The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler


Posted on | July 11, 2013 | 24 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

In this installment of the weekly book post, we’re going to take a look at two sets of novels which are set in the aforementioned Grim Future, but which have very different approaches to the Crapsack Universe humanity finds itself in, whether it’s Twenty Minutes Into The Future or forty millenia hence.

Not quite what we’re talking about this week, but close…

Unusually for me, I’m going to start with the good – or at least the not completely horrifying – first, and introduce you to a series of tales set in the extraordinarily grim, dark world of Warhammer 40K, which author Dan Abnett describes as,

the grim nightmare of the far future, where there is only war and the galaxy’s alight and everyone’s got a headache...

…and the bureaucratic inefficiency, technological feudalism, and theocratic oppression make you wonder how the Empire of Humanity and its half-dead cyborg God-Emperor can possibly last. Good thing there’s guys like Commissar Ciaphas Cain, eh what? Hero of the Imperium and pivotal figure in dozens of critical battles over the course of a century, the legendary Commissar turns out to be an amusing fusion of Captain Blackadder and Lord Flashman. He claims in his sloppily organized personal diaries (cleaned up for publication by his sometime girlfriend, an Inquisitor) to be an abject coward, but time and again he manages to do something heroic, awe-inspiring, or morale-boosting – and quite frequently at least two of the three at once. His aide and sidekick Gunner Jurgen is likewise reminiscent of Blackadder’s dogsbody Baldrick and Private McAuslan, insulating Cain from the tedium of paperwork and annoying visitors partially by dint of his incredibly foul body odor. Sandy Mitchell does an excellent job balancing gut-wrenching horror with occasional slapstick (but more frequent subtle) humour, while salting the text with enough references and shout-outs to provide more amusement without being annoyingly distracting.

I personally recommend the anthologies Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium and Ciaphas Cain: Defender of the Imperium, which between them include six of the nine novels plus some additional material. Even if you don’t care for Warhammer 40K -and I, for one, do not- these are worthy successors to George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels, and like Flashman, good for a few laughs into the bargain.

Just about as long, but considerably more grim, is the “Legacy of the Aldenata” series by John Ringo. The basic premise is fairly straightforward: one day, Humanity is contacted by benevolent aliens who want to hire us for a job, in return for which we’ll get a cornucopia of advanced technology. These peace-loving, pacifist aliens have a problem, and it’s a big one: the all-conquering, all-consuming Posleen are in the process of conquering the Galactic Federation and converting its four intelligent species into Posleenburgers, and since the aliens quite literally can’t fight back, they need humanity to pick up the slack and do the soldiering (and space navying) for them. Of course, the Federation proves to be an excellent example of why it’s a good idea to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and to establish clearly who the enemy is. Beginning with A Hymn Before Battle , Ringo spins a multi-leveled tale of bloody action and (sometimes) equally bloody intrigue in which it becomes apparent that the Posleen may not be the worst threat to humanity in the long term – but in order to worry about the long term, you have to survive the short term. Unlike other authors previously discussed, Ringo does an excellent job of keeping our attention focused on the main characters, even if they’re off-stage for (literally) entire books at a time, while not forgetting to flesh out and develop the secondary characters, even those doomed to die in the next chapter. And the first two books in the series are free on Kindle, if you want to test-drive them first.

The first four novels of Ringo’s series (A Hymn Before Battle , Gust Front , When the Devil Dances , and Hell’s Faire ) cover the war against the Posleen; there are also three side novels set during the war or just after it (Yellow Eyes , Watch on the Rhine: Die Wacht am Rhein , and The Tuloriad ) and three dealing with the secret war between Clan O’Neal, their Indowy allies, and the Darhel-controlled Federation (Cally’s War , Sister Time , and Honor of the Clan ). A further novel, Eye of the Storm, raises the curtain on a threat that makes the Posleen and Darhel look warm and fuzzy by comparison. All good reading, and not PC in the least.



  1. MrEvilMatt
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    IN THE GRIM FUTURE OF HUMANITY, THERE IS ONLY WAR.: – by Wombat-socho In this installment of the weekly book p…

  2. CHideout
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    IN THE GRIM FUTURE OF HUMANITY, THERE IS ONLY WAR.: – by Wombat-socho In this installment of the weekly book p…

  3. Citzcom
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    IN THE GRIM FUTURE OF HUMANITY, THERE IS ONLY WAR.: – by Wombat-socho In this installment of the weekly book p…

  4. jwbrown1969
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    IN THE GRIM FUTURE OF HUMANITY, THERE IS ONLY WAR.: – by Wombat-socho In this installment of the weekly book p…

  5. Lockestep1776
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    IN THE GRIM FUTURE OF HUMANITY, THERE IS ONLY WAR.: – by Wombat-socho In this installment of the weekly book p…

  6. preciseBlogs
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

    IN THE GRIM FUTURE OF HUMANITY, THERE IS ONLY WAR. #news #conservative #books

  7. rustypaladin
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

    I actually used to play Warhammer 40K. Kinda drifted from it and decided never to return when Games Workshop sued a children’s author over the words “Space Marine” (Flames of War and Warmachine are more fun anyways. Plus I’ve got those Napoleonics sitting there begging to be painted…) I agree that the Ciaphas Cain novels are generally pretty good. Anything by Dan Abbnett is probably also going to be good (I highly recommend his Gaunt’s Ghosts series.) These are the only two authors that seem to be allowed to put (relatively) happy endings in their Warhammer 40K books!
    I also recomend John Ringo’s Posleen War series. His Troy series and his Looking Glass series are also very good.

  8. Wombat_socho
    July 11th, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

    You’re the second person who’s tipped me to Abnett; may have to take a look at his books someday. Also agree on Ringo’s Troy series, but haven’t read the Looking Glass books yet.

  9. joethefatman
    July 11th, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

    I’ve read most of the Posleen series except 9 thru 12. Also read his Empire of Man and Council Wars and the Looking Glass series. I finally just kind of burnt out on Ringo. As for the Warhammer books, they’ve never seemed all that intriguing. I guess I’ll have to break down and try one or three.

  10. JeffS
    July 11th, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    Thumbs up on John Ringo, period. He has a number of series out, but the Aldenata universe is excellent. I treasured the afterword of Die Wacht am Rhein for it’s definitive non-PC approach.

  11. Dianna Deeley
    July 11th, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

    Cally’s War and Sister Act ought to be ignored – there’s hardly any Ringo to them, so far as I could tell when I was reading them.

  12. Dianna Deeley
    July 11th, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    I got bored with the Looking Glass books (and still feel like I ought to apologize profusely, but…), and don’t feel like going back. I read the Council Wars, and felt that maybe John could have compressed a couple of the books into one. *Shrug*. I pretty much buy John’s books and read them in an evening, and usually enjoy them hugely.

  13. Dianna Deeley
    July 11th, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    Have you tried Tom Krattman’s books? I really have enjoyed a lot of them.

  14. Richard McEnroe
    July 11th, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

    Well, there IS the S&M assassin in Cally’s War…

  15. ajpwriter
    July 11th, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    If it’s books set in the grim humanity of the future that interest you, I just published one…

    Just sayin’…

  16. M. Thompson
    July 11th, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

    Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) is pretty good. You might want to also check out Poul Anderson’s old Tecnic Civilization saga. They’re available as both e-books and reprint anthologies from Baen.

  17. Wombat_socho
    July 11th, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

    I’ve read Caliphate and the Carrera series. Thumbs up on both.

  18. Wombat_socho
    July 11th, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    I didn’t like Cally’s War the first time through, but after picking up Sister Time I re-read it and liked it better. The same is true (for different reasons) of Watch On The Rhine and The Last Centurion; both better the second time around.

  19. Wombat_socho
    July 11th, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    Oldies but goodies, those are.

  20. Wombat_socho
    July 11th, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

    I’ll take a look.

  21. joethefatman
    July 11th, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

    They are some VERY good stories.

  22. joethefatman
    July 11th, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

    Along the lines of perpetual war might I bring up the “War World” stories by Jerry E. Pournelle and John F. Carr ? I think they are pretty good myself.

  23. Wombat_socho
    July 12th, 2013 @ 3:59 am

    You may indeed! Apparently there are new stories and anthologies out in addition to the old Baen paperbacks.

  24. Richard McEnroe
    July 12th, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    His Countdown series aka Grumpy Old Men at War is pretty good too.