Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Secret Empire

False Gods: The Betrayer (V)

In the sea green corner, the newly repainted
Sons of Horus (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Another speartip drop.  Nothing particularly out of the ordinary.  It required neither the urgency of Murder, nor the large-scale mobilisation of Sixty-Three Nineteen, for all Horus' wounded pride.  Nothing was exceptional about it, except for how unexceptionable it was.

Plus, of course, that no Astartes had ever faced rebels before.

Except... how can that be true? The fact that twenty Legions were sufficient to conquer the human galaxy, we do not dispute - at least, not here. But the Emperor's forces were hardly welcomed with open arms whenever they arrived. Even accepting that Loken would presumably be less likely to reminisce over new-found worlds that required no effort to pacify - unless they demonstrated the most extreme tastes in millinery - there can be no doubt that the Luna Wolves encountered no shortage of hostile human enclaves in their expansion from Terra.

And none of them ever tried to shake off the usurpers? Not one of them waited a few years or decades before the superhuman agents of the ancient homeworld had moved on and then declared themselves independent once more? We can understand the severe risks involved in such an action, of course, but long odds have rarely been a limiting factor in human ambition, especially with aliens abroad like the Eldar all too willing to offer support for human rebellion if it serve their own unguessable interests. It seems, to say the least, exceptionally difficult to credit.

But if indeed Temba is not the architect of the first rebellion suffered by the Imperium, why does Horus believe - or claim to believe - otherwise? The answer seems obvious: compartmentalisation.

It is not as though this would be unusual for the Imperium's structure. We already know the Emperor hoarded information on the Warp like a jealous dragon, so too his reasons for abandoning the Crusade at the very precipice of victory. The idea that the Legions are best served through strategically managed ignorance is well-established. If he believed his children would best conquer the galaxy without understanding its basic nature, why not assume they would best maintain order without knowing how widespread resistance to that order truly was? [1]

This, though, is not an entirely fair comparison.  The disadvantages of denying the Astartes full knowledge of the Warp are now horribly obvious, and should have been at the time - really it was no different to the child who closes his eyes believing that because he cannot see danger, danger cannot see him.  The choice to suppress the extent of rebellion in the nascent Imperium is not quite so obviously foolish.  Indeed, the upside is obvious.  It is not even that rebellion is harder to enact or even consider if there is no precedent.  It is that a society in which rebellion is unthinkable is one where the totalitarian methods by which we so often choose to search for rebellion are no longer attractive.  The contemporary Imperium, as we have argued, roots out and destroys dissent in so heavy-handed a way as to guarantee more dissent down the road.  "We are always watching you" is a far harder motto to live under than "Why would we need to watch you?"

Against these benefits, of course, you have the obvious drawback that a society unused to the risk of rebellion is a society ill-equipped to recognise the shape of rebellion when it arises. This, of course, is a song we have sung before, but here at least the approach seems at least partially defensible. It is not that the Emperor considered resistance and rebellion impossible, perhaps, so much as he considered it unimportant.  His Astartes Legions had hammered an entire galaxy into shape.  If some desperate gang of shell-shocked survivors attempted to blow upon the embers of defiance, what did it matter? The Astartes would return, and they would kill, and the peace of gun and death would once more descend.

In other words, assuming the Astartes could remain free of Chaotic influence if they were kept in the dark was obviously idiotic.  Assuming uprisings amongst the human population were of little import so long as the Astartes could be relied upon to smash them was much more reasonable.  It does not require trust in the entirety of humanity; simply the Astartes, which in reality means only the Primarchs.  If the Primarchs can be kept on-side, there really is nothing to worry about.

And what could possibly turn a Primarch away from his own father?

[1] Immediately after "why" comes "how". How could the Emperor stamp out rebellion without attracting Horus' attention?  The most likely explanation comes from the idea that each Primarch had his own specific role to play in the forging of the Imperium.  It isn't hard to imagine one of the less unsubtle Primarchs - Mortarion, say, or Night Haunter; certainly Alpharius - being tasked with keeping any discontent quickly and quietly suppressed.  It would even be possible to have one hand clear up after another with neither the wiser. If the Emperor directed the World Eaters to annihilate some enclave that rose up after the Luna Wolves had moved on, what are the chances any rebel will survive long enough to ask the World Eaters what happened to the other guys?


What Was

It's another background-light chapter this week, so let's take an opportunity to quiz Fliss on how well her assimilation into the GW universe is going. This week: the Astartes Legions.  How many can Fliss name? And describe in any detail whatsoever?

Sons of Horus/Luna Wolves. Common brawlers.

Blood Angels. Charming and sanguine.

Word Bearers. We've only met Erebus, so I don't want to be unfair and assume they're all like him.

The Emperor's Children. Full of themselves.

Something like Khiramia?

Maybe (she's thinking of the Khan here).  

Er... and The Golden Hand.

What Is

Five chapters into False Gods, how is McNeill matching up to Abnett? 

I think McNeill's use of Petronella to ask questions about what's going on is pretty helpful for a newcomer; I wish the first book had more of that in. McNeill seems more descriptive, too, which again is useful.  On the other hand, it's a lot slower. This is the first part to not feature any battle at all, though since I complained the first book had three almost completely unrelated sections, I guess building up to something is to be appreciated.  As to style... are they trying to deliberately match each other?

It's less matching each other, I think, and more McNeill trying to ape Abnett.

You can tell.

Who has the better dialogue skills?

I can't actually remember any of the first book's dialogue.


Whilst on the subject of McNeill's prose; how successful was he in selling the fog-shrouded stinking bogs the Sons of Horus have found themselves in?

It was too brief to get a handle on it really.

So it didn't instill a deep sense of foreboding or anything.

Well it isn't great. Forest to swamp isn't easy to do.

Surely you just need an awful lot of water.

And rotting flesh.  And cliche horror movie fog. Can an Astartes really gag on a smell?

Maybe. For all we know they're super-sniffers.

Really the whole thing just reminded me of the Bog of Eternal Stench, which doesn't get many marks scare-wise.

Hoggle would be so upset to hear that.

With The Betrayer over, who do you think the title refers to?  Is it obviously Erebus, or does McNeill have something more subtle going on?

They seem to be saying it's Loken, actually.  Certainly Abaddon is saying Loken's behaviour is treacherous and his motives are suspicious, though that might just be a way of shutting him up.  Actually, it might be Abaddon who we have to watch out for.  What's he been doing with Erebus and the medallion?  It could be the guy down on the planet.  They've named him "betrayer", haven't they?

Probably, though it seems odd to name a section of a book after a character who hasn't appeared yet.

Yeah, it'd be "the betrayal", surely.

Who is sneaking around in an unauthorised shuttle, and what are they planning?

It can't be Horus.


Or Loken.

Indeed. Let's limit our pool of suspects to those not actually present in the speartip.

Here's a question: what colour are the ships the Legion are using? Are they gold too?

No.  It might not have been mentioned; one of those things fans have hardwired.  The ships will be the same colour as the Sons of Horus armour.


No. Have you not been paying attention to them wittering on about their new armour?

Not really. 

Can you remember what colour they used to be?


I give up.

It could be Petronella, trying to get close to the action.  Or maybe Erebus, or someone from one of the other Legions.  Do we know if anyone else travelled here with Horus.

It hasn't been mentioned.  Who would you put your money on?

I'd like to say Erebus, but then surely all he'd have to do to get down on the moon would be to ask. Petronella I can imagine having an ostentatious golden ship; let's go with her.

What Will Be

A cursed sword. A trumped-up treachery. A mysterious signal of impossible strength. A forest stolen and replaced with a swamp.  A dude with writing on his face.  Time to show off what you learned during all those Poirot episodes. What the hell is going on around here.

That isn't a Poirot moment! A Poirot moment is when he gathers everyone in a circle to explain things.

Yes, but lacking the ability to gather Horus and his Astartes in an Edwardian drawing room, we're just going to have to make do.

Fine.  OK, scenario one: there's no-one left alive on the moon. Erebus has crashed the governor's ship onto the moon and let loose some weapon to turn everything into a swamp.  Then he's contacted the Emperor and told him Horus has gone rogue; attacking a loyal governor after demanding his head.  When the Emperor shows up, he won't believe the Sons of Horus, because they're obviously going to try and cover for their Primarch.  And in the general confusion infighting, Erebus' cursed sword gets stuck in the Emperor's back.


Scenario two: almost the same, except it's a horrible monster that's made the swamp, and Erebus has fed Horus and his sons to it as a sacrifice.  And it wants the cursed sword, too.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Happiness Patrol

False Gods: The Betrayer (IV)

An Imperial cruiser in the Warp (copyright The First Magelord)
Welcome, citizens, to the truth.

You can learn a lot from visiting a bar.

The dilapidated Retreat aboard the Vengeful Spirit is no exception. It is not simply the obvious knowledge one can acquire: how to create alcohol under trying circumstances, how to sharp someone at merci merci, how to deface images of Imperial victory and somehow avoid getting shot. Everywhere the drunken narcissists that call themselves artists gather, one can see the galaxy in miniature, observing its minutiae secure in the knowledge that your subjects are too intoxicated and too self-regarding to notice your surveillance.

If we grant this premise, then, what do we learn from Ignace Karkasy's conversation with Wenduin? That a man who will steal gold, compose treasonous verse, drink himself into brief comas, and screw seemingly any woman with a pretty face and poor judgement will be disgusted by someone who seeks to improve their social standing.

Such a strange phrase, is it not? "Social standing"? As though we are all in our separate groups, standing apart, some standing above us, and others below.  The former are to be bitched about - witness Karkasy's grumbling over the sudden arrival of Petronella Vivar - the latter are to be dismissed at best and hated and worst. Which, of course, is exactly what those who employ the phrase envision.

(For this system to truly work there must always be someone for even the lowliest members of society to hold in contempt.  How fortunate the Imperium is to have its mutants and its alien foes.  Even the most downtrodden hab-worker can take comfort in the fact that at least his skin isn't green.)

The idea of a stratified society is a simple and obvious one, of course, but the divisions themselves are only part of the prescription.  In order for a deeply divided culture to even maintain the illusion of stability, there must be inculcated in the population a profound fear of falling beneath one's station, and a deep suspicion of attempts to rise from it.

In truth, the Emperor was somewhat limited in his choices for creating his new model society.  Any civilisation that sees the distance between themselves and the Astartes, the Astartes and the Primarchs, and the Primarchs and the Emperor, are already primed to the idea that there are certain types of people who will always stand above others (you might think the Astartes too rare a sight for the average citizen for them to make this impression, but too many worlds required forcible compliance for this to have been the case: word gets around).  Yes, this is a genetic difference and nothing else, but even leaving aside the ease with which men can convince themselves a difference in fortune stems from superior biology, the martial nature of the Imperium made the veneration of the military in general an unavoidable result. A more general dividing of the populace was then likewise inevitable.

But inevitable is some distance from desirable.  There is no way to insist upon the rightness of a stratified society without also insisting every citizen should be satisfied with their lot. The greatest lie mankind ever told itself is that there is no rank or role across the breadth of human experience so humble that there is nobody who should not consider themselves lucky to fill it.  Under this system of enforced contentment, dissatisfaction is not merely unwelcome. It is treasonous.

And the stroke of genius here, the replication method by which this virus of an idea propagates itself, is that the more power one has to reinforce this structure, the more one finds the whole system of benefit.  How often must a planetary governor subject themselves to scrutiny by Imperial officials, compared to the frequency with which hive-workers find their areas swept for signs of mutants, psykers and malcontents?  It is a great deal easier to believe that accepting the vagaries of fate when it requires your opulent dinners are interrupted just once a decade by scowling guests, and when you can convince yourselves that the greatest threat to society is those without power gaining a taste of it, however, small, rather than those with power hungering for and stealing more.

Meanwhile, those who it is insisted are to be most closely monitored for signs of disaffection find themselves all the more disaffected by the monitoring.  Around and around. A spiral of treacherous misery.

It has been said more than once that the horrors of Chaos are humanity's punishment, the universe at large responding to our miserable and greedy nature.  Not just in the most obvious manner, in that our own thoughts and impulses bleed into the Immaterium and give birth to monsters, but in a moral sense also.  The Warp is the fears of those who stand highest made manifest: with access to an unsanctioned psyker or an old, blasphemous tome, even the most downtrodden can seize power and wreak ruin. For all that the manner of this rebellion is unconscionable, for all that those who sign up often end up regretting it no less than their victims, it is difficult not to feel sympathy for those who simply took the less familiar of two impossible positions.  If you remove every other route to the levers of power, it becomes hard to blame those who choose to take a short cut.

Eruptions from below are inevitable, and they are made so by those who sit atop the pile. Our stated policies for keeping the masses free from the taint of Chaos are exactly the policies that make Chaos seem more attractive. As always, we are our own worst enemies.

Speaking of which, Horus is about to board his Stormbird.  The Battle of for the Glory of Terra is about to begin.


What Was

You've mentioned before finding it hard to get a handle on what the Warp is and how it works. Are things becoming any clearer for you? And what does it suggest that it was the Emperor who apparently explained how to utilise it to the Astartes in the first place?

Well, I always assumed it was the Emperor who explained it all.  It's a bit of a paradox, though.  He insists he knows what it's about and that everything's fine, but he's missing from battle so he can study it.  Has he been overtaken by one of the Warp monsters?

Maybe. He's not behaving anything like Jubal, though.

How do you know? He could be crazy as hell back on Terra.

You think the "Warp study" story is just a smokescreen?

Possibly. He might be locked up like they used to do with mad people.

Is the Warp starting to click?

Maybe. Is it basically a wormhole?

Kind of.  Though usually in fiction those tend to have set entrances and exits. And they tend to be faster.

How do you know how fast they're going?

It says it takes weeks or months to get from one system to another.

But that could just be down to the huge distances we're talking about.  Speed is relative.

I'm sure it is. Take it when you're on heroin and you might not even notice.

What Is

This is another chapter in which Abaddon seems increasingly divorced from his depiction in Horus Rising. What's going on with him?

I don't know about that scene. Would Horus really kick him out for killing a remembrancer?

I don't see it.  They've been comrades for centuries.

But maybe if it was in cold blood,

I'm sure Abaddon could get out of it. Remember how furious Horus was when Erebus mentioned Temba's shit-talking.  Abaddon just says the same thing about Karkasy, and boom. Instant homicide forgiveness.

No-one seemed to have these temper explosions last book. Is this something Erebus is doing?

I assume so with Horus.  I'm less sure about Abaddon. But then it's not clear how much the First Captain and the First Chaplain hang out.

Could Loken really have stopped Abaddon, given how strong he is? Or did Abaddon manage to bring himself up short?

I dunno. It's hard to tell how much stronger Abaddon is than Loken unless they actually fight for real. Imagine that!

Is the passing of the medal some kind of signal? Are they gearing up for a coup?

Interesting. No comment.

So is the lodge something the word bearers set up? Have they done this with other Legions?  Created an organisation that's loyal to each other above their own commanders?  Vipus wouldn't go against Loken, though, would he?

Surely not. I know you don't think Aximand would have a problem with that, though. What about Torgaddon?

Torgaddon is definitely someone you want on your team - I'd imagine both sides would try and persuade him. He seemed more willing to listen to the interex than Abaddon and Aximand. Though the Lodge have blackmail material on him? "Here is a picture of you having sex with a scuttlebutt".

What? First of all, you cannot have sex with a scuttle's butt.  There is no part of a scuttle with which you can interact sexually or otherwise. Second -

I thought they were robots, like on Red Dwarf.

Those are skutters.

And people would want to have sex with them.


You know. Sex with robots.  It's like sex with machines.

Who wants to have sex with machines?

Weirdos.  Google it.  There's a website. You know there's a website.

You said last time Loken couldn't know Erebus stole the Anathame, or he would certainly have told Horus.  So now we know Loken knows, why do you think he's keeping his mouth shut?

He doesn't know. He just suspects.

Strongly, though, surely. It doesn't have to hold up in court or anything.  Why not tell Horus?

Maybe he's trying to find the sword himself.

We haven't seen any evidence of him doing that. Or any other damn thing.

True, but with all this jumping around of the narrative, it might crop up later.  

Fair point.

What I don't get is why Erebus stole it in the first place.  Everyone else thinks it's just a joke.

Presumably he knows something the rest of the fleet doesn't.

Does he even know how to use it?  Did it come with instructions? I can't imagine you just say "Go kill Dave" and it does the job for you.  Is he working with the Kinebrach?

Maybe. Or maybe he captured and tortured one.

Either way, this is a lot of trouble for something that might not even work.

Is it a problem that by the 311th century women are still wearing corsets and requiring chaperones?

Well, there's certainly a lot of indications that this culture has reached backwards in time. But corsets aren't a problem, any more than ballgowns.  I mean, I like a good ballgown.

I guess I was wondering specifically about corsets because they seem to be so unpleasant to wear.

Depends how you put them on.

I guess.  I'm not qualified to comment.

If she wants to wear one, more power to her. Regarding chaperones; I don't see it.  For all you know, it's a unisex thing in the future.

You think if House Vivar had sent a man he'd be fretting about chaperones?

Maybe. He'd see them as bodyguards, but maybe.  It's possible Petronella is just flattering herself. "Oh, me all alone with the mighty Primarch, how shocking."

Why is Karkasy turning down a sure thing? With a redhead, no less?

With an hourglass figure, don't forget that. It's clearly oh-so-important.  I'm still disappointed we didn't learn she's great in bed from the robots she's been shagging. He's obviously worried about Euphrati's state of mind, dropping those leaflets.  What's the punishment for spreading your faith around?

I don't know, actually, but she's in the middle of a military operation.  She might find herself shot.

For giving out leaflets?  Or does it count as treason?

Kind of. Treason is what nationalists have instead of heresy.  But from what we know about Karkasy it seems strange he wouldn't be going for it.

Well, it's a reputation thing, isn't it?  I mean, imagine you're the most obnoxious guy on Earth.

Ha!  "If".

And all you want to do is screw around.  How would you have any female friends at all?  Or write poetry anyone cares about?  It must at least a front.

I guess. Though it's not like being a mysoginist dicklizard entirely rules out a successful artistic career. I won't sign your letter, Dave Sim!

I'm glad to see the writer believes redheads should make it into the future, though. Somehow we managed to avoid all getting wiped out.  Mind you, what would you do without us?

Brunettes, I would think.

What Will Be

The Lectitio Divininatus seems to be gathering speed.  Where do you see this going?

Well, given they have an iterator and a remembrancer on their side-

An iterator? Really?

Surely Sindermann is at least leaning in that direction, isn't he?  He's certainly looking up old religions.  And Emperor worship would be the logical way to go.  But they've got someone who can take pictures, someone who can write-

Who is it can write?

Whoever's put the leaflets together.

I suppose, though that seems like a fairly low bar for literary flair.
I still think Erebus is involved with the cult somehow.  If he can make a lodge, he can make a cult.

To what purpose?

Well, Horus might feel compelled to wipe them out if he hears about it.  Abaddon and Aximand certainly would.  That could spark something off.  Or perhaps when someone gets killed with the cursed sword they can be used as convenient patsies.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Wars Of Words

Not featured in this novel: the Luna Wolves (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

So was Karkasy an expert politician?  Or was Loken a fool?

This is hardly a fair question, of course; not coming from us.  Others will judge the worth of these contributions to 41st Millennium thinking, but for ourselves, we see our role as somewhere between that of an iterator and a remembrancer; we record and contextualise what has taken place, but we do so out of the desire to spread enlightenment in an age sorely lacking in same.  Of course Loken seems foolish and naive to us.

Even so, it is hard to see how any man capable of learning to load a bolter could completely fail to see the paradox in interrupting a man in public to correct him on facts you insist are better discussed in private. Nor is it clear how it never occurred to Loken - who has been turning this issue over in his mind for some time, let us remember - to question why the situation on Davin's moon was important enough to dispatch Erebus to the 63rd Expeditionary Fleet to petition Horus, but not so important as to either interrupt the dealings with the interex, or for the Word Bearers to take action on their own.

But then, what else is one to expect from an Astartes?  That is not intended as sarcasm, but as a genuine question.  The Astartes are bred for two things: loyalty and war.  Political insight was never conceived of as a useful attribute.  The Legions had the Primarchs for that.  Or perhaps it was less by design than by necessity.  The martial limitations of the Space Marines compared to their primogenitors is well-known, but the corresponding gap in mental agility may be no less wide.  Indeed, one might almost wonder which direction causality flows in.  Are the Astartes so blind to deceit and politicing because their creed is so rigid and simplistic?  Or did their operating principles have to be so uncomplicated because there was no reason to believe they could adhere to anything more complex?

Either way, disaster is about to strike.  Not because no-one saw it coming, but because even once it had been seen - explained in the simplest possible terms by a lecherous poet in an expansive yurt - there was simply no way to formulate a plan going forward.  Not for the last time, Loken is presented with evidence that Erebus is plotting something, some event which lies on a scale between untoward and treasonous, and he does nothing.  There is simply no stage two for which he has been prepared, when stage one is the betrayal of a fellow Astartes. We have spoken at length about how the obsession with militarism doomed the Imperium to civil war, one way or another.  The fact of the Heresy was never in any doubt. This new problem of paralysis in the face of mendacity is a similar guarantee, this time of the Heresy's form.

With noble defenders of humanity as blind and passive to everything but direct military assault, the rot was always going to spread deep, and spread quickly. It would only show itself when it was ready.

The moon of Davin is a hollow sphere; a vast, stinking canker at the centre of decades of malicious plotting.  Who could land there and remain uninfected?

Horus' fall is now assured.


What Was

I'm afraid I'm not seeing anything in this chapter that meaningfully leads back to pre-book activities. Sure, Horus reminisces over his conquering of Davin, but there's really not much mileage in that.  We'll come back to the spectres of the past some other time.

What Is

Sindermann is so kind as to engage in some low-level philosophising in this chapter. Are you convinced either by his idea that we're all just one good meal away from collapsing into barbarism, or that we're gradually climbing into an age of enlightenment and equality?

Did the conversation with Sindermann happen before the war council?

I've no idea.

This is getting to be a problem.  Does it get easier as we go?

Er, I think so. I don't really remember.

Encouraging.  Er... I think it'd take more than one meal. Especially if you just haven't bothered getting the shopping in.

What would get to you first?

How do you mean?

I mean what would have to go before you decided you'd need to kill me?  Would you burn me if the electricity failed?

No. Apparently you smell like roast pig when you burn.

Me personally?

I think if the electricity failed the biggest problem would be not being able to read my books at night.  Between that and your snoring I can't believe you'd be long for this world.

Let's move on. What about Sindermann's version of a glowing future.

Umm... no.  There will always be people who will argue and wreck the lovely future for everyone.  You just have to look at global warming deniers.

I certainly agree that global warming deniers will ruin our future. Politics!

Was Sindermann implying the Emperor uses magic? He seems to be defending the "wise men" of the past who Loken calls warlocks.  When he talks about the Emperor understanding so much, is that an excuse?  And if Loken finds out the Emperor is messing with the Warp without really knowing what he's doing, is he going to rebel?

I think Sindermann is researching what previous generations thought about the Warp.  Maybe to understand the Warp better, maybe to expose the Emperor.

Why would he want to do that?  He's dedicated his life to spreading the Emperor's words.

What better reason to get mad when he finds out the Emperor is using the Warp somehow?

Apparently a lot of Loken's hostility to Erebus comes from the First Chaplain now being the only person Horus listens to.  How has that happened, and what is Erebus whispering into Horus' ear?

I thought Loken was trying too hard to insist his distrust wasn't over jealousy.

Yes, too himself no less.  I don't believe it for a second.

Erebus is obviously telling Horus no-one else can be trusted. It's all getting a bit... Rasputin? Is that who I mean?

You'd be right, but I think you're actually thinking of Grima Wormtongue.

Yes I am!

(My girlfriend, ladies and gentlemen.)

I want to know what Erebus actually said to Loken in that conversation Loken mentioned.  I think a lot of things will make more sense after that.

What do you think is going on between Abaddon and Erebus? Why isn't the First Captain as pissed off about Erebus shouldering the Mournival out of the way as Loken is?

I wonder if Abaddon is still pissed off about Horus giving him crap last book.  Maybe he's perfectly happy not hanging out with him any more. In fact - if Horus is murdered, does Abaddon become Primarch.

No, it's more than a title. He would end up in charge of the Legion.  But if Abaddon is plotting Horus' downfall, why hang out with the Warmaster's new bestest friend of all timey-times?

Because Erebus wants the same thing.  He's the inside man.

And what about the silver coin?

I assume it's a Lodge membership coin. Have they welcomed Erebus in? Though that'd be odd for a Word Bearer; to join something the Emperor has expressly forbidden.

I think he'd take a dim view of stealing cursed alien swords as well.

Fair point.

On a scale of one to ten, where does Erebus' plan lie in terms of sneakiness?  Does Karkasy deserve credit for being so observant, or is Loken simply embarrassingly obtuse?

I don't think Karkasy deserves credit. I'm sure any human could have seen it, if they'd been looking for it.  Or maybe they all did, but only Karkasy had an Astartes he could go talk to about it.  I don't think Loken was stupid.  He was just...

Out of his wheelhouse?

Yeah. It's just something beyond his understanding.

What about Horus, though?  He's supposed to be a pretty savvy politician.

We know his state of mind isn't where it should be, though.  After all those things he thinks have gone wrong, it's not a surprise he's desperate to take action where he can.  He's not interested in the pesky details.

What Will Be
What awaits Horus' spear-tip on the moon of Davin? How much of Erebus' tale is going to prove to be true?

The cursed sword is going to get used.  Or maybe they'll blow up the moon.  Can you blow up a moon?

Not with a cursed sword.  But I'm sure there's a way to do it.

Would it be easier than blowing up a planet?

Yes. By definition.


Moons are smaller.

But they could have other stuff going on.  Other materials.

OK, fine. Almost by definition.

Jupiter is made of gas.

That doesn't mean it'd be easy to blow up.

But it might be easier than a moon made of rock.

I'll ask around.

Why didn't Erebus tell Horus about Davin earlier? Wouldn't a planet sliding away from compliance be more important than a bunch of space hippies with magic swords?

Are you asking why Erebus waited to mention Davin, or why no-one else has thought to wonder about it?

The latter.

I figure it's the same old problem.  No-one amongst the Astartes can conceive of asking questions like that.

Has Erebus done something to Lorgar? Maybe even killed him?  Or has Lorgar approved Erebus' mission? Does Horus end up killing Lorgar?

No comments, obviously.

Dammit! When do I start getting answers?

In an opening trilogy?  Take a guess.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Exclude Someone From Our Gathering

False Gods: The Betrayer (II)

A Davinite (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

"Almost human". Such a small phrase for so expansive and complicated a concept. In a galaxy of such variation and extremes, and where the rules of biology must ultimately bow before those of environment, who can even say what it is to be human anymore?

From a philosophical standpoint, that question may be unanswerable.  From a practical perspective, some combination of the Inquisition and the Administratum - with perhaps input from the Ecclesiarchy - must sit in judgement. What should interest us, however, is less the identity of those making the decisions, and rather the mechanism by which those decisions are made.

Consider the abhumans permitted to live amongst (or beside) us in the 41st Millennium. The Ogryns. The Ratlings. Even some of the less feral Beastmen.  With the Squats we went so far as to recognise their independence (for all the good it did).  What qualities lead these near-human variations to be judged worth sparing, or even integrating, and offers others no fate other than cold-hearted extermination?

It is not, after all, as though the Imperium is allergic to grand quests aimed at galactic-scale change. The unification of every human civilisation? The extermination of all sentient life that cannot trace its genetic roots to Terra?  It can hardly be lack of will that sees these cousins of humanity remain comparatively unaffected by the Imperium's xenophobic zeal.  In fact, the answer is in the end entirely mundane: practicality.

There is a strange obsession among those who would divide people into the "pure" and the "impure" to sub-divide the latter category to the maximum possible extent.  On the surface, this seems strange. If one insists that only the pure are of any relevance - that it is there destiny not merely to rule all others, but to exterminate them - the specific make-up of the genetic have-nots should surely be of little interest.

Instead, cataloguing these undesirables takes up an utterly astonishing amount of time.  Partially, no doubt, this is because each new division - and never has cruel bigotry been more pedantic and precise in form - reminds the self-appointed master race of their superiority. Beyond that, though, there lies an additional advantage: if the "others" differ in how far they lie from perfection, they can differ also in how much their superiors can hate them.

This realisation is critical to understanding how seekers of genetic "purity" operate.  It is acceptable - not necessarily desirable, but acceptable - to find common cause with one group of lesser people, so long as it is done in the interests of destroying some even less acceptable group.  Thus, Ogryns and Ratlings can be employed to aid the Imperial Guard in battling the alien.  The Squat homeworlds can be left undamaged in an uneasy alliance, to provide a buffer zone against innumerable Ork empires and enclaves.  These abhumans buy their lives anew each day with their devotion to persecuting the more obvious enemies of their parent race, or at least they do until they themselves come under direct threat (as did the Squats) at which point they are no longer our concern.

(The astropaths and navigators enjoy a similar position; they remain safe for as long as there is no other way to effectively hunt down and destroy other, less palatable mutants.  This is a topic we shall consider in more detail when our thoughts turn to the Thousands Sons and the Council of Nikea.)

That this is a horribly cynical approach is obvious (though also beside the point; shamelessly using others being rather further down the list of sins than wholesale extermination of even the most benign alternative cultures). The dangers inherent in combining theological zealotry - even the negative image of theology pushed by the secularist iterators of ten thousand years ago - with the cold-blooded utilitarianism on display here should be likewise obvious. At least the truly uncompromising religious fanatics tend to burn out before they can cause too much trouble.

Or do they? The Word Bearers still blight the galaxy, after all, albeit only because they can rely on a rather more commonplace form of divine intervention than is available to others, and because the cynical abuse of people for whom they have nought but contempt is what their creed explicitly teaches in any case. Which brings us to this question: just what was it about the Davinites that led to their being spared sixty years before the Horus Heresy began?  It was the Luna Wolves who finished the job of pacification, true, but the Word Bearers took upon themselves the job of spreading the Imperial creed across the moon.  Perhaps they were left the decision as to what to do with these almost-humans.  Why?  What use did they see in the Davinites?

Is it possible that six decades before Erebus stole the anathame, wheels were already in motion?  Did the Word Bearers learn from their despised former Emperor the value of making use of a people to their own ends?  In just how many ways did the Great Crusade pave the road to its own sundering?

Well, it hardly matters now.  However that road was built, we are almost at its end.  We are on Davin now, surrounded by the the people Horus spared three score years earlier. An act of generosity with which we find no fault - there would always have been other Davins, other places tainted by Chaos where Erebus could have sprung his terrible trap - but which radiates a horrible and vicious irony. A civil war made inevitable by centuries of unremitting conflict and the utter rejection of mercy is about to be sparked by the after-effects of an act of generosity and peace.

Because the Davinites are about to betray the man who spared them.  In the final analysis, they may not be so different from humans after all...


What Was

So apparently sixty years - or eleven planets - ago, the Word Bearers were all about driving around newly-conquered worlds talking about how awesome the Emperor is.  What can have changed?  Is it just Erebus who's signed up to the cause of clandestine evil, or have his colleagues got themselves membership cards too?

How is that a past question?

I mention the past!

I see.  I can't imagine Erebus is acting on his own.  I'll stick with my previous answer. Presumably, Erebus nicked the sword to kill either Horus or the Emperor.  Either it's Horus, for not doing well enough in following the Emperor's vision, or they want to kill the Emperor himself.  Maybe they think he's no longer living up to his own rhetoric, or that he was lying all along.

What do you think has Loken so suspicious?

He knows about the sword? No, he'd have gone to Horus with that.  He recognises something in Erebus? Something like what happened to Jubal?

Possibly. It would explain why he doesn't think he can go entirely public.  Only he, Sindermann, Vipus and Keeler saw the beast.

Which may be why Keeler has been invited to the meeting.

What Is

How well would you say McNeill is doing keeping the characters he's inherited from Abnett consistent?

It's tough to say, since something has so clearly happened to shake things up.  We're not supposed to be seeing them in the same light.  There must have been some event that happened on the journey over. Or maybe during the war council.

I think it must have been before the war council, though the structure of the chapter makes it hard to tell what's happening when. But certainly Loken already suspects Erebus before the meeting.

Yeah, but only just before, maybe. And it might not have been something happened, so much as Loken has had time to think and piece things together. Torgaddon seems pretty much the same.

Anyone else? I thought Abaddon was, well, unusually dickish this chapter.  And it seems Loken has noticed that, at least in Mersadie's opinion. I didn't see how that followed from the last book.

I noticed that, but I'm waiting to see whether there's some confrontation that will explain the tension. It may be nothing more than the fact Horus kicked Abaddon out last time around and kept Loken with him.  Maybe Abaddon is scared Loken is gunning for his position as First Captain. 

What can have happened in the gap between the two novels to make Horus so obsessed with his legacy and how people view him?

He does seem different, doesn't he?  But then we've never seen him just with Maloghurst.  I wonder if he's stopped trusting the Mournival after Abaddon got so rebellious towards the end of the last book.  He might have taken more on himself rather than delegating them to the Mournival.  That might explain why he's so introspective.  Though he's also clearly worried about dying.  Was he in danger fighting the Interex?

Not really, I wouldn't have thought, though I suppose with so few men and weapons he was more in danger than at any other time since becoming the Warmaster. I guess the terrible cursed mega-weapons on Xenobia probably could've caused him some problems as well.

Perhaps the war with the interex made him think the Emperor has given him too inflexible and/or too difficult a job to do.

Is that why he's suddenly so obsessed with his legacy, rather than in measuring up to the Emperor?

I think they kind of go together, actually.  He's come closer than usual to getting killed, so he's thinking back over what he's managed so far.

Is it interesting and/or fun to read about Karkasy's methods of seduction and how well they've worked in the past? Is that just redressing the balance after watching Euphrati lusting over Loken's glistening pecs?

It reminded me of Leonard in Big Bang Theory.

I'm sorry?

Always banging on at Penny to marry him.

Ah, but which is worse.  Begging your sexual partner to get married, or begging someone who's clearly uninterested to fuck you?

Um... the second one.

Right. So Ignace Karkasy is worse than Leonard Hofstader.  That's now been established.  That's canon.  Does it bother you that there's only three female characters in these books with more than the odd line or two, and one of them sparks off multiple paragraphs about Karkasy trying to screw every woman in the fleet.

This is pretty much standard for novels, unfortunately.

Is there anything so important you'd like to have it tattooed on your face?

Wait. Someone has things tattooed on their face?

Yes! Erebus. In fairness, no-one mentioned them in the last book, but Karkasy picked up on them straight away.

Maybe the Astartes are just used to face art.

Perhaps.  It could just be a shopping list. "Bolt rounds", "lapping powder", "Anathame" underlined three times and then crossed out.

I'd like a fifty pound note on my forehead.  No, that wouldn't actually work.


Everyone would be able to use it.

What? No-one would be able to use it, because it's stuck on your face!

I suppose.

Unless skin grafts cost forty-nine pounds or less.  That way you could make a profit.  Though you'd still be trying to pay for goods with a soggy note, one half of which is just blood and skin cells.

Fine. Then I'd like a tattoo of a prettier face.

Not possible.

Aw! You're lovely.

No, I mean scientifically speaking. Two dimensions isn't going to cut it; that's a cosmetic surgery job.


I asked this wondering if there was anything you might want to keep as a memory aid. Like in Memento?


I'm sure you've watched Memento. Have you ironically watched it and forgotten?

What's it about?

It's a film that goes backwards.

I do remember a film that goes backwards.

It doesn't matter. Imagine your on a ship, and a storm blows you out to sea.  You wash up on a desert island with no possessions.  Wouldn't you want something to read? Just to pass the time?

Why can't I write things in the sand?

Because you can't remember them!

So you're postulating a scenario in which I have exactly zero books but at least one mirror?

You could use the reflection of the surf?

After a storm? If I've got no books, I'm dedicating all my energy first to escape, and then to suicide.  The point at which the latter kicks in will depend on how many snakes this island has.

This question may have been a mistake.

What about you?  What do you want on your face?  A return address?

And a fifty pound note.  Postage is so expensive these days.

What Will Be

It's early days yet, obviously, but have the first two chapters given you any inkling as to what the Sons of Horus are going to come across on Davin?

Something that's going to split the Legion apart.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Any Graven Image

False Gods: The Betrayer (I)

Not really much of a looker, is he?
(Copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

We re-join the forces of the Luna Wolves - now, of course, named the Sons of Horus - in orbit around the moon of Davin. It is here that the Emperor's vision of a rationalist secular society spanning the entire galaxy faces, and fails, its final test.

It might be wise, then, to begin the task of analysing the Emperor's dream, and identifying the cracks which ultimately appeared in it. Were they brought about by tragic coincidence?  Or were the fault-lines ultimately structural in nature? Here the prosecution calls its first witnesses, Moderati Primus Jonah Aruken, and Moderati Primus Titus Cassar.

In truth, these two men threaten to bring our trial to an end before it even gets going.  Why did the Emperor's hope for mankind find itself dashed against the rocks of history? Because humanity requires precisely five things: air, food, water, sex, and gods.

And in the absence of actual gods, mankind will produce their own.  Aruken finds his divinity in forty-three metres of armour and weaponry, a divine warrior construct all but invincible as it stalks its chosen battlefields. For Cassar, divinity is found instead in the Emperor himself, beloved by all, architect of a new age of humanity.  It seems to bother Aruken not a jot that the object of his awe was constructed by people no more supernatural than himself, or that the object of his veneration is somehow simultaneously a feminine object of desire, a nurturing mother, and a masculine brute of war.  Similarly, it seems of not the slightest concern to Cassar that his chosen deity has himself explicitly rejected the role [1]. "Only the truly divine deny their divinity"? A five year-old child could point out this forces the corollary that all those not truly divine must insist on their divinity. Life would be all the more interesting were this the case, but it is not. The theory is so hilariously incorrect it seems a line one might find in the most outrageous comedy.

In short, the actual mechanisms by which faith comes into existence and finds its target seems to be entirely beside the point. It will simply spontaneously happen, like decay in an isotope or mutation in a gene strand.  The reasons for this are, in part, astonishingly simple: people like to believe they belong to something bigger than they are.  For Aruken this is an Imperial war machine, for Cassar it is the Imperial war machine, but in both cases they see a method by which their own short, frail lives can hitch a ride on something larger, stronger and (in theory) more long-lived than themselves.

Except... that cannot be the full story. If it were, our Moderati should be content simply to be tiny cogs within the Emperor's new galactic order.  There must be something else that worship offers a person that simple purpose fails to deliver.  The answer to this riddle is not one that reflects well upon Aruken, or Cassar, or upon any of us. Religion offers us the ability to exclude.

One need only observe Aruken and Cassar sniping in the hangar deck to recognise this impulse.  It is not enough that Aruken sees in Dies Irae the footprint of the divine, and that Cassar has thrown in his lot with an outlawed cult.  They must mock each other for failing to conform to each other's idiosyncratic conception of the sacred. They must have people they can point to and say "here are those who refuse to understand".  How can a mortal judge themselves close to God except by recognising those people who are manifestly further from God than they are? How can we find worth in ourselves without having some metric by which it can be found absent in others?

For centuries, those who had lived their lives outside the Emperor's light fulfilled this need.  With the Great Crusade drawing to an end, this is no longer the case. The God of Expansion is close to drawing Her final breath, and new deities are required to fill the oncoming void.

We are, after all, only human in the end.  We need something to be more than us, because to believe our haphazard stinking frames that sloppily carry around our worthless feral thoughts might actually be the greatest triumph the universe has managed is to invite lonely, howling madness.  For all his might and power - because of all his might and power - the Emperor never grasped this fundamental truth, and so imposed conditions upon humanity that only he could ever stand to bear.

We re-join the forces of the Luna Wolves - now, of course, named the Sons of Horus - in orbit around the moon of Davin.  It is here that new gods will arise, and tell us what we always want to hear.  That there is strength in blind belief, and honour in hatred. That divinity can be measured in what we choose to tear down in its name.

The time of the Godless is at an end. The new pantheons will be born in a welter of boiling blood and shattered metal.

First, though, it must find a host. First, Horus must fall.

[1] This is a formidable problem, meaning as it does that those who cling to the sloppily-printed pamphlets of the Lectitio Divininatus are constructing a religion centred around a figurehead who has no role in that construction. Attributing first divinity to an outside agent and then attributing one's own inclinations about how such divinity operates has historically led to disaster time after time. We have always all too willing to go to war over what man says God desires.


What Was

Let's start off this week talking about the Mechanicum.  It's mentioned here about how they are part of an alliance with the Imperium. Any ideas about who or what they might be?  And what do you think of the Dies Irae?

By "Mechanicum", are we talking about the Titan people? Aren't they the war engineers? I don't remember anything about an alliance. They're obviously human, though. Why do these guys get an alliance and not the interex?

So how 'bout them Titans, huh? I looked this up, and the Dies Irae just so happens to be the same size as the hospital you work in. Impressive, don't you think?

I guess.  That's not all that helpful a comparison, though. You never look up at buildings that much, do you?

Not unless they're coming towards you firing a cannon the size of the Orient Express at you, I suppose.

Whilst showing off their shapely legs.

I was going to ask you about that. What kind of depraved mind decides he wants to design his next armoured vehicle to show off curvaceous hips, rather than just being another tank?

He talks about it being like his mother, too.

Yeah, I think seeing objects that simultaneously remind you of sexiness and your mum displays some fairly major issues, even before the giant fucking robot aspect is added.

None of that bothers me as much as the security system onboard.

I'm sorry?

Well, OK. You've got the guards, fine. But if you can fool them, all you need is a voice recording and you can get control of the titan?  That's ridiculous.  Shouldn't they have a more high-tech approach?

It's part of the Imperial ethic. This weird mixture of high and low technology.  The Astartes are the pinnacle of genetically engineered warriors, but they basically carry assault rifles and drag around suits of armour.

At least the armour is motorised, though.

What about Lucius, then? That guy spends his entire life practicing how to more effectively cut people with sharp pieces of metal.  Though I acknowledge that any argument that amounts to "It makes sense because Lucius does it" isn't one to place much weight upon.

Especially when we still have people who need to be experts with cutting people with sharp pieces of metal. You may have heard of "scalpels", in fact.

The key difference between the two being that no-one has found a way to remove an appendix by shooting at it.

Depends what you shoot at it.

What? An appendix-shaped bullet?

A laser, my love.

Oh.  I hadn't thought of that.

One of many reasons my colleagues won't let you come visit me at the hospital.

What Is

This book starts off far more quietly than Horus Rising, insofar as they're preparing for combat rather than actually blowing a city to bits.  Which of the two approaches did you prefer? Did you miss any of your old favourites?

Yeah, I hope the old guard show up before too long, though mainly that's because I don't get on with that new remembrancer woman. I guess the first chapter here doesn't grab you quite the same way as Horus Rising's did.  But then it's doing a different job. It's not designed to be read as a stand-alone book, and it's giving itself a chance to build on what's gone before. I also have to say I'm happy the book's going into a little more detail about what's going on, particularly the titans, which confused me a great deal last time around.

What should we make of the fact that the Lectitio Divininatus "cult" has now made it into the armed forces of the Imperium?

Is that a surprise?  Well, I guess it's a surprise that he's comparatively open about the whole thing.  And maybe that it's someone that's not rank and file.

Yes, he certainly is... high up?  Get it?  Because he's sixty-three metres up in a death machine?

No he isn't.  He's at the bottom.

He was at the time.  That doesn't mean anything.

I thought that's where he lived.

Yes. He lives in the bunions of the universe's killingest giant robot.

How can he get annoyed about anthropomorphising the titan and yet insist the Emperor is a god?

Again, though, that sees to be part and parcel of the Imperiun.  Last book Sindermann couldn't go five minutes without insisting their Emperor had taught them religion was wrong and he was so utterly and unbelievably awesome that not believing his words was ludicrous.

What do you think of Petronella? Do we need another remembrancer character? And why does she need a bodyguard?

I don't like her.  She's just so pompous.  Why has she had her bodyguard's voicebox taken out?  That's just wrong. As in morally wrong.  She's got nothing but contempt for the other remembrancers, and for Sindermann, who everyone else thinks is phenomenal. I assume she's got a bodyguard because of her importance.

I figured it was because she was so utterly unbearable. But I guess that's a bit chicken and egg, really.

Are you in favour of a pen that writes what you're thinking? It's too late to get you one for Christmas, but...

It would have its advantages. I was always in trouble as a kid for having crappy handwriting, because I was always thinking five words ahead.  So it would cure that. On the other hand, every time your mind wanders you'd end up with a huge paragraph of mumblings in the middle.  And if it picks up other people's thoughts, that's even worse.

I'd be more worried about it writing down everything I was thinking about the people around me.  It would make it impossible to write when there was a chance anyone could see what you're doing, which is a bit of a problem for a guy who gives lectures to people.  It'd be much harder to pretend not to notice gorgeous postgrads on the front row when you've got a stream of consciousness running through your equations.

If you can choose what thoughts the pen does and doesn't pick up, that would be fine, but that sounds like it'd be fiddly and difficult.

You could set the pen to only pick up thoughts conceived in an outrageous accent, maybe?

Or a different language.

That sounds too much like work. Why learn French when you can just pretend to be Inspector Clouseau?

What Will Be

What might be the significance of the claw-handed prophet-spinner we see on the surface of Davin? What significant events might be about to take place there?

Has she been visited by the Emperor as well? Chosen like Horus has been chosen? Is she a new Primarch?  Some kind of Matriarch?  Or is she a prophet of the Emperor's religion?

Set up by the Emperor himself?

Why not?  "Only the truly divine would deny their divinity". Isn't that what his cultists tell themselves?

Among others, yes.