Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Horus Rising: The Gallery

Since I couldn't seem to find any picture of the Kinebrach on the web, I asked my very talented sister to draw me one so this 'ere blog could claim to be the first place where such a picture exists.  Behold!

Copyright Jill Crossman
You'll notice this example of the species has longer hair than the Kinebrach warriors the interex brought onboard the Vengeful Spirit, but then this is clearly a youthful member of the species; full of innocence and naivety. All it really wants to do is smoke two doobies in its three lips and order out for some alien pizza.

(This isn't the best quality version of my sister's picture, but she had "technical issues" - by which I mean she dropped a pot plant on her laptop - so this is the best version I currently have.  The actual sketch should arrive from Canada at the weekend).

Merry Christmas to you all.  Don't forget to come back for the start of False Gods on New Year's Day.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Infinities Of Reflection (Last Words On Horus Rising)

(As mentioned last week, Fliss is busy skipping through fields of autumn flowers now she's been temporarily released from the nightmare future of the 31st Millennium.  With the place to myself for the next fortnight, this seems like a sensible time to offer some general thoughts on Horus Rising as a whole.)

Mirrors are awful things. All they do is sit there and accurately reflect the hideousness of the world onto anyone unlucky enough to glance their way. They're horrible.

And yet somehow we feel compelled to seek them out. I'm as vain as the next overweight balding thirty-three year old. I shouldn't need an unusually shiny static surface to daily remind me of the orientation of my features - the basic set-up I've been staring at for three decades, and the changes over the years have been pretty much uniformly negative - but somehow, there I stand every morning, attempting to tease what remains of my hair into some semblance of order, trying to keep my eyeline high enough to not take in my spreading gut.

It would be enough to make any rational observer weep, which is why self-deception is so important when we find ourselves staring back at us.  Too much honesty is bad for the soul. Of course, too little honesty is just as corrosive, and oftentimes not simply to oneself. One should be particularly cautious with mirrors that themselves are less than truthful.

Horus Rising is a book deeply involved with mirrors. More particularly, with distorted and mistaken reflections, and whether people focus on the differences or the similarities. When Loken stares at the moon the Mournival have pressed into service as a replacement for Luna, he looks not at it directly, but through a pool of water.  A distorted image of a counterfeit object. Torgaddon assures us such variation is of no consequence for the purposes of their initiation, and perhaps he is correct, for all that flaws in the in the approach of the Mournival brought about so much, well, chaos.

Other differences are more pronounced, both for characters and for the reader. The initial attack on High City, for example, is quite deliberately structured to involve Horus attacking a world calling itself Terra and ruled by a false Emperor that he then saves the day by destroying. A mirror, in other words, of what Horus will eventually come to believe he is doing.  The implication here is hardly subtle: many of those who choose to follow Horus in the schism that approaches will do so for no worse reason than believing the Warmaster was as right the second time as he was the first.

This has enormous repercussions for those who would consider the loyalist Space Marines out and out heroes. Bred for war, incapable of fear, one cannot truly view the Astartes unswerving devotion to war for what they believe a just cause as some great virtue. One might as well praise a shark for swimming and for killing. It is not clear how one can celebrate the defeat of Sixty-Three Nineteen yet pour scorn on those that broke from the Imperium at Davin - or rather we can, but only because our villains were so good as to birth their new order in deliberate acts of mass murder (that said, it's always easy to argue honour binds us to the rules of war when those rules will almost inevitably hand you victory).

There are, I think, very broadly speaking, two types of people who identify with the Imperial forces in the 40K universe. There are those who appreciate the Space Marines despite their bloodthirsty, fanatical devotion to murdering anyone they consider anything less than pure, and those that appreciate them because of it. I can't speak as to which camp Abnett himself belongs to, but Horus Rising certainly asks the kind of question you would expect the former group to raise. Whilst the book encourages us to see the reflection of the Siege of Terra in this minor skirmish in the end days of the Great Crusade, it also demonstrates how completely the Luna Wolves fail to see their own image cast back at them. A people zealously devoted to their Emperor to the point where suggesting another human authority might exist is an immediate death sentence?  That no-one draws the obvious conclusion is remarkable.

Of course, it isn't hard to understand why: the iterators in general and Kyril Sindermann in particular exist for the sole purpose of ensuring that link is never made. These people believe they must be right.  But they cannot be right, because they disagree with us.  And we know we're right. Therefore they can only think themselves correct, and we all know how thoughts can be wrong.

Whatever the uses of this strategy for maintaining morale and cohesion during wartime, Sindermann's efforts ultimately did nothing but cause the one weakness of the Luna Wolves to fester in darkness. By insisting the Emperor was always correct, and that Horus was the mirror of the Emperor - distorted, yes, but not in ways that meant any more than the variations in planets' satellites - the iterators both ensured utter devotion to two contradictory thoughts, and ensured those thinking them could never possibly realise that fact.

It is not a pretty picture. Fanatics so fanatical they pour scorn on other fanatics for not being fanatical enough.  Soldiers boundlessly proud of the fact that they cannot even conceive of questioning orders.  Such breathtaking hubris may not be of any real consequence while the pool is still and the reflection of the moon still looks more or less like the moon itself. But then Garviel Loken finds himself amongst the glittering bottles of a chaos fane.

A reflection in a limpid pool is singular, faithful, easily decipherable.  A reflection in a half-full bottle made from low-grade glass is fractured and fuzzy. It moves in ways you do not expect. The glistening droplets that coat the outside invert and distort your image until you cannot recognise yourself.  Loken is surrounded by these torn, mocking fragments of himself when Xavyer Jubal turns his heels and attacks.

When Jubal falls to the lure of Samus, he becomes one more fractured reflection in the tunnels beneath the Whisperheads.  His identity shatters, taking his mind and much of Loken's worldview with it. Surrounded by the chaos of war and the chaos of reflection, and staring at Chaos itself where once stood a comrade in arms of unquestionable loyalty, Loken had every opportunity to recognise himself and every other Astartes in the horror that claimed Jubal - once the life-or-death struggle had come to an end, at least.  Instead, inspired by the equally wilful blindness of his Primarch, Loken chooses to see only the differences in Jubal's broken reflection of the Luna Wolves, not the similarities.  Perhaps Loken is simply more concerned with convincing himself he can never become Jubal than he is in discovering how Jubal became Jubal. We all lie to ourselves when looking in the mirror.  Got to get through another day somehow.

The Deceived, then, is essentially an exercise in watching prideful men use that pride as a vehicle by which they may drive past the point at great speeds and distances.  You can feel the accumulated weight of the mistakes borne of cupidity threatening to topple the narrative over.  It's almost a shame that this is then shoved to the corner whilst the Luna Wolves deal with the situation on Murder.

It's not that I don't understand what Brotherhood in Spiderland is doing, or that it isn't doing its part to feed into the more general narrative.  I mean, if you want to spend some time watching Astartes tussle with the 30K analogue to Tyranids - with added storm spells and Simmons-esque death trees - then I wouldn't dream of holding that against you. But there's more going on here. Whilst in the first part of the novel the hierarchy of the false Terra reflected the intransigent mindset of the Astartes, the second reflects back their obsession with genocide.

In itself, there's nothing to object to here. It's one more facet of the Space Marines to explore, and one more indication as to where everything will eventually go wrong. If The Deceived reminds us that the Astartes are dangerous fanatics who can only be labelled heroes because the forces arrayed against them are so horrific, Brotherhood in Spiderland reminds us of that horror.

So what is my problem here?  Partially, it's a question of timing.  The kind of genocidal war the Imperium finds itself embroiled in might underscore the problematic approach of the Astartes in general, but the sheer viciousness of the Megarachnids makes that dedication to extermination defensible. Remember, there are two types of Space Marine fans; those that can accept their excesses, and those that actively enjoy them.  Both these groups would find little objectionable in the war on Murder.  But the first section of the novel has already made an effort to split those two groups, and The Dreadful Sagittary will push them apart still further. Placing almost the closest thing possible to a justifiable war (it doesn't quite qualify, since the Imperium is capable of simply bypassing Murder entirely) in between the two seems like a stumble in the narrative. It might have been preferable to start here, where the Astartes have their most defensible reason for hostility, and then bring in the shades of grey later.

Of course, doing that would mean losing an opening that mirrors the close of the entire Heresy, which is a wonderful slice of circular narrative that I am entirely in favour of, so perhaps here we have the lesser of two evils.  That said, the problem we have here is no less real for the most obvious solution causing its own issues.  If nothing else, moving the caster of reflections from the Luna Wolves to the Emperor's Children dilutes the narrative somewhat. Yes, we gain something as well by allowing the two Legions to see their reflections in each other, but we learn too little of the III Legion to justify sidelining the building complications with the XVI.  In the final analysis, Brotherhood in Spiderland is far from a failure, but it feels like a short story sandwiched between two halves of a novel, which is a shame.

By the time we reach The Dreadful Sagittary, we are back to the central theme, which is just as well, because we are also running out of time. There's a sense of a dash to the finish line here, possibly as an attempt to jump-start the escalation after seven chapters dallying on Murder.  The result is a denouement that feels breathless and rushed, though I confess I can't see how padding the section out would help in this regard - any tinkering that might improve things here would probably have to take place in amongst the Megarachnids.

There my complaining ends, however, because the third and final part of Horus Rising completes the series of distorted reflections. At Sixty-Three Nineteen, we saw a twisted image of the Astartes philosophy. On Murder, it was their approach. Finally, here in interex space, we come across a reflection of the Legions' aims.

With thirty or more systems living in harmony, and all alien threats neutralised (one way or another) the interex is, if a little on the petite size, essentially represents a model of how the primary goal of the Imperium: a united and secure humanity. And yet when they come across such a society, not only safe but free from the endless war which carving out the Imperium seems to require, the first instinct of almost every Astartes present is to try and smash the mirror.

Why does this matter? Because by this insistence, we finally understand what a Space Marine sees when they look in the mirror. Not a warrior tasked to protect humanity at all costs, but a flawed image of the Emperor himself.  Of Horus himself.  Every part of the tragedy that follows stems from this simple fact: there was nothing the Astartes desired more than to have someone to emulate through slavish, thoughtless devotion. When the pool was still, the image was clear, and all was well.  But throw a stone into that pool, maybe even a small one, and the images begin so separate. Devotion to the Emperor and devotion to the Primarch no longer look like the same thing.

When the image you see in the mirror becomes unbearable, when the reflection no longer matches what your soul tells you you are, there's not really much more you can do than break it, especially when its reflecting a past you no longer wish to lay claim to.  For some, smashing the mirror itself isn't enough; you have to grind the shards to powder. Two centuries of inflexibility and unhampered aggression have conspired to create a mindset whereby no arrangement can be wonderful enough to not need tearing down if it hasn't been created at the whim of the right personality. Against such obsession, not even the past can stand.

Niggles notwithstanding, it would be hard to imagine a more thorough way to set the stage for the explosion soon to come. Indeed, the one irredeemable flaw here is that the build-up to the conflagration ultimately proves more interesting than the inferno itself.

Not that this is Abnett's fault, of course.  With False Gods, we'll start working out exactly where the blame does lie.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Horus Falling

Horus Rising: The Dreadful Sagittary (IV)

The stealer and the stolen (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

At last we find ourselves, twenty weeks after our first broadcast, concluding the tale of Horus' rise. At least, such is how it is always described. One could be forgiven, perhaps, for asking why.

There are only three campaigns Horus prosecuted whilst both Warmaster and a loyalist. In the first, he lost a member of his Mournival and saw one of his sergeants suffer the earliest case of daemonic possession of an Astartes outside the Word Bearers Legion, a development which resulted in no obvious change of operational procedure; all to capture a single human world of no noticeable strategic value. In the second, Horus committed a significant portion of his Legion to exterminating an alien species later found to be incapable of leaving their world, ultimately without either ridding Murder of the Megarachnids or securing the planet for Imperial use. And in the third, Horus allowed himself to be tied up in diplomatic games for weeks before losing several Astartes in a sudden attack which came perilously close to seeing him captured or even killed.

Our point here is not that Horus made obvious mistakes in any of those situations. Indeed, Horus judged himself far more harshly here than we are inclined to. What is important here is not the degree to which the Warmaster can be blamed for his failures, but that all those around him insisted that his star was unquestionably ascendant. The reality of course is that Horus was already falling, albeit on the most gradual on inclines relative to the cliff's edge that awaited him at Davin.  The irony here is notable: the whole of Imperial society assumed Horus was rising, because that was simply what should have happened next in the story of the Emperor's first-found and favourite son, but in fact all that was rising in Horus was his willingness to question that very narrative.

We arrive at one more tragedy in a tale already heavy and stinking with them. From the moment Horus gained his new title, it would not his pride at being Warmaster in name that brought him low, but his guilt at failing to be Warmaster in fact, at least in his own judgement.  His feelings of abandonment already rankled, to be sure, but what pushed them to the forefront was his guilt over his own failings. 

The human mind finds it almost impossible to process guilt. There exists no mechanism by which it can be safely decanted. It can only be ignored, relived or converted into other forms. Almost invariably, people take that third route, it being the only way to clear a dataslate otherwise filled to capacity with feelings of horrific, blinding inadequacy. They transmute their guilt into the most readily available alternative to be found, anger. Why feel guilty for having failed someone, after all, when you can be furious with them for having put you in a position to seemingly fail?

Nowhere is this process more obvious than with children and their parents.  Apparently, in the final analysis, Horus shared more with the humanity he once swore to protect than anyone imagined. He felt he'd failed his father, he became angry at the idea, directed that anger back at the Emperor, and the rest is tragic, bloody history. Rising from the shadow of your father is impossible when you don't insist on dragging that shadow forwards with you, blaming him every step of the way for the fact you remain in darkness.  Otherwise, in the inky blackness of your self-imposed inferiority, it is all too easy to lose your way.

Especially when others lurk in the darkness, waiting for their chance to strike.


A change in format this week, both because we're now at long last at the end of Horus Rising, and because a four page coda doesn't really give us much to work with.

1. Ooh! Erebus is the thief!  What's going on there, then?

Well, he's from the Word Bearers, who from their name are presumably directly responsible for upholding the Emperor's edicts.  Erebus must have hated the Kinebrach even more than Abaddon, because he's even more invested in what the Emperor says. Maybe that's reached the point where the Word Bearers have signed up to the idea of the Emperor being a god.

In retrospect, it's a bit suspicious that Erebus, who's described both as very reasonable and charming and as being essentially equivalent to Abaddon in rank didn't put any effort into befriending the interex. Though I suppose that might just have been Horus ordering everyone to keep quiet out of concern Abaddon would say something stupid.

None of this explains stealing the sword, though.

Given the way he's described in the last chapter - very much a Gollum kind of a deal - it wouldn't surprise me if he'd been infected by the Warp.

Is there anything specific he has in mind, though?

Oh, it's the cursed sword, isn't it?  Maybe he's stolen it for the Warrior Lodge, that's certainly suspicious.  Perhaps his Legion has had their own "Whisperheads moments" already? Or is he in the Emperor's Cult?

Wouldn't they hate the idea of cursed swords?

Fair point.  The question is who he plans on using it.

Yes, it probably is.

There's two obvious potential targets here: Horus and the Emperor. Though if it's Horus, I don't know why he hasn't attacked already.  Maybe it's too hard on board the ship whilst Horus is surrounded by his "sons".

That, or it would be really shit to kill the title character in the last four pages of the book.

Seen it happen. Talk to Cecilia Dart-Thornton. Maybe she'll apologise again.

2. How well does the title of the novel fit with the events it depicts?

Well, I don't know. Sixty Three Nineteen was his first campaign, wasn't it?

First as Warmaster, yes.

So it started with a win, and somehow he's managed to start getting requests for help from people who never used to, despite not having done anything new for them.  That's about as far as his rising seems to have gone.

Unless it means "rising" in the sense of becoming increasingly able to question what's going on around him.  He's getting more and more willing to think outside of what he's being told to do.

Is that really doing any good, though?  All we've gotten out of the deal is Erebus running around with a cursed sword.

We won't really know what we've gotten until the next book, though, will we?  Anyway, that's the only way I can think of that Horus has risen. Really this is the story of Loken rising.  And the remembrancers, I guess, since now at least some people seem to have a bit of respect for what it is their supposed to be doing.  Tarvitz might be on the rise as well, though possibly not in his own Legion.

3.  Time to mark the book.  I figured we'd have a brief chat about three aspects of the action, and then get you to mark them out of ten.  Then you can give us your overall mark for Horus Rising.

a) Plot

I found it quite bitty, which makes sense given the structure of the book, but the link between the parts seems quite tenuous.  There didn't seem any obvious reason why the Emperor's Children were on Murder, too.

I think you needed someone there so you get an idea of how other Legions might view the Luna Wolves.

Though I'm not sure how well that came across anyway. I really liked the build-up to the spiders, but the execution let them down a bit. They could have done something more more interesting with them.

I don't know.  In themselves there weren't spectacularly original, perhaps, but I loved the idea of the murder trees. It was quite reminiscent of the Shrike from Dan Simmon's Hyperion, which can't be a bad thing.  Were there any bits of the bits that you did enjoy?

I'm enjoying the way things are being built up. The interactions and politics of the Mournival and Horus are definitely interesting. There's a lot of unanswered questions, though, so a lot depends on how things develop.


b)  Characters

It's interesting how many of the main characters we seem to end up knowing so little about.  Abaddon, for example; there must be a lot going on in there that we're not seeing. But then that's probably deliberate given how the Luna Wolves are.

I like Loken, which is just as well.  Karkasy is interesting as well.  Mersadie I wasn't so big a fan of.


Er... (struggles for words) she's quite... sneakative.


Sindermann is interesting; I can see how he could lead to some interesting dynamics.

What about the Big Dog himself?


From context we'll assume I'm not talking about Bill Clinton.

He's clearly hiding an awful lot.  There's possibly a lot of intrigue there.  I wouldn't go so far as to say I like him, or find him tremendously gripping, but he'll do. 

What about Lucius and Eidolon?  Love to hate? Or just love to wish weren't in the book?

Depends if more people punch them in the face multiple times. It's very cathartic.  You need irritating characters in books, so you've something to compare the good guys to.

I also want it known that it bothered me how the writing kept switching between people's first names and their surnames.  There's too many characters with hard-to-remember names for that to work.

* This is a lie


c) Setting

I wasn't a fan in general. Some things just got sketched over. Like the ship. There wasn't enough there for me to get a handle on it, which is a problem for the only location that stays more or less constant over the novel. High City got short shrift, too. Other than the rotating towers and the slums - which I guess were well-described, just not at all fun to visit. Murder had some good ideas involved, but as a location it was a bit barren.

I thought it spent too much time focused on the dismissive attitude of the fleet to people, too, flying through space pouring scorn on anyone who doesn't agree with them. That got old pretty quickly. Um, this is all getting a bit negative, I think.

How about you give us your three favourite ideas from the setting; end the book on a positive. We might not be able to do that too often, actually.

Um, OK. Third is the idea of a weapons museum.  Humanity goes to space, we get separated as a species, and what's the first thing we do when we get back together? Check out each other's weapons.

Second can be the Murder Trees, I think.  It's just such a cool concept. The shield-storm idea, rather than the stabbing-people-and-eating-them angle. And it makes me wonder why the interex didn't take it from the arachnids. Maybe they just couldn't understand how.

First is the fight under the waterfall surrounded all those empty bottles. It was phenomenally described. Kind of confusing in places, though that's what the arrival of this completely unexpected event needed.




That's it for chapter analysis this year, folks.  Fliss is taking a well-deserved break from the Heresy over Christmas, though I'm hoping to have something up on the 18th and on Christmas Day for you all.  The blow-by-blow account of my girlfriend's journey into the 31st Millennium will resume on New Year's Day with the first chapter of Graham McNeill's False Gods.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Numbers Of The Beasts

Horus Rising: The Dreadful Sagittary (III)

Ten thousand years after the Horus Heresy, a Red Corsairs Chaos Lord models
the alien weapon that caused all the trouble in the first place (copyright me)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

There was once, upon Old Terra almost forty thousand years ago, a group of intellectuals dedicated to the concept of chaos numbers.

The casualness with which these men and women named their discipline reflects the frightening naivete of humanity at the time. To them the term implied nothing sinister; they considered chaos simply a facet of the universe, no more evil and seductive than acceleration, or gravity.  Despite their complete ignorance of the truth, however, the name they gave to their field is not entirely inappropriate.

Put in its most basic terms, the first theory of chaos numbers is that there are some processes in our reality which are simply too complicated to predict.  Not complicated in the sense of being too hard to understand their principles, but in the sense of there being so many contributions and interactions within and alongside them, each causing so many changes to whole with the slightest change to itself, that we simply lack the raw processing power to sufficiently model the phenomenon. This is sometimes summarised as the flitterfly effect.  It is not that a flitterfly flapping its wings on one side of Macragge causes a storm on the other, but that the millions of interactions that combine to generate the weather are so numerous and so phenomenally sensitive to change that it would take only the motion of a flitterfly wing to change events beyond our ability to predict them.

The second theory of chaos numbers is this: as above, so below. There is no quantitative difference between the mountains of the Khum Karta range seen from twenty kilometres away and the tips of those mountains' peaks viewed at close range under the strongest magnification possible. The very fact of chaos' reliability to be chaotic causes baffling fractal patterns at all levels of reality.  It is here that chaos becomes Chaos.  The temptations of Chaos lie deep within us, however much we might deny it.  It takes but a single careless moment for us to be utterly lost.  And from that single moment within a single soul, ripples expand, colliding with events around them, changing the world.  The flitterfly flaps its wings and the storms of war are unleashed.

A father rebukes his son, and Lorgar is lost to Chaos. An Astartes steals a sword, and the galaxy is torn asunder. A fractal pattern of betrayal. We can point to how easily it all could have been averted - if only Erebus had arrived too late, or the interex had not wasted so much time keeping Horus at arm's length - but such suggestions counter only the specifics, not the underlying concern. We have spoken before of our belief that the Heresy was inevitable in some shape or form; those that studied chaos numbers would have considered it a mathematical certainty. Some systems quite simply lie outside our ability to control.  A ruler may fool themselves into believing they are all-powerful; their armies unstoppable, their enemies battered into helplessness by their might. Societies can be created that seemingly neuter all effective resistance, or even the thought of such resistance.  But for all the brute force on display, these systems simply respond to those ripples which break the surface. Underneath lie endlessly complicated patterns of shifting circumstances and effects.  We cannot predict what we cannot understand is happening, and it is in those things we cannot understand that everything truly important takes place.

It is in these dark, empty places where Chaos finds its greatest advantage. We cannot best it without understanding it, but understanding is impossible. Worse, attempting to understand can serve Chaos itself, because it is in thinking we can comprehend and plan for chaos that we leave ourselves most vulnerable. Our hubris is our downfall.

We knew that, of course. We might lament the interex's failure to enlighten Horus on the true threat humanity faces in this universe, but it is not hard to understand their fear they were already too late.  Nothing feeds Chaos so effectively as war.  Not just the rivers of blood in which Khornate daemons bathe. Every alliance betrayed and general outwitted is grist for the mills of Tzeentch. With war come pestilence enough to sate Father Nurgle.  Even the loathsomely beautiful face of Slaanesh must shine with pleasure to see each debauched victory celebration and each city sacked by adrenaline-crazed soldiers treating enemy citizens in ways best left unconsidered. Our warlike nature damned us to be devotees to chaos before we had any idea what that meant.

Because somehow, we have persuaded ourselves that war is the only instrument of control. Because we refuse to seee how each new attack and each new front generates its own new set of ripples; ranks of fractal teeth that grow and spin and ensnare all that surround them. In the Great Crusade we used chaos to fight chaos. Five hundred generations later, we use chaos to fight both chaos and Chaos, all in the name of imposing order above all. One might just as well try to build a house from flames.

Still we continue. And dark and terrible gods grow fat with power in the space we cannot see, and where all the numbers are against us.

Places where Horus is soon to walk, and so damn us all.


What Was

Apparently the interex has spent an awfully long time concerned about this issue of Kaos. What do you think it is, and how does it tie in to discoveries and theories from earlier in the book?

Well, they've said it's something from the Warp.  Maybe it's nothing more than something which drives you mad, though since they're worried Horus brought it with them it might be some kind of plague. Clearly it drives people mad so that they start killing everyone who's even a little bit different to them.



Oh. I thought you were making an hilarious joke about how that's what the Imperium does anyway.

That was my point, yes.  I just don't think it qualifies as satire.

Well, let's not quibble. What about Tull's comments about "Warmaster" being a potential signifier of "kaos"?

It's probably all a piece with the general bloodthirstiness of the Astartes.  Why would the Emperor name Horus 'Warmaster' whilst warning him to watch out for the Warp - which I still don't quite understand yet, by the way - over all other things?  Is it supposed to be a title of defiance? If you're worried about this sort of stuff, shouldn't Abaddon and Maloghurst constantly insisting that the interex be wiped out be ringing alarm bells?

How, as Warmaster, can you tell when your troops have gone too far?  Or is that what the iterators are for?

I'm not sure they could do an awful lot about it anyway.

They could flag things up to Horus, I suppose. Though it's not like Sindermann knows what's going on with the Warp, I suppose.

I'm not sure anyone else does, except maybe the other Primarchs.

Surely not.  That's a recipe for disaster.  They'd all contanstly be watching for signs of kaos in Horus. They'd never leave him alone.

What Is

This is effectively the book's finale, with just a four page epilogue to go.  How successfully did it tie things together for you, and was the Battle of Xenobia impressive enough for you?

I think Loken made a big mistake, there.  Why not give over his weapon?  It's not like he needs it to defend Horus.

I think it probably helps.

Yeah, but you're just guaranteeing the worst possible outcome.  I liked the difference in the way Loken and Tull fight. Aside from all the crazy weapons, the battle here seems reminiscent of the fight in High City; Loken travelling through the battle, coming across unexpected foes, whether they be invisible or centaurs.  There's clearly been some kind of misunderstanding; starting a war just because a museum burns to the ground.  It's a bit OTT, even for people who are as fond of their museums as these people are.

Did it work as a action-packed finale, then?

It came out of nowhere a bit, was the problem.  It didn't build up.  Everything just suddenly goes wrong.  And it's clearly set up for the next book.

Yeah, but plenty of ongoing series take pains to end books with a big explosive ending.  Like how George R R Martin used to do.

The interaction between Loken and Tull was quite nice; it seems like that was the first time the Astartes had gotten anywhere with the interex, which makes the fact that it all goes to crap just so... I mean, what were the rest of them doing for three weeks?  Why didn't they get anywhere?

I think the idea there is that three weeks of Horus and Naud sparring and surreptitiously checking each other out for Chaos has gotten them nowhere, and Loken just blindly stumbles into the solution because he doesn't know any better.  Or at least, he would have.  Speaking of which...

Who, if anyone, started the fire?

It can't be Horus or Loken.

Thanks for that.

You're going to disagree with me?

No, I guess I was just hoping you'd, you know, put some effort in.

Well get ready, then! Prepare for my hypothesis!

This is something I have to brace myself, now?

Yes! This hypothesis will blow your mind!  It was: Erebus!  Acting under the orders of Sagittarius!


I mean Sanguinius!  Erebus did it because Sanguinius told him to.  How convenient the Primarch has "left the system".  And Erebus got really fighty really quick.  Maybe Chaos has got to him.  Abaddon could have done it to start the war he's clearly desperate for. Sindermann might have done it because he hates how the interex talks about the curses of their weapons.  The Kinebrach might be making a bid for freedom.  The eldar might be causing trouble, whoever the hell the eldar are.

You're a big fan of reading. Would you like a device that holds books open and you can flick through by touching the air in front of it? And would you prefer it to a Kindle?

It'd be kind of cool.  Like looking at books in museums, except that your not forced to read just whatever page they've decided you can see.  A good way to avoid sweat damage. It might be noisy at night, though.

You mean the humming?

I mean whatever mechanisms are involved in turning the pages.  You might find it tough to sleep if I'm using it.

I wasn't really suggesting you bring it to bed.

It would be better than a Kindle, because you'd get the smell of the book.  I'd worry about RSI from all the flapping around, though.  Still, on balance, I think it's a good thing. Begin working on the technology immediately.

What Will Be

What's next for the Imperium's relations with the interex now so many people are dead?

Now that both sides have overreacted so much, I don't see how there's any way back.  They can't just apologise and move on. About the only way I can see things working out is if they find and decapitate the arsonist.  Or maybe the Emperor could sort things out.  It's weird that Tull was so focussed on Horus and not the Emperor, now I think about it.

I guess this far out, Horus is the only game in town.

It still seems like they've been underplaying him.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Death And Taxes

Horus Rising: The Dreadful Sagittary (II)

First Chaplain Erebus (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Horus was right, of course.  No-one is ever happy to see the tax-collector, not unless he's lying inside a wooden box.  And it is one thing to smash the war machine of the last person to claim your life belonged to them, and quite another to demand you pay for the privilege.

But whilst Horus can be given credit for detecting the disease faster than anyone else, we should not forget that he completely failed to recognise the cure.

Perhaps this is somewhat unfair.  The necessary steps to avoid the galaxy-wide uprisings Horus feared would require restructuring the Imperium to an extent he might quite literally find unthinkable. The problem lies not with the arrival of taxation, but with the nature of an empire that requires money.

For two hundred years, the Imperium has not had to face up to the astonishing cost of running a galactic civilisation.  This is for one simple reason: was is exceptionally good for business, providing you are winning.  Each new world attacked is a source of food and treasure.  Each battle one is an opportunity to strip the dead and feed their supplies to your advancing armies.  Each enemy overcome is a potential new source of weapons and manpower, ordnance and armour.  Add in the Mechanicum's breathless charge into the unknown alongside you in the hopes of recovering ancient knowledge, and one has a military machine that can run almost exclusively on the fuel of new victories.  Those worlds conquered and left behind need to be watched, but otherwise can be left all but unmolested.

The coming conclusion to the Great Crusade would have changed all that.  All of a sudden there would be no more wars to fight; at least, no wars against human foes from whom one can safely extract food and materiel.  Once the expansion of the Astartes Legions and the Explorator fleets becomes a perimeter guard against hostile xenos, they will require a steady flow of supplies that can no longer be taken from the battlefield.  They must come from the Imperium itself.

And to do that, the Emperor needs a tax system.

In other words, Horus has spent two centuries becoming acclimatised to a model that is utterly and obviously unsustainable.  He fears that the proposed solution to this problem (whether or it does, in fact, come from the High Council and not the Emperor himself) will fail, but he offers no alternative plan because he has not yet grasped the inflexibility of the underlying problem.  Expansionist war is the only alternative to a levy on the citizenry (and really, the former can rarely be so successful as it was ten thousand years ago; we can only assume the original process of creating Astartes must have been phenomenally cost-effective).  It really is a choice between death and taxes.

As we have said often, civil war was inevitable.  Creating the Imperium required a total devotion to war.  Maintaining it required a balance between keeping population centres happy enough to not cause trouble, but exploited enough to not drain resources from the larger picture.  For all his vaunted political knowledge, Horus could not even conceive of such an approach, let alone manage it effectively.  And each rebellious system means more resources must be expended, and more taxes must be introduced, and more people must be pushed towards the point they might themselves rebel. We have already argued that the Legions were too attached to their aggressive tactics for peace to have lasted long after the Imperium's formation, but even had Horus somehow been able to rein in his brothers (or himself), the best we could have hoped for is that the single horrific conflict of the Horus Heresy might have been replaced with innumerable smaller brush wars and rebellions.

If there ever could have been a way out of this quandary, it would that is to apply the interex model; a willingness to trade and even ally with xenos civilisations.  If man is determined to stand alone, he must pay a price for that choice.  Isolationist tendencies and massive military presence do not result in pleasant bills.

Such a possibility was long since closed to us, however.  In the 41st Millennium there are only three kinds of alien: those that are extinct, those that hate us, and those that we have yet to meet but are determined to kill the instant we do. And so every year we lose more worlds.  Every year we increase the Imperial Tithe.  Every year we make more enemies amongst our own people.

Much like ten thousand years ago, one truth is horribly clear.  This is not a model we can hope will endure.


What Was

There's not much going on here in the past tense, and whilst I could spend some time quizzing Fliss about the first book in general, there'll be plenty of time for that when we finish Horus Rising in two weeks time.

What Is

Who do you think would win a perfection-off between Primarch Sanguinius and First Chaplain Erebus?

How can you have a perfection off?  How would you measure it?

I don't know. Calligraphy?

We know Erebus is a good swordsman, but that's all.

Not really.  There was some stuff in there about how the instant he arrived he put aside his own mission to be all empathic and helpful.

I'm not convinced. We also don't know how good a fighter Sanguinius is, really.

True, but he's a primarch, so I imagine he's got the moves.

Moves like Jagger?  Is that the song? Or is it lips like Jagger?

It's moves like Jagger, yes, though I don't think that means we should deploy him to battle a megarachnid horde.  Not that we shouldn't try.

None of this is helping me work out how to judge perfection.

Let's have all the Luna Wolves vote for who's their bestest friend.

They're bound to vote for a Primarch over a non-Primarch, though, aren't they? I don't think we have enough information yet. Particularly as Sanguinius came to mourn his dead troops, and Erebus has a specific thing he wants, whatever that is.

Are you in favour of cheating in duels, and is it a more attractive proposition when it involves punching Lucius in the face?

Giving Lucius a good face-punching is certainly beneficial.  I don't think it's really cheating, either.  Lucius asked Loken to fight as a Luna Wolf, and Loken warned him it would be about more than skill with a sword.  So how can it be cheating?

What are we to make of a society who combines its armouries and its museums?

Well, we do that.

No we don't!

Yes we do.  We have war museums.

But those aren't armouries as well.  You know what they call a museum that's not combined with an armoury?  A museum.

So are they saying ideally these alien weapons should never be used again, but there might come a time when they have to be deployed. It's a bit risky having all these super-deadly weapons lying around; what if there's an uprising.  It annoyed me that, once again, the Astartes are too busy being uncomfortable around other cultures to actually ask important questions about their abilities.

Also, I don't get how that cursed sword is supposed to work. Can you give it more than one name, or is it a one-use weapon.

I think you can use it multiple times, but you can only give it one name at a time, maybe? Of course, if you're after someone important enough, even a one-shot weapon is worth it.

Assuming you even know their name.

It's designed for slaying famous enemy heroes. Surely you'd know who they were.

Not if the enemy drops in from another world, like happened here.  Could you even pronounce the names of your alien foes?

That's true.  There's plenty of people just on this planet who would wince in horror if they heard me trying to say their name.  And that's before we get to the problem of shitty speech recognition software. "You have chosen to kill 'Daylit Caramel'; is this correct?".

While we're on the subject of the interex, I don't like the idea of an area specifically reserved for visitors.  It'd be far too easy to wipe them all out in one go.

Horus is clearly dead-set against the idea of tax collectors running riot over the newly-formed Imperium. Do you agree with him? Or are you worried about the Astartes not being able to afford stabbing people any more?

I think he's totally right.  I was with him on all points.  If you're trying to persuade a newly-conquered reason that you've taken their land for their benefit, you can't then say "give me half your money".  At this point a civil war would cost more money than having no taxes would.  At the very least, they should wait until the places the Astartes blew up have had time to rebuild.  They should be spending their money on that, not handing it over to pay for new worlds to get smashed up like theirs did.

What Will Be

We're almost done now; just two chapters left to go.  Something's clearly about to happen, but what?

I think war is inevitable.  Someone is going to do something to offend the interex.  It might be Maloghurst or Abaddon saying something offensive that starts a ruckus, or it might be someone from the Emperor's Children who takes offense, and starts slashing people up. I wonder whether the Emperor's Children will get fed up of their command.  You've got Sanginius showing up and painting his face and crying over his dead troops.  Where the hell is Fulgrim in all this?

Whatever happens,  it'll have to be fairly impressive, otherwise why would people keep on reading?  But then there's so little space left in the book.  Will it all end on a massive cliffhanger?  Will the Emperor turn out to be dead? Has the Council taken over, is that why the tax inspectors have been unleashed?

Also, something must happen with Erebus. Otherwise, why introduce him in the last section?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Islands In The Stream

Horus Rising: The Dreadful Sagittary (I)

Where we're headed
Welcome citizens, to the Truth.

At first glance, it would seem that the interex represent a position almost as far from the Imperium as could be imagined, without having actively rejected humanity.  Where the Imperium is focused on war, the interex views conflict as an unfortunate fact, to be avoided wherever possible.  While the Imperium actively aim for the extermination of alien life, the interex will not commit genocide even in the face of invasion by utterly hostile alien races with which communication is utterly impossible. Their most powerful weapons are kept locked away so they might not be used, whereas the Imperium thinks nothing of allowing their Expeditionary Fleets ("contains a military component", Horus says, providing the first evidence of just how easy Lupercal found it to lie instantly and smoothly) to carry the horrific Life-Eater virus (just one more contributing factor to the Heresy - there is no such thing as a weapon so terrible no man will wish to make use of it).  They neither ignore nor obsess the threat of Chaos, as did the Imperium before and after the Heresy, respectively. They show no interest in converting the Imperium to their own thinking, whilst elements of the Luna Wolves and Blood Angels are straining at the bit to demonstrate the interex's error in fire and blood.  Even their name is more unassuming; it is interex and Imperium, not Interex and imperium. Moreover, the term implies and internal focus and an intersection of interests that the monomaniacal and expansionist Imperium could scarce understand.

This difference is perhaps the most crucial.  For all the other ways in which these two human civilisations fail to resemble each other, the central difference is that the Imperium wants to export its model to the entire galaxy. The interex - if they are to be believed, of course - has no interest in such violent missionary work.  This leads us to an interesting question.  We have seen already, as the Great Crusade reaches its outermost point, what a galaxy modelled according to Imperial dictate would resemble.  But what would it look like it the interex had their way?

I'm sure were we able to ask them, they would insist it was none of their business.  Even if that is their honest opinion, however, it does not prevent conclusions from being drawn. A galaxy in which the interex is untroubled by outside forces implies certain other properties, most obviously that there exists no force like the Imperium attempting to forcibly reunite humanity. Instead, we presume, countless small human civilisations would exist, some trading or forming alliances, others not.

This hypothetical new galactic order raises two further issues.  First, could this arrangement ever endure? The interex at its peak was less than half the size of the current Tau Empire, a race already under great pressure from greenskin hordes and the scattered splinter remnants of what was once Hive Fleet Kraken. It is by no means certain that those grey-skinned upstarts will survive the next few hundred years, and they only avoided swift extinction because Kraken did not strike a few degrees further to galactic north. Defeaters of the Kinebrach and the Megarachnid they might be, but could the interex really have survived a determined Waaagh, or an awakening Necron Dynasty?  Would it have even heard of the arrival of the Great Devourer before a hundred billion hive ships dropped into their systems to begin their feast? How could a society like the interex survive such overwhelming threats when there's every likelihood they would never even have heard of their arrival?

The obvious counter to this is that there can be no organisation slower to react and less heedful of calls for assistance than the Administratum.  A galaxy of resources to call on means a thunderous, unstoppable response, delivered with implacable might, deployed within a couple of centuries of a distress signal being sent. The Tau owe their lives and Prandium its destruction both to the sloth with which threats are recognised, considered, and dealt with by the Imperium. Perhaps smaller civilisations working with clear purpose - the Tau model itself, in fact - could respond with more speed.

(Of course, that phrase "working with clear purpose" is doing a great deal of heavy lifting here.  A galaxy in which a thousand human civilisations face their own threats from greenskins, genestealers, Hrud, eldar of all stripes, and the monstrosities of the Warp is one in which joining forces to fight overwhelming hostile aliens far to the galactic east - or to guard the Eye of Terror from daemonic incursion - seems difficult to imagine.)

The second issue is this: if we accept for the moment the premise that the Imperium was and is too zealous in its conversion of other human civilisations, can one draw a line at which the use of warfare is justified?  It is one thing to argue the interex should have been allowed to remain in its chosen format, and quite another to excuse, say, the vicious, murder-loving slavemasters of Angron's homeworld. At what point would the interex philosophy of live and let live break down? Live and let torture? Live and let enslave? Is the interex what the Imperium should be, or does perfection lie somewhere between the two extremes?

It is all academic, of course. We know the Imperium's single-minded devotion to unification overrode human planets' desire for independence across the entire galactic plane, and the interex are no longer in a position to answer our questions.  On occasion, however, it is important we linger on the questions of what might have been.  Not to wish for the road not taken - if indeed, that road would have found us a better destination - but to understand who we are and how we got here.  To remind ourselves we created this galaxy; it did not spring forth independently of our efforts.  Our choices and our reactions gave us this Imperium, and our choices and our reactions will determine how we, in these darkest of times, will survive, or at the least be remembered.


What Was

Horus' reminisces of his early days with the Emperor was an interesting look into his past, and gives us our first brief view at the Emperor himself. Did it shake any new ideas loose?

Yeah. Isn't Horus supposed to not have grown up Cthonia?

Um, yes. I don't understand why he's talking now like he was there as a kid.

Maybe it's memory implants?

Could be, I suppose. I forget. Anything else?

I'm not done ranting about this yet, because now I can't trust anything I'm reading.  Sure, twenty Primarchs - for twelve signs, so how does that work - and Horus is apparently the Emperor's favourite.  But maybe that's more bullshit.  And if even you don't know what's going on...

I can't remember everything!

...What chance have I got? Also, it's a bit disturbing that the Emperor is going around telling children they need to become mighty warriors. It smells a little like brainwashing. But then it clearly hasn't totally worked, because Horus is thinking for himself.  Even down to the star signs he's emulating, he's clearly going with his own choice rather than the one the Emperor assigned.

Why are all the Primarchs growing up on different planets?

I can't decide. Either the Emperor is creating Primarchs when he lands, or he's deliberately planted them through the galaxy to create power-bases ready for when he arrives as part of the Crusade.

What Is

Obviously, the big new in this chapter is the society of the interex. Bat-eared music obsessives with weird orangutan henchmen?  That's pretty crazy. But was it any good?

They seem much more - I think they use the word "mature". They're not afraid of other races, they've learned interacting with other species can be a two-way street, everyone can benefit.  They're more merciful than the Imperium, if indeed massacring an interstellar empire and leaving them to rot on just one world constitutes mercy.  It might be kinder just to do them all in.

It's tough when you can't ask your captives what they'd prefer, I suppose.

I like the idea of tying mathematics into music, and then using it as a language. That sounds like something we should try. Though of course if you build warning beacons that no-one other than you can even recognise as broadcasting messages, you may have taken things too far.

The interex seem quite Greek to the Imperium's Romans.  They're not bad warriors, but that's not what they're all about, they focus on maths and music and cultural development, rather than just smashing things.

It will be interesting to see how other characters will respond to the interex.  Particularly Sindermann.  On the one hand he's already started to question the way the Imperium go about things, but on the other he's no fonder of the idea of letting alien races wander around unattended.

So you're inclined to take the interex at face value, then?

Until we know more about them, which of course in Horus' plan.  Though it seems to be implying he'll change his mind about them at some point.

It can't be very often that people get in Horus' face, even members of the Mournival. Do you think Abaddon is likely to slink back and crave forgiveness?

I think he was very shocked when Horus threatened to take away the First Captaincy.  I think the very fact Horus says he's prepared to forgive makes me think Horus thinks Abaddon had a point.  But then this is what the Mournival is supposed to be about, isn't it?  Questioning Horus' authority is clearly a big no-no, though, especially in front of people.

So will he apologise?

He's going to have to. He won't give up on being First Captain, which means the only thing he can do is apologise, or hope Horus ends up dead.

I'd also like to note that if Eidolon had questioned Horus the way Abaddon did, Horus would have had his head, no matter the consequences with Fulgrim. It's obvious favouritism, which seems to be a recurring problem here.

If you decided to a carry a robot headless horsey about with you, what would you use it for?

Can it see?

I guess. You can put sensors where you want on a robot horse, I'd think.

I'd put books in the saddle bags - must be able to carry lots of paper, a robot horse - and make the inside a giant fridge-freezer, for ice-cream and cold drinks.  I'd make the tail into a kettle, so I could make tea.  No sugar, though.  I think if you're going to make a horsey wander around without a mouth its cruel for them to have to carry sugarlumps around as well.

Would there be anything stored in its giant pneumatic robo-horse-dick?

No! That's disgusting. Any anyway, mine's a lady-horse.

What star-sign would you like to be, if you could choose? Or would you stick with your giant space-crab?

I don't know what the twenty are.

Well, let's just stick with the twelve we know.

I probably look most like Leo.

Because of your hair being like a mane.


But those are for boy lions! You're a girl!

But I still look like one.  And I'd like a roar.  Or a sting. I could be the scorpion. No, I think I'm more a roarer than a stinger.  I wouldn't want to be a pair of scales; I'd always know how much I weigh.

Yes, scales always report their own weights, making them entirely useless.

I don't want to be a fish.  Or a twin. I argue enough with my sister without having to share a birthday. What are you?

A goat.

Because you're smelly and eat everything. I definitely wouldn't choose Sagittarius. I couldn't be a hunter. I can't even kill that damn squirrel who keeps stealing nuts from our bird-feeders. I'm going to stick with Leo, final answer.

What Will Be

How will things go down with the interex? Do you think they're as friendly as they make out?  For that matter, is Horus?

There's nothing yet to suggest the interex aren't being honest, and that their relationship with the Kinebrach is anything other than as advertised, but it's too early to tell.  Horus I think is genuinely biding his time, waiting for enough evidence one way or the other so he can explain himself to the Emperor. And obviously neither side are going to be entirely honest with each other, having only just met.  I mean, Horus is clearly underplaying the rampant xenophobia angle.

Yeah, it did seem somewhat disingenuous for Horus to describe his fleet as having "a military component".  Like describing university has having "aspects of drinking".

Horus might be playing angles here.  They might be able to gain some of the interex's technology. He might also be testing Loken, to see how his temperament deals with this new situation.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Fathers And Sons

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (VII)

Primarch Sanguinius
(copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

It has been said by some that each of the twenty Primarchs embody a singular facet of the almighty Emperor's whole.  Perhaps this is indeed true. What cannot be true, of course, is that they represent the whole of the Emperor - not unless those long-since forgotten leaders of the II and XI Legions were far more expansive in their natures than the eighteen recorded in Imperial history. What the Primarchs represent are aspects of the Emperor as warrior. Angron's brawling, Russ' howling relentlessness, Guilliman and Fulgrim with their dedication to perfection in strategic thought and tactical acumen respectively; each one embodies superhuman prowess in a given approach to war. Even Magnus' dabbling in sorcery and Lorgar's obsession with religious propaganda are simply about expanding the methods through which galactic war can be waged.

Only Sanguinius breaks from this pattern. Only Sanguinius exemplifies the Emperor as something else. Like all the Primarchs, he is a warrior, yes.  But he is also something else.

He is a diplomat.

The very word "diplomat" is one that is cursed here in the Forty-First Millennium. To talk when one can fight is seen as weakness, or even cowardice. If we can get what we want without compromise, the ideologues insist, then compromise can never be necessary; talk can never be anything but a waste of time.  We have explained the foolishness of this insistence before, of course. In a galaxy in the grips of total, endless war, and an Imperium at less than half the size it boasted as the Great Crusade neared its end, the relevant metric should not be what we can get with the minimum of outside contact, but what we can get with the minimum of cost.

Too little is recorded of Sanguinius' words and thoughts to know how completely he would understand or agree with our position. What is known is that, alone of the Primarchs, his tendency was always to listen and empathise with his brothers, rather than insist and posture.  Where his brothers would simply state their opinion and their position whilst ignoring or belittling - or even hoping for - dissenters, Sanguinius would absorb the arguments of each and attempt to stake out common ground. That is not to imply Sanguinius gave falsely flattering counsel, it is simply that he valued offering the truth in the form where it might be most easily recognised.  Not for nothing did Horus call him his conscience.

We see all this in his deft handling of the potential schism between Horus and Fulgrim, working to repair the rift before it had even really begun to form. That Eidolon was clearly in the wrong was not the point, nor is the fact that a vendetta between the Luna Wolves and the Emperor's Children might, as things turned out, actually have been of some help to the Emperor and his loyal sons.

No, what matters is that Sanguinius saw that two of his brothers might soon become estranged from each other, and in the wake of his own tragic losses, chose to dedicate his attentions to helping his family.

Indeed, one wonders what Sanguinius might have been able to accomplish had he been by the Warmaster's side for longer (note, for instance, that Horus only began to ruminate - or at least speak openly - about his failures on Sixty-Three Nineteen and Murder after discussing them with Sanguinius).  His insights into the way Horus' brothers viewed his ascension could have been most helpful. More importantly, one suspects he might have been able to point out to Horus what should have been clear all along: the Emperor hadn't made Horus Warmaster so that he could abandon his children.  He made Horus Warmaster to make his favourite son more like himself than anyone else had ever been.

We return once more to the central tragedy from which the blood-drenched horrors of the Horus Heresy was born: how could Horus not see his father's actions were, far from a betrayal, a mirror of his own? Sanguinius puts his finger on this when he gently reminds Horus of their father's wish the Luna Wolves be renamed the Sons of Horus. The Emperor was anything but unaware of the potential dangers of leaving the Crusade, and specifically took steps to ensure Horus could fill the void in every way possible.

It was Horus who refused that honour, because he preferred to focus on the loss of his father and not how that loss could best be dealt with.  This focus on how the new order affected him and not his father led to blind-spots that in other circumstances would be comical. How else could a man so intelligent as Horus state he would never have accepted the role of Warmaster had it meant giving up fighting directly in the Crusade and never stop to consider for a moment how unbearable the Emperor must have found his own removal from the field? How could he object to the idea of being held unique above all others and not intuit the impossibility of his Father's position?

How could he rally so completely when Sanguinius joined him to fight mankind's foes in the crucible of combat and still come out thinking that the Emperor's self-imposed exile on Terra was a problem for Horus?

We have stated already that galactic civil war was all but inevitable, Chaos or not; the Imperium's nature and methods simply made it too difficult for it to stay at peace indefinitely.  Only two people had any hope of stopping the schism.  One was the Emperor himself. The other was Sanguinius. Greatest of the Primarchs. In some ways, greater even than his father. The Emperor, after all, should have seen what was coming.  Sanguinius is free from such blame. Indeed, if he had any fault at all in what transpired, it is that he could not be everywhere at once (something legend states he took every opportunity to correct during the Siege of the Emperor's Palace). That it was his final act which saved the Imperium was as inevitable as it was tragic. The man who would have done anything to avoid fighting with his family or his family fighting amongst itself went into battle one last time to do exactly that. To save what he could.  To save all that he was able to save.

We will never see his like again. Worse, Our Imperium would never allow itself to understand or tolerate his like even could it be forged anew.

That great tragedy, and every small tragedy that broke in its wake, remains far ahead of our tale, hovewer.  Our next port of call is the strange society of the interex, and the Warmaster's second attempt to find common ground with a long-lost human society. His first efforts came to naught because of the violent extremism of his opposite number.  The tale of what happens in the constellation of Sagittary is far more complicated, and far more tragic.


What Was

Were you impressed by the scale of the Ullanor celebrations? Or do you think the Mechanicum could have got away with just planing half a continent?

It seemed completely ridiculous. Why level an entire fucking planet? Thats just stupid.  A whole ecosystem destroyed so they could listen to the Emperor speak?  And heads every five yards? Horrible rotting putrid heads every five yards? Even in the Dark Ages they wouldn't go for anything so extreme.  Or is it designed gto be a new form of measurement?

Yes, from this day forth all distances were measured in gangrenous Ork bonces (GBO).

Also, if there were people all over the continent, how could they all hear the Emperor?

You can fit a lot of people into fairly small areas. I read somewhere the entire population of the world could fit on the Isle on Man, though absolutely none of them would thank you for it, and they wouldn't be allowed to bring along quite so many tanks.  But in any case, I'm sure they had video screens.

They didn't mention video screens.

Well I'm sure it's implicit. They didn't mention the toilets either.

Don't Astartes just... go into their armour?

I still think you'd have to empty it out from time to time. Like a vacuum cleaner, only much worse. Plus the Imperial Army would still need Portaloos.

What about hot-dog vendors? How come they aren't mentioned?  Someone must have been doling out snacks.

Hot dogs? In the Thirty-First Millennium?

Fine. Greenskin tentacles. "Get your greenskin tentacles here! Mustard or ketchup! Get them while they're freshly butchered in a pointless war!"

Greenskins don't have tentacles, darling. You're such a noob.

All I'm saying is, there was plenty of opportunity to flesh things out.

And all I'm saying is that discussing the tedious logistics of this once-in-a-universe celebration is possibly missing the point.

What Is 

Does Sanguinius live up to his reputation? For that matter, do you like him at all?

He seemed a bit of a non-entity. Though really he wasn't really in it for very long. I can see the charisma, though. It was smart of him to chat with Torgaddon and Tarvitz. It was interesting hearing his thoughts on the potential feud between Horus and Fulgrim, but it came out of nowhere a bit.

I'm sure Sanguinius is smart enough to see what's in the air.

Yeah, but there was no build-up. They've both got good points.

Anything else?

He had black hair.  You told me it was blond.

We can't be sure what he was. This is all "unreliable narrator" territory.

I'm wondering if the moment with Sanguinius recognising the helmet owner was a bit of theatre.  Does Sanguinius really know the armour markings of every one of his captains? Or does looking like it just suit his purpose and his reputation.

You're a deeply cynical person, you know that?

He wears a lot of bling, I notice. Does Horus wear that much bling?

He might do, actually. Cthonic bling might be very different to the Baal equivalent.

Oh, OK.

I'm surprised you don't want to talk about his wings.

Are they real wings?


Well how does that work? How come people love him so much when he exactly the sort of freak they usually want to stab to death?

Just one of those things.

Is that why they're called the Blood Angels? Because he's called Sanguinius and he's an angel?

I can't remember.  Chicken and egg.

I'd rather he was Angelus. Much cooler than Angel.

This is both off-topic and tremendously disturbing.  As per usual.

Do you think Sanguinius has persuaded Horus not to chew out Fulgrim over putting Eidolon in charge of three hundred Astartes? And do you think that was a good idea on Sanguinius' part to begin with?

I'm not sure, is the honest answer. The problem I have is that I don't know how Fulgrim would actually react to Horus calling Eidolon out as a smug shit, and how much of said shittiness was actually obvious to Horus. It seems like Horus could have a conversation with Sanguinius about something dumb a Blood Angel had done. I guess Fulgrim has a hotter temper? Or maybe Fulgrim isn't as supportive of the Warmaster as Horus thinks, and Sanguinius is worried about stirring up resentment?

I guess my question is whether it wouldn't be more sensible for the argument to actually take place? It's all very well smoothing ruffled feathers (no pun intended), but surely there comes a time when these issues have to be resolved?

Well, if the Emperor's Children keep acting the way they have, it's going to separate them even further from the pack.  How long before they stop listening to the Warmaster altogether. It depends whether Sanguinius is advising the conversation doesn't come up, or just that they have the discussion as calmly as possible. Something has to happen; Eidolon was damn close to mutiny, and you can't let that slide completely. And the Luna Wolves can't do it, or whatever Fulgrim's response was likely to be will get ten times worse.

What do you think of the idea of renaming the XVI Legion as "The Sons of Horus"?

Where does the name 'Luna Wolves' come from anyway?

I think the XVI Legion had their first major campaign on Luna. Why?

Because it depends entirely on what meaning the original name has for them as to how smart it is to rename them. It might cause more problems with the Emperor's Children for there to be another Legion with name based around a single hero.  Is the Emperor grooming Horus to replace him?

I wonder.

It would put a lot more pressure on Horus.  He's not just be the Warmaster, he'd be the guy who, if he screws up, has an entire Legion named after his unworthy hide. That might be why he didn't want to do it.  He might hope eventually someone else will take over from him.  Besides, would the rebranding even work?

How do you mean?

Well, everyone says the Luna Wolves are crass, backward yobs.  Would calling them 'The Sons of Horus' actually change that?

I can't imagine anyone in the Luna Wolves could care less about what people call them.

Yes, but if they then become crass, backward upstart yobs, it might cause a lot of problems.

We've made it to the end of the second part of Horus Rising. How did it hold up, both on its own terms and in comparison to "The Deceived".

It was certainly interesting to see the Astartes let loose on non-humans, and to see how the different Legions behave and interact. But then I suppose the first part of the book needed to show us how they differ from normal people.  It was clearly an introductory part.  All that stuff with remembrancers and iterators might have been a bit slow for your average adrenaline junkie, but I quite like it.  This was more the sort of thing I was expecting from the book.

And I still don't see why they had to kill off everything that wasn't human.

So does it work for you as a war story?  I know you prefer shields and swords to guns and, er, swords.

It seemed a little short on details.  The six month war was pretty sketchy - I don't even know if the Astartes are winning through skill or just getting lucky.  I want more blood and gore, is what I'm saying.

What Will Be

Who are the musical people in the giant spaceships, and what do they want?

Why is it Horus is the only one who thinks of this as music?

I have my own theory, but what do you think?

Is it because he was the only Primarch whose heard it?  Was it from his being multilingual?

Perhaps. If I were to guess, I'd say it never even occurred to Frome or Eidolon that the signals were worth listening to.

And the Mournival? They heard it and didn't catch it. Has Horus come across something like this before?

Not to my knowledge. But he's clearly exceptionally smart. And we know from what happened to Hastur Sejanus that Horus' first instinct when he encounters something new is to try and encounter it.

What would have happened if Horus had arrived at Murder before the Blood Angels? Do you think he'd have attacked as quickly?  Or would he have tried to understand the beacons first?

I think he might well have done.  But that's not the problem right now; the problem is that trio of gigantic starships bearing down on our heroes.

I think those ships belong to the people who created the megarachnids. What happens now is whether Murder was an experiment, a farm, or a guard post. Whoever they are, they could be pretty terrifying.  That question: "what have you done here".  That suggests something pretty important was going on, and they've come over from wherever they're from to demand answers.  I wonder how they knew the Astartes were there?  They seem pretty advanced; big ships, an ease of translating human language. Or maybe they've come across humans before...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

We're All Stories In The End

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (VI)

Iacton Qruze (copyright DartP)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

So we have been saying that for the last sixteen weeks.  The simple fact, though, is that here in our bunker beside our illicit astropathic array, we cannot claim to be sure what any given fact actually is. The truth might be inviolate, but it is not easily duplicated. 

This is most clear during the final days spent around One Forty Twenty, as Loken reads The Chronicles of Ursh.  It is not just that the book could be as much myth and madness as it is fact - no historian could witness a war between two unimaginably powerful schools of psykers and describe it coherently - we must also contend with the fact that we can only work with Loken's interpretation of that text.  Here, ten thousand years on since the attempted pacification of the world of Murder, we cannot read The Chronicles... for ourselves, nor any other document from its time which might provide context.

And so, here we are, offering our thoughts to you, so that you can interpret how we interpret how Garviel Loken interpreted The Chronicles of Ursh as its writer interpreted events thousands of years lost.

Nor is this some minor academic point. The inability to distinguish between events and the stories of those events can cause great problems.  A minor example is Iacton Qruze, who seems to be almost entirely within his stories of a Legion that not only no longer exists as he remembers it, but possibly never did.  Far more seriously, had Horus understood the visions he was offered on Davin were versions of the truth, rather than the truth itself, Erebus might not have found the results of his machinations quite so satisfactory.

Oftentimes, a tragedy of brother fighting brother can be traced back to simple mis-communication.  The history of the Heresy - to the extent we can trust what we think we know about it, of course - is less to do with missing information so much as the fictions that inevitably grow in the absence of that information, like fungus in corners the sun forgets to reach.

Soon, enough, events will accelerate, as Erebus makes his move, and the information that would save Horus stops being merely absent, and begins to be deliberately withheld. That process will begin in the Interex's Hall of Devices, but other issues will occupy us first.

We have an angel to deal with.


What Was

I rather like Loken's experiences with The Chronicles Of Ursh.  It's quite Gene Wolfe, really. It's also a useful look into the history of the universe Loken inhabits.  Did anything there leap out at you?

It was an interesting look at how they used to do Crusades, and the prototype Astartes. Plus, it explains what happened to Xavyer.  Otherwise, though, it was mainly just more fighting.

You weren't intrigued by a tribe of pilots who almost never touch the ground, or the terrifying might of the Red Engines?

I remember none of these things.  Though I was fairly drunk when I read it.  I remember the insect swarms, though.  I'm surprised you were able to keep reading after that.

I've read that chapter three times, and I'd never picked up on that. Blanked it out, clearly.

Really, I think Loken's reactions were more interesting than the book itself. And why Sindermann recommended it. Once I got to the part where someone turned against his friends just like Jubal did, it all made sense. Maybe Sindermann has another explanation for what happened?  Or maybe the "magic" they used in ...Ursh is part of the Warp?  I still don't understand what the Warp is, which isn't helping.  Every time I read it I assume they're talking about a warp-drive.

While I'm on the subject, why are all these people so convinced about everything having a scientific explanation if they can't understand the Warp?

I guess they don't need to have an explanation, they just need to believe one exists.

But if it works like magic, and they have no idea what it is, how can they just wave it away?

I think they sort of side-step it, by just saying "the laws of physics work differently there", and leaving it at that.  Though I accept that "different laws of physics" isn't much different to "it's just magic" as an explanation.

I think this was the first time it's mentioned that Horus was "repatriated" to the Luna Wolves some time after they had already been in action. Shall we have a quick update on Legion Nature According to Fliss?

Well we already know he's not from the same planet as the Luna Wolves.  "Repatriate" implies a return, so the question is what was he returning to.  Presumably there must have been a Primarch before Horus: so what happened to him?  I presume Horus did something to upset the Emperor (who might not have been an Emperor at that point), and eventually fought hard enough to regain favour. 

If there were prototype Astartes, actually, were there prototype Primarchs? These new Primarchs certainly don't seem to be doing the job.  Back in the old days the Legions were all fighting alongside each other.  These days they seem to spend most of their time sniping at each other. There seemed to be a lot of friction between the Luna Wolves and the Imperial Fists when they were around, and the Emperor's Children seem to just deliberately piss other Legions off.  Even Torgaddon's comment to Tarvitz about how the Wolves respect the Emperor's Children reads like a dismissal of the other Legions.

What Is

We talked back when Jubal first went crazy and murderous that there might have been some kind of hallucinogenic agent warping what was genuinely going on. Have Keeler's pictures/Sindermann's book changed your mind on that?

Actually, I don't think the picture discussion is all that helpful. I'm struggling to understand what the picture is supposed to look like. It just sounds like a blur of light around Jubal. They talk about 'nightmares' and 'abominations', but that could just be because he was attacking people.  Who knows how people look when they're outside time and space?

Which in itself is surely indicative of something else going on.

Well, it's the Warp, or whatever.  Messing around with reality. Like something in Next Gen, or Stargate. Did you appreciate my references?

Very good, dear.

Were you as disappointed as I was that Torgaddon didn't punch Eidolon repeatedly in the face?

Yes, but he couldn't realistically have done it.

Why not?

He'd have been punished for that, I imagine.  Or Eidolon would have demanded a duel. Bolt pistols at dawn.

I would have thought you can slap around people under your command whenever you like.  Particularly when they are purple-clad douchebags.

But how does the ranking work here?  Why does Eidolon obviously think Torgaddon is beneath him?  Is there an equivalent to Lord Commander in the Luna Wolves?

I think the closest equivalent would be the Mournival, but I'm not sure.  The Emperor's Children confuse me on this. I would hazard a guess that the only Luna Wolf Eidolon would consider his equal would be Abaddon, as captain of the 1st Company.

I guess the Mournival might not be officially recognised command unit, at least where other Legions are concerned.

It's certainly only the Warmaster's direct command to Torgaddon to take charge that shuts Eidolon up.  Before Horus' promotion, I'm not sure there's an Astartes in the galaxy who Eidolon wouldn't have assumed he could order about.

Was Eidolon around when the Emperor's Children were fighting alongside the Luna Wolves?  I'd have thought Torgaddon would have recognised him?

Ordinarily I'd agree; usually seniority of rank implies long years of service.  With Eidolon, though, I don't know.  He strikes me as a smarmy arse-kisser who's climbed the ranks pretty quickly.  Which kind of explains his simultaneous superiority and inferiority complexes.

Like people who come straight out of university to a management role, or those people who are suddenly going to be in charge of the police force without any experience on the beat?

Far-future genetically-engineered warrior equivalent of.

Why do you think Lucius is such a fan of Eidolon?

I think Lucius has just completely bought into the idea that the Emperor's Children are the best Legion.  He's probably in this story so that we can compare him with Tarvitz and see how much cooler he is than his comrades.  Though it might also be to cause more friction with the Luna Wolves. I can see Lucius butting heads with Loken, in particular.

Any thoughts on Iacton Qruze?

He might be useful at some point with strategy for the Legion.  Mainly he just seems useless, though, and I don't understand why no-one's gotten rid of him. If he has all these dangerous and heretical ideas.

I don't think his ideas are dangerous, so much as so old-fashioned nobody has any interest in hearing them.

It's interesting to think what would happen to a mind after all that time.  Has he gone demented from everything he's seen?

Maybe, though there doesn't seem to be any sign of that.  He just seems to be like any other man whose glory days are long gone, only he has to spend their time surrounded by reminders of who he once was.

Was he one of the proto-Astartes?  And what happened to all of the other ones?

He might have been around since the beginning; it depends on what "proto-Astartes" actually means. I imagine the rest all died in battle.  It's pretty heavily suggested that getting to Qruze's age is pretty unlikely for an Astartes. It does make me wonder how often the 3rd Company gets to see combat, actually. 

What would happen if they retired him?  Would he get to spend his days in fields like a horsey? Or would they break him down and recycle his parts.

It depends how Orwellian they're feeling, I guess.

What Will Be

Loken put an awful lot of effort this chapter into insisting nothing could possibly ever cause the Emperor's Legions to fight each other, even as Torgaddon came within inches of being attacked by Eidolon's personal guard.  If and when fighting breaks out, what do you think the sides will look like? Will the Luna Wolves fight the Emperor's Children?  Or will it be something a little more complicated?

I think more complicated. A lot depends on Fulgrim's reaction to Eidolon's spat with Torgaddon.  If Fulgrim takes his Lord Commander's side, things could come to blows.  Sanginius' reaction to what's happened to his Blood Angels will be interesting to watch as well.  Will he be thankful for the rescue attempts, or will he be annoyed that they failed, or think the other Legions are interfering? Lastly, there's Tarvitz.  Which way he jumps will be important.  Lucius would happily fight the Luna Wolves, but Tarvitz? I don't see it.

I wonder if they're setting Loken up as a Wolverine-type character. He'll do all the fighting he has to, unless he doesn't think the fight was for the right thing.  Like what Logan did in Civil War. He might decide he has to fight his own Legion if he starts disagreeing with what they're doing.

There's Keeler, too, of course, who's now become a part of the Cult of the Emperor.  That could cause problems for Loken, who calls her friend, but who thinks the Cult is utterly unacceptable.  They could end up fighting against the cult, which could end up splitting Legions into factions. I wonder if the Emperor's Children are particularly vulnerable to cult infiltration. That would put Eidolon and Lucius against people like Tarvitz, along with Loken and Torgaddon.  But what if the Lodge is where they secretly worship the Emperor, and that's why they were banned.

But if your God tells you not to worship him any more, what do you do?

They'll find their own meaning in what the Emperor said.

So, to summarise: a religious war which ends up splitting the Legions up?



Also, the Emperor might be dead.  Horus might have killed him already. Dun dun DURR!!