Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Galaxy In Flames: Brothers (IV)

Loken and Abaddon (copyright unknown)
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.

We are, just perhaps, most honest with those we are about to kill.

Certainly, the testimony offered up by Abaddon and Little Horus immediately preceding the final battle of the Mournival is the closest we have yet come to an honest explanation of what made these two warriors abandon the vows they made centuries earlier. That makes it extremely important to think about what exactly they said, and just as important to think about what they didn't say.

As one could surmise from two such different people, the two rebel members of the Mournival offer decidedly different explanations as to why they condoned the brutal murder of thousands of their former brothers. It is no surprise that Abaddon offers the more passionate response, nor that, as with so many who allow their passions to rule - as oppose to merely influence - them, that the response is so utterly shot through with incoherent foolishness.  The Emperor isn't paying sufficient attention to the forces that could destroy humanity so we should join with those forces? That's like saying your physiker never offers you the right optics so you should gouge out your eyes and throw them at her. It's only blind, charging passion that could possibly keep this sieve afloat, pushing it forward so fast it never has time to sink. And of course it's the same passion that forces such hatred of Loken from him. To feel anything other than total disgust at Loken's choice might lead to trying to make sense of his position, and then the hastily constructed structure of bent timbers and crumbling stones would collapse entirely.

Loken has to be wrong because Abaddon has to be right. Because if Abaddon isn't right, then...

In comparison, Aximand is almost refreshingly pragmatic. Abaddon's view of reality has forced him to conclude that his Primarch is infallible; that Horus' choices are the Right Choices, even when those choices are transparently incoherent; even when one day he personally saves Loken and a few months later orders his flesh be dissolved. Aximand, in contrast, seems almost disinterested in the righteousness or otherwise of the Warmaster's cause.  What Aximand sees is the necessity. The Warp cannot be beaten, it can simply, perhaps, be appeased. It doesn't even matter whether appeasement is plausible, really, any chance at avoiding destruction is better than certain extinction. It's a tremendously cynical and pessimistic viewpoint, but the cold, selfish logic is clear to all, including Aximand, which is why he sounded so morose when delivering it.

Of course just because something has its own bleak logic doesn't make it right. Yes, the final triumph of Chaos is, based on everything we know, inevitable. Demons cannot be destroyed, they can only be banished; removed temporarily from our reality. They always come back, even as more are created by our sprawling ocean of psyches. We reinforce Chaos with our minds and with our emotions, as surely as we do with those who betray their race and flock to tattered and bloody banners. A world that falls to daemons in weeks can take centuries to reclaim, and most never are. The road from Us to Them is never long, and it only goes in one direction. Sooner or later, the last human will stand surrounded by an endless swarm of gibbering monsters, and they will die.

But so what? Humanity will one day become extinct in any case.  It is a mathematical certainty. Perhaps we survive the awakening of the Necrons, and the closing grip of the Tyranids. Perhaps the Eldar fail in their desperate attempts to reclaim their past glories, and the Tau fail to surplant in their mad dash outwards. We will still die, frozen and lost amidst heavy, ugly stars.  All we are ever doing is attempting to delay the inevitable, to drag ourselves broken and bleeding to the finish line, where we can fade from the universe not because we failed, but because even success must some day die.

That being the case, I say we seek to earn the best deaths we can.

In essence, Abaddon and Aximand represent the two endpoints of the scale upon which every convert to Chaos falls; one all belligerent petulance, consumed by the conviction that every move that hurts those he hates must be the right on, the other unsure, hesitant, under no illusions that what he is doing is utterly wrong, but unable to conceive of any other option. Seeing both endpoints of the scale is of great value, actually, because in dismissing them both we can cast aside every point in-between at the same time. The lies of small, sad logic reach no further than the lies of passion. The truth is always that we must resist.  It remains true when our friends betray us. It remains true when they send armies to trample us. It remains true when they burn our cities and poison the very air against us.

The odds of success are a supreme irrelevance. A physiker does not fight disease because they think they can help us live forever. We fight not because we believe we can win. We fight because the alternative is surrender.

Such thoughts might prove of some small use in our darker moments. Certainly, with the Battle of Istvaan III, we approach perhaps the darkest moment of Imperial history short of the Siege of the Emperor's Palace itself. Istvaan V is approaching, and with it the single greatest act of betrayal history records. Whatever scraps of comfort we can find, I suggest we take them.

Before all that, though, a diversion is needed.  For over a year now we have focused on the birth pains of the rebellion aginst the Emperor.  It is time to shift our focus to the very first moves in the Loyalist response to Horus' treachery.

It is time to tell the story of the frigate Eisenstein.


1. Let's have a minute's silence for brave Tarik Torgaddon. And then talk about how he went down like a bitch.

What about Loken?

Well, um, er... we didn't actually see him die. Yes, yes that's why I didn't mention him. That's the only reason why.

I didn't think Little Horus had it in him.  But then I guess Torgaddon didn't leave him much choice.

Careful now. It sounds like you're blaming Tarik for getting his own head cut off.

At least it proves Aximand has his doubts.

Hell of a way to work that out, isn't it? Is there no way to test that which doesn't involve getting someone's head chopped off?

I wonder if Abaddon has been concerned about Aximand for a little while now, actually. It would explain why he never seems to leave him alone.

Were you surprised that Torgaddon lost out to L'il Horus?

What do you mean?

Well, you know. Only Torgaddon and Abaddon have survived since the start of the Mournival. Tarik's clearly a damn good fighter.

Maybe Horus had other advantages, though. We know Abaddon refused help, but maybe Aximand was a bit more practical. 

You think he's on something? Or that he's spent some time over at Fabius Bile's Emporium of Illicit Alien Dangly Bits?

One or the other. To be honest, I was more interested in Abaddon's approach. That he wouldn't accept the cursed sword -

That's the anathame you're thinking of. Abaddon refused the Justaerin, which are his bodyguards.

- Well either way, sword or bodyguard, it doesn't matter. If you're going to get on your high horse about not needing help, it's a bit off to clamber into your super-good armour that your opponent can't beat.

That's an excellent point. "I will dress in basically a goddamn tank to destroy this man; offering me further tanks INSULTS MY WARRIOR CAPABILITIES!"

 He obviously isn't thinking clearly.

Tell me about it. It's hard to get anything out of his explanation of the rebellion other than "The Emperor doesn't understand the Warp will destroy all human life. So we've joined with the Warp against the Emperor". That's like saying you're so pissed off by how the local police aren't keeping crime down you're going to rob a bank.

Yes, this hasn't been a great day for the forces of logic.

2. How well has this last book/section/chapter resolved the opening trilogy? Has it balanced getting answers with opening up new story paths?

Well, there's certainly a lot of options for new stories, even though they've killed off pretty much everyone. Aside from Sindermann and Euphrati and so on, who's even left for us to go back to?  My thing is whether we actually needed the whole trilogy.


Meaning that almost all the heroes are dead, and the villains could have been introduced in a brief description at the start of a book.  Lots of stories kick off explaining that some traitor has caused some disaster, and then launches straight into that.  We don't necessarily have to see everything they did. We know what a traitor is, right?

Fair enough.

But on the the other side maybe the whole point is for us to have learned the names and characters so that when Horus turns we have an investment in the people he's betraying. I also probably shouldn't be too critical until we see where Little Horus goes next. It might all have been about setting up his internal conflict.

I'd like to think so. Aximand is probably my favourite character in the opening trilogy.

Speaking of the way things have developed, does this mean that bloke on the Des'Ree really is dead?

I'm afraid so.

So why the hell was it written like that?

I suspect Counter didn't realise how ambiguously he'd written that section in the first place. Though it may also have been that he wanted to leave it unclear until the very last minute who was actually in charge of the Titan.

I was hoping all the way through that the Des'Ree would just shoot Eidolon in the back.

I noticed re-reading this that the final stand is actually written like the moments before the cavalry arrive, actually. Everyone's at their lowest ebb, and you're sure they'll be saved at the last second, because that's how fiction works, but no; the Dies Irae really is still under Horus'  control, and all the good guys die.

It's quite original, in that sense, actually, though I confess that being original by ramping up the grimness isn't a strategy without problems.

3.  Time, as is traditional, for Fliss to mark the book.  We'll talk plot, characters and setting, and then discuss an overall score.

a) Plot

I'm not really feeling this one. It wasn't quite gruesome enough-

Not quite gruesome enough? A planet's worth of people melted screaming.

Meh. It's no Scandinavian crime novel.

I see.

There just needs to be something different about the fighting for me to enjoy it.

More different than superhuman soldiers with gigantic death robots?

Yes. I want dragons.

Because those are as original as all hell, obviously. You talk like people were coming out of the Hobbit sequel saying "What the hell was that thing in the caves?"

I like dragons!

Fine, but don't kid yourself. You're not looking for originality. You're looking for dragons.

(Fliss offers me a gesture I would fear to describe)

Anyway. Too much of the book was based on a series of battles I didn't really care about. Fighting giant insects around wierd spiky trees; that I can get into. This was just a slog. An endless description of which body part someone had lost this time. The problem with Astartes is they can take so much punishment. You just start to wish they'd die and get it over with.

Oh dear.

I mean, the whole plot was basically "Ooh, look how bad Horus is now! See him kill everyone! Look how everyone was too stupid to notice and they're all dead now the end".

Was there nothing good on offer?

Well, I liked the bits with Euphrati and Sindermann. I was glad they got away. It was one of the only upbeat moments in the whole book.


b)  Characters

We didn't really get to see any new characters, really.

That's true, which means this section is mainly going to be about how well Counter has handled the characters he inherited from Abnett and McNeill.

I think he's done a decent job, though there wasn't really much developing on what went before.  Loken got even more wet, I suppose, but that's entirely plausible.

You mean Loken entered into a downward spiral of increasing wetness, but it was totally believable.

Yes. I mean, really lots of characters just ended up as almost parodies of themselves. Eidolon is an egotist and a glory seeker, so all he did here was plot and preen. Abaddon has an arrogance issue, so here he just won't listen to anyone ever. That sort of thing.

What else?

It felt like a greater ranges of perspectives this time, which helped. I think we get more from Euphrati as a saint than we did from her as a remembrancer. I still think the sudden change from "We love the Emperor!" to "Death to the Emperor!" was too fast. 

That's more of a criticism of the last book, though.

Not entirely.  There was ample space for flashbacks and explanations.

I suppose. I agree that False Gods had enough to do; further selling the whole Heresy idea should have been something for Counter to handle.

It would have been really handy to see more of Little Horus. Watching how he came to terms with what's going on would have been really helpful.

Good point. Plus of course he's the most interesting character in the books. He was literally the only Astartes in the series who I couldn't tell which side he'd end up on (though I was always hoping Tarik might surprise me). Did anyone surprise you with the way they went.

Not really, other than my theory about Vipus not coming true.


c) Setting

There wasn't an awful lot of new locations this time around.

That's true.

I mean, really there's not much to say. The High City wasn't really described in too much detail.

Well it did need to get demolished pretty quick, I guess.

I'll give out credit for the Warsingers. That was a pretty cool idea. But like I say, we hardly went anywhere.

I think the idea was to build tension, You know, keep cranking things up until it's all horribly clear what's about to happen. If it was horribly clear.

Most of the broad strokes. Bits and pieces surprised me.

But in truth the aim here is to build on dramatic irony. You suspected what would happen; people like me knew.


So the build-up comes attached with anticipation for us.

Three books is a lot of anticipation.  Why did you need all those words if you knew what was going to happen?

Shakespeare took three play to get through Henry VI.

Henry VI has a legacy. Loken just takes three books to die.

Loken has a legacy!  Even if no-one knows what he and Tarvitz did, his actions could have made all the difference.

Henry VI is of enormous historical importance, though.

Look, it's not like I'm directly comparing the two trilogies, obviously. I mean, a story about a doomed leader broken into a tale of military mistakes and the fading of a unified cause, a story of political machinations and the approach of inevitable war, and the total collapse of the established rules of order during a cataclysmic civil war? Not much mistaking which trilogy that is.

That reminds me! That guys laboratory was really gruesome.

And you like gruesome?

I love gruesome!

Well at least you've got something out of this.




And that's another book consigned to the "now read" pile. Fliss gets her traditional fortnight off whilst I write an actual review of Counter's first Heresy effort, and if you're lucky (for a unique definition of the word) this time around The Gallery will feature my first piece of artwork I've encouraged others to see since, well, ever, I think.

Fliss will return on the 28th of October to get to work on Flight of the Eisenstein.

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