Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Trailing Corposant 7 - Graham and the Machine

Previously in this series;

One - what is the Horus Heresy about?
Two - The Tower. Horus bungles his shot, Black Library makes theirs.
Three - Fulgrim
Four - Autistic Sympathy. The Angels and the Lion.
Five - Shell Game. The Alpha Legion, Abnetts Misfire.
Six - Bottle Novels

I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee

To call Graham McNeil a ‘survivor’ of the Horus Heresy series might seem ridiculous, but let me explain my reasoning 

Abnett, the Hierophant, the Gene-Father, abandoned his Heresy in the middle and returned to Terra to write Gaunts Ghosts, Inquisition books and hopeful scripts for the ‘Eisenhorn’ series (probably). We cannot really call Abnett a survivor any more than we can call the sky tall. He forms the context by which other writers are judged. 

Dembski-Bowden, Chris Wraight and John French are rising stars not survivors. We only adopted the darkness, but they were born in it

Gav Thorpe arrive 6 years after the birth and is an old statue in the Black Library building they sometimes ask to write a book. A Coelacanth of Warhammer, a crocodile, a survivor yes, but of mass extinctions rather than this particular series. Him reaching the end of the Heresy is like an ancient alligator surviving another meteor. We expect this of him. 

Guy Haley arrives late. 

Nick Kyme edits the thing and doesn’t count. 

Ben Counter – gone. 

Mitchel Scanlon – gone. 

Mike Lee – gone. 

Like the messenger to Job, one writer alone persisted all the way through the Heresy, surviving even after the Emperor abandoned the war, making it even all the way to the Siege. Ok he didn’t get a full book but he got a pair of Novellas to tie up loose threads! 

And that writer is Graham McNeil. A man who perfectly encapsulates the median of Horus Heresy writing in the same way that the sum total of a seismographs readings during an earthquake roughly approximates the level of the land. And McNeil is a seismographic writer, a cardiac arrest writer, in that his quality level is all over the fucking place.

The Machine

Hey humanity, guess who else survived the Age of Strife? And also maintained a planetary technological culture. AND kept sending out colony ships even in the depths of Old Night. And has  FUCKING TITANS, while your main deal is finding someone to kill with the stick you are holding. 

So remind me again, why are you, the Terrans, the Main Characters of humanities renewal? 

Because of ONE MAGIC MAN. 


Welcome to Mars 

Hey welcome to Mars! You like vaults of nightmare knowledge which must never be released? Well we got, by canon, at least two; The Vaults of Morovec, which has super-artificial intelligences which may be a bit chaosy, and the Noctis Labytinth, which has probably it’s a sleeping Star God in there who knows, plus the Libraius Omnis, a planet-spanning underground Library that’s too dangerous to actually go into, plus some new AI called the Tabula Myriad which the Iron hands picked up on the Great Crusade and brought here to be “safe”, which definitely isn’t chaosy but does want to destroy all life, , plus some new ones we just worked out like the “Kaban Project”, which yes, is awake now and also seems to have gotten some chaos on it. 

What is our job here one Mars? Is it to understand technology? 


It is to control the understanding of technology, because you need it to survive but it wants to KILL YOU AND EVERYTHING THAT IS. 

And we were doing that pretty FUCKING WELL THANK YOU until the “Omnissiah” turned up. 


Publication History of the Mechanicum 

Fittingly, the history of fiction about the Mechanicum is older than the Horus Heresy Novel series itself. The earliest I can remember comes from ‘The Horus Heresy – Collected Visions’ book, a short story called

 ‘The Kaban Project’

about a Tech Priest who is given the job of babysitting a machine which turns out to be a full General Intelligence. Which is bad, but also, the Horus Heresy is kicking off and our little guy ends up being chased through Mars by John Blanche tech-assassins. And then the AI turns evil because we were bad to it. 

And who wrote this story? 

That’s right motherfuckers, Graham McNeil. Perhaps the oldest Horus Heresy fiction writer. 


Mechanicum 2008 , Novel 

As discussed quite a bit, despite making up a huge chunk of Humanity, being essentially an empire-within-an-Empire, controlling almost all the super-high-intensity war planetary war machines and probably dominating production of high-end tech at least, the Mechanicum get exactly one book to tell us what their deal is and this is it. 

Is it any good? Its ok. 

(An interesting side-point is that one strand of “Mechanium” is about the “Akashic Reader”, a piece of probably-illegal in-development psi-tech that lets the user access the Akashic Records, a warp-located magic library/effect/phenomena that contains “all knowledge”. 

We know that the Emperor has something similar, he seems to have theoretical knowledge or understanding of pretty much all material technologies, though this doesn’t mean he can bring them all into being immediately by himself, Pertuabo also seems to have been gifted something similar, he has a kind of built-in mental library that gives him total knowledge of physical phenomena in a dry and scientific sense, though it still takes him effort and practice to synthesise and utilise this knowledge. 

Is the Emperor plugged into the Akashic Records? Probably, but its not that important for our story.) 

It has a lot about the Void-Dragon Conspiracy and basically the “good guys” go down pretty hard. Most Martian lore is lost. From this point on, Sigismund zips in to grab supplies before the loyalists destroy their won forges to keep them out of enemy hands. From this point on, Mars itself is a sideline and cogboy stories split into three parts; 


Strand One – The Dark Mechanicum 

It’s not clear what proportion of martians go over to Horus but it’s a lot, certainly enough to make a good argument that the ‘Dark Mechanicum’ is the True Mechanicum. Spooky transhumanism! They don’t get their own book but the Kelbor-Hal faction turn up in the background of lots of novels. Essentially they are the mechanicum in black robes with extra tentacles, red eye lenses and willing to do shit so fucked up that even the Mechanicum wouldn’t touch it. Particularly in incorporating Psi-Tech into stuff, (one of the things the Emperor specifically forbade), producing psi-alarm mine surveillance things which are basically psyker brains hardwired into expendable agony machines. They also start hanging out with Sorcerers – stuffing demons into things with the usual not-that-replicable or useful effects. Probably their most commonly used tool is “Scrapcode” evil super hacker demon code that blares through and cripples loyalist systems, as seen in the attack on Calth. 

Some things that to be honest, never really come up with them that would be interesting to know about;


What Happens to the A.I’s? – One of the things the Emperor told the Cogs not to do and which Kelbor Hal was apparently so slaty about, and which is directly mentioned in “The Kaban Machine”, making real General Intelligences, and then, presumably, doing weird warp shit with them. 

So machines can be corrupted by the warp, do they have souls? Are there evil A.I. demons wandering the Warp? That really feels like a whole faction or design element to me, plus it gives sound reasons for demons in 40k to be able to wield or interact with technology of some kind, even if it is ersatz artisanal demon laptops or whatever. Is there a “machine warp” – everything that is is meant to be reflected there, though non-living things less so… 

What Happened to the Transhumanist Dream? – Another thing the Emperor wouldn’t let them do. Yet later Dark mechanicum stuff, well, lets just say that in many cases, unless you explicity pointed to one set of tentacled biohorrors and said “These are the bad guys” – it would be hard to tell them apart.. 

Do they Do Research or What? – They are allowed to innovate now, and to look deeper into why things work the way they do instead of just how. They are allowed to develop new principals and test them. Are they still all wanking off to STC tech or do they no longer care? Whats the bleeding edge in Eye of Terror Hypertech? Or did they become mediocrities in their own way and instead of “read the instructions” its now “eh, stuff a demon in it, she’ll be alright”. 

Do they still believe in the Machine God? – Kelbor Hals argument was that the Emperor faked being the Omnissiah, not that the Machine God wasn’t real. Presumably at least to start with most of the Dark Mechanicum were believers. But they have met “real” gods now. Are there any still into the Machine God? Or even a new reformed chaos version of the Machine God. 

The Claim to Precedence – A big deal with the Astartes rebellion is the “We conquered this galaxy, and therefore it is ours” (plus we know/suspect that you were planning to pull an Arrarat on us). But the Dark Mechanicum have an even stronger claim to be the true and oldest coherent strand of Humanity. They survived the Age of Strife with their tech intact, they preserved more records than anyone, and recovered more, they maintained the Titans which, who can be certain how old that tech is, their lineage runs back to the DaoT and as stated, they were expanding while everyone else was scratching around. What happens to this opinion?


 Strand Two – Guerrilla War on Mars 

There are a few stories about this, they are ok though not exceptional. Cogboys running around in tunnelling machines, raiding chaos stuff, trying to stay alive and pausing long enough to stare at some super fucked up chaos stuff and go “They fell so far/How could this Happen?/Is there No Hope?/We must fight on!. Honestly I could probably write a random generator for a “standard” Horus Heresy novel by this point. 


Strand Three – The Taming of the Loyal Mechanicus

The loyalists who escape to are of small enough numbers and power that integration in to the Imperium as ‘Adepta’ starts to make sense. 

All part of the Emperors super-plan? The Mechanicum was essentially un-tameable, but once split into its chaos and non-chaos factions and the non-chaotics needing the Imperium waaaay more than the old Mechanicum ever did. 

More on this below as it’s the direct subject of at least one story.


This is the End

Considered from an in-universe perspective, the Novel ‘Mechanicum’ is the last book in a theoretical, huge series at least the length of the Heresy. The final act of the Martian Mechanicum as it has existed for the last few thousand years. 

It’s an organisation built directly over, really drawing its energy from containing, the central paradoxes of survival of the 40k universe; the cosmos is so totally fucked that to survive you have to take paths so awful that survival itself seems to lose any positive meaning. 

As embodied by the many locked vaults of Mars – which nightmare would you prefer? Chaos-infected AI’s? Anti-Life AIs? Consumption by a machine hive-mind? Become fuel for a Star God like the Necrons? 

The pre-Emperor Mechanicum, and the Cult of the Machine, was based on a twist of logic and strangled emotion – technology is the means of our survival/the means of our destruction, worship the machine but take it no further, adore knowledge in the abstract but keep it and rarely use it. Humanity is Holy, do not pervert it or produce machines that think as men, yet Humanity is vile and corrupted, replace its flesh with metal, make it like the machine. 

All these Nightmare Possibilities held under the surface of Mars, actually literally in some cases but more potently metaphorically – the choice that refuses all options. No singularity, but no retreat to primitivism, no demons or AI’s or star gods, we have a god and it is the machine, but no transformation into the machine, except our bodies, but our minds must remain… 

A culture getting as close to the brink as it possibly can and holding itself exactly there

And this mad path actually worked surprisingly well. They held onto much of the knowledge of the Dark Age of Technology and managed not to misuse most of it. They kept or built titans and interstellar travel, they didn’t get eaten by chaos or AIs and remained some kind of continuity with what it means to be human. Even in the depths of the Age of Strife they were still trying to colonise, recover and expand, and not only the resources to attempt it but the will to use those resources. 

And they kept a lid on all the weird shit in the Nightmare vaults while doing so. 

With the Loss of Innocence, that Paradox collapses. One huge chunk of the culture falls to the Warp and to a nightmare version of Futurism, while the non-chaotic remnant is tied ever more forcefully to the Emperors Dream at exactly the point at which it is collapsing, ultimately becoming simply an arm of an Empire that can likely only die. A powerful arm for sure, maybe the most powerful single group, but still not the Mechanicum of old. 

And all of the knowledge that wasn’t made ash is now even more toxic, radioactive, poisonous and corruptive than it was before. They can clench it and guard it but do nothing with it.


Cybernetica, Novella , Rob Sanders, 2015 

A story about some Tech Marines from different chapters sent to Mars for training who start to realise that something is up

THIS is interesting. Largely because the first part is just a very solid story that neatly encapsulates the characters of the different legions and marines (Iron Hands guy is a genius and this is a super high status position for him, Ultramarines guy is quite good at everything but unexceptional and a bit of a rules monkey, though better at actually dealing with people, Raven Guard guy is only here because injuries mean his bionic body can’t be stealthy any more and is a moody paranoid tit obsessed with becoming a Cyberpunk Hacker), while the rising tension and increasing weirdness of the situation on Mars; loss of contact, news feed goes darks/starts acting weird, are we the only ones left in the building?/are those Titans walking on the Horizon?, is a bit more what it might feel like when the impossible or unimaginable suddenly becomes real and life turns into a horror movie.


Myriad, Rob Sanders, 2016 

A continuation of the story of ‘Cybernetica’ in which the good-guy Raven Guard escapee meets up with Malcador and Rogal who still don’t really know what to do about Mars except trickle in operatives like this guy using dangerous hypertech to fight the other dangerous hypertech to hopefully stop the whole thing from exploding in their faces before the war ends. 

Basically a pot is overboiling and the Imperium responds by dropping in frozen peas one by one to cool it down. 

This story also has the Tabula Myriad, one of the Weird Fucking Things kept on mars, a kind of hyperdimensional clockwork AI dedicated to fighting chaos and which has, like many AI’s do, decided that the best way to do this is to destroy Humanity/Life. 


Into Exile, 2016, ADB Short 

 A decent short story in which an Imperil Fist goes to rescue Arkhan Land from Mars so he can be in “Master of Mankind” 


The Binary Succession

Audio Drama collected in the Burden of Loyalty 2017 

The Loyalist Cogboys are having an absolute fucking meltdown as it becomes increasingly clear that the Imperium has zero interest in trying to re-take Mars until the battle for Terra is over, one way or another. Plus they are less powerful relative to the Terrans than they have ever been. Plus the only other option is tentacles (biological ones, blech) from teaming up with Horus. 

(Added to that there is the matter of Beta-Garmon, but more on that below.) 

To survive they need to become the ‘Adeptus Mechanicus’, something which would have been absolutely intolerable, even inconceivable, pre-Istvaaan. 

Plus the Imperium is not happy about having a new super-powerful branch of the Adepta at exactly this time. 

So – schemes, shenanigans, arguments, assassinations and a Titan gets involved and whop de doo the Adeptus Mechanicus is created.  


Titandeath, novel Guy Haley 2018

Looked at from the Perspective of the Mechanicum, one of the most important things they control is the ultimate lords of high intensity planetary warfare; the Titan Legions. 

Unfortunately for them, neither Horus or Rogal want to see a mass titan-walk on Terra as there would be nothing left of the planet afterwards, so through the strange tacit communication of war and to the misfortune of the people of Beta-Gamon, they both decide to essentially piss away the greater part of their Titan strength in a brutal attritional throwdown on that particular planet. 

They are spending the coin the Dark Mechanicum/Loyalist Mechanicum gave them, each simply to neuter the other and to preserve Terra as a scene for drama. 

Which, imagine how fucking insanely angry the Cogboys would be about this; The Titans are sacred avatars of the Machine God. 

And the sum result of the battle is that the Cogboys on either side are massively de-powered relative to the other forces on their own side. 

What a stitch-up.


Mortis, Novel John French 2021 

The Cogs are a side-element in this and, from their perspective at least, it largely continues the themes of ‘Titandeath’ – baddy Titans and Goody Titans duke it out around the Palace. Good guys are good and brave but bad guys have more Titans plus are buzzing their tits off on warp dust so are putting together intensely weird shit. 

Bad guys win. But have few Titans left. Good guys unify at the last minute but have few, possible no, Titans left. 


There We Have It 

Barring any big surprises in the last two novels, so ends the story of the Mechanicum of Mars in the Horus Heresy, a tale which arguably started the whole thing off, which in novel form, ended at its beginning and finished on a dying fall. 

Which, curiously enough, are qualities they share with Graham McNeil….



Grahams Crackers 

Its an unfair title, he is a bit of an oddity but by the standards of Black Library writers it hardly shows, and indeed, who and I to talk? Yet a pun is a pun and the old law may not be denied. 

Despite writing a SHITOAD of stuff for the Heresy, McNeills work can be broken down into a few strands;

Horus and His Dad

In “The Last Church” (Short Story) we meet one of the last priests on earth, who is about to be stomped on by the Emperor. Before he does, they both sit down for a fireside chat. This is one of the very few times we hang out directly with the Emperor and he speaks something like his mind so its very depressing how mediocre the story, and the philosophy behind it is. Why does the Emperor want to destroy religion? Because RELIGION BAD! GOD BAD! READ DAWKINS! A disappointment. 

In “The Wolf of Ash and Fire” (Short Story)- HORUS FIGHTS ORKS WITH DAD. Its hangout time!

Father and son chilling out and having fun. The Emperor nearly dies and Horus saves him. Was it a real actual near-death experience or part of some grand theatre to help build trust with his son? By exposing his (theoretical) vulnerability before Horus did E increase his fidelity or in some way put a crack in it? These are questions that we (and Horus) will be asking for a while. And actually are still asking. 

In “False Gods” which we discussed at length in post two, Graham takes over the Heresy from Abnett and does, well not a great job but not a terrible one considering the challenge he was set. 

In the short story Death of a Silversmith, chaos Infiltrates the Luna Wolves, the Lodges were evil! Its not a bad small tale. 

The rest of this strand are built around the Battle for Molech

Horus manages to untangle supressed or edited memories showing that E took him and some other Primarchs to a planet called Molech where they did something warp gate tum tiddly tum who knows. Horus wants his memories back and the power he thinks is on offer so invades Molech, facing a fair whack of an Imperial Force, and, an immortal woman who used to know Big E back in the day and who has been set there to guard the warp gate at its heart. In a slightly tiresome sub-plot, moody Loken “infiltrates” the Vengeful Spirit and shouts at his dad. On Molech the planetary government is infiltrated by a Slaanesh sex/snake cult using TIME LOOPS and its Knight House turns traitor and ends the war. 

The story confirms that E made a deal with Chaos for at least some of his power, that he brought a bunch of Primarchs here for.. well it looks like he was planning to trade them back to Chaos for an easy life. (Or was he offering the Primarchs he thought he could turn back from Chaos afterwards??) Horus enters the Courts of Chaos and gets a massive level-up, the power of which is very inconsistently dealt with in subsequent books, but the psychological hollowing-out of which is actually pretty well described. 

The Snake-Cult setup is in The Devine Adoratrice, the main event is in Vengeful Spirit, which means they cant use that name for the last book of the Heresy, which is annoying. A final strand of this story follows the fleeing immortal guardian though Wolf Mother and Old Wounds, New Scars

This Lady meets Malcador in Fury of Magnus, and in a weird fucking scene she trades her immortality/is robbed/vampirised by Malcador in a quite unpleasant way. A story strand based around E maybe doing child sacrifice (confirmed IRL history as the Carthiniginians would sacrifice children to their god Molech) ends with an immortal mother sacrificing herself to get her mortal children and normie husband just  little more safety in the apocalypse. 

Is this a deliberate echoing? Well McNeil is a seismograph writer so could go either way. 

People being oiled up – only in the snake cult stuff.


Magnus Did Nothing Wrong 

Its time to take a wild ride with the Thousand Sons! Our story start with the titular A Thousand Sons, a very solid McNeil book, maybe his best, which introduces Ahriman, Magnus, his legion and their completely reasonable ideology of preserving human knowledge and how the illiterate space wolves are a bunch of twats. It begins with Ahrimans actual birth-brother mutating into a chaos spawn after taking the 1ksons gene seed, which traumatises Ahriman for life. 


From here https://www.deviantart.com/brierknight/art/Ahzek-Ahriman-Fanart-682057928

1k Sons itself covers a lot of ground, taking us all the way from the crusade, through the Council of Nikea to Magnus Zoom-Calling his dad by hurling the laptop through the front window, to Magnus finally seeing Tzeentch for the first time, realising how utterly fucked he is and has always been/will be and having a nervous breakdown while the Space Wolves arrive with doctored orders and begin to annihilate Prospero. Russ breaks Magnus’ back and shatters his soul, but not before Magnus makes  one more deal with Tzeentch to save his boys. 

The rest of this line brings us through the Heresy with the 1k Sons trying to work out what to do. Ahriman does some scrying in Thief of Revelations. We get a Special Guest Appearance (audience applauds) from Lucius: The Eternal Blademaster, before the 1k Sons try to put dad back together in The Crimson King. Magnus who is by no means whole or sane, declares that he will join the Siege of Terra, but not for Normie reasons but to get back the last bit of his Soul, the really good bit. Something happens in Morningstar but I honestly don’t remember much until we hit The Fury of Magnus which Black Library were only willing to make a Novella in the Siege of Terra Series, but hey, you got to the end Graham! 

As Magnus infiltrates the Palace and gets closer to E, some of the Chaos is knocked off him and he gets a lot les violent and insane. He meets Malcador who tells him that his desired soul-bit has already been converted into the first master of the Grey Knights, and furthermore, all his terrible behaviours are his own to deal with, he still has free will and can’t blame his bullshit on having soul bits missing. Magnus  kicks his ass, before hauling it to the Golden Throne where he confronts dad directly. 

Dad tells Magnus he can still come back. But also tells Magnus that there is absolutely no way his legion will survive without being mutated and basically for them its spawndom or a bullet, and this was always the case, the Thousand Sons Gene Line was a mistake

But come back and I’ll give you a better Legion. 

Magnus asks Vulkan “Would you take this deal?” and Vulkan says no fucking way. Magnus freaks the fuck out, decides he will not abandon his Legion and FUCK YOU DAD and leaves/is forcibly ejected way, waaaay out of the battlespace, he will take no more part in the Siege. 

Was the Emperor expecting Magnus to say “yes” to this bullshit deal? Probably he was not. The most likely and reasonable assumption is that he expected a violent “No!” and the whole offer and rejection was orchestrated theatre which tied his fallen son ever more tightly to his Legion. Likely with some deep-future strands of fate shenanigans. 

Or maybe E is being written as the dummy he was in ‘The Last Church’. 


People Being Oiled Up – I’m pretty sure Magnus is before his disastrous zoom call


Fulgrim and Peter Turbo - Oiled Muscles 

In Fulgrim, which we have talked about at length, Fulgrim becomes a junkie and gets trapped in a painting/possessed by a demon. 

Now we get The Reflection Crack'd (Novella) - THIS IS THE ONE THIS IS THE FUCKING ONE!!!!! 

Remember how I told you, right at the start of this series of posts that one of the most important things about the Horus Heresy is that a Primarch is anally violateT by a torture apple (a pear of anguish) and is into it and that this is canon? Well this is where that happens! The E-Kids want their Primarch back and McNeil wants to repair the clusterfuck he created in ‘Fulgrim’ so things get really fucking weird

Then we get Angel Exterminatus in which Fulgrim hangs out with Perty and tries to eat his soul while becoming a demon prince. This book is fun but mainly about Perty so I will leave a deep dive till later. This book also has an encounter with the ‘Shattered Legions’ Saturday Morning Cartoon Colour Coded Heroes Squad – the raven guard guy shoots Fulgrim in the head and kills Lucius but doesn’t suffer the Slaaneshy Swordsman’s curse in which if you take even a little bit of pride in beating Lucius, he grows inside you like a cancer, because the Cartoon Raven Guard guy is just so unfathomable based I suppose. 

People Being Oiled – So, so so so much oil. Fulgrim is nicely oiled to begin with and end up dripping in it. Think perty may be oiled at one point.


Shattered Legions - The Saturday Morning Cartoon Series

 A Raven Guardy Raven guard, Iron handsy Iron Hand, Slamandery Salamander and whoever the fuck else wander about and have adventures by a bunch of different writers. Graham only does a few of these; Kryptos and The Either, before finishing up their adventures in another Siege of Terra Novella Sons of Selenar, which is interesting mainly because of the world-elements in it. 

“Sons” has an ancient space rock near Terra which dates from a very old age of exploration, we go in deep into the Selenar Gene Witches who Horus conquered in his first signature battle, the tangled web between the extrely-female Selenar and the extremely-male Astartes and finally a big gene vault of knowledge is rescued from the baddies and hidden away to become a bit of modern 40k lore – it’s the thingy Bellasarius Cawl uses to help make Primaris. 

Knots – TIED. 

People Being Oiled – I can’t remember any but if you can leave a comment below.



Only The Kaban Project and Mechanicum, which we have already spoken of at length. Not a huge number of works in volume but important signature ones for this group. Plus McNeil goes deeper on the ‘modern’ AdMech in other books.


Life on Terra 

A ridiculous but fun story where both McNeil and the editors forget exactly when things happen. The backwash from Magnus’s Zoom Call wrecks a big chunk of the psychic infrastructure of Terra and an Astropath gets a Mcguffin stuck in his head and has to go on the run with possibly-traitor Astartes from the Traitor legions who have been trapped on Terra for so long the actually may not be Traitors. The Astropath communes with E who basically shrugs and says “strands of fate, what can I do?” 

McNeil puts a Samurai in this one for some reason. It also has a Thunder Warrior! A handful survived in the depths of the Terran underworld. Will they turn up again before the end? Only two books to find out. FOR UNITY! 

People Being Oiled – I got nothin’.

 And finally


Miscellaneous Stories!

They might link to stuff, but not to McNeil-dominant strands. In The Dark King  Konrad has a Mental. In Rules of Engagement - Robute Cosplays as Horus… for important strategic training reasons! Not because he was into it! In Calth That Was, something happens on Calth but I can be damned if I can remember what, think it was more Ultramarines stuff and in Luna Mendax Loken Has a Mental and does gardening on the moon. 

People Being Oiled – I barely remember these stories but I hope someone was!



Who Is Graham McNeil?

How shall we remember him?


McNeil the Ancient Mason

The Heresy stalwart who in some ways, nearly started the whole Heresy Fiction thing off. The guy who was in at the birth, kept going through all adventures, survived whatever weird shit was going on in Black Library HQ and made it to the end (in Novellas). The decent workman who tied shit up when it needed tying? 


McNeil the Blank Grinder Profile

The man who was very much into queer-coded-decadence when it was appropriate for the character and hey, even when it wasn’t. The man who never saw a Primarch he couldn’t oil. The man who shoved a torture device up Fulgrims arse.


McNeil the Weaver of Threads

The man who made a subtle tapestry on the theme of deific child sacrifice, who lead a surprisingly sympathetic immortal through hell to a reckoning that perhaps the Emperor could never make? The man who showed us Horus’ and Magnus’ dealings with the Emperor in ways that still leave us asking – was it idiocy, or strands of fate?


McNeil the Utter Dingus

The man who wrote “The Last Church” and the very eh, Horus-is-a-dummy “False Gods”. The ding-dong who had a space ninja raven guard kill Lucius and just decide to be chill about it. The man who, despite writing most of the Magnus-dicks-with-fate scenes, still sort of forgot exactly when the Zoom Call happened.. The man who wrote Magnus’ silly speech at the Council of Nikea. The man who had Space Marines fight a Samurai.


McNeil the Man!

Aye, he was a fool at times, and many of his monuments are fallen and a waste strewn across his palaces. 

YET LOOK WHAT PALACES THEY WERE! For he was a man! By god he was rubbish some of the time but he came with a full heart none the less. He gave us the extra-creepy duel between Horus and the bearer of the Athame, he gave us one of the best Pertuabo stories, he to a large degree, built much of the Ad Mech. He put together almost the whole of the Thousand Sons arc and he did a damn good job of it. Snooty space wizards aren’t necessarily an easy sell, and neither is Giant Red Hubristic Man, but he pulled it together (largely) in “A Thousand Sons”, “The Crimson King” and pretty much in “Fury of Magnus”. 

A Thousand Sons was meant to be a paired book with Abnetts Space Wolf stuff and I think it’s better. 

This is Graham McNeil. A flawed man for sure, but a man with the power of his guts and his heart. A man whose (sometimes many) failings, throw into relief the central arc of his forwardness, courage, boldness and invention. A heroes arc. Not a Grand Hero but an ordinary, sometimes un-regarded hero, a man with powers alike unto our own and a serious oiled torso fetish who made himself a hero through his blood, sweat, joy an oil. 

Clench yourself upon the apple of his mind and bid him a fond farewell.





Who is the third

 “Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
-But who is that on the other side of you?”


That, my friends, is the shadow of James Swallow. And we shall read of him but later, in another time more fit to the task.


  1. I enjoy reading these significantly more than any of the Horus heresy books themselves.

  2. I greatly enjoy reading these articles.
    Can't wait for Perturabo's part.

    As for Marsmechanical, this is probably one of my favourite parts of the whole WH40k universe, setting wise. The tangled mess of forbidden/supertechnology, people who wish to utilize it for various goals, the Void Dragon, and how it all keeps being treaded through the rest of human universe. It is also something that is still about, very arguably, but mostly humans, instead of super-soldiers doing battles at super-scales.

    "Cybernetica" looks very interesting. Am I right to assume Raven Guard guy survives at the end?

    1. Thanks K and yes the Raven Guard guy does survive that part of the story, as does _one other character_.

    2. Lovely, I am going to read it then.

  3. The Mechanicum needs...more. As does the Dark Mechanicum. (As did Ferrus Manus, and I don't recall anyone doing a Cogboy and Mr Metal-Mitts story comparing theory and practice - though it sounds obvious as a notion).

    Unlikely samurai aside, I appreciated the Outcast Dead for the view of life in the shadow of the Palace. There was also an attempt there to do some astropath-centred stuff (surely one of them was rubbed down with restorative oils at some point), but it didn't come out as well as Farrer's Blind with its gulag/space station/spa/haunted house.
    There was some of this in A Thousand Sons as well in the civilian elements of Prospero and the Remembrancers.

    I recall some of the excitement around The Last Church when it was published. The contrast with the rest of the Heresy was obvious. The 2000s Dawkins-esque atheism of the early books ebbed over time - partly as the 40k elements reared up ever more prominently and partly (one suspects) as the starkness of it became relatively dated.

    1. I don't really object to the atheism so much as the theology and arguments being pretty sixth-form, and not really takin advantage of the fact that one guy knows that godlike entities absolutely do exist and are poison, and also that he is afraid of turning into one himself.

  4. This is more a comment/response to all your Trailing Corposant posts than this one in particular:

    What do you think is required to make a fictional universe, fantasy or sci-fi or something of both or neither, feel big? I remember when I read the Dune series (Frank Herbert og, no Brian) I was weirdly disappointed on some level to learn that Paul's jihad had conquered hundreds or thousands or however many worlds, rather than the 50 or so I had assumed were settled by humanity when I read the original Dune. It simply didn't feel like it "earned" that scale, or had aimed for it, or something of that like.

    I don't have enough exposure to 40k stuff to make a real judgement call either way, having never played the game or read the novels. It seems from your reviews that there's a divide between the galactic-scale events which involve the same few primarchs, gods, emperors, etc., and the planetary-scale, humanizing stories, each with a unique cast. Is it almost ecosystemal, with a few apex predators and innumerable minnows in tiny ponds? Don't know how to end this question. Thoughts?

    1. Thats a question too large for me to easily deal with it. I will have to think about it and possibly come back later.