Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Enigma Of Flesh

The Enigma of Flesh by  C.L. Werner. An Adeptus Mechanicus short story, originally published by The Black Library, May 2015. Approx. 31 pages.

Continuing along with the recent batch of Adeptus Mechanicus fiction releases, today we look at The Enigma of Flesh, an offering by veteran Black Library scribe C.L. Werner. Werner, as we all know, is perhaps the most influential Warhammer Fantasy author, but his 40K outings have all been solid.

Enigma focuses on the Kastelan robots. A few points first; unlike the recent Skitarii-centered stories (Skitarius, Vanguard, The Zheng Cypher), the Kastelans fall under the purview of the Cult Mechanicus. Also, the Kastelans are not mechanically-augmented units; they are actual robots, which need to be controlled (or moderated), by a nearby datasmith. Yeah, the logistics don't necessarily add up, but common sense only flies so far in the Imperium of Man, plus, they can unleash holy hell on enemies. Now, one subject that will inevitably arise when discussing Kastelans is their design. Being constructs of the 30K era still in use in the 40K canon, the Kastelans boast a sort of "future-retro" design. Some love it, some hate it, either way the end result looks like the bastard offspring of Robby the Robot and a Cobra Viper.

An infinitely better love story than Twilight.

The setup of Enigma is fairly standard, a fitting template for a short story. Captain Marhault of the Cadian 32nd's Fifth Company is desperately trying to hold the planet Thain against an endless horde of Tyranids. As the story opens, a ship carrying much needed reinforcements is arriving.

Suffice to say, this being the 40K universe, nothing is as cut and dry or benevolent as it seems. These reinforcements are in fact two of the aforementioned Kastelan robots, and, as alway, the Adeptus Mechanicus has their own agenda. Also, as always, it doesn't take into consideration the worries of the average foot soldier.

The Enigma of Flesh benefits from a strong foundation. Each brick laid in making is well placed. Werner has paid attention to all the details; local topography, and how it factors into troop dispositions and defensive positions. As far as the combatants on both sides; both the Kastelans and the Tyranids are rendered well. What I particularly enjoyed were not just the descriptions of all the players, but the focus on the fierce weaponry employed by the Kastelans, and the brutal havoc they play upon the chitinous 'nid swarms. This is a very smart move; since even in the hands of the best scribes, 'nid stories can get a tad redundant. There's only so much to say about them, they are horrors to behold and they move in huge swarms. But colorful details of them getting blasted to gooey bits, always a plus. And whether or not you are a fan of the Kastelan design, it is a lot of fun to see them going on destructive romps like Sanda and Gaira.

The few characters we get in Enigma are well-realized. Marhault is a good human lead; a tough Cadain veteran with genuine concern for his charges. Datasmith Livia gives a slightly human face to the Tech Priests of Mars, while the coldly practical Magos Procrustes embodies their philosophy entirely.

It is intriguing to see these varying mindsets clashing, since each carries a weight of legitimacy in their respective logic. As the battle plays out, Werner shows us that it proceeds very much like a chess game; and while Marhault is nobly, yet possibly foolishly, trying to save his pawns, Procrustes has not for a moment forgotten what the true goal of the game is.

As much as I liked the set-up and the battle scenes, my favorite part of Enigma occurs towards the end. Shifting away from the battlefield, we get a lesson in the validity of the story's title, set against a backdrop reminiscent of a 50's movie mad scientist laboratory.

It is no coincidence that the primary industrial value of Thain is the export of grox-dung; in the Imperium of Man, a cake of dung is pretty much a man's net worth.

Here's what it is:
The Enigma of Flesh is better than it had any right to be. Using a standard story template and focusing on some of the goofier looking recent models from Games Workshop, Werner built a strong foundation and gave it life with well-rounded characters and blistering action. And personally, I love it when the book's title has a profound resonance with the tone and moral of the story.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

I'm guessing this pic comes from the Cult Mechanicus Codex, no? It's not a bad pic; it just makes the Kastelans look like an infantry unit. There's nothing wrong with them recycling an existing pic for a short story cover, but I think they could've found one that "sells the robot" better in terms of menace or potency.

Cover Final Score:


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