Monolith by Chris Dows. A Warhammer 40,0000 short story, Day 3 of the Summer of Reading 2015, originally published by The Black Library, August, 2015. Approx. 25 pages.
Day 3 of the first week of the Summer of Reading 2015 brings us an Imperial Guard (sorry, Astra Militarum) tale focusing on Elysian Drop Troops. I hadn't realized, heading in, that this is actually Dows' second tale featuring Elysian Sergeant Zachariah, the first being The Mouth of Chaos, which appeared in Hammer and Bolter 22.
This might actually be one of my shorter reviews, since the premise here is pretty thin, even for a short story. There is the titular monolith, a mile high monstrosity whose function is never clearly stated. Held for years by a Cadian detachment, it is being overrun by Chaos Space Marines of the Blood Disciples Chapter. It falls on Zachariah and his Drop Troopers to dive in and take it back.
What Monolith might not have in setting, it makes up in execution. Dows is a writer who obviously did some homework involving the skydiving aspects. Well, to be honest, I've never gone skydiving; but the mechanics of the opening drop sequence gave me a genuine feeling of immersion.
In fact, the opening few pages are some of the best that I've read in a recent Black Library publication. This doesn't mean that the rest of the story is sub-par; but it does follow a distinctly by-the-numbers narrative.
All of this got me to thinking, though. In the author bio at the end of the story, there is mention of Dows' work in the comic book industry. The way Monolith is storyboarded, and the way descriptive elements and action scenes are written out, it seems that this tale would have worked much better as a graphic novel. Furthermore, as I mentioned before, the opening scene far surpasses the rest of the story; and a good reason for that is a surgically precise detailing of the action in lieu of any real dialogue. So then I thought; how great would it have been if this entire story ran in that manner; focusing on the absolute efficiency of the Elysians, with a complete absence of dialogue. Kind of like Marvel's classic Issue 21 of G.I. Joe, Silent Interlude.
But, reviewing what we have; you get blistering action, which is nicely over the top in some places (one instance bugged me a bit, but it's a spoiler so I'll put it at the end), great pacing, and truly likable characters. I would love to read a full length novel featuring Zachariah and his troops.
Here's what it is:
A very solid short story showcasing a very interesting Guard unit type. A truly exhilarating opening, excellent action throughout, truly memorable characters, but a standard premise and dialogue that works better in comic book bubbles.
I don't care how tough of a Guardsman you are, and I don't care if the Space Marine is toying with you in a cat and mouse fashion; once a Chaos Marine wraps his mitts around your throat in anger, you are toast. Plain and simple.
Again with a muted character pic with the all black background. Sorry, it didn't work with Whiteout, and it doesn't work here. Plus, there's nothing exciting or eye-catching about this Drop Trooper. I'm sure there are better pictures of Elysians that they could have used.
This one for example.
Cover Final Score: