MHQ Autumn 2013

MHQ is a fabulous military history magazine. It covers the gamut of the history of warfare, from the Bronze Age to the twenty-first century. Each issue is spectacular, a genuine work of art, and the authors are all top-notch.

I have had the privilege of working as a research editor for MHQ these last three years, and I wanted to share the pride that I have in the magazine with everyone else. Check it out when you have the chance. The latest issue contains a short piece, written by me, called the War List. It is about non-combat losses of naval vessels.

Marc DeSantis

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Ancient Warfare Magazine – The Battle of Drepana, 249 BC

Readers of Consolidated Pop Culture will be well aware of how highly I regard Ancient Warfare magazine, a splendid English-language, Dutch-produced publication. For the last year or so, I have been writing review essays on various titles for the print magazine, but this month, my first article for Ancient Warfare, entitled The Battle of Drepana, 249 BC, has been published online in two parts.

You can read them both here and here.

Marc DeSantis

Ancient Warfare on Ancient Egypt

As part of Consolidated Pop Culture’s ongoing efforts to keep you apprised of the best stuff out there, pay attention. The latest issue of Ancient Warfare has hit the shelves. The theme of this issue (every issue of this fantastic magazine has one) is ancient Egypt. The centerpiece article is about the Battle of Kadesh, which is as it should be. This battle, fought about 1274 B.C. between the Egyptians under Pharaoh Ramesses II and the Hittites commanded by their king, Muwatalli II, was arguably the greatest of the Bronze Age. It was an enormous clash of chariots in the heyday of that weapon system. It is also a rarity for the period in that we possess a substantial description of the battle, because Ramesses left inscriptions of the event in two forms all over Egypt: the Bulletin and the Poem became his letters to posterity concerning this important fight.
Be sure also to read editor Josho Brouwers’ introductory piece about ancient Egypt’s military situation. This will help place Egypt’s strategic setting in its proper context. The accompanying map is a great addition too. It is impossible to do history justice without a decent map.
One other treat must be mentioned. The War of the Heavenly Horses article describes a campaign fought around the turn of the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. between a Chinese military expedition to Central Asia and Ferghana, a kingdom descended from Alexander the Great’s settled Macedonian troops. The Chinese were seeking to acquire as many “heavenly horses” as they could. These were bigger than normal steeds that could carry much more weight than other horses and would be superior in battle. A battle was fought at Yucheng, which may be at or near the modern Uzgen which is itself close to the mouth of the Ferghana Valley. The Chinese also besieged the Greeks in Alexandria Eschate, which was considered the furthest of all cities founded by Alexander during his trek across Asia. I had heard of the story of the expedition, but had not previously seen it pieced together with specific names and places that could be correlated to those that I knew from my own reading of the Alexander histories. This was very well done.

Marc DeSantis

Mark of Calth Review Part 2

The final three stories that I have left for this review of Mark of Calth are Calth That Was, by Graham McNeill, The Underworld War by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, and Unmarked, by Dan Abnett. I have certainly saved the best stories for last.

Calth That Was is the longest story in the anthology. It is in fact a novella, far longer than a short story, and is about three hours in audio length. It follows the defense of Calth after the Ultramarines were compelled to leave the planet in the wake of the star’s the massive radiation output triggered by the Word Bearers. Left behind were thousands of Ultramarines trapped on the planet, along with numerous Word Bearer enemies who were similarly stranded by the sickening of Calth’s star.

This brought on the phase known as the Underworld war, so-named because the combatants were forced to retreat into below-ground arcologies for protection from the lethal radiation. Leading the Ultramarines and other surviving soldiers is the stalwart Captain Remus Ventanus, notable already for his heroism in defending Calth during the initial surprise attack launched by the traitorous Word Bearers.

Calth That Was has an elegiac quality to it, being a mournful hymn to what the once-fertile planet was, and what it will never be again. The Chaos-worshiping Word Bearers are unsurprisingly awful, and engage in vile atrocities without remorse. Ventanus’ defense of the population centers of Calth forms the narrative core of the story, which is thoughtful and action-packed in equal measure.

The Underworld War by Aaron Dembski-Bowden takes a look at the war from the other side of the hill. The story focuses upon a Word Bearer officer of the elite Gal Vorbak who, among other things, plays the host for a demon in his own flesh. If you have not already figured this out, the Word Bearers are nasty! He has, in fact, lost faith in the war on Calth that he is fighting, feeling that he has been left behind and forgotten by the rest of his brethren when they fled the Calth system to escape the star’s radiation. Years have past with no rescue or relief, and he wants out. Of course, one doesn’t just ditch an unholy war fought on behalf of the dark gods of Chaos, and the resolution to this story was worth every moment leading to it, and it surprised me very much.

The final story of the anthology, Unmarked, and my favorite, tracks the movements of Oll Persson, a strange but goodhearted man of an otherwise previously undescribed group known as “perpetuals.” The perpetuals, who have only been seen in a handful of places during the course of the two dozen or so Horus Heresy novels so far, are humans of immense age, being, it would seem, younger only than the Emperor himself, who is a virtually immortal being who has lived among men since about 8,000 B.C. To put Oll Persson in perspective, he is at least forty thousand years old, a span of time that is incomprehensible to ordinary mortal minds.

Persson finds himself leading a small group of survivors of the Calth attack via the application of an extraordinary weapon, an athame, which allows him to cut the fabric of reality in twain and step through the breach. That is remarkable enough, but even more remarkable is that this also allows him to step back in time as well as move across vast distance instantaneously, and he finds himself back on Earth in the deep distant past, with his unhappy band in tow. Dan Abnett’s Persson is a fantastic character. He is at once beyond any measure that a reader could apply to him. How can one fathom the mindset of a man who has lived for more than four hundred centuries? But he is also sympathetic as a man who can’t, it seems, die, but is fated to live forever, as the interminable years role by.

I have been greatly impressed by Black Library’s efforts in bringing the story of the Horus Heresy to print, and they have done a wonderful job with their audio anthology Mark of Calth. The universe of Warhammer 40,000 has slowly evolved over a quarter-century of development, with many, many hands involved in shaping this extraordinary milieu. The galaxy envisioned is not at all pleasant, and you would not want to visit it if you could avoid doing so. It is science fantasy of the grimmest, darkest kind, and that is how Black Library’s authors intend it. But the story is so deep, and so filled with elemental strife, that the novels, and now Mark of Calth, provide some of the best SF reading available today.

Marc DeSantis

Mark of Calth Review Part One

Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) is a science fantasy universe with a heavy emphasis on the fantasy. Heroic Space Marines (think knights in power armor) battle against every threat, alien, human, and demonic, that the galaxy can throw at them. It is a dystopian setting in every sense of the word. The Imperium claims to rule all humanity in the name of an immortal but very much physically-dead emperor. Progress of any kind has halted, and people live lives of drudgery, superstition, and fear.

There is also an epic backstory. Some ten thousand years before the “present” of the WH40K era, or about 30,000 AD, there was massive insurrection by nine legions of Space Marines that cast their lot with the foul gods of Chaos. This has become known as the Horus Heresy, after the previously honorable and beloved Warmaster who first raised the banner of rebellion in the name of Chaos. The bright and glorious future promised by the then-living Emperor of Mankind came to a halt in a civil war of fire, iron, and blood.

One of these Traitor legions, the fanatical Word Bearers, attacked the noble and loyal Ultramarines as they mustered unsuspectingly at the world of Calth. Though the Ultramarines blunted the Word Bearer attack, Calth was left in ruins. The survivors of the battle sought shelter from triggered solar storms, along with their enemies, deep underground. The story of the invasion of Calth is told in the excellent novel by Dan Abnett, Know No Fear.

This began the so-called Underworld War, and the unabridged audiobook anthology Mark of Calth refers to the clock that the Ultramarines left running ever since the surprise attack against them. The Ultramarines know how to hold a grudge. The clock still ticks, some ten thousand years later. It also refers to the way that the radiation burns of their poisoned sun has marked the loyalist warriors still fighting for their survival on wrecked Calth.

Mark of Calth features short stories by Black Library’s best writers, and in a brilliant move, each has also been released as an audiobook of about one hour or  more in length. The readers employ their rich tones and voice changes well, and the effect is fantastic. This is such a winning combination that I can’t help but implore other SF and fantasy publishing houses to do the same with their own shorter works. It would certainly help breathe some life into the often-overlooked but vibrant world of SF/F short fiction, which deserves to be better known outside of a handful of yearly anthologies.

Publisher Black Library has an advantage, in that the success of the WH40K miniatures game, as well as several videogames, has created an eager market for such stories. This is military fiction with a strong dose of fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, and the stories in Mark of Calth deliver action and chills in equal measure.

The Traveller, by David Annandale and read by Jonathan Keeble, is a morbid, Cthulhuesque tale of a loyal subject of the Emperor of Mankind who kills heretics wherever he finds them. But has he gone too far in his pogrom against those he deems traitors? And what is the actual source of the voices that he hears?

The Shards of Erebus, by Guy Haley and read by Jonathan Keeble, follows one of the most sinister of all figures in the WH40K universe, the Dark Apostle Erebus of the Word Bearers, and the ultimate instigator of the treason that would swallow the previously loyal Horus and nine entire legions of marines. He is ever-plotting, and The Shards of Erebus follows him as he grasps for ever more power and knowledge of Chaos.

Dark Heart, by Anthony Reynolds and read by David Timson, stars Reynolds’ infamous Word Bearer Dark Apostle Marduk, who is a menace to humanity in the current timeline of WH40K. In the Horus Heresy, he is a scheming would-be apprentice of the Dark Gods. He slays his own teacher of the dark art, but can he somehow survive the retribution of both his own high command and the vengeful Ultramarines too?

Athame, by John French and read by David Timson, tells the story of a blade of Chaos, an athame, created to take life, as it winds its way through human history. In a smart turn, the story of the blade is being told to the blade itself.

So far, Mark of Calth has been extremely good, and I look forward to the remaining stories.  I would recommend it on the basis of just the stories mentioned above.  Several remain on my to-do list, however.  My consideration of Mark of Calth will continue in Part Two of this review.

Marc DeSantis

Memorial Day 2013 Warbirds

The Memorial Day airshow at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York is always spectacular. This year was no different. There was a wide variety of aircraft on display, including a number that were Second World War warbirds. Here are two – a B-17 Flying Fortress and a P-40 Warhawk done up in Flying Tigers colors. Take a good look at the all-metal scheme on the B-17. That was to save weight by not applying paint, and also to entice the Luftwaffe to find them and come up and duel.  Luftwaffe combat losses were so heavy, and the requirement of keeping so many fighters back in Germany on defense so onerous, that the USAAF had almost total air superiority by D-Day.

 

Marc DeSantis

All images copyright MGD Research Company, LLC.

Next Up: Skynet!

Okay, perhaps Skynet is not just around the corner. That will take some doing. But the infamous, artificially-intelligent mastermind behind the Terminators just got one step closer with the launch of the naval UCAV X-47B from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on May 14, 2013.  Eventually, major weapon systems will be autonomous, uninhabited machines, whether aerial, naval, or ground combat units. Right now, the major advantage of a human-crewed machine is the brain of the person inside it. Human warriors are much more adaptable and creative than machines, and can react faster and more appropriately to changing situations.
The future will be different. In time, the technical challenges posed by genuine artificial intelligence will be overcome, and an uncrewed vehicle will be as capable, or perhaps more capable, than a crewed craft. A significant portion of a modern fighter aircraft’s weight, for example, is taken up by the systems needed to allow the pilot to fly the warplane and to keep the pilot alive. If you can remove the human from inside the cockpit, you won’t even need a cockpit anymore, and can save a huge amount of weight, such as the ejection seat, which can be devoted to extra ordnance or fuel. That will be an enormous advantage over a piloted machine, assuming that all else, such as outright combat capability, are equal.

Marc DeSantis