Wednesday, 17 December 2014

I Wear My Scars On The Inside

Flight Of The Eisenstein: The Blinded Star (III)

Attilan Rough Riders: strangely unwilling to answer whether
they cut open their cheeks to store food in, like some terrifying inverse gerbil

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Scars are serious business.

With the human race arguably never so populous, and certainly never before with such numbers embroiled in warfare, it is quite possible that there are more scars being carried by mankind today than at any point in our millennia of history. The vast majority of these historical markers for savage wounds will have been incurred as we fought our enemies within, without, and beyond.

Not all of them, however. Some scars, we give to ourselves.

Scarification is a ritualistic practice that dates back to the Dark Age of Technology, and almost certainly earlier. The plains of Afrique, the forest nations south of Nordafrik; reports can be found from all over Ancient Terra, and the practice continues today, most obviously amongst the savage horsemen of the steppes of Attila. The reasons for scarring oneself are as varied and peculiar as the languages humanity once spoke - as we still speak, when we can escape the tyranny of Low Gothic. Language is a fine metaphor here, in fact, because scarification at heart is intended as message delivery. And, again like a language, the message is one of inclusion: we belong here, you do not.

The criteria through which one is included or otherwise obviously depends on context - scars can mean anything from the right to be heard in council to being prepared for motherhood - but whatever the difference between the haves and the have-nots, the unifying feature is that the scars double as a form of advertising; "join us and this can be yours". Those without, the theory goes, should envy those with, and those with can find satisfaction in entering a select assemblage. When those scars are earned in the metallic blur of battle (either directly, or as with the Attilans, by celebrating an ascension to adulthood which can only have been made possible by reaching a certain threshold of martial skill) the result is a kind of horizontal brotherhood that overrides barriers of rank (much like the Warrior Lodges to which we must soon return) or even species. An unofficial organisation of interstellar murderous bastards. "We are something to be feared" is the entirely unsubtle message. "If we're willing to do this to ourselves, imagine, what we're prepared to do to you".

This concept of scarification as an endurance test to demonstrate fortitude and a tolerance for pain seems entirely obvious as a warning to the enemy. But what are we to make of an army - of a brotherhood - whose endurance test leaves no external trace?

To deal with the obvious first: yes, Mortarion's poison ritual qualifies as scarification. The act centres on a display of toughness, endurance, and resolve, placing it squarely within the tradition of such practices, and we must assume some kind of permanent cosmetic damage results.  There's a reason no-one is ever asked to prove their worth as a warrior by stubbing their toe or suffering a paper cut.  The fact that those who bear witness are required to remember what they saw simply adds to the feeling of exclusivity.

But that feeling isn't the only reason to keep your men's scars on the inside. Indeed, it can scarcely be even the main reason, Mortarion not seemingly being one to spend his time worrying about how to strengthen the bonds between his warriors.  Not without some ulterior motive, anyway. So what other function is being served here? What use is a ritual of endurance designed so those who have endureed less never get to see either it or its effects?  The simplest answer here would be to argue that the Death Guard simply couldn't care less about what anyone else thinks; that a scarification ritual which is private and unverifiable by outsiders demonstrates complete contempt for the enemy: "We know we will beat you with ease; who cares if you realise that ahead of time?"

There is good reason to treat this theory as plausible. It reflects not only the general arrogance of the Astartes (whichever millennia one is in), but the insular, impenetrable nature of the Death Guard in particular. Mortarion, remember, is the Primarch about whom we know the least about his reasons for defection. Even the perennially-secretive Alpharius has given us more clues as to his motives than has the father of the XIV Legion. Isn't a total lockdown on information entirely in character?

Well, no. Not entirely. More so than any other Legion outside of the Night Lords, Mortarion's Legion centred its tactics around the use of fear as a weapon (it still does, of course, though since the Heresy the VIII and XIV Legions have somewhat more competition in that area). And you cannot promote fear through the total absence of information.  For everyone but the most paranoid of cowards, the enemies you fear are those you can't see or understand, not those you don't even know exist.  Terrifying those you wish to defeat requires not that nothing be discovered about you, but that nothing can be verified. A smartly managed stew of rumour, hyperbole and misinformation can be vastly more effective than total silence.

Of course, for such a campaign to be successful you need information to slowly seep out. You need vectors for your rumours and propaganda.  You need people who are just enough part of the Legion to understand what goes on, just separate enough from it to not feel like they quite belong, with just enough strength of mind to comment on what they see, and who are in non-combat roles which maximise the amount of time they will spend with people from outside their Legion.

And which is the Legion that maintains a tradition of choosing housecarls from Astartes aspirants who fail the tests on their homeworld, bringing them partially into the Legion without the mind-scrubbing practised elsewhere? Perhaps Ignatius Grulgor was right all along. Mortarion did favour Garro over him. It takes a lot of effort to maintain an aura of terrifying mystery across an entire galaxy, after all. The one thing Astartes shouldn't be wanting to shoot - or to leave to die of exposure on frozen planetoids - is the messenger.


What Was

I think this is the first real mention of the fact that new Astartes are made at least in part by stealing organs from dead Astartes and implanting them in new recruits. A good idea? A grim idea? Both?  You usually say both.

It feels inefficient. And weird. Mainly weird.

It's the 31st Millenniun, everything is going to be weird.  The question is whether it's good weird, or bad weird.

I don't know.

Is it really all that different from organ donation? Maybe Astartes armour comes with a filled in donor card as standard.

Of course it's different. Organ donation doesn't create new forms of life.

I dunno. If you've been born with a dodgy liver and someone gifts you a new one, I suspect you're going to find yourself able to do all kinds of new things.

If it's organ donation, then that's probably fine. Depending of course on which organs we're talking about. You know I've got issues with certain bits of me being passed down the line.

You mean your eyes?


Your groaning, wheezing, coal-powered eyes, constantly on the verge of total collapse.

I can still see well enough to slap you.

It won't be any actual organ we have, Fliss.  It's some new sci-fi extra organ.

That still might freak me out.

How? How can removing organ that doesn't even exist freak you out?

The organ could turn into a cobra the instant it's exposed to air.

...Yes, I suppose that would freak you out. I hadn't considered this from quite so lunatic an angle.

So now I'm useless and a lunatic?

I didn't say you're useless.  I said your eyes are useless.  But yes, you're a lunatic. A lunatic on the verge of blindness.

What Is

On a scale of one to ten, how surprised are you that the Death Guard have their own lodge, and how big a part do you think the lodge will play in the Legion's eventual betrayal?

Um... two.

Fair enough. Just out of interest, what would they have had to do for you to give a score of one?

Shown Garro was a member last book.

I was going to go with the book being called "The Treacherous Adventures of Mortarion's Naughty Lodge".

I think the Lodge will play some role here.  Not as big as it did with the Sons of Horus.  Otherwise Garro would have been sent to the surface instead of getting a place of honour.

I'm not sure the Eisenstein would count as a place of honour, but yeah; it doesn't seem like Lodge membership is a necessary condition of survival like it was with the XVI Legion.

I could tell that bloke the housecarl bared his soul to was going to turn out to be Lodge member.

Yeah, I liked that.  It was going to call it a twist, but it's probably not all that surprising. It's basically Torgaddon all over again.

With Garro basically being Loken.  I've not noticed any differences between them yet.

Maybe that will come with time.  I mean, do you think Loken and Saul Tarvitz are basically the same character?



But I keep coming back to what Mortarion's thinking is.

Well, since we're on the subject...

It feels like maybe Garro was being tested here. Indeed, he might have been being tested twice, once by the Silent Sisters, and once by his Primarch.  But were they tests? And did Garro pass?

As I say, I've not worked Mortarion out.  I'd have said Garro definitely failed, except that Mortarion didn't seem to punish him at all.

I wonder if Mortarion is just a bit more subtle than the Warmaster. Rather than just dividing everyone into two boxes - "with" and "against" - he's got the lost causes to send to Istvaan, the definite toadies to give the first lot a good kicking, and question marks like Garro shuffled to places where they can't do much damage if they choose to stick with the Emperor.

But he's one of Mortarion's best warriors; a captain of a company.

All the more reason to keep him from anywhere he could stick his superhuman oar in.

With the Silent Sister, I'm torn as well.  I can basically see three possibilities. Option one, they genuinely do just want to know if the alien told something to Garro, because they can't hear psykers themselves. Option two, the only way to hear the alien is if you're a psyker yourself, so Garro just accidentally revealed himself as one.

And option three?

Option three us that the Sisters are with Horus and they're sounding Astartes out.

Plausible deniability. Nice theory. Lips sealed.

What do you make of the ritualistic poison-drinking? A nice bit of world-building, or just three stupid guys drinking stupid things stupidly?

They like their poisons, do these guys.

A throwback to their polluted homeworld. They remind me of my fellow Teessiders, actually.

In that this is basically two men challenging each other to drink the mankiest top-shelf booze in the pub?

Hey! I can say this stuff, you can't. But actually, good point. It's all just one more type of endurance test.

I was going to say one more alternative to whipping them out and slapping them on the table.  Though maybe those glands being stuck in you makes your penis really small.

Maybe.  I always wondered if it led to an advanced form of that steroid thing where your dick gets tiny.  I don't know the medical term; I've never had to check.

Really? That's what you always wondered?

I think about a lot of strange things.

Doesn't it make your balls grow? Or shrink? Or turn into raisins?

Not really my area. I know what you mean, though.  I reckon at least 90% of what goes on in the Great Crusade boils down to penis envy and dick compensating. I mean, boarding torpedoes rather gives the game away.  What's wrong with getting in a shuttle, man?

So if this is all about demonstrating strength by not being poisoned, and people are pissed off with Garro because he got poisoned and they didn't, does that mean when the virus bombs get set off on the planet later loads of Death Guard will be pissed off that they didn't get to join in?

The Death Guard begging for disease? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?

Compared to what? Kidneys that turn into cobras?

Fair point.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

While You're Making Other Plans

Sorry, gentle readers: no new post today.  Fliss and I are in the final stages of our big house move, so our every waking moment is spent either at work or building furniture (I made a chair yesterday! It may still be assembled, perhaps!).  What scraps of downtime we're afforded is generally spent sat on sofas (some of which we built ourselves) trying to summon the energy needed to understand Walking Dead or Criminal Minds.

I'm hopeful normal service can be resumed as soon as possible, though I should note BT are being characteristically unhelpful, and we may not get internet access in the new place until the end of the month.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Reach For The Bleach

Flight of the Eisenstein: The Blinded Star (II)

The Sisters of Silence (copyright unknown)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

One of the of the most immutable truths of the forty-first millennium is the sad fact that the Imperium is dying. From every direction and from every corner, our enemies gather, sniffing gleefully at our blood as it seeps out amongst the stars. Our own star is on the wane, a setting sun heralding a new Long Night from which we have no guarantee of emerging.

This is all a far cry from the glorious sweep of the Great Crusade. But it's worth considering exactly why that is. There are currently almost a million Astartes guarding the realms of man, a number at least comparable to and probably exceeding the forces available to the Emperor during his wars of expansion, and who are required to defend a far smaller number of worlds and systems than the Imperium boasted at its greatest extent. The absence of the Emperor himself and his score of sons is obviously a grievous blow to humanity, but even so, the Primarchs could only ever participate in the smallest fraction of warzones that blight the galaxy. If we are to understand how close we have slid towards the abyss, we must look elsewhere.

It is difficult to not feel some sympathy for the Jorgall. They may have been aggressors as often as not, at least in the early days, but they quickly found themselves facing an enemy far beyond their experience. Think about that for a second: a sentient race so dedicated to warfare it regularly mutilated its own people to replace limbs with weapons, and yet they were utterly, completely outclassed by the Astartes. We tumbled from the Warp, invaded their bottle-worlds, and exterminated everything we found. Even the children. Especially the children, killed not as a regretful corollary to total war but as a high priority target.

The human virus, spreading through the galaxy. Appearing from nowhere, a killer without conscience, destroying the weakest first because it lacks the ability to consider that wrong.

One of the basic truths of a virus is that it never gets weaker. It can become less common, but each individual virion remains no less potent for that. When viruses are defeated, it is not because they have become less powerful, it is because the host body has rallied its defences to the point where it has become stronger than what is assailing it. Viruses do not lose momentum, but they can ultimately be overtaken from a standing start.

If the Imperium shares so many characteristics with a virus, then, what are we to make of our reversal of fortunes? The slow, agonising death of our civilisation. It is not that our Astartes have grown weaker or that our lance batteries cut less deep. It is that the forces opposing us have become so much stronger. The Chaos Space Marine Legions may be outnumbered ten to one by their loyalist cousins, but with access to daemonic strength and Warp gates their attacks can be even more devastating than their already formidable might would suggest. The arrival of the Tyranid super-organism in recent centuries has been another major blow, as entire sectors find themselves swallowed up and reprocessed as new horrors to be let loose upon the rest of us.

But most dangerous of all are the Necrons. Unlike the forces of Chaos, only the barest fraction of their full might has yet been flexed. Unlike the Tyranids, their seemingly endless stream of reinforcements originate not from outside the galaxy, but from within it. They sleep between and under our worlds, waiting for the signal to awake and attack.

Think about the Necrons for a moment. Their pristine, surgical cleanliness. Their remorseless, implacable quest to destroy all trace of messy, chaotic life. Even their weapons are designed not to kill their enemies but to unmake them utterly. If humanity - and every other sentient species swarming across known space - is a virus eating away at the galaxy, nothing represents the leukocytes dedicated to sweeping such invaders away better than do the Necrons. Perhaps what will finally destroy us is not how much the Imperium has weakened, but how much newfound strength our enemies can call upon.

The idea of the Necrons as a galaxy-wide immune system exterminating space-faring races in the pursuit of healing the stars is obviously a fiction; simply an analogy that happens to fit the facts. But that is exactly what should concern us.  Not that the Necrons actually are the immune system to our virus, but that such a bleak, unedifying metaphor fits us so horribly well.


What Is

This is the earliest we've gotten into full-blown combat since Horus Rising.  Does the rapid deployment help things move along, or would you have liked a bit more about the XIV Legion first?

I like that we're straight into it. No messing about like with the last two books.  I admit I found the first chapter of Horus Rising confusing, but I've got the hang of this now.

So you're saying now the background has been established there's no good reason not to start punching as soon as humanly possible.

Absolutely.  Especially with battles like this. I mean, I got why it took a while to get around to the action in the last book.  You needed to build up to it.  You didn't need to build up to it that much, but you needed something.  But this is just a bunch of Astartes shooting a bunch of aliens.  Let's get right to it.  And bring some more gore, too.

Still not enough, huh?

Well, the bloke with the huge fist was cool. He probably wishes he was a.. um... a Death Eater.

Those still don't exist here, Fliss.

Fine. The World Eaters. Do the Legions ever exchange Astartes?

Not permanently, though the idea of an Astartes cultural exchange program is interesting. You can just imagine them coming back home. "Over there they stab Eldar twice and then cut their heads off. Different world, bro. Different world."

I guess every Legion has to have its misfits.

So long as they're murdering aliens, it doesn't matter too much, I guess. Let's see, what else. Oh. This fight takes up about five percent of the whole book. Which is a lot for a scene seemingly unconnected to the heresy. Does that imply something more is going on?

I'm assuming there's some connection here. We know Mortarion is working for Horus at this point, so there must be something the Warmaster wants here. 

Are you sure Mortarion has turned at this point?

Well, no, but then I've no idea when "this point" even is.  There's no frame of reference. Horus could be doing anything right now. And I'm not sure we'll ever know when some of the Primarchs turned.

Are you enjoying the Jorgall? How do they rank against previous alien creatures?  

I'm struggling to make sense of what they look like. Particularly the legs.

What's tough about the legs?

It's the idea of them radiating out like spokes on a wheel.

Are you imagining them perpendicular to the body?

I don't know. Are they tripods? Do they have legs like tripods? Why not just bloody say that?

I lacks a certain lyricism. But I agree though that their descriptions are brief and scattered throughout the chapter. But then I think that's deliberate.

Deliberate why?

I think they're a conscious riff on a Cthulhu monster (which is always a good idea). The 40K universe owes a lot to Lovecraft - early versions of the game included a world named "Port Cthulhu" - and I think a lot of that is on show here.

That means you're cheating.  You know what Cthulhu monsters look like.

Well, true.  As soon as I read the description of the Jorgall I just assumed they were Elder things with four fewer limbs. From that point on I had a clear mental image and just made alterations each time a new description arrived, like the ovoid heads.

But the truth is it's not so much that I have previous knowledge of Lovecraftian gribblies (and we've played enough Eldritch Horror by now for you to assimilate at least some of the nightmarish imagery) , it's that the sparse description is a deliberate attempt to have our own imaginations fill in the horrible details.

Well, my imagination was rather busy trying to answer the question of what the hell was going on.

I'm not saying it's a foolproof strategy. But if we can move past the leg issue, what else can we say about this latest alien race?

I like the idea that they're being enhanced. I assume that's a deliberate parallel to the Astartes.

Presumably. I'm surprised Garro didn't pass comment on that, given Tarvitz made the connection pretty quickly when fighting the Megarachnids. I guess he was too busy staring at the Sisters of Silence.

He did mention it.

Yeah, but that ruins my plan to write Nathaniel Garro: Space Letch, so I have no option but to ignore it.

Any thoughts on the Sisters of Silence now we've seen them in action? What can it mean that they're all psi-silent, anyway?

I was wondering what that mean. Surely it can't mean they don't think at all.  That's impossible.

No it isn't; watch.

(I sit still for several seconds with a vacant expression).

Yes, well, you have something of an advantage in this department. And anyway, how long was it before you found yourself thinking "Doo de-doo, I'm not thinking; doo de-doo, no thoughts for me."

Actually, I quickly segued into "Yes! I WIN at not thinking! I cannot be beaten in a no-thought-off!"  But there was definitely a few seconds there when I was thinking nothing at all.

Fine. Now try it when walking.

I'm sure I could-

Walking into a battle with flying tripods.

Ah. I see your point.

So I presume it just mean no-one can read their minds.

Spot on. Which raises an interesting question: how did that come about?

I don't know. Could be natural, could be genetic alteration.  The problem is I don't actually know what all the other psykers in this universe are. It's hard to speculate on a new kind when all the other kinds haven't been explained.

Fair enough.

What I want to know is why the Emperor is so interested in one little psyker in one alien ship. If there is a connection here to the wider heresy, I assume that's it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Indefensible Positions

Flight Of The Eisenstein: The Blinded Star (I)

The coming storm (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

It is difficult for us, uncommonly bald apes that we are, to fully grasp the nature of space combat.  Forty-three thousand years ago, we charged across open plains at our foes, waving our copper swords. Fighting in two dimensions.  Knowing the valleys and the river mouths and the mountain passes through which our enemies might file in order to defeat us.

As the centuries passed, war grew and became more complicated. Sailing ships slid out of sight of land, as the fear of creatures from the depths became outweighed by the tactical advantages of murdering your enemies in places they never expected to be murdered. But the basic truth remained: the enemy could only ever come from over the horizon. Even when our talents for devising new weapons gave us submersible warships and flying machines, we could still comprehend what we faced. Our ancestors once lived their lives amongst the foliage, we understood threats that could come from above or below.

There is no "above" or "below" in space, not once a ship glides from a planet's grasp. Once that planet no longer fills our windows, an attack can come from anywhere. And we simply cannot cope. Full, total three-dimensional war is simply not something we are capable of comprehending. Thousands of automated systems and sensor clusters strain to reduce the infinite sphere of the void into a space we can deal with. We simply cannot deal with the complexity unaided.

Or at least, we cannot cope whilst visualising the process as armed combat. But a far older and far more futile struggle provides a near-perfect analogy for our aggressors: viral infection.

It is not just our star fleets which must face enemies hidden from our gaze by simply being so much smaller than what surrounds us that we cannot realistically hope to see them coming. Planetary defence forces are less soldiers defending fortifications than they are white blood cells waiting to be surrounded without warning.

In short, invading space fleets operate as a disease, a contagion, the vector through which a race spreads itself across a hotly-contested galaxy. Which is a rather apt thought when it comes to the Death Guard, of course, given their eventual fate.  As we begin these discussions of the final days of the XIV Legion as loyalists, it's sensible to consider another vector, as Mortarion's sons begin their drift into the arms of Nurgle. With so disgusting a deity, as we have argued before, it can be difficult to understand why anyone might volunteer to become his servant.

Here, though, this isn't really the case, and not just because if anyone might fully appreciate the increased toughness offered by Nurgle it would be dedicated warriors. It took us a great deal of work to understand devotion to Nurgle amongst the cultists hidden within the Imperium, and we only managed that by viewing the idea as a bleak form of insurance against a nightmarish universe. No such convoluted logic is needed with the Death Guard's fall to the Lord of Pestilence.  Even if we strip away their obsession with poison and their disinterest in dressing up death as anything more noble or honourable than an ugly inevitability, their entire stated purpose forces them into a parallel path with the phagocyte; those other factors simply made them the most obvious targets. We may never know to what extent the prideful Death Guard allowed themselves to be warped by Nurgle and to what extent it was forced upon them, but if the change was not voluntary, it was only a disagreement of what they had become adn what they were becoming. The general direction of their fall was never in doubt.

Indeed, it may well be that in some respects the outbreak of the Heresy and its consequent shift of the their role from crusading conquerors to ever-pressed defenders was the salvation of those Astartes who remained loyal. Pathogens were spreading. The Imperium was infecting, and it was becoming infected. Everything becomes sick and dies unless the universe conspires to kill it first. In the final analysis, it may be that the Heresy's greatest effect was to stop the galaxy succumbing to our infection rather than someone else's.

As ever, though, we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Before the Death Guard can become plague-bearers of a very different type, we have many miles to go and many places to visit.

We shall begin on the bottle-world of the jorgall.


What Was

How are you finding the world according to Kaleb?  You've mentioned before a lamentable lack of human viewpoint characters. Is Garro's housecarl doing the job you were hoping for? And what about this idea of having servants that failed to become Astartes themselves?

He's definitely fulfilling the role I hoped Petronella was going to, before she turned out to be first awful and then dead. It really drives home the elitist attitude the Astartes have. Is it my imagination, or is he bowing and scraping more around the other Astartes than he is Garro?

Quite possibly. But that's probably not unusual with master-servant relationships.  Although what do I know, really. I'm basing this on Jeeves and Wooster. Which might be the best idea for a crossover ever, but it's a shaky foundation for extrapolating working relationships.

So does everyone go through an Astartes test? Well, every man?

No.  You've got to be a pretty kick-ass warrior just to get to the point of the trials.

So do many people fail the trials? I can't imagine the Legion needs all that many housecarls. 

Indeed not.  There's other, less rewarding options available too.



Spare parts?

Actually, kinda.


Robots. Well, cyborg servitors, but let's not get picky. I like to think there's a second test where those who've failed the first test find out who gets to be servants and who get to be lobotomised.

No wonder Kaleb loves his job so much.

What Is

This is the first book in the series that doesn't directly follow from the previous novel. Are you happy about backtracking like this and seeing things from a new angle?  Or are you impatient to get to whatever happens next?

I'm fine with backtracking. All that fantasy reading has primed me for book series that suddenly lurch backwards. And better this than a big jump forwards.  That's really annoying.

The title here doesn't exactly hide what this novel is going to be about.  Just out of interest, is this the dangling thread from Galaxy in Flames you're most interested in exploring? Or is there something else you'd rather had been covered first?

Like what?

I did wonder if you were going to ask me that. Let's see... you've got the upcoming shenanigans on Istvaan V, the Word Bearers attacking the Ultramarines at Calth, whatever secret plan Horus has to deal with Sanguinius, and what happened between Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus.

I think this is a fine choice. The Death Guard don't feel as well-explored as the Luna Wolves, or the Emperor's Children. They can have their own book.

You don't want to see more from the Emperor's Children?

Nope. They're dicks.

Try telling that to Tarvitz.

Tarvitz is dead. The survivors are all dicks.  And we've just had a tremendously depressing conclusion to the last book. Do we really want to hand the next book over to a gaggle of arseholes?

I see. That doesn't explain why you're not interested in more Blood Angels, though.

I'd rather see them in a multi-book story, though.

Why does that disqualify them here?

You said the next few books are standalone.

Not standalone. There just aren't any more multi-part stories without other books in the middle.

But that's a terrible idea!

So it's no Emperor's Children books, and no multi-book stories with gaps in between.  Man, you're going to hate the next two books after this. Especially since one of them is just awful

It's early days, obviously, but Swallow has a very different prose style to Counter. Are you enjoying the sudden outbreak of literacy? Or does he need to come to the point?

I did think it was going too slowly to begin with, but I'm getting into it now.  It's nice. I like finally feeling like there's enough description of what we're seeing. It's nice and eloquent.

In the last book, you - entirely reasonably - complained that we learned almost nothing about Mortarion.  Has this opening chapter helped in that regard?  And to what extent would it be sensible to keep Mortarion mysterious?

There's still not much there, is there. I mean, obviously he's death.  They're not even trying to hide that.  But other than that, what do we know? That he likes to hide in the shadows?

That's my point, though. If you want keep someone a mystery, there's a low ceiling on what you can show. Just the occasional detail, like how he keeps sniffing at gases rising from his chest. I like to think it's Vick's VapoRub.

I guess we'll have to see.  Not about the VapoRub; that's just silly. But about the mysteriousness. It depends how long they try to spin it out.

Any thoughts on our newest faction, the Sisters of Silence?

It deels a bit like a token.  That's about the only thing I'm even partially sure of at this point. They could be warriors, or shamans, or anything.  No idea. But they look like tokens.  And it's interesting that they're linking women with the forbidden.

Yeah. Yeah, that might go wrong.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Galaxy In Flames: The Gallery

A Sons of Horus Battle Barge descends towards Istvaan III to begin the virus bombing.

Sorry it's not the best quality picture. I'd hoped to scan it, but our department's scanner seems to have been deliberately wired to only allow low-grade scans. Which I suppose is a good way of keeping feckless staff like me from making use of it for our own dubious purposes, but it does also mean that anything actually useful we want to make copies of is immediately rendered unreadable.

Anyway, I doubt the method by which the picture was replicated is the real problem, but I hope you like it nevertheless.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Reports From The Front (Last Words On Galaxy In Flames)

Let's start talking about Galaxy in Flames by nipping back to the two books we've already covered. After all, this is a trilogy; there's just no way the final instalment isn't going to end up being  compared with its predecessors.

I mentioned last time around that Graham McNeill had a tough job on his hands with False Gods, but of course the truth is each of these books brought with them unique problems. The first installment had to be a belter to ensure the series had any real chance of surviving over the long term, hence why it was given to Abnett, the safest pair of hands Black Library can boast. The second book, as I've noted, required pulling off the genuinely difficult trick of starting out with a depressed but still loyal Horus, and ending with a Warmaster baying for his father's blood. And whilst I've never spoken to anyone who's said they were glad McNeill got this job rather than Abnett, it's hardly like it was an indefensible move. In the years before False Gods was released McNeill had already published seven novels for the Black Library, including books set both in the 40K universe and the Warhammer Fantasy Setting, and he had proved by the solid sales figures of his Ultramarines books (the first omnibus is currently on its second printing, I believe).

Ben Counter, in contrast, was a comparative newcomer.  Before Galaxy In Flames, he had published just four books, and three of them focussed on a Space Marine chapter of his own invention.  There was then rather less reason to be certain of Counter's ability to adapt to the brief required here. In other words, it seems someone in charge at Black Library decided that the concluding instalment in this opening trilogy was the book least in need of a proven hand at the tiller. Perhaps this decision
was made on the assumption that with the story of Horus' fall already mapped out, Counter's contribution need not involve much beyond connecting the dots. Certainly, dot-joining is essentially all that's in evidence here.

Galaxy In Flames is not a tale well-told. Indeed, large sections of it don't particularly feel told at all, so much as noted. When I initially read the book, I thought the prose poor. But that's not quite it.  It isn't poor, it's just achieved a level of functionality almost unattainable by authors permitted to tell their own tales. The events are laid out on paper and linked with brief sketches of the motivations for those involved, but the overall impression is less of a novel and more of a dry history text which happens to be covering a period with more explosions than usual. But even for a history book, this does quite feel right.  It's more like one of those awful summaries of historical battles you find dotted around the internet written by those far more interested in warfare than can be considered healthy; the kind of writers for whom detailing the exact weapon used to murder a man is of greater importance than the choices that led that man to his death in the first place.  A blog dedicated to a military sci-fi franchise might seem an odd place to make such complaints, but there's enjoying fictional violence, and then there's fetishising it. Not that I think this novel is trying to fetishise violence.  I don't think it's really trying to do much of anything.

Still, if Black Library believed the tale to be all but author-proof, they weren't completely wrong.  The Battle of Istvaan III and the last stand of the Luna Wolves - along with Lucius' vile betrayal - provides ample opportunity for adrenaline-aimed pulp entertainment.  There may be nothing even approaching a subtext, but the all-surface story offers plenty of resolute heroes and hissable villains, all set against a death toll galloping upwards. This is hardly a disaster. Still, the impression left is very much that works here does so despite Counter's efforts, or at best independently of them. This is a story easy to avoid screwing up, but also easy to spin into something truly remarkable. That Counter was only able to achieve the former can hardly be considered much of a triumph.  This is a book without even the ambition to fail in a way we might find interesting.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (IV)

Loken and Abaddon (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

We are, just perhaps, most honest with those we are about to kill.

Certainly, the testimony offered up by Abaddon and Little Horus immediately preceding the final battle of the Mournival is the closest we have yet come to an honest explanation of what made these two warriors abandon the vows they made centuries earlier. That makes it extremely important to think about what exactly they said, and just as important to think about what they didn't say.

As one could surmise from two such different people, the two rebel members of the Mournival offer decidedly different explanations as to why they condoned the brutal murder of thousands of their former brothers. It is no surprise that Abaddon offers the more passionate response, nor that, as with so many who allow their passions to rule - as oppose to merely influence - them, that the response is so utterly shot through with incoherent foolishness.  The Emperor isn't paying sufficient attention to the forces that could destroy humanity so we should join with those forces? That's like saying your physiker never offers you the right optics so you should gouge out your eyes and throw them at her. It's only blind, charging passion that could possibly keep this sieve afloat, pushing it forward so fast it never has time to sink. And of course it's the same passion that forces such hatred of Loken from him. To feel anything other than total disgust at Loken's choice might lead to trying to make sense of his position, and then the hastily constructed structure of bent timbers and crumbling stones would collapse entirely.

Loken has to be wrong because Abaddon has to be right. Because if Abaddon isn't right, then...

In comparison, Aximand is almost refreshingly pragmatic. Abaddon's view of reality has forced him to conclude that his Primarch is infallible; that Horus' choices are the Right Choices, even when those choices are transparently incoherent; even when one day he personally saves Loken and a few months later orders his flesh be dissolved. Aximand, in contrast, seems almost disinterested in the righteousness or otherwise of the Warmaster's cause.  What Aximand sees is the necessity. The Warp cannot be beaten, it can simply, perhaps, be appeased. It doesn't even matter whether appeasement is plausible, really, any chance at avoiding destruction is better than certain extinction. It's a tremendously cynical and pessimistic viewpoint, but the cold, selfish logic is clear to all, including Aximand, which is why he sounded so morose when delivering it.

Of course just because something has its own bleak logic doesn't make it right. Yes, the final triumph of Chaos is, based on everything we know, inevitable. Demons cannot be destroyed, they can only be banished; removed temporarily from our reality. They always come back, even as more are created by our sprawling ocean of psyches. We reinforce Chaos with our minds and with our emotions, as surely as we do with those who betray their race and flock to tattered and bloody banners. A world that falls to daemons in weeks can take centuries to reclaim, and most never are. The road from Us to Them is never long, and it only goes in one direction. Sooner or later, the last human will stand surrounded by an endless swarm of gibbering monsters, and they will die.

But so what? Humanity will one day become extinct in any case.  It is a mathematical certainty. Perhaps we survive the awakening of the Necrons, and the closing grip of the Tyranids. Perhaps the Eldar fail in their desperate attempts to reclaim their past glories, and the Tau fail to surplant in their mad dash outwards. We will still die, frozen and lost amidst heavy, ugly stars.  All we are ever doing is attempting to delay the inevitable, to drag ourselves broken and bleeding to the finish line, where we can fade from the universe not because we failed, but because even success must some day die.

That being the case, I say we seek to earn the best deaths we can.

In essence, Abaddon and Aximand represent the two endpoints of the scale upon which every convert to Chaos falls; one all belligerent petulance, consumed by the conviction that every move that hurts those he hates must be the right on, the other unsure, hesitant, under no illusions that what he is doing is utterly wrong, but unable to conceive of any other option. Seeing both endpoints of the scale is of great value, actually, because in dismissing them both we can cast aside every point in-between at the same time. The lies of small, sad logic reach no further than the lies of passion. The truth is always that we must resist.  It remains true when our friends betray us. It remains true when they send armies to trample us. It remains true when they burn our cities and poison the very air against us.

The odds of success are a supreme irrelevance. A physiker does not fight disease because they think they can help us live forever. We fight not because we believe we can win. We fight because the alternative is surrender.

Such thoughts might prove of some small use in our darker moments. Certainly, with the Battle of Istvaan III, we approach perhaps the darkest moment of Imperial history short of the Siege of the Emperor's Palace itself. Istvaan V is approaching, and with it the single greatest act of betrayal history records. Whatever scraps of comfort we can find, I suggest we take them.

Before all that, though, a diversion is needed.  For over a year now we have focused on the birth pains of the rebellion aginst the Emperor.  It is time to shift our focus to the very first moves in the Loyalist response to Horus' treachery.

It is time to tell the story of the frigate Eisenstein.


1. Let's have a minute's silence for brave Tarik Torgaddon. And then talk about how he went down like a bitch.

What about Loken?

Well, um, er... we didn't actually see him die. Yes, yes that's why I didn't mention him. That's the only reason why.

I didn't think Little Horus had it in him.  But then I guess Torgaddon didn't leave him much choice.

Careful now. It sounds like you're blaming Tarik for getting his own head cut off.

At least it proves Aximand has his doubts.

Hell of a way to work that out, isn't it? Is there no way to test that which doesn't involve getting someone's head chopped off?

I wonder if Abaddon has been concerned about Aximand for a little while now, actually. It would explain why he never seems to leave him alone.

Were you surprised that Torgaddon lost out to L'il Horus?

What do you mean?

Well, you know. Only Torgaddon and Abaddon have survived since the start of the Mournival. Tarik's clearly a damn good fighter.

Maybe Horus had other advantages, though. We know Abaddon refused help, but maybe Aximand was a bit more practical. 

You think he's on something? Or that he's spent some time over at Fabius Bile's Emporium of Illicit Alien Dangly Bits?

One or the other. To be honest, I was more interested in Abaddon's approach. That he wouldn't accept the cursed sword -

That's the anathame you're thinking of. Abaddon refused the Justaerin, which are his bodyguards.

- Well either way, sword or bodyguard, it doesn't matter. If you're going to get on your high horse about not needing help, it's a bit off to clamber into your super-good armour that your opponent can't beat.

That's an excellent point. "I will dress in basically a goddamn tank to destroy this man; offering me further tanks INSULTS MY WARRIOR CAPABILITIES!"

 He obviously isn't thinking clearly.

Tell me about it. It's hard to get anything out of his explanation of the rebellion other than "The Emperor doesn't understand the Warp will destroy all human life. So we've joined with the Warp against the Emperor". That's like saying you're so pissed off by how the local police aren't keeping crime down you're going to rob a bank.

Yes, this hasn't been a great day for the forces of logic.

2. How well has this last book/section/chapter resolved the opening trilogy? Has it balanced getting answers with opening up new story paths?

Well, there's certainly a lot of options for new stories, even though they've killed off pretty much everyone. Aside from Sindermann and Euphrati and so on, who's even left for us to go back to?  My thing is whether we actually needed the whole trilogy.


Meaning that almost all the heroes are dead, and the villains could have been introduced in a brief description at the start of a book.  Lots of stories kick off explaining that some traitor has caused some disaster, and then launches straight into that.  We don't necessarily have to see everything they did. We know what a traitor is, right?

Fair enough.

But on the the other side maybe the whole point is for us to have learned the names and characters so that when Horus turns we have an investment in the people he's betraying. I also probably shouldn't be too critical until we see where Little Horus goes next. It might all have been about setting up his internal conflict.

I'd like to think so. Aximand is probably my favourite character in the opening trilogy.

Speaking of the way things have developed, does this mean that bloke on the Des'Ree really is dead?

I'm afraid so.

So why the hell was it written like that?

I suspect Counter didn't realise how ambiguously he'd written that section in the first place. Though it may also have been that he wanted to leave it unclear until the very last minute who was actually in charge of the Titan.

I was hoping all the way through that the Des'Ree would just shoot Eidolon in the back.

I noticed re-reading this that the final stand is actually written like the moments before the cavalry arrive, actually. Everyone's at their lowest ebb, and you're sure they'll be saved at the last second, because that's how fiction works, but no; the Dies Irae really is still under Horus'  control, and all the good guys die.

It's quite original, in that sense, actually, though I confess that being original by ramping up the grimness isn't a strategy without problems.

3.  Time, as is traditional, for Fliss to mark the book.  We'll talk plot, characters and setting, and then discuss an overall score.

a) Plot

I'm not really feeling this one. It wasn't quite gruesome enough-

Not quite gruesome enough? A planet's worth of people melted screaming.

Meh. It's no Scandinavian crime novel.

I see.

There just needs to be something different about the fighting for me to enjoy it.

More different than superhuman soldiers with gigantic death robots?

Yes. I want dragons.

Because those are as original as all hell, obviously. You talk like people were coming out of the Hobbit sequel saying "What the hell was that thing in the caves?"

I like dragons!

Fine, but don't kid yourself. You're not looking for originality. You're looking for dragons.

(Fliss offers me a gesture I would fear to describe)

Anyway. Too much of the book was based on a series of battles I didn't really care about. Fighting giant insects around wierd spiky trees; that I can get into. This was just a slog. An endless description of which body part someone had lost this time. The problem with Astartes is they can take so much punishment. You just start to wish they'd die and get it over with.

Oh dear.

I mean, the whole plot was basically "Ooh, look how bad Horus is now! See him kill everyone! Look how everyone was too stupid to notice and they're all dead now the end".

Was there nothing good on offer?

Well, I liked the bits with Euphrati and Sindermann. I was glad they got away. It was one of the only upbeat moments in the whole book.


b)  Characters

We didn't really get to see any new characters, really.

That's true, which means this section is mainly going to be about how well Counter has handled the characters he inherited from Abnett and McNeill.

I think he's done a decent job, though there wasn't really much developing on what went before.  Loken got even more wet, I suppose, but that's entirely plausible.

You mean Loken entered into a downward spiral of increasing wetness, but it was totally believable.

Yes. I mean, really lots of characters just ended up as almost parodies of themselves. Eidolon is an egotist and a glory seeker, so all he did here was plot and preen. Abaddon has an arrogance issue, so here he just won't listen to anyone ever. That sort of thing.

What else?

It felt like a greater ranges of perspectives this time, which helped. I think we get more from Euphrati as a saint than we did from her as a remembrancer. I still think the sudden change from "We love the Emperor!" to "Death to the Emperor!" was too fast. 

That's more of a criticism of the last book, though.

Not entirely.  There was ample space for flashbacks and explanations.

I suppose. I agree that False Gods had enough to do; further selling the whole Heresy idea should have been something for Counter to handle.

It would have been really handy to see more of Little Horus. Watching how he came to terms with what's going on would have been really helpful.

Good point. Plus of course he's the most interesting character in the books. He was literally the only Astartes in the series who I couldn't tell which side he'd end up on (though I was always hoping Tarik might surprise me). Did anyone surprise you with the way they went.

Not really, other than my theory about Vipus not coming true.


c) Setting

There wasn't an awful lot of new locations this time around.

That's true.

I mean, really there's not much to say. The High City wasn't really described in too much detail.

Well it did need to get demolished pretty quick, I guess.

I'll give out credit for the Warsingers. That was a pretty cool idea. But like I say, we hardly went anywhere.

I think the idea was to build tension, You know, keep cranking things up until it's all horribly clear what's about to happen. If it was horribly clear.

Most of the broad strokes. Bits and pieces surprised me.

But in truth the aim here is to build on dramatic irony. You suspected what would happen; people like me knew.


So the build-up comes attached with anticipation for us.

Three books is a lot of anticipation.  Why did you need all those words if you knew what was going to happen?

Shakespeare took three play to get through Henry VI.

Henry VI has a legacy. Loken just takes three books to die.

Loken has a legacy!  Even if no-one knows what he and Tarvitz did, his actions could have made all the difference.

Henry VI is of enormous historical importance, though.

Look, it's not like I'm directly comparing the two trilogies, obviously. I mean, a story about a doomed leader broken into a tale of military mistakes and the fading of a unified cause, a story of political machinations and the approach of inevitable war, and the total collapse of the established rules of order during a cataclysmic civil war? Not much mistaking which trilogy that is.

That reminds me! That guys laboratory was really gruesome.

And you like gruesome?

I love gruesome!

Well at least you've got something out of this.




And that's another book consigned to the "now read" pile. Fliss gets her traditional fortnight off whilst I write an actual review of Counter's first Heresy effort, and if you're lucky (for a unique definition of the word) this time around The Gallery will feature my first piece of artwork I've encouraged others to see since, well, ever, I think.

Fliss will return on the 28th of October to get to work on Flight of the Eisenstein.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Three Bouts

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (III)

Update: I forgot to mention this, but Black Library have re-released False Gods for your reading pleasure, so you no longer have no excuse to not wade through the twenty-three posts Fliss and I generated on the second book in this series.

Kharn, busy betraying (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

The final assault on the loyalist stronghold has begun, and the rebels are falling over each other in their haste to claim glory.

This, of course, is a problem.

Well, it isn't a problem for us. Indeed, whilst our species' weaknesses for cupidity and vainglory has resulted in a truly humiliating number of us swelling the ranks of Chaos, those same drives when untethered from obligation do not lend themselves towards disciplined soldiering. There is probably no more fundamental reason for why we are losing the Long War as slowly as we are. And here, in the dying moments of the war on Istvaan III, this tendency toward self-abnegation is everywhere.

There are three encounters we can base these observations around; the duels between first Loken and Kharn and then Tarvitz and Lucius, and the violent massacre perpetrated on the loyalist triage centre by Eidolon and his followers. Each of these encounters in their own way demonstrate the fundamental problem facing Chaos as an effective fighting force.

Consider Eidolon. Obviously his obscene delight in murdering the injured and helpless is disgusting, but that is not our point here. It is a profoundly sad fact that basic humanity can be so totally thrown aside in these circumstances, but a fact it remains, and always has. But even with the moral outrage set aside, spending critical time slaughtering the injured is just poor strategy. The most fundamental aspect of a surprise attack is speed. The most important targets need to be eliminated in the shortest amount of time possible. You don't waste time stopping to brutalised those too injured to fight. By definition, they are not an immediate concern. Leave a few guards to deal with any surprises, and then move along.

Instead, Eidolon allows Tarvitz time to rally his defenders and potentially further protract an already unacceptably lengthy campaign, simply so the Lord Commander can convince himself he's earning glory through the simple quantity of death he can dole out.  The body count became more important than victory.

There was never any real chance of Loken beating Kharn of the World Eaters Legion in what we might, in loose terms, describe as a fair fight. One might be tempted to suggest he might have pulled out a win in the same way he did when he first faced Lucius in the practice cages, but the comparison is flawed. Loken won there by entering a contest with specific rules -or at least norms - and wilfully violating them to demonstrate the foolishness of relying on your opponent to following the same code you do. It was a worthy lesson, but it can hardly be considered to apply here. The World Eaters have no code, just an addiction to violence. Loken could not beat Kharn by doing something Kharn wouldn't expect, because Kharn has no principles blinding him to any subset of strategies.  The basic Luna Wolves philosophy as described by Loken is to understand the enemy and do whatever it takes to win, but any degree of understanding the World Eaters makes clear that the way to beat them is to never under any circumstances find yourself in close combat with them.

And yet Loken survived the confrontation with what must have been one of the top five most prolific killers on Istvaan III. His escape seems like good fortune, and to some extent that's what it was. But that isn't the whole story. It never is. In this case Loken's good luck was only made possible by the mad dashing advance of the rebel forces, a pell-mell rush to get to grips with the enemy that ended up almost killing one of Angron's best troops in the scrabble for glory. We've already accepted that speed is critical in an attack like this, but speed needn't mean haste, and it certainly needn't mean failing to check your route of approach for friendlies.  The speed with which the enemy could be slaughtered became more important than victory.

There's a certain delicious irony in Lucius' failure to kill Tarvitz stemming from precisely the kind of team-work Lucius had dismissed so thoroughly. Much as with Loken, though, we need to dig deeper. Lucius could have killed Tarvitz the moment the loyalist captain arrived. It took him only seconds to realise what had happened, of course, but for a swordsman of Lucius' skill, that's more than enough time to strike a killing blow. And yet he didn't. Why? Surely not for honour's sake; betraying one's brothers in arms before murdering them in a surprise attack rather renders questions of honour irrelevant, even for Astartes as deluded as the higher echelons of the Emperor's Children often seem to be. This was about gloating and a need to prove superiority. Even when Lucius had the chance to kill Tarvitz in honest combat he didn't bother, preferring to play with his food. Ultimately that failure to push the advantage saved Lucius' foe, and very nearly got him killed. Gloating over the enemy became more important than victory.

We've discussed before the central self-defeating fact of Chaos; that you cannot construct an army from those who by their very nature chafe against authority and expect them to work towards the greater plan. A recruitment process so heavily geared toward exploiting arrogance and narcissism is bound to generate profound problems within the ranks. You cannot impose order with chaos as your starting point. Too many things end up becoming more important than victory. At this point the Warmaster can't even have his forces operate coherently.  The World Eaters and the Emperor's Children are attacking more or less independently, Throne alone knows what the Death Guard are up to on the other side of the city, and the Sons are Horus seem to be barely taking the field.

Before the Heresy has spread even from its planet of origin, things are falling apart. The strangest truth in all of this might be that whilst humanity is forever its worst enemy, our second-worst enemy is its own worst enemy as well.  Ultimately we may simply be in a race to see who can defeat themselves first.

Which is not to say, obviously, that there isn't plenty of fire crossing the space between our parallel paths downward. Which is as good a way as any of segueing into our main event.

It is time for the Mournival to convene, one final time.


What is

There's not much to go through this week; we're basically all about the duels. Well, and a massacre. But here's a burning question: what was cooler, Loken versus Kharn or Tarvitz versus Lucius?

I'm not sure. I wasn't exactly a massive fan of either. Can't the good guys win without subterfuge?

Loken didn't win through subterfuge, that was blind luck.

But it still wasn't talent, was it?

Indeed not.

I'm amazed the other Emperor's Children even went along with shooting Lucius. Don't they have rules about fighting the honourable way?

I'm not sure they do, I think Lucius' approach in the practice cages is pretty different to they actually make war. But more to the point, I suspect it all goes out the window when you see one of your brothers in arms has slaughtered a dozen or two of your best mates, and is standing in the middle of their bodies singing "Doo doo doo, doo doo doo, doing the evil dance!"

Dances can't be evil.

This one can.  The dance... OF BLADES!

The dance isn't evil, it's the heart of the person who's dancing.

Incorrect. There is an evil dance, and also a good dance. I believe the latter is a samba of some kind.

Where was I? What was I talking about?

The potential alignment of dancing.

No, before that. Before you sidetracked me.

How on Earth can I possibly know which parts of your streams of consciousness represent sidetracks?

That was it. It's a bit unimpressive that if Loken or Tarvitz had been in fair fights, they both would have lost.

I suppose there's a point being made here that the loyalists are stronger for co-operation, whereas the rebels are all about themselves.

Yeah, you got Lucius, you got Eidolon (and I can't wait to see what Tarvitz had planned for that idiot). Even Horus just sits up there shouting orders these days. 

Horus is the best example here.  At the very start of the trilogy he saves Loken in combat, and now he's sitting on the Vengeful Spirit ordering people to kill him. It's all about every man for yourself and getting others to do your dirty work.

So did Lucius murder all those guys and then let Eidolon through?

I don't know which came first, but basically, yeah.

So how can Eidolon possibly leave someone that unpleasant alive in his force?

I don't think he can, but it makes sense to wait until after the loyalists are all dead.  I was more surprised that he wasted so much time smashing up the wounded, rather than seeking out the higher-ups among the loyalists.

He just wants to kill as many people as possible, so he can show everybody. "Look at everybody who's dead because of me! La la la!"

Anything else?

Yeah. What's up with Kharn? Has someone done something to him  Something to make Kharn... wrathful?

Bonus points for a Star Trek pun. That can't have been easy for you.

What's the Path of Eight?

The Eightfold Path.  It's part of a recurring motif, but if it hasn't clicked yet I'll keep my mouth shut.

So has the Warp got to him?

Maybe. Or maybe he's got whatever Angron has inside him.

I thought he was just angry, was Angron. Angry Angron.

Well, he is, but the devices in his head stimulate that.

Yeah, but the description of how Kharn looked reminded me too much of Jubal. But then I thought Horus wanted to steer clear of the Warp until after Istvaan V?

The grinding endless bullshit on Istvaan III may have changed his mind. Or maybe Angron is just completely ignoring the Chief. He's been stuck behind his desk too long! Angron gets results, dammit!  And just like that, we have a new hit detective series.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I Have An Announcement To Make!

Sooty. A big fan of the blog. Maybe.
(Scroll down for this weeks post)

Due to the powers that be deciding the best time for me to forcibly insert knowledge into the brain-pans of today's youth, I'll be lecturing until 7pm every Tuesday. This, I suspect, will not put me in the right frame of mind for assembled witterings on the subject of Horus in my traditional last-minute panic when trying to craft something for a Wednesday morning.

We've therefore decided to change the post schedule.  Starting next week, Who The Heck Is Horus will update on a Tuesday morning at 8am, rather than the same time on a Wednesday.  Of course, this means you get your next fix a day earlier, so really this should be a time for celebration.


The Cradle Of The Best And Of The Worst

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (II)

Loyalist Emperor's Children during the war on Istvaan III
(copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Who could have predicted just a few short years ago, before Istvaan and Aureus, before Xenobia and Murder, that Captain Saul Tarvitz would rise to the position of leading elements of at least three companies spread over two Legions? Even the fact that he leads them against those he once called brothers and whom no-one could ever conceive of being less than absolutely loyal could be considered all that much more surprising.

But then, it had to be Saul, and not just because of the well-known Emperor's Children tendency towards insufferable arrogance and haughty superiority meant a Luna Wolf attempting to lead them could never work as well as the other way around. Tarvitz is the best of his Legion, and the best of the Astartes on the surface of Istvaan III. Where Torgaddon brings jokes, Tarvitz brings total focus. Where Loken would stand and see his force annihilated for the sake of pride, Tarvitz has hie eye on the long game.  Just as important, whilst it's hardly surprising neither realised it, both Torgaddon and Loken were compromised by their inclusion in the Mournival. The further up the ladder, the more power you possess to effect change, but the harder it is to see what changes are needed. The people you can pressure are the same people you know too well to want to apply pressure to. Ultimately that's why Loken responded to proof of a Chaos cult on the Vengeful Spirit was to try persuasion on Abaddon, whilst Tarvitz in short order lied to Rylanor, investigated the gun-decks of the Andronius, and stole a Thunderhawk in an attempt to thwart the Warmaster's plan.

Indeed, the very worst that can be said here is that having just witnessed the previously unthinkable rebellion of large numbers of Astartes, Tarvitz should have been more alert to the possibility of new mutiny breaking forth from the ranks.  There is some small truth to this, perhaps, but in fact it would be more sensible to praise Tarvitz for not allowing the loyalist forces - working far more coherently across three Legions than their attackers, remember - to not slide into paralysing mutual suspicion.

There is an ancient story of a bird that was common throughout northern Terra until it was brought low by the worst excesses of the second Chem Wars. This bird, the coleus, was famed for its obsession with bright, shiny objects, which they would steal and hoard whenever possible. After observing this bird for generations, the biologis experts of the time discovered the feathered creatures could be divided into two camps.  One sort stole anything it judged "unclaimed", but never ransacked the nests of their fellows when seeking fresh loot.  The second sort was only too happy to steal from their cousins whenever the opportunity presented itself.

What struck the learned men of the time as interesting was the behaviour of these two groups.  The first were trusting creatures, happy to leave other coleus birds near their nest whilst they searched for further trinkets. The second group were consumed by paranoia, unable to resume their foraging if another coleus bird was in the immediate vicinity, forcing them to surrender opportunities for new acquisitions whilst they engaged in exhaustive policing of the areas around their homes. They may have been stolen from less often, but it was the other group who got to have all the fun.

Whilst Tarvitz worked on cohesion and morale in some of the most desperate circumstances imaginable, those who followed the Warmaster were lapsing into the same desperate, paranoid panic of the coleus bird, only with the added dangers of having weapons close at hand.  The act of rebelling against their once most deeply-held beliefs has cast them all adrift to greater or lesser extents. Over time, this problem will only grow, and no Legion currently in the Istvaan system demonstrates this more clearly than does the Emperor's Children.  The act they have framed as throwing off the yoke of the oppressor in order to save the galaxy has immediately collapsed into an obsession with their own positions; guarding prestige and glory like trinkets in the nest. Fulgrim has reached such levels of disinterest and petulance that the master he swore himself to just months before is already forced to resort to flattery in order to gain obedience. Eidolon's obsession with proving himself superior leads him to strike a deal with a man who has already murdered many of his loyal troops, and who he has branded a traitor.

(Which in itself is hilarious, of course. Eidolon dares call someone a "traitor twice over" because they choose to join a rebellion you helped initiate later than you did? Clearly the Emperor's Children are well-versed in political double-think; it takes a special kind of mind to conclude that treachery consists of obeying the orders of the person you swore to obey the orders of).

The result is a Legion that not so much proves itself superior or inferior to the Sons of Horus as surrounds it on both sides.  With so much of the birth of the Heresy - along with essentially all human history - pouring from the intersection of pride and power, it's perhaps not surprising the III Legion ended up eclipsing the more pragmatic brawlers of the XI. Perhaps that explains the difficulty in telling the story of the Luna Wolves final days and their last stand without the Emperor's Children gradually squeezing Horus' sons from their own story. Heroes that are more heroic, and villains that are more villainous.

We should cover them in more detail, really.  But then there's the Eisenstein to consider.  And whilst Luna Wolves remain alive on Istvaan III, we should continue to focus upon them, as hard as that seems to be becoming. For the sake of form, if nothing else, we must continue to the final confrontation of the fractured Mournival.

First, though, some more Emperor's Children. Obviously.


What Is

Lots on the Emperor's Children again this time.  Does it seem odd that the focus has shifted so far from Horus' Legion? Or does widening the focus help make things more epic?

It doesn't seem odd at all.  We've been skipping around for the whole trilogy.

But it doesn't matter so much earlier on, we're talking about the finale here.

They need somewhere to go after this, though; this could all be set-up.

And my point is setting up new stories when you should be tying up the one you're running is a bad idea.

I think you're overstating the problem.  There was plenty of Horus in there, and Loken and Torgaddon.  They've hardly disappeared.

Even so.

We're not going to agree on this. Ask a more sensible question. Like about Istvaan V.

What about Istvaan V?

What the hell is Istvaan V?  Do they just name everything Istvaan now?

It's the name of the star. The numbers are the planets in order of distance outward.  It's a common enough system.

Never heard of it.

Yes you have.  It's been in Star Trek; you've watched that. "THIS IS CETI ALPHA V!"

Don't shout at me!

I'm not shouting; I'm quoting loudly.

Don't do that either.

Why do you think Tarvitz has been given overall control of the loyalists, and not Torgaddon?

Is it because Tarvitz has more experience fighting with more than one Legion?

That's a good point, but every time we've seen Tarvitz fight with the Luna Wolves we've seen Torgaddon fighting with the Emperor's Children.

Torgaddon didn't come down and warn them all about the betrayal, though.

You can't base promotions on gratitude, though, surely? I mean, it worked in Sharpe, but whatever that show was, it wasn't a reliable blueprint for building a sustainable military structure.

Maybe Torgaddon is a bit rubbish?

How dare you!

Well, you know; always just following Abaddon around.

That's ridiculous.

Sorry, not Abaddon; I meant Loken.

Oh. Oh, then fine.

Before Loken joined the Mournival, though, he must have been following someone else around. What else was there to do?

Fight! Kill things! Defend the honour of the Imperium! The dude was in charge of hundreds of Astartes and got into the Mournival on the ground floor.  Don't you knock him!

Fine; what's your bright idea here?

The best I've got is that Luna Wolves are more likely to follow an Emperor's Child than the other way round. What with the III Legion being such intolerable smug prickgizzards and all.

Oh. Well that works, I suppose.

This is the first time we've come across Fulgrim in private, as oppose to seeing him give stirring speeches to his men.  What are your initial impressions?

Didn't think much of him. It's hard to have much respect for someone when they're so totally having their tail handed to them on a plate.

Head on a plate, Fliss. Having your tail served to you on a plate

Either way, it wasn't much of a performance.

I don't know. It takes guts to tell Horus to fuck off.

He sounded like a small child! "But I don't waaaanna!"

Maybe, but he's not whining to his Dad here, he's doing it to an indescribably dangerous super-being who's just announced his plans to murder any of his brothers who don't toe the line.

Just because you're pissed off doesn't mean you're brave.

I guess. I'll admit to being terribly amused at how Horus keeps being surprised when the people he's just persuaded to rebel turn out to be rebellious.

Why was Horus bigging Eidolon up so much? "Oh, they don't need you down on the surface". Seems like a dangerous thing to say.

I don't think so. Horus can take Fulgrim directly, I should think, and if Fulgrim takes his frustrations out on Eidolon, why would Horus care? Hell, you could sell tickets to that.

How much of Lucius' message to the loyalists can we actually believe? And how long is it going to be before he and Eidolon are trying to murder each other?

I barely believe a word of it. We already know Horus and Abaddon are on some top-secret mission, they're probably on Istvaan V already. Or maybe in the top-secret medical place of Mr Psycho-Doc.

You mean Chief Apothecary Fabius Bile of the Emperor's Children?

Yes. That bloke. I bet Abaddon and Li'l Horus are over there right now getting all sorts of weird stuff done.

Having their tonsils removed... AND REPLACED WITH GRENADES! And Lucius and Eidolon?

Half a chapter. No, a chapter and a half.

There's only two chapters left.

Half a chapter.  I'm not sure who'd win. Lucius has his new Warsinger powers, but then Eidolon has a counter for that, hasn't he?

True, lots of singy-shouty going on these days.

I've always assumed Lucius is the better fighter.

I'm almost certain he is, but Eidolon would have minions.

Maybe the minions hate him as well.  They might prefer a bit of Lucius for a bit.

So rebel Astartes decide to rebel to help a double rebel.  How many levels of treachery is that.

I don't know, Eidolon lost me at the "twice traitor" thing. He didn't betray anyone, and that's only because no-one invited him to.

I know. It's not fair. He turned traitor as quick as he should, I'm sure. You know, once he'd chopped the right dude's head off.

What Will Be

So let's pretend Lucius' message is at least partially true, that would mean a final showdown with Garviel and Tarik taking on Ezekyle and Little Horus.  How would that fight go down?  Who wins, who loses, and who ends up dead?

Hmm.  Well Abaddon I always thought had some underhanded way of staying alive.


Because the Mournival has lost like thirteen members over the years and he's always made it out.

True, but then so has Tarik.

Fair enough.  We still don't know if Vipus is a traitor. Viper Vipus, as I shall call him if he turns his cloak.

You think he might tip the balance?

Probably not. You've got to figure Loken and Torgaddon would hear him following them, right?

Yeah, I don't think stealth is the Astartes' greatest contribution to the history of war.

Really, though, I don't think there'll be any fight. Even if Abaddon and Aximand do come down, they'd just plant a bomb and run away.

They wouldn't fight fair?

The whole point of the Sons of the Horus is that they
don't fight fair.

Good point. You're remembering all sorts of things this week.

It does happen occasionally.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pride Before The Fall

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (I)

Lucius (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Captain Lucius of the Emperor's Children. Lucius the Eternal.  Lucius the damned. Is there any other Astartes in the 31st Millennium whom can claim a poorer reason for having turned traitor?  For Lucius there was no active attempt to persuade the galaxy needed rebellion, no divided loyalty between Emperor and Primarch, not even the utterly unedifying but ultimately understandable urge to follow the Warmaster once the virus bombs had been unleashed and stepping out of line became something clearly pointless and punishable by death.  Even Erebus and his fellow Word Bearers could claim religious revelation forced their hands.

Lucius changed sides because he wanted more people to tell him how wonderful he was.

But there is great danger in simply dismissing Lucius as uniquely depraved and moving on. As always in such cases, whilst our subject might represent the far end of the bell curve of human behaviour, trying to separate him fully from that curve risks obscuring the fact that many others could be near as bad, or become near as bad. We comfort ourselves by demonising Lucius (and yes, we are aware of the irony in using that term) when we should be tracing the route his humanity took to lead him to so such extremes.

The first area to consider here is in how Lucius differed from his fellow Astartes. Astartes, remember, are generalists. Even the most lethal sharp-shooter in a Legion is expected to excel with the chainsword. The best tank commander in a battle group still needs to know how to pull ion a jump-pack,  Lucius showed no interest in this wide-ranging approach to combat preparation, however. Mastering his power sword was the only aspect of warfare in which he took interest. This is far from the approach expected of Astartes. Indeed, ironic as it given his ultimate fate as a champion of Slaanesh, Lucius' obsession resembles nothing so much as that of an Eldar Exarch.

It is no easy task for the human mind to grasp what motivates the Eldar, of course. It is difficult then to be certain how Lucius' approach led to such different results to that of those unable to abandon the Path of the Warrior. The most simplistic suggestion would be that Exarchs are protected from Slaanesh primarily by their full and horrible knowledge of what the Prince of Deceit represents. There are other explanations, however. Perhaps the most likely amongst them is that this is all a question of pride.

Strange as it might seem in this dark time, when the defenders of humanity and general and the Adeptus Astartes in particular can barely walk ten paces without announcing how proud they are of their responsibility and ability to destroy the enemies of mankind, but there was a time when pride was considered a serious flaw. It's not hard to understand why; take pride too far, and you reach levels of superiority within which you begin to stop seeing others as worth what you are. Fifty thousand years of recorded history has shown us how that works out, however patchy those records are.

A galaxy without pride is its own problem, of course; there needs to be some motivator to continual improvement. For the Eldar this is the mastery of themselves, and the furtherance of their race - or at least, those are the most palatable aspects of Eldar pride, there are many others far less laudable. What's key here is that we recognise what we take pride on is simply part of larger concerns. The balancing act is in ensuring we take pride in those areas in which we work hard and excel, without devaluing the areas in which we fail to impress. Lucius' failing was not necessarily in valuing his own duelling ability (though of course there is a long way to walk from taking pride in your skills and narcissistic personality disorder), but in finding nothing of worth in the actions of anyone else.

This is what caught out Lucius. The actual utility of his skill at arms became completely forgotten in his drive to become better. The aims of the Great Crusade became utterly irrelevant so long as it afforded a chance for him to swing his sword arm. But then, this can hardly be considered a surprise.  There can be little doubt that Lucius is suffering from a fairly classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. It is shielded from sight only by Lucius' deliberate scarring of his own face, which rather violates the central manifestation of the condition as it generally manifests. Narcissists are not necessarily obsessed with their looks, however; a driving need for power or prestige falls in the same category.

It is worth it at this point to consider the most common symptoms associated with the disorder, according to the most up-to-date information available from Imperial physikers:
  • Expects recognition of superiority, irrespective of their actual accomplishments;
  • Expects to be constantly admired and complimented;
  • Envies others and assumes they envy him/her;
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of great success;
  • Cannot empathise;
  • Is arrogant;
  • Expects special treatment that is unrealistic.
At the barest minimum, five of these parallel Luicus' nature perfectly, and those that don't only fail to completely match because Lucius really is at least approximately as good as he thinks he is.

But does this remote diagnosis, hundreds of light years and thousands of years from the patient in question, allow us to feel any sympathy for Lucius? If, indeed, he was suffering from a disorder, does that mitigate the horror of what he did on Istvaan III? Alas, surely not.  Even if we were to forgive Lucius' self-absorption and truculence and his inability to follow the orders of his superior in accordance with the fundamental rules of the armed force he volunteered to join, his obsession with receiving due respect for his skill with a sword and receiving command because of it had an obvious route available to him: challenge Tarvitz for command via a sword fight. I'd hope we can at least agree that if one's personality disorder drives you to try and oust your superior, you should do it for the reasons your disorder fixates on, using the methods your disorder insists you excel in.  Condemning thousands to death because it might keep you alive longer is grotesque cowardice whatever your motivation up to that point.

Like every other narcissist, diagnosable or not, Lucius is a past master at deciding what he wants and spinning justifications around them later. We should not feel compelled to play that game. No-one should require that our heroes be good company, or always willing to fall in line immediately, or even be in any way tolerable at all. And what would it even mean to demand psychological "normalcy" from those we genetically alter to run screaming towards towering greenskins, indestructible automatons, or gibbering daemons?

But let's at least demand those that want to be seen as better show themselves to be better. There is no limit to the problems mankind suffers from we could curb or even eradicate, if only that one rule could be followed.  It's not a likely scenario - man's self-obsession and omnidirectional bitterness is probably more eternal than Lucius himself is.  But it's something to aim for.

And in the end, what we've aimed for is the only thing that will matter at all.


(Bit of a short one this week, what with this chapter consisting almost entirely of Lucius being in a fight, then betraying Tarvitz. More next week, I hope.)

What Was

If the Emperor was so utterly dead set against religion, why do the Emperor's Children have chaplains?

Maybe it's just a title.

They must do something, though. They get black armour. No-one else gets black armour. Well, the Raven Guard and the Iron Hands. And the Dark Angels.  And Abaddon's mob. But not the Emperor' Children.

Perhaps they bury the dead.

And say what? "We're all super bummed out Frank is dead, but let's remember that the idea there's a soul is laughable and he clearly was just meat that's stopped moving now." I can just about see how you could have people charged with the spiritual well-being of atheists-

Or their mental well-being, like psychiatrists.

-Or that, yes, but when I think of someone flying around in space offering comfort devoid of religious trappings, you know who comes to mind? Counsellor Troi. Not really the sort of person you'd think would fit in with battle-crazed Astartes.

She got on fine with Klingons.

With Worf, maybe.  He might have talked a good game, but he hardly ever killed anyone.

"Hardly ever killed anyone".

I'm serious.  The dude is famous for failing to kill people.  There's entire Youtube videos dedicated to it.

He must have occasionally killed someone.

I must check this immediately!  There must be an answer to hand; this is the internet.  A-ha! According to this, he managed precisely 22 kills during TNG, but of those only 14 were a) deliberate, b) done when he could see his foe, c) something actually alive rather than a hologram, and d) not done whilst he was mutated in that freaking ridiculous episode where Murdock turned into a spider.  Also, only four of those 14 weren't Borg drones.

But how many kills did the rest of the cast manage?

That's not important.  The point is that any given Emperor's Child could crank out four brutal murders before their first coffee. Troi would be vomiting in horror before she could say "He's hiding something".

I'd have a thought a Chaplain's job would be covered by Sindermann and his mates, anyway.

Good point. But maybe that's what the Chaplains are. Remembrancers for Astartes.  Following the other Astartes around in battle and saying "Ouch; that looks like it must hurt.  Hope it hasn't made you believe in God."

Maybe they just knock heads on new worlds until all the religion falls out?

Ah maybe. I think that was mentioned in False Gods, actually. So this whole discussion has been pointless, even by our standards. Sorry.

What Is

I'm not sure there's much point talking about anything this week other than Lucius.  I know you're not surprised by his betrayal, but was it inevitable? Was there anything Tarvitz or Loken could have done to forestall or prevent it?  And can we have any sympathy for Lucius at all?

Ah.  Lucius.

Also known as "Lucius the dick".

Not by everyone.

Really? There's the people who think he's betrayed them, and the people he's about to betray.  I don't see many people who are going to put their cross in the "non-dick" box.

Fair point. Tarvitz is definitely about to end his undecided streak, at least.

Is there any way Tarvitz could have headed this off at the pass?

I don't think so.

Even if he gave Lucius command?

No. First of all, Lucius essentially already has command; I don't even know what Tarvitz is doing. 

Liaising, I think. But yeah, it's far from clear.

And second of all, you yourself said "give" Lucius command.  Lucius doesn't want that.  It'll just piss him off even more.

True. Even if Tarvitz spun some BS about how Lucius clearly deserved it more and Tarvitz had no right to give orders, I think Lucius would still sulk about it.

Plus, it's not like Lucius couldn't have challenged Tarvitz for command directly, instead of all the passive-aggressive moaning, 

So no sympathy for Lucius at all, then?

If I do have any, it's only because something has clearly got in his head after that fight with the Warsinger.

I think you mean Vardus Praal.

Whatever.  It might even be that Eidolon sent Lucius down there to take hold of whatever powers Praal had.

That's a cool idea, though of course even if Eidolon is directly responsible for what's gotten into Lucius, that only works as an excuse for the final few steps of Lucius' long sachet into the realm of Unconscionable Dickitude.

Actually, what I'd really like would be if Lucius is actually planning on attempting an assassination.

You mean a double-double-cross?

Basically.  He might want to get close to Horus so he can try and kill him, and get the Warmaster's rank in the process.

That's a lovely idea, though it doesn't fit in with that line about Lucius (briefly) feeling guilty about what he's about to do.

Maybe he really is going to hand over Tarvitz, though, to strengthen the deception.

Maybe. Or maybe he has narcissistic personality disorder. I figured that out when writing the other half of this post, and found the seven classic signs.

How many does Lucius fit?

Between five and seven, depending on how you look at it.

And how many do you fit?

How dare you! Absolutely no more than, er, six.  Probably. It might be seven.

(I couldn't really admit to this it in the top half of this post, but I'm indebted to Wikipedia for information about narcissistic personality disorder).