Sunday, 18 February 2018
A Review of 'Forges of Mars' by Graham McNeill.
This is clearly one long story, I feel a little bad for anyone who had to read it as a serial.
I read it on the kindle and its designed well for that. All three books together would be physically huge , but its a lot more convenient of you can shlep them all around as-one, digitally.
So; ages ago, crazy-ass radical genius space-Peter-Thiele went off to the inaccessible cake-slice of the Milky Way to look for GODPOWER. And no-one ever heard from that guy again which was probably fine.
But now someone’s found message in a bottle and it looks like he might still be alive out there beyond the Halo Scar. So bankrupt space-Elon-Musk grabs his recently excavated super-ship and calls in his few remaining favours from 40k central casting;
"I need a Rogue Trader, some Space Marines, some army dudes, some GOD MACHINES, and hold the Inquisition."
And a microcosm of the Imperium are off to the far reaches of space to find a guy who definitely will not have gone completely insane just because he was already a radical and has now been alone with GODPOWER for millennia.
Some Space Elves follow because they are obeying the weave of fate. The weave of fate basically says whatever the Graham McNeill wants it to say at any particular time so the space elves are enemies or quasi-allies whenever required.
(Some of the space elf characters do seem rather aware of, and pissed about, this, repeatedly asking their farseer; "WTF is up with these strands of fate?")
It takes them ages to get there, they meet one seriously bad freak, some bad stuff happens and when they get there the guy is nuts and they have to fight him and run away.
If there's one thing that 40k excels in and that both Abnett and McNeil are great at, its scale. The sheer, intense, piling-on of stuff, the enormous reaches of material and the gogmagogic size of events themselves, and the ability and story-artefacts to tell a story that passes through every possible scale of action, in which they all interact.
The gothicness of 40k helps with the assembly of scale in writing, art and in 3d because it provides an endless palette of specific and ominous detail. To put in in its simplest form; it’s easier to make something feel big when there are skulls everywhere.
In slightly finer language; the sheer number of things, censers burning strange unguents, forgotten embossed walls of ancient crusades, old weapons emplacements with some pale servitor still plugged in and gathering dust, yet active, banners, heraldry, gargoyles with camera eyes, tables with hexamathic equations in the margins, servo-skulls, ivory wings on the chests of space marines, the glimmer of tertiary-grade augmetics around the margins of the eye, old guard tattoos, electro-tattoos of old work-groups, strange sub-cults, feral wolf-tattoos on the pilot of a God Machine, dermal sockets, mechadendrites, everything, all of this means that when the eye of the viewer, or the 'eye' of the reader scans, not only up and down large structures, but focuses first on tiny small details and then opens to grand vistas, there is always something to be seen, a particular and specific object or sign, that makes sense/unsense in the context of the world, and that there is an endless transmission of specific meaning, a linkage of particular object and feel, that joins one scale to another, at every point at which the eye or story rests.
It would be hard to do this with a modernist aesthetic, because modernism, and classic techno-futurism, is smooth. It is made to abrade and sand off detail, to present a clean, regular whole. So when you look at a modernist city or building, it doesn't feel fractal or busy in the same way. It's smooth and clean in each room, on each road, in each block, and the star ships are smooth and clean as well.
One Star Trek corridor is one Star Trek corridor, A 40k corridor has the crumbling statue of Archmagos Vedek who rediscovered binary incantations, or it has an auto-generated list of names of the heroic fallen etched into the steel by a blind servitor, who is permanently etching even though the names at the beginning are worn smooth by the passage of hands, or it has at least some huge cogs with the AdMech Skull/Cog emblem on them.
There are always things. The Dark Future is a world of things.
>>> scale makes scale
Godzilla always has birds flying around him in films - so do big robots. This is to create a sense, rather than a view of scale.
40k has a lot more to play with at every level. Flags, people climbing up and down huge machines, or living inside them, giant gun-bullets, chains, servitors, and of course skulls.
>>> unity of self
Because the setting has been gone over and gone over and developed and developed for 30 years; all the things in 40k are the right things. They repeat, intensify and construct a deep coherence of mood. Everything is awful, everything is doomed and death-obsessed, and everything is coherent with the setting. Of course the AdMech would build actual, literal altars in the middle of big machines, of course they would have cyber-monks hanging around to watch cyclopean random number generators to divine prophecies from the Onmissiah.
Most pop science-fiction for a mass audience (or all of it really) has to not make sense. Because the deep future probably won't look like anything we can understand. So big ships are run by apes instead of AI's, they hang near each other to shoot tracer bullets, phasers are less dangerous than AK 47's, guys fight with lazer swords, etc.
All for good reason so far as creating necessary technological and socio-cultural chimerae to use in the transmission of story.
But in 40k the fact that things don't make sense is integrated into the setting in a different way. The things that don't make sense meta-textually often literally don't make sense in the setting, but are kept in place because it’s an insane, superstitious, authoritarian, deliberately-ignorant dark-age. So every time you come up against a fragment of incoherence in the imagined world, it often adds to the strangeness of the setting and concentrates the feel of the world.
Anyway, to get to the point - there is a lot of cool scale-switching in the book. The memorably good parts often include the Titan-Legions (building or sky-scraper sized) fighting inside the Speranza (Manhattan-sized space ship) with Imperial Guard and tanks and whatever (WWII-scale combat) happening mixed in with that, while planetary stuff is happening outside, with a world blowing up or whatever, while cosmic-level stuff is also happening tearing space & time apart, while psychic dream-world-hell-reality stuff is also happening, which postfuture cyberpunk stuff is ALSO happening. Multiple layers of reality, many ranges of scale. All at the same time, all mixed in together, all reacting together. You don't get that many other places.
Dealt with above somewhat, but as I said, there is a lot of it and it is good. Our doomed Archmagos, Lexell Kotov, obsessively changes his mecha-bodies like clothes for each mission and each of them reflect a differing level of pretension or utility unique to it.
People wield particular brands of Las-Pistol or graviton gun.
A good test of whether you will like 40k is if you prefer;
"Ah, a pre-heresy Agrippna-Bellusarius pattern grav emitter, praise be to the Machine God, you will find its plasma converters unstable and its machine spirit unwilling."
"You! Drop the gun!"
If you think the first one is better, you may well like 40k.
If you like the 'behind the warfare' sub-genre of 40k fiction where we tool about in the background of the omni-conflict looking at how people live; there is a lot of that here, all centred on the Mechanicus. So if you want to find out what kind of equations Archmagos Kotov gets acid-etched into the hems of his synthetic dragon-scale cloak, then you have come to the right place.
We get a little look inside one of the Titan legions and its fun. A kind of gothic techno soap-opera based around a quasi-family of people who are all selected to be the one-in-a-billion who are OK'd to fuse with the spirits of the insane hyper-murderous God Machines.
They run like some kind of feudal/barbarian/wolfpack inside the belly of the Mechanicus, guys and girls taken from feral worlds, raised from early youth to ride the god machines whose biofeedback will slowly reduce them to physical cripples chilling in amniotic tanks, and working out feral dominance/submission hyper-dramas with each other.
One of the best parts is when a Titan Alpha guy has a PTSD flashback to his Titan nearly being consumed by a Tyrranid swarm, while he is actually piloting the Titan, inside the space ship, during a training mission, and accidentally fires his insane super-weapon inside the ship, killing, at least a couple of thousand of people. Scale, size, meta-consequences, human drama and differing levels of reality all smashing together.
Since it’s a long series of three large books mushed together, and because everyone is jammed together in a super-ship, we get to take a Grand Tour of this microcosm (still a couple of million people probably) of the Imperium, going all the way from the shitty disposable near-slave-grade bondsmen, through the crew, to the bridge where they fancy cybernetic bois hang chilling with the ivory-winged Space Marines.
It's rare that we get to do this in a 40k book since, even when they go "behind the scenes" we usually only get bits and pieces of each particular part of society as the main badasses pass through.
(Actually there’s no, or almost no ‘middle class’ in this book. But maybe that’s because the Imperium is a goddamn feudal shithole.)
The main thing I liked about McNeil’s prose, which some other reviewers hated, was the big janky sentences with lots of mechanical detail. There is a shitload of this. Let me see if I can grab a random fragment;
"At the heart of the Ciborium was an elliptical chamber like a grand hall of governance, with stepped tiers of hard metal benches rising to either side of a perfectly circular table. The table was easily ten metres wide, fashioned from wedge-shaped planes of segmented steel inset with panels of a smooth red rock that could only have come from one world of the galaxy. Gently humming data engines ran around the curve of the chambers walls, and a number of blank-faced servitors were plugged into several exload ports, holo-capture augmetics recording every angle of this gathering."
Better than; "They sat around the table." It's not high-poetry but its fucking fun.
I Can Actually Remember Who Most of These People Are
Well done Graham. There are a huge number of people in this and a lot of them are various kinds of funky machine-boys made from cogs, but I actually remembered who nearly everyone was and even recognised them. It’s not necessarily easy to achieve this. The initial impression of the characters has to be STRONG, with each one bound closely within a particular social/dramatic matrix with their immediate group, a meaningful visual aesthetic that can be communicated through natural language, speech-patterns and, personality and, of course, 40k-style 'hero objects' for the writer to use in their incantations.
This is all done well.
Freaky Toaster Bois
I like me some crazy Ad-Mech dudes and we get a bunch of them and even though they are all apsergers-cyborgs shouting at each other about LOGIC like a MTG tournament bar, they are all different in personality, form and expression. of particular use is the way each Toaster-Bois physical form is used to intensify, counterpoint or just highlight their inner nature.
In the Ad-Mech, everyone’s gonna cyborg eventually, and the way they do, the things they do and do not change, are interesting elements of character, and useful dramatic objects and tools you don't get in other fiction. (Apart from the main baddy in this, more on that later.)
Never Learn Anything Ever
I like how narcissistic, self-important and shallow Archmagos Kotov (our main Odysseus guy) is, while still remaining likable, sympathetic and interesting enough to be fun reading. This is manages by surrounding him with absolute freaks, Asperger’s space marines and varying levels of backstabbing idiot. And also by often making him the most reasonable, least puritanically-insane person in a lot of his scenes.
I also like how his apparently sincere desire to improve as a person and finally learn his lesson, never seems to actually work. He keeps getting beat in the face by the fruit of his own stupidity, picking himself up and thinking "Ok, Lexel, this time you've really learnt your lesson." and then doing exactly the same shit.
Ancient Mariner Sense Ov DOOOM
"Archmagos Kotov, do you think that since your planets got blown up, except for the one that mega-crashed when you turned on your accidently-found super-ship, and that you are going beyond the edges of reality through the HALO SCAR, to find a guy who was pretty fucked in the head to begin with, and who has been on his own with the POWER OF THE GODS for millennia, that things might not necessarily go to plan?"
"Nah, it'll be fine."
It's not subtle, but it is effective. The continual, mistakes, failures, accidents, attacks, losses, dangers, betrayals, and the piling up of weird freaky shit, does add nicely to the Colridge-esqe (GET YER ALBERTROSS BOY) you're-really-fucked-now feel of the story.
There is an Arco-Flagellant in this which, despite not being that good in the 40k rules, in this book can apparently murderfuck anything.
We get to find out how fucking weird it is to spend time hanging out with an Arco-Flagellant, exactly how they turn you into one, and what a seismic level of evil fuck you need to be in order to actually get that punishment.
None of this actually seems to go anywhere, but there you go.
Harlan Ellison Cyborg Dude
One of the main antagonists, Galeta, is essentially the Harlan Ellison story 'I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream', but as a character. A pissed-off crazy AI made from stringing a bunch of brains together with a semi-intelligent computer stack, it essentially refused to die when its original brains started to wither, and started luring in and capturing people to get fresh brains.
It’s a quasi-AI, a gestalt intelligence which can't exist without human flesh, but which SUPER HATES humanity, so captures and tortures its brain-selves, even though they make up part of its essential nature.
It's just great fun, and much better than the main Ahab-Baddy, Archmagos Telok.
People Banging on about Honour
You know I love people banging on about honour and brotherhood in space. There is no shortage here, we have enough last-minute speeches about brotherhood, sacrifice and THA EMPRAH to fill about twenty Michael Bay third-acts. Its raining in Arlington cemetery, and a FLAG IS FLAPPING IN THE WIND BECASUE HE WAS... MAH BRATHAAAA.
One character does get eaten by Slanesh, but that's is, and its mainly offscreen. A nice refreshing break. You see, even in the slightly-more-science-fictional Dark Future, things can still be Unutterably Terrible.
(Multiple) Non-Sociopath Characters
Because so much of the cast are massive freaks one way or another, it means there's a nice range of people who are not totally fucked in the head to sympathise with, and they don't come off as too boring since they are surrounded by Gothic Weirdness.
Two of the main characters are likeable star-charting Magos's Vitalli & Linya Tychon. Vitalli created Linya as a clone-replacement/servant but a freak chromasonal change made her female, and this was enough to make sure she developed into an entirely different and unique individual. Someone with all of Vitalli's intelligence but an entirely unique world view.
It's a really interesting, and engaging relationship and a stroke of elegance for the book
Cyberpunk trash/Strands of Fate mishmash
This is both good and bad, I'll talk about the bad later.
There's multiple levels of reality - the Eldar are doing their psychic straaaandds oooov faaaate stuff, and there is also a lot of William Gibson 90's style virtual reality where people deep dive into the noosphere and look at the GOLDEN NETWORKS OF PURE INFORMATIONS.
The fun part is that there are worlds within worlds, and without, and like the business with scales, you can have people in different sub-realities affecting and influencing each other in a variety of different ways. STUFF HAPPENS.
They are in this and we see them from a distance.
My idea for a Hrud model is to create something that feels 3d printed, but is actually just assembled. But you paint it first, then assemble it, so it feels like the model has these inner layers and this illusory but felt interior space, and it looks kinda like an optical illusion, as if it were phasing through our reality and also in others at the same time. And they would also be pink, hairless super-rats with jezzails.
We Took The Breaks Off This Planet - see 'scale' above
Teloks Colonel Kurtz planet of 'what if we left and Ad-Mech nutter alone with the power of THA GODZ for a coupe centuries, is pretty fun. It's largely an insane BLAME!-like planetary factory where everything is generating energy for insane cosmic plans and where everyone has been lobotomised except for the Main Guy. Like a death factory on a Giga-Scale. It's kinda horrible and wonderful. Maybe more could have been done with the idea but this was fun.
"Good" Guys Kind-Of Win?
I think the Imperials actually win this one? They do lose a staggering amount of men and material, and ships and whatever, and they were part of the problem in the first place, but they get to keep the Speranza, many of the main cast survive and they do stop the Entire Cosmos (technically the Eldar stop it) from unravelling to nothing. So I think that’s a win?
The main bad guy has this vague nanotech crystal thing going on, so his armies and the things he sends to beat up the goodies are all these crystal dudes.
McNeill does what he can with this. There's the initial shock of encounter; "They're adapting! They're transforming!", then he has a grand theatre moment with this giant titan-sized scorpion thing which is pretty good, then in the last act Telok, the baddy, blasts these self-assembling crystal dudes into the Speranza (the good guys ship) with superlightning, and they assemble themselves from air and stuff, and that’s pretty good. Somewhat BLAME!-esque.
But he is pushing up hill all the time because holly shit there is just something inevitably boring and lesser about bad guys made of crystal. It’s a boring material. It might be ok as a counterpoint to something meaty and sweaty like, "Here's my gross Ogre enforcer who sweats beef dripping and bleeds black ale as he's descended from a Titan, and here's the light ethereal crystal dame that follows him around to keep him in check.' Like a caliban/ariel thing, but I think that’s actually it.
Emma Frost from the X-Men (I accidentally typed 'Z-Mane' there for a second. Parralel-earth cryptoculture X-Men? Metatextual X-Men series where they get saved by the mass-produced Engrish Chinese Knockoff X-Men from another dimension? Anyway.)
Emma Frost from Morrisons X-Men is the only thing that really comes to mind when I think 'crystals + interesting'.
Is it the abstraction central to their nature? It’s just an empty box of light. The lack of features, of character? Of particularity? Transmission of meaning?
There is another fight against a terrible swarm at the start of the trilogy, it’s very like the crystal fight but noticeably better because it’s against lobotomised cyber-altered (big mad scissors) Orks that have been flayed and wrapped in vat-grown, pink, human skin.
See, that already sounds more interesting than the crystal stuff doesn't it? Why? It's still a mindless swarm working for one evil dude. It still just walks forwards and stabs.
My best guess is that crystal stuff is separate enough from the human lifeworld that it’s hard to write about in natural language. If you are J.A.Baker, or a great prosidist, (or Ballard even, but even his crystal things were altered normal things) and you want to devote a tonne of descriptive energy to getting your crystal stuff exactly right, then you can probably do it.
But if you are writing adventure/genre and there is just a lot of stuff you need to get done, then it’s a lot easier to link elements and objects to the human lifeworld. Which, even though it’s not real, and Ork is, more than a crystal man, because it breathes and poops and sweats and has eyes and a mouth and looks at you. And then the ork wrapped in human skin is another thing you know about, and you sense what it is in the text right away, and go ugh. And then you can use literary techniques to embroider and make it extra-bad.
Was That Going Somewhere?
Oh my gaaawwd they've found and Arco-flagelent! Oh my ghaad he's going INSIDE the Arco-Flagelents mind! Oh my ghaad this was a space hitler who went super evil and now actually likes being an arco-flagelent and this is the guy protecting one of our more likeable heroes! WHAT WILL HE DOOOOOO?
Oh my gaaawwd tHE Speranza has a super space cannon that shoots fucking black holes or something that no-one noticed because manhatten-sized + dark-future fuckups, but then they awaken the Mysterious Spirit inside the Speranza and it uses the ancient mega-cannon to blast some dudes! What does this mean for the future?
Nothing. Goes nowhere.
Oh fucksticks, the main Titan-driving pack-head guy is an ok dude but has mega-PTSD and literally shot a fucking hole in the sacred ark-mechanicus and killed a couple 1000 (more?) people INCLUDING Cadian and Ad-Mech troops who’s job it is to fight alongside him. And the next in line to be pack head doesn't have super-PTSD (good) but is generally a twat that nobody likes (bad). WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Nothing. Situation is resolved and Cadians apparently just deal with it. Cog-boys can have their resentment deleted.
Magos Blaylock, the second in command of the expedition, thinks Kotov, the main guy, is an absolute tool on a fools errand who is wasting a huge amount of imperial and Ad-Mech resources just trying to avoid future-bankruptcy. Not only is he planning ways to dick him over, with every new turn of the expedition, it looks more and more like the conservative Blaylock is simply correct? Maybe he actually should just take over?
He doesn't. They just decide to work together for the OMNISSIAH.
Fffffuuucck. The Speranza is in terrible danger, falling into the orbit of a world on the Brink of Destruction! Forces on the ground are being ferried up. Big arguments in the bridge. And At. This. Moment. The machine-touched apparently-real prophet hero guy stages his insurrection to demand better (i.e. not slavelike) living conditions for the millions of people who make the ship go and who have been treated horrifically since the start of the book. Morally he's in the right! But the ship might die! And if he backs down he's ffffuuuccckked because this is the Dark Future fascist Imperium where dissent is punished with a massive skullfucking for everyone regardless of whether you had a point or not! What's going to happen???
Nothing. The prophet backs down. Kotov is persuaded not to lobotomise everyone or open the lower decks to space and conditions improve a bit. That's a surprisingly reasonable solution for the Dark Millennium (maybe that's the point?)
There's a lot of that in this.
The wheel of one of the land-leviathans is allegedly from Nelsons ship at Trafalgar. The Big Strike Speech that a main character gives is that classic 'throw yourselves on the wheels' speech that somone gave in the 60's and which was also in Battlestar Galactica.
Telok hunts the good guys on his doomworld by unleashing some freaky AI machines from either the Dark Age of Technology or from even further back he found floating beyond the galactic rim and which he's hacked with Necron, or C'Tan technology to be UNKILLABLE. They are vaguely hound-like and decently written. They are programmed to only eat the person they are chasing, to not be able to eat anything else, and to grow ever-more hungry.
The fairytale + Dark Future Megatech thing is ok, there's a fair amount of that in the book.
It's just that he calls them 'The Tindalosi'.
Do you get it?
The references in this book remind me of the bit in Y-The Last Man, where the hero has a 'Fuck Communism' lighter, which is a reference to Preacher, another (better) comic book.
It's difficult to explain exactly why this leaves me with this pained expression and vague sense of tiredness and age, but it does.
If you are worried that Graham McNeill is too much of an expert in good prose; don't worry. He multi-classed and is also an expert in basic-ass prose!
Do you think of George R.R.Martin as a Great Writer? Then you are in luck my friend!
Here's a random page;
"Abrehem heard Ismael's words without understanding them, but knew they were only pulling him into the mire in which he was already neck-deep."
Here's another, it took me a bit of flipping to find it;
"'I don't have many phobias, Ven, but being trapped alone in the darkness is one that's haunted my nightmares ever since the Preceptor was crippled by that hellship.'
'Understandable,' said Anders.
'And it feels like I'm living that nightmare right now.'
Anders nodded, and left him alone after that."
Not terrible, but not great either.
I Get You Did RE In School
There's lots of vague religious stuff in here. Ketov thinks he's on a mission for the Omnissiah, Good-Guy Abrehem Locke seems to be touched by a force that literally does miracles. The Black Templars pretty much worship THA EMPRAH. It's suggested that the Speranza is some kind of quasi-immortal being but with a ship wrapped around it, like an angel of order & science or something.
None of its really bad, and a lot of it is relevant to people from the Mysteriously Religious Dark Millenium. But a lot of it is vague and blathery and it’s never really clear what is and isn't just a big old computer or an alien death god or a thing that bleeds golden light or just some crazy stuff in your head.
And the lack of clarity is not interesting in the story. It’s not suggestive in an ‘aaaaahhh’ way, its vague in an ‘eh?’ way.
Basic-Ass Bad Guy
Telok, the main Doctor Moreau, Colonel Kurtz figure that almost all of the trilogy leads up to, is very average. Mad in exactly the way you would expect from a serial villain, making terrible choices exactly the way you would expect, with boring crystal minions. Galeta was much better.
His physical form is a big dreadnaught guy with claws and a waxy face and crystal grooowths. Fuck crystals
A Handful Of Historical Times
So, time compression in 40k is a thing. Just like our view of history being shaped by the needs and drives of today, the faux-history of 40k, its general shape and historiography, is shaped by the period of its creation.
So in classic 40k, from the late 80's to the 90's, most things happened in the 10,000 years since the Horus Heresy. The heresy itself was myth and if the writers needed to locate something 'old', they could put it in the 10,000 years of the Imperium. More than enough time to work with.
Then with the development of the Necrons, C'tan and the War in Heaven mythology around the 2,000's, thing could now be super-fucking-old. Like, birth-of-the-cosmos old. So now there was a new place to put ancient things, they could be from the last 10,000 years, or from MILLIONS of years ago.
(This means the Eldar race has been around for literally millions of years, billions maybe?, gradually taking over the galaxy, before Slanesh woke up, relative to them, yesterday, and started nomming on them. And we know nothing about this time, it’s just featureless empty eons, and so it feels not-real.)
And since the development of the Horus Heresy novels from the 2010's on, the Heresy has become a Real Place, and the imagined time between it and Now has essentially been annihilated, like distance in Westeros in Season Six. Things go into hibernation in the age of heresy, then 10,000 years later - BOOM, they pop right back up, almost unchanged.
And in addition to this, there has been some exploration of what exactly was going on in the Age of Strife (imagine Ian M. Banks Culture if the machines suddenly went Harlan Ellison, the Xenos went like Any Non-American in an episode of '24' with Kiefer Sutherland and Actual Fucking Demons popped up). So now things can be from there as well.
And the weird thing about there being much more detail is that it feels like there is less time for things to be in. The Thousand Sons codex has a cool timeline for 'what have the Thousand Sons been up to?' and the answer is nothing. They did the heresy, then kinda hung around for like three entries, then popped right back up in the 41st millennium.
Most of the stuff in this trilogy feels like it comes from War In Heaven stuff, and a bit from the near-past of the Imperium. But even though Telok Mysteriously Disappeared maybe a millennia ago, it hasn't affected his insane Xanatos Gambit at all.
We Need To Do What Now? For What?
So the Eldar are follwing the straaaands of faaaaate, and this is somewhat fun but it’s also slightly bad because it means that they want to do exactly what the writer needs them to do at any particular moment. We need to stop the humans!, no, wait, we fucked that up, now we need to save the humans! If almost any Eldar farseer character at any point in the imagined sequence of events had just got out the graph paper and told any human 'Look, we are trying to stop *this*, so *this*, you see that green line? Well we are trying to stop that. Ok, don't worry, I'll get a whiteboard." Then the whole fuckup would never have happened.
Likewise Abrehem Lock the good-guy machine-touched prophet who sometimes exudes golden light, gets Mysterious Assistance from an Unknown Source. This assistance is somewhat irregular since, if there was a bit more of it a bit sooner then a lot of bullshit could have been avoided, but if there was a bit less of it any later than there was, then everything would be fucked.
And to a certain extent this is just the nature of storytelling. But there is a bit too much of it in this story.
Xanatos Gambit in Extremium
Yes everything you did, even the apparently MASSIVELY random things, were part of my MEGA PLAN to bring you here! A plan which started before I probably could have thought of it, which was almost perfectly timed, (TO THE SECOND), even though it took centuries to work, which relied almost totally on you making a lot of really-pretty-questionable decisions than sane people probably wouldn’t have made, and which (spoilers) is STILL IN EFFECT even though my planet has been eaten by mega-entropy, my crystal dudes are smashed, my AI freak is dead, my ancient reality-bending super-weapon is gone and I have been literally code-wiped and brainfucked by a conclave of vengeful Arch-Magoses AND destroyed by a Mysterious Golden Light which might actually have been The Omnissiah or at least some kind of extra-reality techno-god. It was all (nearly!) JUST AS PLANNNED!!!
Yes! Telok is still around! Will he return in later books? No-one cares. Bring back Galeta.
No-Ones really Autistic Enough
If the Ad-Mech or the Black Templars where as Autistically fucked in the head as they are often portrayed in other stories or background, then this story would probably have been impossible to tell. It would just have been cogboys and homeschool space marines going REEEEEEEE in separate padded cupboards. Instead we get the Tony Stark of Ad-Mech and the Black Templars who were allowed to watch The Simpsons after homework, even though its from a fallen world.
It’s an Insane Death-Cult as the Heroes
Same as all 40k really. Dark Warning from Future History? Quasi Fascist Masturbation Tool? Harmless, but Aesthetically Intense Playgound and Generator for a rare Deep Gothic Mood?
Most of the current writers believe they are fully in the "Dark Warning" crowd. None think they are in the "Fascist Masturbation" crowd.
But you can't really write a 40k story without, to some extent, 'good guying' the Fascist Imperium, or the story would be unreadable. In 'real life' it would be like living in North Korea, plus the medieval Catholic Church. It would be bad.
But the fascist space-boys we spend our time with are almost always the good commissar with the deaths-head cap, or the _good_ autistic mass-killer space marine who will never know love, and if our hero did an exterminatus then by tha emprah they HAD ta do it! So you can't really interact with the darkness of the world without lightening it. There may be a complex moral element in there
And its unquestionable that some fascists are masturbating to 40k.
I don't think I really care, mainly because I'm from the 80's and am happy to go with the power of the non-fragile individual to absorb and contain powerful aesthetic energies without harm as a point of belief. And I think the world is better for 40k being in it. Dark Dreams have many sources and many ends, not all obvious.
If it fucks with your head, just keep repeating "It was a satire in the 80's. IT WAS A SATIRE IN THE 80'S!!!!" with your eyes closed and your hands clutched to your head.
WTF is the Speranza? And, Who is the Omnissiah?
Who the fuck is the actual Omnissiah in this book? Because someone, or something is hanging around in the background EXACTLY like the Judeo-Christian god is sometimes wont to do, handing out irregular gifts involving healing golden light that also fixes and powers machines.
Is it THA EMPRAH!? It certainly does the stuff you would expect the Imperiums version of the Emprah to do. But isn't the point of view of most 40k books that the Emprah being the Omnissiah is just a massive, and obvious, snow-job to unite humanity and that everyone just goes along with it because the alternative is cyborg/human civil war? Also - no Eagles.
Is it the Speranza? So everyone who goes noodling in the Speranzas data core thinks there is some Huge Unknowable Intelligence in there. Kotov encounters it and it directly tells him that it is eternal and the ship is just a body, that it has had many names (one is 'Veda') and it seems not-evil or chaosy, but also largely indifferent to actual people, but it does appear to speak in first person in one of the chapter introductions in first person and to say that yes, it is 'Hope in a Hopeless Age'.
Is it a nice C'tan? This seems unlikely but would fit with the Speranza being built around it, then being hidden and all records wiped, then waking up and wrecking a planet as it did so. One of the people helping good-guy machine-touched prophet Abrehem Locke has a literal goddamn Void Dragon tattoo from a cult they are in. Do they know wtf that is?
Is it a 'nice' AI from the Age of Strife? One that didn't get Chaos-boned? But now just hangs around not really interacting? But how would it be immaterial? Is it a tardis-like quantum computer shoved into another dimension but interacting with this one through a big ship?
If the Speranza makes it back to 'normal' 40k, is anyone going to ask basic-level questions like 'What Was Up With That Magic Golden Light'? and 'Shouldn’t We Investigate The Speranza?'
I gave it three stars on Goodreads. There was a lot to like. But there was also just a LOT.