Scourge the Heretic, 40K Fiction
For 20+ years the English company Games Workshop has put out a game set in the far future called Warhammer 40K, in which the far flung outposts of humanity fight against various alien races as well as the forces of evil within ourselves. This has always been a tabletop game, to be played with metal soldiers and dice. But what has attracted me to the game, which I have played almost since its release in the late 80s, has been the rich background materials detailing the various races and forces of good and evil.
This year Games Workshop, through their Balck Library subsidiary, has published a 40K based role-playing (think Dungeons and Dragons in space) game called Dark Heresy, where the players take on the roles of various agents of the galactic empire, looking for outposts of corruption and evil across the span of space. I think that it is a great game system, and anyone who likes either 40K or role playing should give it a look. But it is not what I am reviewing here.
To support this role playing game a series of fiction books are planned, similar to the Dragonlance books of Weis and Hickman that introduced so many to Dungeons and Dragons in the 80s and 90s. I have just finished the first of these, "Scourge the Heretic" by Sandy Mitchell.
Scourge the Heretic follows the adventures of a small band of agents of the Emperor as they root out the group that is trying to use alien technology to bring chaos and death to the planet of Sepherus Secundus. The plot of this book is somewhat streightforward and certainly the book makes much more sense if you play the game. But I find that I like the characters.
There is the mysterious Inquisitor, who spends most of the book offstage but manages to be an undercurrent to the plot. There is the teeneage assassin, raised to be a fanatic killer but testing out her other emotions. There are the two members of the imperial guard who are drawn into the orbit of the inquisition mearly because they survived an alien incursion and who must prove their worth. The sub-leader of the group, who must deal with the responsibilities that have fallen on his shoulders while the Inquisitior stays off stage. And the Mech-Priest, more machine than human, who is most interesting in his lack of humanity.
I liked the book and will read more in the series when they are released. If you like campy Science Fiction you might want to check it out as well.