Sunday, June 2, 2013

Flashback Book Review - Gunheads

HachiSnax Note: The Flashback Book Review sections will feature reviews that I had previously posted to Facebook, or other sources. It's mostly a way to get some content on the blog while I compose new stuff. And also, hopefully promote some good books. This one here is for Gunheads, by Steve Parker (originally posted 8/17/2010). I cannot tell you how much fun this book was. I know Mr. Parker is focusing on his Deathwatch books now, but I wish we could see even a short story featuring Wulfe & Co. again. Great stuff! Cheers, Hach.


Gunheads had been taunting me for a while before I read it. Countless times I've been suckered into a shitty book by an awesome cover (haven't we all), and Gunheads does indeed have an awesome cover. You've got bitchin' retro-style tanks and orks in dune buggies. However, at time of release, Mr. Parker's other W40K offering, Rebel Winter, had only garnered middling reviews. Luckily I had a brain fart and in the end reserved it from the library. Good move on my part.

Gunheads is a Warhammer 40,000 stand alone book, showcasing the Imperial Guard (no Space Marines here kiddos). It focuses on a Cadian tank group, the 81st IIRC, who are being sent on a fool's errand to recover a Baneblade tank (The Fortress of Arrogance, how awesome a name is that?) from the desolate, ork-infested desert planet of Golgotha, for Yarrick to use in his uber-war on Armageddon.

So our set-up is Imperial Guardsmen in tanks vs. millions of orks. Sounds pretty standard, right? So what makes it work? Characters, and Mr.Parker's writing style.

The story is billed as centering around one Sgt. Oskar Andreas Wulfe, although honestly, the entire cast list gets their fair share of screen time. This is all for the best. Wulfe is a great character. One Amazon reviewer compared him to Sgt.Nick Fury in the Howlin' Commandoes days, and it's true. This book reads like an awesome WWII pulp novel. Wulfe is real, a hard-nosed, gritty grunt, who knows enough to question the logic of the Imperium and keep it to himself, and who genuinely cares about his tank crew and the unit in general. He worries for his men to the point of overprotection, which is what managers in hostile environments have to do. He also has the frustration of dealing with an upstart newcomer to the unit. Unfortunately, this royal bastard, Cpl. Lenck, can back up his trash-talk on the battlefield. You just know a sweet showdown with these two is coming. Other characters include Lt. Van Droi, who leads his men from the front, and tries to balance his caring for them with his mandated adherence to beaurecratical B.S., Major General Bergen, a born leader, who is forced to lead his men on a glorified suicide mission, and General DeViers, an ancient, image-obsessed leader who takes on the mission in the hopes of one day having a statue erected of himself somewhere, someday. But don't get him wrong; his resume includes plenty of decisive victories and he still is more than happy to participate in the firefights. Also along for the ride are some representatives from the Adeptus Mechanicus, who have their own agenda on Golgotha; and it's no major spoiler to say that it doesn't involve a pimped-out tank.

Mr. Parker's writing style is superb; world building is descriptive without being encyclopediac. The planet Golgotha is sinister, the atmosphere itself is sickening the men, poisoning their lungs, reddening their skin and eyes. Parasites threaten to infect at all turns. As for the characters, the banter between men has an authentic vibe, and the depiction of orks is on point. These Golgothan orks have been conditioned by their environment, they are bigger, leaner, stronger, their skin a leathery brown. Smarter too, in that they actually try to utilize basic concepts of human warfare strategies. Plenty of times in the action scenes you could feel their presence, smell them closing in, feel their hot steaming breath as they get ready to bash you to bits. The Adeptus Mechanicus are written well too; creepy, haughty, calculating, cold. Yikes.

Are there any criticisms? Very few. Sometimes that battlefield deathtoll becomes hard to envision. You'll be told ten thousand men are squaring off with 2 million orks, then you are reading about "scores" of Guardsmen being blown away and "piles" of dead orks. It makes it hard to keep score of how many Guardsmen are left at any given time, and if millions of orks are dying, are the tanks really riding over small hills of ork corpses? Other than that, the book is solid. No boring spots, no unbelievably ridiculous "bad-ass" characters, and especially, unlike other Guard novels, the commanding officers are not portrayed as simply blundering idiots, wimpy sycophants or cruel tyrants(like in the novels Fifteen Hours and Ice Guard). Everyone has their merits, their faults, their time to shine and their time to die. Oh yes, the death toll is appropriately high for the mission involved. Don't spend too much money on Christmas cards for the 81st, you have very few to send out in the end.

Gunheads. Buy it, read it. After I returned it to the library, I bought my own copy. It's good stuff.

My review, for what it is: 4 out of 5 stars.

P.S.- A good intro to Sgt. Wulfe and Co. is the short story Mercy Run, available in the Planetkill compilation. Pretty standard stuff, but if you're a completist, go for it. It also explains the secret Wulfe is trying to keep the other men from finding out.

Here's what it is: 
Everything an Imperial Guard novel should be. A knock-down drag out brawl between tanks and orks. A WWII-style, pulpy, action-packed read.

Final Score:


The Cover:

Oh, man. As I had said in the old review, I loved this cover. I know it might look like a Codex or module-type cover, but I love it. Tanks vs. dune buggies, 'nuff said! Alex Boyd captures the spirit of the Imperial Guard like few others!

Cover Final Score:


Yes, I'm biased. Sue me.

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