Sunday, 10 October 2010

Primary Instinct by Sarah Cawkwell - review

I mentioned in my last post that I would write a review of newcomer Sarah Cawkwell's debut story in Hammer and Bolter when I was done reading it. Well, I've just finished the story, so here's the review.

The story describes the fortunes of an assault squad of Silver Skulls Space Marines, the 'Reckoners', deployed to the jungle world of Ancerios III to search out the possible crash site of an Eldar vessel along with any clues regarding the fate of the crew. Ploughing through the dense jungle the Marines discover a sinister alien life form that opens their eyes to a new threat; the implications of which are as disturbing as they are far-reaching.

The opening paragraphs build a vivid picture of the world she has thrown the squad into and I found her descriptive prose a joy to read. It seems to take every human sense into account in building the picture, leading to a remarkably holistic experience. Initially her beginner's nerves show themselves in the somewhat out-of-character dialogue of lead protagonist Brother Sergeant Ur'ten but within the space of the first few 'pages' (kindle pages) she seems to find her confidence and in the words of Dan Abnett, kick in the door and take no prisoners. The pace of the story ebbs and flows with the skill of a veteran and Cawkwell adds a very welcome sense of mystery to the proceedings as the plot unfolds.

The combat scenes are gripping and suitably fast paced while still managing to move the story forward rather than indulging in pure shooty-death-kill-in-space. Brother Sergeant Ur'ten grows steadily as a character, displaying a welcome measure of self-knowledge and a combat competence born of over a century of fighting in the Emperor's name. In addition, Ur'ten's supporting cast are equally compelling; though special mention must go to Prognosticator Bhehan, who in the Silver Skulls takes the role of Librarian with a hint of Chaplain. He is a really great character, who in truth deserves the title of joint lead protagonist as he adds a great deal of depth and subtlety to an already excellent story.

As far as true-to-canon goes, and this is a big one in this genre, Cawkwell brings the already developed background of this chapter, sparse as it is, and then adds gently to it in a way that never jars. She paints the picture of a proud and deeply religious chapter that looks to it's Prognosticators for both battle and spiritual guidance, seeing their warp powered visions as communications from the Emperor.

I really loved this story. Despite the very early awkwardness Cawkwell has, for me, really established her bona fides as a talented 40k storyteller.

I look forward to reading more, soon. (Please?)

Friday, 8 October 2010

Black Library go Digital!

I've waited a long time for this day but at last it's here. The publishers who provide me with the majority of my leisure reading material are going digital!

By the end of October, Black Library's digital store will be open and I'll be able to buy all of my favourite author's work for my Kindle. As any long time reader of this blog may remember, my reluctance to buy the Kindle was based primarily upon the fact that the sort of stuff I like to read wasn't available on it, but no longer!

As part of their publicity campaign Black Library will be releasing an e-book every Friday for the next five weeks, gratis, to give people a taste of what to expect. This week's release is First and Only by Dan Abnett. If there are any of you out there with an ebook reader, including an iPhone or iPad, head over here and download the zip file.

I think I've made my feelings fairly clear on all things Warhammer 40,000. It's dystopian Science Fiction of the very best kind and should be read by all people with a taste for SF. The reason most people don't try is because the aforementioned world is thought of as being hard to get into, I'm going to ignore the tie-in fiction snobs who think it's beneath them.

I think Dan Abnett's First and Only is a great introduction. It is a series of short stories that introduce you to a unique Imperial Guard regiment and their battles, both internal and in a universe at war. I have long considered Mr. Abnett The Master and this book, one of his earlier works, set the foundation stone in my temple of to speak...I don't in any way have a candlelit shrine to this most gifted author, that would be madness, MADNESS I SAY.


Anyway, the other little bit of exciting news from those lovely people at Black Library is the release of their new digital-only fiction magazine, Hammer and Bolter.

Anyone already familiar with Games Workshop may remember Inferno magazine, which created a space for aspiring authors to show us their work in short story form. It also gave the opportunity for established writers to delve into the 40k and Warhammer Fantasy worlds in short story format rather than the novels they are more used to writing.

Hammer and Bolter will now fulfill this role. The first issue was on a CD that Black Library made available at Games Day and I'm in the middle of reading through it and enjoying it enormously. Just one point though guys and girls, please make Issue 2 with a selectable content page! (I'm sure they're already on it but I thought I'd mention it).

The newcomer's role is ably played by Sarah Cawkwell in her debut story, Primary Instinct, a little review of which I may post here when I get to it. Admittedly I've had a peek and been very impressed at her vivid world-building prose but I'll wait until I've read the whole story before saying anymore.

So, an exciting time for me reading wise. My Kindle has gotten more use in the last two weeks than the last year and I can't wait to see what the future holds for this publisher. The digital-only format of this magazine might limit the readership initially but with more and more people with iPhones and the like, it may open this universe out to people who might not otherwise have bothered. I hope so, it's really great stuff.