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.

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