Electronic Shoeboxing #6
As I traverse the expanse of the internet like a digital hawk, I often spot snippets of discussions regarding Warhammer 40,000 literature. They are often part of larger conversations on social media, forums or in the comments sections of blogs. Sometimes they are even about little, old me. When I find such material, I use my digital claws to rend extracts from their locations and carry them back to my nest here. Today I have some insights from fellow teacher JD Dunsany on Legion of the Damned. JD also loves to write about the 40k setting and can be found shooting the breeze on The Black Library Bolthole.
“Legion of the Damned is just... epic.
Now, on to dour fatalism. Legion of the Damned is, the works of Dembski-Bowden notwithstanding, perhaps the closest I've come to my 'ideal' 40K SM literature - it's brutally inventive, steeped in the baroque culture of Space Marine Chapters (which consequently means that the central characters - Kersh, Ezrachi and Skase, in particular - feel both comprehensible and suitably removed from 'normal' human experience) and, perhaps most importantly of all, intelligently and imaginatively written. Sanders is the king of the compound neologism. I've just read, for example, of Kersh's bolters turning cultists into "a celebratory display of gore-spritz and screams"; earlier on, a downed Thunderhawk is a "crash-mangled mess". Slain daemons return to the warp in "corkscrew[s] of hate-spitting flame". Arguably, Sanders at times overdoes it (the sentence containing "torso-punching, head-blasting, limb-shearing broadside of bolts, bullets, light and devastation" made me smile wryly) but this is 40K, for crying out loud - the setting demands a literature of gothic excess and this is what Sanders delivers in spades. It is, indisputably, profoundly impressive.
And like all good 40K writers, his pacing is almost preternaturally precise - the character beats interspersed between swathes of brutal violence are exceptionally well done, Kersh's first person present tense inserts being particularly impressive and immediate. Arguably, there's nothing too new here - we've seen Space Marines having to cope with the burden of failure before, and we've certainly seen the Rourke's Drift scenario played out on numerous 40K battlefields, but it's Sanders' attention to detail, his willingness to explore the politics between the Imperium's disparate factions in a logical and entertainingly imaginative way (Chapter Five is perhaps my favourite of the book's first half) and his control of both the pacing and description of hardcore huge-scale slaughter that make this novel so damned... ahem... delightful.
Throw in echoes of a conventional ghost story and you've got something really quite special. I'm enjoying it immensely. Legion of the Damned has been finished. And it's been a profoundly satisfying read. *raises a metaphorical glass to a man who manages not only to run an English Department but also produce fiction of outstanding creativity and excitement while he does it* Here's to you, Mr Sanders.”
Thanks JD. Here’s to you, too!