My Year in Books 2015 (Part 1)

Last year I signed off the year with a list of books that I read in 2014. This year it’s already March and I haven’t got round to doing the same thing yet – okay, nearly the end of March. Well, I’ve been busy since early December putting together the application for my PhD, so as you can imagine I’ve been pretty occupied. All being well, it should now be off to the application panel for approval – fingers crossed.

So, I’ve found a bit of free time to make a post. I’m a bit sad that this is the first one of the year, but I hope to make some more this year. Anything you’d like me to write a post about, tell me in the comments section below. I’m open to suggestions.

I’m still working towards the draft of my World War One novel. It’s so close to being finished now that it’s frustrating, but there were parts of the story that I really wanted to make sure were told, so I had to extend the word count a bit and juggle some things around. It’s going quite well now and I aim to have it finished by the end of the month. (Oh crap, that’s next Thursday!)

On to my 2015 in the form of books then. This time I wanted to add the star rating for each book that I gave it on Goodreads, and perhaps write a little bit about each book. so, bear with me:


Serenity Graphic Novels #1-3 (****)

I started the year with these three graphic novels about everyone’s favourite Whedon show that got cancelled. If, like me, you love the show, then I thoroughly recommend reading them. Joss used them to continue the story in the way he would have like to have done, had they not been cancelled.

Robert Jordan – Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6) (***)

One of the longest series in fantasy seemed to get even longer with this book. I marked improvement on the last book, which was, the only way I can describe it from memory is ‘dull’. But there still seems to be something missing. I’m not normally one to complain about the journey – too many people want to jump to the end as if they don’t enjoy reading (see the Horus Heresy series) – but these books reveal so very little about the characters. Everyone just constantly seems grumpy with everyone else, particularly the women, and we don’t really see much of a character arc. One day I will read the next book and hope it does more for me.

Honour of the Space Marines – Anthology (****)

A nice little collection of Space Marine stories from each chapter.

Andy Weir – The Martian (*****)

I absolutely loved this book! If you haven’t read it yet, then what are you doing? Stop reading this rubbish and get on with it. I thought at first that the epistolary style would be a bit grating for an entire novel, but it really works. Andy Weir’s writing is vey natural, engaging and funny. I’m yet to watch the film, but I hear that’s good too.

Isaac Asimov – The Caves of Steel (****)

What’s there to say about Asimov? I find you either get him or you don’t. I was researching some Sci Fi crime and this fit the bill. An enjoyable read.

Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles (****)

See above. A little too abstract for my taste, but still a good read.

Steve Parker – Deathwatch (****)

Also for research, but the less said about that the better. It was good to see a full story about the Deathwatch Space Marines. Steve is a solid writer, and I never find anything much if at all to be critical about his work.

Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere (*****)

Yes, I’d never read it before. Oh, Neil… the only word I can truly use to describe your work is ‘fantastic’. Hearing him read at the opening of the Liverpool University lectures added to my love of this man’s work. I cannot recommend it enough, but you knew all about it already didn’t you?

That’ll do for now. This has made me want to go off and read.

I will endeavour to post part 2 tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

 

My Year in Books 2014

The following is a list of the books I have read this year. You can see what I thought in more detail on my Goodreads page, or feel free to ask me. Each is a clickable link to where you can buy the book (if available). Each year I challenge myself to read a certain number of books. This year it was forty-five.

2014

The Best of Hammer & Bolter: Volume 1 – Edited by Christian Dunn

The Iron Man – by Ted Hughes

A Study in Scarlet – by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Black Library Anthology 2013/14 – by Graham McNeill et al.

Flowers for Algernon – by Daniel Keyes

Zen in the Art of Writing – by Ray Bradbury

Gone Girl – by Gillian Flynn

Scars – by Chris Wraight

Countdown – by Robert Orci

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1: Legacy – by Dan Abnett

A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold – by George R.R. Martin

Knights of the Imperium – by Graham McNeil

War Horse – by Michael Morpurgo

Vengeful Spirit – by Graham McNeil

Secret Invasion: The Infiltration – by Brian Michael Bendis

Slaughterhouse Five – by Kurt Vonnegut

The Last Fighting Tommy – by Richard Van Emden

A Feast for Crows – by George R.R. Martin

Ravenlord – by Gav Thorpe

Sedition’s Gate – by Nick Kyme et al.

Before they are Hanged – by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings – by Joe Abercrombie

Secret Invasion – by Brian Michael Bendis

War of Kings: Road to the War of Kings – by Dan Abnett

Elantris – by Brandon Sanderson

The Damnation of Pythos – by David Annandale

Save the Cat! – by Blake Synder

The Purge – Anthony Reynolds

Half a King – by Joe Abercrombie

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2: War of Kings Book 1 – by Dan Abnett

Deathwatch: Xenos Hunters – Edited by Christian Dunn

Mockingjay – by Suzanne Collins

Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels – by Peter David

Ecko Rising – by Danie Ware

Traitor’s Gorge – by Mike Lee

The Best of Hammer & Bolter: Volume 2 – Edited by Christian Dunn

Death of Integrity – by Guy Haley

Space Marines: Angels of Death – Edited by Graeme Lyon

Death and Defiance – by Nick Kyme et al.

All Quiet of the Western Front – by Erich Maria Remarque

Renegades of the Dark Millennium – by Aaron Dembski-Bowden et al.

The Shadow of War – by Stewart Binns

Legacies of Betrayal – Edited by Laurie Goulding

1914: Poetry Remembers – Edited by Carol Ann Duffy

Homecoming – by Christie Golden

Birdsong – by Sebastian Faulks

The Seventh Serpent – by Graham McNeill

The Handmaid’s Tale – by Margaret Atwood

 

I’m also currently reading Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan. It’s an epic book and I won’t manage to finish it this year, especially if the previous five in the series are anything to go by. I’m reading it because I’m more curious how the story ends than anything else. A classic example of a better world-builder/story writer than engaging writer, but I hear he gets better…the Brandon Sanderson took over.

Thanks for reading.

The Long War

Hello! I felt like it was time for a blog update. This time it’s not so much about writing, but something slightly different.

At the weekend I went to my first doubles tournament at Warhammer World. Which was a great experience (despite some awful powergaming by some grumpy bastards from Leeds.) Even though we didn’t win a game, we still had a great time and there were a couple of hilarious games. One including a complete vendetta against my Heldrake, which resulted in a draw. My team-mate Chris played Dark Eldar so I decided to start my Chaos army. Had I know they were desperate allies, which severely hindered us, I would have chosen something else.

As part of the tournament there is an award for the army list. so I decided to write a story for it as follows:

The Long War

By Michael J. Hollows

THE CATHEDRAL BURST into a ball of pyrotechnic fury as stained glass windows exploded from the pressure change. Brother-Sergeant Amatius didn’t see where the shell had come from as he proceeded on foot into the vast nave, his back to the firer. His squad fanned out either side of him, bolters blaring at the unseen enemy. Smoke and the smell of cordite hung in the air. The stained glass fell from the windows, crashing amongst the knocked over pews as screams pierced the gloomy air. They weren’t the screams of glass-cut agony, but screams of delight.

A group of warriors, clad in spiked blue armour, rushed the Space Marines from the aisles. Splinters from their rifles peppered the cathedral and lodged in the wooden seats. The Ultramarines ducked behind what cover they could find, but brother Portius was thrown from his feet by the force of a blow. The splinters stuck out from his armour at jaunty angles and he knocked them away with a sweep of a vambrace before crawling towards a plascrete pillar.

Amatius returned fire with his boltgun and the two nearest eldar disappeared in a cloud of thick, arterial gore. Vertebrae hammered the pews as the aliens were blown apart by the concentrated fire. To his left, Caius discharged his meltagun, liquid fire cooking the last of the onrushing aliens. The Codex Astartes was clear in this situation and he was confident his brothers would clear out the cathedral in an efficient manner.

A grinding of metal on concrete behind him made Amatius turn. An Ultramarines Vindicator was crossing the threshold of the cathedral, entering the nave and adding its thick exhaust fumes to the smokey interior. What was it doing; entering the building with a vehicle was madness. Amatius tried to raise the commander on the vox, but was met with white static. He waved at the vehicle to slow and the vox suddenly flared into a scream of feedback, overloading his auto-senses. Amatius ripped his helmet from his armour throwing it to the floor in disgust, dulling the vox squeal. He looked up, regaining his composure, as another shell flew through the air and detonated sending out a wave of high pressure that squeezed against his skull.

Shrapnel spread across the room and Portius cried out as scalding-hot metal ripped through his leg, severing the bone. Bright blood pooled around the stricken Ultramarine.

Amatius tried to reach his comrade, but was forced back by the sea of eldar warriors. Madness, he thought. What had got into the Vindicator’s commander? This wasn’t the Ultramarines way, they had strict codes and doctrines that prevented this kind of folly.

He dodged another attack and brought his chainsword up in reply. The spinning metal blades made easy work of the eldar warrior and sprayed blood across his deep blue armour.

Amatius looked for Portius, but he was still on the ground as enemy warriors crowded him. He fought back furiously with combat knife and fist, breaking through armour like paper, but they would soon overwhelm him. Malius was the nearest Ultramarine to Portius, pinned behind a pillar to the squad’s right.

‘Malius, break through to Portius and engage a withdrawal, now!’ Amatius shouted, the vox hardly necessary in the acoustics of the cathedral. The Space Marine looked back in the sergeant’s direction, and shook his head slowly from side to side.

What was he doing? Portius needed his support.

Amatius tried to edge closer, but the eldar still blocked his path. He hacked and slashed with his chainsword, pushing the aliens back, but their numbers weren’t thinning. The eldar had lured them into this trap and their only way out was by forming an organised withdrawal past the Vindicator, but first they would need to regroup and cover each other.

He unclipped a grenade from the mag-lock at his waist and primed the fuse. While fending off the aliens with his chainsword, pushing the blade into their faces, blood splattering, he lobbed the grenade in an overarm throw. Amatius hoped it would cause enough damage in the close confines to confuse the enemy.

With a crack of releasing pressure the grenade detonated. Body parts and blood flew through the air in deep crimson droplets, decorating the scene in a macabre hue. The remaining eldar hissed and wheeled on the spot, retreating further into the church.

Amatius signalled to his men to regroup on his position, but before they could respond he rushed to where Portius lay. The Space Marine was a ruined mess where he had fallen, breaking a pew in half as it collapsed underneath his weight. The sergeant checked for life signs, but there were none. He sighed and placed the warriors weapon on his chest, before clasping Portius’s lifeless hands around the hilt.

He looked up at his men, but only Caius and Praxis stood by him.

‘Where are the others?’ he asked, before standing to look for himself.

As Amatius gained a view of the cathedral nave, he saw Malius walking away in the direction the eldar fled, his bolter relaxed in his gauntlet down by his side.

‘Malius, what are you doing? Regroup!’ he shouted after his brother.

The Ultramarine didn’t respond, but kept walking as the sound of the Vindicator revving it’s engines drowned out the Sergeant’s protests.

Malius’s armour-mounted speaker elicited a hiss followed by a deep, resonant voice Amatius didn’t recognise.

‘Not Malius.’ He paused in his tracks and looked back, deep green-tinted lenses boring into his sergeant’s skull. ‘I am Alpharius.’ he said as the next wave of eldar warriors pushed past him, like a tide around rocks. Splinter rifles spat their charges once more.

The last sound that Sergeant Amatius of the Ultramarines 6th Company heard was the deep rumble of a shell exploding as the traitorous Vindicator finally lowered its aim.

Continue reading

World Book Night – The Enginarium

Okay so I haven’t posted a blog in a very long time. (I will blog about that soon, trust me!)

 

Today however is World Book Day, a celebration of reading and a day to try and bring the joy of reading to those who haven’t yet fallen in love with it. So what better time than to post a story of my own?

I give you “The Enginarium”, which is a story idea I had a while ago, but one thing or another (a couple of other stories!) has kept me from it. This is the first Warhammer 40,000 story I’ve posted in a while. I think it’s a bit different but I really liked the idea.

 

It’s only a short one, so it won’t take long to read, but I hope you enjoy it. Happy Reading!

N.B. I think the formatting might be a bit odd! (Does anyone know how to justify on here?)

 

The Enginarium

Michael J. Hollows

Bryen was just a man, an ordinary man, but unlike the other ordinary men surrounding him he was a thinker. Every day, as he toiled in his sweltering metal prison, he became lost in thought. No matter how hard he was pushed his mind always drifted back to his thoughts.

He had been labelled a criminal. Though he was not much of a criminal. But that was how he had come to be here, in this hell. He was not as hard as some of the men, built of muscle and scar tissue; professional criminals that now fed the fuel to the great engines. Or as hard as the men that led these criminals to work on the end of harsh metal-barbed leashes.

He had killed, once. That was all it had taken to drag him from his home, from his wife and children. Some of the men led here had killed multiple times, some were worse.

I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but what choice did I have?

The man had entered his hab and attacked his family, desperately looking for something to loot. Bryen had defended himself with the only thing he had available, a knife.

He had no idea that a man could bleed so much. The thought of it brought his reverie to a shuddering halt as he shook his head, his metal collar rattling in the motion. He didn’t like to think of the expression on the intruder’s face as he had stabbed the knife into his gut. Bryan hadn’t meant to kill the man. He wasn’t a murderer.

That day his life had become a living hell, dragged off to join the thousands of indentured workers now toiling in the heat around him. In the great depths of vessels across the wide Imperium, untold billions of workers broke their backs feeding the engines that powered these great space-faring machines. Without them the human race would be confined to their planets and perhaps would never have left the ancient home world, Terra.

The slaver cracked his electro-whip and with a sharp tang of pain brought Bryan back out of his thoughts. Lifting the heavy shovel, he resumed turning fuel in to the great engine. When the fuel landed in the fire the heat cascaded, stinging his skin and adding to the pain. As the slaver moved on down the rank upon rank of indentured workers Bryan mused again on the time when he had first come here.

At first the heat from the incendiary fires had been overwhelming, the pain from the endless toil unbearable. But in time his perception of both had dimmed to become only a stark reminder that he was still alive and in hell. He just wanted it to end like many of the others he had spoken to, in broken snatches of conversation amongst the enginarium. There was no change of shift, the constant toil and pain was their punishment. They had paid their price and worked endlessly in service of the Emperor. The pain was nothing anymore. Bryan just wanted to die.

Again the electro-whip slashed across his back, breaking his thoughts and reminding him that pain could still exist, no matter how dull his senses. Bitterly he thought: if it is the last thing I do, I will watch that bastard slaver die. I will watch his expression as I use his cruelty against him.

The crack of the whip seemed to speed up, becoming a staccato growl. But thankfully the slaver had moved on. The electro-whip was dealing its damage to some other poor fools who had caught the slaver’s withering attention.

Bryan noticed the pitch of the whip had changed with it.

No…not the whip…this is something else.

Small explosions sprayed across the decking, blowing chunks out of the machinery and throwing them about the enginarium. Thankfully, none fell on the precious engine-core, any damage would surely kill them all.

Most of the indentured workers stood where they were, dumfounded. Their spirit so downtrodden and broken that the instinct to flee had been beaten out of them. Bryan, quicker on the uptake than most, dived behind the bulkhead near his workstation.

Death has come for me at last.

His thought had escaped as a whisper through his cracked and broken lips.

The slaver idiotically lumbered closer to the sound of gunfire, trying to locate their attackers. But before he could take more than a few unsteady, broken steps his body jerked spasmodically. Flesh and bone blew off in messy lumps that splattered against the decking, before the corpse fell to the ground with a metallic clang.

Bryan wouldn’t have his vengeance after all as he noticed the grim expression on the slaver’s face, but at least the cruel beast of a man was finally dead.

As the life fell from the slaver’s eyes Bryan noticed his opportunity. Scrabbling on his hands and knees, he used his ebbing strength to reach out and remove the lasgun strapped to the slaver’s back. It was a short thing, designed for use aboard ship and as he raised it the thin stock barely reached his shoulder. The weight and feel of the weapon was unfamiliar to Bryan, he had never held a gun before. But he had sat for hours absent-mindedly watching the local planetary defence troops drill and he was fairly confident he knew how one worked. Throne, that was a long time ago.

As the gunfire swung around again, peppering the metalwork, he dropped behind another bulkhead nearer to the dead slaver. The blood pooled around his feet and soaked the cheap cloth of his jumpsuit, but that was the least of his problems. Death had finally come for him, but he wouldn’t take it lightly. He would die fighting and cover would be his best hope.

The sound of clanking footfalls grew closer as the attackers pressed in to the enginarium. Each footstep sounded calm and steady, gradually taking up space rather than rushing in to overwhelm the workers. Gigantic, dark shadows loomed over the workspace where Bryan crouched. The blackness only broken by the muzzle flare of weapons fire.

As he sat cowering in the crevice of the machinery an armoured giant came out of the shadows. Metal boots clanged on the decking in patient footsteps as the giant warrior moved its weapon around before placing precise shots in to the fleeing workers. Their screams of misery added to the wail of sounds around Bryan, threatening to overwhelm his senses.

He gasped as he caught sight of the warrior. It was a vision of death incarnate. It was an angel of death come forth from the stories he had been told as a child. A Space Marine, the Emperor’s finest warriors and sons. But what was it doing here, it wasn’t what Bryan had imagined in his dreams or nightmares.

Something is wrong.

The stories had told of the Emperor’s sons turning from the light of the Imperium and embracing fouler, crueller gods. But this warrior was the very epitome of the Imperium, proud and tall, decked in yellow with stylised Aquilas showing on all parts of its armour. A black hand closed in a righteous fist on a pure white disc decorated the warriors great shoulder pad.

As the barrel of the boltgun lowered and came in to angle with Bryan’s face, he knew he had been duped. His years of toil in the enginarium had been a lie, this was no ship of the Imperium.

I am the enemy.

The slowly dawning thought only added to his torment. He had unwittingly served the forces of the arch-enemy and their cruel masters. It was a crueller punishment than he had ever imagined.

All my pain and suffering has been for naught.

That was the last thought that rushed through the synapses of Bryan’s brain as the mass-reactive shell dismembered his body, leaving his bloody, headless corpse forgotten in the crevice of the enginarium.