Saturday, 7 August 2021

Trailing Corposant 2 – The Tower

(Better read this quick as later today I'm launching the Kickstarter and will have to do a slightly boring marketing post for that). 

2 False Gods - Graham McNeill - June 2006

 3 Galaxy in Flames - Ben Counter - October 2006

 4 The Flight of the Eisenstein - James Swallow     - March 2007

You think you know who you are and what your values are, but what happens if your entire social matrix, everything and everyone you thought you believed in, falls away, at first slowly with a sick sliding, and then into a sudden abyss?

You are left alone, in total darkness, without meaning, with no future and all of your previous actions cast into mockery, degradation and manipulation.

In False Gods Horus falls awkwardly to Chaos and over the next few years perverts his own and others legions to his new cause, attempting to backstab the still-loyal elements in a master-stroke that devolves into a bloody fiasco.

Galaxy in Flames and Flight of the Eisenstein follow, respectively, Saul Tarvtz and Nathaniel Garro two paragons space marines (paragons 2 & 3 by my count)  of the now-traitor legions as Horus’ manipulations put them in the same position he was in, with everything and everyone they know, turning against them and the central meaning of their lives falling to dust.

Look, what if you came back from a holiday and your previously normal family had joined a Satanist cult and were now willing to kill you unless you joined. And you realised this at the exact moment your mum tried to stab you but she fucked it up so now you have to fight her in the Kitchen.

In-world the events run from 02 M31 to 05 M31 – only a few years from Horus’ fall to the Fiasco of Istvaan III. In our world this runs from April 2006 when Horus Rising was published through to March 2007.

There is a general descent in quality over these books, though per-heresy, none are truly awful.



False Gods - Graham McNeill

Horus is lured to the spooky planet of Davin, and then to its even-more spooky moon, by the story of an old friend turned traitor. There he meets his old pal who has turned Nurgly and is bonked by the Anathame Erebus stole from the Interex two years ago, (the sword itself actually has its own micro-arc in the Heresy series.) His main guys take him to the spooky magic and clearly-evil Serpent Lodge, the Chaos Gods show him visions and turn him to their service.

Horus has now fallen and will be doing Chaos-stuff from this point on.

A few fragments of note;

Horus Dum

Horus, a noted hyper-charismatic military genius, is very very dumb in this. His Captains are also dumb.

Why? Chaos power acting on him? His actual core personality revealing itself since, with the Interex, he has experienced a personal failure and lost some faith in his dad? Bad writing? Too-good writing from Dan Abnett in the previous book as he is not much of a Lunar author and almost all of his main characters tend to re-set to something like the anglo masculine ideal?

As with all things in the Heresy, the instability and corruption of the world portrayed and the sketchy writing and characterisation blend together.

Time-Loop Retcon Bullshit GO!

The Chaos Gods are pulling Horus about his timeline in a way which seems to be actual near time-travel. In particular they pull him back to the theft of the Primarchs, and in some way his presence there seem to trigger this

Keep a track of how many different people and groups are ultimately meant to be present at and partially responsible for, this event, because it builds up over time. I think in the end there are three or five if you count the Emperor and the Chaos Gods.


The Black Box

Horus & E-Money both end up in the black box. Characters seen through inference whose true nature is so hidden, possibly so multiple and perhaps so differently related to time that they cannot be ‘known’ in ways we understand.

Plus, their head-on books are not that great considering they are core characters. Horus Rising is ok but his character goes a bit tits-up in False Gods. As for ‘Master of Mankind’, I have a reeeeeee coming for you.

Most of their interesting characterisation comes from fragments in other book, and from working out their nature through their relationships with other people, nd the pattern of their actions.

They are shadowed persons.

Why Turn Evil Though?

Why does Horus fall? I addressed this at length in the last review so I will summarise here.

·        Fear of death.

·        Comedown from the absence of dads super-charisma.

·        Increasing awareness that his dad deliberately lied to him or at least held back vital info.

·        Remember the Thunder Warriors.

·        Becomes aware of own arguably part-demonic nature.

·        History of dominance, victory and hyper-competence lets him think he can control this.

·        Alienation from humanity through being a *fundamentally Other* thing.

·        “Hans, are we the baddies?”

·        Fear of losing. To die is one thing, but to die as a sacrificial pawn after being set up by dad?

Few of the other tempations to chaos we will look at here, and in later posts, have to deal with quite this *volume* of causes. But a lot of them have to deal with most, in particular fear of death, alienation from humanity, history of dominance and shame.

The breadth and scale of the Heresy and its deep involvement in minutae let us look in depth at the lives of these fictional supermen. We can trace their actually-gestalt personalities back and forth and find the roots or the first murmurings of choices and behaviours long before they reach a tipping point.

Like any deep structural look at complex events, it leaves the viewer, well, something of a structuralist. When we see every impulse and every micro choice that shaped the tipping points we classify as ‘decisions’ it begins to feel impossible that anyone could have made any other choice than the one that they did.

It’s a limited mono-dimensional view of the possibilities of free will though, to consider it existent only at singular points of binary decision. Instead we might think of free will as a gardener, a distant planter which influences strongly which micro-decisions, (often made in moments of true chaos, or at-that-time seemingly-irrelevant randomness) become the ‘seeds of time’. The potentialities for new actions.

The Gardener can plant many possibilities, a few will grow, of these, the Gardener, the free exercise of will, cannot decide exactly *how* they will grow, cannot control the suns, rain, pests or soil, and so it may seem the will is powerless.

But this ‘Gardener of Decisions’ does influence things somewhat, through its part of its tragedy that the point of its strongest influence, the seeding and arrangement of new possibilities, takes place so long before they bear fruit, and in the first cases, so long before the Gardener actually *knows anything* about life, that this power is exercised almost blindly.

Still, the Gardener can prune, shape, feed, pick off bugs, re-pot and in extreme circumstances cut down and root up. Free will is still exercised, even if when we point to any particular branching or flowering of any plant and say; “Look, how did free will decide *this* flower at *this* particular place?” We cannot answer.

Yet still the will is present in all the slowly-growing garden of decisions, and even its absence, should be choose not to exercise it, is but the shadow of Free Will.

tldr; Horus was a flake.

Galaxy in Flames – Ben Counter

From our point of view this is a conspiracy movie. For Horus & crew, it’s a Coen brothers movie. Their scheme goes horribly, horribly wrong.

It’s been two or three years since the events of the last book. Horus intends to lure all the loyalist members of the Luna Wolves, Death Guard and Emperors Children to the surface of Istvaan III and then to virus bomb them into extinction.

A simple plan.

Keeler and Co work out something is up and, guided and aided by proto-Saint magic, they subvert one of the few remaining half-loyalists on the Vengeful Spirit and escape

[Side note – like many “bad-guy castles” in fiction, this hyper-militarised demon-guarded doom-ship and axis point of a galaxy wide insurrection turns out to be pretty permeable to anyone who wants to get on or off, and its inhabitants largely unconcerned with this.]

Meanwhile, Saul Tarvitz of the Emperors Children, is in the Robert Redford/Tom Cruise role, works out that “this one goes right to the top”, finds out about the Virus Bombs and races into the bomb zone to warn the loyalists.

This is essentially a choice to die. A pure act of defiance.

Enough loyalists survive the bombing to be a problem and before Horus can crack the planet open from orbit with more bombs Angron ‘Leeeroy-Jeeeenkins’ his way to the surface to kill them by hand. Horus has little choice but to back him up and now it’s a ground war.

Tavrtiz is a fun character to read but from memory, not that interesting to analyse. Why does he not turn evil? Well he’s just a really good guy, like Loken and Garro.

For the Emperors Children he’s slightly lower-class and, perhaps crucially, not exactly unambitious, but humble. As in genuinely humble. He knows he can never match wonderful Fulgrim but believes there is meaning in reaching.

“The true hero is always becoming.” As I once read somewhere.

Or, from Gene Wolfe; “Its natural that you should call me a hero, but if I ever genuinely thrugh of myself ‘now, I am a hero’, I would be a kind of monster”. [Quote is from memory].

Also, I don’t think Saul ended up going to the Planet of the Spooky Sexy Snake-Men where the rest of the Legion inhaled the crack fumes of chaos for the first time.

Probably the most interesting element of Tarvitz story for analysis is his friendship with Lucius, a classic Emperors Children hyper-focused mega-talented psychologically-fragile narcissist. Lucius ends up on the shit list because he’s friends with Tarvitz and he’s friends with Tarvits because Tarvitz will actually broadly tolerate his bullshit. Ultimately Lucius betrays Tarvitz, maybe the only person who was ever actually his friend, only partly due to his fear of death, but largely because the other (doomed-to-die-soon) loyalists, see Tarvitz as the Main Hero of the resistance.

Lucius just can’t stand not being the Main Character and he wants back in with his crackhead friends. It’s a pleasingly mediocre and emblematic arrangement of flaws.


Flight of the Eisenstein – James Swallow

Our first look at the Death Guard and Paragon-character mark… three? Nathaniel Garro.

‘Straight-Arrow Garro’, essentially the Captain America of the Death Guard. Luv me Emprah, Luv me Primarch, ate me treason, ate me xenos. Simple as.

Garro is injured and so can’t be sent to the death zone of Istvaan II without arousing suspicion

Mortarion sticks him on a frigate with a second who is ordered to kill him as the bombs drop. (This assassin, Grulgor, has an entire Heresy arc and even turns up as a demon prince in later books despite dying here, at no point is he very interesting).

This goes wrong. Garro escapes, along with Keeler and Sinderman. (A big element of the proto-Inquisition and Proto Imperial Church in one place). They have a nightmare journey through the warp but eventually meet Rogal Dorn who nearly punches Garro’s head off for the news he brings.

Rogal having a genuine uncomprehending meltdown when he hears about Horus’ betrayal is one of his most deeply humanising scenes. “My brother is an honourable man!”

In a long coda to this story Garro and his men are quasi-imprisoned on the Moon because no-one knows what to do with them. Garro fights for the soul of one of his men infected with Nurgles plagues and then battles him in warp-form on the surface of the moon.

The book ends with Garro fully, totally, committing to belief in the Emperor as a God. After the madness of Istvaan and watching his own legion purge their brothers with virus-bombs, escape, fighting Grulgor, the fucking warp, fighting Grulgor again as a demon-thing, living through the slow failure of the Eisenstein and his near suicidal decision to detonate its warp engines, being castigated and in some sense blamed for the message he brings, being imprisoned on luna, losing the soul of one of his men and finally fighting a godammn demon on the fucking moon, Garro has had enough, he needs Space Jesus!

I’m reminded of the low level culture war skirmish over religious disaster survivors; with the survivors often claiming that god brought them through the chaos and angry atheists online pointing out all the other people who died and the obviously random chaos of the event.

Two mutually incoherent value systems and two entirely, overwhelmingly different experiences arguing with each other.

Living a thing is quite different to knowing of a thing. A simple concept to consider but agonisingly difficult to unpack.

When its your life on the line.. yes but that’s only one element. The threat to your personal life is an intensifier and, yes, a primary source of stress. But its not just about the danger of death but the annihilation of context and the delicate tracery of human meaning around you which, up until that point, seemed both eternal and inevitable.

The disaster, in this sense, is a tearing away of the skin of reality, showing an older, deeper reality beneath which requires an entirely different philosophy and sense-of-reality to process.

“The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.”

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