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.

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