Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: Path of Heaven

Path of Heaven is a fantastic novel.  Chris Wraight presents a clear and compelling vision of what the Emperor's Children were like following Fulgrim's ascension.

The plot line of the story is that for four years the White Scars have sought to punish Horus' rebellion and find a path way back to Terra.  Eidolon has led the Emperor's Children in countering the Khan's cunning stratagems, displaying a rare tactical genius able to frustrate even a Primarch's brilliance.

While chaos has seeped deep into the III Legion, the Emperor's Children still possess the precision, excellence and splendor that makes them the elite force of the galaxy in war.  Of particular interest is a charismatic character introduced by Wraight named Ravasch Cario, who is the prefector of the Palatine Blades and an astonishing talent at the blade.

One of the great strengths of the book is how many characters in the story are struggling with their own internal demons (sometimes literally), and how they seek to defeat them.

While the White Scars are the primary subject of the novel, to me the Emperor's Children hands down steal the show.

Overall, in my opinion this is perhaps one of the best Horus Heresy books I have read yet.  I give it five out of five stars ***** and recommend it highly!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Index of Emperor's Children fiction

Key Novels:

Fulgrim ****

As the Great Crusade draws to a close, primarch Fulgrim and the Emperor's Children continue their pursuit of perfection. But pride comes before a fall, and this most proud of Legions is about to fall a very, very long way...

Angel Exterminatus ****

Primarch Fulgrim of the Emperor’s Children leads his brother Perturabo and the Iron Warriors in an attack upon a mysterious eldar world, in search of ancient xenos weaponry.

Path of Heaven *****

The Khan returns! After the events of 'Scars', the White Scars Legion have chosen their loyalties. Now, after years of battle against the traitors, it's time to return to Terra and prepare for the inevitable invasion. But first, Jaghatai and his warriors must brave a gauntlet of enemies and the terrors of the warp...

Fabius Bile: Primogenitor ****

Exiled into the depths of the Eye of Terror for his dark deeds, former Emperor's Children Apothecary Fabius is drawn back to the Imperium in search of a secret that could be the key to saving his misbegotten life…

Short Stories:

The Phoenician (also in War without End) **

Gabriel Santar lies dying upon the sands of Isstvan, an unwilling witness to Ferrus Manus's murder. Only then, at the end, does he understand the darkness that will claim them all.

Imperfect (also in War without End) **

A simple game of Regicide between Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus is far more than it seems...

Chirugeon (also in War without End) **

Apothecary Fabius revisits his early work in halting the genetic flaw that almost destroyed the Emperor's Children. Could the threat of further degeneration be as real as he fears?

The Reflection Crack'd (also in the Primarchs) ****

While the Emperor's Children descend into debauchery, Fulgrim's closest allies plot against him to purge the Legion of the daemonic influence which has begun to plague their ranks.

The Tyrant's Champion *****

Huron Blackheart, Master of the Red Corsairs, is a warlord without a champion. Several hopefuls wish to claim the honour of fighting at the side of the Tyrant of Badab – the twins Szear and Feddeus; Dolosus, duellist extraordinaire, and Vorenus, a warrior of the Emperor’s Children who has fought the servants of the corpse-Emperor since time immemorial. Sent to battle one another in the twisted depths of Blackheart’s realm, which of them – if any – will emerge victorious and claim the title of Tyrant’s Champion?

Atrophy **

Culling hordes of humans on a damned world, Kerbaklalyth of the Emperor's Children is bored of the easy slaughter. The arrival of loyalist Space Marines changes everything.

The Staff of Asclepius **

An Ultramarines Apothecary tries to save precious gene-seed from an ancient and malevolent traitor in a new Ultramarines story by Graham McNeill.

In Wolves' Clothing **

The Space Wolves hunt a dangerous foe, one who will be as much a threat to them after his death as he is with a blade...

The Dark King (also in Shadows of Treachery) **

The acts of terror and warmongering by Konrad Curze, Primarch of the Night Lords Legion, have earned the ire of his brother primarch, Rogal Dorn. Wracked by terrible visions of the future, Curze is driven insane and attacks Dorn, setting the Night Lord on an inexorable course towards eternal damnation.

The Noose (in Meduson Anthology) **

Driven almost to the brink of self-destruction by the death of Ferrus Manus, the Iron Hands now seek vengeance for the many horrors of Isstvan V. Gathering survivors from the Raven Guard and the Salamanders aboard any vessels capable of warp travel, they wage a new campaign of annihilation against the traitor forces across the galaxy - a campaign masterminded by legendary warleader Shadrak Meduson.

Prodigal ***

When Fabius Bile is attacked by daemons aboard his frigate Versalius, he is surprised to be rescued by an old friend, one of his very first experiments. It has ever been the Apothecary's desire to improve mankind, to render them hardy enough to endure in a galaxy of pain and war. Such desires have often led to abominations created by Bile's own hand, and enemies too numerous to list. This creation, Mesuline, though ostensibly an ally, bears a cryptic message, one that could bode ill or well for her Progenitor.

A Song for the Lost (also in Call of Chaos) ***

In the Basilica of Himaeus the Justicar, nursing his latest beating from Bishop Eziah, young Ulix waits for Sister D’Fey to come and sing to him the only song that can ease his pain. He knows not why the other boys in the dorm hate her presence – nor does he care. When she sings the Song for the Lost, all his fears are soothed. As her voice lulls him to sleep, he cannot know that in his desire to escape the hardships of his life, he walks a path to an even darker future.

Audio Dramas:

Perfection ****

On a world besieged by the forces of Chaos, the Emperor’s Children and the World Eaters are forced into an uneasy alliance when the bodies of the fallen start to go missing...

Lucius: the Eternal Blade **

Renowned as one of the finest duelists the galaxy has ever known, Lucius seeks ever greater challenges against which to test himself.

Fabius Bile: Repairer of Ruin **

Lupercalia burns, the might of the Traitor Legions reducing the last redoubt of the Sons of Horus to rubble and through the ruins strides Apothecary Fabius of the Emperor’s Children...

The Soul Severed (also in Echoes of Revelation) *** 1/2 

As Lord Commander Primus, Eidolon leads the Emperor’s Children in Fulgrim’s absence. But a challenge from within the Legion forces him to turn the Kakophoni against their brethren.

The Embrace of Pain *** 

While voyaging through the depths of the warp, the infamous blademaster Lucius the Eternal is challenged by a servant of another god - a champion of the old Death Guard Legion, no less. Keen to remain dominant over his preening and ambitious rivals in the Cohors Nasicae, Lucius takes up his sword without a second thought... but could an unfeeling daemonhost of Nurgle, or the voices inside his own head, be the undoing of his Slaaneshi curse?

Other Novels Referencing Emperor's Children:

Deliverance Lost **

After their near-destruction at the hands of Horus’ Traitor Legions, the Raven Guard seek to escape and rebuild, but the forces of Chaos are insidious, and the Legion may yet face its doom

Galaxy in Flames ***

Having recovered from his grievous injuries, Warmaster Horus leads the triumphant Imperial forces against the rebel world of Isstvan III where Horus's treachery is finally revealed.

Vengeful Spirit ***

Warmaster Horus leads his Legion to attack the Knight world of Molech – home of House Devine and stronghold of the Imperial Army. What will he sacrifice in pursuit of his destiny?

Talon of Horus ***

When Horus fell, his Sons fell with him. A broken Legion, beset by rivalries and hunted by their erstwhile allies, the former Luna Wolves have scattered across the tortured realm of the Eye of Terror. And of Abaddon, greatest of the Warmaster's followers, nothing has been heard for many years. Until now...

Aurelian ***

After the destruction of Monarchia and the Emperor's reprimanding of the Word Bearers Legion, the primarch Lorgar journeyed into the very heart of Chaos...

Horus Rising ****

After thousands of years of expansion and conquest, the human Imperium is at its height. His dream for humanity accomplished, the Emperor hands over the reins of power to his Warmaster, Horus, and heads back to Terra.

The Damnation of Pythos ***

A group of battered legionaries regroups after the Dropsite Massacre, on a seemingly insignificant death world. But a darkness gathers that threatens to consume Pythos forever…

Outcast Dead ***

As the Horus Heresy rages across the galaxy, a lone Astropath learns a secret that will tip the balance of the war. But are his guardians leading him to safety or damnation?

Shadowsword ***

The crew of the Baneblade Cortein's Honour are attached to a Shadowsword company. and thrown into a battle for the fate of entire star systems.

(RATED * to *****)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Persian Book of Kings

The Shahnameh or Book of Kings is an epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi in approximately the first millenium and is the national epic of Greater Iran. Consisting of some 60,000 verses, the Shahnameh is the world's longest epic poem written by a single poet.

The poem tells a tale which has curious parallels with the origin story of Fulgrim.

Saum was a mighty lord in the south of Iran.  It came to pass that a son was born unto him, beautiful of face and limb, who had neither fault nor blemish save that his hair was as white as snow.  When Saum saw the infant, his heart was filled with fear that child's hair was an ill omen.  He commanded his servants to take the child and cast it forth out of the land.

At the foot of the great mountain Damavand, the highest volcano in Asia, was laid the child of Saum.  There the mighty phoenix like Simurgh, the bird of marvel, had built her nest.  When the Simurgh spied the infant lying on the ground, she did raise the child to her shelter and did raise him as a brother to her own young ones.  And thus did the child grow to be a youth full of strength and beauty, and his renown filled the land.

Then it came to pass that Saum dreamed of his son, and he feared for his sin.  And Saum did travel to the mountain of Damavand and bowed to the dust in penitence.  The Simurgh gave three magic feathers to Saum's son, telling him that he would be able to summon her at any time by burning them.  The Simurgh did then return the boy to Saum, and the youth was clothed in rich robes and named Zal, which means the white haired one.

Zal increased daily in wisdom and strength and his fame filled the land. When Saum went forth to fight the battles of the Shah, he left his kingdom under his son's hands and Zal administered the land with judgment and virtue.

Then it came that Zal was visited by a neighboring lord named Mihrab of Kabul in Afghanistan, who was of the serpent people.  Mihrab had a daughter named Rudabeh who was "unto the slender cypress, her face brighter than the sun and her mouth like a pomegranate flower."  Zal and Rudabeh burned with love for each other, so they could neither eat nor rest.  And thus they pledged to be married.

However when the Shah, who was Saum's overlord, heard of the betrothal he was incensed that the heir of one of his lord's should be married to one of the serpent people.  He commanded Saum to destroy Mihrab's people with his army.

Mihrab knew that his followers could not battle Saum's great army and with great grief planned to exile his daughter through a portal to the land of the dead in seven days.  However, Zal traveled to the court of the Shah and sought audience with him to beg him to change his mind.

And the Shah did test Zal to see if he was worthy.  His wise men did test Zal's wisdom by asking him riddles. And his soldiers did test his mightiness by engaging his in deeds of archery and spear fighting and wrestling.  In all these matters did Zal emerge victorious.

Thus did the Shah approve of Zal's marriage to Rudabeh.  The son of Zal and Rudabeh was named Rostam, and was one of the greatest heroes of Persia.

Like Zal, Fulgrim had white hair and was banished from the presence of his father to be raised in an alien world.  His symbol was a magical bird, and he defied the Emperor by falling under the spell of a scion of the serpent people.  

Slaaneshi Daemons

Why aren't Slaaneshi daemons more attractive?

This is of course a potentially loaded question.  Sexuality, especially in the context of the female form, is often used as a vehicle for bias and suppression in our society.

By definition however Slaaneshi demons are supposed to be the object of irresistible sensual desire.  Games Workshop's lavender crab clawed models generally don't convey these attributes very effectively.  While shapely, the artistic renditions of these entities are generally designed to convey a stronger sense of horror and peculiarity than emotions of desirability. 

Why is this? 

One possibility is that Games Workshop is an English company, and English culture is more puritanical than average.  The Warhammer universe, while replete with violence and gore, is generally not a highly sexualized environment.  Space Marines are all male and generally do not exhibit any specific interest in female companionship.  Sisters of Battle are one of the few female factions in the game, and live a similarly ascetic lifestyle.

Is this stereotype of English culture accurate?  Perhaps.  A recent online poll indicated that England was the fourth country having the least sex.

Who was number one?  Japan.

Another possibility is that Games Workshop wants to be able to market Warhammer to children.   This may seem ridiculous  given the average price of models.  However even if most children may not have sufficient pocket change readily available to buy mini wargaming figures, their parents do.  These parents control the purse strings and are unlikely to be impressed by highly sexualized renditions. 

Also, as previously mentioned sexuality is easily abused, and perhaps the designers are aware of this danger.  Games Workshop may have in fact opted against hypersensualizing Slaaneshi demons because of an enlightened awareness that such sexualization would be inherently sexist and objectifying. 

Another intriguing possibility based in lore is that perhaps Slaaneshi demons are actually intended to be an acquired taste, which only a true connoisseur of extreme sensuality can properly appreciate.  The average dull minded hive drone such as you or me is sadly lacking in the proper imagination and palate to recognize their true beauty, and thus reacts with predictable horror to them due to his philistine lack of proper illumination.

A reader also commented that perhaps Slaaneshi demons have shapeshifting abilities, allowing them to hide the horror of their true form until after they have ensnared their prey.

It is also possible that Games Workshop needs Slaaneshi demons to be unattractive, because otherwise their audience might be sympathetic to them because there is nothing really inherently wrong or evil about strong desire.

Regardless, to the Imperium it is clear that the dangers of Slaanesh heresy are manifest to those that do not properly shield their minds and souls to temptation.

From If the Emperor had a Text-to-Speech Device - Episode 19: Warp Grumbling

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Slaanesh as Dionysius

Minus the negative aspects, Slaanesh is essentially an archetype of a fertility deity.  FreyKokopelli, Venus and Ishtar are examples of gods and goddesses in this mold. 

But perhaps no deity provides a closer analogue to Slaanesh than Dionysius.

Dionysius is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology.  The modern day name Dennis comes from this word.  He is also known as Bacchus is Roman mythology, and in this form his name is still synonymous with drunken revelry.

Dionysius is sometimes shown as a mature bearded male and sometimes as an androgynous youth.  He holds a staff tipped with a pine cone known as a thysus.  His procession his made up of wild female followers called maenads and hedonistic satyrs.  Dionysus is represented as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.  The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual in which worshippers which used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state.

Dionysius delights in bursting into scenes of ordinary civilization (like the kool aid man) and overturning order in favor of chaos.

One of the Homeric hymns recounts how, while disguised as a mortal sitting beside the seashore, a few sailors spotted Dionysius, believing he was a prince. They attempted to kidnap him and sail him far away to sell for ransom or into slavery. They tried to bind him with ropes, but no type of rope could hold him.  Dionysus turned the mast and oars into snakes, and filled the vessel with ivy and the sound of flutes so that the sailors went mad and, leaping into the sea, were turned into dolphins.

My first introduction to Dionysius was in Prince Caspian, a book in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  In the story, the magical creatures of Narnia have been hiding or asleep for many years.  The great lion, Aslan, calls the forest and river spirits awake and they swarm forth in an unruly horde led by Dionysius / Bacchus, dancing, singing, clashing cymbals and destroying signs of civilization.  When they come to a restrictive girls' school they magically change the walls of the classroom into leafy branches and chase the teacher away with their wild, leafy ways.

I also remember with fondness the portly figure of Bacchus in Fantasia, where he leads the revelry of a band of classical mythical creatures to the music of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

This innocuous figure may seem a far cry from Slaanesh of the Warhammer universe, but the elements of the archetype are present, even in this most child friendly of forms.  The deity in Fantasia while harmless remains pleasure seeking, experiential, over imbibing, and lusty.

Invocation of Dionysus (from Orphic hymns)
"I call upon loud-roaring and revelling Dionysus,
primeval, double-natured, thrice-born, Bacchic lord,
wild, ineffable, secretive, two-horned and two-shaped.
Ivy-covered, bull-faced, warlike, howling, pure,
You take raw flesh, you have feasts, wrapt in foliage, decked with grape clusters.
Resourceful Eubouleus, immortal god sired by Zeus
When he mated with Persephone in unspeakable union.
Hearken to my voice, O blessed one,
and with your fair-girdled nymphs breathe on me in a spirit of perfect agape".