Reading the Horus Heresy, Books 1 and 2: “Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett and “False Gods” 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.

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

I read Horus Rising a year or so ago and I think I just read it at the wrong time for me. I just wasn’t really in the mood to read a novel about space marines that largely centered around them talking to each other and political intrigue. So I ended up skimming through large sections of the book and not really picking up much along the way. This time, I decided to really dig in because the hype that is surrounding the series finally coming to a conclusion made me desire to get into it at long last.

I’ll be honest, though, the second time through, I still found myself drowning a bit in a sea of names and places that I just didn’t really understand. The learning curve on this first novel is pretty high, and it seems to assume at least some prior knowledge of the universe going in. I had some, but still felt a lot of the references went right over my head. That said, the second read-through of this one gave a much better impression. I have greatly enjoyed other books by Abnett, particularly the Eisenhorn trilogy.

Here, we are introduced to Horus, the bane of humankind and a name that raises the notions of heresy for all those who know the Warhammer 40K universe. Here, he is certainly larger than life, honored by all who surround him as one who has fought the Crusade for the Emperor. But even this seems foggy after reading the book twice. There’s almost too much groundwork being laid here, so that the reader is jerked around from place to place and character to character without being able to stop long enough to focus on any one of them. Don’t get me wrong, Horus Rising is a good book. It just has way too much going on in it to feel cohesive enough of a narrative for someone who isn’t as familiar with the world as others might be. That said, if you’re discouraged, read on, because next we have…

False Gods by Graham McNeill

Okay, now this is what I’m talking about! False Gods is totally awesome. McNeill takes the worldbuilding and groundwork Dan Abnett did and runs with it, drawing out characters, ideas, and combat in page after page. The characters touched on in Horus Rising that seemed like a cacophony of names come into their own. Erebus’s insidious workings with chaos are painted in an almost reasonable light. The reader sympathizes with his apparently benevolent reasoning while also wondering about what it may mean going forward. As someone who has read some other 40K fiction, it was interesting to see how Chaos could start off as such an unknown and almost innocent thing.

Not only that, but the constant discussion of gods, the Emperor, and false gods was fascinating. As a Christian, I found it particularly interesting to see that it seemed that even in the grim dark future, humanity is seen to struggle with religion and though many main characters dismissed religion as false, others struggled to carve out meaning in a horrifying universe.

There are battles aplenty here as well, though the action is never as transcendent and awesomely metal as it is in some of the 40K novels I have read.

Seriously, this book single-handedly made me want to dive into more, so I rushed to get Galaxy in Flames and continue my read-through.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy- This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

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.

 

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Five for Friday: Gearing up for Expanded Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month!

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were
 on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

April 26, 2019- Gearing Up for Expanded Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month

Expanded Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month is May! The whole month, dedicate at least some of your reading to tie-in novels related to your favorite universes. Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Pathfinder–you name it! This month, I’m featuring four books I’m planning to read in May alongside a nonfiction book I’m going through.

Warhammer 40K: Carcharodons: Red Tithe by Robbie MicNiven

Look, it’s about Space Marines who are themed after giant sharks, apparently with some Hawaiian vibes. What is there to dislike here? Correct Answer: Nothing. Anyone else read WH40K books?

Star Wars: The Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly

I have resolved to continue my Star Wars Expanded Universe read-through, which I left for a while as I dived down the Star Trek novel rabbit hole. I remember being really weirded out by this book when I first read it more than a decade ago, but that was as a kid. I wonder how it will hold up on a re-read. I know the EU books are pretty uneven, so we’ll see how this one turned out.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus by Reggie L. Williams

I love Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he’s already shown up once on this feature. This one is about Bonhoeffer’s time in New York and, particularly, how he was influenced by Harlem churches and the Harlem Renaissance.

Firefly: Legacy Edition Book One

I know, I cheated. This one has been featured already but I finally started it and am loving reconnecting with the characters from Serenity. Definitely a tie-in I can enjoy. Admit it: you miss the show, too.

Star Trek: New Frontier – Gods Above by Peter David

The New Frontier books are what got me into Star Trek novels, and I’m itching to dive back into this excellent series. It’s like reading books that have all the best episodes of a non-existent show featured for you. They’re great. What are some of your favorite Star Trek novels?

 

Five for Friday: Let’s talk 5 random books! – March 15, 2019

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

This random mix was actually what was nearest at hand on my shelf, though I was already carrying the Bonhoeffer book to bring downstairs to read.

The Secret of Dragonhome by John Peel (1998)
I got this out of a Scholastic catalog at school and adored it so, so much. It was one of the first books that truly opened my eyes to the wonders of fantasy, making me realize more lay beyond Narnia (which are, of course, excellent books). I was desperate for a sequel when I finished. To be fair, the book is basically stand-alone, but a sequel did come out in 2011. I have it sitting on my shelf, afraid to read it because I adored this book so much. I re-read it as an adult and it still enthralled me. Were you blessed by running into this novel at a young age? Anyone read the sequel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Berlin 1932-1933 Readers of my other site will know I’m a bit of a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis. I have been reading through his collected works, trying to match them up chronologically as I go. Excited to dive in. Any other Bonhoeffer fans?

Titan, A.E.: Akima’s Story by Kevin J. Anderson (2000)
Titan, A.E. is one of my all-time favorite movies and is, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated on sci-fi lists. A few years back I learned Kevin J. Anderson wrote a couple novels in the universe to set the story, but again, have been afraid to dive in. Anyone read this prequel to the film? Enjoy it?

“S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (2013)
Saw a coworker reading this right when it came out and thought it looked really interesting. Then, got it for a gift at Christmas out of the blue! But I’ve never managed to bite the bullet and take it up and read. The concept is what intrigues me: multiple readers scrawling notes in the margins to put together a mystery for you, the actual reader. It fascinates me. I’m curious as to others’ opinions.

The Night Lords Omnibus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
A collection of three novels and some stories from the Warhammer 40k universe. Deal with it. I love this fictional setting. It’s grimdark and awesome. I’ve only read the first novel so far and felt a little bit lukewarm about it. I’ve only heard great things from fans, though, so I may take it up again, though I probably need to re-read the first one.

Book Review: “Double Eagle” by Dan Abnett

de-abnettWhen I was a child, one of my favorite activities was to browse books about fighters and bombers and envision dogfights between them. I would read all kinds of books on World War 2, and particularly enjoyed those that involved these big air battles. I’ve also been a fan of the Warhammer 40k Universe (hereafter WH40k) and its fiction. I have only played the tabletop game once, but I think the universe is extremely interesting and engaging. Thus, when I saw Double Eagle at a book store some time ago, I snagged it. A book about dogfighting in the WH40k world? What could go wrong? It’s been sitting around waiting to be read for a few years, but I finally got around to it.

Dan Abnett has written a number of engaging and realistic characters in this narrative. Each protagonist has realistic motivations and interesting development throughout the book. I quite enjoyed reading about the characters and how the reacted to the changing events.

Unfortunately, the enemies are flatly one-dimensional, in contrast to the full-bodied main characters. There is one antagonist who keeps popping up, but even this “Killer” lacks any serious development beyond a desire to toy with the protagonists. This problem is made even more obvious by the contrast with the protagonists. IT would have been awesome had even one of the “bad guys” been given some kind of backstory to flesh them out.

Another major problem with the book is the lack of description of the vehicles involved in the combat. I don’t think I missed this anywhere, but it largely seemed like the planes and carriers involved were just given names for descriptions. I understand that this is set within a known universe that involves miniatures and the like, but the lack of description for the vehicles throughout the book made it difficult to envision the combat. The combat itself is pretty well-written, though not as interesting as I’ve found other works by Abnett. There are vivid enough descriptions of how the fighters and bombers fly about in the various dogfights. However, because of the lack of in-depth description of the vehicles or even their armaments, it all collapses down into whatever readers can come up with to fill in the blanks. I even found myself surprised at one point to discover one type of plane was a bomber rather than a fighter. I think this is pretty inexcusable, even for a work set within a known universe.

A similar issue comes up with the stage upon which the story is set. There is a map in the front pages of the book, but this is about as far as the description of the planet itself goes. Little time is dedicated to letting readers know what kind of planet is being fought for, why it is in the middle of this fighting (apart from being involved in a Crusade), or why readers should care about it. This lends itself to an overall feeling of blandness that colors not just the vehicles but also the setting on which the scenes are staged.

wanted to love Double Eagle, and the protagonists do a good job trying to sell readers on the concept, but in the end the serious lack of development of antagonists, world, and vehicles made it difficult to get into. Abnett has much better works out there.

The Good

+Realistic, full-bodied protagonists
+Decent action

The Bad

-One-dimensional enemies
-Little description of vehicles involved

The Verdict

Grade: C+ “Intriguing characters are hampered by the bland backdrop upon which they are set.”

SDG.

Microview: The “Eisenhorn” Trilogy by Dan Abnett

eisenhorn-abnettThe Eisenhorn Trilogy by Dan Abnett is a set of stories that takes place in the universe of Warhammer 40K. The universe is one created for tabletop gaming (learn more here). I have read in many places that these novels are a great entry point, and I’d have to agree because they are the first I read that were set in this universe.

The trilogy follows the footsteps of Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitor whose job it is to hunt down heretics, xenos (aliens), and the like (daemons, etc.). It is a perfect set up for a story with lots of fighting and intrigue, and Abnett delivers on both. Throughout the books, readers are treated to plenty of twists and turns, and the overarching plot is superb. It’s an absolute blast to read these books and engage in the plot.

The books are also filled with a slew of terminology, characters, and references to events which are not always explained. Many of these are from the overall 40k universe, and many of them are clearly borrowed from the language of Christianity. This means that although the book is often recommended as an entry point, it still has a pretty steep learning curve at points. Expect to either be looking things up a few times or just not fully knowing what’s happening or being referenced. At times, too, some side characters do not seem to get enough development. There’s awareness that they are there and generally who they are, but Abnett doesn’t often go beyond that.

Despite a sometimes steep learning curve, the Eisenhorn Trilogy is a fantastic place to enter the Warhammer 40K universe. Filled with action and adventure, with a hefty helping of deception and plot twists, the trilogy is an enthralling read. Trust me, you won’t look back.

The Good

+ Great action sequences
+ Very interesting story
+ Lots of unforeseen plot twists
+ Dark universe that is deeply interesting
+ Tons of interesting religious references

The Bad

– So many locations it becomes hard to keep track of them all
– Secondary characters lost against the backdrop
– At times, a steep learning curve

The Verdict

Grade: A

If you like science fiction with lots of action, Abnett is a must-read.

Links

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!

Microview– Read more microviews to discover more materials to experience! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Dan Abnett, Eisenhorn (Black Library, 2005).

SDG.