Another day, another lot of Space Marines…
The Outcast Dead is eventually about the eponymous group of renegade Space Marines who form another A-team analogue (see also Nemesis). More poetically, it is about lots of other outcast dead: there are the remnants of the Thunder Warriors, predecessors of the Space Marines, discarded when surplus to requirements. There are the poor of Terra, overlooked by the government as below their concern. And there is a wounded Astropath, Kai Zulane, recovering from a disaster in one of the earlier books (which I skipped over) which leaves him terrified of using his psychic abilities. So that’s a nice leitmotif for the book.
A shame, then, that the execution isn’t so great. The Space Marines are all fairly villainous, Saturday morning cartoon nasties, and although that’s reasonable for the Chaos Space Marines who have been corrupted, these blighters have literally been under a rock on Earth all this time and haven’t had a chance to be warped to pure evil. They’re also either boring and violent (World Eaters), supercilious wankers (Emperor’s Children, see Fulgrim for full details) or twats (Thousand Sons) so I didn’t like them much.
While those characters aren’t sympathetic, the backdrop of the story is Terrible Things happening in the Imperium. Various psychics get visions of the awful future ahead of the human race, go mad and kill themselves, so that’s not exactly cheery reading. Kai Zulane gets tortured because people want to know the terrible truth he contains in his subconscious, although nobody seems to pay attention to the fact that when you do find out what he knows, it’s so bloody awful that invariably you kill yourself. And there are a lot of unpleasant Imperials as well. No good guys anywhere, unless they’re busy being shot. So fun for all.
I did like the Thunder Warriors – there’s a few more threats to the Imperium, quite independent of the rebellious Horus, that nobody is focusing on, and that suggests some great payoff for the future, but the prose was rather leaden, with some people speaking only in expository more, and this felt a grind rather than a thrill. The climactic battle had too much going on, and not enough stillness.
I guess this means I’m developing a preference for some of the authors in the series over others. After I’ve read 15 of these books (at this rate, in a week or so) perhaps I can deduce which writers I like, as well as which subject matter is more to my favour.