Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Non-Review: Cybernetica

This is going to be an odd one, folks. Please forgive the twists, turns, and other nonsense. I needed some time to talk here, and so this will not be an actual review. But some of the things I need to talk about will tie into some of my concerns as I read through I Am Slaughter.


I finished reading Cybernetica a while ago. Why? I'm not sure. Part of it is that I usually like Sanders' stuff. Part of it is because I've been enjoying a bunch of the Adeptus Mechanicus stories that have been released. Also, perhaps I had hoped that a Horus Heresy review would steer some much needed traffic here to the blog. Sadly, I think that was a lot of it. That was the wrong way to approach it.

And so, unsurprisingly, I really didn't enjoy the novella much. It isn't that it is bad, but it really isn't great. More on that as the diatribe rolls on.

I know I've said this in one way or another in almost every 40K review: I'm not as lore-savvy as I should be. I don't read the Codexes, and I don't navigate the tangled web that is the Heresy. I have the utmost respect for those with the time, intelligence, and disposable income to get all the goodies and commit it to memory. It is a commendable feat.

Also, as I've said before regarding the 40K stuff; I find it hard to get into a lot of the Space Marines stuff. No matter how good an author is, and The Black Library has a lot of good ones, it is near impossible to write efficiently for the mindset of these transhuman (superhuman? what is the correct term?) warriors. And for those that do, let's be honest: the emotionally truncated personalities of the Astartes make them hard to be sympathetic with for the duration of a novel.

I personally believe Space Marines work best when you see them in action; reading along with a human lead, and watching the Emperor's Angels do their work. Maybe I'm in the minority there, and maybe that's why I often prefer Guard novels.

Moving on. I had tried long ago to get into the Horus Heresy. I initially held out on reading them, worried that I'd finish them too quickly and end up champing at the bit for new releases. Then, of course, the Great Cash Cow rolled off into an avalanche of short stories, audio books, special whoosits, etc. etc.. And it's too lore-heavy for me. Sorry, that's my fault. I'm getting old, and I just don't have that much reading time in a day anymore. It just got away for me, and I'm not bitching, since, to be honest, I read the first three and the quality dropped like an anvil after Horus Rising.

But still, Cybernetica came along. Ok, novella, so quick read. Sanders is good. I like the Adeptus Mechanicus. Should be a slam dunk.

So why didn't it work? Why did the whole thing feel so, I don't know, manufactured? Well, it was made on Mars....
Sorry, that was bad....

Actually, I'd love to have seen the evolutionary process behind Cybernetica. How did something that began as a novella about a Sons of Horus Techmarine penned by Aaron Dembski-Bowden end up becoming a Sanders-penned retelling of the events of Mechanicum centering on a Raven Guard Techmarine-in-training sent on a covert-ops mission by the powers that be on Terra?

It doesn't really matter. Either take is an interesting tale, if done well. I don't even remember all the details of Cybernetica at this point. A trim novella, it still took me over a week to read. After it was done, I took nothing away from it. And I hate that this all sounds negative, since there are some really good things in there.

But also, something really bugs me about it, and I'm guessing it might have something to do with the editing (again, I might be totally wrong here). There are just too many parts here that don't work, or just don't add up. There is a huge battle towards the beginning that is completely superfluous. It honestly is inserted to showcase Mechanicus unit types. And, being unnecessary, it reads as mundane. The other Techmarines-in-training that appear early on feel inserted at the last minute; as if just there to give some other Chapters some page time. They don't get enough fleshing out in their brief time to justify why it was even those Chapters represented. And, worst of all, there is a subplot with a freed heretek that goes nowhere. This character could have added so much desperately-needed emotional presence to the story, but in the end he gets relegated to a tertiary role.

Other things don't work, either. There is a big twist that can be guessed from the onset, and the dialogue of Lord Dorn and Malcador simply do not fit what one would expect from figures of their importance.

Again, too much negativity. From what I remember, the novel boasts the usual fiercely intelligent writing from Sanders. The panorama of Mars which he paints is so, so, so intricately detailed, almost mind-numbingly so.

Then, came the big problem for me. What killed this novella for me is that it is, in fact, a Space Marine book. That's right. Rob Sanders is one of those authors good enough to portray Space Marines effectively. And where Space Marines already have truncated emotional palettes, those being tinkered with by the Mechanicus are almost entirely bereft of feelings (also, add into the mix that the lead character is a Raven Guard brother who can't be sneaky because of his augmentations, so a central aspect of his persona is gone as well)

Now, picture Cybernetica as a standalone, non-Warhammer 40,000 tale. Make it like Escape from New York on Mars. Let The Carrion be a real cyborg badass, on an urgent, time-sensitive mission, with his cyber-raven and his two sleek, sexy warrior-androids in tow, blasting wild cyber-mastiffs on the blasted Mars landscape. That's a bona fide cyberpunk classic there.

Well, that's about it. I guess this is looking like equal parts rant and review. Maybe what I'm saying, in a nutshell, is that it's getting harder for me to get into some of the 40K stuff these days. I don't even know, maybe next year will tell. I will say, though, that for all of it's merits, Cybernetica has a distinct whiff of corporate control about it. And that undermines the efforts of a solid author.


  1. Speaking of Space Marines stories, I'm on the same page with you. They strikes me as terrifyingly uniform, and there is way too much of 'em. Besides the lack of emotions, if you know the Chapter or Legion of some charachter, you always know (not unerringly, but pretty exactly) how he will act. This isn't really fascinating or luring feature. This is why I prefer Guard, or Xenos, or Arbitres books too.

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  3. But SMs are fine, when they act as support charachters, and author don't trying to take a look into their heads and put there emotions or ideas what, as reader feels, must be alien to them.

  4. Good to hear I'm not the only one that feels that way, Lucius. It's tough, I know, since SM's are what sell the minis, and no matter how good the authors are, the universe is still based on the minis.
    But still, SM's have no (or little) fear, doubt, love, passion, etc. They don't have individual dreams or goals. How much of a sympathetic character can you craft based off of those stymied emotions?
    I give a lot of credit to the authors who can compensate by upping the detail on lore knowledge, speculative, technology, etc.
    And you're right, it seems kind of dopey that the Chapters are pretty much summed up in a trait or personality type. This was fine when the 40K universe was developing, but it just kind of seems silly now.

  5. As for Cybernetica, I try not to say too much, because then it looks like I am dumping on Sanders as a writer (which I most assuredly am not).
    Just how did they settle on this idea for what Cybernetica was going to be (how much it differed from what AD-B was going to write)? The whole thing seems cobbled together of bits BL wanted to show, without a cohesive idea underpinning it.