Legion versus Phalanx by Myke Cole – Book Review

Legion versus Phalanx by Myke Cole - Book Cover

The one with the longer stick wins, right?

“The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World.” Yeah, but which one triumphs? The phalanx or the legion? As the reviews on this blog are typically spoiler-free, don’t expect me to give that away. Those astute readers who can dredge up from the depths of their minds the not-so-well-known fact about whether the Romans or the Greek-Macedonian tandem held sway over the Mediterranean coastline for hundreds of years, might have some preliminary guesses. The book Legion versus Phalanx is mainly for those who have no idea.

Myke Cole is an amateur military historian but also an enthusiastic and practicing soldier. Through six ancient battles, he attempts to provide a clear answer to this burning question, using a wealth of source material; alongside the well-known ancient historians, he also quotes authors you’ve probably never heard of in your life.

Moreover, Myke Cole skillfully dramatizes the events, making the battle descriptions particularly thrilling. (Though, in the case of the unfortunate water-carrying mule at the Battle of Pydna, he may have gone a bit overboard.)

Read more

Saga: Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughan – Fiona Staples – Comic Book Review

Saga: Volume Three by Brian K. Vaughan - Fiona Staples - Comic Book Cover

The Pace of Saga Slows Down

Our favorite, scandalous space opera, Saga, continues its journey. However, by the third installment, the pace seems to have slowed down a bit. Of course, the never-ending war taking place in a galaxy populated with surreal and bizarre creatures and locations provides a solid foundation that can handle some deceleration.

Still, while most of the events previously felt life-changing for our heroes, now there are episodes that seem more like filler, such as the bickering between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or various characters’ hallucinations. The only positive aspect of these is the appearance of the series’ (so far) best character, The Stalk, whom the authors clearly can’t let go of. You might rightfully ask, why the hell did those damn fools kill her off in the first place?

The Impact is Gone, but It’s Still Highly Entertaining

In the third part of Saga, the introduction of new characters feels the most unnecessary. The two pesky tabloid journalists won’t uncover anything you haven’t known for a long time. Except perhaps that Alana is an even bigger bitch than you thought.

Read more

Cold Storage by David Koepp – Book Review

Cold Storage by David Koepp – Book Cover

Cold Storage Delivers a Cinematic Experience

The guy who put this book on the table is the screenwriter behind movies like Jurassic Park and Spider-Man. What does that mean? Clearly, that Cold Storage feels like a movie.

A B-movie.

A low-budget B-movie set in a few locations.

But hey, wait a minute!

It’s one of the good ones. Okay, the basic premise of Cold Storage is entirely clichéd: a new, aggressive fungus starts spreading in an abandoned military storage facility. The smooth-talking underdog with a good heart, his dream girl, and the slightly over-the-hill, retired problem-solver take up the fight against it.

David Koepp’s main antagonist is a mushroom – and no joke!

Read more

One Shot by Lee Child – Book Review

One Shot by Lee Child – Book Cover

My role model (see Die Trying), Major Jack Reacher, makes his first appearance in One Shot on page 42. How is that possible? I have no idea. Moreover, I thought I had already read this book before. But no, I missed this volume, and that’s great news because in this early installment, the Major is at his best. And of course, so is Lee Child. And naturally, this is the book that was adapted into the cool movie Jack Reacher (IMDb: Jack Reacher) where Tom Cruise does everything to RISE to the role.)

Child’s book is thrilling from the first page.

How can you tell? Well, despite our beloved hero’s late appearance, you find Lee Child’s story unputdownably exciting from the very first page.

Then Reacher barges in and once again sticks his nose into something he shouldn’t. And once again, he’s nosy, impertinent, and unshakeable… And once again, it turns out that things that seem entirely obvious aren’t so obvious after all.

How does Jack Reacher do it? Using the good old Sherlock Holmes method. Things that would mean nothing to you, spark something different in his mind. Things you would immediately declare as black, he flips around and proves to be white.

Read more

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang – Book – Review

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang - Book - Cover

China a few thousand years ahead in the future? In a military academy-style fantasy? Sort of. Mythical emperors, superhuman warlords, shamanism? Yes, in the second half of The Poppy War. In the first half, you’re at school. The characters are teenagers, so it’s young adult fantasy, but fortunately, it SEEMS to be of the better kind.

Rivalries, a jerk of a teacher, and rotten classmates, all checked, but nothing’s overdone. The focus is on training: martial arts, tactics, strategy, and the like. Love and sex at ZERO level. It’s not that R. F. Kuang is prudish, but both are completely absent, as if nobody had ever heard of them. The strongest emotion between characters is lukewarm friendship. So, those of romantic disposition will struggle with a strong sense of lack.

Some very cautious criticism of the system can also be observed from R. F. Kuang regarding present-day China: if you strive for excessive uniformity in everything, you give up a lot of useful things. In the case of The Poppy War, this useful thing is shamanism.

In the second half of the book, the tiny Mugen Federation (exerting strong Japanese influence) attacks the mighty Nikan (China) for the third time within a few decades. And R. F. Kuang’s story collapses in on itself. Numerous mythical creatures emerge, a bunch of shamans, lots of hysteria and sensitivity break out, and Kuang, who previously constantly alluded to every strategist’s grandfather, Sun Tzu, is unable to describe a military maneuver without it being childishly simple.

Read more

False Gods by Graham McNeill – Book Review

False Gods by Graham McNeill - Book Cover

In False Gods, the 63rd Expeditionary Fleet continues to march forward under the leadership of Horus Lupercal (and Graham McNeill). (See the previous part: The Horus Heresy by Dan Abnett). Their thunderous steps are guided by a complete lack of political correctness: fully armored, they crush anyone in THE UNIVERSE who is slightly different, or not human enough. Or perhaps human enough, just happens to hold an opposite opinion.

To start, the space marines smack down a few thousand living dead underground, during which Horus himself gets injured. As a result, the entire fleet deflates like a dried prune because they view their beloved leader as a demigod (and truth be told, after a while, you also get swept up in this incredible enthusiasm and start to admire him) even though this semi-divine being sometimes behaves like a narcissistic goose. One of the problems with False Gods is precisely this swooning, completely devoid of common sense respect that the guardsmen have towards Horus. And the way Horus turns towards himself, and who out of sheer pride and awareness of his own invincibility can walk into the most transparent trap. Yes, yes, at this point, you also start to wonder if the emperor’s little son is really the most suitable person to lead a fleet?

The title of the series is, of course, “The Heresy of Horus.” The second part jumps right into the thick of things because the main conflict revolves around Horus getting angry with the Emperor, his beloved and respected daddy, up until now. The quality of the conflict is somewhat diminished by the fact that it mainly plays out on a metaphysical level, specifically within Horus’s MIND. Horus’s attitude (who is, you know, a (BIG-)grown man) seems somewhat childish. He gets offended in advance because Daddy maybe wants to become a god sometime LATER; so surely he won’t care about him afterwards. Oh, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy too. That’s it. This is quite a thin foundation for a 50+ part book series.

From here on out, in the not particularly exciting remaining part of False Gods, you can agonize over whether Horus, who is essentially just a vain and arrogant jerk, will become a vain, arrogant, and EVIL jerk without any transition, based on a few silly visions. The fleet, apart from a few unlucky guys who get stuck outside the circle, will go along with him without a fuss, just like the legions followed the charismatic, emperor-rebelling generals in the Roman Empire.

In False Gods, there are also a few remembrancer leading a debauched lifestyle, who are actually just pebbles, ground-pounders, no one knows why they are with the fleet, and they just trail along after the events. When an ugly monster crawls out of the warp to devour a few of them, you just shrug it off. Bon appétit!

The quality of Graham McNeill’s writing is average, although sometimes a bit heavy-handed, and the characters often get unreasonably angry more often than necessary, but there’s not much of a problem with it. The main problem lies with the story: it all seems unprepared and off-the-cuff, like in a soap opera. If you keep reading this series, there can only be one reason for it: you’re curious (damn curiosity!) about what will happen to the noble Captain Loken, who is about the only character left in the story worth rooting for.

6.3/10

False Gods (The Horus Heresy #2) by Graham McNeill – Book Review
416 pages, Paperback
Published in 2006 by Black Library

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett – Book Review

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett - Book cover

Have you always been a fan of epic series? Especially when it comes to sci-fi? Well, the flood of books based on the Warhammer 40,000 strategic board game is already around its 50th installment. The big question is just how seriously the whole thing can be taken as literature. Um, somewhat. Maybe. Especially if you’re male, a teenager, and sci-fi, especially the military aspect, gets you excited.

The superhuman, genetically modified space marines, led by Warlord Horus (who’s even more genetically modified), traverse the galaxy with its thousands of worlds, seen and unseen by humans, and if any of the strange new life forms don’t meet certain minimum requirements, like having more heads or tentacles than necessary, they get a good smack in the face. Which is fine so far; the fighting parts are quite, um, interesting, although even as a layman, you might notice that the Horus-led war machine UNNECESSARILY neglects the use of artillery. And the principled, rock-solid, straight-shooting Captain Loken does quite well as a protagonist.

But still, all the space marines are men. You’ve got these genetically turbocharged, tall, jaw-chiseled muscle men towering over you (Big chief Horus is four heads taller than you), and there isn’t a woman among them. You’re not the only one finding it hard to shake off (no pun intended) the horrifying image that this pumped-up herd chases each other around the crew quarters every morning with veiny victory flag, fully aroused to the EXTREME… There are only two meager references to help you understand, if you want, that this whole distinguished company, as it stands, is entirely asexual.

From here on, the story-forming forces of romantic threads and sexual tension are shot into space for the ENTIRE BOOK SERIES.

Something else you won’t find: even a spark of humor. Although in one or two cases, they almost point out to you, bro, hey, listen, humor is coming next… You can guess what the result will be when it needs to be announced specifically… not much at all.

So what’s left? Hm? The ideal of camaraderie. The pursuit of military feats. Honing military skills to the extreme. The belief in the semi-divine Horus, who is entirely like a charismatic and wise Macedonian Alexander the Great – (of course, before his brain completely rotted from paranoia and his own greatness.) If he were to glance at you, doubtless, you’d instinctively salute him.

And of course, the ultimate principle driving fleets into space, the Emperor’s justice, which boils down to if you’re not with us, you’re against us – so we smash you. The essence of the whole plot; sometimes, like in the last chapter, executed quite tastelessly and clumsily.

6,5/10 (65%)

Horus Rising (The Horus Heresy #1) by Dan Abnett
416 pages, Paperback
Published in 2014 by Games Workshop