Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cold Roads

Cold Roads by Joe Parrino. A Warhammer 40K  short story, Day 2 of the 2014 Advent Calendar. Originally published by The Black Library, December 2014. Approx. 7 pages.

HachiSnax Note: Sorry these posts are getting to be fewer and further in between. I thought I was going to have more free time at my disposal than I actually seem to end up with. Also, another thing that I had planned on doing - reviewing all the entries in the Advent Calendar -  may not happen, as some of them offerings are turning out to be audiobooks. I might try reviewing one of them, I haven't decided yet. So again, thank you for your patience, and thanks always for stopping by. Cheers, Hach.

Day 2 of the Black Library Advent Calendar yields a Brazen Claws short by Joe Parrino. I was pretty excited about this, since he had such strong offerings with earlier shorts like Witness and No Worse Sin (also featuring the Brazen Claws). Parrino is a master of conveying the atmosphere of Chaos; adding Lovecraftian touches to the Warhammer 40K world, and painting his scenes with a robust palette of "colors that should not exist". This is why the Brazen Claws are the ideal Chapter for him to write about; a Chapter tasked to perpetually serve so close to the Warp.

In this story, we meet Techmarine Luveran Llir as he tries desperately to maintain the integrity of the titular ship, the Cold Roads, as it finds itself assailed by Slaanesh-worshiping forces, including none other than the Emperor's Children. This tale documents those final moments as he attempts to stave off succumbing to the call of Chaos. Standing along with a stout Terminator bodyguard, these last few moments will decide the fate of the entire ship.

Simple premise, flawless execution. There is very little more I can add to flesh out this review. Our two leads are interesting, there is some action, and the way Parrino presents how the allure of Chaos tugs at one so logic-oriented as a Techmarine is excellent. Other than that, this is an excellent portrayal of a descent into madness that offers readers what they truly want but rarely receive; a completely immersive journey into the universe being written about.

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Cover Score:

It's just the Brazen Claws logo, but they have a pretty awesome one. And the rich colors make this a really eye-catching cover.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Final Compliance Of Sixty-Three Fourteen

The Final Compliance of Sixty-Three Fourteen by Guy Haley. A Warhammer 40K Horus Heresy short story, Day 1 of the 2014 Advent Calendar. Originally published by The Black Library, December 2014. Approx. 6 pages.

Season's Greetings everyone! One of the best things about the holiday season, The Black Library is once again conducting their annual "Advent Calendar", offering a new short story everyday from yesterday up until the jolly fat man squeezes down the chimney. Now, like I've stated before, many readers either love or hate these micro-shorts. I really enjoy them, even though they usually run only 4 to 10 pages (mostly closer to 4). But, you are getting stories from the best writers in the stable as well, and sometimes you get a real gem in your stocking. Like this story from master wordsmith Guy Haley.

The moment of compliance has arrived for Planetary Governor Mayder Oquin. For many years he has served as steward over the planet Goughen, formerly designated as Sixty-Three Fourteen. In all the years of his service, from foot slogger in the Guard up until his tenure as governor, he has loyally served the Truth. The Imperial Truth. Now, however, the Emperor's own favored son, the Warmaster Horus, has challenged the legitimacy of the Emperor's reign. He is crafting a new Imperium, and the compliance of Oquin, as well as that of Goughen, is demanded. 

These micro-shorts often fall into two types, emotional character studies or quick action pieces. Final Compliance is in the former category. This quick read is a potent examination of what is truly important to a man. We watch as Oquin studies a collection of artifacts; all the remains of many cultures he has helped subjugate in the process of bringing these planets to their compliance. There is a grim irony at work here as we prepare to watch a former operator of the war machine be consumed by it.

What works here is that Haley gives us an extremely sympathetic (and tragic) protagonist within a economical wordcount. Oquin is stoic and proud, never pompous. He treasures fond memories, and he looks on the faces of those he did battle with with a proper modicum of respect. These were warriors that willingly died for something they knew to be more important than conscription to a dogmatic tyranny. Warriors who donned their finest livery to go die for a higher truth. Entire cultures reduced to novelties in a trophy case. In a powerful climax, Oquin must choose compliance or a spot on someone's shelf.

One other aspect of Final Compliance that works very well is how Haley integrates core concepts of human nature into it. What makes good sci-fi is the vision of the creator; how technology and society advance or regress over the passage of time, and the scope of the author's imagination. What makes great sci-fi is when we can naturally see that the core tenets human nature, the spectrum of moral values (or lack thereof), remain constant, even in quite distant times. 

There is one line in Final Compliance which really stands out to me. It occurs while Oquin is making his final decision, as gunships hover outside, like enemies at the gates. It reads:

"The threat to go with the promise. Always the way."

Such a simple observation, and so prophetic. Hasn't it always been this way, where ultimatums are concerned, from the first recorded history, up to the present day and into the far off future of genetically enhanced super soldiers? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Final Compliance is peppered with other nice, small touches as well. The vivid details of the artifacts on Oquin's shelves, the constant broadcast of Horus' "message" in a very Big Brother manner, all contribute to setting a palpable tone.

The Final Compliance of Sixty-Three Fourteen is a great way to kick off this year's Advent Calendar. Highly recommended.

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Cover Score:

The logo of the Sons of Horus in a rich blue. Doesn't look shabby, but the story is the prize here.

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