|The Sisters of Silence (copyright unknown)|
Welcome, citizens, to the Truth.
One of the of the most immutable truths of the forty-first millennium is the sad fact that the Imperium is dying. From every direction and from every corner, our enemies gather, sniffing gleefully at our blood as it seeps out amongst the stars. Our own star is on the wane, a setting sun heralding a new Long Night from which we have no guarantee of emerging.
This is all a far cry from the glorious sweep of the Great Crusade. But it's worth considering exactly why that is. There are currently almost a million Astartes guarding the realms of man, a number at least comparable to and probably exceeding the forces available to the Emperor during his wars of expansion, and who are required to defend a far smaller number of worlds and systems than the Imperium boasted at its greatest extent. The absence of the Emperor himself and his score of sons is obviously a grievous blow to humanity, but even so, the Primarchs could only ever participate in the smallest fraction of warzones that blight the galaxy. If we are to understand how close we have slid towards the abyss, we must look elsewhere.
It is difficult to not feel some sympathy for the Jorgall. They may have been aggressors as often as not, at least in the early days, but they quickly found themselves facing an enemy far beyond their experience. Think about that for a second: a sentient race so dedicated to warfare it regularly mutilated its own people to replace limbs with weapons, and yet they were utterly, completely outclassed by the Astartes. We tumbled from the Warp, invaded their bottle-worlds, and exterminated everything we found. Even the children. Especially the children, killed not as a regretful corollary to total war but as a high priority target.
The human virus, spreading through the galaxy. Appearing from nowhere, a killer without conscience, destroying the weakest first because it lacks the ability to consider that wrong.
One of the basic truths of a virus is that it never gets weaker. It can become less common, but each individual virion remains no less potent for that. When viruses are defeated, it is not because they have become less powerful, it is because the host body has rallied its defences to the point where it has become stronger than what is assailing it. Viruses do not lose momentum, but they can ultimately be overtaken from a standing start.
If the Imperium shares so many characteristics with a virus, then, what are we to make of our reversal of fortunes? The slow, agonising death of our civilisation. It is not that our Astartes have grown weaker or that our lance batteries cut less deep. It is that the forces opposing us have become so much stronger. The Chaos Space Marine Legions may be outnumbered ten to one by their loyalist cousins, but with access to daemonic strength and Warp gates their attacks can be even more devastating than their already formidable might would suggest. The arrival of the Tyranid super-organism in recent centuries has been another major blow, as entire sectors find themselves swallowed up and reprocessed as new horrors to be let loose upon the rest of us.
But most dangerous of all are the Necrons. Unlike the forces of Chaos, only the barest fraction of their full might has yet been flexed. Unlike the Tyranids, their seemingly endless stream of reinforcements originate not from outside the galaxy, but from within it. They sleep between and under our worlds, waiting for the signal to awake and attack.
Think about the Necrons for a moment. Their pristine, surgical cleanliness. Their remorseless, implacable quest to destroy all trace of messy, chaotic life. Even their weapons are designed not to kill their enemies but to unmake them utterly. If humanity - and every other sentient species swarming across known space - is a virus eating away at the galaxy, nothing represents the leukocytes dedicated to sweeping such invaders away better than do the Necrons. Perhaps what will finally destroy us is not how much the Imperium has weakened, but how much newfound strength our enemies can call upon.
The idea of the Necrons as a galaxy-wide immune system exterminating space-faring races in the pursuit of healing the stars is obviously a fiction; simply an analogy that happens to fit the facts. But that is exactly what should concern us. Not that the Necrons actually are the immune system to our virus, but that such a bleak, unedifying metaphor fits us so horribly well.
This is the earliest we've gotten into full-blown combat since Horus Rising. Does the rapid deployment help things move along, or would you have liked a bit more about the XIV Legion first?
I like that we're straight into it. No messing about like with the last two books. I admit I found the first chapter of Horus Rising confusing, but I've got the hang of this now.
So you're saying now the background has been established there's no good reason not to start punching as soon as humanly possible.
Absolutely. Especially with battles like this. I mean, I got why it took a while to get around to the action in the last book. You needed to build up to it. You didn't need to build up to it that much, but you needed something. But this is just a bunch of Astartes shooting a bunch of aliens. Let's get right to it. And bring some more gore, too.
Still not enough, huh?
Well, the bloke with the huge fist was cool. He probably wishes he was a.. um... a Death Eater.
Those still don't exist here, Fliss.
Fine. The World Eaters. Do the Legions ever exchange Astartes?
Not permanently, though the idea of an Astartes cultural exchange program is interesting. You can just imagine them coming back home. "Over there they stab Eldar twice and then cut their heads off. Different world, bro. Different world."
I guess every Legion has to have its misfits.
So long as they're murdering aliens, it doesn't matter too much, I guess. Let's see, what else. Oh. This fight takes up about five percent of the whole book. Which is a lot for a scene seemingly unconnected to the heresy. Does that imply something more is going on?
I'm assuming there's some connection here. We know Mortarion is working for Horus at this point, so there must be something the Warmaster wants here.
Are you sure Mortarion has turned at this point?
Well, no, but then I've no idea when "this point" even is. There's no frame of reference. Horus could be doing anything right now. And I'm not sure we'll ever know when some of the Primarchs turned.
Are you enjoying the Jorgall? How do they rank against previous alien creatures?
I'm struggling to make sense of what they look like. Particularly the legs.
What's tough about the legs?
It's the idea of them radiating out like spokes on a wheel.
Are you imagining them perpendicular to the body?
I don't know. Are they tripods? Do they have legs like tripods? Why not just bloody say that?
I lacks a certain lyricism. But I agree though that their descriptions are brief and scattered throughout the chapter. But then I think that's deliberate.
I think they're a conscious riff on a Cthulhu monster (which is always a good idea). The 40K universe owes a lot to Lovecraft - early versions of the game included a world named "Port Cthulhu" - and I think a lot of that is on show here.
That means you're cheating. You know what Cthulhu monsters look like.
Well, true. As soon as I read the description of the Jorgall I just assumed they were Elder things with four fewer limbs. From that point on I had a clear mental image and just made alterations each time a new description arrived, like the ovoid heads.
But the truth is it's not so much that I have previous knowledge of Lovecraftian gribblies (and we've played enough Eldritch Horror by now for you to assimilate at least some of the nightmarish imagery) , it's that the sparse description is a deliberate attempt to have our own imaginations fill in the horrible details.
Well, my imagination was rather busy trying to answer the question of what the hell was going on.
I'm not saying it's a foolproof strategy. But if we can move past the leg issue, what else can we say about this latest alien race?
I like the idea that they're being enhanced. I assume that's a deliberate parallel to the Astartes.
Presumably. I'm surprised Garro didn't pass comment on that, given Tarvitz made the connection pretty quickly when fighting the Megarachnids. I guess he was too busy staring at the Sisters of Silence.
He did mention it.
Yeah, but that ruins my plan to write Nathaniel Garro: Space Letch, so I have no option but to ignore it.
Any thoughts on the Sisters of Silence now we've seen them in action? What can it mean that they're all psi-silent, anyway?
I was wondering what that mean. Surely it can't mean they don't think at all. That's impossible.
No it isn't; watch.
(I sit still for several seconds with a vacant expression).
Yes, well, you have something of an advantage in this department. And anyway, how long was it before you found yourself thinking "Doo de-doo, I'm not thinking; doo de-doo, no thoughts for me."
Actually, I quickly segued into "Yes! I WIN at not thinking! I cannot be beaten in a no-thought-off!" But there was definitely a few seconds there when I was thinking nothing at all.
Fine. Now try it when walking.
I'm sure I could-
Walking into a battle with flying tripods.
Ah. I see your point.
So I presume it just mean no-one can read their minds.
Spot on. Which raises an interesting question: how did that come about?
I don't know. Could be natural, could be genetic alteration. The problem is I don't actually know what all the other psykers in this universe are. It's hard to speculate on a new kind when all the other kinds haven't been explained.
What I want to know is why the Emperor is so interested in one little psyker in one alien ship. If there is a connection here to the wider heresy, I assume that's it.