Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Review of Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme

Upon completing the third Horus Heresy novel, Galaxy in Flames, I was in awe of the new level the 30k galaxy had been taken. The stakes were huge. But I was mildly disappointed at the relative lack of weight given to events on Isstvan V. Where Isstvan III was the “quiet” moment in which Horus revealed his revolt internally, Isstvan V was the “loud” moment, the moment it became known to the wider universe. Despite being larger in import, however, the story didn't seem to have the same respect for the battle. Know No Fear and its representation of a sub-battle delivered more weight to the Word Bearer's book-length attack on the Ultramarines than does Horus' betrayal of all humanity in Flames. I held out hope that perhaps future books/stories would explore it in more detail. I'm not sure Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme (2013), twenty-sixth novel in the series, is my hope rewarded, but it certainly is a deeper dive into the events on the black sand planet and the primarchs involved.

Vulkan Lives is told through two storylines which alternate back and forth in the narrative. One is the time pre-Istvann V, the time when Horus' rebellion was unknown to the wider universe and all the primarchs and legions still think of themselves as brothers. The other is directly after the events of Istvann V, the time of the disappearance of Vulkan, primarch of the Salamanders. Thought dead by what remains of his Legion, he is, in fact, in the captivity of Konrad Curze, primarch of the Night Lords. A Groundhog's Day scenario playing out, Curze tortures Vulkan through death and back again, that is, until the cycle breaks. What breaks is of interest.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Review of Fear to Tread by James Swallow

After consuming fifteen Horus Heresy books over several months, I took a break. I've been following's recommended reading list, and as Vengeful Spirit closed what they consider Act I, an intermission seemed natural. Scenes and battles had started blending together, meaning it felt right to pause lest I burn out. I'm back now, refreshed, ready to raise the curtain on Act II with Fear to Tread by James Swallow (2012).

Fear to Tread opens on an explosive, pre-Heresy moment. Horus and the Lunar Wolves storm the battlefield against a juggernaut of a foe that would seek to subjugate humanity (ironically in not so different a way than the Emperor). The battle more difficult than anticipated, the Blood Angels, led by their primarch Sanguinius, swoop onto the battlefield, swaying things distinctly in the Legion's favor. In the aftermath of the battle it's revealed some of the Blood Angels are suffering from a peculiar blood sickness, a sickness that causes a frenzied madness to overtake those afflicted and become aggressive and malevolent toward anyone, friend or foe. Seeming to want to help Sanguinius with his problem, Horus sends the Blood Angels to a distant planet to fight, promising them the solution to their blood problem lies in wait there. Trouble is, Horus has more planned for the Blood Angels than just a healing mission.

Review of The Primarchs ed. by Christian Dunn

If readers had to identify the single thing which keeps bringing them back to the Horus Heresy series, keeps them believing the 60+ books are worth it, it has to be the primarchs. Demi-gods of the far future, they dominate their scenes and generate excitement when one faces another. It makes sense then, that among the dozen anthologies you include in the series, one is designated for the super-human sons of the Emperor, yes? Let's see if The Primarchs (2012), edited by Christian Dunn, capitalizes.

The Primarchs consists of four novellas, and four novellas only. Each focuses on one of the titular demi-gods. For those counting, that's four of the eighteen known primarchs. The first is ”The Reflection Crack'd” by Graham McNeill. The story follows a swordsman named Lucius of the Emperor's Children as he begins to suspect Fulgrim's demonic possession. Suspicion converting to vested interest, he begins tailing Fulgrim in his private life to learn the truth. Lucius does discover the truth, but in hindsight perhaps would rather have not... McNeill's strong writing is (mostly) on display, but that cannot rescue this tale from the redundancy of Angel Exterminatus. A repeated concept, the novella is really only for major fans of Fulgrim and the Emperor Children's storyline.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Review of Armageddon Rag by George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin's Armageddon Rag (1983) has been sitting on my to-read pile for years, literally years—not because I didn't want to read it, rather because of expectation. With positive reviews and words like 'hidden gem' being bandied about, I wanted to save Martin's unknown novel for the 'right' moment. The right moment came last week. After such weight of expectation, better be good, right?

Armageddon Rag channels 60s and 70s arena rock in fantastika fashion. Think Black Sabbath with a spark of the occult. It's told through the eyes of Sandy Blair, a former journalist at a small-time version of Rolling Stone called the Hedgehog. It's now the 80s and Blair is writing novels rather than articles. He Blair gets a call in the opening pages from his former editor at Hedgehog with a gig offer. A famous music promoter from one of the 60s biggest bands, The Nazgul, has been murdered in a remote Maine cabin and the editor wants Blair back on the payroll to cover it. Mystery, as they say, ensues (with a big splash of rock-n-roll).

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Review of Drood by Dan Simmons

One of the limbs on the body of Dan Simmons' oeuvre is historical fiction with a fantastical twist. The Crook Factory, Black Hills, Terror, and the list goes on. Let's call it a leg. One of Simmons' most successful pieces of such fiction is Drood (2009).  Let's see why he stands on it.  (Sorry)

Drood centers on the (late) lives of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. But where the story is told through Collins' eyes, it is Dickens, and Dickens' inner demons (or maybe not?), which are the story's focus. The novel begins after Dickens survived the Staplehurst Rail incident. A near-death experience, Dickens half-consciously wanders the wreckage of his train, lending survivors aid and lamenting the dead. At one point Dickens is approached by a man who identifies himself as Edwin Drood. Cloaked, shadowy, and with slits for a nose, he makes a distinct impression on Dickens, such an impression in fact, that Holmes—I mean, Dickens—goes looking for the mysterious figure in the days which follow the train crash. Devolving into an obsession, Dickens, accompanied by his close friend Wilkie Collins, start digging deeper and deeper into the identity and intentions of one Edwin Drood.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Review of Androne by Dwain Worrell

Every morning I wake up and check the news, hoping someone has assassinated Putin in the night. Literally. I'm invested probably more than is healthy for me in the war in Ukraine. The injustice is the primary reason, but seeing a war play out in media like no other war ever has is fascinatingly real. GoPro cameras capture trench warfare as Hollywood never could. And we're seeing drones deployed like no backyard hobbyist likewise ever imagined. It was thus somewhat natural reading the blurb for Dwain Worrell's Androne (2022) that my attention was drawn.

Androne is the story of Paxton Vare. An everyday Joe, he spends his time as a mechanic, repairing ground-based war drones (what the military calls landrones) and preparing to be a father. Short of experienced operators, however, the military calls Paxton up to perform a month-long shift as an androne pilot. Bipedal mechwarriors operated virtually, Paxton straps his arms and feet into the control booth of an older model called the Spartan. The world is still reeling from an event dubbed the Ninety-Nine, a mysterious phenomenon which wiped out 36% of the world's military infrastructure and instantaneously destroyed twenty-seven of the world's major cities. Everyone knows the source of the destruction is not aliens or AI and assume it must be have been done by an invisible enemy. In these ambiguous times Paxton is given strict parameters for his androne's desert patrol route. But things start to fall apart when a fellow operator gives him a metal marble that bypasses security protocols; Paxton can now take the Spartan anywhere. But where? The answer changes his and humanity's lives forever.

Console Corner: Review of Slay the Spire

This blog likes expandable card games. Go look. It loves Seasons, Flesh and Blood, Ashes Reborn, and pretty much anything by FFG (Android: Netrunner, Warhammer: Conquest, Star Wars: Destiny, etc.). There is something about taking a set of first principles and layering onto it a system of cards that allow for dynamic, tactical card play against a competitor. It tickles the spot in my brain which looks for efficiency, optimization, and opportunism. When I heard that a similar experience was available in video game form, my ears perked up. Let's look at Slay the Spire (2019).

Slay the Spire is a card game that takes the idea of a standard deckbuilding game and adds to it the possibilities available only in digital format. Think Hearthstone, but in a single-player, campaign-based experience. In each campaign, players start with a basic deck of cards. It features a few attacks, a few blocks, and a couple cards with special powers. The campaign starts at the first level of a spire, with each level of the spire featuring enemy encounters, from garden varieties to elites to bosses. In an encounter, players use their cards to to reduce the enemy's hit points to zero while preserving as much of their own hit points as they can. Beating a level results in the possibility of adding a new card to your deck, as well as potions and other buffs, and thus potentially having a stronger deck to fight enemies. On their path up the spire, players will likewise encounter merchants and treasure chests that can grant powerful relics and allow players to refine their decks. The overall campaign is divided into three acts, with a boss waiting at the end of each act. Defeat all three bosses and you win. Sounds easy, right? Right....

Monday, November 13, 2023

Review of Dracula by Bram Stoker

Like every Westerner I am infinitely familiar with the vampire trope—fanged teeth, white skin, black cape, receding hairline—as well as the innumerable ways there are to kill and repel vampires—wooden stakes, garlic, crucifixes, etc. But where did all that cultural knowledge originate? A vacation to Romania this summer inspired me to finally read Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).

Dracula is the story of, unsurprisingly, Count Dracula. But what may be surprising is the fact the famous vampire is rarely presented from his point of view. Stoker chooses to tell the vampire's tale through the eyes of those around him, starting with a London solicitor named Jonthan Harker who, in the opening pages, takes an overland journey to the mountains of Romania to handle paperwork for one Count Dracula who is in the process of purchasing real estate in England. Things steadily twisting surreal for Harker, he is forced to escape, only to discover that the fanged Count has followed him to London.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Review of Vengeful Spirit by Graham McNeill

I have been following's Horus Heresy recommendations, looking to get through the 60+ books in style. This is also known as: what is the golden path through the saga focusing on the key moments? Their recommendation described Graham McNeill's Vengeful Spirit (2014), twenty-fourth book in the series, as the end of Act I. What does that mean for the series and the book's story?

Horus' character was the focus of the first three HH novels. But the novels since have significantly spread out, showing how wider events in the galaxy both set the conditions for his rebellion as well as inflamed it. Vengeful Spirit is a return to Horus as main character. It is a check-in to see how things are going for the rebel and, in video game terms, give him an upgrade.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Review of Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Several of the Horus Heresy novels thus far have been primarch “character studies”--in and as far as that term can be applied to superhuman demi-gods. A Thousand Sons focused on Magnus. The First Heretic on Lorgar. Angel Exterminatus on Petruabo. Fulgrim on Fulgrim. And so forth. Buckle up, guard your morals, and get a towel (for the blood), Angron, a primarch many people likely wanted to see a novel focused on, is finally here in Betrayer by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (2013).

Betrayer is a novel set in the midst of the massive battle between the Ultramarines and Word Bearers after the events of Know No Fear. Lorgar asks the World Eaters for assistance subduing the Ultramarine world of Armatura, and Angron, battle axes in hand and blood in his eyes, gladly accepts. Behind the scenes, Argel Tal, Erebrus, and other Chaos-infected Word Bearers play games with the knowledge they've gained from the Warp, all the while while Ultramarine ship captains look to position the fleet to absorb the Word Bearer and World Eater's attack. It's a savage fight, both between enemies and among supposed allies, and by the end major characters have fallen and a new phase in Horus' rebellion has been reached.