I am finding recently that I am reading more books; I tend to pick up anything that gets a vague recommendation from a friend or any of the websites I visit. So it was with Roadside Picnic by the Strugatski brothers. I won’t go into the plot or anything too detailed here as there are plenty of sites with a decent descriptions of what it’s all about. Simply put, it’s a book about aliens without any aliens in it.
Let’s be straight here – there are not enough superlatives to describe how epic the concept of this book is. It’s science fiction at it’s dirtiest and most grubby. There are no heroes here, only a cast of chain smoking unbalanced degenerates trying to get by in a completely random and incomprehensibly lethal environment; part of a universe where alien civilizations actually either do not notice or want nothing to do with humankind.
After reading the first three novels in the Horus Heresy series I was feeling a bit unexcited with the prospect of reading the forth installment. Was this simply to be more bogwash lack of anything but cardboard characters speaking terse pompous lines against a backdrop of lots of shooty pew-pew; except this time it was to be in space? Was this to be basically a Battlefleet Gothic novel riding the vehicle of Horus’s lame conversion to the dark gods?
The book was already sat on my desk so I set about the seemingly unenviable task of getting on with reading it. This was the first James Swallow novel I’ve ever read, and being a big Abnett fan I found the writing style a little foreign to begin with; but soon I was getting the hang of it. This is writing with big words from someone who obviously owns a thesaurus. The book concerns the adventures of Battle-Captain Nathaniel Garro from before the Isstvaan campaign. The story initially is the same from the other books, but you see things from Garro’s perspective which makes for interesting reading. It adds meat to the bones of the books you have already read.
The book is actually extremely well written and a really good read. The writing style adds much to heighten the tension. This time the characters are actually exciting and believable and the story itself is a real page turner at times. It’s a stellar achievement following the mediocrity of False Gods and the somewhat forgettable Galaxy In Flames. I’m off to get the next installment!
TL;DR The best of the series so far by quite a margin!
More news forthcoming on the UK Games Expo held in Birmingham the first weekend in June. Any body that grew up during the 80’s and 90’s probably spent a good portion of their childhood reading the Fighting Fantasy novels. The authors of these esteemed series will be present at the Expo on Saturday 5th signing books etc… These are also two of the founding fathers of one of our favourite disposable income drains, Games Workshop. Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone wrote a score of books that I spent an age playing incorrectly. It was like a mini RPG just for yourself and I remember only one that I found really difficult to get to the end on, I might be more successful these days but I haven’t even seen these books in shops since I was a nipper, needless to say that was a while ago now.
This is quite exciting news and as I am planning on attending, hopefully with some more of the 6 Inch Move crew tagging along I’ll be trying to catch their exhibit and maybe have a small fan boy moment and buy a book and get it signed or something, future eBay fodder potentially. There are currently 60 exhibitors signed up for this thing which means that there will be stand catering to all kinds of gaming tastes.
So, support the community and pop along, a bunch of sweaty, bearded nerds in close confines in the middle of summer is always made of awesome!