Sunday, December 8, 2013

Orphans Of The Kraken

Orphans of the Kraken by Richard Williams. Originally appearing in the Legends of the Space Marines anthology, April 2010. Approx. 35 pages.

After making a recent post on Richard Williams, I started to reflect on which of his works I had read in the past. This short popped into my head almost immediately, probably my favorite work by him and one of my favorite Warhammer 40K shorts to date. 

Orphans of the Kraken centers on the Scythes of the Emperor, an Astartes chapter which has been utterly devastated by the tyranid forces of Hive Fleet Kraken. So drastic is the decimation that the chapter has lost its homeworld, and now can only field a force of roughly one hundred Space Marines. In a desperate attempt to keep the chapter alive, the current Chapter Master has created "salvation teams", salvage groups which scour dead tyranid hive ships in the hopes of finding any remnant of their shattered chapter; be it in the form of weapons, armor, or, wishfully, survivors. Orphans follows the journey of one such salvation team.

Leading the 21st Salvation Team has never been easy for Brother-Sergeant Tiresias. As an Astartes that witnessed both the loss of the home planet of Sotha and the crippling defeat at Miral, he licks wounds to his pride that can never heal. The group of neophytes under his command are hive-bangers and a savage; with the only fellow Sothan an indecisive youth, the group's weakest link. Like most of his fellow brothers, Tiresias yearns for one last grand assault against the foul xenos. They feel as though there is naught to lose; that the chapter is already doomed. They bridle at the current Chapter Master's frugal tactics of self-preservation over revenge. They feel shame at spending their days picking clean the corpses of their fallen brothers. In a decision of pride versus planning, it is often difficult to err on the side of caution.

However, things take a dramatic turn when the team makes an amazing discovery, one that they had always dreamed of but never actually expected to find......a survivor. Laying entombed, but not yet dead, within the bowels of a dead hive ship is revered Commander Cassios.

Cassios, revived from his slumber, is of a mindset that nothing has changed since his time in stasis, and therefore he is ready to resume his charge against the insidious tyranids. This of course has a dramatic effect on the impressionable neophytes of the Salvation Team. Cassios' actions provide a great moral quandary for Tiresias; for although Tiresias desired no more than to die in a blaze of glory, he suddenly comes to grips with the dire consequences of throwing four pieces of precious future resource into the furnace for a simple, vainglorious charge. In the end, whose voice will hold greater sway: that of Tiresias or of the newcomer hero Cassios?

Richard Williams' prose really brings this Orphans of the Kraken to life. The story, told in the first person POV of Tiresias, unfolds via multiple layers of flashbacks, and truly conveys the depth of loss and melancholy felt by these proud warriors of the God-Emperor. Williams has also crafted a fine backstory for the Scythes; I don't know how much original backstory existed for them other than this old pic from the old GW days when Space Marines either had mohawks and shades or looked like Duke Nukem rejects:

When I was reading Orphans, I could not help but think of the phrase "Waiting for Superman" (as in the title of the documentary). The phrase refers to waiting for some legendary hero to arrive to right a dire circumstance through his own inherent magic; with the implication of course being the reminder that the onus is always on us to enact change. Thus, by the end of Orphans, you realize how fractured is this knight in shining armor, arriving out of the blue, and you truly appreciate the methodical planning of those like Chapter Master Thracian, a master of planning long-term objectives and accepting the concessions involved.

Along with doing an admirable job presenting the psychology of the super-human Astartes, Williams conveys the tyranids in masterful fashion. He understands the physiology of the repulsive aliens, from their tiniest organisms, up to the massive, living hive ships. In this manner he conveys the circle of life in which the role of each participant contributes to the continuation of the monstrous whole.

This is a story that I cannot recommend highly enough. It perfectly conveys emotions that run deeper than can be quantified; shame, pride, loss, and brotherhood. Perfect pacing throughout, with a rousing, emotional climax.

Available in the Legends of the Space Marines anthology, as a single e-book, and as part of the 25 for 25 exclusive. Please Black Library, give Richard Williams a big fat advance to do a few more books!

Here's what it is:
Warriors of a chapter on the brink of extinction get a choice; continue the ponderous task of rebuilding, or go out with guns blazing. A near tear-jerking tale.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Out of all the Space Marines anthologies, this one is my favorite cover. Doom Eagles in action! If you look at the hi-res pic, you can see all the amazing detail on the armor. Look at the ornamentation, as well as the nicks and other damage. Love it.

Speaking of awesome covers, I graded this one because it is the book I read Orphans in. As mentioned, however, this story also appears in the 25 for 25 compilation. So, here's the wondrous pic of the cover as well, just in case you haven't seen anything worth drooling over today...

Cover Final Score:


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