Reading the Horus Heresy, Primarchs Book 3: “Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero” by Graham McNeill

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Magnus the Red: Master of Prospero by Graham McNeill

Magnus the Red and the Thousand Sons Legion have become one of my favorites to read about in the Horus Heresy. I’ve basically loved every time they showed up, and was excited to dive into a book about their Primarch, Magnus the Red.

The story here is largely a flashback to a time when Magnus and the Primarch of the Iron Warriors worked together to attempt to save the lives of thousands of Imperial citizens when a geological disaster strikes. Of course, the crap really hits the fan when resistance to their evacuation encounters resistance from a cultic group following an ancient deity they call the Stormlord or Shaitan.

The book is light on political intrigue, though it has some, and heavy on action. It is more thoughtful than might be expected, though, given its relatively short span. Readers get insight into the Psyker power of Magnus and his Sons, as well as additional fanning of the flames of the Heresy. Like the other Primarch novels to this point, it doesn’t feature the eponymous character as much as I’d have liked, but for this book it made sense. The Thousand Sons are so intertwined with Magnus that separating them seems wrong.

I enjoyed Magnus the Red quite a bit. It provided a fairly deep insight into the character both of the Primarch and his legion, while seeming to set things up in the space of a broader story.

(All Links to Amazon are Affilliates.)

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– All my posts on the Horus Heresy, as well as books throughout the Warhammer and 40K universe can be found here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest is on Eclectic Theist!

I’m happy to announce that this blog, Eclectic Theist, is part of the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What does that mean? Well, it means I’m part of a team of judges that will be filtering through 30-some self-published science fiction novels, narrowing it down to some amount of novels to read, picking some semi-finalists, and ultimately helping to decide an overall winner of the best science fiction novel out of over 300 entrants! I’m thrilled to be part of this! Readers of this blog know I’m enthusiastic about indie publishing. I’m actually just enthusiastic about books in general, however they’re published. But indie publishing and self-publishing allows even more avenues for authors to get their books in the hands of readers.

I’ll be reviewing as many books from my group’s novels as I can, along with reviewing semi-finalists from other groups. I can’t wait to continue this epic journey and I hope not only to find some new great reads for me, but also to lead you to some new reads and authors as well.

For now, whet your appetite by reading all my Indie Highlight posts on science fiction over at my Science Fiction Hub!

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1974

I adore this cover art.

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

Protector by Larry Niven– Grade: B+
The first book in the “Known Space” series best known for RingworldProtector features the same mix of hard science and wild speculation. Niven’s style works well for me in this book, though it delves into some implausible explanations later in the novel. I did like the truly different feel of the aliens. There was a real sense of strangeness and foreboding in parts of the book, and the works relative brevity is in its favor. The drama ramps up well. Some characters’ blunders are frustratingly predictable, but I’m not convinced that’s a strike against the novel. The characerization, though, does leave something to be desired, as none of them stuck with me long after reading the book. It’s a solid first contact story. Also, just look at that cover!

Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: F
What the hell did I just read? Heinlein went off the deep end. This reads like he just wanted to write an attack on religious sexual mores, but he did so in a way that seemed to combine crudeness, disgust, and a kind of remarkably naive misogyny into one confused, awful mess. Indeed, he basically admits that the book is an attack on any kind of sexual code as he, through the main character, writes that “‘incest’ was a religious concept, not a scientific one… the last twenty years had washed away in his mind almost the last trace of his tribal taboo.” Sin is similarly chalked up not as wrongdoing or evil but as a tired, backward way of looking at the world. Yep, incest is a-ok in Heinlein’s book, or at least that of his protagonist. Not only that, but so is pedophilia and other forms of sexual exploitation by men, specifically. Those silly religious people and their ideas of not having sexual thoughts about very young minors, not sleeping with your sibling/parent, etc. Oh yeah, but let’s not forget that this is all couched in decidedly 1940s/50s concepts of male-female relations, such that it is accompanied by a not-so-subtle male-dominance matrix.  Forward thinking? not so much. Heinlein’s vision of sex in the future is that of the unfettered male, free to satisfy himself with anyone he chooses. Women are not included in this reasoning process, because they are simply the subjects of lust, expected to be willingly subservient to the sexual desires of the man, whether that man is their grandchild, brother, or adopted parent. Terrible, terrible book. I hate it.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (Winner)- Grade: B
It’s not difficult for me to understand why this is a much-beloved classic. But it also is difficult for me to love it. The book’s pacing is the main issue, as it plods along for chapters with hardly anything happening until it suddenly, like a roller coaster cresting its summit, plummets into a series of startling discoveries and action that gets jumbled together with alarming swiftness. The middle of the book is particularly subject to the problem of pace, as it is wholly occupied with lengthy descriptions of people moving from point A to point B without much characterization or plot to go along with it. The conclusion is ambiguous, but not in a bad way. Again, it’s easy for me to see how this won the award and is loved by many. The bigness of the ideas Clarke explores are always fun. But the novel itself just doesn’t make me want to love it forever. It’s fine.

The People of the Wind by Poul Anderson- Grade: C-
I think a lot of science fiction in the 60s-70s could be re-categorized into its own sub-genre of sex, with sci-fi tropes. The People of the Wind would not be easily filed into this made up category, but it teeters on the edge. I think maybe there’s an interesting subtext here about how different societies or peoples can relate with each other. Sex is used as a kind of way to open the conversation–or, more accurately, themselves–to the perceived “other.” But the prose in the novel doesn’t support this higher level reading. Anderson oscillates between matter-of-fact and seedy here, such that as a reader I never could fully buy into the notion that something else might be going on behind the scenes. The best part about the book is that it doesn’t entirely go black and white on the morality of either society. The humans or Ythrians could each be seen as morally superior here. That props up enough interest to have kept me reading. It’s an okay story that in the hands of another writer might have been great.

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold- Grade: C-
Gerrold wrote a fantastic exploration of the notion of time travel and how that might play out if one person got careless and perhaps a little wild with it. True to when it was written, however, it devolves that somewhat compelling thread into a series of explorations about sex and orgies and more sex and horse racing. What? Yeah, that’s basically how it plays out. It goes from was an initially decent yarn to a totally absurd tale about one’s self-absorption with himself. Actually, the more I think about the main plot, the more it annoys me immensely. I keep thinking I need to adjust the score down, because this book was basically just a narcissist fantasy told with time travel. It reads almost like wish-fulfillment for the most self-absorbed person alive. That said, Gerrold brings forward some genuine questions about time travel and its possibilities. It’s just not one that I can reflect on with much liking.

1974- Not a great year for the Hugo Awards, in my opinion. Each book feels as though it has missed opportunities for greatness, except, perhaps, the terrible Heinlein work. That book is total garbage, in my opinion. I could rant on about it more, but I think my brief review above is enough said. My choice for the winner probably isn’t the best book in the bunch. I think Rendezvous may be objectively the best book here, but I enjoyed reading Protector more. As always with awards, subjectivity is involved, and on other days I may have picked the Clarke novel over the Niven book. Anyway, time travel continues to be a sore spot for me. I love the idea of novels about time travel, but rarely enjoy the books I read about it. Gerrold’s book had one of the least sympathetic protagonists I’ve encountered. Poul Anderson continues to baffle me. It was possible to be great with the story he came up with, but his delivery is so off that I couldn’t appreciate it for what it was. There’s no nuance to Anderson’s writing, which is a shame, because with some nuance, People… may have been great. What did you think of these nominees?

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Godless World Trilogy” by Brian Ruckley- An Underappreciated Masterpiece

I love getting recommendations for reading from friends. A book-loving friend of mine recommended the Godless World Trilogy by Brian Ruckley as top-notch fantasy. I grabbed the trilogy on the recommendation and over the course of the next several months read through this fantasy trilogy. Let me tell you, dear readers, I want to pass along that recommendation to you. This trilogy is fantastic fantasy. I’ve kept this post as vague as possible related to spoilers because I want to encourage you to read the series yourself without losing out on some of the twists.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the series is its prose. The introduction to the first book is a masterful set up as we watch a band of exiled people trudging away from their homelands as they are harassed by enemies chasing them away. It instantly set up a kind of empathy towards these people that is used in some rather surprising ways throughout the series. Time and again, Ruckley’s craft of writing is worth admiring. The introduction to the third book features details about watching for approaching enemies by observing how nature reacts. It’s such a subtle, natural scene that tethers the fantasy book into a sense of realism that few fantasy series end up capturing. Ruckley does this time and again, using the shifting of birds, the movement of plants, and other natural clues to viscerally lead the reader into the world of the books. 

What of the main plot, though? We follow a number of people as conflict breaks out across their land. The gods have left the people, and some wish to usher in their return. Unfortunately, this leads to conflict as some peoples’ means to bring the gods back is decidedly less peaceful than that of others. What we get is, on its face, a rather traditional fantasy setting with most of the expected heroic tropes. And, the series largely is that but with such grandness in its telling and elegance of writing that even the times where it may fall into cliché are worth the time spent reading them. And the series doesn’t stay mired in the mundane tropes of epic fantasy. There is plenty that happens that takes twists in unexpected directions. And the earliest parts of the series loom in unexpected ways towards the end. 

If you’re looking for a serious epic fantasy that is incredibly well-written, I highly recommend the Goddless World Trilogy to you. I’m planning a re-read of the series once I’ve gotten through at least some of the rest of my TBR pile, myself. That’s how much I enjoyed it. I think you will, too.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “Voices” by John Vornholt

Having finally watched Babylon 5 for the first time (check out my posts for that series at my Babylon 5 Hub), I decided to dive into the novels. I’ll be reading them largely in publication order and reviewing them individually as we go along. Please do not spoil later books for me. There will be SPOILERS for the book reviewed going forward.

Voices by John Vornholt

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure initially if I would be buying all the Babylon 5 novels or if I’d just try to read the ones that are officially considered “canon.” I figured I may as well get them all, because I loved the series so much. Voices is part of the first batch of Babylon 5 novels that was released, and only a few of these first 9 novels are considered “canon.” Voices is not one of those novels. I’m not one who gets all tied up in insisting upon only canon matters (I enjoyed the hell out of a lot of the now-“Legends” Star Wars novels and reviewed… a lot of them). But I want the in-universe books to make sense and be fun.

Voices did each of those… at times. The core of the plot is that some bomb goes off as Alfred Bester, the awful telepath we know and love to hate from the series, is planning a convention on Mars. Instead, because of this bombing, the convention of telepaths gets moved at the last second to Babylon 5, much to the chagrin of Girabaldi and Ivanova in particular. This is set in the time when Talia Winters was still on station, so she gets caught up in the mess, especially when another bomb goes off–this time on B5.

The first half of the novel is honestly great. It reads just like another episode of Babylon 5 set within that time period. You can truly see the characters on screen doing everything described, and it makes sense. I especially loved Girabaldi being flustered at having the whole Psi Corps convention dumped into his lap for security. It was spot-on for the handling of him as a character.

The second half of the novel is, however, not great. Suddenly, characters go off in ways that are totally different from what you’d expect from their established personas. Talia Winters, in particular, loses much of her mystique and calm characterization. Girabaldi becomes much more whiney and less decisive than it seems he should be. Even the Psi Corps people seem to lose their way, acting strangely complacent towards station security at times, and going absolutely wild at other points. The plot goes a bit off the rails as well, as we get several larger threats introduced and dismissed seemingly with ease.

What I was left with, then, was a feeling of disappointment. The promising beginning of the book didn’t get the expected payoff. I did enjoy spending more time with the characters I’d come to know and love, but then they started to act in unbelievable ways. There’s also a few gaffes, such as saying the surface of Mars is 200-300 degrees when the temperature on Mars rarely even approaches 0 from below. It’s not a huge deal–Babylon 5 is space opera and not hard science fiction–but it was enough of a blip that it distracted me. Thanks to The Babylon File (volume 1), I read that Vornholt said that the novel “could have benefited from a few more days of research” (383). It probably could have also benefited from a bit more editing to jettison several unnecessary threats and focus on the main plot.

Voices is an okay work of tie-in fiction, but it violates one of the cardinal rulse of such fiction: it loses the feel of the on-screen characters readers have come to love. I’d be curious to know what other Babylon 5 fans thought of the book.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates.)

Links

Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Hugo Award Nominations for Long Form Dramatic Presentation 2020: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

For the first time ever, I’m a Hugo voter (you can be, too!). I am trying to work my way through the mass of nominations in order to feel fully informed as a voter. I have young kids and I don’t watch movies often, so I hadn’t watched any of the nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. So, here goes nothing! Time to watch a bunch of movies.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, written by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin (European Broadcasting Union/Netflix)

Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t like gatekeeping on fandom. I think it’s an awful waste of time and energy. So I’m not going to debate whether or not this movie counts as speculative fiction. It’s got at least one scene that seems to undeniably make it such, and it has a Hugo nomination, so here we are.

What a wild ride! Will Ferrell probably touches some people the wrong way, but I love his overly earnest, expressive characters. Here, he plays a man who has dreamed his whole life of winning Eurovision, something I have to admit I’d never even heard of before it started popping up all over my Twitter feed in May 2021. The Eurovision Song Contest is some kind of international competition for an original song. It’s also, so far as my Very Extensive Research (not very extensive and based exclusively on a couple image searches and Tweets) can tell, known for extravagant outfits and presentations.

This movie is fun, exciting, and full of great music. It’s got Dan Stevens (playing Russian singer Alexander Lemtov), who really should be lead in a lot more roles because that guy is talented. What a voice! The plot follows Lars (Ferrell), the bumbling idiot, and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), a woman in love with the Eurovision-obsessed Lars, as they manage to get through the contest on technicalities and explosions–yes, explosions. Oh, and murder(s). As they advance, they meet other singers and realize how outclassed they are, even as their erotic tension increases. Alexander tries to lure Sigrid away, seeing her talent for what it is even as Lars sees himself as the star. The culmination of everything leads to Lars realizing that his life with Sigrit is more important than Eurovision, and they return home bigger stars than they could’ve imagined.

Can we talk about how fun the original music is for this movie? “Volcano Man” is an absolute banger. I desperately want a “full version” with a completed music video (eg. 3+ minutes). Other songs are fabulous, too, such as the innuendo laden “JaJa Ding Dong” or Dan Stevens belting out “Lion of Love.”

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is the first of this year’s Hugo-nominated movies I’ve watched. As it stands, it would certainly get my vote over “No Award.” It’s a fun, often hilarious movie with more heart than one might expect. I loved it, but I could see a more serious spec-fiction movie unseating it for my vote this year.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Dragon Prince Trilogy: Melanie Rawn’s Cunning Political Fantasy Epic

My story of discovering Melanie Rawn started decades ago with a bookmark. My mom would always go to this Hallmark that was a franchise. The owner apparently thought it would be a good idea to have a bookstore at the back of what was a large Hallmark space. And, apparently, the owner had a taste for sci-fi/fantasy books because that was one of the biggest sections in the store. I loved it. We’d stay in the store for hours. My mom would look at cards for hours, picking out the just-right card for some occasion, while I roamed the long corridor of sci-fi fantasy books. That greeting card shop is where I discovered Ben Bova’s Grand Tour books, where I found a book that remained my favorite for some time–The Blood Jaguar, and where I’d spend my early teenage years looking at heavy metal magazines. Yeah, it was an awesome Hallmark.

Anyway, one day, I bought a bookmark at the store that showed this mysterious orange dragon standing regally on a rock. I bought it for the same reason kids buy any bookmark: it looked cool. I used it for years, then misplaced it, but then found it again during a move. I was looking at it one day, having possessed it for more than ten years, when I noticed that it was based on the cover for a book: The Star Scroll. On a whim, I looked up the book online and discovered it was the second book in a trilogy with pretty fantastic reviews. I searched for the author, Melanie Rawn, and saw several posts about how she was a forgotten major voice in epic fantasy. I saw the first book, Dragon Prince, was just $2.99 on Kindle and snagged it. I read it late at night in bed, just a few pages at a time, and was overcome by this fascinating world Rawn had created. Then, I got my mother-in-law to start reading the books, and she loved them, too. So here we are, with me hoping to get you hooked on them, too. I’ll try to keep the spoilers mild.

The Dragon Prince Trilogy

At its core, this trilogy is a story of political intrigue in a fantasy setting. The first book, Dragon Prince, centers on a young prince as he solidifies his power during a festival in which leaders from all over the continent have gathered. Essentially, it’s a time for matchmaking and Prince-making. There’s no king, and the different princedoms exist in relative peace. But behind the scenes, there are wars of words and power plays that are constant. Rawn weaves an incredibly intricate plot. Moreover, she’s an absolute master of characterization. These people all feel completely genuine. They have real motivations. They’re flawed. They make huge mistakes. They even do vile, repulsive things when they’re truly good people. But that’s like the real world, right? Good people still sin. Good people still make mistakes. And, occasionally, a circumstance turns a good person into a monster.

Anyway, in Dragon Prince I encountered some of the most exciting political machinations I’d read in a book. There are parties where the characters are all trying to pair off and determine how the power might shift. There’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever read: a horse race with several layers of drama overshadowing the main event. It’s just fantastic, thrilling writing front to back. But it’s thrilling in the sense that you want certain characters to succeed and others to fail. You, as a reader, feel their successes with them. You bemoan their mistakes. Yes, there’s action in the book, but it’s largely a few major climaxes in the midst of what is largely many people working to accomplish goals through intrigue. There’s also Sunrunning–a fascinating magical system that depends upon the light of the sun to work.

Having read the first book, I moved on to the book that inspired me to buy the whole set: The Star Scroll. The cover actually has a person with the dragon, which was different from the bookmark which featured only the dragon. Anyway, the second book has quite a bit about a certain Star Scroll and some forbidden magic that I don’t want to spoil. The characterization is once more excellent. Rawn truly makes it seem as though the characters are real people with real motivations that go beyond the normal fantasy tropes. The magic system continues to be fascinating, though I think there’s untapped potential that gets more fully realized in the concluding book.

Finally, the trilogy wraps up with Sunrunner’s Fire, which has one of the most epic fantasy duels I’ve ever read. This brings the series to including two of the most memorable moments I’ve read in fantasy. I won’t spoil it at all, but wow, this is a superbly written scene. And, again, Rawn brings the characters to life. One thing that impressed me in this is the diversity of experiences, along with how she writes different generations in compelling and genuine ways. Rawn is a true master, and we need to acknowledge that! The series ends with an open thread, but thankfully the next trilogy is already complete. I’ll be moving on to that one next.

Content warnings: the books do have scenes featuring sex, including sexual violence. There is also warfare, murder, and abuse. I would not recommend this for children at all.

Links

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 15: “Prospero Burns” by Dan Abnett

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett

I have rarely been so baffled by the disconnect between a book’s description and its contents as I have with Prospero Burns. The official Black Library (the publisher) description of the book reads:

The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons’ home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred. With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero.

Read it because
Vlka Fenryka! The Space Wolves charge into the Horus Heresy as their part in the events leading to the fall of the Thousand Sons is revealed. Spies, intrigue, plenty of action and a glimpse at Terra in the early days of the Great Crusade make this an unmissable read.

One could be forgiven, I think, for believing the book would primarily focus on the Space Wolves trying to capture Magnus the Red and/or burning Prospero (as the title and the first paragraph imply. What the book is actually about, though, is a remembrancer who gets sent to the Space Wolves and their interactions with him. So the last sentence of the “Read it because” is closer to reality, though the “plenty of action” is a bit of a stretch.

I’ll admit it, this had me both confused and frustrated. I kept flipping to the description, wondering if I was reading the wrong book–maybe some bug had crossed over my book with a different one when I got it on Kindle. But that’s not it–it’s just that the book is nowhere close to its description. And that’s annoying. I understand we’d already seen Prospero in A Thousand Sons and that this book was intended to be read alongside that earlier work, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t expecting to see the Space Wolves’ side of the conflict, because I trusted the publisher to provide an accurate vision of what the contents might be.

As for the actual contents of the book–it’s decent. Abnett is a great writer, as we’ve seen time and again throughout the Warhammer universe. The switching of perspectives is sometimes fairly abrupt and makes the book difficult to follow at times. Abnett certainly makes the Space Wolves quite interesting, though, as he notes time and again that they’re not just generic space Vikings; they’re the Emperor’s executioner. But the whole first 90% of the book is basically summarized in that point along with (here are spoilers for the ending, in case you’re worried about that) the revelation that our remembrancer was, in fact, planted by the Thousand Sons as a spy, and that the Space Wolves knew about it the whole time but didn’t really care if their rivals knew what their plans were.

This means, that, like many of the books in the Horus Heresy so far, Prospero Burns would have made a much better short story or novella than it does a 450 page novel. 400 of those pages could have been condensed into about 50, all while getting the same point across. Abnett’s writing mercifully carries those 400 pages along so that they never quite descend into total triviality, but it also leaves you with a sense of regret at the end. Is that it? one might ask. Did I really just read 400 pages of the same point repeated through an unreliable narrator just to get about 15 pages of action at the very end of the book? The answer is, unfortunately, yes. The payoff here simply does not align with the investment of time and energy.

I’ve seen the point that readers already experienced the fall of Prospero in A Thousand Sons, but this is hardly relevant. (It’s also somewhat untrue–we only experienced glimpses of this fall so far, which makes the lack of a book that is one massive conflict a bit disappointing.) This book was advertised as–hell, even titled as–the fall of Prospero from the perspective of the Space Wolves. It manifestly is not that. That, plus the fact that the actual contents we get are dragged from a short story’s plot into a lengthy novel’s duration makes this a pretty disappointing entry to the Horus Heresy. If I hadn’t had my expectations completely set up to fail going in, I definitely would have enjoyed this one more. As it stands, I’m left feeling bittersweet about what might have been.

Prospero Burns ends my streak of 5-star reads in the Horus Heresy. I’d almost say it’s skippable but it does at least give some insight into the Space Wolves that makes them more interesting as rivals (presumably) throughout the rest of the series.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates)

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– Links to all of my Warhammer-related reviews and writings, including those on the Horus Heresy, 40K, and Warhammer Fantasy (pending) can be found here. 

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1973

Not the original cover, but I picked it because… what is it trying to say?

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1973 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov (Winner)- Grade: B-
Another proof that Asimov is capable of at least somewhat interesting characters. The first part of the story is the most compelling, as an apparently free source of energy is revealed to have dire consequences and pretty much nobody cares. Free energy is free, right? So who cares if everyone will die billions of years in the future? It’s the exact kind of reasoning that would probably be used, to the end of us all. But that dire feeling is mostly lost at the end of the book as Asimov changes its tone into a kind of future look at human colonization of the moon and the problems that might face. Yes, there are still references to the earlier portions of the book, and the solutions offered are interesting, but it lost something of the truly bleak and all-too-reasonable feel of the beginning chapters.

When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold- Grade: B-
Apparently this is one of the first books ever that is strictly about AI and emergent intelligence. It was fascinating in many ways, especially as the designers interacted with HARLIE and came to appreciate the difficulties of doing anything with AI. Frankly, the book may have been better if Gerrold didn’t even bother trying to put characters into it. Where it bogs down is entirely in the places where characters interact with each other, and Gerrold attempts to tie the human interactions into the AI/human interactions. Thus, the love story that is central to the characters ultimately seems nothing more than a foil for trying to explain love to HARLIE, the AI. It seems to cheapen the overall effect. Nevertheless, for a “first ever” effort in this field, this is a great, imaginative book that lays out some of the questions we’re still asking about now: like how to tell if a machine is intelligent, what that might mean, and how parameters that we set for such intelligence may be bent or broken.

There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson- Grade: D
I think I’m getting to the point where I can definitively say that Poul Anderson just isn’t my thing. He’s a highly decorated author, so, as with anything, this is just a matter of preference. For this specific book, I thought the style was pedestrian, the interlude chapter with “definitions” was so on-the-nose that you could almost see “Libertarianism is the best system ever” smacked into the back of your eyeballs while you read it. I mean, that chapter is probably what killed my interest in most of the rest of the book. It’s sardonic, not even close to witty, and so full of self-congratulatory ideas that I just couldn’t get over it. The plot drags quite a bit too, and, as with too many of these early sci-fi novels, uses rape as plot device. As far as the actual time travel ideas, Anderson did avoid some of the pitfalls of time travel, as he used it much better as a device for his characters than as a gimmick to have a historical fiction novel. However, the time travel seemed somewhat inconsistent as we’re forced to wonder whether time is immutable (or not) at points. Overall, not my jam.

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg- Grade: B
I feel extremely torn about this book. It has some of Silverberg’s best (that I’ve read, anyway) atmospheric writing. He writes with whit and foreboding, sometimes together, often apart. But it is also filled with some really awful comments about women, disabilities, and more. As is often the case, it’s difficult to tell whether these last aspects are all truly representative of Silverberg’s view, or whether they are his own satirical attack on the same. If the former, I would downgrade the book significantly. If the latter, it hovers maybe a touch higher. For better or worse, The Book of Skulls is a book that is still making me think about it, weeks after reading it. It has staying power, and it wriggles its way under your skin. It’s strange, compelling, repulsive, alluring, haunting, disturbing–it needs a lot of adjectives to describe it! I’d recommend it to readers who want to dig deeply into New Wave sci-fi, warts and all.

Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg (My Winner)- Grade: A
Considered Silverberg’s masterwork by many, I initially read this book at the beginning of my attempt to appreciate older science fiction and this is definitely not the book I would recommend to try to sell someone on vintage sci-fi. It’s dense. The prose is awkward at times. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles that at lot of people tend to expect when they hear “science fiction.” My first read of this was a disaster. I didn’t catch any of its themes. I didn’t really understand it at all. Since then, I’ve grown in appreciation of older science fiction and of Silverberg in particular. On a third reading, now, I finally understood some of its core themes. In particular, that of “Dying Inside.” This is truly a haunting tale about loss that everyone experiences, set in the mind of a telepath who is losing his abilities. The main problem I had the first time reading the book is that the main character isn’t particularly likable–he’s not. But when considered in light of this central interpretation–as a kind of metaphor or allegory of loss through aging or other loss, it becomes transformed into a thing of beauty. It haunts me. Dealing with my own loss recently, it helped me reflect on that more and come to see some of the light at the end of the tunnel. I loved this book. Give it a try… or three.

A Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak- Grade: A-
Simak has quickly ascended to being one of my favorite sci-fi authors. His pastoral way of writing means he can introduce some truly bleak and heady themes at times without you as a reader really even noticing. In A Choice of Gods, some of his major themes make their appearance–religion, robots, and pastoral settings. Lumped into this are some kinds of questions about colonialism as well. Standing alongside these questions, one is forced to ask about cultural appropriation, at points. Simak even touches upon this concern, though it’s never explicit; only implied. It’s much headier than it seems at first, though the central mystery of the plot is kind of a let down when it is fully revealed. There are several lengthy monologues, each of which I enjoyed immensely, but it might not be for everybody. I wouldn’t recommend this as an entry point for Simak, but it’s a great read if you’re already into him.

1973

Six novels nominated for Hugo this year, and frankly 5 of the 6 I wouldn’t be mad at winning… except that Dying Inside definitely should have won, finally giving Silverberg a Hugo win (he’s been nominated 9 times with no wins for best novel, and I think at least a couple of them deserved the win). But more seriously, this is overall a great slate of nominees. Asimov is never my favorite, but The Gods Themselves has a cool premise that (as with several of his novels, in my opinion) ultimately collapses when he tries to bring it to a conclusion. When HARLIE Was One is strangely compelling in its AI, though the rest of the characters are cutouts. The Book of Skulls probably changed my perception of driving forever, and it stays with me to this day. Dying Inside is an all-time great. Simak’s entry this year, A Choice of Gods, is fascinating but has some flaws that lead many to dislike his work (lengthy monologues, somewhat inconsistent in its pastoral setting). Finally, There Will Be Time served as proof that Poul Anderson just isn’t my thing. What did you think this year?

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 14: “The First Heretic” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

History is a hugely important part of the Horus Heresy books, and in The First Heretic, we get some stunning insights into the background of the Word Bearers Legion. To start off, I have to say this is certainly among the best of the Horus Heresy books I’ve read so far. It doesn’t overly rely upon action to carry its story, nor does it devolve into a series of scenes with people just standing around talking to each other. It’s excellent.

The scene in which the Emperor comes and visits the Word Bearers/Ultramarines is absolutely awesome. I think it honestly raises real-world questions about deity and theology, which makes it even more interesting to me. The book constantly asks questions of what it means to be “a god” or even the “god.” While its obviously not a theological treatise, there are several scenes that poignantly ask these questions alongside questions about humanity’s need for faith and belief. As is always the case, trying to read too much into this discussion set in the Grimdark future would be a mistake, but it’s still fascinating to reflect on how these characters in the far future are still dealing with questions about faith and deity.

Dembski-Bowden also gives us Cyrene, one of the more interesting non-Marine characters in the series so far. Initially, I thought she might be a one-off character from the prologue to give us a sense of how the destruction of her city impacted a civilian. However, Dembsk-Bowden developed her into a kind of martyr-saint figure who was celebrated with adulation by the people who followed the Word Bearers. Ultimately, her death at the hands of Aquillon was tragic, and one of the more heart-rending scenes in the series for me. What made the use of her as a character particularly powerful is that it helped put some perspective into the book for the broader conflict.

For example, the overarching plot of the Word Bearers trying to find their way having been denounced by the Emperor is a much more sympathetic quest when set alongside the more human aspect of how that denunciation and retribution impacted “normal” people. As a reader, I genuinely felt the Word Bearers were generally in the right throughout the book, no matter what one thinks of their underlying beliefs. The brutal, shocking act of the destruction of the crown jewel world of the Word Bearers work surely could be anticipated as setting up a major crisis of doubt for the whole Legion. As such, it is hardly unexpected that the Word Bearers end up on the side of the Heretics.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the horrible acts they took to get there were themselves good or justified–it means only that they were understabndable.  And that says quite a bit about the writing of this novel. It’s very good. It makes you sympathize with the “bad guys.” It also makes one question whether there really are any “good guys” in this grimdark future.

The First Heretic is a fantastic read, and one that will surely pay long-term dividends for the rest of the series.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates)

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– Links to all of my Warhammer-related reviews and writings, including those on the Horus Heresy, 40K, and Warhammer Fantasy (pending) can be found here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.