Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Paranoia Paradox

False Gods: Crusade's End (I)

A World Eaters marine (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

There comes a point in the life cycle of any expanding empire (any human empire, at least) when something curious in theory but horrendously damaging in practice seems to inevitably occur.  The specifics vary greatly between civilisations, depending on their obsessions and convenient scapegoats, but the basic form is always the same, and can be described as "the paranoia paradox".

The paranoia paradox is very simple in form, and can be stated thus: our civilisation is so perfect and powerful it must be hated by malcontents who are everywhere and who could bring everything crashing down at any time.

The self-evidently ludicrous nature of this thinking is clear when it presented so plainly, but once set in the mindset that equates power with right and disagreement with treason, it becomes not only inevitable, but self-sustaining. We need look no further for a perfect example than the newly-swelled ranks of the Warrior Lodge. As Torgaddon acidly notes, declaring a poet an enemy of the state does nothing but make the state, and its defenders, look small.  An empire that cannot survive unflattering comments squeezed into metre or rhyme has far bigger problems than one man with an antiquated printing press.

Indeed, the only way Karkasy could possibly pose any threat to the Sons of Horus would be if killing him in cold blood prompted further discontent. Some problems must simply be suffered in the knowledge that no solution exists which will not make matters worse.  If your foot itches terribly, one does not cut it off.  This of course is an extension of a fundamental problem with the Legions which we have discussed before: they are incapable of any answer to any problem that does not involve a headlong charge.  When all you have is a chainaxe, every problem looks like a greenskin's face. Or, in this case, the face of your own citizenry, who apparently must be taught to not dissent against the Sons of Horus through a program of further outrages. The executions will continue until morale improves.

Considering how unnecessary and self-defeating this approach is, it seems almost redundant to point out how despicable it is as well. It is still however worth considering what is happening here, however. Like mobs throughout the entire expanse of human history, the Lodge has concluded that its enemies are everyone's enemies, and that therefore the process through which those enemies are removed must by definition be the right thing to do. The ends are so critical and fundamental that they must automatically justify the means.

But once this line is crossed, it creates mutations elsewhere.  By rejecting the idea that there exists judicial or moral structures beyond their ability to override, the defender of the state comes to believe himself the state itself.  Criticism of him therefore automatically becomes an act of sedition. It is through this warped glass that the Lodge can view Varvaras a traitor for the crime of actively seeking justice. Because allowing justice to be done would be an admission that the state's defenders had erred, and thus the state has erred, and that cannot be considered (not least because of the extreme lengths already gone to in its name). The paranoia paradox states that the Astartes power is so fundamental to the Imperium that allowing them to be subject to its laws would immediately bring the galaxy crashing down, and the assumption of statehood allows them to consider any solution that occurs to them, including betraying one of their own.

Which is breathtaking in its hypocrisy, when you think about it. In order to defeat what the Lodge has deemed traitors (a poet and a man seeking justice for two dozen murdered civilians), they plan to betray their comrade. Apparently they simply cannot reach fast enough for the same tactics they judge despicable when applied against them.  But this too is all too common, a result of a second paradox by which the state's defenders can conclude their society is so obviously superior to its enemies in terms of its morality that it should feel no compunction in combating those enemies on their own entirely immoral terms. We're better because we act better, and therefore do not need to act better.

It would be a neat rhetorical trick, were it not so transparent, and were it not so clearly going to backfire.  The paranoia paradox always precedes a great fall.  The circumstances and timing differ, but once the first domino is pushed over, the end will come, sooner or later.  The state begins to eat itself to tear out an infection caused by its own teeth, and the more it eats, the further the infection spreads, until the body breaks down completely.  And no-one can stop it, because trying to save the state in actuality is viewed as trying to destroy the warped image of it that exists in the heads of the true enemy.

Which I suppose means the prophecies of the Warrior Lodge, like their antecedents through the millennia, will become true after all. There were treacherous schemers on the inside and, immune to reason or restraint, they did ultimately destroy everything they had worked so hard to build. It is an irony to rival any that could be invented, and it might seem like a just fate, were it not for the innocents who inevitably are harmed as the fanatic strangle themselves with their own noose.

Speaking of which, it's time we looked in on the war for Aureus.


What Is

What do you think of this new Horus?

He's a very naughty boy.

Any elaboration?

Well it's pretty crappy of him trying to fit up Loken.  Why not just kill him? Is he worried about making him a martyr? Or is this all just a way of showing how screwed up everything is?

I'm not sure how that would help. It's a bit like fighting fire with a bigger fire that's also a poisoner. It's interesting that you focused on Loken first, rather than the fact that he shot an innocent man in the face.

Well that was all very abstract.

Abstract? He blew the guys brains out with a gun and bullets.  How the hell is that abstract?

It's not a guy we knew or cared about. We didn't even see it first hand.


What I don't get is why Horus did that with Loken there.  He already knows Loken spoke out against treating the interex like potential enemies, and now he's just executing ambassadors on sight.  How long does he think Loken will stand for that?

The obvious solution to that is that Horus simply doesn't care what Loken thinks. It's even possible he's trying to goad Loken into doing something treasonous.

Doesn't sound like Loken.

Well every other bugger is tossing their oaths of moment onto the bonfire today; why should Loken be any different.

He's not as bloodthirsty as the rest. It feels like they're chucking out their vows because any excuse for a fight will do.

Why didn't Torgaddon push the point about Erebus stealing the anathame?

Maybe they still don't have any proof?

You'd think Tarik would at least try and get Erebus to say something incriminating.  Or maybe that's just not how his mind works.

He was probably concentrating on getting out of there without starting a fight or turning the whole Lodge against himself and Loken.

But that doesn't sound like Tarik, either.  He's not the sort of person to keep his mouth shut for fear of causing trouble.

Perhaps it just became clear to him there was no point.  There doesn't seem to be anyone he's any chance of persuading in the whole lodge, other than Little Horus.

So he jeeps his mouth shut for now and collars Aximand on his own later?

Maybe. Or maybe he's just given up.  Maybe he got scared that if he kept going he'd learn everyone else was in on it.

A bunker that automatically explodes when it's empty of people is a neat idea.  Do you ever wish your office would do that?

What, explode?

Only when it's empty. I'm sure Health & Safety will clear it.

I can think of a few people I'd like to blow up in the office.

But they can't, because while they're there the office can never be empty.  It's the cruelest of catch-22 situations. Best fall back on the poisoned samosa plan. That had legs.

What Will Be

What is it that Horus wants out of this war, anyway?

How can  I answer that question without knowing what Horus decided on the Plain of Dreams. Or what happened to him afterwards.

Very poetic. You're worried he might be possessed?

Or gone full Dark Side.

Bit quick, isn't it?

Maybe he's faking full Dark Side. I don't know. And until I do know, I can't be expected to extrapolate, because if I base my deductions on fault assumptions, the entire process will spiral out into nonsense.

That is such a statistician's answer. I'm so glad I met you.

There are three possible main baselines: Horus has turned, Horus is possessed, Horus is faking. In the first case, he's working to help the warp and/or defeat the Emperor. Maybe the Emperor has already been here, using it as a test case for his technology. The same considerations apply if he was possessed, except then there's the possibility of him coming back.

If he's faking, my best guess is that this place is a penal colony, or something.

So he's targeted a naughty planet to persuade the Warp he's on their side?

Exactly. Though I suppose it's meant sacrificing an awful lot of Astartes in the process.

Yes. You'd think he'd choose an easier target if that was the case.  What about this STC device the Fabricator General mentioned right before Horus polo minted his face?

I assume that's what makes the Astartes armour.  Or even the Horuses.  If someone else can make Horuses, that's something Horus would want to keep quiet.

Yes.  Horus, first amongst Horuses, will brook no more Horuses from this point forth. NO MORE!

What is the Lodge going to do now that Torgaddon has knocked them back?

Why didn't he stay and force a vote.  Don't the Lodge rules demand unanimous votes?

They did, when it was convenient for the story.  But if they're willing to throw a member of the Mournival to the Space Wolves, I can't imagine them letting procedural problems get in the way. Maybe there's a way to vote to expel people from the Lodge. You've got to figure that's not something that requires unanimity.

Even so, he could have tried a bit harder to work on any waverers a bit.  

Maybe, though that sounds like you've mistaken Torgaddon for a politician, rather than a failed stand-up comedian forced into a life of relentless ultra-violence.

I don't know what they're going to do next, but I'd hate to be Loken right about now.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Caution: Side Effects May Include Daemon Summoning

False Gods: The House Of False Gods (V)


A horror of Tzeentch (copyright

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Before we became iconoclasts and free-thinkers, constantly on the run from local Imperial forces, our former lives involved a degree of poring over disintegrating antiquities that Kyril Sindermann might have appreciated.  Our intent may have been somewhat less academic and more... rapacious than his; our instructions were to scavenge for useful technological information or stellar co-ordinates for forgotten secrets. But the basic principles were the same.

So you will forgive us if we take a moment to pour scorn on the idea that a language can be translated, within an hour, using just two pieces of text - both from the same source, no less. The idea is ridiculous.  You can no more perform so amazing a task than draw a man in fifteen minutes from two pictures of his feet.


Deep in ancient texts, penned long before the Emperor first rose to power in the Wars of Unification, one can find references to the idea that "information wants to be free". This has long ago been replaced by the idea that knowledge is dangerous and heretical and will get you killed one way or another, of course, but the older form is certainly not without its charm. Really though what it means is that people desire to obtain and to propagate knowledge. Information incubates, spreads and even mutates like a virus as it passes from one side of the galaxy to another.

And just as knowledge radiates outwards, so does its carrier, language. Language, if anything, resembles a disease far more than information (we should say "other information", for what else is language in the end?) because it cannot help but change as it moves. All other forms of information homogenise mankind as it spreads; first we do not know something, then we do, until all of humanity knows of the Imperium and the Emperor. Even those areas which are infected with corrupted data can ultimately have it washed clean by the enlightened.

Language changes every time you turn your back.  Spend time with the Administratum envoys or Ecclesiarch functionaries attached to an explorator fleet, and they will tell you that nine times out of ten, the greatest barrier to returning a newly rediscovered human colony to the fold is the degree of corruption in their spoken tongue. Like identical virus samples left for weeks in separate Pentri dishes, the speed with which two groups speaking the same language can diverge to become indecipherable to each other is astonishing.

It is against that backdrop of endless reinvention and disintegration that we propose the storied exploits of Sindermann cannot be credited.  But perhaps our experience has led us astray.  The aim of language - if such a thing can be said to exist - is to allow interaction between those closest to us. For a species as suspicious of outsiders as mankind, there is an obvious advantage to systems that left alone become usable only by those we recognise.

But for the beings of the Warp, the aim is different. For them any difficulty in understanding their words and texts is a problem, because a man who cannot translate a grimoire is one that cannot summon forth a daemon to wreak havoc in the realm of the real.  It is not difficult to imagine that the language of Chaos is deliberately coded so as to be as accessible as possible, indeed it is far harder to imagine that it is not, especially when we consider the book of Lorgar can control your ability to read in at least some sense, as Sindermann himself discovered.

This revelation is problematic, however, because it plays into the hands of the Imperial officials we have dedicated these broadcasts to resisting.  It is too close for comfort to their insistence that knowledge and curiosity really is inherently dangerous.  Under normal circumstances this blinkered, self-serving viewpoint can easily be dismantled.  Knowledge is not dangerous in and of itself. Some knowledge is dangerous to some people, but only those arrogant enough to mistake their desires and perspectives for those of humanity in general believe the danger is universal.

Except here of course these oppressive murderers of thought seem to have an entirely unassailable point. The more radical of Inquisitors might respond with the counter that Chaos is a phenomenon like any other, usable as a tool to those smart and cautious enough to harness it, but this strikes us as no less arrogant a position. The proper analogy here is not to a tool, but to a trap. Walking is not inherently dangerous because someone could dig a pit along your path. Fruit is not inherently dangerous because someone may have chosen to poison it.  To think otherwise is to fall into paralysing paranoia. We are not so foolish as to think reading the Book of Lorgar is directly comparable to a stroll or a snack. The necessary level of caution is obviously orders of magnitude greater. And of course any individual who decides the level of risk for them is entirely reasonable to think that way, and many of those who don't are probably letting their arrogance cloud their judgement.

Despite all that, though, we simply have to accept who we are, and what we do.  Quite aside from contradicting basic human nature, this kind of total suppression carries costs above and beyond the executions of those killed for learning the truth. Smothering knowledge simply guarantees that when it finally does surface - and it will - those who uncover it will have no context for what they learn.  You might as well refuse to teach your child about laspistols because you think a gun is less dangerous if its found by someone who isn't aware that it can be used to kill.

Our wonderfully human need to search for understanding needs to be informed, not suppressed. That information, like all information, forever yearns to be free.


What Is

The arrival of this blue horror is obviously intended as a shot of pure, well, horror. Was it nice and scary?  And is this new daemon more or less preferable to the one-eyed pustule-thingies on the Plague Moon?

Blue daemons beat yellow daemons.

Well, greeny-yellow.

The rule still applies.

What rule?

The rule of Fliss colour orderings.

I see. Anything else?

I was quite standard fantasy fare, really.  Except for the book bit, which I don't get.  If you can force people to read out a summoning spell, how come there's not more of these things running around?

I guess the Book of Lorgar had a pretty small print run. Especially if he had to write so much of it on other people's heads.

What exactly is Euphrati doing that's so aggravating to her uninvited guest?

Well, there's lots of stories in which daemons are defeated by faith, but if that worked for things from the Warp the Emperor would have had to have been mad to go around the galaxy destroying everyone's faith.  It must be something in the locket. The metal? Some symbol inside it?  But of course Euphrati and Sindermann are just going to assume it's because of the Emperor and start shouting it from the rooftops.

But they're in space.

There are no rooftops in space?

There are, I guess, but you'll die almost instantly trying to shout anything off them. Plus the sound wouldn't carry. In space, no-one can hear you choking to death having failed to shout from the rooftops.

You are very pedantic and I no longer like you.

Now that all masks have been cast aside, we get to see Magnus and Erebus converse, if not honestly, then at least directly.  Who got the better of that arguments, do you think?

That's a terrible question.


Because it leaves out the option which I want to pick, which is that they both sound like pathetic children and no-one should listen to either of them.

Fine. But conditional on that, which pathetic child would you choose?

Well Magnus Magnusson, obviously; but then we're supposed to sympathise with him, so it's a bit of a loaded question. As well as being terrible.

What makes you say we're supposed to side with Magnus?

Because Erebus is a dick.

Fair point.

And also clearly wrong.  He keeps saying the Warp creatures are benevolent, but that's clearly not true.

Because one of them just tried to set fire to a library? With the librarian still in it?

Even before then it was fairly obvious. The other part of Erebus' story that makes no sense is the idea the Emperor has been in league with the Warp ever since the Primarchs were created, but he's only thought to ban the others from using it fairly recently.  It's just not adding up.

You're bilingual.  How plausible is going from grammar construction to total translation within an hour?

I guess I can buy it, depending on whether Sindermann has implants and enhancements of some kind. I mean, I can imagine a computer could do it.  Though even then, you'd have to know some basic ideas about how the language was structured, and I don't think there would be enough there, unless the language basically used our rules and a similar sized alphabet.

What Will Be

So what exactly has Horus decided?

I don't know, but I just can't imagine this was enough to turn him against the Emperor.  He knows Erebus is a liar, he knows what he was shown is just one possible future.  Is he really going to go against his father just for that?

I wonder if he might be inclined to simply because if the Emperor has screwed up, it kind of absolves Horus of his own mistakes.

Even if that were true, it's a reason for Horus to try and seek justice, not to join up with a bunch of creatures that keep possessing people.  It sounds far too much like Erebus wants Horus possessed as well, and that's just so obviously a bad idea I can't believe Horus wouldn't realise it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fighting Fire With Fire

False Gods: The House Of False Gods (IV)
The final fate of iterator and remembrancer both,
a braying zealot devoid of subtlety (copyright Games Workshop)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Here, in the final hours before the Delphos opens and the ministrations of the Serpent Lodge can be judged, it seems a vital argument has at last been settled. Not the conflict for Horus' soul, of course.  That still stretches ahead of us.  We are thinking of a far older, far more slippery contest: science against faith.

In one sense, this has always been a false dichotomy, at least as far as the denizens of the Warp are concerned.  What does it matter how we categorise inconceivably powerful beings from outside our reality, with abilities utterly beyond our capacity to understand, and who will reward or destroy us depending on the fealty we show them.  What does it matter whether we label such horrors "xenos" or "gods"?

Let us judge the conflict on its own terms, however. For some time now it has been clear that some, like Kyril Sindermann, are convinced that the arc of history bends towards secularism. That humanity will continually - albeit fitfully, and not without the occasional backslide - advance to the point where we have no further need for deities.  That ultimately there will be nothing left in the universe so far beyond our paradigms that we must judge it not merely beyond us, but above us.

In contrast, there are those such as Ignace Karkasy who see our time in the glow of secular reason as nothing more than one point in a cycle; a brief moment in the sunlight before we plunge back into the depths of slavish, mindless obedience to a god we hurriedly construct ourselves as we feel ourselves tipping over the edge.

It would be hard at this point to argue Karkasy has not been vindicated. The need for the comforting certainties of religion apparently reaches such peaks as to cause men and women to worship even those who specifically forbid it. Ignoring our god is apparently preferable to not believing in him. And the reasons for that conclusion are all around us here, in the final hours of the Great Crusade.  What is it that links Sindermann and Keeler and those poor souls who offered crudely-scrawled prayers following the Mournival's massacre of helpless civilians? Fear.  Fear of a universe in which vile demons can possess the greatest soldiers mankind has ever produced. Fear that those same soldiers might crush us against the bulkhead without even truly noticing us. Fear that, after all the sacrifices and triumphs that were born from centuries of forging a galaxy-wide empire of humanity, that we might in fact be all alone amongst widespread, uncaring stars.

So it goes. Humanity will apparently stop at nothing to gain solace.  They will respond to terror by worshipping the one who offers the best chance to alleviate that terror, irrespective of what that person actually desires. They will respond to bloodshed by worshipping the highest authority of the architects of that bloodshed.  And the Astartes are no different. The Word Bearers apparently crave supplication so much they will gladly invert it 180 degrees rather than see it fade, will happily betray every single tenet they once considered sacred just so they can still hold something sacred.

In short, the human need to believe in something utterly outstrips their desire for justice, for virtue, for coherence, for anything.  All that matters is that they have someone to blame for their mistakes (even if it their fellow worshippers) and they have something to point to as proof that we not forever horribly alone here in our haphazard disc of lights hanging precariously in an ocean of utter nothingness.

Which is ultimately just what Erebus is counting on.Which is ironic, really, because as a Word Bearer - the First Chaplain no less, a strange term for a nominally atheistic operation - Erebus is part of a wholesale rejection of the Emperor's teachings and positions, and yet this very approach to converting one's opponents is exactly what the Emperor relies upon himself. He has humanity venerating the Astartes, the Astartes venerating the Primarchs, and the Primarchs venerating him. At every level, unquestioning obedience and unthinking love have been hardwired into the Imperium's most basic operating principles.  Like the denizens of the Warp, what could it possibly matter if we call him Imperator or God-Emperor?  This is a being who not only created the twenty greatest warriors humanity has ever known, but then toured the galaxy beating those paragons of martial prowess up until they agreed he was best. Part of what made Erebus' lies so easy to believe was the simple fact that the Emperor could not have done more to present himself as a God if he had in fact wished to try. Promising the wrath of the galaxy's most powerful being if anyone cross him by declaring him God certainly feels like mixed messages.

The real problem is a little more subtle than that, though. The constant protests from the Emperor that he was no God generates a paradox inside our minds - a perfect being insisting on their own imperfection. The response is to treat any imperfection that does appear as being vastly important, because it allows us to resolve the contradiction. Unfortunately, in the process the perfect being collapses in on themselves, their armour suddenly no longer impenetrable. And somehow, far more often that not, the observer finds a way to blame his former "god" for their own poor assumptions.

What better way to explain the Word Bearers, who are so dedicated to their assumptions that they'd rather just turn their telescope in a half-circle than spend so much as a minute wondering whether the thing was built sensibly to begin with. How do we explain Horus' hatred first of himself and then his father as soon as it is discovered - or even implied - that mistakes are not in fact utterly inconceivable?

In short, the Word Bearers have learned from the Emperor they have sworn to stop learning from in order to use their own deepest flaw as a way to bring about their greatest triumph. It's a complicated and bitterly ironic business, but then what family feud isn't? Who even needs to fight over the existance of divine beings when we have so much ordnance to launch within our own families? One way or another, it always comes back to the people we expect to be perfect, for no better reason than they created us. More to the point, it comes back to what we do when we learn the utterly obvious truth.

Speaking of which, the Delphos is about to open, and Horus is about to decide...


What Was

So the Word Bearers got their knuckles rapped for being so into bigging up the Emperor.  Does that make sense of Erebus' actions now? 

Maaaaaybe. This falls into my theory from last week that that "future vision" was just something the Word Bearers had already built. Is Erebus worried that Horus will outshine the Emperor?  Or is it just that now the Emperor has shouted at them, they no longer believe? But that doesn't make sense.  Surely when someone denies their divinity you believe it all the more.

I suppose it depends.  There's a big difference between denying your divinity, and handing out detentions over it.


That might not literally have been the punishment.  I believe the word "censure" gets used.

Doesn't sound like much of a punishment.

If you think you're doing God's work, it probably stings quite a bit.  Speaking of which...

What does it imply for Euphrati's shiny new cult?

Maybe nothing.  It'll come down to a numbers game sooner or later.  How many of your own people can you punish?

I don't know, but I'll bet it's more people than Euphrati can cobble together.

It's not just her now, though. You've got Sindermann signing up.  He'll bring the other iterators.

Yeah, but how many converts can they plausibly find in one fleet?  The Emperor has already slapped down the Word Bearers, and there are tens of thousands of those guys.

But the Emperor didn't need to slap them all down.  Just Lager.



What Is

Is Loken making a sensible choice with regard to protecting Karkasy?

Over the poems? We don't even know what's in them.

We know Loken called it "libellous trash".

He changed his mind pretty quick.

Not everyone will, though.  Karkasy's bound to piss someone off with this stuff.

Because it mentions the massacre?  Why is that such a big deal?

Because a bunch of people died, Fliss.  Gods, you're cold.

I mean, Loken might not think it's that big a deal since they're already being sued by Voldemort.

Varvaras. And I think "suing" might be low-balling it a bit. It's not like the Fleet Commander had out a super-injunction. Or so I have been instructed to say.

Maybe Loken could try and finger Abaddon.

Why would he do that?

To get him sent down.

I know they've had a falling out, but I don't think Loken is hoping to stitch the First Captain up like a kipper. Why have we gone all wide-boy today?

He's pretty angry about the whole Horus thing, and feeling guilty about the massacre.

Is he?  How guilty can you really be feeling if you don't believe you should be punished in any way?

He's punishing himself.

That doesn't count. You just think it does because of all that Angel you've watched.

What is it Euphrati is dragging Sindermann off to see?

No idea.  She can't be stupid enough to be taking him to see more of the faithful.

I presume it's connected to the writing they're looking at.

Probably. My first thought was that it matches the writing on the anathame, but I don't see when she'd have gotten a look at it.  My only other thought is that it might be on those images of Jubal she spent so long studying.

Whereabouts on the picture could they be, though?

I dunno. Flickering in and out, like some kind of ghostly script?

Is Karkasy right about humanity always returning to the worship of some new God?  Or will we ultimately outgrow the idea?

Well, what culture ever evolved without coming up with its own religion?

None that I know of.

Right. So just by the law of averages, we're in trouble.

Except back when we could meaningfully talk about independent cultures, we didn't know anything.  The argument goes that as we learn more, we start to push God out of things.

There were plenty of people in antiquity who knew a massive amount.  Pythagoras was a complete genius, but he had some utterly bonkers ideas. Didn't he refuse to eat beans because they looked like testicles?

Something about humans and beans being genetic brothers, I think.  But point taken.

And the Romans went around destroying anything they couldn't use.  If they hadn't torched the library at Alexandria, the human race could be twice as smart right now.

All fair points. I'm not saying increased intelligence/knowledge is a sufficient condition for atheism - I have a big problem with atheists who say that, in fact - but I guess one can colour an argument that says a full suffusion of enlightenment is needed for it to "work". But the Romans reference has me thinking about religious fundamentalism stifling science, and tipping us into a Dark Age.  Do we clutch at fundamentalist religion as we turn our back on science? Or does a rise in fundamental religion cause us to turn our back on science.

You ran on a bit there.

Yeah. I only mention this because it becomes important later.

What Will Be

Now that the wolf and the dead man have both been revealed to be who you'd guessed they were right from the start, which way do you think Horus is most likely to jump?

Presumably Hrosu will be smart enough to heed the warning he got from his fat friend.


Yeah, about the Warp lying. And I presume Horus has never completely trusted Erebus, otherwise whey would he have needed to pretend to be Hastur?

Good point.

And even if Erebus does manage to persuade Horus about the Emperor being evil, I don't see Horus leaping into an attack.  He'll want to talk first.  He always does.

He might have changed his mind since what happened on Xenobia.  But if Horus is at best going to ignore Erebus and at worst proceed cautiously on what he's been told, what are the last five chapters of the book actually going to be about.

I think the fleet is about to be split in two between Emperor worshippers and Horus fans.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Serpent Swallowing Its Own Tail

Re-Primer (Regular weekly post below)

During one of my infrequent journeys into the heart of intoxication with Chris Brosnahan this weekend, the topic of my "Heresy of Horus" blog came up, and it was suggested that it might be time for a restatement/expansion regarding what exactly this blog is, and who it's for.

The basic idea here is to contrast how different the experience of reading tie-in novels is for those who are long-term fans of the relevant franchise, and those that are complete newcomers.  There are a lot of reasons this is interesting, or at least interesting to me. I like seeing how people assemble their understanding of a fictional world and their predictions about where stories set in that world will progress. I know that this kind of tie-in fiction regularly gets something of a bad rap in certain circles because so much of the work has been done by others, and it's interesting to see whether there's anything obvious unsatisfying or substandard about these novels for those unsullied by the larger picture. Plus, of course, the internet has a long and glorious history of sites based around a couple saying dumb things to each other, which is why my girlfriend Fliss plays the role of neophyte here.  Maybe some of this is your bag too.

Onto structure.  Each week Fliss and I read a chapter from the Horus Heresy novels (this week is chapter fifteen of the second book, False Gods) and argue about whether it was any good or not.  Before we get to that, though, I start each post off with some ludicrous cod-philosophical ramblings from a fictitious renegade archivist from the 41st Millennium, based on some development in the week's chapter.  These often contain spoilers, so if that's something you're worried about - or if you just want to skip straight to the good bits - just scroll down until you get to the Q&A.  It's easily recognisable; the first question is in bold red text.

Chris also asked me about the intended audience for this blog.  It is true, I'm afraid, that there might not be a massive amount to be taken from this blog if you haven't read the books in question (though long-term Games Workshop alumni will probably get the general idea either way).  I did think about summarising each chapter as we went, but even if I weren't nervous about GWs reputation for extreme litigiousness, the degree of detail a summary would need to contain for what follows here to truly make sense makes the idea rather daunting.  Reading or having read the books in question is probably the only way to get the best out of this blog.

But hey; we take five months to cover each book.  You can catch up with where we've got to at the cost of £12 (£8 if you don't need your copies to be new) and by flicking through just 700 pages of text, and in the process get to read two books set in what I genuinely believe to be one of the most interesting fictional worlds ever produced.  Sure, the actual books themselves are never going to be confused with high literature, or even the smartest schlock, but in the category of trashy light reading they acquit themselves entirely reasonably.

Plus you get forty posts and counting of entirely free analysis and discussion, chapter by chapter. There's even a comment section so you can join in our sniping!

Something to think about, perhaps.  Anyway...

False Gods: The House Of False Gods (III)

Praetorians. In fairness, they're much scarier
when they're not taking on a Primarch (copyright Games Workshop)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Ten point two millennia ago, or thereabouts, the most powerful man our race ever produced or ever feasibly could produce stood in a cavern miles beneath the surface of war-ruined Terra and said to himself something like "This is just the place to begin."

So history records, anyway. How can we ever know the truth?  And would we even understand that truth were we to reveal it?  We know so little about how the Emperor's plan to create his twenty favourite sons began. In some ways, we know even less about how it ended.

It is easy to not realise this fact, mainly because the one thing we do know about the nascent Primarchs' final seconds on Terra is so astonishing and important: the sudden disappearance of these would-be saviours into the Warp. It is almost understatement to note this event reshaped the face of the galaxy. It is little wonder we focus so much upon it.

Amid the thousands of ways in which Erebus earned the hatred and contempt of all who know his name, however, he did provide us with one small service here. He forced us to concentrate on the details.

Before we begin to pick through Horus' experience of his own time-line, let us deal with the obvious first: this was not some illusion created by "Sejanus" and his allies out of whole cloth. Tucked in at the edges, perhaps.  A few licks of paint here and there. But not a total fraud, any more than was the image of a Terra long gone or the droning metal horrors of an Imperial Shrine World. Chaos does not invent wholesale.  It lies with the truth. The chances of success are greatly increased, and it's more fun, too.

This fact is critical, because it prevents us from simply dismissing out of hand Horus' encounter in his father's laboratory.  Most, if not all of what transpired was an accurate rendering of the day the Primarchs were scattered.  "Accurate" does not mean truthful, though. At least, it doesn't have to. Shorn of all context, facts are ugly, brutish things, a clever man can lead them in any direction he chooses.  Which, of course, is Erebus' aim, and we will not forget that.

Despite all this, however, Horus' betrayer raises questions worth tackling. Some are harder to answer than others, of course. Why did every one of the eighteen Primarchs whose names we have recorded find themselves on human worlds in a galaxy strewn with alien life and filled with barren spheres of rock and giant clouds of poisonous gas?  Does it matter? The Emperor wanted his sons to survive so he could find them. Chaos wanted them to survive because it is hard to win supreme killing machines to your side once they have choked to death on an airless world.

"Sejanus'" point about the Emperor only being able to create twenty Primarchs is slightly harder to answer. At least, it is to answer fully.  To some extent, this question at its heart is no less foolish than asking why, if the humans of the Dark Age of Technology could design and build the gigantic, all but unstoppable Imperator Titans, they didn't ensure every single world in their Empire was guarded by ten thousand of them.  That a task is hard is not proof that it cannot be done except by cheating.

That said, we do not yet have a full answer. Yes, it is clearly folly to suggest a handful of Primarchs is proof the hand could not have been the Emperor's own. If nothing else, there's no obvious explanation as to why Chaos would want to so limit the number of Primarchs either; the more that were created, the harder the Emperor would have found it to keep them all under control. But that line of reasoning immediately suggests another - what if the Primarchs were kept at a score precisely because the Emperor was concerned about losing control?

It's entirely obvious why Erebus would not suggest this possibility, but it fits in with what we know about the Emperor. Did he not, after all, create Leman Russ to be his executioner?  Was not Russ tasked on at least two occasions and potentially three to track down and kill a fellow Primarch?  The Emperor was never unaware of the possibility of betrayal, his arrogance came in never conceiving that he could fail to spot the betrayal in time.

Lying with the truth, as we said (an even more obvious example: the idea that the Primarchs were tools to be "cast aside" once the galaxy was conquered - of course that's what they were, but Horus' horror at the idea of completing a mission he volunteered for is entirely his own problem).  But all of this is simply circling the true question: why did the Emperor turn his back?

As with all the most important questions, this is difficult to answer. In part that's because the tale seems to break down as this point, as though the tricks the Emperor plays with causality leaves its marks in the very narrative we have pieced together.  Why ask Horus not to follow the path that leads to disaster and then immediately allow that path to open up?

All at this point is desperate speculation, of course, but we can construct only three possibilities.  The simplest is that the Emperor knew of no way to prevent the theft of his children without risking their deaths in the resulting struggle. Another is that the Emperor did indeed see an advantage in allowing his children to be scattered.  There is some benefit to spreading the Primarchs across the the galaxy, experiencing radically different human cultures, giving them different viewpoints and skills. With their unstoppable martial abilities, they were in less danger than their situation would suggest, and whilst such widely variant upbringings would make eventual assimilation difficult, well, it's not as though the Emperor hadn't already decided to dedicate himself to unification under all circumstances. Besides, foil this attack, and another one will be launched the day after. Or the day before.

There is a third possibility, however; the only one that truly explains why the Emperor seemingly made his decision only after his brief exchange with Horus. Perhaps the Emperor recognised Horus more fully than he let on.  He might not have been able to identify which of his children had grown into the towering bald figure that stood before him, but Primarchs as a breed are hard to miss. An adult Primarch standing beneath the tube that holds his own infant form, which is about to be thrown into the time-bending depths of the Warp?  It hardly takes the Emperor's intellect to understand what the Emperor's intellect understood at that moment.

Seeing Horus watching the kidnap attempt was proof the kidnapping succeeded.  That battle was already lost.  The Emperor let Horus fall into the Warp because Horus travelled back in time, and Horus travelled back in time because he once fell into the Warp.  It's a circular structure the Thousand Sons might recognise; along with anyone who studies Kyril Sindermann's precis of the nature of the serpent of chaos.  Effect follows cause follows effect.  Ultimately Chaos can see the future because it can create the future.  There was nothing left for the Emperor to do but let Horus know that there was still time to step aside. If his plea sounded distant and unconvincing, consider the difficulty he faced, trying to talk to an adult son he never met at the very moment that son is being kidnapped as a baby.  A certain degree of stilted expression has to be expected. All Horus had to do, after so many months of bemoaning his father's absence and desperately wishing for advice and guidance, was to listen then and there. To make just one last effort to trust his father, before the Great Crusade ended and Chaos lost its opportunity.

Horus, of course, didn't listen at all.


What Was

Any initial reactions to seeing the Primarch Babies get sucked into the vortex? Is "Sejanus" right about it being a deliberate plan by the Emperor? 

I always figured the Primarchs got scattered somehow - the only surprising fact is that Horus is surprised.

He always thought it was an accident.

Giant wormhole appears and sucks you up? Seems like an accident to me.

So you don't believe this story about it being retribution over some broken pact?

Erebus is certainly lying in part, since Chaos has been planning this for millennia and Horus was only created centuries ago.

Good catch.

But I certainly can believe the Emperor wanted his Primarchs scattered. What better way to conquer the galaxy than to have your most powerful troops already all over the place?

How about tube number XI?

Yeah, that was odd.  Does Horus have a number?  No, his Legion does. So who's Legion XI?

Er... let's come back to that.

What Is

What do you think of the Emperor after your first encounter with him? Impressive? A disappointment? Is he the villain of the peace?

We didn't really get to see much, did we?  Just a golden figure doing weird things.

You're saying he's a disappointment?

I'm saying he wasn't around long enough to have time to disappoint.  And it's not like he was well-described, is it.

That's deliberate, surely.

Because he's Jasmine?

From Aladdin?

From Angel, you berk.

I think it has more to do with the idea that any attempt to pin down the Emperor through rigid description would lessen his impact upon our imaginations.

That's silly.

It is not silly. Merely pretentious.

Also; I didn't understand the last two pages.  It seemed like a big chunk was missing.

Did you pick up on him being able to freeze time.

No, but that's not my only problem. Who was he talking to? Why did he turn his back?

Opinions differ.  The kindest options are that he wouldn't risk killing his Primarchs in a battle to save them, and/or that by seeing Horus he realised the kidnap attempt couldn't be stopped.  The less kind option is that Erebus is pretty much right.  So maybe he is the villain.

Yeah, but Erebus saying that makes me doubt it, for obvious reasons.

Maybe they're both villains.

Maybe everyone's a villain.

Is that a reference to the book, or are you making some bleak philosophical point?

Which would be funnier?

Were Horus and "Sejanus" really in that chamber beneath the Himalayas hundreds of years earlier?  Will the Custodian remember what happened? Will the Emperor?

Well if they do, they'll know Horus killed all those chappies.

I don't think the Custodians would be happy to be labelled "chappies". Though since they're dead, I guess it doesn't matter.

I don't think anyone will remember. They didn't get anything from those guys in the future.  Though this seemed like they could interact far more.

That's probably a comment on how much more awesome the Emperor is than your average menial.

Which also makes me think this isn't real.  If the Emperor can freeze time Erebus would have to be mad to take Horus to see him.  What if the Emperor freezes him and has a nice long chat with Horus about what's really going on?

Is Petronella any more appealing to you now she's a drunken mess?  And is Karkasy any better? 

No. Are you hoping I'm attracted to drunken messes?

There is certainly plenty of accumulated circumstantial evidence.

She's still a bitch, it's just now she's drunk.  She isn't even a funny drunk. Karkasy's nowhere near as bad.  They're blatantly going to have sex, though.

You think?

Karkasy will sleep with anyone.

He didn't sleep with that hot redhead, for reasons utterly beyond explanation.

He's in love with Euphrati.

Oh yeah, that.

But if Petronella avoids mentioning her, she should be alright.

Will it lower your opinion of him?

You mean if he immediately kills her.

Or just tells people how crap in bed she is.  Though that would be quite caddish, I think.

Yeah, best to just smother her with a pillow like a gentleman.

Do bars really look worse with the lights on? Or is that just North-East nightclubs?

North-East nightclubs certainly look hideous under decent lighting.

This cannot be denied.

It's usually the toilets that look the worst.

Yeah, you don't want to end up switching the lights on in there.  You might find mice scurrying around your feet.


Scurrying.  If mice start screwing around my feet I'm going to leave them to it.  I don't want to cock-block my rodent amigos.

What Will Be

What does Sindermann want with Euphrati Keeler, and will her absence bring an end to the army's happy-slapping antics planetside?

I assume it Loken rather than Sindermann.

Why would Torgaddon lie about that? Or why would Loken lie to Torgaddon?

Maybe he's just spinning it, figuring Euphrati will be less nervous being summoned by Sindermann.  I don't think it's a chat about the Emperor cult, otherwise why bother saving them?

Depends if it was meant to be a chat ending in a gunshot.

I think they want to discuss the pictures she shot of that guy.


Yeah.  Maybe they want to sneak the pictures in to Horus to give him some idea of what he's up against.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Vision Of The Future

False Gods: The House Of False Gods (II)

Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

"Prophecies are tricky creatures. They don't tell you everything." - Joffa Wotan, Merican poet, C4M.

It is a strange feeling, reading documents from so far in the past that capture your present and their future so perfectly. Knowing that the daemon lords of Chaos could view so perfectly the wheezing industrial rabid horrors of the Imperium long after the Emperor's fall. That when they chose Horus as their instrument of destruction, that they could see with perfect clarity what was to come.

In many ways, in fact, of all the consequences of this vision of the future, the effect it has on Horus might be among the very least important. Having been ignored by the architects of the Imperium, and by the people who surround him whilst he is raging about that first ignoring, let's ignore him ourselves for a while as well. If nothing else, we are strong proponents of the idea of petty revenge.  It has been said that such urges are best quashed through living well, but it has been quite some time since that was really an option.  We take comfort where we can.

Besides, so many new avenues of thought opened up in those moments on Davin - or in the Warp - that just capturing them in their crudest forms would stretch the limits of an Eldar Farseer. Fortunately for our mortal minds, much of what is brought to the surface from Erebus' link to the future can be summed up in a simple question: if the gods of Chaos knew the Heresy would fail, why put so much effort into starting it at all.

Immediately our language trips us up.  Firstly, what does it mean to say they "knew" what was coming? Is not the very nature of Chaos endless, random flux?  Why call the most devious of Chaos daemons "Lords of Change" if the future is proof from all alteration?

There are several responses to this, of course. If indeed the swirling, cackling mass of Tzeentch can study the future with perfect clarity, this need not be true of his children; any more than Horus could be said to be the equal of his father. Further, we know from our own lives that a change need not be a surprise to bring pleasure.  Perhaps Tzeentch does indeed know all that will transpire, and yet takes pleasure in shifting the pictures he knows he will see into as many shapes as possible.  Perhaps he takes no pleasure from this at all, and is simply compelled to the task for lack of alternative.

Whatever the truth, there is an undeniable poetry to the idea of Chaos using the horrifying consequences of a coming war to trick Horus into starting that war.  The advantage of knowing the full story is that you can dole out facts just so, twisting the truth in the process until it folds back in on itself. Just as with Magnus the Red - forced by the visions drip-fed to him by Chaos to commit the very crimes that would force him to join the very forces he wished to defeat - Chaos has ever relied upon us to be our own worst enemies. It is one more way in which the strange symbiotic relationship between mankind and the Warp takes shape.

This brings us to the second problem lurking in our phrasing, which is whether the Heresy actually was a failure for Chaos. Even approaching an answer to this is actually profoundly difficult, because it raises strategic concerns about an enemy we cannot even conceive of having a strategy. We see Khorne, Slaanesh and Nurgle as having nothing more than base, urgent desires. Tzeentch we credit with a somewhat greater capacity for long-term thinking, but even here it's need for constant betrayal and inversions make it hard to find any evidence of a coherent plan. Combine this with the fact that Chaos tactics are so horrifying and murderous as to command all our attention, and it is perhaps forgivable to fall into the trap of assuming any end to the wholesale destruction of the galaxy must represent a failure for our foes.

But might not a grox think the same thing, when we arrive in its enclosure to slaughter and devour its fellows? We allow no other fate to the brutes, after all; make no attempt at communication or mediation. We kill, and kill, and kill.

The analogy is an obvious one, of course - if Chaos exterminates all life in the galaxy, it will find itself without its favourite playthings. But there's a second level working here as well. We're not just the favourite toy, we're the favourite food (with the possible exception of the Eldar, but there are no longer enough of them to provide sufficent meals). As we've said, our relationship with Chaos is peveresly symbiotic. Our moods feed and even birth the creatures of the Empyrean. We provide the skulls for Khorne and the nervous systems for Nurgle.  In many ways we provide the only mechanism for truwe change in the Warp, rather than endless permutations of the same conflicts (perhaps Chaos actually wants to avoid new additions to their and alterations, but if that is true, they should call themselves something else). There could be no greater disaster for Chaos than for mankind to disappear overnight - one of the reasons the forces of the Warp despise the Tyranids as much as they do.

Like any symbiote, Chaos cannot survive the death of its host, at least not in any form it would consider acceptable.  Perhaps one day a species will rise to replace us as we have the Eldar, but so far the only plausible candidates are the brutish, unsubtle Orks and the psi-blind Tau, neither of which Chaos would accept as worthy alternatives (the return to dominance of the Necrons would be still worse). We are, for the forseeable future, the only game in town.

All of this makes it hard to believe that Chaos could ever be prepared to destroy us in one fell swoop.  Despite appearances, Chaos most certainly has a long-term goal: survival. Why gorge themselves on the death of a galaxy over a few decades, when they could spend millennia watching us spawn across half a galaxy whilst tearing at the other half?  If every inch of ground Chaos gains is flooded with human blood, what does it matter how quickly those inches are gained? Better to devour us slowly, bite by bite, putting off the end of the feast for as long as possible. Why else, indeed, did Chaos wait so long to strike against the newborn Imperium?  Why did the Warp become becalmed following the birth of Slaanesh, if not to restock the pens to compensate for all those new fang-filled mouths?

And one day, who knows, perhaps one day the Resurrectionists will be proved correct. and the Emperor will somehow be returned to us, to forge a new Imperium that can once more be gradually torn to pieces and devoured by Chaos. Thus can the cycle of destruction begin anew.

Because ultimately, what is a cycle but an orbit? And what is an orbit but the act of falling forever?


What Is

The Emperor's shrine world is a very different place to anywhere we've been so far in the 31st Millennium. How are you enjoying your jaunt into the future?

Is it the future?

The hypothetical future, then.

But given we're in the future already...

But this is the future of the future you fool! Though I guess it's all relative.  This is the past to me. The past of the future.

What, the house?

No, the 31st Millennium. Where did the house come in?

You said "this".

I see. Maybe I should be using flashcards.

The thing is there's nothing here particularly impressive in terms of tech.  Nothing we haven't seen before. Robot men? Pssh. Been there.

What about tiny giggling angels? They can't be easy to slap together.

Yeah, but when you've got the Primarchs...

Maybe, but I think it's the oppressive Gothic gloom that pervades the world that we're supposed to be keying in on.

I don't think that really clicked.  It was more how busy and confusing it all was.

You're not concerned by an entire planet dedicated to the Emperor?

We already know these weird sects spring up all over the place.

Well, yes, but there's a hell of a gap between a cult and planetary coverage.  You wouldn't say the destruction of Earth was unsurprising because we know there's some pretty fucking crazy terrorists out there.

Assuming it is an entire planet.

Well, yes, this is all hypothetical, based on "Sejanus" telling the truth.

Even if he is, maybe this isn't the future.  Now we know that the Word Bearers used to set up huge religious organisations to the Emperor, maybe "Sejanus" has just taken him to one of those.  Something the Emperor and the other Astartes haven't found yet.  Maybe someplace like Davin, where Horus did the conquering and the Word Bearers showed up later.  Maybe that's why Horus isn't on the pedestals; no-one wanted to be reminded of him coming down and killing thousands of people.

Ah, but that brings me on to my next question: did you notice who else was missing?

Yes.  The Word Bearers guy isn't there.  Neither is Red Malcolm.

Anyone else?

The Primarch of the Emperor's Children? Regimus, I think.

Not even close. Anyone else?

I can't think of anyone.  Who'm I missing?

I don't blame you for forgetting, but Angron and Night Haunter at the very least have been mentioned pretty recently.

Isn't Night Haunter the one you don't want to be face to face with? Maybe he's just too damn ugly to be made into a statue.  No-one wants to worship an ugly god.

That's not even remotely true. Look at Ganesha.  Dudes a massive four-armed dude with an elephant for a head.

That doesn't make him ugly.  Just... differently bodied.

I don't want to offend anyone; I'm sure Ganesha is an awesome deity with many funky special powers, but the dude clearly isn't a looker. There's a reason why the Elephant Man didn't take his nickname as a compliment. But we're drifting off the point.

What is the point?

Whether you can think of any reason these Primarchs are missing.

Night Haunter is ugly. Malcolm has presumably been fired over his wizardy hobby. Fulgrim... maybe he's out of favour because his men slaughtered all those spiders and started off all those problems with the Interex.


Can I just point out how irritating Horus is being here. (Adopts whiniest voice) "Why, Father, why! Why have you forsaken me? WHY?" 

Yeah, it's pretty selfish of him to almost completely bypass the other missing Primarchs.

Not just that; he's spent like half a book talking about how he's messed everything up and he doesn't deserve to be Warmaster, and now he won't shut up about how he's not getting his due.

How close to the truth do you think  is"Sejanus'"  tale of the Emperor seeking godhood? And why is he showing all this to Horus?

I can imagine that a lot of it is true.  Look at Keeler and the other Emperor worshippers. I'm not sure it's all true. I still don't know if this is actually the future. Or, if it is, I wonder if "Sejanus" has swapped things around, and this is what will happen if Horus does act.

It would help if I could work out what action Horus is supposed to take. I don't get yet why "Sejanus" is so insistent on Horus being the crux point.  

He's the second most powerful person in the galaxy.

Is he?

Well, he's got the largest army.

For how long? What happens if the Emperor orders everyone back home?

Ask Abaddon.

Fine.  But what about everyone else? Horus has been making too many mistakes.

You might not find that opinion as widespread as you think.

You're on record as despising snakes and all snake-related issues.  How does Sindermann's dissection of their role in human cultures strike you?

The "Seytan" idea amused me.  Not the most imaginative of alterations. I accept they have a large role in plenty of religions - that can't really be denied.  At least they're usually evil though.

Assuming it's true, I thought it was interesting that "drakon" originally meant serpent. This book is educational as well as entertaining.

I guess some dragons can be quite serpentine. Personally I prefer the Welsh variety to those wyrm things.

Makes sense.

So does that mean St Patrick really drove out dragons.

No.  No he did not. No-one gets to horn in on our patron saint's dragon-killing antics. The Irish will have to content themselves with no snakes and plenty of booze.

What Will Be

Is there any way of avoiding the horrible vision of the future "Sejanus" has shown us?  Or is it even a genuine possibility?

Don't do whatever "Sejanus" says.

Good advice. Anything else?

Don't kill the Emperor.  That will just turn him into a martyr, which is just a stone's throw from godhood anyway.

So what should he do?

Wake up, and go talk to Loken. Unless... can he actually go back to the ship? Will the sword not come to life and start chasing him. Fwisshissshissh!

And that is..?

I'm trying to do the sound effects. It's not really working.

In your defence, recreating the sound of a flying alien deathblade is probably beyond the abilities of most people.

I can do it! FWISSHISSH!

That's just a louder version of the same sound.

(Whistles down an octave and pretends to explode).

Sure, let's go with that.