Review: Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
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A not-quite epic science fiction adventure about a down-on-his luck galactic pilot caught in a cross-galaxy struggle for survival! Space travel just isn't what it used to be. With the invention of Quantum Teleportation, space heroes aren't needed anymore. When one particularly unlucky ex-adventurer masquerades as famous pilot and hate figure Jacques McKeown, he's sucked into an ever-deepening corporate and political intrigue. Between space pirates, adorable deadly creatures, and a missing fortune in royalties, saving the universe was never this difficult!
From the creator of Mogworld and Jam!
This one almost blindsided me. I didn't know that Yahtzee Croshaw, known for his Zero Punctuation series on The Escapist, had a third novel coming up. A friend thankfully let me know last month, and when the audiobook version surprisingly hit on launch day (both previous books had lengthy delays for that), I jumped on it immediately. I can only recommend grabbing the audiobook yourselves, as Yahtzee narrated it himself, with all the usual snark.

The Story:
"A not-quite epic science fiction adventure about a down-on-his luck galactic pilot caught in a cross-galaxy struggle for survival! Space travel just isn't what it used to be. With the invention of Quantum Teleportation, space heroes aren't needed anymore. When one particularly unlucky ex-adventurer masquerades as famous pilot and hate figure Jacques McKeown, he's sucked into an ever-deepening corporate and political intrigue. Between space pirates, adorable deadly creatures, and a missing fortune in royalties, saving the universe was never this difficult!
From the creator of Mogworld and Jam! "

The Review:
Will Save the Galaxy for Food is an incredibly enjoyable science fiction satire novel. I enjoyed my time with it immensely. Not only did it drip with sarcasm and just plain ridiculous ideas, but it also had some very interesting points to make about the dangers of finding oneself obsolete. While it seems like just a comedic sci-fi romp, it actually offers a lot more depth than is immediately apparent.

The protagonist (and first-person narrator) is a down-on-his-luck pilot. During the Golden Age of space adventures, he liberated planets, along with many other pilots. Some turned excentric, adopting the cultures of "their" planets for themselves, others just stand at the space ports waving signs for tourism jobs, just to foot their bills. The development of stargate-esque portal technology has made space pilots pretty much obsolete, and put almost all of the old heroes onto the street with little more than nostalgia to keep them going.

But amidst it all, there is a "traitorous" pilot making his fortune off the backs of his colleagues: Jacques McKeown, a highly popular novelist stealing the adventures of his peers for his books. Nobody knows who he is, however. So it just happens that our unnamed protagonist gets roped into imitating McKeown in a dangerous job for a big-time crime boss (who is very much orange skinned!), and shit hits the fan from then on out. With the syndicate boss's son being a massive Jacques McKeown fanboy and wanting to impress his crush by going on a space trip piloted by his idol, and kept in line by the stiff personal assistant Warden, things are just going downhill from here.

The story takes us to a lot of places. From fending off crime lords over pirates to even other pilots trying to scalp Jacques McKeown, or oddly-cute-but-bloody-dangerous mascots-turned-cannibal, and even cyborg hiveminds and the dangers of teenage hormones, Will Save the Galaxy for Food is chock-full of action, room for sly comments and characters expressing their distaste for one another. I was surprised by how much Yahtzee was able to cram in here will still supporting the nostalgia and end of an era themes.
The characters are surprisingly well-developed for a satire piece too, with miss Warden slowly cracking up a little (while still being a psycho-div through and through) and heroes and villains of the old times seeking simple job opportunities. Our protagonist also turns from seeming like a sleazeball into a reliable hero figure with just slight brain damage as things move along.

I apologize if this review is a bit sparse on details, but you'll really have to see for yourselves just what troubles "Jacques McKeown" gets himself into here. The story follows a neat from-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire style, one thing leading to another and another, and I'd rather not unravel it all. While some developments might appear a bit out of the blue, I never thought that was a bad thing. It is just the kind of weird space adventure I was hoping for it to be. In a way, I got reminded of the movie Galaxy Quest in a few places.

Most importantly, though: It is a genuinely funny book. The amount of lines I ended up quoting to friends while reading this was just silly. Most of it are sarcastic remarks, situational humor and oh-god-I-want-to-bash-my-head-in-is-this-stupid moments, so quoting them here is a bit tricky. The humor won't work for everyone. Yahtzee's dark and dry british sarcastic yet somehow over the top style works very well for me, but as with his previous books, or Zero Punctuation itself, I know a bunch of people who aren't partial to it. My best recommendation here is to read the sample of the ebook on Amazon or listening to the Audible sample and seeing for yourself. That's the nature of comedy, I'm afraid.

One little thing that stretches through the entire book I enjoyed was that Yahtzee decided to use mathematical terms as a curse and insult dictionary.
In “Pilot Math”, the word multiply (shortened to ply) replaces the most popular swear word, with subtraction (or trac) filling in as an all-purpose noun with scatological leanings. Bracket became a common insult, as did decimal point (or doint) and division (div), which also came to mean male and female genitalia, respectively.
While this may seem a little thing of search&replace all swear words, it helped the world building for me. It was also quite funny to see the characters swear like this, and I'm sure I'll make personal use of some of these in the future. It is such a simple idea yet it carried part of the comedy for me.

Either way, I was surprised by what Yahtzee got going for him here. Jam was ridiculous on so many levels (I mean, it was about man-eating strawberry jam and the fall of human society amidst the jampocalypse...) and Mogworld was very nerdy and video gamey by design. Will Save the Galaxy for Food seems like a great mix of both. It is easily approachable while undeniably nerdy, yet also offers multiple points in regards to real world issues like automation, a shrinking job market, corruption, surveilance states and so on. While it never stood in the way of the entertainment factor, having those snippets of witty commentary made the book a great deal better.
I'd urge you to give it a try. If you in any way enjoy audiobooks, go for it for the (in my opinion) best experience. Will Save the Galaxy for Food is an intelligent amusement park visit with a lot of attractions to show for itself.

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Review: The Dragon's Blade: Veiled Intentions by Michael R. Miller
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Rectar has always had his sights set on conquering the human lands. His demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum – an unrelenting horde unhindered by food or sleep. Now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow.

The Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem – Castallan. The traitorous wizard has raised a deadly rebellion and declared himself King of Humans. He believes himself safe in the bowels of his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all costs.

To face these threats, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices may undermine Darnuir’s efforts once again. And as the true intentions of all are revealed, so too is a secret that may change the entire world.
After a few intense weeks filled with stress, sickness, more stress and a noticeable lack of productivity on the review front, this is the novel that I needed to get motivated again. I originally wanted to get the review out by its launch day on February 10, but couldn't manage it. Either way, I am happy to be through it now and being able to put out a full review instead of just poking friends with tidbits.

To preface, though, I got a review e-copy of this novel, like the first, from Michael R. Miller. I'm happy I did, because my print copy is still lying at the post office until tomorrow. I was asked to let you know that you can get an ebook copy of The Dragon's Blade: The Reborn King for free via Michael's website, thedragonsblade.com, by signing up for his newsletter. Since I very much enjoyed the novel despite some flaws, I'm impressed by the generous offer and think you should take him up on it. I mean, it's a free book either way, and you mind find out about a bunch of cool author interviews he's hosting (including for some whose books are on my reading pile). If your taste is similar to my own, you might find value in it.

With all this preamble out of the way, let's begin!


The Story:
"Rectar has always had his sights set on conquering the human lands. His demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum – an unrelenting horde unhindered by food or sleep. Now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow.

The Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem – Castallan. The traitorous wizard has raised a deadly rebellion and declared himself King of Humans. He believes himself safe in the bowels of his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all costs.

To face these threats, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices may undermine Darnuir’s efforts once again. And as the true intentions of all are revealed, so too is a secret that may change the entire world."

Disclaimer
As stated above, I received a free review copy of the ebook ahead of the official release. I have also ordered the print copies of the first two books on my own, and purchased the audiobook of The Dragon's Blade on Audible, so I was well-willing to open my wallet for it. Either way, keep that in mind while reading the review.

The Review:
The Dragon's Blade: Veiled Intentions is a big step up from its predecessor, which was Michael R. Miller's debut novel. I am very happy to say that, because The Dragon's Blade was a good novel with interesting characters, world building and plenty of promise, marred by a few flaws and bumps. I enjoyed it a good deal, and was hoping to see Miller grow as he gained more experience and feedback. And he did. I don't think my review in January had much to do with it, if anything, due to being so late to the party. Still he managed to address a lot of points I made with his second book, and the entire thing feels like a natural improvement.

Veiled Intentions builds on all the points I enjoyed about book one, while getting rid of or decreasing the aspects that worried me before. It felt exciting to read from the first to the last page, which led me to finishing the book today after hours of non-stop reading through the final 20%. Everything ramped up, had a degree of pay-off and more intrigue revealed, and I think that this will turn out to be a trilogy that avoids the weak-midpoint-syndrome you often see.

The novel picks right back up where it left off last time. There is little time wasted on reintroducing characters or summing up the state of the war of the alliance of humans, fairies and dragons against Rectar and the Shadow. It catapults you right back into the unfolding plot and mysteries, even though it doesn't focus on battles until quite a ways into the book.
Coming right from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy (I'm currently taking a break from book three to get this one done), I might be overly appreciative of this. I got pretty annoyed with the reiterating of plot points and character arcs, let alone the magic systems, early on into Sanderson's books. Even halfway through there are still bits and pieces here and there that bug me because I remember those things and it takes me out of the moment.
The situation here is quite different. While Miller tells us what we need to know and eases the reader back into his world, it never felt on-the-nose to me. I never felt bogged down by summaries of previous events or infodumped. Callbacks feel like a natural part of the unfolding plotlines and character arcs, rather than existing solely for the benefit of the reader. But of course, this also means that you'll have to read book one first and can't jump in midway. To be honest, I never liked that idea anyway, and have consistently urged people not to do that even when it comes to the Horus Heresy series. For me, it is all or nothing.

Either way, I was invested in the book right off the bat. The prologue introduces us to new characters and regions of the world, and brings Dukoona, the Spectre general, back into focus. His plotline here is an intriguing one that I enjoyed a great deal, and turns the minions-of-evil tropes on their head nicely. Dukoona actually has become one of my favorite characters in the series so far. As Veiled Intentions keeps pulling back the shroud, my appreciation for the Spectres and their dilemma only grew.
But Dukoona is only one of the many characters that grow significantly in depth here. Garon, left-hand man of Cosmo and somewhat of an uncle figure to Darnuir, who is now king of dragons, turns into a man with backbone and integrity and works towards achieving Darnuir's dream of revitalizing the alliance and bridging racial rifts on a smaller scale. Cassandra, recently recaptured by the wizard Castallan, makes moves to take her fate in her own two hands and shows initiative throughout. Even Blaine, the Guardian, who I had a hard time liking in The Dragon's Blade, turns into a relatable, nuanced character full of depth and interest.

As somebody who focuses a great deal of attention on characters and their progression, their thoughts and feelings, but also their actions, I think that this book succeeded wholeheartedly. It clears up a lot of motivations and intentions, while making everybody more interesting, relatable and believable. Even the villains, like Castallan, turned into more than just simple antagonists with a lust for power. I believe that Miller has a good grasp on what makes characters tick and interesting to follow, and Veiled Intentions highlights a highly diverse cast of examples who share one common theme: They're all exciting to read about, and many of them have their own secrets.

The action, too, is on point. The inevitable assault on the Bastion, Castallan's stronghold, was well-executed and exciting, providing a midpoint climax that provided growth and new conflict in equal measure. Everybody has a part to play as the alliance's bonds are strained and Castallan makes his big plays. The magical showdown here was fantastic, vivid and thrilling. Darnuir's growing dependence on cascade energy, Blaine's wavering light and Brackendon's inner demons all make for intense scenes throughout the book. From fighting against red-eyed enhanced humans over wizard duels to schisms between Spectres and desperate defences, the action sequences are varied, highlighting neat environments and all serve to further character development and intrigue.

Besides the thrill of battle, there are many calm, reflective moments. New bonds are forged, some as unlikely as they come, and there are many heartwarming scenes here. I especially liked one between Cassandra and the fairy general Fidelm that involved a pretty white dress and lots of paint.
Old mysteries are solved, questions answered, new ones asked. I especially liked how many of the reader's questions get adressed through Ochnic the Kazzek troll and his people in the highlands, far away from Darnuir and the capital of the human kingdom. It serves to flesh out the realm of Tenalp, making it feel like a cohesive world whose inhabitants may be divided but still share history and are fighting for common goals. Things are coming together nicely, especially towards the end when the immediate threats are resolved. Overall, it is a satisfying experience.

Stylistically, too, I want to point out some improvements. For one, every chapter, or section, is prefaced with a header that names the point of view character and the location they are currently at. If the perspective shifts, there is another header midway. While it may not seem like a big deal on the outset, it definitely helps the book's structure and giving a sense of movement as armies and characters travel from one place to another.
Another thing are the short excerpts from Tiviar's Histories, in-universe books written by a fairy scholar. They've been named and talked about in the first book, as Cassandra discusses them with Brackendon for example, but here we get snippets that help to reinforce the world's cohesiveness further and offer hints relating to the unfolding events. I tend to love little tidbits like these in books, and this is no exception. It simply adds another layer of depth from a non-present perspective in a non-intrusive way and helps the reader piece things together.

There are still some minor nitpicks, of course. The occassional typo was still in my review e-copy, for example, but those occurances were rarer than in the previous book, and never really bothered me. In the end the book succeeded everywhere I hoped it would and felt more consistent than its predecessor. I don't remember any chapter that made me struggle, or any character I didn't feel invested in in some capacity. There are many pleasant surprises here, believeable conflict, both external and internal, and a very promising set up for the final book in the trilogy. I could gush for quite a bit longer than this, but chances are, I'd need to spoil a few cool things, so I'll just recommend that you read it for yourselves.

Instead of bumps in the road I found a great adventure that hopefully paves the way to a successful writing career for Michael R. Miller. Here's hoping book three will be out sooner rather than later, and live up to this spectacular second installment!


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Review: Exocytosis by James Swallow
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Having long been hounded across the galaxy by the Dark Angels, First Captain Typhon of the Death Guard has limped his fleet to sanctuary in Segmentum Obscurus - as a guest of the separatist Luther of Caliban, no less. On the world of Zaramund, long a symbol of brotherhood amongst the Legions, Typhon begins to suspect that a new form of corruption has followed him out of the wider war. Will he embrace it, or escape into the darkness once more?

It's another step towards what we all know is coming for the Death Guard and Captain Typhon. Is it time that he embraced his destiny as a pawn of the Plague Lord?
Another long-delayed review. Life gets in the way more often than you'd like, doesn't it? Either way, this was coming one day or another. It is another advent story, of course.

The Story:
"Having long been hounded across the galaxy by the Dark Angels, First Captain Typhon of the Death Guard has limped his fleet to sanctuary in Segmentum Obscurus - as a guest of the separatist Luther of Caliban, no less. On the world of Zaramund, long a symbol of brotherhood amongst the Legions, Typhon begins to suspect that a new form of corruption has followed him out of the wider war. Will he embrace it, or escape into the darkness once more?

It's another step towards what we all know is coming for the Death Guard and Captain Typhon. Is it time that he embraced his destiny as a pawn of the Plague Lord?"

The Review:
Exocytosis is yet another neat, character-focused Horus Heresy short story. It is a sequel to Gav Thorpe's Angels of Caliban, continuing on from the novel's epilogue. If you haven't read it prior to this story, I'd recommend that you do. Not only was it pretty good, but the Caliban plotlines and foreshadowing lead right into the situation we've got here.

Calas Typhon, First Captain of the Death Guard, has come to Zaramund, and found Luther of the Dark Angels waiting for him. Typhon and crew have been hounded by loyalist Dark Angels for years now, so tensions with Luther are a given. Only a modicum of courtesy is extended towards the Grand Master, yet materiel and refugee are accepted nonetheless. But the Death Guard, and Typhon in particular, are keeping many secrets here, almost mirroring the Dark Angels themselves. And then Typhon gets confronted with a grim truth that sets him truly on course to become Typhus, the Herald of Nurgle we all know from the 41st Millennium.

To be frank, I was a bit worried about Swallow taking back the Death Guard after all these years. He set a certain tone for the Legion in Flight of the Eisenstein - but that was almost 10 years ago! Since then, he had very little to do with the Death Guard at large, despite his long-running Garro sub-series. In the meantime, many other authors have tackled Mortarion and the Death Guard, from Graham McNeill over Gav Thorpe to Chris Wraight, and I don't think it controversial to say that out of all of the depictions, I am particularly keen on Wraight's. Indeed, this story, along with Wraight's The Path of Heaven, will undoubtedly lead right into the upcoming fall of the Death Guard novel. Needless to say, I was hoping Chris would score the book, but after reading Exocytosis, I am more torn on the matter.

That is to say, I enjoyed this short story a good deal. Typhon takes the center of the stage, though I would have liked to see a little more of Luther, Zahariel and co. The few nuggets of info we get there are worthwhile in my opinion, and show the tensions within the Dark Angels pretty well. But it really is about Typhon, his eventual fate and the beginning of the true turn of the Death Guard from traitors to swollen, pustulent abominations in the service of the god of pestilence.
Swallow offers a few callbacks to ideas he put onto the table back in Eisenstein, which I appreciate greatly, and Typhon feels a bit more nuanced than I thought him in Thorpe's The Lion. The semi-religious themes tackled here also were a nice touch, though I was shaking my head over the one and only Dark Angel who could've had a chance of changing the inevitable.

Overall this isn't great on action or big Legion progression. A lot of it is setup for what is to come, to bring Typhon, an oft-neglected character, back into the spotlight. However, it is good setup with a good character focus that was sorely needed. It is competently written and fits neatly into the current state of the Heresy. If it heralds a return to the Death Guard for Swallow, he is welcome to go ahead with it.

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Review: A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon
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Death and destruction follow the demon wherever he treads, and Gabriel is rarely far behind, waiting for his chance to extinguish the creature known as Temple once and for all.

But in Singapore during the Second World War, a lone soldier in possession of a shattering secret gets caught up in their battle. The knowledge he holds could change the course of their ancient conflict… and the fate of the world.
I've been meaning to get around to this for a while, and figured I'd try to start 2017 with another run of novella reads. Due to being sick and getting deep into Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy for most of the month, I didn't quite manage to get as much done as I was hoping, so expect more on that in February and March.

The Story:
"Death and destruction follow the demon wherever he treads, and Gabriel is rarely far behind, waiting for his chance to extinguish the creature known as Temple once and for all.

But in Singapore during the Second World War, a lone soldier in possession of a shattering secret gets caught up in their battle. The knowledge he holds could change the course of their ancient conflict… and the fate of the world."

Disclaimer
The publisher sent me a print ARC of this one last year, along with a book I had requested specifically.

The Review:
A Whisper of Southern Lights is billed as a stand-alone entry in Tim Lebbon's The Assassin series. However, I would still recommend reading the first installment first. While you can read this individually, things make a lot more sense with the things you learn in Pieces of Hate.

The previous book, Pieces of Hate, struck me as a good horror novella. The book actually consisted of two stories, however, the first being a short story called Dead Man's Hand. The difference between both of them was that DMH was narrated from the perspective of an outsider getting caught up with the protagonist, Gabriel, whereas Pieces of Hate gave us a story through Gabriel's own eyes.

A Whisper of Southern Lights mixes both perspectives, varying between the outsider's perspective and Gabriel from chapter to chapter. This works very well in my opinion, especially since I was more fond of the way Dead Man's Hand achieved its air of dark mystery and horror. Here, Tim Lebbon was able to intertwine the supernatural existence of his "hero" with that of a down on his luck war prisoner who just happened to stumble into events larger than himself and getting between Gabriel and his quarry, the assassin Temple. This even led to some cool misdirection as you follow the two characters, which was pulled off nicely in my eyes.

Plot-wise, things are similar enough to the previous book; Gabriel is still hunting Temple, still trying to get his revenge. This time they've ended up in Singapore during World War II, with the secondary protagonist being a soldier facing the japanese invasion. We get scenes in the jungles, in prison camps, and more background on Gabriel, more cool showings from our antagonist Temple, and even some overarching plot progression that has me curious for what's next for this series. While the general idea behind the story follows a similar formula to the other two stories before it, I don't think that's a bad thing. It keeps the feel of the series consistent while allowing Lebbon to provide more set-up and focus on the various settings in greater detail. It is a good compromise in my opinion, though I assume that the chase will come to a stop eventually, as hinted here.

I have to say, though: Where the first book wasn't pretty in any way, and especially gruesome in places, this one could be considered even nastier. The horrors of war are laid on thickly, and the japanese soldiers don't treat their prisoners of war well by any means. If you're a hygiene-freak, this book probably isn't for you, especially when it comes to one section about halfway through. Be prepared to feel grossed out. However, I appreciate that Lebbon did these things. War isn't clean, or pretty, and usually not even glorious. It is a miserable business of dealing death and being dealt your own in return. Where a lot of authors romanticize war, cowboys or pirates in fiction, Lebbon pays great attention to the more vile aspects of it all. Nobody is really a hero in this series, and things can always get a tad worse. I love that.

While A Whisper of Southern Lights isn't as bone-chilling as Dead Man's Hand was for me, it was a solid read that I enjoyed a great deal once I got to it. The author nailed the themes he was trying to gun for, and the feeling of utter misery that struck me with the first book is still as strong as ever. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series, whenever it sees the light of day.


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Review: Cybernetica by Rob Sanders
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The Red Planet has fallen. The Dark Mechanicum must be stopped to ensure Terra's safety. An agent is despatched with a single goal: exterminate all life on Mars.

Soon after word reached Terra of Horus's nascent rebellion, Mars fell. Rogue elements within the Mechanicum priesthood, stirred by the Warmaster's promises of independence and prosperity, turned against the Imperium and forced the primarch Rogal Dorn to order an impenetrable blockade of the Red Planet. Now it has become clear that the corruption has spread too deep, and that more drastic measures must be taken if the Forge World Principal is to be reclaimed. Calling upon the expertise of those who witnessed the so-called 'Death of Innocence' firsthand, Lord Dorn and Malcador the Sigillite consider their final solution - the complete extermination of all life on Mars.
This is a review that I found surprisingly easy to write, so I figured I'd use it to get back into action here. Still sick, I'm afraid, but I'm getting back into the groove day by day. I wish this book had turned out better, however.

The Story:
"The Red Planet has fallen. The Dark Mechanicum must be stopped to ensure Terra's safety. An agent is despatched with a single goal: exterminate all life on Mars.

Soon after word reached Terra of Horus's nascent rebellion, Mars fell. Rogue elements within the Mechanicum priesthood, stirred by the Warmaster's promises of independence and prosperity, turned against the Imperium and forced the primarch Rogal Dorn to order an impenetrable blockade of the Red Planet. Now it has become clear that the corruption has spread too deep, and that more drastic measures must be taken if the Forge World Principal is to be reclaimed. Calling upon the expertise of those who witnessed the so-called 'Death of Innocence' firsthand, Lord Dorn and Malcador the Sigillite consider their final solution - the complete extermination of all life on Mars."

Disclaimer
I have read & reviewed this novella while being sick. It is at least possible that my view on the book is harsher as a result of outside factors.

The Review:
Cybernetica is one of the few Horus Heresy books that I felt were more of a chore to read than a pleasant experience. I did not enjoy it. I had to re-read sections over and over because they just wouldn't sink in, or I'd go back to re-read parts out of a feeling I missed something vital, especially after seeing praise for said sections online. But in the end I still feel unimpressed and dissatisfied with the story and its characters, and the big amount of action sequences.

I've mentioned the "battle-fatigue" problem somewhere before, though I can't remember which review it was. The term strikes me as important with Cybernetica too. It is full of action setpieces, some even pretty good, but the sheer volume of them compared to character development, interaction between cast members, and actual ongoings outside of he-strikes-I-strike moments is so mind-numbing to me, that I feel turned off from reading altogether if I can't get through the rest sooner rather than later. I build up an apathy towards the book and while that can get reverted if the book improves, Cybernetica never did. It left me cold.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it had so much promise to be something cool, exciting and with plenty of depth, yet chose not to be such. It had ample opportunity to be more than the sum of its parts, yet discarded these opportunities early on. When looking at the book, I can see many ways it could have gone differently in more fulfilling directions, yet reality is different.

Even looking at the cover art I see a massive missed opportunity. The diverse-Legion-Techmarines-doing-shit-on-Mars angle that the book outwardly promises with its Raven Guard, Ultramarine, Salamander and co lineup is compressed to barely two chapters. By the end of chapter two, the Raven Guard protagonist is on his own. The rest are goners, and never even got out of their tower or the hangar that is the stage for the first big (present-day) action setpiece. Yes, there's more action in flashbacks right off the start too. Either way, the idea of a dirty dozen infiltration mission on the Red Planet is discarded barely a quarter through the book, and that is where my enjoyment increasingly evaporated.

I liked the initial banter between the Techmarine initiates. They were representatives of their individual Chapters, with their own quirks and specialties. They argued, they assessed the situation, they decided to get out. They died. The book died with them. Instead of taking this entire angle of Legiones Astartes loyal to the Emperor over their Legions or the Omnissiah due to spending 30 years in training, which could have offered plenty of conflict between the group, have discussion of loyalties and their beliefs in how to purge Mars, Sanders scrapped it so quickly, it boggles my mind.

The Carrion, the Raven Guard protagonist, survives and reaches Terra. His struggles to get off Mars are handled off-page, between chapters. So is his recruitment to the Knights Errant. So is his own emotional development. It felt like there was too much slipping through the cracks at this point already that I found myself disconnected from the protagonist by chapter three of seven, the last of which he is not even in.

It didn't help that the only other character with a speaking role on his mission back on Mars ended up being a madman-heretek with what seemed like 5 lines throughout the rest of the story, one of which was "Tick, tock, tick, tock". Don't get me wrong, I liked Octal Bool's appearance in early flashbacks from his trial, and the idea behind him. But he was severely underused and his madness didn't allow for organic back and forth between him and the Carrion. His role made the Knight Errant feel even more isolated among his combat servitors and robot cohort.

I'm a reader who appreciates characters and their actions probably beyond everything else. Give me dialogue over swordblows any day. In that regard, Cybernetica is an utter failure. The showcasing of lumbering, emotionless machines doing their masters' bidding just doesn't appeal to me. It robbed the book of the type of content I enjoy most. But even then there would have been ways around it! The Tabula Myriad, the abominable AI construct that Octal Bool makes such a fuss over, could have offered a lot of conflict here. Instead, it cannot talk, and its influence is barely felt until the very end. It thinks and directs the other constructs but that's about it for the most part. It has enough impact on action scenes but barely any on the reader or the protagonists up until the climax. I almost forgot it was even there at times.

This is where I have to ask myself how this even happened. You got an actual artificial intelligence that came to the conclusion all the meat-things need to be purged because of their weakness and predicted, at least in part, a schism between humanity's factions. It even made plans and arrangements to achieve said purge and can influence machines around it. This is a setup brimming with potential for excitement and conflict and moral deliberations. It seems like a rich opportunity for any storyteller. And yet it takes a passive role, being a tool to achieve the mission instead of feeling like an integral part to it. Even the mad heretek worshipping it is sidelined for yet another fight against the Mechanicum's constructs.

The fights were technically good, and could have served a good dramatic purpose, but instead their volume throughout felt overbearing. With the book's original publishing timeframe, I have to wonder if it suffered from the infamous time in Black Library's life where Games Workshop proper exerted too much influence over the publishing arm. 2015 saw the peak of marketing brochure-like releases, with short stories presenting the release of the week in a super positive light and what not. I got a similar feeling here. Kastelan, Castellax, Vorax etc, the book highlights a lot of 2015's releases very prominently, to the point of annoyance. It would not surprise me in the least if this was a corporate mandate in line with other policy changes back then, rather than Rob's own vision that had been in the creative stages for a long time before, as evidenced by the name of the book being declared years earlier at events.
Either way, the product that ended up on the market read too much like an action piece than a moe introspective, exploratory epic of the Horus Heresy variety. That's what happens when you spew lightning at opponents or use magnet fists and put an Astartes into a giant Imperial Knight-sized mecha-body.

Despite all the missed opportunities, this is also the longest Horus Heresy novella so far, I believe. It is noticeably longer than Aurelian, the Corax novellas or other. Referring to the audiobook runtimes given by Black Library (since they don't give actual page numbers for their releases anymore), it compares closest to Rob Sanders' own The Honoured short novel for Betrayal at Calth, and is barely 10 minutes shorter than Sanders' Shadow of Ullanor for The Beast Arises. Yet it achieves so little that I thought was actually of consequence or gave a different perspective on the war with Mars, it has been one of the few books I end up thinking wasted my time.

The prose is, as often with Sanders, a bit heavy for my taste. Some people will love it, others will find it needlessly complex in places. He conjures up thick imagery, but it also requires you to glue yourself to the page to not miss a beat. I admit that this was difficult for me this time, due to being sick and my head buzzing with scrap code as it is. Maybe my lack of enjoyment is at least in part down to that.

I can definitely say that one stylistic trait of Sanders is not to my taste at all, though: He barely ever gives you breathing room within any given chapter of his books. Where in most books you'll come across scene breaks, blank lines that invite a short break, or allow you to close the book at and get off your train, Sanders writes non-stop. You either finish a chapter or re-read sections just to get back to where you left off. This is the primary factor that has so far discouraged me from reading his Atlas Infernal, even though it has been sitting on my shelf since it released. If I have to get through about 40 pages without breaks just to get out of the prologue, my enthusiasm dwindles. Cybernetica is similar to that, and as a result felt exhausting to read.

Cybernetica lost me. Between the lack of more esoteric discussion, the battles that overstayed their welcome, the weird, out-of-character-despite-dark-code boss waiting at the end, the lack of poignant dialogue, the mission objective we all know from the start will not be achieved no matter what, and the disconnect from the characters, all presented in a relentless avalanche, this has to be one of my least favorite books in the entire Horus Heresy series. It didn't stimulate, it exhausted me.

Cybernetica on Goodreads
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