Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Deception Of Massive Proportion

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (V)

Lodge Master Serghar Targost in his blackest
armour (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

We come, at last, to the Warrior Lodge.

When we first discussed Loken's induction to the Mournival, we noted the irony in his unwavering hatred of the Lodge, contrasted with his breathless joy at joining Abaddon, Torgaddon and Aximand. After all, were we to described a horizontal band of brothers designed to strengthen the Legion through mutual support, but which ultimately helped tear it apart instead, it's not clear which of the two organisations we might be referring.

But that is not to say they are without their differences.  The most important, as Loken himself would surely point out, is that the lodge is outlawed by the Emperor. Which is reason enough for an Astartes, doubtless, but for us the interdiction is curious. What is it about the character of the lodge that the Emperor found so disagreeable?

The most plausible explanation might seem initially to be the secret nature of the lodge. This needs to be considered carefully, however.  In our current climate of insane bureaucracy and violent literalness circular reasoning is not hard to find, but during the Great Crusade it is simply not plausible that the Emperor disapproved of the secrecy of the lodges, and the lodges were secret because of the Emperor's disapproval. Either the secrecy predated the Emperor's edict, or the Emperor objected to the lodges operating even in full view, forcing them to move metaphorically underground.

The former seems far more likely - banning the congregation of Imperial warriors to discuss tactics and shore up morale would be obviously self-defeating. A secret such order would be more concerning. This, though, simply leads us to another question: what would the lodges gain by such secrecy?

The answer gets us close to understanding how the lodge was so crucial to Horus in the early days of his rebellion.  The lodge has to be secret because it has to be unofficial. It is absolutely crucial that when a captain sends a man to die, he can compartmentalise the fact they spent the previous night discussing their victories and defeats. Or that the newest initiate can find fault with his commander and know the drop next week won't see him left behind in retribution. The only way the horizontal and vertical can exist simultaneously is if the latter does not acknowledge the former's existence.

It's a fine conceit, but if it goes wrong, it goes wrong very badly.  Loken was terrified of what when on in the lodge when he thought them potential enemies, and far happier with the idea once they accepted him as a friend. Much as he did with the Mournival, Loken entirely - or almost entirely - missed the obvious point: the lodge can only function in the way it was intended to when everyone is on the same side. The flip side of having an organisation separate from the chain of command is that the chain of command can't touch it.  Face a problem with your officer in the field, and the lodge might be able to intercede.  Face a problem with an officer in the lodge, one whom it transpires can't separate that life from his official duties, and to whom can you turn?

In short, what goes on in the lodge ultimately eclipses what goes on outside it, which is beneficial only to those the lodge supports. When Loken notes his one remaining concern - that secret societies inevitably become societies who hoard secrets - he is closer to the truth than he knows.  Horus was utterly reliant on the lodge during the early days of the treacherous attacks on Istvaan III.

Those who doubt that proposition should consider the following.  The battle of Istvaan III was fought between two groups of Horus' Legion (along with the Death Guard, World Eaters, and Emperor's Children, but those we shall consider when their time comes): those loyal to the Emperor, and those loyal to Horus.  Except, of course, that there could never only be those two groups.  There had to be three kinds of Luna Wolf (or Sons of Horus, as they became): those unshakably loyal to the Emperor, those fanatically devoted to Horus, and those who would have chosen Horus if forced to make the decision, but who would never countenance the unprovoked murder of thousands of their brother Astartes.

What happened to that third group?  Were they all included with the forces sent down to Istvaan III? Surely not. The loyalist force that descended was too few in number to include such borderline cases.  Horus was ruthless in his plan to extinguish what he saw as traitors from his ranks, but he was not a man given to senseless waste.  Far more sensible, surely, to retain those Astartes he could rely on in all other circumstances until after the first strike on Istvaan III was complete, to be employed during later sorties after he had spread whatever story he liked amongst them.

But how could this be achieved?  How could potentially thousands of Astartes be sounded out - separated from both the list of victims and of executioners - without the alarm being raised?  How could those same thousands be kept unaware of the virus bombing and subsequent firestorm unleashed on the planet by their Primarch?

It could only have been the lodge. Working in the shadows, building support man by man, disappearing those they misjudged and claiming later to have sent them on classified missions. Loken was right.  The secret society ended up keeping the single most devastating, most deadly secret imaginable. Having disobeyed the Emperor's order to disband in favour of their Primarch's quiet tolerance, it was a simple matter to choose the same course when the Primarch asked it. It judged Loken and Torgaddon and Vipus unworthy of it, and turned its weapons against them.

So did the XVI Legion tear itself apart.


What Was

Apparently the Warrior Lodge has been around for an awfully long time, so I'll be cheeky and ask about it here.  Erm... what do you think about that Warrior Lodge, then?

I can't say.

Very clever.

Well, it's just a club, isn't it?  Don't they have any sports teams in the fleet?  A squash ladder?

They have cage sparring, I guess.

Does that work across ranks, though, or can you only beat up the people you joined up with?  I don't know what you want me to say; I've no idea what secret societies are like, I'm not in one.

I was hoping you could use your imagination.  I'm not expecting you to suddenly reveal you've been a Mason all this time.

I'm not allowed; I'm a girl.

Girls can be in the Masons.

No they can't.

Then what are the Masonettes?

Small French houses.


What Is

More on the lodge, I think.  A lot of space was given in this chapter for the lodge members to try and justify their society. Did they succeed?

Maybe.  But then they're obviously putting a show on for Loken, aren't they. They're not going to let him watch all their deepest darkest top-secret rituals. I just don't see why it has to be secret.

So that issues can be resolved outside of the chain of command.

Why would you need that?  The chain of command should be able to work things out itself.  Besides, it rather blows to hell the whole idea of being the chosen of the Emperor if you're going to go round ignoring his instructions. I'd figure that would do more damage than you'd repair letting people bitch about their CO. Like in A Few Good Men.


That was about people questioning the chain of command.

That was about the chain of command fucking over a squaddie to the point where he died.  Not really a good advert for solving problems without talking.

I thought there was a mole. The orange man. 

The orange man?

Er... Kevin Bacon! He advertises Orange. And he tipped off Tom Cruise about Robert de Niro.

Oh, for God's sake. Let's move on.

Were you surprised to see Tarik Torgaddon and Nero Vipus among the members?

Vipus wasn't a surprise; he was acting suspiciously when Loken showed him the medallion.  I wouldn't say I was expecting Tarik, but it's not particularly surprising, given how similar the lodge and the Mournival are.

Does having them as members suggest the lodge isn't going to be a problem?

Maybe. Though it's less that Vipus makes the lodge look better so much as him keeping his membership secret makes him seem a bit more suspicious.

Let's move from the lodge to Horus' time aboard the Misericord.  How well do you think his plan for sorting out August and Eskerrus went?

I think it worked for August, though really I'm not sure what else he was supposed to have done.  If he'd held back the other companies after the first landing, he'd have been in trouble for letting people die unsupported.  I don't know about Eskerrus.  He's definitely the perfect equerry for Eidolon.

You mean he's a prick?

That was not what I said, but it was what I meant to imply. I'm trying to avoid swearing this week.

Good idea.  Leave it to the fucking professionals.

This might actually end up working out badly for Horus. Eskerrus could twist the briefing into it being about Horus not keeping his men sufficiently in check.  Eidolon would go for that; he'll be looking for any chance to get back at the Luna Wolves.

What else could Horus have done, though?

Shot Eidolon in the head?

I figured that was where this was going. Though, obviously, I'm all in favour of that idea.

Do you particularly despise bunting?

No. I have no strong feelings one way or another on bunting.

You don't think it's a grotesque reminder of our shameful Imperial heritage?

Bunting can come in all shapes and sizes.  It's not just the Union Jack.  Which in itself is an inspiring reminder of the unification of four lands.

But it always ends up used to give praise to a decrepit figurehead of an ideologically bankrupt institution.

I'm not necessarily as rabid a republican as you are. And don't call the queen decrepit.  She's doing very well for her age.

I'm sure everyone would do well at that age if they had access to cyborg technology, or whatever they give her. Her mother managed it by being pickled in gin, I think.

I'll admit it's a strange thing to be carrying around in a military fleet.

Yeah, you'd be proper furious if you run out of ammo fighting greenskins and the last cargo hold turns out to be filled with tiny flags on strings.

What would be on them, anyway? The Legions colours? Horus' face?

I like to imagine it's a picture of the Emperor giving us the thumbs up.

Do you think if two Legions meet their bunting might clash?

That's actually a big part of why the heresy kicks off.

What Will Be

Who took Jubal's lodge medal, and is that going to matter?

Probably. It's clearly bullshit that they forgot he was a member and so didn't pick up his medallion.  Maybe someone is trying to discredit Loken, by revealing his officers have lodge sympathies.

But Horus has lodge sympathies.

Says the lodge.  Maybe if Loken hadn't passed Jubal over for promotion this all would come out and Loken would be disgraced. It might be Sindermann or a remembrancer who took the medallion, to stop anyone from using it against Loken.

So who would want to discredit Loken?

Aximand?  He voted against Loken getting into the Mournival.  Maybe he still wants rid of him. Maybe Karkasy is behind it; in the interests of the truth-telling he claims to be so insistent on, and coincidentally-I'm-sure to get a scoop in the process. It could be Maloghurst, as part of whatever scheme he's up to this week.

Alternatively, it could be Horus himself, spiriting the medallion away in case it had something to do with Jubal going mad.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Perfection Storm

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (IV)

Lord Commander Eidolon
(copyright unknown)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

There are, in general, three ways by which a Space Marine force can fall to Chaos.  The first is through an external event of sufficient force - a hull breach whilst in the Warp; the finding of some misunderstood daemonic artifact; even a sudden decision by an Inquisitor that an unshakably loyal Chapter has deviated too far from acceptable behaviour, as happened to the Steel Cobras.  The second is through emotional instability, either in their commander or more generally. 

Alternatively, most insidiously, the forces of Chaos have a third option: turn an Astartes philosophy against him.

When we come to discuss in detail the fall of Fulgrim himself, there's little doubt that it was a combination of the first two methods - the second following directly from the first - that actually caused the Primarch to abandon the light of the Emperor (though we note Horus considered him a most likely candidate for rebellion without knowing anything of the events on Laer or the hunt for the Diasporex).  The fall of Emperor's Children as a Legion, though, is somewhat more complicated.  It would be difficult in the extreme to chart the fall of Eidolon and not see his obsession with perfection not being the root cause.

So if we accept the bitter paradox that an army's motivation for the quest for perfection led to them abandoning even the most basic laws of decency, where exactly does the fault in the thinking of the Emperors Children lie?

It cannot be, surely, the desire to strive for perfection.  Taking the entirety of the species into consideration, there can be no human impulse more damaging than deciding we do not need to try any harder; that what we are will suffice. Evil always rises on the backs of people who have decided they're already doing all they can.  No instinct drives us further from our fellow man than the idea that they should do more to accommodate us, because we are already the best we can be.

Such solipsistic laziness should be fought with every fibre of our being, and the Emperor's Children, to their great credit, were well aware of that.  Where the III Legion failed, then, was not their aiming for perfection.  No matter that such a goal is impossible, the attempt to reach it is valuable precisely because the alternative is a selfish, mediocre stasis. The flaw in Fulgrim's approach lay not in asking the question "How does one strive for perfection?", but in its follow-on questions: "What happens when we fail to reach perfection?" and "Who gets to define perfection, anyway?"

There is, as we have argued, no problem with striving for an impossible goal, but this remains true only so long as the inevitable failure is not to be punished.  When one is handing out sanctions for failing to achieve a dream, it causes resentment.  When one hands out those sanctions to oneself in the form of guilt, the situation is much worse.  The human mind is simply not designed to store guilt.  It can only process it into other materials - most commonly anger towards and the blaming of others.  This conversion process practically begs for the subject to find fault in others, and to use those faults as excuses for one's own failures.  Lord Commander Eidolon provides the ultimate example here; a man utterly unable to either accept his own mistakes or to allow his subordinates to own their successes.  The inevitable result of such an approach is to replace an army of comrades with a scrum of individual warriors, for whom battle becomes simply a way to fight against one's comrades for glory and recognition.  It was only ever a matter of time before the Emperor's Children realised this approach would be far more efficient if they were to cut out the middle man.

The second problem comes in how perfection is defined.  One of the principle reasons why perfection lies beyond us is the desperately complicated and intertwined nature of existence.  What is most sensible in one situation is desperately foolish in another. More to the point, many circumstances require complex balancing acts in dozens of different directions.  At such times, it is far from clear that the perfect action even exists, let alone can be recognised.  One can try to do one's best, try to minimise the distance between the resolution one achieves and whatever hypothetical perfect response might exist, but that is all.

The Emperor's Children - and in some ways, the Emperor himself - refused to recognise this. Rather than allow for situations too complicated to allow for the concept of perfection, they instead decided to simplify their worldview to allow a tragically narrow definition of perfection to suffice.  Humans, this argument went, are perfection, ergo aliens are imperfect. Perfection can therefore only be achieved in the shedding of alien blood through human needs.  Even turning the aliens' own weapons against them was to be imperfect, or so Anteus and Eidolon impressed upon Lucius.

It should be obvious that this approach is ultimately counter-productive - a force unwilling to comprehend their enemy is one doomed to be outwitted - but there is a still larger problem. By focusing so completely on the most narrow concerns, the Legion left itself terribly vulnerable to manipulation. Promising superior performance in the few areas the Emperor's Children valued granted one a license to commit almost any crime, as Fabius Bile quickly realised. Fulgrim could have thrown the silver blade into Laeran's seas, and under Bile's administrations the Legion would still ultimately have become unrecognisable, a loose coalition of bickering narcissists competing to see who amongst them could go furthest in altering their bodies to become ever more "perfect" killers.

Fulgrim's mistakes and cupidity caused the Emperor's Children to rebel against their namesake.  Had those mistakes been avoided, it would mean only that Emperor would have had the chance to start the war against them himself.  There was no third possibility, no other alternative the Legion could strive for.  In the final analysis, perfection was simply too important to allow for virtue.


What Was

Now that we've spent three chapters with the Emperor's Children and heard a little of their philosophy, how do they compare with the Luna Wolves?

I'm not sure I can see a difference.  Though it's difficult, because we're only following one guy, who we're probably following specifically because he's so much like Loken. The main difference is they don't have their Primarch with them.

What about their quest for perfection?

What quest for perfection?

You know. Tarvitz has a whole internal monologue about it, and how none of the other Legions understand him and neither do his mates.

I guess I haven't seen any evidence of that outside of Tarvitz himself.

Don't be ridiculous. Lucius always wants to be a better swordsman. Eidolon is working towards being the perfect dick.

Yeah, but I figure Lucius just isn't any use at anything else.  There's only one thing he's good at, so of course he keeps working towards it. Like you and video games. 

I'll ignore that.

Everyone's working towards perfection somehow.

I think that comment demonstrates a commendable but ultimately naive view of the slobby mass of humanity.

Even slobs search for, I don't know, the perfect meal.

That's not bettering themselves, though. That's waiting for someone else to perfect something and give it to them to guzzle.

Or the perfect blossom.


You know. Like in The Last Samurai.  That guy spends his whole life searching for the perfect blossom.  Then, just before he dies, he realises they're all perfect.

You mean he's wasted his life?

Look at what you're writing and say that again.

What Is

How does Lord Commander Eidolon strike you, now he's finally arrived in person?

A massive tool. He can't handle not having the good ideas, so punishes those who do, and he twists the beliefs and faiths of others to benefit himself.  He's a glory-hunter; an arse-kisser.

We need a third one, there.

Does it have to be double-barrelled?

It would help. Lyrically speaking, I mean.

Devious bastard.  That's not really double-barrelled, is it?

It'll work.  The hyphen would be silent anyway.

Eidolon and Captain Anteus both seemed pretty horrified by Lucius fighting with an alien weapon. Lucius ends up agreeing. Do you?

No. Are they always going to forgo potential advances just because they come from xenos?

But what if it came to life and, you know, chopped off his face?

Why would it do that?

I dunno. Aliens, man.

But why would the idea even occur to them?

Healthy racist paranoia?

But it would need to be sentient, right? To aim between the eyes.

I meant it as flowery language, Fliss; I'm not suggesting face recognition software.

So it just goes off at random? How is that worth it?  It might just chop his penis off.

Yeah, there's no way cock-severing would cause any problems.

Abnett mentions there were two consequences to Tarvitz blowing up the spiked trees.  Were either/both obvious to you from the start?

It hadn't occurred to me that he could've used the explosives to draw people together. I thought they'd cut the trees down, not start a bonfire.

What I mean is, isn't an obvious idea to use the charges to attract the attention of the others?

I don't think so.  You're not just announcing yourself to your mates, you're doing it to the enemy, which are a) scary, and b) definitely still alive, unlike your friends.  Still, maybe this is what Astartes do with their dead. Maybe they're too souped-up to burn, so they have to be exploded.  It might even been some kind of posthumous punishment for failing in battle.

I wonder how the Astartes deal with their dead, anyway?  If they have no emotions.

They have some emotions.  Just no fear.

Which means no fear of death.  Would you have funeral rites if you don't fear death?  I think there's an essay in this.

Will you write it?


(Eagle-eyed readers that Fliss hasn't mentioned the sudden disappearance of the shield-storms.  She'll kick herself when she reads the next chapter and/or this post).

Those horrible aliens turn out to have cement mixers, spades, and a clear form of industry, as difficult as it is for humans to understand.  Are you still sure leaving these things alone would have been the best course of action?

I'm still not changing my mind. They're clearly more advanced than 21st century humans, and they don't seem to have any interest in reaching for the stars.

Why do you say 'clearly more advanced'?

Because they can change the weather, and they look like they've got genetic engineering.  They clearly just want to be left alone.

What Will Be

Hooray! Tarik Torgaddon has arrived to help blow things up. But now his Speartip has saved Tarvitz and Lucius, what's the next move for our gallant xenophobes?

They'll have to fight for their lives. Get off the planet, or die trying.

Well, yes, that's the plan. Except that last bit, probably.  But will they succeed?

Not all of them. Hopefully Eidolon will soon be dead. Saul will get off-world. He and Loken will love each other. Or hate each other.  They're too similar for anything in-between.  The Empire had better hope Saul and Sindermann don't get together and start swapping notes. Between Sindermann starting to wonder whether there are higher beings out there somewhere and Saul's descriptions of killer aliens that seem from their description to have been created, it might start causing some scary ripples.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Reading Is Fundamental

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (III)

Horus' flagship, Vengeful Spirit (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Our question for today is this: why in the name of the Emperor would a conquering army bring their library along with them?

Actually, this shouldn't be a question at all.  If sufficient space exists on-board ship, there's no reason why an exploration/invasion fleet shouldn't carry anything its commanders please.  Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to imagine a forty-first millennium vessel carrying an expansive library where Imperial citizens can while away the hours reading up on rumours of Chaos.

To some extent this is simply a reflection of general Imperial policy.  Knowledge, like any other resource, is something to be jealously guarded and obsessively monitored; the inevitable consequence of allowing an organisation like the Administratum such tremendous power. But knowledge isn't like other commodities.  It is not and can never be used up. On the contrary, knowledge generates knowledge.  It auto-breeds.  Husbanding resources, then, cannot explain the situation.  Something else must be going on.

We know what that is, of course: knowledge of Chaos is exposure to Chaos. The creatures of the Empyrean terrify us at least in part because they can bypass any amount of armies and armour to strike at us.  This was knowledge denied to Sindermann, along with almost everyone else serving in the 63rd Expeditionary Fleet, so of course they were less guarded in their pursuit of enlightenment.

In truth, however, this is only part of the answer. Yes, the Imperium is paranoid of chaotic manifestations tearing the heart out of strongholds once thought impregnable.  But is is also terrified of the suggestion that a single lowly mutant be allowed to go about their lives without constant oppressive monitoring, if not indeed execution.  Yes, the chance that mutant is psychic is non-zero, and yes, the chance of a psychic mutant becoming corrupted by the warp is non-zero also (though to return to our last topic of conversation, how do those odds compare to the chance our hypothetical mutant is so enraged by their treatment they foment armed rebellion?). The fact remains that it is strange to see a culture so utterly convinced of its biological, martial and moral superiority over every other sentient race imaginable so scared of its own shadow.

The central paradox is this: if it is truly mankind's destiny to rule the galaxy, how can that glorious and inevitable fate be threatened by a three-eyed woman, or by a terraformed moon inhabited by humans happy to trade with local xenos? How can a culture that spends every other breath telling itself it is the greatest civilisation ever to have existed simultaneously believe the slightest deviation from what a planetary governor asserts a cardinal believes the Ecclesiarch interpets from a man who last spoke ten millennia ago meant to say will lead to utter disaster?

It is the nature of the powerful to fear others desire their power.  To believe that power can so easily be taken, though, is sad, paranoid delusion.  Or at least, that is how it starts. Ultimately, though, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The power of the powerful can be taken quite easily, by the powerful themselves, without them even realising.

Whether it is too late for the Imperium to avoid this fate, we choose not to speculate.  We simply point out that enemies beset us on all sides, and allies are not merely unavailable, but unimaginable.


What Was

Loken has spent some time recently deciding which candidates are suitable to be given full Astartes status. It might then be a good time to revisit your conception of just what the Astartes are.

So is he choosing soldiers from the "normal" army to become Astartes? Or do they get born as potential Astartes but not everyone makes the grade?  Or undergoes horrible mutations?  Maybe the ones that don't work out get turned back into genetically engineered goo, along with any of them that show emotions.  How do you genetically engineer a brain, anyway?

What Is

What do you think about this "Warrior Lodge" idea?

I don't understand how Loken can be frustrated by the idea of the Lodge but be OK with the Mournival.  Besides, I'd imagine doing nothing but kill everyone must be emotionally draining, even for genetically engineered warriors, and they might need to blow off steam by chatting about how awesome they are at killing people. Maybe the frisson of disrespectability helps with that.

So you think Loken might be deliberately trash-talking the Lodge so they feel all edgy and dangerous?

No. He's probably really against it, but he'll change his mind later. That seems to be his thing.  Maybe it'll turn out to be pretty similar to the Mournival, though maybe a bit less cultic.

Cultic?  That's not a word.

I know. But it should be.  It's a nice word.

A nice word is not a real word.

(Turns out: real word).

How different do you think the Great Crusade's approach might have been if the possessing creatures of the warp were common knowledge?

You mean assuming Horus didn't just make the whole thing up?

...Assuming that, yes.

It'd make things more difficult, surely? The Astartes cause enough trouble without people being terrified that they could blow your head off at any moment for no reason. I'm not sure how it would affect the Astartes themselves, for that matter.  It's shaken Sindermann to the core, and maybe Loken too, to the point where I'm not sure Horus trusts him. Though if that were true, why take him with him?

Yes, what possible reason could there be to want to keep someone untrustworthy near to you?

It's a dangerous thing to do, though.  Much safer to send him as far away as possible, get some invasive tests run.

The Horus you're describing is not our Horus.

You mean little Horus?

No! I mean Horus isn't going to pass Loken to anyone else to get probed.

The Emperor would, I bet. Maybe Horus sends Loken to him.  Kind of a peace offering?

That would be a hell of a plot twist.

Sindermann seems to be acting suspiciously over his choice of reading habits. What do you think he was really looking at?

He clearly doesn't believe the official story.  He's probably looking at religious texts.  Or porn. Religious porn.

Which part of that would piss the Great Crusaders off most?

The religious bit.

It's not like there's a dearth of secular porn, I suppose.


Are you really suggesting there's not enough porn around?  Are you aware of the internet?

I just don't go looking.

Clearly a lot of books were lost in the twenty-eight thousand years between us and the time of Loken. What do you hope survived?

The books from the Babylonian library.  Be good to read them.

But they don't exist now.

They exist in some form: air and dust.

So what you're saying is you'd like the same air and dust that aren't books now to be air and dust that aren't books in the future?

It's too hard to choose. Be easier to come up with a list of things I want gone.

Updated weekly: Fliss' list of things to not make it through to 30 000 AD.

Terry Pratchett. Boom. First on the list.  All of my book should survive, because that means my mother can't have given them all away.  Texts from Dog, for example.  The World's Cutest Zoo Babies.

I have a brilliant image of Sindermann sneaking peeks at a baby orang-utans when he things no-one is watching.

What Will Be

Now that Karkasy has been promoted to official truth-teller, is he going to get beaten up any less?

Depends on how temperamental Loken is.  I can't imagine anyone else beating him up publicly whilst he's under Loken's protection.  Privately is another matter.  He might like that in the bedroom.

It is not our place to judge.

He's probably still going to get plenty of slaps from women for his lecherous ways.  I bet he doesn't tell them the whole truth every time.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Clearly An Important Species

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (II)

Emperor's Children vs Megarachnids (copyright unknown)

The galaxy is better off without the Megarachnids.

In so wide and untameable a realm as the Imperium and its surroundings, there is very little that can be called inarguably true, but this proposition comes as close as any. Lethally fast and utterly hostile? None of our lives are less safe for their destruction.  Perhaps those most foolish and blinkered among our xenoentomologists lament the loss of interesting specimens, but were they to actually meet a Megarachnid, they would be dead in seconds and no-one would mourn them.

Thus does the cleansing of Murder represent the strongest case for the excesses of the Great Crusade. Not here the extermination of a peace-loving race like the Keykelid, the internecine murder of the battle for High City, or the hunting down of the Diasporex fleet. This war was simple: kill or be killed.

Except.  Except that Mersadie Oliton's question still can be asked. Why not simply leave them alone? 

One of the most iron-clad axioms that underpin our Imperium is that the ends justify the means.  From the enslaving of the lowliest mutant to the planetary abomination of Exterminatus, we are taught never to question whether our goals are worth any price. No-one ever seems concerned with the obvious response: how can we be sure our goals are what we're actually purchasing?

Consider how else the war on Murder could have played out.  Hundreds more Astartes could have been perished. For all their destructive might, even during those early, heady days of conquest the Legions were not inexhaustible.  One more marine dead in one war is one less ready to defend the Imperium from newer, perhaps greater threats. We need only look at the ten thousand years it took the Imperial Fists to reclaim the conquests of Rogal Dorn lost during the Heresy, or the lack of resources that led to Tau'n surviving long enough to spawn an entire interstellar empire, to realise the perils of a wasteful war.  The Megarachnids might even have forced a stalemate so bloody the Legions chose quarantine over genocide, and now there is a terrifyingly dangerous xenos race in the universe that has acquired a taste for man. Emperor alone knows what havoc could have broken out had the Megarachnids gotten their way onto the Legion's Stormbirds.

The hypotheticals do not end there. It was millennia before we learned the genestealers of Ymgarl were forerunners of the Tyranid blight. Might we not learn one day the same is true of the Megarachnids? A race of murderous giant arthropods of many forms but seemingly one mind?  There are biological differences, but if the Tyranids can grow Razorfiend cruisers and ripper swarms, they can grow an extra pair of limbs.  Each and every shield-storm that rolled across the white skies of Murder might have been nothing more than a beacon to the Great Devourer: "Prey is here".

Our point here is simple: it cannot possibly follow that a policy of total extermination must be the only way to keep humanity safe. Not for the sake of mercy, but for self-interest. Had we ever succeeded in wiping out the Eldar, Hive Fleet Kraken would have consumed Ichar IV and headed straight for Macragge.

There are times, to use an Old Earth phrase, when it would be wiser to keep our powder dry.

But such an approach was utterly unthinkable to the Astartes Legions. For a certain mindset, there can be no action less advisable than inaction, no crisis that cannot be resolved simply by ratcheting up the killing. That no imaginable scenario is insurmountable other than leaving things the way they found them.

Ultimately, there can be no question that this is an unsustainable approach. The arithmetic is entirely too simple: our enemies multiply as our casualty lists are added to.  One day, perhaps one day soon, we will open a new front and find there are no men to support it.

On Murder, the Astartes commitment to charging heedlessly at every problem ended up working out.  This did not always prove to be the case.


What Was

We've talked already about the Great Crusade and its tendency to knock over human cultures it doesn't like and wipe out aliens they don't much fancy the look of.  The Keylekid were a peaceful species, though, and the Megarachnids seem to be utterly hostile and lethal.  How do you feel about the idea of the Astartes trying to wipe them out?

Well, once again, it's not like they were heading out into the galaxy to cause problems.

They might do sooner or later, though, and humanity needs planets.

They don't seem intelligent, though. More like guard-dogs. They might have been created for just that purpose, maybe. Guarding the trees.  There's obviously something sentient on the planet, controlling the weather.

Could that not be a natural defense reaction?

Maybe. But the Megarachnids are described as being a melding between flesh and metal. They sound created.

So then they could end up on spaceships, just under someone else's control.

Or they could just want to be left alone, like that Next Gen episode where everyone gets their mind wiped because those aliens don't want people hanging out in their star system.  That's to say nothing of the fact that these things probably wouldn't be nearly so scary on other worlds, because they wouldn't have the shield storms.

Plus, anyone smart enough to make these things must surely be capable of being reasoned with.  There's no need to just go in and attack. It's an attitude problem. Tarvitz says he's proud of not being able to understand the aliens.  Why? Surely that would be a good thing to do, if only to understand their enemies better.  It's classic self-defeating xenophobia.

Wolves are from Cthonia, Children are from Chemos. How does that feed in to your increasingly well-developed theories on primarch/Emperor genetic heritage?

It's interesting that they're allowed to wear the Emperor's Eagle. Does that mean the Emperor is their primarch?  Their name certainly suggests that. Are they the top legion, then?  I suppose it all depends on how the Emperor became Emperor, and how the other primarchs came about.

Also, I think Tarvitz was massively overreacting over his eagle getting schmushed. Is it really worth getting so carried away because your decorations are damaged?

It's what that decoration represents.  Like when Sharpe took an Imperial Eagle at Talavera.

Sharpe? You're asking the wrong girl.

Gods, you really wasted your childhood, didn't you.

Also, it was fictional, so you can't use it here.

Sharpe himself was fictional, Cornwell wasn't making up the Peninsula War.

I suppose there's no point asking me about any of this, not having any experienced battle-lust. But I don't think if anyone had burned a picture of Queen Victoria, or smashed up her coat of arms, anyone would have cared.

I'm not sure that's true, but there's two distinct elements here. One, is there any such thing as a symbol worth getting angry about, and two, is this one of them?

There certainly isn't such a thing as a symbol worth getting more angry about than having your mate get decapitated.

Fair point.

What Is

Let's start with the killer spider-type things.  I know sci-fi isn't really your forte (if I published some of your comments regarding Star Wars we'd get death threats), so how do these gribbly slash-monsters strike you? Interesting? Boring? Oddly familiar?

Spiders? Mechanical spiders? Those robo-spiders from Stargate?

Oh, the Replicators. I was imagining something more armour-wearing, less built from Mechano.

What else do you want me to say? Doctor Who? Is there one in that? Alien?

I was thinking of Starship Troopers.

That's a parody, right?

Yes, of its own source material. Fuck Heinlein.

There was a giant spider in Anaconda, I think.

What the hell were you doing watching that with your snake phobia?

That didn't develop until later.

After watching Anaconda, maybe. Though I'd think developing a phobia of Jennifer Lopez's acting would make rather more sense.

She was in that?

Ah, you've blocked it out. My apologies to your therapist for bringing it up. But to return to the point...

I'm not especially enjoying them. They're a bit two-dimensional right now.

You're not intrigued by there being two totally different types?

It's just a sensible policy for GM monsters. Besides, there might be more than two types.

I meant up to now.

That's what I mean.  Maybe there's more types but the Astartes are far too racist to notice. "Oh, they all look the same."

It's impossible for white people to tell giant killer alien spiders apart.

So far we've seen infantry bugs and Luftwaffe bugs (Luftk√§fer?). It's like the first level in a computer game.  What do you think the bugs have ready for later on?

Tunnelling bugs. Swimming bugs. Fire-breathing bugs. Tree-hugging bugs.

Why would they need tree-hugging bugs?  Or do you literally mean hippies?

No. Like poisonous tree frogs.

They're only dangerous if you eat them.

Or lick them.

Why would -

Maybe they jump out of trees and transform into beautiful women the Astartes can't help but want to lick. Cobwebs!  Cobwebs made of swords.

This is like taking acid with H. R. Geiger.

What are the Luna Wolves up to whilst all this planet-side death is going down?

Flying on over. Well, after they've tidied up 1463 (Sixty-three Nineteen), anyway.

Is purple a good colour for an army of interstellar death?

Purple is associated with mourning, and it's regal. 

So it's like a bunch of toffs have arrived to kill you.

Or are mourning your death.

So why did they shoot me? That's sending mixed signals, toffs!

Purple is also pretty.

What Will Be

How do you see the story of Saul Tarvitz and Lucius developing from here?

I think Tarvitz will end up with the Luna Wolves, and become friends with Loken. They seem like they'd get on pretty well.  Lucius will disobey orders and try and take the Megarachnids on his own, and get killed. Or he becomes a space pirate and/or a futuristic member of the Three Musketeers.

Or does Tarvitz have to commit hari-kari because his eagle got smashed up?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

We're Not Gonna Last Seventeen Hours

Horus Rising: Brotherhood In Spiderland (I)

Emperor's Children (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth. 

Our relocation from Sixty-Three Nineteen to the world of Murder provides an opportunity for us to shift our focus. Not just in the literal sense, where we exchange a Terra-like world for one of milky, storm-wracked skies, looming spiked trees, and blurred dashes of insectoid death. The bizarre and lethal nature of what the Blood Angels were once so presumptuous as to call One-Forty Twenty may be of interest to xenoarcheologists - a strangely sterile term for defiling the long-dead to create new ways to slay the still-living - but in revealing the truth of the Horus Heresy our interest lies elsewhere.

With Rogal Dorn among those responsible for elevating Loken to the Mournival, the Emperor's Children were not the first Legion to make their mark upon the story of the Luna Wolves' final days, but through the engagement on Murder, their contribution stretches far wider across the canvas.  It would be wise, then, to consider here the nature of the III Legion.

After so total a change in focus, we might hope to escape our regular missives on the tragic pride of those who fell to Chaos, but alas here we cannot: the Emperor's Children are pride personified.  The best we can say is that their particular brand of pride is very different to that of Horus' Legion. The Luna Wolves practise pride of an insular and solipsistic sort. They will maintain their Legion's superiority when challenged, but left to their own devices it is rare to hear them so much as mention their fellow battle-brothers.  The Emperor's Children, on the other hand, seem to define themselves almost entirely by how they differ from their comrades.  One might call this an insecure kind of arrogance, but it is arrogance nonetheless.

This is most obvious in warriors like Lucius and Eidolon, who apparently can barely draw breath without announcing their superiority over their fellow Astartes, whether they be within or without the Emperor's Children. Given their fate, one might conclude such cupidity accounts for their downfall.  Only a fool would claim such an idea was entirely without merit, but even Saul Tarvitz, leader of the loyalist Emperor's Children on Istvaan III, suffered from the affliction. Indeed, in some ways Tarvitz was more blind to the problem than his fellows. It takes a unique form of self-ignorance to consider oneself superior to other Legions because you alone recognise superiority is not the point. Lucius might have been an unbearable braggart, but at least he wasn't a blind hypocrite.

The conclusion here is that obsession with one's fellows is no more sensible than solipsistic disinterest. There is a middle way though, and Saul Tarvitz will eventually find it. Not that the way is clear, of course.

The spiders are coming.


What Was

With part two of novel one finally begun, this strikes me as an ideal time to hear, straight from the metaphorical dobbin's gob, what has taken place up to this point.  Take it away, Fliss:

Some guy from Cthulhu got sent to a planet instead of a diplomat, so he got killed. Then there was a religious war, and Loken got raised to the Mournival, who are leaders of a war-band, running around the galaxy making war on everyone they can. Weaknesses in the Astartes were recognised in the mutated body of Jubal. A woman called Mersadie got introduced, but they've done nothing with her. Maybe they'll flesh her character out just before they kill her.

What Is

Any initial on whatever is stalking the Astartes through the tall grass?

The trees.

That's not a thought, it's a noun.

The trees are stalking them.

Oh, OK, interesting. I was going to ask you later about the trees, since Saul Tarvitz mentioned them having a purpose.

Hence why I mention it.  There's the giant spiders as well.  Maybe there's tiny giant spiders -

Also known as spiders.

- in the trees keeping an eye on them.  The storms are involved as well. It says they suspect whomever is on the planet is controlling the storms. Anyone sufficiently in control to control storms should be able to control trees. Or maybe the trees are like Ents, and it's them creating the storms. Maybe they've created the arachnids as well, as soldiers.

I don't understand why the Astartes are attacking in the first place. The spiders don't seem to have a faith, so it's not like the Emperor's Children are there to spread their religion - sorry, lack of religion.

We get some interesting mysteries introduced here, or at least potential mysteries.  The trees we've covered.  What do you think the orbital music systems are all about?

Was it Aristotle who defined harmonies using mathematics?

I don't know.  Google says it might be Pythagoras.

Didn't he have a crazy cult? And wouldn't eat beans. Or only eat beans.

Beans were certainly involved in some capacity.

He gets a lot of bad press.  Mind you, he gets credit he doesn't deserve it, too.

In fairness, before he was born there wasn't anything between a circle and a square.  No-one what could fill the, er, triangle-shaped void... That might not be entirely true.

Anyway, given that physics is basically maths with bits added-

Bits taken away, surely? "First we pretend these different spheres are actually the same." Fuck off.

We don't study stars.

No, we solve useful things.

As I was saying, is it so hard to believe people could learn how to travel through space using music instead of maths.  Alternatively, it could just be a message. A method of communication. Like whales.

I was kind of hoping you'd say "It look like a warning."


Because that's a quote from Alien.

Well I talked about maths instead!  Fuck off.

Aside from meeting Sigismund and Rogal Dorn at Horus' cocktail evening, we haven't spent much time at all with Astartes outside the Luna Wolves.  What are your initial impressions of the Emperor's Children?

The Blood Angels coming down first suggests again the competition between the Astartes.  Though since they're all apparently from different planets you can think of it as different races competing.

Can we?  Are they not just the same species from different planets?

I don't know what you'd call that.

Colonisation?  Seriously, this idea has been around for a while.

The fact they're called Emperors' Children makes me think their cloned from the Emperor himself. Or maybe they resemble him in the same way the Luna Wolves look like Horus. Maybe there's a metaphor being played out here: Horus' Astartes rescuing the Emperor's Children might be a comment on Horus' strength and the Emperor's weakness.

Also, the Emperor's Children reminds me of that film where everyone is bred for a specific role; hence why Saul only wants to follow and Lucius is a bit more ambitious.

What film?

I dunno. The Island, maybe?

I guess, in that everyone there was bred for the specific job of being cut open to keep rich people happy. To be honest, if it wasn't Scarlett Johansson in her underwear, I've blocked it out.  I don't think anyone can argue I chose wrongly.

While we're (sort of) on the topic of cocktails, what do you think Horus' favourite mixed alcoholic beverage might be?

Beer with tequila?

Don't be ridiculous; I drink that.

I mean with a tequila chaser.

Oh, so that he seems more working class?

It does say he wants to appear "lowborn". Maybe it's Guinness and whiskey.

So he can appear working class and Irish?

Actually, that sounds a bit offensive.  Put down Newky Brown instead.

Yes, that's dodged a bullet. Well done.

What Will Be

Where do you see events on and around Murder going, and how will it tie into part one?

Well given you paint Blood Angels, we can assume they don't all die, or you'd look pretty stupid.  Horus will go and save the other primarch, which will put the Emperor's Children into his debt.  That will help with the whole "Horus Rising" thing. Meanwhile,  Loken will end up talking with Tarvitz.

Can one Legion subsume another one? Would the Luna Wolves take on the remaining Emperor's Children and Blood Angels on Murder? Can that work when they're from different planet? Maybe they deliberately build up animosity between them? As with any pair of different people living close together. Like the Welsh and the English. Or the Scottish and the English. Or the Irish and the English. Or the French and the English.  

A theme may be developing here.

Also, I think the spiders might turn out to have been the Blood Angels all along. Twist!