Wednesday, 10 September 2014

False Gods

Galaxy In Flames: The Choral City (VII)

Full-scale internicine war breaks out
 on Istvaan III (copyright Games Workshop)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

Poor Titus Cassar. He never saw it coming.

There is a school of thought that would ask how he ever could have, of course. Who could have imagined Jonah Aruken had no need for the Emperor as a god because he was already worshipping at the altar of the war machine he helped to pilot. But thinking along those lines provides us with only a partial answer. The mistake Cassar made with Aruken was not to mistake the direction of his worship, but the desire behind it.

There are as many approaches to religion as there are believers, of course, but the events on and above Istvaan III bring two broad approaches into focus. There are those who identify a being as their god because their power gives them the force of moral authority (or perhaps this causality is reversed, or deemed circular), and those who associate themselves out of the hope that their God's power can in some way be utilised or inherited by themselves. This is a simplification, obviously, and there is no shortage of overlaps between the two positions (the formulation that might makes right practically demands equivalence, for example), but there is certainly great distance between the two positions at their furthest ends, which is all we require for our purposes.

Titus Cassar is fairly clearly of the first persuasion, and Titus Aruken the second, and it is there that the true conflict lies. There's an underlying pragmatism to the Aruken approach that is inconceivable to Cassar. If a new and more powerful god arises, those hungry for power will happily switch their allegiance.  It is far harder to conceive of someone changing the being they worship because a new god has proven to be more moral, not least because morality is so much more subjective than the exercise of power, and because one's own morality is so heavily shaped by outside forces that recognising a wholly alien philosophy as being superior is almost impossible.

Indeed, this pragmatism extends to the point of not even really needing a god at all. Or to be more precise, to not need a god as any more than a figurehead. When the exercise of power is your goal, it's helpful to have genuine supernatural firepower to call upon (as Horus himself decided), but ordnance is only one form of power; in its more general form it the ability to control, something that can be managed with no more than the threat of retribution.

Which means anyone can approach apotheosis with access to enough power, and anyone can gain all the power they want by persuading those under them their comfort or their very life is dependant upon the sufferance of someone, somewhere. It is in understanding this process that so much of the evil done in the name of religion is actually generated, through propping up hierarchies so power can be enjoyed, and by declaring the least powerful groups enemies of god to give those who might otherwise be able to overthrow those hierarchies someone to occupy their time hating. We see the latter in today's Imperium in the frothing scramble to find and murder mutants, irrespective of the threat they could possibly pose to us, but we could just as easily point to a coterie of poets, painters and composers being considered so great a problem to the Warmaster that an outrageous massacre was judged an appropriate response.

Thus can even religions founded on the most rigorous of philosophical constructions collapse into self-perpetuating structures of amoral control.  Which in truth was the result the Imperium was spiralling downwards towards in any case, but Horus put a lot of effort into accelerating the process. Aided, of course, by people like Aruken, looking to devote themselves to whatever cause happens to provide them with the greatest leg up. Willing to use their false gods for a chance at real power.

Which, when you think about it, was what the Emperor was always trying to avoid, despite using a strategy that would eventually guarantee it would happen. The universe is full of such ironies. Some of them, as we've learned, can prove fatal.

Poor Titus Cassar. He never saw it coming.


What Is

This chapter brings us to the end of part two of the book. How did this section, basically one long action sequence from the first invasion to the second, work out for you?

There's certainly a lot going on. I've said before that it's not as immersive as I'd like, but at least it's lovely and gruesome.

Did it justify what you saw as a slow start?

Yes. Well, a bit, anyway. There was definitely a lot of set-up needed, what with two new Legions to introduce. Especially Nathan the Death Guard. But we're coming to the end of the trilogy and there's still a lot of things I wished we could get more detail on.

Such as?

How the Astartes get made in the first place. That's a pretty basic element of a story about superhumans; where they came from. I want more on Magnus Magnusson too.

You did get a lot of this coming in later, of course. Particularly on Magnus.

I know that's just the nature of a series of books, but it's still annoying.

Is there anything in there that it could obviously have done without?

There's nothing obvious. Maybe it could have cut back on the fighting a little; we might not have needed all that.

That is kind of the fundamental point of all this, though.

True, and I realise you've got so many people to follow here you need space for them all.

A favourite bit?

Can I answer that? With so unpleasant a section can I really have a "favourite bit"?

You're already on record as loving things as gruesome as possible, it's a bit late to come over all coy now.

Fine. I liked it when the skin was falling off everybody. 

That's my girl.

Were you surprised by which way Jonah Aruken went? Or was he too obviously all about red-hot Titan love?

Yeah, I wasn't really surprised. He'd been too weird about the whole Emperor cult throughout.

I guess when you decide your giant war-robot is basically your God, you don't have time for any others.

I should note at this point that I don't think Cassar is actually dead.

Really? Why?

Because any competent writer would have specifically stated he was dead, not just mentioned the shots.

So what do you think is happening?

One of two things. Either Aruken is shooting at someone else, or he's faking.

Because he knows Turnet is listening in?

Exactly. Or, as an alternative, Aruken has shot Cassar, and the moment the Moderati comes back in he'll shoot him too, then claim the two of them shot each other and regrettably that puts him in charge now.

Full marks for quessing Qruze would kill Maggard, but only with someone's help. Does it make sense it was Sindermann? Are we glad he's dead? And who else might not be making it to the end of the book?

Definitely glad he's dead. He had it coming, the little worm. Well, big worm. Snake.

A snake isn't just a big worm, you realise. There's a spinal column, teeth.

A head.

I like to think worms have a head. Filled with little wormy thoughts.

I'd rather it had been one of the women.  Mersadie would have been best.

Because Euphrati has already got her super-duper mind powers?

Yes. I'm sure you've already had a big rant about feminism at this point.

Not actually, but I was definitely thinking it.

So who else is going to die? Ideally Abaddon, but I think Torgaddon is more likely.  Torgaddon gets killed and it spurs Loken into doing something. I've suggested the Moderati already. And, um, I really want rid of Lucius, but I doubt that's happening either.  Actually, why is Erebus still alive?

What do you mean?

Well, given Horus seems so fed up with him. The Warmaster's murdering people left right and centre. Why not Erebus?

I guess Horus thinks he needs him.


As an operator to the phone calls Horus needs to make to the Chaos gods. Indeed that's probably why Horus is so annoyed with him; he's pissed off about having to rely on him.

Let's give marks out of ten for Torgaddon's plan to turn the planet into a war zone. Is it a remotely sensible idea? And is there anything else they could be doing anyway?

I'll give it a seven.  There's not much they can really do, but they should at least be setting up an ambush as they retreat.

That might have been the next step, of course.

I might be tempted to try and steal a ship.

Tricky. You'd have to nick an atmosphere-capable craft, and then also steal a Warp-capable craft in orbit.

Well I'm not a strategigist. A militarian strategigist. Whatever. Translate that into English for me.

Absolutely. No problem.

What Will Be

I know you're not a fan of me demanding predictions from you, but since we're about to embark on the last part of the opening trilogy, this is probably the best opportunity we have. So: what might happen in these last four chapters?

Badly. I can't imagine it will end well.  And by "end well", I mean "end". I'm sure it will end on a cliffhanger. Or someone's death, or lack thereof.

Amazing. Somehow you've worked out the story will conclude either with someone dying or no-one dying.

Are we finally going to see the Emperor?

That would certainly fulfil the definition of cliffhanger.

Or find out he's dead.

So, to be clear; someone will die or not die, and that person either will or wll not be the Emperor?

No, he won't die, we'll just only be finding out now that he's dead.  Or, um...

Not dead?



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