Thursday, 3 December 2009

‘Titanicus’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

Can Dan Abnett write a bad book? Maybe... I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve read all his stuff so can’t say for certain. What I can say though is that while I’ve only read a few of his books (‘Triumff’, ‘Horus Rising’ and ‘Blood Pact’), and some short stories, he hasn’t written a bad book so far and I’ll pick up his stuff on sight. Both Abnett and Karen Traviss seem to just know what it’s like to be that soldier stuck in a warzone with no idea if they’ll make it out, let alone what direction they should be advancing in. Not only do they know this but they’re both well versed in delivering these experiences in the best possible way for the reader.
With this in mind, when Abnett’s ‘Titanicus’ came through the door I immediately did some reshuffling of the ‘reading pile’ to make sure that I read this as soon as possible. I wasn’t disappointed either.

War is the only constant in the Warhammer 40,000 universe and the vital forge world of Orestes is about to get first hand experience of this. A legion of Chaos Titans (think huge robots bristling with firepower, crewed by humans) have made planet fall and is slowly chewing its way through the hive cities towards the capitol Orestes Principal. The beleaguered planet’s only hope is the loyalist Titans of Legio Invicta; they’re fresh from combat (and in desperate need of repairs) but are more than willing to take up the struggle and dislodge the forces of the Archenemy. When such mighty machines fight however, what will be left of the world they are fighting over? And will the resurgence of an ancient schism throw everyone’s efforts into jeopardy at precisely the wrong moment...?

Those who command the Titans (the Princeps) are connected to the machine in such a way that they feel every earth shaking footstep, every round that leaves the gigantic mega bolter cannon and the raging heart of the reactor core. You will feel it to. We all know that there is nothing cooler than two gigantic robots slugging it out; Abnett knows this as well and brings his vision of such warfare to us in such a way that the reader is right at the heart of the action. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up wincing at some of the moments these Titans go through, I did!

It’s not all about the Titans though, this is a planetary war involving everyone (to some degree) and Abnett takes a broad cross section of the populace in order to examine how the war affects them. You don’t have to be in the front line to be at war; your wife could be called up for active service, you could be assigned to strategic planning, you could even see the outbreak of war as an opportunity to invigorate a failing business. Abnett gives his reader one of the broadest pictures I’ve ever seen of a world at war, a picture that is compelling in the sheer level of detail that he manages to pack in.

It’s also interesting to see how Abnett treats the combatants as the war progresses. Abnett has a special affection for the little guy on the field and this is no more apparent when you see the actions of regular foot soldiers placed in comparison with the actions of the Titans and their crew. While anyone can sit in a giant war machine and fire at targets that are kilometres away, the real heroes are those who must ply their trade in the shadow of these mighty beasts even while they wait for the next footstep to come crashing down. When you’re staring death in the face, the only thing you can do is to try and take his head off with a well aimed las-bolt; this is where the real heroism comes to the fore and some of the resulting actions are pretty humbling to say the least.

Abnett also shows his readers that a desire for advancement and power will always be at the forefront of humanity’s thinking, even thirty eight thousand years into the future. The discussion over matters of theology, in the fortieth millennium, may only be of interest to long term fans of the game but the ramifications of this information being exposed in the middle of a war will be of interest to everyone reading it. Talk about going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! What is a foregone conclusion suddenly takes on a whole new dimension and the tension is racked up in a landscape where civil war is suddenly a very real option... While the outcome might not really be in doubt (Is Games Workshop ready for another civil war in the Imperium? I don’t think so...) there’s no question that the ensuing chain of events makes for some great reading!

As a final sobering note, Abnett reminds his readers that war has after affects that make their presence felt long after the final shot has been fired. I had one of those moments where I had to pretend that there was some dust in my eye... (What? Imaginary dust makes my eyes water...)

‘Titanicus’ is another sterling effort from the Black Library’s most eminent scribe, I’m looking forward to reading Abnett’s work for a long time to come.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


Mardel said...

weird stuff makes my eyes water also. Strange, yes?

Stygian Emperor said...

This book is fantastic, though I felt the ending was a little rushed.

Seak said...

I've been eyeing the warhammer universe a lot lately. Could I read Titanicus without having read anything else? You just made it sounds so good, Graeme.


Graeme Flory said...

Mardel - It's funny how that happens isn't it?

Stygian Emperor - Thinking about it, I'm half with you on the ending although I found that it worked for me.

Seak - I don't know a great deal about the 40K universe and the book worked for me. I reckon it's one you can pick up and get stuck into (remember though, Wikipedia is your friend)

sicarius2424 said...

seak or you could check out for any 40k or warhammer fantasy questions it's really good thats where i go for questions (it's basically like wikipedia but only for games workshop