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.

Thursday 21 October 2021

The Dover Beach Expanded Universe

 Having finally finished 'Titus Alone' and completed the Gormenghast cycle, what sticks out?


I read Gormenghast ages ago, the whole trilogy, turns out I remembered almost nothing about Titus Alone and HAD FORGOTTEN THE ENTIRE LAST BIT OF GORMENGHST!

Flay dies! Steepikes insane cockerel dance! This is maybe one of the best parts in the whole book, simultaneously ridiculous, chilling, manic, incoherent yet perfectly and entirely RIGHT as the madness which has been building inside Steepike all this time finally breaks out and he struts and caws like a fucking maniac around the bodies of the two sisters.

Charles R Stewart

The entire castle floods. Titus' mum goes into overdrive, runs UNINSTALL: AUTISM.EXE and becomes the leader who organises everything and is instrumental in the systemic capture of Steerpike. Everyone moves to the roofs, the Bright Carvers carve wonderous boats for the now-naval castle. Steerpike is cornered! Titus is carried across the rooftops in a palanquin, wasted from exhaustion and picking at a bag of nuts his mind thrums with dreams of vengeance against Steerpike while a whole bunch of guys labour to carry him smoothly across the rooftops of Gormenghast above the still waters of the flood. the Lord of Gormenghast at last.

Titus fights Steerpike in the Ivy! How did I forget this stuff? This book doesn't go off on a dying fall the ending is based as fuck. Also fuck you Peake for killing both 'The Thing' and 'Fuschia' you fucking absolute son of a bitch.


Titus really is intolerable in 'Titus Alone'.

You can tell he's a real member of the upper class because even lost alone, penniless and wearing rags in an alien city, owning only a rock (which he loses fighting a robot), his version of suffering still consists of running between the houses of reasonably well-resourced members of the upper class, being fed and waterd, occasionally banging someone out of his age range, crying about his sorrows, mooning about being edgy and mysterious, then fucking off somewhere else for mysterious reasons.

Truly the ultimate gap year.

Titus is a man in his early 20s, born of wealth and raised by a family of non-evil though often dangerously mad, sorry, "extra-neurodiverse" people. Plus his dad was murdered and sister "committed suicide" and he himself killed a guy in a knife fight before he ran away from home. So him being a flighty self-involved needy tit is pretty accurate, but still not fun to read, especially after a while.


It’s really a sketch of a book, at least compared to 'Titus Groan' and 'Gormenghast', though still pretty good compared to other more-normal books.

Peake always had this slightly stagey element to some of his writing, it came out especially in the first book in the parts about the wetnurse from the outer dwellings who has her own little serious romantic tragedy where people speak quite differently than the highly particular and peculiar individual speech patterns of the castle. They talk like stagey declarative romantic heroes, which was fine there, in that part but now it seeps a little more into everything.

Titus Alone only really gets a good villain in the last half. Cheetah - the Head Scientist  daughter is at least in the same class as Steerpike, if not on the same level.


What the absolute fuck is going on with Cheeta and her "father"? 

"They lead her to a reception room. The ceiling was matted with crimson wires. There was a black glass table of unnatural length, and at the far end of the room the wall was monopolised by an opaque screen like a cods eye.

Eleven men stood in a row while their leader pressed a button.

What's that peculiar smell? said Cheeta.

Top secret,' said the eleventh man.

'Miss Cheeta,' said the twelfth man. 'I am putting you through.'

After a moment or two an enormous face appeared on the opaque screen. It filled the wall.

'Miss Cheeta?' it said.

'Shrivel yourself,' said Cheeta. 'You're too big.'

'Ha, ha, ha!' said the huge face. 'I keep forgetting.

The face contracted, and went on contracting. 'Is this better?' it said.

'More or less,' said Cheeta. 'I must see Father.'

'Your father is at a conference, said the image on the screen. It was still over life-size and a small fly landing on his huge dome of a forehead appeared the size of a grape.

'Do you know who I am?' said Cheeta in her faraway voice.

'But of course... of..'

'Then stir yourself.'

The face disappeared and Cheeta was left alone.

After a moment she wandered to the wall that faced the cod's-eye screen and played delicately across a long row of coloured levers that were as pretty as toys. So innocent they looked that she pressed forward, and at once there was a scream.

'No, no, no!' came the voice. 'I want to live'

'But you are very poor and very ill,' said another voice, with the constistency of porridge. 'You're unhappy. You told me so.'

'No, no, no! I want to live. I want to live. Give me a little longer.'

Cheeta switched the lever and sat down at the black table.

As she sat there, very upright, her eyes closed, she did not know that she was being watched. When at last she raised her head she was annoyed to see her mother.

'You!' she said. 'What are you doing here?'

'Its absorbing, you know, said Cheeta's mother. 'Daddy lets me watch.'

'I wondered where you got to every day,' muttered her daughter. 'What on earth do you do here?'

'Fascinating,' said the scientists wife, who never seemed to answer anything."


What the ever-loving fuck. Congratulations Swelter, you may have died in Gormenghast but your spirit lives on I guess. At least the book finally gets a villain in the same league, if not on the same level, as Steerpike.


And really the better character in this book. It should really have been called GORMENGHAST THREE; MUZZLEHATCHES REVENGE!! (THIS TIME.. ITS PERSONAL!!)

Cormorant fishers at the start by the river, Muzzlehatch racing through the city in his insane archaic car, Muzzlehatch racing through the country, stopping in a village to be assessed by old men, stopping to watch a sunset and someone tries to rent him a chair. All of this strikes me as very euro-expat
feels a lot like some kind of expat holed up in a pre-war Chinese city running a zoo or something, living as a half-barbarian.

Muzzlehatch pretty much does everything, rescuing Titus in his alligator car, talking down a camel, rescuing Juno who is rescuing Titus at a ball, getting Titus to safety in the under-river, rescuing Titus from the Concentration Camp Guard in the knife fight as he literally does a fucking batman-drop from the rafters, racing in his car, having Blake-visions of his dead animals, rescuing Titus AGAIN in the gormenghast-masque at the end and revealing "Oh yeah, also I nuked Aushwitz earlier today" before being killed by TWO Robocops (because one wouldn't be enough).

Rodney Matthews. More High fantasy than I was thinking but captures the spirit

Truly, he was a large-faced man. 

(Is the whole thing just Flay vs Swelter/Swelter redux? With Muzzlehatch the neo-Flay and the Scientists Factory a new gigantic Swelter?) 


"Then all at once he halted, for he became aware of something floating beside him, at the height of his shoulders.

It was a sphere no bigger than the clenched fist of a child, and was composed of some transparent substance, so pellucid that it was only visible in certain lights, so that it seemed to come and go.


This time as Titus watched it he could see that it was filled with glittering wires, an incredible filigree like frost on a pane; and then, as a cloud moved over the sun, and a dim, sullen light filled the windowless street, the little hovering globe began to throb with a strange light like a glow worm.


Then, as though restless, it sped, revolving on its axis, to the far end of the street where it turned about immediately and sang its way back to where it hung again five feet from Titus, who, fishing his knuckle of flint from his pocket, slung it at the hovering ball, which broke in a cascade of dazzling splinters, and, as it broke there was a kind of gasp, as though the globe had given up its silvery ghost ... as though it had a sentience of its own, or a state of perfection so acute that it entered, for the split second, the land of the living."


"'Just toys, boy, just toys. They can be simple as an infants rattle, or complex as the brain of man. Toys, toys, toys, to be played with. As for the one you chose to smash, number LKZ00572 ARG 39 576 Aiij9843K2532 if I remember rightly, I have already read about it and how it is reputed to be almost human. Not quite, but _almost_. So THAT is what has happened? You have broken something quite hideously efficient. You have blasphemed against the spirit of the age. You have shattered the very spear-head of advancement. having committed this reactionary crime, you come to me. Me! This being so, let me peer out of the window. It is always well to be watchful. These globes have origins. Somewhere or other there's a backroom boy, his soul working in the primordial dark of a diseased yet sixty horse-power brain.'


'You have only destroyed a miracle,' said Muzzlehatch. 'Who knows how pregnant with possibilities that globe could be? Why, you dunderhead, a thing like that could wipe out half the world. Now, they'll have to start again."`


This feels like the realest thing in the book. Two people, both in some ways the "best" people of their somewhat shitty cultural milieux, both attracted to each other - drawn together, but they know each other too well, have dicked each other around too much (probably that was mainly Muzzlehatch really), are too familiar with each others strangeness and trouble to get on , but still there is this deep, complex, hidden emotion. That felt like the most grown-up thing in the book. Maybe the only fully-developed human relationship.


Scientists are evil. Policemen are robots. Titus kills an A.I. with a rock. Muzzlehatch blows up Belsen/Monsanto. Clearly the 20th century has not turned out as hoped for. 

Further than that, is Peake having a breakdown about the nature/content of his own Imagination? Gormenghast is real/unreal, a figment, a distant hope, an undiscovered space. Gormenghast is the gritty, cruel but extremely based ancien' regime rising up to battle the horrors of the future. Gormenghast was a waste of time - see the author in the Under-River sleeping on and being carted around with stacks of his great 'Epic' which he dumped his life into but which nobody read. Gormenghast is a fantasy you need to get over. Gormenghast is hope.


Titus has clearly been going for a long time before the story starts, and he's been chased by the Robocop Policemen things for a while. They are more like Harold-Pinter robocops - fleshless immutable avatars of some unknown authority. Is there some story we didn't get because Peake was very sick? Or was he just like; nope - cold open, lost in wilderness, chased by police.

Eventually he makes it downriver to the city. What do we know about the city and its world? 

It has poorish areas like a Victorian warren. Its middle-class or ruling class areas are very late 20th century high-modernist, with wide Corbusier-style boulevards, large empty desolate spaces and lots of glass and steel. In these places there are parties - heaving upper middle class cocktail parties full of stretched sweating people going on beneath glass roofs, like parties from Ballard.

And it has cars and motorways. Highways, and these seem to have the same kind of urban desolation that ours have, cars swooshing past indifferent, beggars hiding in the verges. It has villas for the rich - Juno has one and the Chief Scientist has one, and the chief scientist has grounds or a zone of some sort in which he has enough space for a park, a nice lake and fucking Belsen crossed with the Apple Compound for all your genocide-plus-eugenics-plus-hey-lets-improvise-with-people needs.

It has an underworld - a tunnel or series of tunnels under the river where the poor and refugees go, and there are lots of places to be refugees from. Something called the "Iron Shore" where I think there are salt mines, "Camps" of some kind, the man Titus tries to fight comes from one of those, he was a guard, and there are enough poor, not just poor but non-state actors, people the authorities would actively hunt, that they can fill the Under-River.

And it has "unexplored" areas, or areas that are not known well, in which sometimes there are ruins - the last part of the book takes place in a ruin deep in this forest in which people don't know the area that well, but they know about the ruin from explorations, yet clearly never felt the need to go back there.
And, as we find out in the last scene of the book - it has Gormenghast, a place which is real, though to find it, Titus has to take a jet plane or helicopter a very long way, then jump out in a parachute, then walk for aaages, and then he can just about see the tops of its towers.

Now it sort-of exists in a world, and has other places to compare it to, Gormeghast has gone from being absolutely horrific, in the early descriptions of the first book, to not that bad actually, in the later parts of the second book, especially when Steerpike is trying to bring it down, to actually pretty great in Titus Alone, especially when you compare it to the City, the Chief Scientists Factory and the Under-River. Scrubbing floors like your dad did doesn't look so bad now does it! 

(This just lends credence to the Gormenghast-Is-Britain theory strand.)

So what is this world, if it were real?. 

It’s not much like the "Empire of Gormenghast" that I imagined at the start. The thing it most reminds me of is the Post-Post-Apocalypse lands of YA fiction, we have gotten past the mad max bits and rebuilt society in a funny new shape, "ever since the Event...", in which the signs and symbols of the current age are scrambled re-mixed and sometimes literalised. There is enough tech for people to do tech things but the planetary society which removes easy wilderness has died back, so now there is room for mystery adventure and discovery.

It’s also reminds me of vague memories of 60's British black and white "symbolic" sci fi. Like how bits of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett are technically sci-fi-ish or could be read so. I think that’s more appropriate and also less boring than thinking about post apocalypse YA fiction more than I already have.

The Pinter/Beckett/Peake/Better Early-Dr-Who (plus throw in some Ballard) expanded black-and-white universe sounds more interesting. More about people having guarded conversations in rooms about terrible events, (which they never mention directly).

Everyone has early 20th century Anglo manners. "It is a little grim with those metal fellows. Not.. not of course that I have anything against them myself. Live and let live, that’s what I always say", the anguished psychic of the turning point of the 2th century, with Aushwitz in the rear mirror, and the Gagarin, the moonshot and the Cold War in the forward screen. Computers made up of blinking lights, "Fiendishly clever you know, these things." Tech but few of the later "appearance" of tech - robots are either very obvious metal-faced men who don't do much or just an ordinary person you know who either admits or accepts "You know Winstanley I do rather think I might be an automata." [smokes pipe]. There's a governing A.I. "The Big Machine", but it doesn't text you, or send drones, but a boy on a bicycle with a telegram; "Blue paper mister Winstanley! Is it from them upstairs? Quite an event round here Sir.' 'Yes yes, that’s enough lad, back on your rounds young man and keep your nose clean."

There is a "wilderness" where the psychic wash of the Central European Bloodlands/Post-Nuclear Wasteland lies, but almost nothing is set there, instead everything is in these small rooms or very tense parties.

(When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs is another good tonal match)

Scenes of cliché masqued balls where robots pretend to be humans dressed as wizards while Wasteland "Gammas" serve drinks (Brave New World would be another influence). 

There are terrible events or terrible possibilities, but we never see them on-screen or play them out in action, instead a light goes on, or an alarm or bleeping noise plays and a name is printed out or a civilised fellow in a neat suit comes out and calls your name - and then you "have to go"

And everyone has mid 20th Century Anglo manners so they do actually go without kicking up too much of a fuss "Oh dear, oh dear, I knew it had to happen but I am a bit surprised its me. Well there it is I suppose."

Apart from one character who is common/foreign/northern and freaks out when the light goes off "No! No no no! I won't! There TEARING THEM APART IN THERE! THERE TEAR.." [falls unconscious to discreetly administered needle, other characters wince sympathetically at each other, maybe roll their eyes].

Monday 18 October 2021

A Review of 'The Corner That Held Them' by Sylvia Townsend-Warner

Why did I read this book about nuns by a communist lesbian and why did I like it?

I can answer one of those questions, the other I can "explore"

First one is easy; Emma Gregory

I didn't read it, I listened to it. I live alone and only Audible can distract me from the cats and the voices which I certainly hope are talking behind the wall on the neighbours side of my semi-detached house.

This usually means an unending selection of Warhammer books (after finishing the Horus Heresy I couldn't kick the habit). Near continual audibling has given me an ear for audiobook readers like a neurotic Picardy farmers taste for wine. It’s a strange and subtle job, few single individuals who aren't the writer can affect the quality of a story in the same way and to the same extent; the vile made tolerable, the medium given uplifted and the good given wings. Likewise a bad narrator, or just a poor fit, can grind a tale down into the black earth.

Of the art and science of narration, that may be an investigation for another time. For now; few narrators can handle Warhammer Fiction, only a handful of women ever did any and one in particular very strongly stood out as being exceptionally good at it. Emma Gregory; the 'Watchers of the Throne' series, the voice of Jeneta Krole in 'Saturnine' and seriously punching up a mid-range book in 'Neferata: Dominion of Bones'.

Looking for more of an Emma Gregory kick I wend wandering in Audible. Most of the other books looked boring and this one 'The Corner that Held Them' was newly recorded and seemed interesting.


It is the story of a convent in England, from its founding in the mid 12th century, for perhaps two hundred years, following it through several generations of nuns, dipping in and out of the story or the continuity of their shared lives.

Nothing I've read seems quite like it but the think closest in tone and structure might be '100 Years of Solitude, and the sci fi rip-off of that - which I forget the name of. 'Corner' doesn't have any magical realism but in the same "story of the place through the people" deal and mild absurdism mixed with muted non-dramatic tragedy and the strange patternings of life, it fits there best.


What is the story in a nutshell? - there nearly isn't one, or at least not one that can be summed up. It is nearly exactly a "slice of time". There are many dramas and mysteries, several deaths, even a murder, but its not a "dramatic" book. These things simply happen as part of the patterning of life. The murderer is never caught or brought to justice and the big "sleeping elephant" of the "plot" (the convent priest is a fake and was never ordained and so by church law none of his services are valid and all his confessions may be as well they never happened) also never comes to light. The individual stories mesh and roll against and through each other. So what is it about?


Probably at some point you have looked out at a crowd of people and tried to hold within your mind the interior spaces within each of them, each one as deep as your own, with their own personal motivations and differing drives and dreams.

Inside they are like deep laden cargo vessels with black holds, or great wallowing airships carrying bric-a-brac and secret treasures, strange and echoing within - but they fleet and skip past each other like raindrops on a window, engaged on some great mutual business which brings them into contact here and there, brushing against each other in these tenuous social handshakes and half-act plays.

Then probably you give up even trying to imagine it and go about your day. It’s too much!

The book is about that really, a polyscale vision from the deep interiority of peoples lives, up through their social webs, their buildings, hierarchies, landscape, economy and culture, all as one, held, as the eye of a writer, like a hawks eye, can stay hovering, open and focused upon a great land which they pull back and forth before the, seeing at once the mountains and the dreams.


Economics - really a huge amount of the structure and "story" and motivating drive for many characters in the second half comes from debt, going into it, servicing it and trying to claim it.

In the first half of the book one of the head nuns gets a vision that she should build a spire on the convent. This goes horribly wrong, becoming a massive money sink, the work lasting decades longer than expected. But - its a sunk cost, you would have to be a truly radical leader to be the nun who says "yes that spire we've been working on since the plague - fuck that thing lets leave it unfinished". So the spire is eventually, laboriously, completed, and then the convent has to cover the debt they incurred building it, which is an economic pressure on it from that day forth, and the convent gets much of its money from debts or rents which come along with its nuns as dowries, so they need to collect the debt to pay the debt.

Almost none of the nuns really know this is going on. Or at least they all "know" about it, in the same way you sort of "know" about the national debt, but they don't fully understand how much of their day to day life, the decisions of leadership, the structure of their lives, what they do and why and how they do it, is ultimately decided by this question of money and debt, a debt which many of them weren't around to incur and may not be around for when its paid off.

We know. And the Prioress's of the convent who can do accounting, and the more intelligent archbishops, all know, but the ladies in it are just in it.

Likewise, the business of managing the church, the simple logistics and accounting of it, the human management, the balancing of competency against utility against political necessity, which makes up the personal world of the Bishops and priests who periodically visit the convent, all of this, strangely, lead me to an odd sympathy with these worldly religious women and men. People of a church I don't belong to, and overwhelmingly concerned with the parts of that church which are not even about religion. The "other stuff", the maintenance and bureaucracy, and that hugely politically and morally compromised as well. There are no grand idealistic reformers, just people trying hard to stop things from going completely to shit, and making lots of compromised decisions in limited circumstances. The middle-level bureaucrats, my natural enemies!

How can it be that I am lead into sympathy with such people? Is it because I can see inside their minds and see how little they have to work with in the world, because I can see through time and unlike them know both their future and past, in a vague way, so know how difficult their meta-circumstances are?


How it passes back and forth around and within people like weather, forming differently in each one, provoked strangely and by unexpected events. The convent priest who isn't really a full priest, starts an affair with a lay sister, and its this which sparks him into actual, deep religion. Another has a complex drama with rare Italian music and lepers which alters his soul somehow. One sister fares poorly with the others, suffers deep depression and a total loss of meaning, then while praying to St Leonard, the saint of prisoners, the saint strikes her on the head and says "Go be an Anchoress!" This becomes her driving dream, and frees her from her depression and malaise. We, and the Priest, and the Prioress, know that almost certainly some other Nun just knocked her on the back of her head because she was irritating them - but the Priest rationalises it as being "essentially" the Saint. Later, long after the Nun in question has learned the truth and her dream of being an Anchoress has disappeared, another Nun becomes obsessed with it and begins to make it her driving cause, so the first nun has to work out whether, or how, to keep the secret of the knock on the back of the head.


Every Prioress earnestly wishes to arrange for some sane and capable successor, to manage the accounts and generally keep things calm between the nuns, (and hopefully to be pretty faithful).

This almost never happens. One appointed successor dies strangely in a spire-based accident/possible suicide. One nun is appointed to the role because nobody thought she would get it, felt bad for her, and so voted for her out of pity so she didn't end up with zero votes. Along with a split vote this put her 1 vote ahead and bam, new prioress there you go.


Townsend-Warner is capable of a deep interiority (of the kind which, I, for instance, can't manage, especially about the normal or mundane texture of life’s drama). These fluid and deep dives from mind to mind, show us the point of view of one soul looking at another, how enmeshed they are in their own private worlds, even when together, how in some ways inexplicable they are to one another.

It’s in "Jokers-Third" Perspective. Giving us deep enough dives into each soul to show us what drives and moves them, more even than they themselves sometimes know, before flitting like a fly to observe their interactions with another person, with quite a different soul - and we know more about both than either, so their attempts to understand each other, and communicate, are sometimes tragic, or comic and sometimes accidentally-blessed.

this fits with the modernist structure of the book - small stories ending in the middle, others disappearing into nothing, low things becoming great and great becoming small.


Don't know if I've written about this before but can't remember exactly so will assume that I haven't and say it again if I have. There's a strange unacknowledged alliance nascent between modernism and feminism. men, especially the type we tell stories about, tend to have more story-shaped lives; largely about one or two interest, with all of the activity dedicated towards that, big rises, deep falls etc. You can cut them down pretty strongly to fit them in a book or film and still retain the general shape and theme of the life.

Women’s lives tend to be more about a lot of little things, spread out more in time, built from a greater number of connections between and across difference schema of life and more about those connections. Less vertiginous ascents and hubris-driven falls. Less stark shape and so when you cut it down to make it art, harder to retain the sense of it. 

Modernism, or "cubist" fiction about women is one interesting response to it because you can build a whole from fragments, skipping across space, time and schema, without having to fight the structure of the text or piece. Though the only other one I can think of off hand is Greta Gerwigs 'Little Women'.


I forgot most of the specifics of most of the nuns even while reading and have definitely forgotten their names now. For a book which it basically a web of nuns you would think that a bad thing, and certainly, the core action of the book; the domestic lives of nuns who can't even leave the convent much and their relationships - is not exactly high Patrick style. And added to that that it is deliberately non dramatic!

Where's the DRIVE!  Where's the TENSION!?

There isn't any, or isn't much, just small lives and usually small dramas as they are lived.
This is the key and that is that the book as a whole stayed with me, like a dream or a strange memory, a stone of endless fascination, which one can turn over again and again, with its unanswered questions.

Not to mention the particularity of the history, specificity of the landscapes, the clothing, the meals the animals, the villagers conversations about a legendary history of Viking raiders which must have taken place only a few hundred years ago - this book drew from a deep well of slowly-accumulated knowledge.

Perhaps it is the strangeness of its empathy, its refracted, sorrowful, slightly grieving and slightly impish empathy, for all these fractured, damaged souls in an unfair and uncertain world, none of whom really know what the hell they are doing, at least 50 per cent or more of which are honestly trying to do something like the right thing up to 50 per cent of the time, (which isn't bad really). And that combined with a view of their world and environment which is at once cold, clear, but without contempt or the verminous wrathful self-righteous loathing, or simple blank incomprehension to faith of lives other than their own which I associate with the worst parts of the left - usually their curse is that they gain the global systematic view but in return have to chip off a bit of their soul and throw it away, it’s rare to find someone who has both the mind of a systems analyst and also their heart in their chest.

Friday 8 October 2021

Grisaille by George Santayana

 Still busy doing KS stuff so my apologies. Here is a little fragment of "Soliloquies in England" by George Santayana.


England is pre-eminently a land of atmosphere. A luminous haze permeates everywhere, softening distances, magnifying perspectives, transfiguring familiar objects, harmonizing the accidental, making beautiful things magical and ugly things picturesque. Road and pavement become wet mirrors, in which the fragments of this gross world are shattered, inverted, and transmuted into jewels, more appealing than precious stones to the poet, because they are insubstantial and must be loved without being possessed. Mists prolong the most sentimental and soothing of hours, the twilight, through the long summer evenings and the whole winter's day. In these country-sides so full of habitations and these towns so full of verdure, lamplight and twilight cross their rays; and the passers-by, mercifully wrapped alike in one crepuscular mantle, are reduced to unison and simplicity, as if sketched at one stroke by the hand of a master.

English landscape, if we think only of the land and the works of man upon it, is seldom on the grand scale. Charming, clement, and eminently habitable, it is almost too domestic, as if only home passions and caged souls could live there. But lift the eyes for a moment above the line of roofs or of tree-tops, and there the grandeur you miss on the earth is spread gloriously before you. The spirit of the atmosphere is not compelled, like the god of pantheism, to descend in order to exist, and wholly to diffuse itself amongst earthly objects. It exists absolutely in its own person as well, and enjoys in the sky, like a true deity, its separate life and being. There the veil of Maya, the heavenly Penelope, is being woven and rent perpetually, and the winds of destiny are always charmingly defeating their apparent intentions. Here is the playground of those early nebulous gods that had the bodies of giants and the minds of children.

In England the classic spectacle of thunderbolts and rainbows appears but seldom; such contrasts are too violent and definite for these tender skies. Here the conflict between light and darkness, like all other conflicts, ends in a compromise; cataclysms are rare, but revolution is perpetual. Everything lingers on and is modified; all is luminous and all is grey.