Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Famous First Words

False Gods: Crusade's End (IV)

Petronella Vivar and House Carpinus (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

"I was there the day that Horus fell." So had Petronella Vivar intended to begin her epic recounting of the legend of Horus, right up to the very moment her subject broke her neck for the crime of listening too well (one wonders how many biographers meet a similar fate; pestering the powerful for details must be a dangerous business). And of course she was there when Horus fell. Arguably twice, in fact.  Because the flow of history has shown no-one cares about the day Horus fell to the anathame. They care about the day Horus fell to Chaos.

Of course, some might argue those days were one and the same. To the best of our knowledge, Horus' duel with Temba represented the Primarch's first exposure to daemons as anything more than violent, hostile animals; the first time he was aware that Chaos was something one could ally with, rather than simply be preyed upon by. Wheels began turning in that encounter. Others would say Horus truly fell to Chaos on the day he strode from the Serpent Lodge's place of healing, ready to begin preparing his grand act of betrayal. But this day, the day Horus orders Ignace Karkasy executed and kills Vivar with his own hands, the day he gather his most loyal followers together and explains to them what he has planned for the galaxy, that is the day when his fall becomes irreversible.  If Horus had not stepped in to saveLoken during the battle for High City, the captain would surely have fallen; the laws of gravity are notoriously difficult to sidestep. As the Vengeful Spirit orbited the smoking remains of the Aurelian Technarcy and Horus laid out his plans, we reached the last day someone could grab for Horus as he once grabbed for Loken.  After that, there was nothing but the fall.

Or was there? Are we really so utterly convinced that the point of no return has come already?  Horus could have turned it all around a day later. Varvaras, Vivar and Karkasy would be no less dead, and we do not propose to ignore that fact, but the horror the galaxy was blindly tumbling towards could have been averted. Not entirely, perhaps; the plan to have Magnus killed before he could talk might well have backfired, and Fulgrim could pose a probel even before factoring in fall-out from his treasonous conversation with Ferrus Manus. Realistically, Horus had already gone too far to call everything off without there being consequences. That's what people mean when they say "I've gone too far to go back now"; that their actions have crossed a line that makes a return to the status quo impossible. But that doesn't make stopping your headlong charge into chaos impossible, it simply makes it unpleasant. It means facing the consequences of your actions, rather than hoping you can wash them away in enough blood.

All of this is important, because it means Horus' fall was not a plummet from a cliff, but a tumbling, wheeling descent down a sharp incline. Hard to stop, yes, and harder to stop with every passing second, but not impossible. And this is something worth remembering.  Not for Horus' sake - we might understand on some level his feelings of abandonment and his suspicions over his father's silence, but his decision to murder billions to make it easier to betray and kill a third of his own Legion could not be forgiven even if he later chose to end his rebellion - but because it reminds us that viewing a fall to Chaos as consisting of a single, irreversible moment is dangerously short-sighted. Trying to divide a life into pre- and post-fall is both too simplistic and two convenient, two properties that forever act as drag factors on the pursuit of truth.  And by simplifying the process of becoming seduced by Chaos, we ensure that we actually understand it less.  The question of how Horus fell to the Warp stops being framed as "How can we make sure this never happens again?" and instead shifts unobserved into "How can we best tell ourselves this is something that we would never let happen to us?".

Obviously, it's laudable to want to deny Chaos.  The problem comes when this desire becomes a totem; something you clutch every day to convince yourself of your own virtuousness.  When that happens, you stop studying your choices for the one which will best advance your goals, you just go for the one your gut tells you is right and justify the choice by your rhetoric.  Everything you do must be in defiance of Chaos, you tell yourself, because defying Chaos is all you're interested in.  There's no longer any need to consider whether what you're doing is actually combating the Warp, because all day every day you're telling anyone who will listen that combating the Warp is your only goal.  How could anyone so rhetorically dedicated to fighting Chaos end up actually aiding it?

It's a progression that carries no small irony alongside it, when you consider Horus, the ur-traitor himself, fell into essentially the same trap. He understood less about Chaos than we do now (not that his decision to ally himself with the Warp is made defensible by him having so little idea about what he was really doing), but he was certainly happy to tell what he was planning must be for the benefit of mankind because that was his driving force.   Throughout history a dizzying and horrifying array of tragedies and outrages have taken place at the end result of that sad, loud line of thinking.  Horus was no different to a hundred thousand others in that regard; he was simply in a position to do more damage.

Thinking otherwise - telling ourselves that there exists some clear bright line between loyalty and heresy that Horus jumped over and we never could - might be comforting, but if you are thinking comforting thoughts in this galaxy it rather demonstrates you have not been paying attention. Horus fell on each day, and on no day.  Perhaps you or I are doing the same. Vigilance is not about telling ourselves how much we hate the idea, but in ensuring our actions reflect the noble ideals we all tell ourselves we cling to.

Otherwise we become our own enemy.  More to the point, we become the enemy of those who can't defend themselves.  We are about to see the full horror that mistake can unleash.

We are about to see the galaxy in flames.


Just like with Horus Rising, we're fiddling with the format for this concluding chapter.

1. Karkasy! Petronella! Which murder was the more surprising, and which one do you or will anyone else care about more?

Personally I clearly feel worse about Karkasy. I guess Petronella was fun to hate, and you need that in a book, but the Big Man can fill that role fine now anyway. As for anyone else, I can't imagine anyone actually liked Petronella all that much, but I guess her status will force people to treat it like a big deal.  Karkasy has his fans, but outside the art world I don't know if anyone will particularly care.

Obviously it's not at all surprising that Karkasy ended up dead; that's been coming for a long time.  The only surprising part is that it was Maggard that did the deed. I wonder if his asking price for doing the deed was Horus killing his mistress.  Must have sweetened the deal if nothing else. I can't believe she was stupid enough to believe she'd ever be able to publish what she'd written.

That's her mad arrogance talking, I guess.  It's not like Karkasy is much better, though. Vivar at least is using direct quotes from the man she's been employed to write about, and she's keeping it nice and quiet.  Karkasy is sneaking around where he doesn't belong leaving naughty limericks about how there once was an Astartes from Cthonia.

At least Karkasy had Loken's protection.

Yeah, that worked out well, didn't it? While we're on the subject, what do you think Loken will do about Karkasy's sudden case of being shot in the head?

I don't see how there's anything he can do.  It's officially been declared a suicide, and it's not like he doesn't have plenty of other worries right about now.

2. You've been trying hard for weeks to come up with a more interesting ending than Horus deciding to go to war against the Emperor. How do you feel now you know that's exactly what Horus is intending?

It's all very depressing. Horus comes across as very stupid here.  It's like he's taken everything Erebus said to him at face value.

I guess it's easy to swallow someone's tale when they're telling you exactly what you want to hear; in this case "Only you can save mankind".

I don't like how he's turned on Sanguinius, either. Wasn't he like Horus' favourite brother?

Yeah, I got nothing on that. Dick move by Horus.

Part of me is still hoping this will turn out to be an undercover operation to smoke our traitors. But if that was the plan, bringing Abaddon and Little Horus into it seems really unfair. And why hasn't Horus punished Erebus yet? That guy definitely needs to get his comeuppance for screwing around with Horus.

It just feels like there are big holes everywhere.  I don't like it.  And speaking of holes, why are Loken and Torgaddon still alive.

Just too hard to bump them off quietly, I'd imagine.

They managed with Varvaras.

Yeah, but it's much easier to persuade Astartes to kill puny humans than it is to start sniping at each other.

3.  Time to mark the book.  Just like last time, we'll chat about three aspects of the book, and I'll have you mark them out of ten.  Then you can give us your overall mark for False Gods.

a) Plot

It all still seems quite bitty. Jumping from planet to planet and beating people up/murdering them in cold blood. The "why" of it seems a little lost.  It took too long to get going, and the underlying structure is too obvious. Which isn't McNeill's fault, really. It might be your fault, actually, for making me dissect all this. 

Was there nothing enjoyable about the plot?

*Thinks for quite a while* Nothing I can specifically point to.  I guess I just wasn't sold on the action scenes - fighting the brotherhood came closest - and if that doesn't work, what's left?  There wasn't as much politics this time around.

What about Plague Moon?  That's my favourite part of the book.  Not many books are going to stick a ruined spaceship and a horde of daemon-led zombies on the same page.

Fair point, there was some good stuff there; the fight with Temba especially, and the cursed sword.  But the zombie-things didn't really work for me; you've had decades of looking at the figures to understand what they're like.  Coming to it fresh, they seemed under-described.


b)  Characters

I thought character development was maybe a bit thin on the ground. We've spent ages looking through Loken's eyes, but it hasn't really helped us get a handle of how things are changing for him - it's like he's recording events, but not commenting on them.  I wonder if McNeill was a bit wary of doing the full POV the way Abnett did.  It was definitely the biggest difference between the two.

I'd love to see more of Euphrati; it felt like we hardly saw her.  The only real development we got was with Petronella, who I definitely liked. Well, I found her interesting.  I don't think I was supposed to like her.  It was interesting to see that thirty thousand years in the future the upper class still have no clue how to operate out in the real world.  Even then, though, there's nothing to separate her from hundreds of similar characters.

The big problem here though is Horus. He seems to go totally against character.  Like going after Sanguinius.  That dude was so important back on Murder, and all of a sudden he's just going to get killed without so much as a chat to try and turn him.  And suddenly he's happy to make use of alien weapons, or at least hand them over to Fulgrim to make use of.  

You don't think what happened in the Serpent Lodge justifies the changes, though?

Not unless it actually involved him being brainwashed or possessed. He's just too off-model for anything else to be believable.


c) Setting

I loved the dead ship on Davin's moon.  I complained last time that there wasn't nearly enough detail about what the ships looked like, and this helped me out.  The weird planet Horus got sent to in his dreams was an interesting place; I didn't really think the execution worked, but the concept was fine.  I can't say I was as keen on Davin's moon as you.

I object to the idea of daemons who set fire to books, by the way.

Doesn't that just bring home the daemon's nastiness, though?


They're book-burning antics.

I don't think it deliberately set the books on fire.

Then what are you whingeing about?

It's a philosophical principle. I can't control it.

What was your favourite aspect of 31st millennium life demonstrated in the book.

Um... pens. All pens should be designed for telepathic control as soon as possible.

Bloody hell.  I bring you the entire wondrous vista of the galaxy, and you're most impressed by the stationery.

I think I preferred the setting this time around.  I think because it's much less bitty. 

You might just be getting used to what's going on, of course.

Maybe, but I have a vague feeling McNeill's better at describing basic setting.




Book 2 is now done, at least for Fliss. She'll be taking a fortnight off whilst I review False Gods as a whole, and  (hopefully) post up another pencil drawing from my sister portraying a character from the novel I've never seen pictured before.  Fliss will return to the action on the 18th of June when we start the final book in this opening trilogy, Galaxy in Flames.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Last Honest Soldier

False Gods: Crusade's End (III)

Angron (copyright unknown)

Welcome citizens, to the Truth.

Angron. Primarch of the World Eaters Legion. The Bloody One. The Red Angel. Gladiator and butcher. Genetically engineered and cybernetically altered. Of all the Primarchs who fell to Chaos during Horus' rebellion, only Magnus the Red perhaps provokes more sympathy. Also like the Lord of Prospero, one can only wonder how different history might read had Angron been able to overcome the circumstances of his upbringing and his subsequent clashes with the Emperor over the proper approach to war.

Which brings up another similarity between the Primarchs of the XII and XV Legions; both of them were lost to Chaos through no small fault of the Emperor himself.

We shall discuss fully the Emperor's role in Magnus' downfall when we reach the Burning of Prospero. For now we shall limit ourselves to saying that however great a share of the responsibility the Emperor must accept over Magnus' fate, it is completely eclipsed by the amount of blame he must shoulder regarding Angron.

A brief summary for those citizens who have never heard the long-suppressed story. Angron found himself on the civilised world of Nuceria after the Scattering, and came under attack by xenos almost immediately.  He slaughtered his foes but was left badly injured, and when the humans of the planet found him they nursed him back to health, but also drove into his skull the "Butcher's Nails", cybernetic implants which would stimulate his aggression and blood-lust. In this way they intended to make Angron into a more entertaining entrant into the gladiatorial combats that so obsessed the ruling class of the planet's capital, Desh'ea.

Even bloody-minded and violent as he was, Angron hated his life of enforced combat, and over the years led several failed slave revolts until one finally succeeded in freeing himself and many of his comrades. Swiftly Angron fled into the mountains with a poorly-equipped rag-tag army of former pit fighters. The resulting war quickly became a stalemate, with Desh'ea unable to defeat Angron in the field, and the Primarch in turn lacking the men or materiel to seriously threaten the city. Time was definitely against Angron, however; the barren slopes of his new home offered little sustenance for his tired, battered army, and the forces of Desh'ea were constantly closing in as they mustered more and more forces against the insurrection. Eventually, fully seven armies had surrounded Angron and his rebels, too many even for him to fight and win.

It was then that the Emperor jumped in-system.

With his son surrounded and mere hours from death, the Emperor teleported to the surface of Nuceria and offered to save Angron. The Twelfth Primarch, however, had no intention of abandoning his soldiers just before their final stand. Stunned by Angron's refusal, and seeing no other option, the Emperor teleported his son to his ship, where Angron could only watch helplessly as his followers were butchered by the armies of Desh'ea.

It would be supremely difficult to blame the Emperor for saving his son, of course. How many of us could stand by and watch our child throw their life away, even if that was they had specifically asked us to do? And whilst if history has recorded it, it has passed us by, we're prepared to assume that there was some compelling considering preventing the Emperor from sending down his Legions to crush Angron's foes for him - it's simply inconceivable given the bond he shared with his sons and the invasions he ordered against so many human worlds across the galaxy that in this case he would forebear an armed response otherwise. Perhaps somehow his only two choices really were between saving Angron alone and saving no-one at all.

So maybe we can forgive the Emperor's decision to overrule Angron's wishes and leave the Nuceria rebels to their fate. It was what came next we find difficult to forgive. Saving Angron we can understand, even though it involved ignoring his wishes and condemning his friends to death.  But having ignored his wishes and condemned his friends to death, one might have hoped Angron could be given space to breathe and grieve. The thought should have occurred in fact that abducting Angron - so he could serve in wars like the one the Emperor had just thrown to the enemy, no less - might have built a barrier between the two men that no amount of time could demolish. Sometimes there is simply no way from where you are from where you want to be.

If the Emperor had considered the Primarchs his sons first and his generals second, some of this might have been apparent. Alas, this was not the ordering of priorities during the Great Crusade. But even from a strictly military perspective, it should have been clear that Angron had no place leading troops on the battlefield.  He either would not or could not have the Butcher's Nails removed.  He brutally murdered more than one World Eaters captain (or War Hound captains, as they were at the time) who the Emperor sent to discuss Angron's ascension to leader. For all the undoubted power of a Primarch, a rebellious, unwilling general interested only in the most brutal and unthinking of assaults is not only a recipe for horrendous casualties, it is completely at odds with the Emperor's stated goal of bringing enlightenment to the human galaxy.  The bedrock assumption of the nascent Imperium was that each of the worlds colonised by mankind would be genuinely better off under the protection and secular principles of the Emperor's new order. It is somewhat difficult to square that belief with unleashing hordes of slavering butchers to callously tear apart people whose worst crime is wanting simply to be left alone, as the final battle on Aureus made only too clear.

Of course, what does that prove, except that the rhetoric of the Great Crusade could never possibly match up to the reality. Which was always inevitable, of course.  The dirty little secret here is that the Emperor needed someone like Angron and his World Eaters.  Not every war can be won prettily, which means your only options are to find other alternatives to war, or other alternatives to prettiness.  We already know what the Emperor chose.  He had enough decency to decry butchery, but not enough to actually bring it to an end. Oh, he ordered Angron to end his cerebral mutilation of his warriors.  The Primarch he couldn't trust to obey him, the Primarch whose brain was fully under the influence of the very machinery the Emperor wanted to outlaw. The Emperor expressed his will and then moved on. And what is more likely? That he did so because it didn't occur to him that Angron could possibly refuse the order? Or because all that mattered was that the Emperor be seen to be against reducing Astartes to frothing killers, whilst also maintaining his access to them whenever they were required, as he knew they would be?

All of which left Angron as the last honest soldier. Whilst the other Primarchs waxed lyrical about the glorious destiny of a united, peaceful humanity, or sunk into various schemes of self-aggrandisement and treachery, Angron was never more than what he always was or claimed to be: a remorseless killer, addicted to bloodshed. When he ultimately signed up to Horus' rebellion, there was no more honest choice he could have made. He joined aginst the man who responsible for the death of hundreds of his friends, and he did it because Horus offered him the chance to fight out in the open in the way wars sometimes need to be fought, if they are to be fought at all. Every war will breed its share of Angron's spiritual brothers; there is no way to avoid it, save to refuse war entirely. And if it inevitable that an Angron will appear, it is scarcely any less inevitable that when you tell them to stop killing, or to stop killing the way they want to do their killing, you will not get the answer you're hoping for. Killers may kill for a cause, but when the cause needs no more killing, it's the cause that will be discarded.

Soon, the Emperor would have wanted Angron to stop killing. He would lie to Angron that war was no longer necessary, and lie to himself that Angron could ever believe that for even a moment.  It could never work out that way.  Once every enemy was dead, Angron had no choice but to make enemies out of his friends.  In the final analysis, Angron could not afford to care whence the blood flowed.

The only way for him to go was to take a route even more truthful than the one he had carved out under the Emperor. It was time to follow the path of the master to whom he had always truly belonged.

It was time to follow the path of Khorne.


What Is

Angron is the seventh Primarch we've come across since the series started.  We don't see him for long here, but he certainly makes a big impression. Did anything about him jump out at you?

He jumped out at me.

No he didn't. If he had, you'd be ginger pâté. What do you think of him as a character, is my point, and by "character" I mean "whirling dervish of unnecessary death".

It's hard to get a grip on a character who doesn't talk, just kills.

I think that's supposed to be his character. When a general forgoes stirring speeches for screaming up a hill murdering everyone within range, that tells you at least a little.

Does he really need all those weapons?

It's important to not get caught short in battle.  Especially when you have so much need to stab everybody to death. This is the guy who does bring a knife to a gunfight, along with eighty-eight other knives. And huge axes.

So how come the World Eaters don't get used more often if they're this effective.

Well, as Sedirae said last chapter, not everyone is happy with the World Eater methods.

So why not keep him under closer watch? Keep a Primarch with him.

Horus explained that to Fulgrim.

No, I mean earlier in the Crusade.  Has he just been going around massacring anyone he feels like all this time.

I think so.

Why?  Has he been slaughtering xenos all this time, and so no-one cares.

In part at least, probably. But I think there might be some plausible deniability going on as well.

With this being the penultimate chapter, the assault on the Iron Citadel is the big set-piece conclusion to the novel.  Is it sufficiently exciting/explosive/vicious to function as such?

There was certainly an explosion.

Good. That's that box ticked.

Apparently it was violent, but then we didn't see much of it again.

You wanted more details of the horrific slaughter, did you?

Yes, obviously.
Have you considered the possibility that you might just be wrong in the head.

No. You want to show me war, then show me war.

I suppose there is a tendency in places for the prose to boil down to "And then some dudes got killed".

Yes. Which is unacceptable.  Don't tell me soldiers are horrified when they see a slaughter.  Tell me what the slaughter looks like.

I am beginning to wonder if this project is good for you.

I wonder if the bomb was set by Horus.

It does seem like immensely convenient timing, having Angron escape and start killing just as the Brotherhood have all surrendered and helpfully lined up.  But I don't see how Horus could have set the charge.

Fair enough. Horus must have known it was likely the defenders would have mined the wall, though. Maybe he just didn't warn Angron.  He gets Angron all riled up for the final slaughter, and he presumably takes out a healthy chunk of the World Eater high command, who he can then replace with people more loyal to him.

Why did Loken and Torgaddon get themselves the honour of supporting the assault?

Well, like Loken said, it's presumably to get them killed.

Loken said thaat?

When they were talking about trying to stay alive, and how they'd need each other's support if they survived.

Oh, got you. I guess it hadn't occurred to me that they were directly referencing a problem with the battle order.  They still seemed to think it was an honour.

Yes, but Torgaddon at least seems to be smelling a rat. He seems quite depressed, at least until the battle ends. And of course we know he's aware of the plot to discredit Loken.  I don't understand why he hasn't mentioned that, actually.

How much of a point does Loken have when he gets pissed off about the incoming human troops looking in horror at the massacre.  Is this genuinely just what war has to entail, and what soldiers have to do?

Have the soldiers really never seen this level of slaughter from the Astartes before?  What about back on the planet when Jubal went mad?

I don't know. I guess maybe the Astartes are usually better at letting people surrender? Though there's no reason to believe the Brotherhood had wanted to surrender until the point that they did, and I certainly don't see how the incoming Janizars would have known that fact in any case.

It might be that they're shocked that the Sons of Horus started acting like World Eaters.  Or maybe there's genuinely a noticeable difference in the way the Astartes kill people when they're pissed off about a Primarch being exploded.

The tearing off of limbs and use of same as clubs is probably increased.

But to answer your original question, yes I have sympathy with Loken's position, but then he's the protagonist; that's the point.

Maybe, but it's not like he's never wrong.

He's right here, though, at least in part.  I mean, he was created specifically for this.  They all were.

So they should be disgusted at the Emperor, really.

Yes.  Or find another line of work.

That's a bit harsh. It's pretty clear they've all been completely pummelled by the Imperial propaganda that the Astartes are noble examplars of war.  It's no wonder they're not dealing well with what they're seeing now.

I respond with "meh".


Who shot Hektor Varvaras?

Wouldn't it be ZOMG! if it turned out to be Vipus.


You did say he wasn't at the last Lodge meeting.  Neither was Torgaddon, now I think about it. Either of them could have killed Varvaras.

To what end?

To save Loken from being fed to him.

How devious.

It could have been someone acting on Horus' orders, too, though since the plan was to use him to get rid of Loken, it's a bit premature to splat him right now.

Maybe they changed their plan after Torgaddon refused to go along with the old one.

Perhaps. I don't see why Torgaddon hasn't told him about that, actually.

Eh, divided loyalties. What you gonna do?

Are we sure it wasn't a Brotherhood member? Or just friendly fire. Like, accidental friendly fire.

No, those are both distinct possibilities.  I just figured your suspicious, paranoid mind would have leaped to darker conclusions.

What Will Be

What's Fulgrim going to get up to with the anathame?

He's going to kill someone, obviously.

Yes. Yes, that is obvious. Anything more penetrating coming to mind?

At the minute I'm more interested in how Fulgrim learned about the sword in the first place.

You think the Horus seal was faked?

I don't see how Horus could have known the weapon was retrieved. He was rather indisposed at the time.  So who did know?

Loken, Torgaddon, Vipus; the whole of Locasta Squad.  And Vaddon, of course.

Who was genuinely annoyed to have had to give the sword up; I don't think it was him.

I presume Erebus knows too. He probably put two and two together when Torgaddon tried to bring him to book at the Lodge meeting.  He must know it wasn't on Davin's moon anymore; he must have gone down and checked. I'm amazed he didn't remove it before Loken and Torgaddon got to it, actually. And if Erebus knows, Horus will too.

You think Erebus will fess up to having stolen the sword from the interex?

He doesn't have to say that, just note that the weapon that almost killed Horus is now on the Vengeful Spirit ready to be made use of. Which brings me back to my original question: what use is Fulgrim going to get out of it?

He's going to kill someone, obviously.

I think I can hear my recursion alarm going off.

Fine. Er... Sanguinius. He's going to kill Sanguinius. Or the Emperor. No, Sanguinius makes more sense.


Because killing Sanguinius would piss everyone off.

Whereas stabbing the Emperor is, what, a ticker-tape parade?

Fine. Killing Sanguinius would be easier.  Or Dorne. Or Magnus Magnusson.

So basically he's going after a Primarch.

Not any Primarch. One we've already met. Sanguinius, to throw everything into chaos and get up to other naughtiness whilst the Emperor is distracted. Or Dorne, because he's protecting the Emperor right now and it would be useful to be rid of him. Or Magnus, to guarantee he can't spill the beans regarding what happened on Davin when he gets back to Earth.  It has to be someone we've already seen; it'd be crappy plotting if he's off to chop up someone we've never seen before.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

I Can Tell You're Having Trouble Breathing

Alas, there won't be a proper post this week, as Fliss has come down with some as-yet-unidentified gribbly. It's nothing serious - at least, it doesn't seem like it's serious; what do I know? - but she's totally spaced out right now and completely not in the right frame of mind to argue over whether or not Angron is the coolest remorseless butcher ever.

I'm sure we'll be back next week, and that we'll have False Gods finished (save a couple of mopping up posts Fliss can be excused from) by the end of the month. Come hell or high water, I want to kick off Galaxy in Flames in June.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Nor The Battle To The Swift

False Gods: Crusade's End (II)

Fulgrim, Primarch of the III Legion
(copyright luffie on DeviantArt)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

We arrive, at last, at a confession.

Above all, Horus' fall was brought on by pride. By a failure to understand himself within the context of the wider picture. It would be nice if we could avoid the same fate. Our aim is to inform you, citizens; that requires a certain unwillingness to stray beyond those subjects we can claim to expertise in, or - because our experiences can be fairly described as rather limited - at least a commitment to admitting when we find ourselves out of our depth.

Our confession, then, is that we cannot claim to be anywhere close to experts on the subject of warfare. For all we know,  Horus might be completely correct in his belief that the more the cruel a war is, the faster it is over. Certainly, there is folly in an abundance of mercy; tales of ancient Terra make reference to wars in which commanders were ransomed once captured, guaranteeing the struggle would begin all over again, with many more thousands of casualties suffered before the next time a major player was apprehended and the whole miserable business begun anew.

But is this proof that in warfare mercy is inversely proportional to speed? Or is it just that "mercy" here is too narrowly defined? After all, if your definition of mercy is to release nobles in exchange for gold and in so doing guarantees the death of thousands of less fortunate souls, then perhaps you are merely demonstrating a despicably myopic view, in which war is a game between a small group of important players, with everyone else involved shunted into irrelevance. The body count becomes beside the point; only those you judge sufficiently important end up mattering at all.

This is not, alas, a concern that we have set aside over the millennia. Indeed, in Horus we see what might be the apex of this attitude: it's far from clear there is anyone other than the Primarchs and the Emperor himself that Horus sees as anything other than pawns or cannon fodder.  Once you reach that point, words like "cruelty" lose almost all of their meaning.  All that matters is how quickly an objective can be claimed to allow you to move onto the next one.

This is what Horus truly means when he tells Fulgrim that the crueler a war is, the faster it will be over; that if you stop to consider the implications of your orders on others, you might not get what you want quite so quickly. It is worth noting here that it took the Emperor and eighteen full Legions over two centuries to forge the galaxy into an Empire he could plausibly believe would endure. Horus is looking to flip that Empire completely in the space of a few years with at best half those resources. The result is already clear from looking at the war for Aureus.  As Loken notes, the planet will rebel the first chance it gets, because as questionable as it is to invade someone's home in order to persuade them they're better off with you in charge, the heartless massacre of everyone in your way is a ceramite-clad guarantee that the people you have conquered will rise up the minute your attentions are elsewhere.

Not that Horus cares about that, of course, he has the STC machines which were all this war was ever about. Indeed, his total disregard for the concept of unification which once drove him is made obvious by his failure to consider that a culture so delighted by the prospect might give him access to the devices in any case. Even if they refuse to let him carry the machines away with him - which seems likely - a little diplomacy and subterfuge could have won Horus his prize with a minimum of casualties on either side.

The problem then isn't that for a war to be won quickly, it needs to be won in a storm of blood.  It is that, more so than ever, Horus cannot conceive of any method for gaining what he wants other than immediate and direct warfare.  His immediate goals consist of war on Aureus, then war on Istvaan III, and then war on Istvaan V.  And almost immediately this plan is thrown into uncertainty when the World Eaters - as they themselves pointed out - prove the wrong tool to open up the Iron Citadel, and the war bogs down into bloody siege. A cruel war, it turns out, is only faster if you win. If you don't, you're no better off than had you fought some other way, only now you have more casualties to replace and more enemies to look out for.

As we say, warfare is not something on which we can speak with authority.  But we can recognise a blinkered mind when we see it. Throughout these broadcasts we have made reference to the fundamental Astartes ability to recognise violence can be counter-productive, and here Horus offers us our strongest example yet. But as well as it being our strongest example, it is also the first point in our story at which the gathering Heresy faces its first setback. In many ways, it's actually a microcosm of what brings about Horus' ultimate defeat, in fact.  On Aureus, as on Istvaan III, or Tallarn, or a hundred other worlds, Horus is delayed because he bothers to consider no way to win his objectives other than through open warfare, and is then bogged down through totally underestimating his opponents when it turns out the most vicious and horrific methods of warfare imaginable do not necessarily lead to a speedy victory.

So does Horus, like the Emperor before him, sow the seeds of his own downfall.  There is a long way to travel between here and there, however, and many more characters to introduce in this sad, bloody tale.

It is time we meet with Angron.


What Is

Yay! The Emperor's Children return after twenty-two chapters over two books.  Any thoughts on Fulgrim? 

He doesn't seem to have the arrogance I thought he would.

Because of Eidolon? Maybe his gittishness is produced entirely from within himself. Plus, you know, arriving after being sent by your boss to figure out what's going on and immediately announcing you don't give a damn seems reasonably arrogant to me.

I don't understand why he's being described as being a perfect being.  I thought that was Sanguinius.

I guess whichever is more perfect is the one currently in the room.

They can't shut up about how pretty Horus is, either.

Well, same principle. What we need is the three of them on one stage so we can host Mr Imperium.  You've met five Primarchs now; who would win.

Hard to say.  They're all so aloof. And most of them we've only seen through Loken's eyes.

Fair point, though without wishing to sound snippy I'm not sure this is the kind of series to overly concern itself with unreliable narrators. What Loken sees is pretty much what the author wants us to see.

There's still some filtering to be done, though. Except with Magnus the Blind, I suppose.  It wouldn't be fair for me to judge.

Let's talk about Lucius. Does him being horribly scarred make up for him beating Loken in the practice cages?

It's all the same.  He's still the same unbearable prick.  And he claims he's learned from the last time he fought Loken, but it's clear he hasn't learned the true lesson.

"Don't be a dick?"

"Expect the unexpected". And something about the Spanish Inquisition.

I don't think Monty Python has survived to the 31st Millennium.  Everyone seems far too humourless for the parrot sketch to have survived.  Except Torgaddon, I suppose, but then his joke structure is far too simplistic and repetitive for me to believe he's ever been exposed to actual comedy.

Horus cracks wise from time to time.

He's funnier when he's blowing people's brains out.

It's not hard to see why Regulus would want machines that can adapt to any circumstances and any enemy.  Why would Horus be prepared to give them up? And does this explain why he started this war?

Could they be used to create something that could counteract the magic sword?

That's a damn good question, actually.  Maybe it could at that.

Because you could see why Horus would be interested in that. Being stabbed once with that thing was probably enough.  Then as an added bonus they could create all kinds of cross-galactic death weapons.

Which makes it even more surprising Horus is willing to give them up.

Maybe he's not totally giving them up. Maybe the deal will be Regulus can have the machines in exchange for making stuff for Horus.  Regulus and his people would be the best placed to operate it for him in any case. Maybe he's got exclusivity too.  So all these new weapons roll off the line and only Horus and Regulus get to use them.

Any thoughts on Maggard, now known to be not just a bodyguard, but a sex slave? What's he liable to get up to in the Warrior Lodge?

Obviously he's going to report everything back to Petronella.  What I don't understand is what Horus gets out of the arrangement. He knows about the mnemo-quill; why risk it?

Unless... is Horus planning to use the mnemo-quill himself?  If no-one else knows about it in the Lodge, he's got the perfect spy. Maggard can't talk, he presumably can't write - since the whole point is he's not supposed to be able to communicate with anyone but Petronella - so no-one needs to worry about what they say around him.

That's a really nice theory.  What about all this concubine business.

It's a nice role reversal, I suppose. And a backhanded compliment in a way.

How so?

Well, Petronella seems to be the sort of snobbish person who'd look down on pretty much everyone on the ship. Screwing Maggard kind of suggests he's better than a lot of other men.  From her perspective, I mean.

It was more his perspective I was thinking about, really.

I guess we've just got to hope he enjoys the job.

Not all that likely.  He called her a " bitch" in the second page of the book, after all.  But then I suppose he wouldn't be the first person to simultaneously despise someone and want to have sex with them.

Absolutely. If he's really lucky she's even a masochist. That should lead to sufficient job satisfaction.

Oh dear. It would appear Magnus is in trouble.  Did he try to contact the Emperor after all, or is something else going on?  That Wolf of Fenris doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, does it?

No it doesn't.  Is it related to the vampire hunter.

Vampire hunter?

No, not vampire hunter. Vampire.  The Primarch who sounds like a vampire.

... Night Haunter?


No comment.

Is there a link between the wolf of Fenris and Magnus pretending to be a wolf when he was talking to Horus?

Wasn't that just to remind Horus about himself?

Then why keep doing it after Horus' memory returned?

I guess he didn't want to reveal himself. It's hard to maintain plausible deniability sorcery-wise when you're wagging your tail in other people's dreams.

I haven't really answered the question, have I? Erm... maybe someone has been whispering in the Emperor's ear? I don't know.  Though it was interesting how serious Horus got when Magnus was mentioned.  Maybe Horus is Magnus.

Don't they show up at the same family functions?

I mean, maybe Magnus has possessed him.

I like it.  I don't understand it, but I like it.

I can't see any other reason why Horus would be concerned about Magnus.  That feels much more like the old Horus.

Maybe it wasn't concern over Magnus, so much as concern about what Magnus might have said.

I guess. It didn't read that way to me. Though I suppose whatever your brother does, you're still concerned about them.  They're still your brother, right?

Spoken like a woman who only has a sister.

What Will Be

What is the new mission Horus has in mind for the Warrior  Lodge?  And will Torgaddon, Qruze or Loken ever get to hear of it?

I presume Loken will hear about it soon enough, from Nero.  We haven't heard from him for a while, but nothing's been said about him not showing up any more.

I think he's been quietly dropped into the cracks.  I can't believe he was there for either of the last two meetings.

Clearly what Horus has planned is pretty treacherous.

Indeed.  Any specific thoughts?

Maybe he wants to use these machines to create a world in which he's God? You know, just to spite the Emperor.