PROS: Really great twist with some strong characterization for such a short story.
CONS: This would have been top class with just a little more length.
VERDICT: When Andy Smillie gets around to writing a full-length novel it is going to rock, till then enjoy a well-penned short story.
I’ve never been much of a short story guy myself. Warhammer 40,000 seems to be the one property that I can tolerate (and even enjoy) condensed into short story format. Still, a lot of those anthologies from the Black Library are stuffed with a lot of filler and so it appeals to me to be able to purchase individual short stories at my leisure. This way I can pick out the authors that are pretty much required reading without having to skim through all the chaff. Andy Smillie caught my attention earlier this year with his short story “Beneath the Flesh”, featuring one of the more fascinating loyalist Space Marine Chapters. In a limited amount of space Smillie was able to convey his message and leave me wanting more. Since then his skill has only increased.
Reparation is a Dark Angels short story that was originally published in the Black Library’s eMagazine, Hammer and Bolter issue #13. It is now available from the Black Library site as a separate downloadable eBook. Reparation takes place within a gladiatorial arena of the dark eldar. The hero of the story is a space marine who has been forced to fight for his life, providing entertainment for the world’s twisted inhabitants. As a warrior of the Emperor of Mankind and one among the Imperium’s most valued shock troopers, our hero is no slouch when it comes to combat. I love reading about the trials of space marines deprived of their holy power armour and lacking their blessed bolters. Even without the comforts of such instruments they are still extremely dangerous and Smillie aptly conveys this. The greatest weapon a space marine has at his disposal is a sharp intellect, and our hero is a smart fighter.
There also appears to be something more to the hero, just beneath the surface. I’m being especially vague because I would hate to ruin the twist of the novel for anyone. I had to shake my ahead when the realization finally dawned on me. I could tell there was something fishy but I just couldn’t figure out what and it all revolves around the behavior of this particular space marine. I have to commend Smillie for a well-played reversal. I mentioned strong characterization as one of the pros of the story and it certainly is. Characters in stories of this length rarely strike me as deep (one of my very minor complaints about “Beneath the Flesh”) but that is this story’s greatest strength.
This story’s other greatest strength has to be description. Either I didn’t notice it when I read “Beneath the Flesh” or Smillie has really upped his game since then, but he really has a flair for painting vivid pictures. When it comes to Warhammer 40,000 the devil is in the details. Science Fiction in a Gothic, dark fantasy setting is what it is all about. Sometimes authors go a little overboard and the effect gets lost. Sometimes authors don’t add enough and it just comes across as some generic setting. Smillie nails it though. The arena, spectators, and combat are just grotesque enough. The combat itself is fluid and visceral without straying into the realm of overkill.
Having read two of Andy Smillie’s short stories and seen such a massive amount of progression in his craft in such a short time I really can’t wait until he sits down and writes a full length novel. Both times I’ve read his work I have gotten a rush of nostalgia for what I consider the glory days of Warhammer 40,000 fiction (you know, five or six years ago). I suggest you buy this as a solo read or just go ahead and purchase Hammer and Bolter #13.