While there are plenty of good books out in the world, one place that you don’t find to expect much love is in licensed tales. They’re usually disposable bits of fluff designed to scoop up nerds who can’t get enough of their favorite characters and are willing to wade through substandard side stories just to get another whiff of their fictional drug of choice. That’s why discovering Dan Abnett’s books set in the Warhammer 40K universe came as such a shock.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the cold as ice, hard as steel, and dark as night war-torn universe that sits behind Games Workshop tabletop miniatures game where there “Will be only war”. I even read some of the original novels they put out back in the day, although even at the time I recognized that they were just a way to get a quick hit out of that universe without having to go to all the trouble of actually role playing the damn thing. I also read enough of the back story in the different manuals and such that I had a working understanding that I could use to at least try and hold my own in a conversation with British nerds if the need ever arose.
That’s why, when another all American geek with a love for the 40K world told me that they were finally novelizing the Horus Heresy, I had to give it a shot. I won’t go into it here, except to say that it’s the kind of ridiculous science fiction pseudo mystical nonsense that never gets made into movies, but often shows up as the wordy prologue to a video game. It’s also the defining event of that universe, taking place 10,000 years before the game itself. (Yes, it’s Warhammer 30K.)
The first book in the series, Horus Rising, was written by Dan Abnett, a working writer who’s written everything from mainstream superhero comics to Wallace and Grommet books. And it was good. Better than good. The story fast paced, the characters were gripping, and the prose turned phrases and manipulated words with enough skill that I often found myself rereading a paragraph or two just to figure out how he the author had managed to pirouette some bit of nonsense into a chunk of clever character motivated writing.
I grabbed the second book in the series, but he didn’t write it, and it didn’t have any of that zing, pop, or pizzazz. I’d found a new author, and he was good.
It turns out that Abnett’s magnum opus is the Eisenhorn series, about an “Inquisitor” who must root out the (in his reality) very real corruption that comes from the creatures of Chaos that are attempting to break through and destroy our reality.
The three volumes have been collected into a single, moderately-priced omnibus that I cant recommend highly enough. It isn’t Shakespeare, but if you’re looking for rollicking big ideas science fiction that transports you into another world, and doesn’t hold back on the character or scale (he’s throwing world’s around by the end of the thing), then you won’t be sorry you gave it a try.
I’ve also started reading his Gaunt’s Ghosts series, an epic about a group of soldiers who fight to protect the universe from an evil that has destroyed their home world. It’s got battle scenes that will have you reading well past your bedtime, if you’re into that sort of thing.
He’s got other titles as well, that I have yet to dip into, but I’m sure I’ll read them all. What are guilty pleasures for, if you can’t indulge them?
Do you know of what I speak? Do I see clearly, or have I been infected with the taint of the Warp? Let’s hear it in the comments…