Monday, 23 October 2017

Eye of Terror

Barrington J. Bayley Eye of Terror (2000)
Shortly after plucking this one from the shelves at Half Price, I noticed it was a tie-in novel, and one of a series to which Dan Abnett has also contributed. This didn't strike me as a particularly good omen, although to be fair I had no idea what Warhammer 40,000 was supposed to be, and it's Barrington Bayley, so it must have something going for it, surely…

However, my first impressions seemed to bear out my fears, as briefly spunked out all over facebook.

It's pretty bloody awful - a novel which aspires to be a table full of little metal figures surrounded by grown men rolling funny-shaped dice in the basement of the mother of the one with the biggest beard. I bought it because it's Barrington Bayley, and Barrington Bayley is fab and weird, but this reads like something written to pay a hefty phone bill - such a waste of a genuine talent. Maybe it gets better. I'll give it another fifty pages.

It was embarrassing once I realised that a couple of my facebook friends were into that whole gaming business. It's not a pursuit which had ever inspired me towards any strong opinion, but what opinions I had were formed back in 1987 when some beardy dude at art college tried to recruit me into his Dungeons & Dragons enclave. He described the rules, most of which seemed to be about him controlling everything and everyone, and it didn't sound much like fun as I would recognise it. The guy was clearly a tosser and so that very much coloured my judgement of anything involving funny shaped dice; also, there's not many things I dislike so much as a novel which really, really wishes it were telly, so the prospect of a novel that wants to be a fucking game seemed depressing beyond reason.

I vividly recall the impression garnered from the first fifty pages which inspired the above facebook comment - far too many adjectives, an overly choreographed fight every five minutes, and all set in one of those Larry Niven universes full of alien bars wherein things with two heads get drunk, stab you, or attempt to interest you in the services of a prostitute with six tits and two fannies; but I persisted, and it got better, and after a while it began to feel like Barrington Bayley again.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe may as well be the same one inhabited by Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD, roughly speaking, grimy pseudo-medieaval military science-fiction with Tolkien, Lovecraft, and a load of other squelchy influences thrown in; and therefore clearly entirely compatible with the sort of weirdness in which Bayley specialised. Eye of Terror is mostly space marines possessed by demons, Chaos Gods, stomach-churning transformations, and all manner of things which would probably lose a ton of advertising revenue were they to turn up in Star Wars. I don't know what it's about, if it's really about anything, but it becomes vivid and even gripping as the story finds its pace. Strangest of all, disbelieving that something so good should have begun on such poor footing, I skipped back to the beginning and could find nothing of the material which had inspired my initial groaning. Either I acclimated to the novel or the book itself changed as I was reading it.

Very weird.

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