Friday, 13 March 2015

Age of Darkness - Horus Heresy review

Short stories are a pain to review. I don’t want to overcook each story, because I’ll be here for an ice age. But I don’t want to gloss over them too quickly, so let’s see how this goes.

Honestly though, this short story compilation was pretty flat. Tales of Heresy had many good stories, but this compilation, well…… a lot of it felt like filler.

Two stories stand head and shoulders above the rest in this compilation, but I’ll let you wonder what those are without spelling it out her.

It’s not that they were all bad stories in this book; some of them were quite interesting. But several of them were just an extra brush-stroke in the background painting of the Horus Heresy, while others seemed relatively pointless or even harmful to the world building.


And remember, spoilers abound in these reviews. If you don’t want spoilers, go elsewhere.


Rules of Engagement



I guess this story, or a story like it had to appear at some point. BEHOLD THE GLORY OF THE CODEX ASTARTES, ISN’T GULLIMAN THE SMARTEST.
The origins of this meme :)

This story really annoyed me because it pulled the old “bait and switch” on me. I don’t like “but it was all a dream” type stories, and this enders game-esque series of simulations boils down to that.

When your entire story is about simulations, that means nothing real happened.
At first you are led to believe that the “new rules of warfare” from Gulliam, (aka the codex astartes) is helping the protagonist (who I will call Ender) win a series of nail-biting encounters in Ultramar. There’s even a scene where one of his subordinates gets entirely bent out of shape because he thinks lives are being thrown away needlessly. But of course, Ender wins the wargame using his awesome strategy and everyone hi-fives him.

There are multiple engagements that Ender wins, until he loses to a “Sons of Horus” army led by Horus himself, or Gulliman cosplaying as Horus….. whatever. The lesson being, that the Codex is awesome and stuff, but Gulliman is more awesome.

To me, this isn’t a short story, it’s fan service. And it’s bad fan service.
Considering the last thing of McNeills I read was “A Thousand sons”, which in my opinion is his best work. I was really let down by this story.

Lair’s due



I quite like James Swallow as an author, but I feel he has been let down by the material he has been given to write. Secondary stories and side paths, what he does really well is “the horrors of the warp” as shown in Eisenstein.
This story has none of that, and it’s one of those stories that bugs me. Not because of how well it’s written, because the writing is fine. But because of the elitist assumptions it operates under.

In this story, one Alpha Legion operative moves to a world, does some stuff and the world falls to Horus out of hysteria and fear. My issue is that it’s simply too easy for him, and you never feel like his plans are in danger. The locals are, almost without exception, presented as sub-normal hicks completely lacking in cognitive reasoning skills.

The locals fall to in-fighting and side with Horus because of a few tricks the agent pulls with their communications. But it relies on assuming the people in a backwater planet are all idiots. There is one particular scene where a local man accidentally kills another one because of his panic, and then lynching’s occur….
I just don’t buy it. People can be dumb, but the dumbness of everyone involved was so amplified that it destroyed the believability of the story. In short, backwater hicks are retarded, so you can tell them a few lies and they will do exactly what you want, each and every time. That’s the hubris of an urban writer looking down on small town people if ever I saw it.

As an adenda, this short story is essentially a rewrite of a twilight zone episode

Forgotten Sons


Nick Kyne. I’ve never read anything of his before, but a quick scan of his background shows that he’s a “go to guy” for writing stuff about the Salamanders. And to be honest, we are 16 books in to the series and diddly squat has been said about them, so I was excited to see that a Salamander character was going to be one of the three protagonists.

Well, I thought there were going to be three protagonists, a Remembrancer, an Ultramarine and a Salamander, but it turned out that the Remembrancer was simply a “woman in a refrigerator” a trope I find lazy and tired.

So, this story is an odd one. The two main characters are pretty flat, and the Ultramarine in particular is a complete ass of a man. It’s meant to be about a negotiation, but the marines suck at negotiation, so it ends up being a scrap between the Marine characters, an Iron Warrior and an assassin/shapeshifter thing.

The twists in the plot are painfully obvious as well, OH LOOK, THE SHAPESHIFTER CHANGED TO LOOK LIKE ON OF US, BUT I COULD SPOT IT………. And THE IRON WARRIOR WAS ACTUALLY BLOWING THE PLANET UP.

Unlikeable bland characters, a female character introduced and killed for some thin character development, a cliché t-1000 fight and a predictable outcome to the story. I also still have no idea why the Salamander dies at the end……

By this stage of the short story compilation, I was feeling very let down. None of the stories so far have been good. I was starting to get annoyed, but I pushed on and…



The Last Remembrancer


Just when you think you’ve read enough lazy fiction, you stumble across and excellently constructed story that is engaging, thought provoking and well written.

It pays attention to my golden rules of short story writing.
  • ·         Don’t try to do too much,
  • ·         Focus on a few characters only,
  • ·         Explore one central theme well.

In the last remembrancer, we have three core characters, two of which we are already familiar with. This helps out immersion into the story immediately, we know the “half-heard” from the first four books, and Dorn is reasonably well established by this point in the series. So two established characters are meeting a third new character to hear his story.

It’s such a simple setup but it works incredibly well.

The central theme is this, the greatest remembrancer of the order (Voss) has returned to Terra in a ship clearly sent by the Warmaster. Dorn and Qruze go to interrogate him, to see if he’s a spy or has been turned.

The beauty of the story is that he hasn’t been turned, not as such. But his message is that the imperium they have fought for is already dead because the necessities of war have already curtailed freedom of expression, and it is a powerful one. It has resonance with our current condition, as a lot of good sci-fi does, as we tackle the issues of information security, personal freedoms, terrorism and fear in our society.

The line explaining the Warmasters motivations for sending Voss back is especially good. “He wanted you to feel the ideals of the past dying in your hands”. Dorn is stuck with an uncomfortable paradox, let Voss go and risk his truths creating more fear and unrest, or murder an innocent man simply because his truths are bad for the war effort. 

Symbolically, the ideals of the imperial truth die with a single sword blow.

Rebirth


Can we please get Kharn’s character straight for once?

Is he a frothing madman as portrayed in this story or by Bum counter? Or is he the guy who is calm and collected most of the time, using his massive willpower to resist the nails, before occasionally losing it in battle? Thank goodness for Betrayer and ADB is all I can say.

And does he have teleport? I mean, he seems to have bounced from Istvaan to Propsero is a short amount of time, and then he’s out on the rim near Ultramar in another book.

This story started off strong, a group of Thousands Sons investigating Prospero after the Space Wolves levelled it. Ok, cool premise, I wonder what they will find……



They find World Eaters and Kharn? What?

The whole point of this story seems to be to talk ineloquently about the “butchers nails” in Kharn’s skull and how the thousand sons could help him remove them, if only he wasn’t so crazy. The Emperor couldn’t remove Angrons nails, which is why he essentially discards him in “After Desh’a”, so how could this random thousand son solve that issue.

Oh, and for the final insult, the Thousand son character escapes and runs off to fight another day.

I can’t express how pointless and incongruous this short story was.

The Face of Treachery


Well, this story is a solid story. It’s not great, but it’s certainly readable and it answers some questions that had previous been unanswered. Which is what you want from a Horus Heresy short story, a little more info, a little more of the world, or a concept explored that you hadn’t considered.

The World Eaters are again portrayed as absolute morons, a portrayal that bugs me a lot. But their stupidity is required for the story to work.

At least we now know how Corax escaped from Isstvan, and as this short story is by Gav Thorpe, who writes the next novel about the Raven Guard, we can view this as a preamble to “deliverance lost” (Which I haven’t read yet, so I’m assuming)

Asides from the awkward World eater problem, this is a passable, if bland short story. But at least it’s content matters.

Little Horus


When Dan Abnett writes, he uses a lot of repetition of passages to get his points across.

 “Of course when they reattached his face” is only used a few times in the story, but it feels far more frequent. I guess I’ve noticed this technique a lot more since Propsero burns, where he reintroduced the dream sequence a lot and “wet leopard growls”.

When Dan Abnett writes, he can get bogged down in trying to be too clever.
The core story is fine, as it deals with the recreation of the Mournival and focuses in on one of the featured characters of the first three Horus heresy novels. But I don’t really know what this story was about in the grand scheme of things.

It was almost like a postcard from the Sons of Horus.  “Hi everyone, Little Horus here, fought some white scars, lost my face, been dealing with that. Got new guys in the mournival, Abaddon is still being a toolbox. See you all on terra, love you pal Horus Aximand”

It’s not a bad story at all, Abnett writes well, but I don’t see much in this story. A little about him dealing with the ghost of Loken, but that’s it.

When Dan Abnett writes, perhaps I expect too much from him?

The Iron Within


The iron within is a fun, if completely nonsensical story, featuring the Iron Warriors and an impenetrable fortress.

Here’s some military strategy 101 for all you people out there. An impenetrable fortress means jack if it’s location isn’t strategic and it cannot be used as a staging group for operations.

The Schadenhold is on a planet that cannot sustain life, it’s garrisoned by a small group, and it’s a nightmare to take. It’s akin to building a super fortress on Svalbard, there is no reason to expend resources to take it, and you can blockade/isolate it and move on.

It is also a military maxim never to be drawn into an engaging on defensive terrain of your opponent’s choosing unless it is absolutely required. I never felt the author overcame the reasons to take the fort asides from Iron Warrior pride.
Get out! get out of there!
So, after putting military logic to one side, this story is quite a fun read as the extent of the fortresses defences are hilarious, it’s the “mary sue” of fortresses. Like a bunch of sci-fi nerds had a brainstorming session about the most impossible place in the universe to assault.

The real highlight of the story though is the conclusion, even if it is exactly what Kirk does in “search for spock”, it’s still quite clever.

Again, it’s a fun story, even if it is complete nonsense.

This is the Maginot line..... the Germans went around it, not through it

Savage Weapons


ADB is quickly becoming my favourite Horus Heresy author, and this is a great short story. First of all, it deals with some side-story issues we haven’t encountered before: The Dark Angels vs The Night Lords.

Secondly, the interaction between the Primarchs is really well written. Initially you would think that Johnson and Curze are so completely different that they would have nothing in common, but they explore a kinship between the two that I hadn’t considered.

Curze and Johnson also have an epic duel, and Curze’s words about the legacy of the Imperium and the Dark Angels role in the Heresy are well crafted.
The highlight of the story for me though is actually the interaction between the Night Lords and Dark Angels as they wait for their Primarchs. It’s a nice reminder of how similar legions are, despite their backgrounds and rituals. Astartes are closer to each other than anything else.

Great read, nice and epic as well as thought provoking.

PS. I hope Sevetar doesn’t become a “Lestat/Riddick” character the author falls too heavily for.

Rating


Only 2 great stories, a few “ok” ones, and a lot of forgettable material, only consider reading if you are reading the series, but don’t be too worried if you miss it.











 

5 comments:

  1. Well, Sevatar certainly crops up a few times later, but he's so well-written that even Forgeworld did a miniature of him. See 'Prince of Crows' for maximum toxic badassery.

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    1. Lestat syndrome is a term i coined a while back. It's when an authour makes a character and falls in love with them, to the point their baddassness gets totally out of wack. See also Rastalin in Dragonlance, Kyle Kattarn in Star Wars and other characters who start out cool, but end up punching gods in the face.

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    2. Well, he does die in the assault on Terra, but of course there's still time for him to become a Mary Sue. I sincerely hope he won't though!

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  2. The Horus Aximand one was probably set up for Vengeful Spirit.

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    Replies
    1. I will be sure to keep that in mind

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