“Left behind, as he himself had been…”
A classic short story from way back in 1997, Jonathan Green’s Salvation follows Brother Rius of the Ultramarines’ 1st Company as he and his brothers battle the Tyranid menace on Jaroth, a newly rediscovered Imperial world. After chancing upon the planet during a routine patrol, the Ultramarines acknowledge their duty to protect its natural resources and defenceless population, despite facing appalling odds. Brother Rius and his squad find themselves in the thick of the action, determined to wipe the Tyranids out to the last creature, but when Rius is badly wounded he earns a newfound respect for the honest, hardy locals.
Terminators fighting Tyranids is a time-honoured matchup, and Green throws us into the thick of the action as Rius tackles all manner of disgusting monstrosities with stoic determination. The first half of the story is pacy and concise, setting the scene and demonstrating the odds both on the ground and in the void above Jaroth. The second half slows things down and focuses on taking Rius away from his comfort zone, before ramping up for a big finale. Plot-wise it’s pretty simple but well executed, focusing on story over character to deliver a satisfying tale that shows the Ultramarines at their most noble and selfless.
For the first of my Forgotten Texts reviews I wanted to look back at an absolute classic of a story, and I think this nicely fits the bill. It’s one of those short stories that I read way back in the day and absolutely loved – the image of Rius in his gleaming Terminator armour marching out to save the day is really powerful, and it’s stayed with me for years. Not only that, but Ultramarines battling Tyranids is one of the great 40k contests, and yep – even back in 1997 Ichar IV is referenced.
So the questions is, does this still work as a 40k story today?
Well on the one hand it does feel a little lighter in tone than you might expect from 40k these days (although some of the older stories were super dark, to be fair…), and there are a few references to things that are a little outdated – a ship’s force-field and turbo-lasers instead of void shield and lances, for example.
On the other hand it’s a story about the bravery of mankind, about Space Marines fighting on against impossible odds against a hostile universe, themes that are as familiar in 40k now as they have ever been. Rius is recognisably an Ultramarine, at least in the broad sense, and while the Tyranids aren’t always described how they would be today, they feel exactly as dangerous as you’d expect.
There is however a sense that these are Space Marines as they used to be – strong and tough for sure, but a little more human than they tend to be shown as these days. As with a lot of the earlier Black Library stories, this doesn’t try to dig beneath the surface of what it means to be a Space Marine, instead remaining content to show them in a simpler, more straightforward way that keeps the focus on the narrative as opposed to developing the characters too far. That’s pretty much par for the course, and certainly doesn’t detract from what is an enjoyable, engaging story.
So yeah, overall it does feel like a 40k story and I think it does still work in comparison with the sort of stories that are released today as long as you don’t expect to see the Ultramarines talking about theoreticals and practicals and so on. For me, the other big difference between this and a more modern 40k story is just the lack of connective tissue to the wider 40k universe. That’s not a criticism, just an observation that a lot of Black Library stories these days feel like they have close links either with each other or with what’s happening elsewhere in the setting. This on the other hand is very much a standalone, written with the clear intent of telling a single story that it does very well.
And so to the next big question – how to get hold of a copy of this story…
Well, it’s not going to be easy I’m afraid. As far as I can tell (and please, if anyone can correct me on this then do let me know!) it was first published in Inferno! Magazine in 1997, then collected in the Into the Maelstrom anthology two years later. 2006 then saw it included in the whopping great 700+ page anthology Let the Galaxy Burn. I doubt you’ll find any of those publications in shops unless you happen to stumble serendipitously upon one in a second hand store, but you should be able to pick up a copy on Amazon or eBay for a few quid.
Alternatively, you could email Black Library and ask them to release this as an e-short! People power can work wonders, and there’s no harm in trying…
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this first instalment of Forgotten Texts. You might be interested in checking out this quick interview with author Jonathan Green next! If you’ve got any comments or feedback, or would like to request a story for a future instalment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and let me know.