Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gunheads, by Steve Parker

This week we return to the world of Warhammer 40,000 with Steve Parker's book Gunheads. I was actually a pretty big fan of one of Steve Parker's other books, Rebel Winter, and when a friend recommended this novel to me I decided to go ahead and pick it up. Overall I thought it was rather enjoyable, but it doesn't really deviate too much from the standard 40k formula. If you're looking for something fresh and exciting then this definitely isn't your fare. If you're interested in a very familiar and well-written Imperial Guard novel then you could do a lot worse than Gunheads.

The plot starts of pretty compelling, with the Guard landing on the planet Golgotha to try and recover Commissar Yarrick's famous Baneblade superheavy tank, the Fortress of Arrogance. Because Golgotha has been dominated by the orks for the past forty years, as well as the planet being an inhospitable desert, the Guard is going to attempt a quick retrieval rather than trying to conquer the entire planet and bring it back into the fold of the Imperium. As the brutal desert conditions continue to take their toll and machinery breaks down it becomes a race against both the clock and the orks to find the Fortress of Arrogance and leave Golgotha.

Despite the interesting plot, I realized about halfway through Gunheads that this book started feeling very familiar to me and felt a lot like a Gaunt's Ghosts novels with different characters. Basically you have an Imperial force, desperately outgunned and outnumbered, struggling for survival as they try to achieve their objective. You kind of know that they'll reach an objective in the end, but maybe not the one they'd hoped, and some of the characters will survive, but not as many as you'd hoped either. Plus there's plenty of decent, fighting soldiers in the army, and some of them might even be generals, but there's plenty of loonies in the commissariat and higher ranks to balance that out and a couple of bad apples among the rank-and-file. The challenge for the author then becomes how to make the book new and interesting so that readers have a reason to come back for more. In my opinion Dan Abnett accomplishes this very well by having his Ghosts go through a number of different interesting situations and how the Ghosts will manage to get out of this scrape. What I really think Gunheads does well and what sets it apart is focusing on the tank arm of the Imperial Guard. After all, the awesome tanks are a very good reason why most people choose to play Imperial Guard but most of the novels focus on the (very frequently) helplessly outmatched infantrymen as they try to take on the worst the universe is able to throw at them. The tanks, however, are glorious warmachines and may not be the most sophisticated or fanciest of armored vehicles, but when you see them in battle they make a good account for themselves and it is truly epic. Gunheads focuses almost entirely on the tanks and it was a rare treat to watch them in battle. (Plus, as you all know I'm a super fanboy for tanks anyway so it was a really good fit.)

Beyond the dealing specifically with tankers and their own specific challenges, this book really doesn't push the envelope or bring anything new. If you've read a bunch of other Guard novels like I have, you can kind of see where this one will be going and it won't disappoint in that regard. The Adeptus Mechanicus have some ulterior motives, the leading general's gone mad with his quest for one last victory, and everyone else is tryin to survive to get off this particular Emperor-forsaken-rock. This book even feels like part of a larger series with its references to events that have happened before the novel and the feeling that we were going to meet these characters again in the future. I did do some research and found out that a lot of the characters had been introduced in a short story that Parker had written before, but there hadn't been anything else written featuring these particular characters. I get the feeling, much like the characters in Rebel Winter they may disappear off into the what-ifs of 40k and we're left to conclude they just had awesome adventures and managed to do what you can only really hope to do, survive.

If Gunheads doesn't really break new ground, it at least trods the old ground competently and it's a pretty good read. And sometimes you don't want to read something terribly complicated that explores genres, and sometimes you just want to read something fun and escape in the fantasy for a little while. And really, that's what I chose to accept Gunheads as, a fun little tank fantasy with a familiar storyline that I'm not ashamed of enjoying. If you're a fan of the Guard and their tanks I'd definitely recommend checking it out.

- Kalpar

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