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.

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