Thursday, September 1, 2011

Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders

Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders
Black Library Publishing
416 pages

Inquisitor  Bronislaw Czevak is a hunted man. Escaping from the Black Library of the eldar, Czevak steals the Atlas Infernal – a living map of the Webway. With this fabled artefact and his supreme intellect, Czevak foils the predations of the Harlequins sent to apprehend him and thwarts his enemies within the Inquisition who want to kill him. Czevak’s deadliest foe, however, is Ahriman – arch-sorcerer of the Thousand Sons. He desires the knowledge within the Black Library, knowledge that can exalt him to godhood, and is willing to destroy the inquisitor to obtain it. A desperate chase that will bend the fabric of reality ensues, where Czevak’s only hope of survival is to outwit the chosen of Tzeentch, Lord of Chaos and Architect of Fate. Failure is unconscionable, the very cost to the Imperium unimaginable.

In moving my usual box of BL goodness got lost in the mail so I made some purchases. Among these was Atlas Infernal by Mr. Rob Sanders. I'd never read his work before so I was excited to get a taste of what he brings to the table.

Atlas Infernal has a lot of things pulling me to it as a reader:
1. An Inquisition story. I run Dark Heresy regularly so I'm always drawn to any tales of the Holy Ordos.
2. Inquisitor Czevak is a character I've seen pop up as being quoted here and there as a knowledgeable person when it comes to anything Xenos. I figure a story featuring him would be awesome.
3. Anything involving the Eldar, most especially The Harlequins is 100% win in my book.
4. Anything involving Ahriman and his Thousand Sons is also similarly made of awesome.

I plopped down to start reading and work got crazy busy and I was forced to set it aside after absorbing half of it in one sitting. I wanted to give it a proper reading so I just sat down and started fresh. I absorbed it in a couple days (evenings) after work and it was a proper meal of a story. So much good stuff going on. Rob Sanders did a wonderful job with the plot and characters.

To start with Bronislaw Czevak is certainly no typical Inquisitor. He's sliding down a slippery slope. Hell, he's already slid completely off the path of purity and directly in to radicalism. Unabashedly so. He runs around with Xenos and damned trinkets, and his associates are completely heretical (without spoiling anything). I can't help but see a bit of the mildly cracked Sherlock Holmes in Inquisitor Czevak. Inquisitor Klute (formerly his Interrogator) plays his sidekick Doctor Watson nicely. Their relationship is fun to watch. The character development of the protagonist and his retinue is very well done. Nothing is as it seems.

Rob Sanders takes a complicated plot and makes it work nicely. Maybe it's simple in retrospect, but the way it is ladled out, drop by drop is potentially confusing. We're talking about the plots of a Tzeentchian Daemon's going to be complicated. Wheels within wheels and all that. Add to this there is a lot of illusionary distraction happening as well. From Ahriman and his Rubric Marines and Apprentice Sorcerer Xarchos as well as the Harlequinade. Czevak is a hunted man. Hunted across the galaxy by The Inquisition, across the eye of Terror and the Warp by Ahriman and through the Webway by Harlequins. Mr. Sanders really gives us the feel of being chased down.

The story isn't contiguous. You think it is, but at some point you realize that the story jumps back and forth in time: showing glimpses of his trials, capture, and imprisonment. Since illusion is such a factor it all seems like a feverish, drug-induced haze, but it really works. Usually I balk at such things but Mr. Sanders really pulls it off nicely. I got a little lost on occasion, but I think that is what was intended.

The chapter breakdown is done in the same manner is Milton's Paradise Lost which worked nicely to give Atlas Infernal a very unique feel. Again, it works.

The cover art by Stef Kopinski is good. Not great but a solid piece.

Rob Sanders does a fine job in crafting a smart, savvy plot and intriguing characters. It's a very colourful story and I enjoyed it. The characters were interesting but I would have liked to have more depth: pull my heart strings. Kill characters. Make me mourn their loss (after building them up to be cool). The author's skill at crafting plot, managing pacing and keeping it all flowing were great. I felt more like I was watching the story happen more than being pulled in to it on an emotional level.

 3 out of 5 Stars.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Path of the Seer by Gav Thorpe

Path of the Seer by Gav Thorpe
Black Library Publishing
401 pages

The ancient eldar are a mysterious race and each devotes their life to a chosen path that will guide their actions and decide their fate. Thirianna abandons her simple existence to embark upon the mysterious Path of the Seer. She will tread a dark and dangerous road that leads her to the otherrealm of the warp, where daemons are made flesh and nightmares are manifest. For only there can she realise her psychic abilities. After unleashing her powers in battle and communing with the spirits of her craft world, Thirianna turns her skills to discerning the future amidst the myriad strands of fate. Her visions reveal a great threat descending on Alaitoc, and both the living and the dead will march to war to defend it.

I've been looking forward to this book since I finished Path of the Warrior earlier this year. Path of the Seer is a telling of some of the same story, but from a vastly different perspective. To be fair, most of what is covered in Path of the Seer isn't even mentioned in Path of the Warrior; the events take place in the background or periphery.

Where Path of the Seer (and Path of the Warrior for that matter) really shine is in really delving in to the psyche of the Eldar (functionally Space Elves). They are truly an alien race, in many ways grossly different from us, and Gav Thorpe really nails it down clearly for us. In many ways the Eldar see, feel, experience the universe in full color where humans really only see maybe in black and white. Kind of like dogs and their ability to smell, see and hear in ranges we can only dream of, The Eldar are psychically gifted and emotionally vibrant.

The protagonist is Thirianna, a young (how do the eldar really define that?) firebrand of a woman who was once on the Path of the Warrior, drifted to the Path of the Poet to be self-contemplative, and now travels The Path of the Seer. She's a hot-head, difficult and stubborn as well as extremely gifted. Not only do we see how the Eldar path works, how the Eldar go through the various stages of their exceptionally long lives...but we see how their personalities and life changes have a huge impact on their entire direction. Her mentor gives us as readers some nifty insight in to how short sighted the protagonist is (and it's easy to slip in to self-critique too as he shows circumstances from multiple views, showing us that our own views tend to It's really brilliant work.

I think the only real drawback is that I really don't like the protagonist. I had a hard time relating and getting to feel for her. She seemed like a snotty child and I personally have difficulty warming to that. She certainly gets her comeuppance though and she learns many things the hard way. Some of the backtracking is a bit tedious for those who read the previous novel but it does give some wonderful insight, so it IS valuable. Thankfully the author "touches on it" instead of wallowing in it. It is NOT a retelling of the SAME story from another perspective: it is two stories that intersect at different times.

I can't wait for the next installment. Gav really knows Eldar!

Cover art by Neil Roberts is of course awesome. It's simple, plain and works perfectly. A fine representation. I want a print of it!

Gav Thorpe shows us once again that he's truly the Loremaster of the Games Workshop IPs.

4 out of 5 Stars.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abnett

Brothers of the Snake
Review by Earl Davis

Best-selling author Dan Abnett turns his hand to the mighty Space Marines in his next project following the success of Horus Rising and the Armour of Contempt. The war-torn far-future is laid bare as Brothers of the Snake follows the exploits of the Iron Snakes Space Marines as they battle against the enemies of mankind. First appearing in the pages of Inferno!, the Iron Snakes Space Marines quickly gathered a loyal following and now they make their debut in a full-blown adventure!

There are moments when the Warhammer 40k omniverse can be overwhelming. This is especially true during the novitiate. With over 20 decades of canon source material beyond the original tabletop game spread throughout novels, rpgs, and video games, the gap between initiate and Lore Master of the Imperium is dizzying. Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abbott is a shining example of material helping a lowly pilgrim along the path.

Abnett is very good at writing action. That is no secret and BotS is no exception. Readers get to experience every blast, gunshot and chainsword roar as the brothers of the Iron Snake decimate enemies of the Imperium.

The unfortunate thing about writing about Space Marines is that they tend to be one dimensional, nearly invincible figures. Successful authors, like Abnett, managed to insert small glimmers of fallibility into characters like Brother Priad while maintaining the image required by Warhammer cannon. In addition, Abnett adds layers to the Iron Snake Chapter as a whole by recalling Earth’s own legend and histories. Using classic imagery borrowed from Arthurian legend, the Roman legion, the Greek phalanx and the Spartan…well…Spartans, he is able to grant a much deeper connection to what could otherwise be a stock Space Marines novel.

In lieu of the traditional novel format, BotS is more of a collection of short stories describing separate engagements of the Iron Snakes Chapter. This offers two advantages over other Space Marines books. First, it allows the reader to gradually learn about the Iron Snakes and their place among the Reef Stars. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the format makes it an easier read for anyone who is still taking baby steps along the guiding light of the Emperor.

The issues with this novel seem to be universal throughout Warhammer 40k fiction, and genre fiction at large. A need to placate a dedicated fan base combined with strict guidelines within the particular IP prevents authors from taking any real chances. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but BotS is not one of those. However, it speaks to Abnett’s talent and craftsmanship that he continues to produce such quality work within those tight boundaries.

It’s a damn fine read and perfect for anyone with a limited amount of reading time or anyone who is new to the Warhammer40k universe.

4 out of 5 stars

Green Lantern: Spoiler Free Review

Theatrical Release
105 Minutes
Release Date: June 17, 2011
Review by: Earl Davis

A test pilot is granted a mystical green ring that bestows him with otherworldly powers, as well as membership into an intergalactic squadron tasked with keeping peace within the universe.

Green Lantern holds a unique place in the comic spectrum. Possessing none of the mainstream exposure of Superman or Batman, the character’s name is none-the-less well known among the general population. Ask any man on the street and he probably won’t know the fully history of the Green Lantern Corps, but will without doubt recognize the ring. For those with geek inclinations, Green Lantern is something more. He’s not inherently strong or fast or brilliant. No alien planet spawned him. No rich parents left him a legacy. The Green Lantern’s power pours from the well-spring of imagination. He is bound only by the limits of his mind and will. He is the hero that writers and artists and creative types abound wish they could really be.

That level of “geek love” creates an inherent problem that few movies ever manage to overcome. Green Lantern stalls a little while climbing Expectation Mountain but eventually putters it’s way over the top.

Visually the movie is striking. Film makers have started following the Jon Favreau school of thought by mixing traditional affects with CGI. Because of the intergalactic and fantastical nature of the Green Lantern universe, this film goes heavier on the CGI, but does not suffer for it. Some of the powers effects and the overall design of the film’s Big Bad are breathtaking. The action sequences and imaginative uses of the ring elicited more than one “Wow” from the crowd at large.

The movie features a strong supporting cast with appearances by Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Blake Lively, and Angela Bassett. Tim Robbins even joins in the fun. On a side note, it is fascinating to me that there is character archetype, the staunch military/government official that is always filled with aging A List actors. Tommy Lee Jones, Andre Brauer, Jeff Bridges are just a few that come to mind. These supporting character add a little unique flavor to what is otherwise a standard popcorn flick. If there is one complaint in this area, it lies with Angele Bassett’s Amanda Waller character. She was underused in this film. Perhaps, she is a place holder to help tie later the later films together as Warner Bros. builds toward its Justice League movie. Marvel used a similar device with Agent Coulson.

The weakest part of the movie is its star, Ryan Reynolds. There are only a few parts in the film where Reynolds manages to disappear in the role of Hal Jordan. Most of the time, he comes across as the same smarmy guy audiences have seen in his other films. More than once, while leaving the theater, I heard viewers deliver various renditions of “It’s like Van Wilder in a costume”.

Type-casting is not the only issue with the film, however. Editing is also a major issue. At several points during action sequences, the principal character in explicably move or change blocking while off camera. I suspect that the intention was to surprise the audience when attacks or motion comes from unexpected angles. Unfortunately, this technique is handled poorly and created the feeling more akin to “How did he get over there?” This film is concrete evidence as to how important a quality editor is to a modern motion picture.

One final note about the film. WE GET IT. Ryan Reynolds works out and you need to give housewives and girlfriends reasons to watch, but I have seen entirely too much of him in his skivvies now.


It’s a good popcorn flick that will warm some geek hearts and cause some grumbling with others. You may want to stay away from opening weekend crowds, but this is one that should be seen while it’s still in the theaters.

One piece of advice though, save your cash and see it in 2D. Color is very important to this film and 3D conversion loses far too many colors.

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Star Wars Vs. Star Trek by Matt Forbeck

Published: May 2011
ISBN: 978-1440512629
Reviewed by Earl Davis

Could a Jedi knight use his light saber to deflect a beam from a phaser?

Which aliens are cooler: the Cardassians or the Chazrach?
Have any Federation ships ever made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs?
And most important . . . in a fight between the Empire and the Federation, who would win?

Ever since Princess Leia's starship hove into sight on the silver screen, fans of Star Wars and Star Trek have been debating these questions. Now, side by side, they can line up aliens, technology, story points, weaponry, and heroes from the two great science fiction/fantasy stories of our age.

For fans everywhere, this volume offers detailed information about both universes, as well as trivia, quizzes, quotes, and information drawn from these two iconic settings. So phasers on stun and light sabers at the ready! It's time for the duel to begin.

Picture this. The year is 1999. It’s May. Just over one hundred people form a line that is beginning to wrap around the side of our local movie theater. Those of us at the beginning of the line have been waiting just over sixteen hours for the box office to open. That’s one hour for every year since the last time a new Star Wars movie was released into theaters; a golden ratio illuminating the peaceful darkness of our nerd-vana. Out of nowhere a voice shatters the perfection.

“Can we just go? I’m tired and you said you like Star Trek better anyway.” The bleary eyes of a dozen nerds snap around at attention. There is a traitor in our midst. His whiny girlfriend has revealed him to the pack and he must be dealt with.

Thus, the great Space Nerd War has raged on for more than two decades. Not since the Hatfields and McCoys , went to battle over a West Virginian pig, has a family battle been waged so publicly. Up to this point, the great debate has been the subject of mockery and ridicule among the so-called normal folk. It took one of our own, Matt Forbeck to shine an honest light on the subject and force us to laugh at ourselves.

At just over two hundred pages, the book is an easy afternoon read. It’s divided into three main sections, which in turn are divided into small chapters, which are in turn divided into smaller subsections. Each chapter is punctuated with a “Cosmo”-esque quiz that acts like mirror forcing the reader to confront the reality of their nerd quotient.

Forbeck pulls no punches laying out lightsaber swipes and Vulcan Nerve Pinches with equal aplomb. His rhetorical battles range from the well-known “Vader vs Khan” to the culturally obscure “Kit Fisto vs T’Pol”. My greatest fear (and the most common issue with this type of book) would be a cop-out by the author declaring it a tie in an effort to appease both communities. Thankfully, Forbeck avoids this trap and makes a stand by declaring a definitive winner.

No, I won’t tell you who wins. Buy the book!


This book is perfect for anyone with an inkling of inner-nerd, especially those Dads out there whose only quiet time can be found in the bathroom. Well done, Matt.

4 out of 5 stars