Monday, 5 December 2016

Conclave review: 40k Legends/Fifteen Hours by Mitchel Scanlon

Who'd ever thought we'd get a Warhammer partwork eh? I remember there being a Lord of the Rings one years back which I think GW were involved with but generally the universes Games Workshop have created have always been very niche and very underground with a the vast majority of people having no idea what a Space Marine is. To be honest that's just the way I like it, once something becomes mainstream it is doomed to become homogenized and compromised. It's one of the reasons I hope there is never a Hollywood version of anything GW produce.

Nonetheless Hatchette Partworks have got the rights to republish a number of 40k novels, under the moniker 40k Legends and they first launched on a trial earlier in the year. I didn't manage to grab one of the limited release run but signed up online to subscribe as the incentive gifts for subscribers looked great. For my interest I was sent a couple of books, both were damaged (presumably returned stock) but other than that they were fine, The paper quality was OK (though overall a bit on the cheap side compared to a Black Library hardback) and to my relief they were full copies rather than some abridged abomination. The bonus colour sections were at the end of the book and largely consisted of reprinted artwork and background material. Overall I felt they were worth what they were priced at but wasn't exactly blown away. I didn't bother reading them as they were both titles I had read before (seriously who HASN'T read Xenos at this point? - If YOU haven't do so NOW) so I set them aside and waited to see if the collection would continue. After all, I wanted those subscription freebies.

It did, Scant months later I received notification that the collection would resume and they would be resending the original two books as well, This was pleasing as the copies I had were damaged but as it turned out there was another reason for re-issuing the books.

Firstly, the spine art had changed. 40K legends has one of those things going on where all the books in order makes up a picture, this also means you get sent random books out of order so you don't get a complete section of art and get tempted to cut off the subscription early. The new art looks OK, I think I preferred the old one if i'm being honest, still it's a minor change. The quality of the books was unchanged but the colour section had moved to the middle of the book to align with Black Library releases. Though this isn't a major problem I did prefer it at the end rather than disrupting the middle of the book. More bizarrely, and possibly as a result of moving the colour sections there is a number of completely blank pages at the end of the book, and not just one or two, we are talking about a dozen or so here. I find it hard to believe they couldn't have found SOMETHING to fill the space..

So that was the books, I'll talk briefly about the subscriber gifts although it is too late to get them now I believe. With my first delivery I got a poster of the Imperium, which was small but of decent quality and a rather nifty faux leather notebook bearing the Aquila. I was pleased to find out it was blank paper rather than lined too. Perfect for scribbles and sketches. It's a lovely item and of premium quality.

It was to be book 4 before I got a title I hadn't read, in this case Fifteen hours by Mitchel Scanlon, a title that had somewhat passed me by at the time (and given his disastrous Heresy effort not a book I was in a hurry to read), i'll get to reviewing that in just a second but I want to talk about the collection a little more first. With books 3 and 4 came my next two freebies, a rather splendid set of artwork coasters and two metal Chaos icon bookends. Given at this point i'd spent a total of twenty quid on the collection I was quite pleased. I still want that Inquisition Tankard though! (delivery four - they aren't stupid)

So lets look at Fifteen hours. Like I say, I never read this at the time, there was just so much else being released at the time (though this was pre heresy series if I recall correctly) and Guard stories that weren't Tanith based didn't exactly rock my boat. Given the only novel I HAVE read by this author I found to be a terrible (if perhaps harshly judged at the time) Horus Heresy entry doing no justice to the Dark Angels it wasn't exactly on my list of books to pick up.

Still, I was determined to get some use out of this series so I resolved to read it, thankfully it wasn't a particularly long book, being from a time when the page count was greatly diminished. It was actually little longer than the novellas that are released these days. This was actually something that I found quite encouraging, a nice quick read between big novels.

Fifteen Hours is one of those stories that just don't get written anymore. A small scale personal tale in a time when everything these days is of battles of an epic scale. It's a shame really as a few short stories aside these days the minutiae of the universe are rarely explored.

The story revolves around one man, Arvin Larn. I say man, perhaps boy would be more accurate as the tale begins on his home world as he enjoys his last night of freedom and normal life. Though his existence is somewhat simple and idyllic you know his universe is to be turned upside down as he has been drafted to the latest regiment to be raised from his homeworld. The author shows a remarkable talent for grasping and illustrating the dichotomy of the absurdity and stark totalitarianism of the 40k universe as is amply illustrated by the letter announcing the drafting, Imperial Propaganda at it's finest.

Further to this is the crux of the entire story, the hinge on which the narrative pivots where a simple adminstratum error sends the  troop ship containing Arvin and his company to the WRONG planet where instead of suppressing a simple rebellion he is embroiled in a losing battle of attrition against the Ork scourge. From there on the young guardsmen is given a harsh lesson in the realities of life in the Emperors service as naive illusions are shattered and long held beliefs shaken by his myriad experiences in the field in his first 15 hours. Of course the  titular 15 hours in question (which may in itself be a nod to a certain Blackadder Goes Forth episode)  is the average life of a rookie guardsmen in the field.

On the whole reading this book reminded me more than anything else of Charleys War, the long running comic strip by Pat  Mills (who went on to write the Redeemer Necromunda Series for Warhammer Monthly which is also well worth checking out). Of course where Charley's War was a whimsical look at the life of a young Tommy in the Somme, Fifteen hours is bleak and brutal and suitably Grimdark (without a bolter in sight) and relentlessly oppressive. That's not to say that Pat Mills opus wasn't sobering in it's own way but Fifteen Hours is on another level all together.

It's the tragic futility of war that is highlighted here, the grim meatgrinder of Imperial Society that demands high sacrifice and unending blind devotion in an endless  circle of stagnation purely to maintain Man's existence. As a reader of Black Library books from the very beginning there was something refreshingly familiar about this book and I enjoyed it a great deal. It was also free of the typing errors that plague later publications as GW seem to have assigned proofreading to a dsylexic bushbaby these days. The  writing was fine and this kind of subject matter seems to be Mr Scanlon's forte. In fact reading Fifteen Hours made me slightly more sympathetic toward Descent of Angels and I can see why that book was written like it is. It doesn't make it a better book but I can at least see what he was going for.

So I have to say i'm very grateful to the 40k Legends series for prompting me to read Fifteen Hours and I would not hesitate to recommend it to readers that might perceive that the current novels might not take the horrors of war seriously enough and in fact any that want to read a short small scale story about the horrific realities of life in the 41st Millennium. They certainly don't write them like this anymore.

Given however that out of six books I already have four I do need to question the value of the series to me. The other book that I haven't read is Crossfire, another old novel. Had I been so inclined I could have easily picked up both of these novels for a very small sum and it seems somewhat uneconomic to continue, the fact that no list of the 70 planned novels is available further compounds my dilemma. The books are nice but if I own the majority of what has been released (usually in a series so I can't even replace the individual books) then i'll have to gauge if it is worth continuing. I'll wait to see what turns up in my next delivery, once I have that shiny freebie in my hand THEN i'll make a final decision as to whether the Legend continues.

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