Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beginning of "Mittilagart," sequel to Okeanus

“What time is it, Jørg?”

Schütze Jørg Mortesson turned over onto his back and raised his arm just enough to catch a glint of blue light from the burning building a hundred meters to the north.

“Five minutes before midnight. Now be quiet or the Ivans will hear us.”

“What day is it?” asked Erik Wallender.

Mortesson grunted and said, “You know it is the 22nd.”

“How do I know that?”

“Because I told you an hour ago that it was April 22, 1945.”

“Is it the Führer’s birthday?”

“That was two days ago; don’t you remember? They gave us Schnapps.”

Wallender turned away and shrugged.

Mortesson scratched the thick stubble of his red beard. Lice hopped around his dirt encrusted finger nail and he sighed. “Erik, do you want to make it home to Stockholm?”

Mortesson waited as Wallender thought the question over. “I’m not sure. How will they treat us now that the Germans have lost the war?”

A shot rang out and Mortesson calculated it came from one of the government buildings to the east. The Ivans were tightening the rope and he could feel it scratching his neck. He swallowed and then answered, “They will probably hang us but you don’t have to worry about that, Erik.”

“Why is that, Jørg?”

Mortesson laughed and then spat onto the bare ground where a few feeble blades of grass struggled to survive. “Because, my dear Erik, the Ivans are going to cut our throats first.”

There was a cough and then the lieutenant called out from his slit trench south of their hole: “shut up over there.” In answer a Russian machine gun sprayed the brick wall that formed the northern line of the Nordland Division’s defenses on the edge of the Tiergarten, south of the river Spree. Mortesson pressed his body against the damp soil and held onto his helmet. Bursts of machine fire continued for several seconds and then stopped.

Mortesson crawled to an opening in the wall and peered out across the wide avenue that bordered the Tiergarten on the north. Several new fires had broken out in the building across the way and he could see silhouettes of Russian soldiers running in the ruins.

“Erik, prepare yourself. They are coming.”

Mortesson picked up his Mauser and entrenching tool and moved to a bit of raised earth that he used as a firing stand. Suddenly, he stopped because the usually vociferous Wallender was silent. “Christ,” he muttered as he quickly crawled back to their hole.

Wallender lay face down in a puddle of blood.

Mortesson rubbed his chin with his left hand and nervously spat again onto the ground. Shivering from exhaustion, fear, and pity, he checked to see if Erik lived. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he closed his friend’s eyes with his right hand and then slowly relieved him of his ammunition, grenades, canteen, three cigarettes, and a bar of chocolate.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Eye of the Mage

a gray mage
with one blue eye
spins within
the image

no matter
the gray-ness
of the mage
or the blue-ness
of the eye

in our age
of sin
the image

because mindless
talk tells
that silence

Monday, June 15, 2009

Death Visits Kilgore on Sunday

surrounds us

interrupts us
from our rounds

in nests

it flies
in our face

surprising us
even though

we knew
it was there


and for ever

Friday, June 05, 2009

-∞ space in self

in time

from right
to left

we turn
toward home

our advance
into self

a minor mirror
of nature's

and negative

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Review Of Steve Parker's "Rebel Winter"

I rarely cry. It is usually at the end of a war movie where a person has given his or her life for the good of the squad and bagpipes are playing. Like at the end of "Gunga Din" or "Wee Willie Winkie," or even "Saving Private Ryan," although there were sadly no pipes.

While reading Steve Parker's first military science fiction novel, Rebel Winter, I found myself tearing up several times. Each time a well-drawn character sacrifices himself for the unit or a group of men die in a burning Chimera or a beloved colonel runs pell-mell into a mass of orks I felt a tear rolling down my cheek. Consequently, I have to say early in this review that the writing is damn good, the characters are well-drawn, the battle scenes are intense, and Parker's knowledge of Warhammer 40,000 fluff is dead-on accurate.

The novel involves a regiment of Vostroyan Firstborn fighting both rebels and orks on the ice-crusted planet Danik's World. The Vostroyans are similar to Russian Cossacks and their culture is tribal and militaristic. According to their laws, every firstborn son of every household serves in the Vostroyan regiments. Vostroyan soldiers and officers maintain an archaic appearance and their history can be traced back to the Horus Heresy. They pass their weapons down from firstborn to firstborn and are usually worth more than the guardsmen who carry them. They serve ten-year terms but most re-enlist because their persona is based on their identification with the regiment and the company in the regiment in which they serve.

In Rebel Winter Parker plays with the Vostroyan "fluff." First, the Vostroyan leadership is picked from the nobility. Our protagonist Captain Grigorius Sebastev is not a noble; instead, he is a sergeant, elevated to leadership on the battlefield. Second, Vostroyans pick the first-born son to serve the Emperor; Stavin, another important character, possesses a secret, which haunts him: he is a second-born son. Third, the Vostroyans are a close-knit tribal unit. The Commissar of Fifth Company is not a Vostroyan but from Delta Radhima. He is dark and tall and obviously a foil for the short and stocky Sebastev.

Parker begins the novel with a framing device: Captain Sebastev is on trial in the Exedra Udiciarum Seddisvarr for some unspecified crime. The story, then, is a remembering rather than an unfolding. In my opinion, a framing device is a two-edged sword. It either creates suspense by engaging the reader with the question: why is this man on trial, or it dissipates suspense because the reader knows the protagonist will survive. In this novel, the framing device accomplishes three things: one, it is simply a sketch and does not explain who any of the bizarre characters in the courtroom are; therefore, it creates an element of suspense and expectation; two, it begs the question of why this captain is on trial; and, three, at the end of the novel it provides the springboard for a sequel (which I suspect is its primary purpose).

Once, we enter the "remembering," we are plunged head-first into the action. The Vostroyans are fighting a battle of attrition against both rebels and orks. Here is where Parker shines. The battle scenes are brutal and beautifully constructed. Very rarely is an author able to manipulate a squad, let alone a company, and Parker does it well and efficiently. Something else that he does well is to describe the strategic elements of a battle. I particularly appreciate the map at the beginning of the book. By referring to it during the reading I was able to see and understand both the strategic and tactical decisions made by the combatants.

In conclusion, I found the novel a brilliant first effort. I enjoyed the mixture of pathos and bravura in the characters and when I say characters I mean many characters, each one is well-drawn and memorable. I have two minor criticisms though: one, the framing device distracts from the strength of the plot and, two, in an attempt to fully handle his "company" of characters, Mr. Parker switches point of view several times, which I found disturbed the smooth progression of the narrative. In that regard,I prefer either a single or at most a double point of view.

As a final word, I would recommend this novel to both Warhammer fans and military science fiction readers. I think Steve Parker now shares the stage with other great militray science-fiction writers like Dan Abnett, Andy Remic, Paul Kearney, Chris Roberson, and Steven Pressfield.

I am looking forward to reviewing his latest novel--Gunheads.