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.

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