As I make progress on the so-far spectacular Fire Caste, I wanted to make sure to squeeze in one more review before June drew to a complete close. Here's a review on yet another Digital Monday short. Cavan Scott is not a new author by any means, doing extensive work in the Doctor Who universe, as well as other titles. I believe (unless he has some other anthology contribution) this is his first work for the Black Library. So, will the Doom Eagles Chapter get a moment to shine? Will I get my three bucks worth? Find out below. Cheers, Hach.
The filthy hordes of the orks have taken the hive city of Quadcana Prime. The xenos have saturated the city with their filthy essence, and are now amassing stockpiles of weaponry to hold it. Sergeant Kerikus and his company of Doom Eagles Space Marines are given succinct orders; reinforcements are a few days out. Purge the xenos scum or make Quadcana uninhabitable for them.
This is a fairly standard premise, and it sets a scenario that can be satisfactorily resolved within the 20 page confines of the work. But short stories are notoriously hard to write. Yeah have to make a complete story, with build-up and resolution, and you (obviously) have less time to get your readers to care about the characters. There is also another angle while writing WH40K short fiction; you need to properly represent whatever Chapters/units/races, etc. that you incorporate into your tale. This is why not everyone is successful as a Black Library writer. This is why Cavan Scott, although a capable scribe, should not write any more work for the Black Library.
The action of Doom Flight follows Sgt. Kerikus as he tears through the skies over Quadcana in his Stormtalon gunship. Believing himself the sole remaining member of his force, he is blasting away ork land targets and evading ork dakka jets (fighter planes), doing his best to maximize enemy casualties, all while accepting the fact that his life is already forfeit (Chapter doctrine). After a few brief aerial scraps, Kerikus finds out the some of his comrades are still alive. Together, they seek to complete their mission; purge, or annihilate.
Let me start by saying that the action in the tale is pretty riveting. However Scott diagrammed his dogfights, be it with thumbnail sketches or playing with Games Workshop models, he put it to paper very well. As in Abnett's Double Eagle, you feel the banks, turns, dives, and g-forces. The Stormtalon gunships bring a diverse variety of weaponry to bear, and you can hear the rickety roar of the orks' patchwork jet fighters. To top it off, Scott puts in a nice, albeit too brief, ground tussle as well. These action scenes are communicated with a crisp, cinematic fluidity. Unfortunately, the fight scenes are the only merit-worthy parts of the yarn.
The characters in Doom Flight are not very well realized. There is nothing noteworthy about our protagonist, Sgt. Kerikus. I get it, Space Marines are engineered fighting machines; there isn't much room for character growth. They don't get scared, they don't fall in love. Yet, the better writers in the Black Library stable can take existing Chapter doctrine, and carve out a character that both exemplifies it and distinguishes himself. It doesn't happen here. We get a few references to the belief of the Doom Eagles that they are 'already dead', but as a deeply ingrained philosophy that has spanned thousands of years, you should feel it in the pulse of the story. A lot of detail was put into Doom Eagle lore, but as I've mentioned before, I shouldn't need to go to a WH40K wiki to complete my reading experience. The way Scott has portrayed them, any Chapter could have been name-dropped interchangeably At times, Kerikus does not even seem to be a Space Marine, as he is tossed about his cabin like a ragdoll and harried so easily by lowly ork pilots.
For the designated bad guys, the orks fare little better. They bellow, they are impulsive to the point of critical stupidity, they are undisciplined, and, that's it. If you are in the hypothetical minority that has never seen an ork (I know, highly unlikely, but it's part of the job to play devil's advocate), then you would be out of luck as well. But you probably wouldn't be reading this story either. It's still fun when the orks are blasted to gobbets though.
My largest gripe with Doom Flight lies with the dialogue. First of all, 90% of it is unnecessary. Kerikus talks to himself a little bit too much; especially when we are led to believe that his piloting requires such a level of precision that a microsecond of distraction would have him smashed into a hive tower. The quotation marks should be scratched. An inner dialogue would be much more appropriate. Most unfortunate of all is the fact that Scott tried to insert a few moments of levity. Humor is fine, and great in dark situations. But what I am talking about are a few cornball one-liners that the editor should have snafu-ed from the get-go. Speaking of the editor, there was one grammatical error which slipped by his/her eye. Come on, in a 20 page story you can't catch that?
I said earlier in the review that Cavan Scott shouldn't write anymore for the Black Library universe. Maybe that was a tad harsh; let me revise that to say he shouldn't be writing Space Marine fiction for the foreseeable future. An Imperial Guard offering might work better within his range. Again, the action is well done, and the finale was much better than I was expecting. But this was supposed to be a story, not the storyboard for a comic book.
Here's what it is:
Some brutal aerial combat paired with some brutal characterizations and dialogue. If you need a pew-pew fix, this one's for you. Not worth the $3.
Not a bad one at all. We have a picture of a Stormtalon flying through an explosion and unleashing some holy hell in His Name. Actually, if you look at the faded black title bar, you can see a second Stormtalon. Double the fury, double the fun. I don't know if this is an original cover, or a snippet of an existing action shot. Since the Stormtalons are fleshed out in the story in a better manner than the Doom Eagles, it is only fitting that they get the cover glory.
Cover Final Score: