Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Horus Rising

Some imaginary worlds have a mind-boggling amount of thought put into them. Often these worlds are the settings of popular games or movies rather than the more widely known literary examples like Lord of the Rings. The Warhammer universe is a good example. Warhammer began as a tabletop game in the '80s, and now is the setting for a slew of video games. Why do developers keep coming back to it? In large part, it's due to the rich backstory (mythos, in gaming parlance).Author Dan Abnett has tapped into some of the central acts in the Warhammer mythos in this series. Set in the 41st century, the story follows a military expedition in a campaign to bring newfound worlds to heel. In Warhammer, the universe is a dangerous place, totally devoid of friendly E.T.-like aliens. Nearly all the cultures humanity runs into wish to annihilate it. Only the martial prowess of elite military units and the single-minded dedication of humanity's emperor ensure survival. The result is a dystopic world that fosters a unique and compelling mixture of Medieval attitudes, sci-fi technology and Orwellian commentary.The particular story recounted by Abnett here is the beginnings of a Judas-like tale. We meet Horus, a prodigal son of the empire, often described as the emperor's right hand. Fans of the game know what happens to Horus, and that knowledge makes this book all the more compelling. The real trick Abnett pulls off is that, for what is essentially a companion to a game, this is actually a pretty good book, and can stand on its own without requiring readers to have any familiarity with the events it depicts. Abnett's characters are lively and likable, and the events are interesting. For those who do know Horus's fate, the book has that same weird draw as episode 3 of Star Wars, when Anekin Skywalker finally becomes Darth Vader.


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