of broadly being a damn fine story. Not much to say other than: well enjoyed!

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Catechism of Hate by Gav Thorpe

It’s an odd one. Throughout, it’s a surprisingly ‘mundane’ story. Simple setup, unremarkable dialogue, but it carries itself well, carries itself… proudly. It takes a lot of the ideas presented in Purging of Kadillus about being a Space Marine and gives a very neat view of it. I also found Gav’s take on the Ultramarines to be broadly very enjoyable.

It goes further, however, with making Cassius seem like a bit of a roguish fiend. Well, not roguish, but slightly… mad. There was an air of Brother Jorge from The Name of the Rose about him, fiercely fanatical, but impressively intelligent. His seeming fanaticism and obsession driving him to make outrageous decisions, and yet his fanaticism, obsession and faith in his battle-brothers… works.

It’s a very different, much more wholesome, realistic, plausible and, ultimately, satisfactory outlook on the Ultramarines, for me, than Graham McNeill’s stories (‘cept Warriors of Ultramar & his Agemann heavy short). It has a lot to offer, much in the same vein as my positive thoughts onThe Assault on Black Reach but arguably goes off the deep-end in a particularly awesome way towards the end.

That ‘departure’ and dryly exuberant approach really made the investment extremely rewarding, for me. I’ll give you a clue: roughly Page 88. I’ll do a dramatic reading for you all, one day.

It’s very dry, I think, compared to Aurelian and The Bloody Handed as limited editions go, and much less outrageously-bringing-in-everything than Legion of the Damned & Battle of the Fang within the SMB series. Yet it has a wholesome, steady quality that crescendos very well. Dry, but a delight.

—-

Finishing thoughts

In earlier days, when the series was announced, I was something of a cynic on this front. Not even a sceptic, as I knew fine well from the ‘classic’ marine books (Storm of Iron, Lord of the Night, Angels of Darkness) that Marine fiction can be done very well. I felt, however, it was to be a cash cow, a cynical way to up-price and down-grade the likes of the Soul Drinkers or Ultramarines series (which, alas, I’m still quite a snob about; I recognise my failing…).

With a few exceptions, however, I think the series has been of a surprisingly high standard. Totally contrary to my curmudgeonly expectations and, critically, much to my delight. As you can from the above, I’m reluctant to pick through the novels in structural detail. You can hopefully tell from my enthusiasm for them, and from my other tastes, how that reflects from yourselves.

If, however, anyone should be reading who hasn’t dabbled in 40k/Games Workshop here, I  strongly recommend getting started either with Legion of the Damned as a novel, or Kraken as a short story. There’s much more to feast on, certainly, but I think those perhaps work best as introductions, priming the way for enjoyment of the others. Alternatively, check out the blurbs and samples for them and dabble yourself. Much as it’s nice to follow on others’ advice, there’s really something to be said for simply jumping in at the deep-end.

Alternatively, if there’s a chance you’ll see me in person: I should be able to pass some of the collection on to you for a borrowing. It is, afterall, the Black Library.

March 22, 2012

Of Dolmen Gates & Dragons

Filed under: Reflections,Visions of the future,Writing — xisor @ 7:46 pm

Not only is that the theory, I’m going to start believing it as fact. Mainly because I like it, but also because I just re-read a few choice segments from Graham McNeill‘s Mechanicum on my newly patented Lovecrafternoon.

That is:

This was no cavern. Was this entire space, the walls and floor, the air and every molecule within it, part of some vast intelligence, a being or construct of ancient malice and phenomenal, primeval power? Such a thing had no name; for what use would a being that had brought entire civilisations into existence and then snuffed them out on a whim have of a name? it had been abroad in the galaxy millions of years before humanity had been a breath in the creator’s mouth, had drunk the hearts of stars and been worshipped as a god in a thousand galaxies.

It was everywhere and nowhere at once. All powerful and trapped at the same time.
- Page 352/353, Mechanicum.

And:

“I understand,” Dalia told Semyon. “The Dragon… I don’t know what it is, but I know where it is.”

“Do you?” asked Semyon. “Tell me.”

“This cavern… everything in it. This is it. Or at least a sliver of it.”

Semyon nodded. “A Tomb and prison all in one.”

“How?”

Semyon beckoned her over to the lectern and opened the book. “Look. Know.
- Page 354, Mechanicum.

Simply put, I’m quite convinced of a few things now in me noggin’. (more…)

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