- A Standalone Novel
- Focuses on the Astra Militarum
- Published by Black Library in 2022
- Military SF
- 282 pages
Lucille von Shard is a hero of the Imperium. A fearless pilot, and staunch defender of the skies, who will always win the day. At least, that is the story the propagandists want you to hear. The truth is a little messier . . .
Military science fiction needs more dogfights. If you don’t know already, a dogfight is traditionally plane-on-plan action. Think the Battle of Britain, and you’ll get the general idea. In science fiction, they crop up quite a bit. Star Wars is rooted in them, with X-Wings and TIE fighters doing battle across the galaxy far, far away. Battlestar Galactica heavily focused on its plots. The incredible but short-lived Space: Above & Beyond was all about fighter jets in space. Everything from Star Trek to Doctor Who has got in on the action over the years. However, dogfighting is such a visual form of combat that, while it dominates on screen, it rarely comes up in literary form. Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s X-Wing novels are a rare exception, and Warhammer 40,000 has another. Dan Abnett’s Double Eagle is rightfully among his more famous works. Beyond that though, fans of Black Library have only had short stories to satisfy the craving for aeronautical action. Until now.
Straight off the bat, Outgunned is Denny Flowers’ strongest work yet. Fire Made Flesh was a decent Necromunda novel. Da Gobbo’s Demise was a fun little novella. Outgunned is a fantastic piece of military fiction, both in its larger universe, and when taken as a lone novel. To get the immediate question out of the way, yes the dogfighting in this book is great. It’s not so much a case of hitting the ground running as it is one of getting shot at before you can see the ground. The experience from the cockpit is visceral, and you can almost feel your teeth shaking with every impact.
Where this book really excels is in perspective. There aren’t a whole lot of Warhammer 40,000 books written in the first person. partly due to individual author styles, but also due to the need to capture as much of the chaotic battlefield as possible. In Outgunned we just have the one perspective. Kile Simlex is as close to a war correspondent as the setting allows, meaning he writes Imperial propaganda. He also knows precious little about aerial combat. The outside perspective immediately puts him at odds with, well, just about everybody. Making enemies of both soldiers and officers, not to mention the local nobility, Simlex is largely left to explore the battlefield using remote cameras. This being the grim dark future, these are zombie cyborg heads rather than drones, but they’re effectively the same. This allows us as readers to glimpse the larger battlefield while still remaining as in the dark as Simlex himself.
The other benefit to a limited first person perspective is that it allows the orks to remain a genuine threat. While the orkish design aesthetic is still ludicrous, not having large sections of the book told from an ork perspective renders them all the more terrifying. It also benefits the tone of the book, which tends towards the more serious end of the spectrum. There’s a dash of humour here, but it comes from Simlex’s wry self-awareness of how his account will be manipulated by he powers that be, and thankfully not from the more slapstick antics of other recent ork-involved tales.
Outgunned is a book that came out of nowhere and immediately made a splash among Black Library readers. All the praise it has received so far set up a lot of expectations, and I’m pleased to say those expectations were either met or exceeded. This is a genuinely great book, and I encourage all Warhammer fans to seek it out. As a hint, the paperback should release in May. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
Deeper Dive: The Need for Heroes
The more Warhammer 40,000 you read, the more you realise that the Imperium are not the good guys. That’s written into the DNA of the setting, and recent releases have only made it more obvious. The Imperium of Man is a genocidal regime that would be absolutely horrible to live in.
And yet, it has heroes. It needs heroes. On a purely commercial level, the Imperium has heroes because it’s easier for fans of the setting to root for someone who is doing the right thing. Darth Vader may be popular, but most children want to be Luke Skywalker when they grow up. It’s as simple as that. But on a deeper literary level, heroes make for more interesting protagonists. If everyone is simply an awful human being, then you’ll have a boring story. But if you take someone who genuinely wants what is best for everyone, and earnestly believes they are achieving that through their actions, and if you put that person into a terrible an non-functional society, then you will have a much more interesting narrative. The Imperium is not interesting because it is the villain. It is interesting because it sees itself as the hero.
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