Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Thousand Sons By Graham McNeil

One of the great tragities of the Horus Heresy was the treatment the Thousand Sons Legion and its primarch, Magnus the Red. Magnus who was one of the most loyal of the Emperor's sons, and one of the few that had a direct and personal link to the Emperor (through their shared psychic powers -- Magnus had been in communication with the Emperor before he was found), but Magnus' delving into the ways of the Warp set him up for his downfall.

McNeil does a very good job in presenting both Magnus as well as his Thousand Sons Legion in a very sympathetic light. Where most of the Primarchs we have seen so far have a personality flaw that in one way or another makes them unlikable, Magnus' flaw is his faith in his knowledge and his hubris that he can master this knowledge and power. This makes Magnus seem very confident (a likable trait usually), but he is also compassionate, reasonable, and committed to preserving knowledge and culture. Similarly the Legion and many of its personalities (such as Ahriman, which long time players of the Warhammer 40K wargame should be very familiar with) share this desire, and for me I found myself often agreeing with their actions.

Like a Greek tragety, however, Hubris deserves a fall, and Magnus indeed falls. Contacting the Emperor to warn him of Horus' trechery via the forbidden art of Sorcery (the Council of Nikaea, presented in the book as a virtual trial of Magnus), the Emperor sends the Space Wolves, supported by the Sisters of Silence (null-psykers) and a detachment of Custodes, to destroy the Thousand Sons (which makes one wonder about the two "lost" legions, if perhaps they had a similar fate...).

One element that I had to question was the subplot involving the psychicly aware Remembrancers. Their story was interoven with that of the main plot, but in the end we do not discover what their fate was. I understand Dan Abnett, author of the upcoming Prospero Burns had fallen ill, and was unable to complete the book by the deadline. Originally this book was to be released in April, but has been pushed back till much later in the year. It is possible that Abnett would pick up on this plot point, but due to unforeseen circumstances we are left hanging.

Overall this was a solid book in my opinion, and can't feel a little disappointed that the second part is so delayed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Olympos by Dan Simmons

One of the things about sequels is that they must live up to the legacy of their predecessor. This is true in movies, but just as true in books as well.

One thing that can be said about the universe Simmons creates is that it is interesting, but incomplete. In this setting, we have technologically advanced post humans posing as Greek gods ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" or item three of Clarke's Three Laws), but we really never learn why they are posing as Gods, or even why Greek gods and not some other pantheon. And while Sebetos, Ariel, Prospero, and Caliban get sufficient fleshing out, the fate of Sebetos is never really developed (it just seems to leave ...was it sated on human misery? Scared away by the moravecs? Got bored?).

Nonetheless, Olympos still maintains a good pace and an engaging book. The ending is suitably happy, though one of the elements involving an early '60s (apparently) role-play of sex in the back seat of a teen-ager's car, interrupted by the apparent nuclear annihilation of a city seemed to serve little purpose (other than to say these far future post-humans have a poor grasp of history, unless it was some veiled suggestion of reality hopping of some sort...), and could have been more straight forward.

In the end, if you're looking for some unusual SF, Illium-Olympos might be something to look at.

Friday, March 5, 2010

On the Short Shelf I

I don't know if you are the same, but buying books gives me a little bit of an endorphin shot -- it just feels good. While invariably this means I have more books unread, it does mean that I never lack for reading material.

I picked up some books today, and ordered a few from Amazon. So what's on the "short shelf" for reading in the near future?

A Thousand Sons by Graham McNeil.  Another installment in the Horus Heresy series, I've been looking forward to this book (as well as the Abnett penned Prospero Burns companion novel, not yet released) since it was announced, and it promises to be a thrilling installment in the history of the Warhammer 40K universe. Detailing the razing of Prospero (homeworld of the Thousand Sons Space Marine Legion) by the Space Wolves Legion, it was pivotal as it was a landmark turning point, and a tragic betrayal as well. The book is quite thick, coming in at 558pgs. This will be likely to be read in the very near future.

Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman. I tried reading Penman's books in the past (primarily When Christ and his Saints Slept about the reign of King Stephen, and his struggles against the daughter of King Henry I, the Empress Mathilda), but could never really get into them. This book, however, is set in one of my favorite periods of history, and about one of my favorite dysfunctional medieval families, that of King Henry II of England. Set during the Great Revolt of 1173, it promises to detail the betrayal of Henry not just by his sons (primarily Henry "The Young King" and Richard), but also by his formidable -- and much celebrated -- wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Magician by Lev Grossman. I had first heard of this book when a friend of mine discussed how much he was enjoying it. I filed it in the back of my mind to look for it later, but a recent conversation on one of my favorite forums about Jewish fantasy writers brought it to the fore. Described as being a more realistic depiction of the "Harry Potter" idea, what if magic were real and people from our society were trained in its use? And what would you do if you had magic powers?

Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II by Christopher  Wilbeck. The Tiger tank was a much feared piece of equipment in the German army of WWII, but how effective was it really? Depsite the thick armor, good gun, and (for it's size) adequate mobility, it had a number of technical issues it never really resolved. It was underpowered for it's weight, and had frequent breakdowns. However, even with half it's strength reduced by mechanical issues, a Tiger battalion was a force to be reckoned with. Sledgehammers looks at this from a balanced view, to assess the value of the tank on the battlefield. This book is rather short as well, only 219 including pictures.

X-men, Vol. 8 by Marvel Comics. I've been reading these collections for several years. Consisting of black & white reprints of the original X-men comics series, it offers a cheap and accessable way for newcomers to read the series, or even older collectors that might not want to delve into their collection. X-men has always been a pretty solid storyline for the era, and with this volume we're starting to catch up to a more modern era. I admit I bought it to fill out my Amazon order, but it's certainly not unwelcome...