|The Death Guard in Choral City (copyright Games Workshop)|
One of the strangest aspects of piecing together the story of the past from ten thousands years further down the road is that it can start to feel just like that - a story. So much is contradictory, or passionately written, or even allegorical, that the assembled image feels not like the flat, hard image of a pict-capture, but a contradictory patchwork statue, carved in the dark by a thousand hands in a hundred locations. A million lies designed to approximate truth. Which is to say, a story.
But really, what is history but the stories the powerful write for themselves, and the stories they force upon everyone else. The endless struggle for freedom across human existence is ultimately about the right to be first author. So if, on occasion, we read our history and see it studded with literary allusions, are our subconscious minds playing tricks on us, or are the writers of history no less prone to the rhetorical flourish than any other author?
Either way, as the first battle for Istvaan III begins, every indication is that this is becoming a story about the perils of descent.
This has been true since the very beginning of course, at least concerning Horus. Now, though, everyone else in the Imperial warfleet above Istvaan III is being brought down alongside him. Whether they know it or not - and ironically those risking most for his plan are those who understand it least, though is that not always the way of war? - every Astartes involved in the subjugation of the planet are assisting Horus with his plan for rebellion. They have dived headlong into a pit dug by the Warmaster, a pit that taints and compromises all who enter it. It doesn't even really matter that so many who have leaped into the pit believe they are massacring their fellow humans in the name of the Emperor. The Great Crusade has been morally compromised since its very beginning, and the problem as only grown worse over time. Every drop into combat was another jump into this exact same pit. It's simply that this time there is no opportunity for escape. The deploying Astartes have been denied Stormbirds because their role has been changed. No longer can they pose as avenging angels of one man's justice, now they are forced to play the part of their erstwhile victims, under attack from unstoppable descending starships for the crime of holding to their long-established beliefs iun the face of new, incomprehensible developments.
The Astartes have travelled downwards so long there is not longer any chance of them rising again. Their doom lies both in them never realising how far their descent went, and in missing entirely that their leaders had fallen further still. Two centuries of learning that one serves those who will not blindly follow you with total catastrophe. What else could anyone else expect? The birth of the Heresy was guaranteed when no-one thought to answer or even ask the most important question: why did the Emperor believe that he could push his sons forever downwards and yet somehow ensure he never pushed them too far?
And so the mighty vessels of Horus' fleet drift slowly downwards towards Istvaan III, and the comrades they will soon betray. They have to descend, of course. You have to fall a certain amount to unleash an invading army on a local populace, but you have to fall still further to wipe out all life on a planet. Allegory must be served.
Speaking of which, consider the Sons of Horus sent via drop-pod to enact the Warmaster's will. They too are descending, as we've argued, but not so far as Horus. Recognising, even if only subconsciously, that Loken and his fellow loyalists occupy some metaphorical space above him, Horus must construct a plan that will rid him of them. The result is the false programming of the drop pods so that they do not descend as far as they should. If the loyalists enjoy standing above everything, refusing to dirty their hands with the necessary act of rebellion, then that's what Horus will give them; a chance to die uncomprehending above the true struggle.
All of which makes it so deeply painful that when Squad Locasta's drop-pod survives its collision and its occupants find themselves stranded above the fray, Loken wants nothing more than the chance to descend further. He is willing to put his growing knowledge of Horus' fall aside so he - in the name of giving the Warmaster exactly what he wants - can scrabble down to the level he feels most comfortable with. The same level as Lucius of the Emperor's Children, which is a thought that should give anyone pause; a level so low even the witch-worshipping rebels of Choral City can take to the air and strike at them from above.
So does fully one third of four entire Legions present themselves for death, by refusing to consider how far they have fallen. To refuse, in fact, to ever look up.
Exciting fun times! The waving of flags! This missive represents Fliss' fiftieth chapter in her ongoing journey of discovery. Has it been a success so far? Has Fliss fallen in love with the 30th Millennium? Or is she one Primarch away from trying to beat me to death with my resin drop-pod?
1. Fifty chapters in, Fliss. Eight and a bit parts. Two and a half novels. A thousand pages, give or take. Pretty much a year exactly, Are you enjoying the experience? How close is the reality of the series to what you were imagining when I suggested all this?
Erm... Well, they're readable. They're not at the level where I'd be refusing to finish them if we weren't doing this blog. In fact on rare occasions I do get frustrated that I can't just keep reading and have to stop so we can chat about each chapter separately.
That's a good sign, isn't it? That sometimes you're so wrapped up in it you want to keep going?
I said on rare occasions. Which are getting rarer.
As to preconceptions; all I really had to go on were those giant robot dude figures you're always painting.
Has the series delivered from the giant robot dude perspective.
Kind of. I can never get a decent picture of them in my head.
There are pictures on the front covers!
But they never entirely mesh with the descriptions in the books.
Fair enough. Mainly I just want to check you're not hating all this so much that you're thinking of leaving me.
No. Well, not for that reason.
2. Who's your favourite character of the series so far?
Magnus Magnusson, because he can turn into a wolf.
That's it? That's really it?
He's awesome! He might be able to turn into other animals too!
He might not be able to turn into anything, it might just have been a vision.
(Fliss ponders this for a few seconds. She looks very sad.)
Karkasy reminds me a bit of you. Mainly the writing. And the drinking. And the womanising?
He did loads of womanising.
I know he did. How does that remind you of me?
I thought it might be something you'd want to write in the blog.
No-one will believe it.
You womanised me.
I seduced you; that's very different.
Did you? Is that what we should call it?
I don't know; I was drunk for, you know, pretty much all of it.
3. If you could change just one thing about the first fifty chapters, what would it be?
I think the whole switchover was far too fast.
From Horus the good guy to Horus the shit.
Any ideas on how to improve that?
You need an extra book. You need him having some adventures that lead him to question the Emperor properly, not just be fed stuff in a dream invaded by a liar. Neil's idea was a good one; a book completely from Horus' perspective.
Alternatively, I'd add in more remembrancers. We spend too much time seeing things from the Astartes perspective, which is too distant. I need human feelings to help me connect to the story.
4. Games Workshop have already released a CGI film set in this fictional universe, starring John Hurt and Terence Stamp. If they wanted to do another one covering the trilogy, who should they get to play Loken, Horus, Abaddon, etc.?
No. He's a dab hand with Gollums and chimps, but an Astartes requires a slightly different tone.
He's a master of CGI films!
At doing the actions! No-one's going to actually be chainswording people! We just need someone with deep and sonorous tones.
Take this seriously.
That's more like it. Who gets to be played by Brian Blessed?
Some guy in the crowd outside the Serpent Lodge. "Horus' alive!"
...OK, that's pretty funny. But it's still a no.
Billy Connelly could be Sindermann. He has more gravitas than you'd think. He can be very convincing. Or maybe he could be all drunk and sweary and be Karkasy.
I'm going to have to tie you down to one or the other.
Well, David Bowie could be Karkasy, and David Attenborough could be Sindermann. Connelly can have the other one.
And for the Astartes?
Samuel L. Jackson for Horus. Obviously. And, er, Errol Brown.
The guy from Hot Chocolate?
Yeah. He could be Sanguinius. He has that lovely lilting voice.
I love that all the Primarchs are getting black actors. I've said this before, but this blog is pissing off all the right people. We should really cast Loken, what with him being the main character.
Let's go with Daniel Craig, to be boring.
You mean boring as in obvious, or just plain boring?
The first one, though now you mention it...
Onto questions about the chapter itself:
5. Let's talk about Tarvitz's horrifying discovery. Were you suprised to learn the Astartes have acccess to such horrifying weaponry.
Well, yes, but only because I've had thought if Horus had these weapons he'd never have wasted all that time fighting the megarachnids. Why not just pull out and virus bomb the whole place?
Nerve gas the whole goddam nest, huh? That might rather render the planet rather useless, is the problem there.
The Imperials don't have some kind of device for restarting planets? Some kind of seed device?
That's a different franchise. The scientists of the Imperium aren't going to slap together anything like that unless it'll annoy the Eldar somehow. Which, actually, I suppose it would, so I don't know where I'm going with any of this.
Also, it makes me think less of the Astartes, if they can just run off and drop these things when fights go badly.
Sometimes taking off and nuking the site from orbit is the only way to be sure.
Are you OK? You're sounding kind of weird today.
Can these things kill Astartes, then? I thought they were supposed to be immune to everything.
You've probably got to put your back into it if you want to put something together that'll kill them, but I'm sure science has the answer. In fact, I wonder if one of the experiments Bile has been running was specifically to make sure the virus bombs would work. Be a bit awkward otherwise. It's worth a try, but they don't even know if it's going to affect them.
Stop saying weird things! Are you telling me that in all the years these people have been running around the galaxy not once has one of these bombsgone off in range of an Astartes?
They don't break this stuff out very often, and they're probably a funny about trying it with Astartes nearby. I'm sure they know it works on the Imperial Army, though.
I thought the experiments would be based on trying to make Astartes immune, if anything.
So they could head down to the planet and check everything is going according to plan?
And so at the end of it all Horus has some survivors that can spin their story any way he wants.
Very cunning. I was planning on asking you if your Nero Vipus conspiracy theory still holds up, actually, but I can probably guess your answer now.
Well, ask me anyway.
OK. Pass me the bag of bold letters. Ahem...
6. Does your Nero Vipus conspiracy theory hold up?
I don't know.
What? Then why did you - oh, never mind. Pray continue.
At first I thought he was finally showing his true colours when he guided the drop-pod into the tower, but then he didn't kill Loken whilst he was asleep, so I'm confused. Though I guess Vipus might just not think finishing Loken off that way is sufficiently honorable.
I'd have thought that "honorable" was rather out the door once you set your mind on murdering your best friend and commanding officer. But I guess a man must have a code.
I can't believe he'd be planning to betray Loken if he knew about the virus bombs, though. It's far too much effort killing your best friend if they're about to die anyway.
Yeah, I think I saw that on a fridge magnet once.