Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

Galaxy In Flames: Long Knives (II)

Saul Tarvitz is not pleased (copyright unknown)
Poor Kyril Sindermann.

It is easy, I think, to hold to the maxims of secular rationalism when all about you are doing the same. In that situation, a thoughtful scepticism and a dogmatic refusal to challenge your peers must look much the same. Like friends who each have everything they could want, there is no cause for conflict, and so there is no way to tell whether the friendship is strong, or simply untested.

Sindermann's friendship with the scientific method, alas, did not survive much testing.

Already we have discussed the foolishness - and indeed the danger - in casting the Lectitio Divininatus and the cultists of Chaos as opposite forces, simply because they strive for mutually exclusive goals and worship antagonistic figureheads. Our objections to Sindermann's position might be more theological than we've previously explored, but the results are no less concerning for all that.

With all due respect to a man who brought enlightenment to so many, and who refused to be cowed as his reality and reality in general began to unwind during the final days of the Great Crusade, Kyril Sindermann's conversion to the Imperial Cult represents a travesty of thought that calls into question every seemingly wise decision he ever made.  It is simply ludicrous to conclude that the existance of creatures as malevolent and violent as the Gods of the Warp implies there must exist some divine being at the opposite end of the scale to provide balance. To put it in the terms of our ancient forefathers, the existence of Hell does not imply there must be a Heaven. The universe does not exist according to the balancing of thematic opposites.  The universe simply is.

To believe otherwise, to extrapolate the existence of the holy from the abundance of horror that surrounds us, is comforting, but the comforting thought is always the one we should subject to the closest scrutiny. Whatever Titus Cassar might claim in his ponderous sermons, labelling the Emperor as a God is the easy path, not the hard one. Once a being becomes divine, their actions require no further explanation. Contradictions can be explained as our inability to understand. Failures to protect can be blamed on our inability to pray hard enough or in the right way. It becomes a closed system immune to analysis, a fact which is somehow actually considered a positive.

For most of these recent converts to the Lectitio Divininatus, the motivation for joining has been an increasing sense of unease regarding the direction of events, culminating in the massacre in the docking bay. Only Sindermann and the catatonic Euphrati Keeler can claim specific knowledge of the nightmares of the Immaterium. Indeed, alone of those still standing aboard the Vengeful Spirit, Sindermann can claim to have watched what might be called a miracle. It might seem reasonable to forgive the iterator his lapse in light of his experiences under the Whisperheads or the assault in the library.

Obviously we have nothing but sympathy for a man subjected to such literal horrors, but Sindermann's experiences cut both ways. Knowing that the growing discontent in the 63rd Fleet is connected to the creatures of the Warp might make reaching for a god of one's own more tempting, but it also makes reaching for the Emperor as that god harder to understand.  As an opposite to the myriad failures of the human spirit, the fearless, self-sacrificing Emperor and his vision of universal brotherhood has at least some rhetorical weight as a godhead. As some kind of cosmic balance to what dwells within the Empyrean, the Emperor cannot function at all.

Understanding this is the work of moments.  Consider who and what the Emperor is. A psyker. A psyker who uses other psykers to perform the tasks he lacks time for.  An almost impenetrable mutant brain inside an almost unstoppable mutant body.  A man who conquered the galaxy by tearing open the Warp and feeding troops into it until every human star system was flooded.  This is the being to be considered anathema to the Gods of Chaos?  The Emperor's goal from the very first moments was to subjugate Chaos using it's own weapons and strengths against it.  If you craft a power sword which I then steal and run you through with, I have become your enemy, but I am in no setting myself up in contrast to those who use weapons, particularly if I drove to your forge in a Leman Russ tank.

Even if the existence of Chaos required the presence of an opposing force - which it doesn't, any more than the Orks suggest the existence of the Eldar - the true opposite of Chaos is no more plausibly the Emperor than it is the Necrons, which is a thought that should give us pause. At least they neither utilise the Warp nor register in it.

All of which is to say that Sindermann's conversion is a comfort in an era in which comfort must have been particularly desirable. That does not change the fact that comfort is at best orthogonal to the truth, and more often works directly against it. 

But then, doesn't almost everything?


What Is

Who's sending these warning messages to Kyril Sindermann? Has deciding the Emperor is a god simply driven him mad?

Why would that drive him mad?

It's hard having your fundamentals challenged, innit? Or maybe he's just lost it over the burning of all those books.

I can see that.

I'm sure you can. I was terrified you'd get palpitations reading that bit. Imagine being stuck for months with only the books in our bedroom. You'd be horrified.

Well considering I still haven't forgiven the Christians for Alexandria.

Very true. You can hold a grudge. Book burning is instant disqualification from Fliss' good, er, books. Unless they were Horus Heresy novels, I guess.

Yes, I believe I could live with that.

"There's a fire in Waterstones!" "NOOO!" "It's in that bit of the sci-fi section where they keep all the Black Library stuff!" "Phew."

Could he be becoming telepathic? Just picking up what's going on around him?  No need for anyone else to be involved.

Maybe. Who knows when the power manifests.

Or someone could be messing with him; his vision could just be a holographic projector hidden in his room.

As always, I approve of your paranoia, but what about the message he wrote himself?

Oh yeah. Well, that could just be his own subconscious.

I've heard of that. Auto-something. Not auto-erotic.

Not automatic.

Not automobile.

This could take a while. Wait, is the pen Petronella's?

Not that I know of.  Why?

Because maybe the pen is haunted. 

*She breaks into a terrible impression of a terribly stereotypical ghost. Seriously, it's like undead racism*

Very scary.

The horror of living death?  

The horror of anti-ghost bigotry.

In this chapter we get some more details on Loken and Torgaddon's plan of inaction. Are they being prudent? Or are they wasting limited time?

They have a plan?

My point.

But they can't go round around demanding answers from people. Not whilst their persona non gratas. 

Wouldn't it be personae non grata? But the point is taken.

They were in the middle of a fight; who's going to be able to work out what happened?

Couldn't they try getting to someone who's in the Lodge?


As a plant.  There must be someone in there who might be inclined to help Torgaddon out. Less so Loken; all those years of telling his underlings to stay out of the Lodge might finally have bitten him on his super-developed arse.

Which leaves Torgaddon, who they're probably expecting to fall back in line eventually.

That's what I mean. Couldn't he sidle up to someone from the Lodge and suggest he's thinking of coming back, and that he'd just like to know what's going on these days because he's feeling left out?

This is Torgaddon, you realise. The man doesn't have an ounce of duplicity.  

I suppose. If you have to start putting together plans requiring Tarik to be sneaky and devious, you've already lost.

Even basic logic seems beyond him. Somehow he seems surprised about the idea the remembrancers are being killed despite the Lodge openly discussing the need to get rid of Karkasy when he was here. And he still doesn't seem to have told Loken that they're gunning for him.

Kharn is the first World Eater we get to talk to, as oppose to see charging up a hill shouting.  Any first impressions on him or the XII Legion in general?

It makes sense; Astartes without ambition. They don't seem to care who they're killing as long as they're killing somebody. I can't say he made all that much of an impression.

What about him seeming to be pleased about the change in the Crusade?  Do you think he's in on the whole Horus deal?

Maybe. Or maybe he's just figuring they'll be let off the leash more often.

Against whom?

That is the question.

Yes, that is the format of these blog posts. Usually I ask questions hoping for an answer.

I've no idea.

Then choose someone at random.

No. That is not how I conduct my business.


What Will Be

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I wondered how obvious it was which characters would side with the Emperor and which with Horus. So in that spirit, I'm going to list some Astartes, and I want you to tell me whether you think they'll sign up with the Warmaster.
Saul Tarvitz

He thinks like Loken. He'll do whatever Loken and Torgaddon do.

Which is?

I don't know. I can't imagine they'll end up siding with Horus. I'm not sure if they'll join up with the Emperor, though.

You think they might form their own faction?


Aren't you worried Torgaddon is going to find he misses the Lodge too much?

What, and betray Loken?

He might not see it as betrayal, but yeah, inadvertently sell him up the river.

No. Whatever Loken decides, Torgaddon will be with him. Which is weird, actually. I wasn't sure how much Torgaddon liked Loken to begin with.

I'm not sure if it was dislike, or just not having much in common at first.

Anyway, final answer; those three stick together. Unless Torgaddon is a spy.

You like to keep your bases covered, huh?


He'll go with whichever side offers him the most. If Horus promotes him, that's him on board.

The pragmatic approach?


No chance Saul could persuade him to take the other side? Or would trying just wind Lucius up even more.

I don't think he'd care either way. It's not like there's much left of their friendship.

Because Lucius is too ambitious.  It all fits.


He'll do what Fulgrim tells him to. Especially if there's a promotion in it for him.  Can you get promoted from Lord Commander.

Supreme Lord Commander, I guess? It's the Emperor's Children, they'll be able to come up with some fancy new title and extra snazzy robes.

It might not matter anyway. Fulgrim's probably handed him over to the bunch going to meet with Horus just to be rid of him.

Wee Horus

I think he'll go with the majority.

Of the Lodge?

Just in general.  Just for the sake of an easier life.


Where is Vipus? We've not seen him in ages.  And Loken keeps getting described as always on his own now. That's damn suspicious.

Iacton Qruze
I'm trying to remember what he said about life before Horus.

Don't bother. No-one can remember a word he says; that's canon.

I wonder if it'll hurt whichever way he goes.

You mean both sides will be desperate to not take him?

Crazy old Cruze, with his stories and his garden these kids are on.  I think he spent too long fighting without Horus in the "good old days" for him to be sold on this rebellion idea.




Was he the guy in the sword hall?

Sword hole? What in Mork's green flanges in a sword hole?

Sword hall.

Oh. Actually that's disappointing, I like mine more. I assume you're referring to the Luna Wolves Official Museum of Stuff.


Then yes, that's who I mean.

He'll go with whomever offers greater bloodshed. He might just swing both ways, actaully.

Excellent. Another Space Marine we can imply enjoys alternative lifestyle choices.  We must be irritating all the right people with this blog.

And how any of the wrong people?

Shut up.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

More That Unites Us Than Divides Us

Galaxy In Flames: Long Knives (I)

Karkasy, Oliton, Keeler, Vivar, Maggard and Sindermann
(copyright Nuditon at DeviantArt)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

We return to our unfolding tale of the fall of Horus at a critical juncture.  At first glance, though, it might not seem that way at all. Whilst the Warmaster waits for the pieces of his plan to fall into place, and Loken waits for... well, it has never been clear what Loken was waiting for, the Sixty-Third Fleet has entered a lull between the grand clashes of Aureus and Istvaan III.

But whilst the business of actual shooting has dropped away for the moment, war is being conducted all the same. Horus is busy recruiting, and he isn't the only one.  The gods of Chaos are gathering the banners and forging new alliances, partially but by no means entirely through Horus himself.  But whilst the Warmaster and the Warp are preparing to act in the name of bloodshed and destruction, the Lectitio Divininatus is building its support so as to move in the name of... well, that's not entirely clear either.

On the face of it, this is a ridiculous thing to say.  It's in the Emperor's name, scrivener, how could that possibly be more obvious?  Except that it can't be as simple as that, can it?  Not when the first tenet of their entire existence (de facto, at least) is that the Emperor's law should be thoroughly disregarded.

There is a natural tendency towards imparting a kind of symmetry between the Chaos cult brought forth by Erebus and Horus, and the persecuted iconoclasts (if indeed one can be an iconoclast in an era which forbids icons) of the Lectitio Divininatus.  After all, whilst one group rejected and betrayed the Emperor, the other essentially embraced him more fully than had any other, including the Emperor himself.  We also could consider the idea that submitting to the seductions of Chaos is easy, whereas Titus Cassar tells us adhering to the Divininatus is hard. Loyalty and self-control versus a lust for power heedless of consequence. It's not difficult to see how the their comparison s could be framed as an antithesis.

Understandable or not, however, this approach is a mistake, and potentially a dangerous one, because it bypasses entirely the fundamentally destructive nature of the Imperial Cult. Whilst it is technically true that Lorgar and Horus betraying their father ironically accelerated the Divininatus' ascent, there was every chance it would have continued to grow independently of the Primarchs' actions.  That means we can at least argue plausibly that the Lectitio Divininatus could well have ultimately proved as grave a threat to the fledgling Imperium as that of the Heresy itself.

Instead of focussing on the differences between Titus Cassar and Horus Lupercal, consider what united them.  Both of them believed, down to the bone, that the Emperor's stated vision for the galaxy should be dismissed.  Indeed, in their own ways, both actually desire the Emperor to be removed.  For Horus, the exchange is simple, he just wants to swap out the Emperor for himself.  Cassar, in contrast, wants to replace the actual Emperor with what his mind tells him the Emperor clearly should be. To overwrite messy, contradictory reality with simple, sleek rhetoric.

This has always been mankind's greatest weakness, and its most powerful weapon against itself.  Why waste time and risk confusion and misery by shaping your mind around the facts, when you can hold you mind as infallible and dismiss all contradictory evidence as mistakes, lies, or tests of faith?  Cassar might insist that route to accepting the Emperor's divinity is the harder path to follow, but it is a strange definition of a hard truth that means an idea that can  never actually be proved wrong.

But it isn't the unassailable circular logic of the Imperial Cult that is most concerning, and most potentially destructive. It's not even its desire to reforge Imperial thought from secular coolness into unquestioning worship.  It's how quickly it labels those who disagree with them as taking the easy way out.  Whilst Horus labels those whose view of the galaxy is at odds with is as naive and in need of "illumination", the Lectitio Divininatus does the same thing. Yes, at the time of the 63rd Fleet's approach to Istvaan, Horus was planning genocide, and Cassar was planning how he could print his next chapbook without getting shot, but ten millennia later, and the ultimate results of Cassar's efforts have cost us dozens of times over the loss of life the Warmaster ever achieved.

The story of the Horus Heresy is not simply one about how Chaos almost destroyed us. It is about how Chaos unwittingly unlocked the method by which we decided to destroy ourselves.


(Only four questions this week, folks. It's a bit of a slow-burn opening. Though it may be that Galaxy in Flames requires a rather more light-touch approach in general. Battle For the Abyss is almost certainly going to, as well, and Descent of Angels will presumably mostly involve me faithfully transcribing the sounds of Fliss vomiting in disgust.)

What Is

Did you spot the importance of the book's opening line?

It was the same as the first book opened with.

Well, similar, anyway. The second book had another variant on the first page.

So is this supposed to mean Horus turning against the Emperor is no more real than Loken's joke about Horus killing the Emperor? Or could Counter just not think of anything else to write?

I don't think the link is as deep as you're giving it credit for. I think it's just a rhetorical flourish.  What I don't get is how this guy knows about it in the first place.  You'd have thought Horus' naughtiness was being kept pretty quiet at this point.

Maybe he's referring to Horus' total failure to punish his men for taking him to the Serpent place.  He should have been all smashing things and yelling "WHY HAVE YOU BROUGHT ME TO THIS DEN OF INIQUITY!?!"

Fair point.

He might even have been there when Horus gave the order to kill Varvaras.

You'd think Horus would have noticed. An unvetted Titan crewmember hanging around?  Though I grant he's less conspicuous than his war machine.

Maybe he's undercover.

Someone whose loyalties are not immediately apparent upon meeting them?  I like your thinking.

(I don't think this book is going to go well for Fliss.)

Why is Horus apparently so afraid of the remembrancers?

They might spend too much time snooping around.

They're not going to find anything, though, surely? Horus isn't going to be leaving anything incriminating around. And even if he did, Astartes like Loken are the ones that would find it.

But the remembrancers are more likely to pick up things, like Karkasy did. And if Loken did find anything, they can probably be persuaded to keep their mouth shut, for the good of the Legion or whatever.

So the remembrancers are more dangerous because Loken is unquestioning and an idiot?

I wouldn't say idiot.

Yeah, but I'm definitely going to say it and I wanted some back-up. Oh, speaking of which...

Right now it doesn't seem Loken has gotten around to doing anything about the problems in his Legion.  Is this a) wise, or b) spectacularly, head-breakingly stupid?

To be fair, what can he do?

Well... erm... actually, you have me there. He could stop sounding so utterly clueless when Sindermann and Oliton talk to him.

How helpful.

Shut up. Or... or he could form alliances! Yes!  Do that Loken, why don't you?

With whom?  He never spent any time going to all the get togethers.

 I assume you mean the Warrior Lodge, rather than local keggers.

He didn't go to the bar where all the humans get drunk either. So who can he ally himself with?

So he just has to sit there and wait for something to happen?

Maybe he has a plan bubbling away under the surface.

... Yes, I suppose he might do.

(Yep.  This book is definitely not going to go well.)

It looks like Maloghurst has been promoted backwards to primary school teacher; making sure children don't wander off on field trips.

His arrival was quite fortuitously timed, though.  Why isn't everyone under guard?

Lack of resources, I guess.  So you tell everyone to stay put for their own safety, and then you only have to put guards on the ones who prove a bit too adventurous.

So what's happening with all the iterating... iterationing... iteratory that needs doing through all this?

Cancelled until "the danger is passed", I suppose.

And no-one's suspicious of this?

I guess if everyone's confined to quarters, there's no chance for them to chat to each other about any suspicions they have. At most, you'll have two or three iterators sharing a berth. No-one is going to take on the Astartes or even the Imperial army, on those odds.

Couldn't they communicate via the ships comms?

I assume those are down too. "Compromised by the enemy", or some such.

So offer to help out by flooding the channels with civilian chatter.

I dunno, Fliss; this all seems a bit back-seat rebelling. Best to just stay in your room 'til it's over, I think. Well, that or join a clearly crazy cult who are all under the threat of execution.  One or the other.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

False Gods: The Gallery

Fabricator Consul Emory Salignac
Courtesy once more of my sister (not, alas, known as SpaceSquidette), a sketch of the Auretian Technarcy's ambassador to the 63rd Expeditionary Fleet. Not pictured; the dirty great hole in his bonce.

The doubtless unbearable wait is almost over.  Starting next Wednesday, Fliss and I begin studying Galaxy in Flames.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Betrayal Pathogen (Last Words On False Gods)

Before we consider anything else, we should state the obvious: this was always the nightmare brief. Dan Abnett's job was to take the noble and certain Horus and take him places where his self-doubt would blossom to the point where it was a real problem.  Ben Counter got to pick up a Warmaster already fully devoted to overthrowing his father and explore the Faustian deal Horus makes as part of his upcoming campaign of destruction.  Graham McNeill, on the other hand, had to start off with a shaken and uncertain but still resolutely loyal Horus, and conclude with a Primarch not only committed to betraying every principle he once held dear, but willing to kill his own men and his own brothers to do it.

That is not an easy ask, especially in the frame of four hundred or so pages which are also supposed to contain a healthy dollop of the military action expected of the Black Library.  It was always pretty much inevitable that McNeill would fail, which makes picking at the reasons why the book did indeed fail to deliver feel a little unfair. The chasm between Abnett-Horus and Counter-Horus was always going to be simply too wide to jump in a single book.

Nevertheless, it's worth sifting through the rubble here, if only to determine which strands of the story brought the book closest to succeeding. There is certainly at least a partial defence that can be mounted. One of the major criticisms of Horus in the book is just how stupidly he seems to be acting.  He falls completely for Erebus' routine on Davin, despite it being so transparent that even a man more interested in ogling women and dreaming of fermented yak's milk can work out something is amiss.  He charges into the ruin of Temba's flagship despite it being an obvious act of tactical idiocy. He completely swallows Erebus' claims of the Emperor's desire for godhood based on two visions granted to him by "Sejanus", even after it's revealed that his dead friend is really Erebus, a man who goaded Horus into the duel that almost killed him, that has now been revealed as a sorcerer in direct defiance of Imperial Law, and who most pertinently has demonstrated he can make Horus see things which are not real.

Given all this is is tempting to write the story off as being of the kind where the protagonists are required to be utterly stupid at key moments so that the plot can unfold with less effort from the writer.  And whilst it's true that this is not a curse the book escapes entirely - not just regarding Horus; Loken and Torgaddon begin here their campaign of ridiculous passive idiocy which will grow to unbearable levels as Galaxy in Flames progresses - there is an underlying logic to Horus' foolishness.  Loken views it as a desperate fury borne of the insult Temba has laid against him, but as an explanation this starts off unconvincing, and collapses into complete irrelevance by the time Temba is killed. Far more likely than this being a case of wounded pride is that the problem stems from Horus trying to outrun the avalanche of doubts set in motion by his failure with the interex. The Warmaster comes across as a man desperately afraid of reflection (it's surely a coincidence that the repeated theme of reflections from the previous book has completely disappeared here, but it's a happy one), barrelling through life specifically to stop himself pondering just how badly things seem to have ended up. And of course when you treat life that way, you end up making new and greater mistakes, which means you have to run even harder to leave them behind.

Viewed this way, we see Horus not as a petulant man taking any opportunity to lash out at those he deems to have wronged him - or at least, we see him as not entirely that. From this angle, the decision to believe Erebus' ridiculous claims makes a certain kind of sense; if the Emperor's goals were always vainglorious and self-centered, there is no reason for Horus to feel bad about anything he has done wrong. This possibility offers him the opportunity to short-circuit the building crisis that has been pressing at his back for months now; of course he takes it. The shouting match between Magnus and Erebus over Horus' responsibilities is therefore spectacularly beside the point. The true choice for the guy actually caught in the middle isn't about his loyalties, it's whether he can admit he's allowed himself to fail so completely at living up to the standards he set himself.

And as it turns out, he isn't. He transfers wholesale the blame for his catastrophes (as he sees them) to the Emperor, and history is written.  But if that sounds like a way to offer False Gods a blanket pardon for its problems, then believe me it isn't.  Because the real flaw in the book was never the logic that led to Horus turning from the Emperor.  It was the secondary decision to enact that turn through sorcery, assassination and planning massacres of his former friends. There's just no way to square that circle, not inside four chapters.

Which means that the final section of False Gods is a difficult to swallow.  Add in a first section that's rather understated, and the novel demonstrates deep structural problems. We can, as seen above, construct a redemptionist reading of part three, but said reading requires a pushing of a subtext that at least partially reduces the rest of the section essentially meaningless; three men discussing a decision already made for reasons none of them have grasped.  Really, if anything can be said to be the book's saving grace, it's its second section, "Plague Moon". Here, at least, McNeill brings his A-game.  The problem of the headstrong Horus is still evident, but with his ardour up and battle at hand we need no potentially tendentious reading to understand his carelessness.  Moreover, the actual battle of the swamp is well-realised; the stinking, foetid waters of Davin's moon and the horrors that dwell within being both nicely described and contrasting well with the freshly-painted austerity of the Sons of Horus and the crumbling majesty of the Glory of Terra.

But it's not just the crafting of these scenes of struggle that make the section relevant.  The choice of Nurgle as the corrupter of Temba is clever one.  It links together the image of the rusting hull of Temba's flagship, the pathogen that begins to eat Horus from the inside once unleashed by the anathame, but more importantly it reminds us of the metaphor of heresy and betrayal as diseases spreading from mind to mind.  This is a metaphor used frequently both in general and by Games Workshop specifically, so the association here makes complete sense.  It also provides us with what it possibly the only way to view the events of the novel's final chapters as a logical development from earlier chapters.  If heresy really is a sickness, then is it at all a wonder that the virus Horus has contracted has damaged his mind somehow, causing him to see horrifically violent solutions as obvious approaches, where once he saw them only as admissions of failure.

Well, maybe.  But such a solution does far more harm than good.  On the sheer level of plot mechanics the idea that Horus becomes the crazed dictator shown in Galaxy in Flames because he's been infected is rather narratively uninteresting; once we remove Horus free will in such a way we reduce the flawed but noble warrior of Horus Rising into little more than sneering MacGuffin. Writing off "Crusade's End" as a brief but significant misstep might actually be preferable in terms of salvaging the trilogy as a whole.  More importantly, though, the disease metaphor carries with it some exceptionally unpleasant connotations.  It simultaneously robs Horus of moral responsibility for the decion on which the entire series is based, and equates disagreement with authority with a form of sickness. There's nothing wrong with presenting the Imperium as viewing heresy that way (so long as it doesn't appear the author is buying into that idea), but as far as actual real-life people are concerned, this idea should be rejected with all possible force. New ideas and principles can spread like a disease, but there we must abandon the metaphor, or else commit ourselves to a form of authoritarianism no less unpleasant than that of the Imperium.

What all this amounts to is simple; we can all choose for ourselves how close McNeill's novel comes to performing it's nigh-impossible task.  But in doing so we should be aware that a balance is in play.  The closer we come to signing off on Horus' betrayal as plausibly tumbling from the seismic shifts of earlier events, the harder we have to push theories that either lessen the impact of those events, or which come altogether too close to embracing the kind of thinking which makes the background of this fictional world as dark and oppressive as it is.

So a strong effort doomed to failure? Or a coherent tale of treachery underpinned by worryingly retrograde politics?  Either way, False Gods gets the same score.