Let’s Read the Horus Heresy! Part 5

It should be obvious by now that this series is full of spoilers. If you want spoiler free reviews, you’ll find quite a few on YouTube and in other places–but here, you must read at your own risk! If that doesn’t bother you, then welcome aboard, and let’s have some fun!

We’ve packed a lot of action into three short books! The opening salvos of the Heresy series give us the rise of the Warmaster, Horus; the last days of the Great Crusade; Horus’s fall to Chaos; and the massacre at Isstvan III that purged nearly all the Loyalists from his ranks. Now, with three other Primarchs at his side, and more to come, Horus is set to begin his campaign against the Imperium and the Emperor.

But, wait! Near the end of Galaxy in Flames, we saw survivors escape! It will be some time before we get back to the few survivors on the surface of Isstvan III; but in the meantime, we have today’s novel, James Swallow’s The Flight of the Eisenstein. Let’s get started!


Nathaniel Garro

Most of the legions at Isstvan III had a large contingent of loyalists, something approaching a third of their forces. It’s probably that this is why Horus chose to use the Life-Eater virus to dispose of them rather than simply have his own traitor forces fight them–the cost would have been too high. Instead he sent his forces in to mop up after the virus did its work, knowing there would be some survivors. The plan was wildly successful; the survivors on the surface ultimately numbered only a few, possibly even in single digits (I haven’t seen a number, but I know a bit of what’s coming for Garviel Loken, and that would seem to indicate that not many at all survived).

Nathaniel Garro

But then there’s the Death Guard, the legion of the Primarch Mortarion–and one of their battle-captains, a man named Nathaniel Garro. I’ll go ahead and spoil a bit here, and say that a full *seventy* loyalist Death Guard will survive, thanks to the actions of Captain Garro. Of course, it helps that they weren’t on the surface to begin with–but that didn’t stop the traitors from trying to kill them!

Garro is, not coincidentally, one of my favorite characters so far. I suppose that’s by design–he’s the hero of the story, we’re supposed to like him. He’s a ruthless bastard, but it’s hard not to like him anyway. Garro is an old-school marine; remember that the Crusade has been going on for two centuries now, and the legions–some of them anyway–date back to the last days of the Unification of Terra. Nathaniel has been an Astartes since the early days, long before his Primarch was rediscovered, back when the legion still called themselves the Dusk Raiders, and served the Emperor directly.

Moreover, he’s a traditionalist. He holds strongly to the old philosophies of the legion, and that makes him singularly resistant to the traitor cause. But old-timers like him are dwindling, and most of the Death Guard these days have come up since Mortarion’s ascension, and will follow their Primarch into the grip of Chaos. The thought of the end of the old ways is much on his mind in this book, and perhaps reinforces his decision to break with his legion and stay loyal to the Emperor. Also aiding his decision is the bond between himself and two other loyalist Astartes we’ve seen: Garviel Loken of the Luna Wolves, a.k.a. the Sons of Horus; and Saul Tarvitz, of the Emperor’s Children. Garro has fought and bled with both men before, and their friendships are strong.

But then, it all comes down to chance.


Isstvan Extremis

The Isstvan campaign started like any other. Garro took his Seventh Company of the Death Guard to join the Emperor’s Children in an assault on the outermost planet, Isstvan Extremis. There he had his first brush with Chaos, in the form of a psyker in service to Slaanesh, called a Warsinger. Nathaniel was badly wounded, with his right leg amputated at the thigh. (He was saved by an Emperor’s Children apothecary, Fabius, who will eventually become a person of great significance himself–but that’s neither here nor there.) The leg would be replaced with a prosthetic, but in the meantime, Nathaniel was unfit for combat, which frustrated him to no end.

Ignatius Grulgor

But, it was this unexpected injury that would not only save his life, but set his path. Unable to fight, he could not be sent down to Isstvan III; and without their leader, his company wouldn’t go either. To do otherwise would have alerted the other loyalists to the plan. This left Horus and Mortarion in a quandary–what to do with the wounded battle-captain? His men could certainly still cause problems; they were still likely to be loyalists when the plan began.

So, Horus and Mortarion shuffled Garro out of the way. They stationed him and his men aboard an older Death Guard frigate, the Eisenstein. Nominally Garro had command of the ship, superseding its non-Astartes captain; but to ensure that Garro could cause no trouble, he was accompanied by another captain, a traitor, Commander Ignatius Grulgor, who already had a rivalry with Garro. Grulgor wasn’t fully informed of the plan; but he accurately assessed it from the assignments for the ground assault, and decided that if Nathaniel couldn’t be won over, he would be eliminated.


Over Isstvan III

Grulgor wasn’t the only competent tactical analyst on the Eisenstein. Garro himself figured out that something was up, when he realized that their orders for the battle didn’t match up to the ship’s usual capabilities. After all, this frigate was no troop carrier, so why would they be ordered into drop position? He also began to suspect that something wasn’t right with Grulgor. His suspicions were confirmed when his personal servant took it on himself to spy on Grulgor, and saw the loading of the virus bombs containing the Life-Eater virus.

Things began to come to a head when Garro was contacted with instructions. A Thunderhawk attack craft had broken from an Emperor’s Children command ship, the Andronicus. A cluster of interceptors were chasing the ship; then, the Andronicus issued orders for the nearby Eisenstein to fire on the Thunderhawk. But Garro was interrupted by the pilot of the Thunderhawk: Saul Tarvitz. Tarvitz told Garro that the Warmaster was betraying the Emperor, starting with this assault on those who might resist; he was making his way to the surface to warn Loken and the others. He also confirmed that the rest of the fleet were also preparing to launch virus bombs.

Making a last-minute decision to trust his friend, Garro ordered the ship destroyed–but in actuality, he destroyed the lead interceptor. He used the garbled readings from the destruction to report the Thunderhawk eliminated, while actually allowing Tarvitz to escape.

The combination of events was enough to convince Garro’s men that they had been betrayed, by Horus, but also by their own beloved Primarch, Mortarion. But there was little time to dwell on their decision, for Grulgor’s crew was about to launch the bombs. A drawn-out running battle aboard the ship ensued, in which Grulgor killed Garro’s servant–but in the last moment, the servant released the virus into the compartment where Grulgor and his men were massed, and sealed the compartment.


The Flight of the Eisenstein

With the help of the ship’s captain, Garro quickly consolidated his forces and explained the situation. Though horrified, the survivors all swore themselves to Garro’s decision, and took an oath to carry warning of the betrayal to the Emperor. He knew that any loyalists were on their own; any attempt to unify their efforts would just paint a target on his back, and no one else was in a position to carry the warning. He prepared the ship to break orbit and leave the battlefield.

But before he could do so, the ship detected another incoming Thunderhawk, this time from Horus’s flagship, the Vengeful Spirit. Flown by Luna Wolves captain Iacton Qruze, the ship carried three refugees from the civilian slaughter aboard the flagship: Mersadie Oliton, Loken’s personal documentarist; Kyril Sindermann, the iterator; and Euphrati Keeler, the imagist-turned-prophet that the Emperor’s faithful had begun to call the Saint. Their testimony agreed with the betrayal of which Tarvitz had warned; and so Garro let them board.

Garro had his crew report an engine malfunction, for which protocol decreed that they leave the main formation. But the Death Guard’s First Captain, Typhon, grew suspicious when he could not reach Grulgor to confirm; and so he moved to intercept the Eisenstein in his battleship, the Terminus Est. He managed to inflict severe damage on the frigate as it fled–but the ship managed to limp away.

Unfortunately, all of the ship’s Astropaths–the psykers who would handle communication through the Warp–had died in the fight; and the lone Navigator, the psyker who would guide the ship’s Warp travel, was mortally wounded. With no options, Garro ordered a blind Warp-jump to escape pursuit.


In the Warp

We’ve often mentioned the hazards of Warp travel, but we’ve never seen them–until now. The Eisenstein‘s damages included a weakening of its Gellar field, the shield that keeps the unreality and disorder of the Warp at bay. Thus it caught the attention of Nurgle, the Chaos God of decay and disease. Nurgle couldn’t manifest fully, but could touch the ship. He resurrected Grulgor and his underlings, now as plague-ridden monsters, and the battle for control of the ship resumed; in the battle, the surviving Navigator was killed. Grulgor was defeated, but not before he managed to infect a loyalist marine named Solun Decius with a Chaos plague, Nurgle’s Rot. He also attacked Garro; but Garro ordered an emergency transition back to realspace. Immediately, with the direct power of the Warp cut off, Grulgor and his warriors fell dead again.

But, now the ship was stranded, with no Navigator, in a barren stretch of space. With few options left, Garro had the ship’s Warp-drive engine set to explode, then jettisoned, reasoning that the shockwave would be detected by any passing Imperial ships in the Warp. He got more than he bargained for, when someone did detect it and respond: the Primarch Rogal Dorn and his legion, the Imperial Fists. Dorn was en route to Terra at the Emperor’s order, to strengthen the planet’s defenses and serve as its Praetorian; but, perhaps very coincidentally, his fleet had been becalmed by Warp storms, which had only just begun to abate when the explosion was detected. Dorn took the survivors in and, though reluctant to believe their story, finally accepted the truth when he had heard all the evidence. He agreed to carry their message to the Emperor.


Not Finished Yet

Dorn remanded the survivors to the care of the Sisters of Silence, an order of psychic Nulls–soulless individuals, also called Blanks or Pariahs, on whom direct psychic powers don’t work–whose usual duties are to hunt down rogue psykers. The survivors rested in the Sisters’ fortress on the moon (Luna), called the Somnus Citadel; but even here they resented the forced inactivity, considering it an imprisonment. Here, the wounded and plague-stricken young marine, Solun Decius, finally fell to Nurgle’s control. He was then possessed by a Greater Daemon of Nurgle, the Lord of Flies; he rapidly mutated into a horrific monster. Tearing out of containment, he went on a killing spree in the fortress.

Garro himself took on the Daemon, driving it out onto the lunar surface before ending Decius’s tainted life and forcing the Daemon back into the Warp.


A New Mission

Afterward, Garro at last was permitted to see the beginning of the Emperor’s response to the Heresy. He, along with Iacton Qruze and one of the Sisters, Amendera Kendel, was summoned to a meeting with Malcador the Sigillite, the powerful psyker/Perpetual who served as the Regent of Terra, second to the Emperor. At the Emperor’s order, Malcador informed them that they had been selected to form the foundation of a new body, composed of “men and women of inquisitive nature”, to seek out traitors, witches, mutants, and xenos. This, he said, would be part of the Emperor’s plan to salvage victory from the destruction of the heresy, as even the Astartes were not immune to corruption. As a first task, he assigned them to find seven other Astartes from both traitor and loyal legions, men who would be utterly loyal to the Emperor, to become Knights-Errant with them. We then end with a hint that these men and women would go on to form the beginnings of several other important organizations in the Imperium’s future.


It would be hard to overstate the importance of The Flight of the Eisenstein to the overall course of the Heresy series. Up til now, we’ve been covering the broad strokes of the Heresy: Horus’s fall, the massacre at Isstvan III. (Soon we’ll also cover the Dropsite Massacre at Isstvan V, the last remaining major set piece for the Heresy’s beginning.) Here, though, we make a transition to smaller stories, stories that are more focused on individuals or particular pieces of the puzzle. Most of the series will be stories like this, on a smaller scale. And that’s a good decision, I believe; a long tale like the Heresy is composed of a multitude of moving parts, and deserves to have those parts explained. We might not have the same version we received if not for this story’s example.

But more than that, this is a damn good story. In a world where war is the order of the day–it’s right in the setting title!–you expect action. But I will tell you honestly that we haven’t seen action like this before. Garro’s desperate flight to Terra is a nonstop roller coaster of battle, snap decisions, and last-ditch efforts, all just to survive–no: All just to let the Imperium survive.

Although the Heresy series was designed to begin with the initial trilogy, with most other books being optional (at your reading preference), I can’t imagine not including Eisenstein with the initial trilogy. Sure, the initial trilogy wraps up the immediate story of Garviel Loken, who has been the primary viewpoint character thus far (“protagonist” is really the wrong word; there are too many people who can fit the bill). But we’ve come to know and love too many other characters to stop there! Without Eisenstein, you’ll be left wondering what happened to Kyril Sindermann, Mersadie Oliton, Iacton Qruze, Euphrati Keeler–and of course Garro himself, who made his first appearance in the trilogy.

This book is a good place to bring up a recurring theme that we’ll see several times: The power of sound in regard to Chaos. Several times in the early Heresy, sound, and especially music, is portrayed as a potent tool of the Ruinous Powers. We see it on Davin, where Horus fell to Chaos; we see it here, when Garro battles the Warsinger on Isstvan Extremis; we’ll see it in the next book, on the planet Laeran; and we’ll see it again in book seven, in the screaming of the city Mon Lo on the planet Nurth. None of this is a coincidence; somewhere further down the line, we’ll see that sound is connected to Slaanesh, the Chaos God of sensation, who will one day have entire groups of traitor Space Marines dedicated to it (the Noise Marines–but that’s a long way from here!). Music and sound serve as powerful vectors for the twisted power of Chaos, leading to distortion and death.

This is now the end, for awhile, to the chronological tale of the Heresy. From here, we’ll begin jumping around, setting up the background of various forces and individuals, explaining how they began the path that leads them either to greater loyalty, or great betrayal.

So: Check it out! But it’s probably not best to start here. Garro’s story is strong on its own, but it depends heavily on what has gone before. This won’t always be the case; for example, one could read book six or seven without having read anything that comes before. But here, you’ll want to have had the entire trilogy behind you before you read Eisenstein. It’s worth it, though! If you’re interested, give it a try.

Next time: We’ll prepare for the Dropsite Massacre, and look at the heresy through another traitor Primarch’s eyes, in Fulgrim by Graham McNeill. See you there!

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Let’s Read the Horus Heresy! Part 4

When I first began to read the novels of the Horus Heresy series, I had no real idea of what I was getting into. I had only read one Warhammer novel (Guy Haley’s The Death of Integrity, which was a great introduction to the setting, and you should absolutely read it). That novel is set in M41, the “present day” of the 40K universe, and I knew up front that the Heresy series would be very different. It’s the Heresy that gave us the modern version of 40K; the galaxy in M31 was a much different place. Also, the authors would be telling stories that were as close to set in stone as anything ever is in this setting, stories that had had the power of myth and legend for real-world decades. And then, on top of all that, I knew that the series was long–fifty-four numbered novels, eighteen non-numbered Primarch novels, eight planned Siege of Terra novels (I believe four had been published at that time), and a whole host of short stories and spinoff materials.

All that to say, I was a bit intimidated. I’m still intimidated–I know I may never finish them all. I’ve come to terms with that–I even wrote an entire post about it–but still, even if I skip around, there’s a lot of ground to cover. And so I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make the attempt. That’s why I didn’t try to review the early novels as I finished them; what’s the point of starting if there’s no chance of finishing?

Well, here we are, seven books in, and it’s time to take the plunge! Fortunately I’ve been able to focus a bit more, and move a little faster through the series. Unfortunately, that means I need to back up and talk about the six books I’ve already finished! And I am notoriously bad at holding onto all the details of a book once I’ve moved on from it. Therefore, the next few posts won’t be incredibly detailed; they’ll be an overview of several books at once. But that’s okay; the opening entries in the Heresy series were intended to be more tightly woven than the later books. We’ll make it work.

So then, let’s get started! Today we’ll cover the opening trilogy of the series, the highly interconnected Horus Rising by Dan Abnett; False Gods by Graham McNeill; and Galaxy in Flames by Ben Counter.


Horus Rising

You’re going to find that many books in the Heresy series start in media res, with important foundational events told after the fact. We dive right into that pattern here at the beginning, with the most powerful first line I have yet to encounter in 40K:

“‘I WAS THERE,’ he would say afterwards, until afterwards became a time quite devoid of laughter. ‘I was there, the day Horus slew the Emperor.’

Well, there it is! Mission complete! Roll credits! It was a good Heresy, boys, now let’s go home.

Except, wait. The legend as it’s always been told has the Emperor killing Horus, not the other way around. So what’s going on here?

We open with the conquest of a most unusual star system. The system bears an uncanny resemblance to the solar system of Earth, aka Terra–nine planets in the same configuration, led by the third planet, all orbiting a yellow sun. But more than that, the people of the third planet believe their world is Terra, the homeworld of humanity. Naturally, when the Imperium shows up, claiming to be from the true Terra…they take that personally. So then, the Emperor mentioned above isn’t our Emperor, and it’s entirely believable that Horus would kill him personally.

The tale-teller here is Garviel Loken, a Space Marine of Horus’s XVI legion, the Luna Wolves. Loken is the captain of the legion’s Tenth Company, and after his adventures on this imposter Terra, he will be raised to the Mournival. This small group is his Primarch’s personal advisory council, an egalitarian body that accompanies and advises Horus without fear of reprisal. Loken is one of my favorite characters thus far, and has an interesting future ahead of him, but he’s going to have some suffering first.

Soon we’ll back up and get some perspective. The Great Crusade is in its two hundred and third year. Not too long ago, the Ullanor campaign ended, and Horus was elevated to the post of Warmaster. But that decision, and the Emperor’s unexpected retreat to a secret project on Terra (the Webway project–see the last post) have left Horus and his brother Primarchs with doubts.

Several major developments happen in this novel. The Crusade is joined by a huge host of Remembrancers, for one. Remembrancers are artists, authors, imagists (i.e. photographers), dramatists, musicians, orators, philosophers, and other practitioners of the fine arts. At the Emperor’s directive, they are sent to record and memorialize the triumphs of the Crusade, filling the fleets with arts and culture, thus humanizing the Astartes and the military and connecting them with the populations of the Imperium. It’s a grand dream, and shows the thoroughness of the Emperor’s vision for humanity. Several Remembrancers figure into the story here: Mersadie Oliton, a journalist who serves as Loken’s personal Remembrancer; Petronella Vivar, also a journalist, Horus’s personal Remembrancer; Ignace Karkasy, a poet whose works would ultimately drive a wedge between the Mournival and the non-Astartes population of Horus’s fleet; and Euphrati Keeler, an imagist who ultimately becomes a sort of prophet of the Emperor, leading the transition from the atheist Imperial Truth to the cult of the Emperor.

For another, the 63rd Expedition–Horus’s fleet, consisting mostly of the majority of the Luna Wolves and their support apparatus–encounters the Interex, a civilization in which humans have learned to live in peace with xenos, and especially with a race called the Kinebrach. Horus, to the surprise of his subordinates, at first looks into the possibility of peace with the Interex; but the negotiations are short-lived. A bladed weapon called an anathame, known to have ties to Chaos, is stolen from an Interex museum; the Interex erroneously accuses the Luna Wolves of taking it, and the talks devolve into violence, after which the Luna Wolves exterminate the Interex. As it turns, out, though, the blade wasn’t stolen by the Luna Wolves…

…It was stolen by Erebus, a visiting chaplain from Lorgar’s Word Bearers legion. The Word Bearers had long since given themselves over to Chaos, though this information remained a secret. The Ruinous Powers had led Lorgar to the knowledge that the anathame would be needed to bring Horus over to Chaos. Exactly how, will be revealed in the next book. However, after the battle with the Interex, Horus decides that the Luna Wolves have lived up to his example, and thus he renames them: The Sons of Horus.

My verdict: Obviously I must have liked the book, because I’ve kept on with the series–but I will admit that this opening novel wasn’t quite as I expected. I didn’t know just how complex the story of Horus’s fall would be, or how much backstory it would require. The story is excellent, but there is definitely a feeling of incompleteness, and I felt the need to hurry on to the next entry. I was very pleased with the characterization, though, and was ultimately disappointed to find out that Loken won’t get a lot of screen time after this first trilogy. But we’ll enjoy it while we have it!


False Gods

We pick up some weeks after the battle against the Interex. Erebus is the star of the show here, if not the viewpoint character; it’s Erebus who weaves the web that ensnares Horus and brings about his fall to Chaos. He has already stolen the Chaos-empowered anathame from the Interex, and arranged its delivery; now he must get Horus into position. To that effect, he tells the Warmaster about the Davin system.

Davin is an already-compliant Imperial world; but now its Imperial Governor, Eugen Temba, has rebelled. Unknown to any of the Warmaster’s forces, the planet has actually given itself over to Chaos, which is a concept that the Emperor has continued to keep back from his sons and the population. They don’t know what they’re walking into; but Erebus has prepared surprises for them.

On Davin’s moon, Davin 3, the Sons of Horus encounter their first real Chaos opposition, in the form of plague zombies: diseased zombies in the service of Nurgle, the god of decay and sickness. While the marines battle it out, Horus infiltrates the wrecked battlecruiser that serves as Temba’s fortress, and fights Temba himself. But Temba is wielding the stolen anathame; and he mortally wounds Horus with it. The Mournival rush Horus back to his flagship, the Vengeful Spirit; in their haste, they trample and kill a number of Remembrancers and other mortals aboard the ship. This act will ultimately be recorded by Ignace Karkasy in an inflammatory poem that will drive a wedge between the humans and the Astartes.

With the legion’s medicae and apothecaries unable to heal Horus, Erebus convinces the Mournival that hope can be found in a Davinite healing ritual. Reluctantly they agree, and transport him to a temple on the surface of Davin (the planet, not Davin 3, the moon). And the ritual works! Except…

During the ritual, Horus’s spirit is thrust into the Warp, where Erebus meets him. Erebus shows him visions of what the future holds: a galaxy in which the Emperor has betrayed all the ideals he has formerly espoused, leading the galaxy into pain and misery. It’s a true vision, but the catch is that it is Horus himself who will bring it to pass if he serves Chaos; but of course he doesn’t get that part. Erebus is countered by the unexpected psychic presence of the Primarch Magnus, a powerful psyker himself; Magnus attempts to warn Horus against this path, and exposes Erebus’s plan. However, it’s too late; Horus has chosen to accept the offer of power from the Chaos Gods, and has given himself over to them. The stage is now set for him to rebel against the Emperor in what will become known as the Horus Heresy.

Horus, now miraculously healed, leads the Legion against another human civilization, the Auretian Technocracy, while he prepares his plans. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Loken and his fellow captain Tarik Torgaddon start down a path that will set them against the rest of the Mournival, and against the Warmaster himself. Ignace Karkasy is killed; and then, Horus directs the expedition to a planet called Isstvan III.

My verdict: I knew enough about the beginning of the Heresy to know that things are starting to come together now! Isstvan III is the site of one of the two major battles that will inaugurate the Heresy–but we’ll get to that in a moment. This book was more satisfying than the first, but only because it feels like the key in the lock of the first book; and soon, we’ll see the tumblers of that lock start turning.


Galaxy in Flames

Galaxy in Flames picks up shortly after the end of False Gods, with the 63rd Expedition taking the Isstvan system. Here, under Horus’s now-traitorous machinations, other Primarchs begin to gather with their legions–specifically, those Horus deems susceptible to his new cause. Those gathered are Horus with his Sons of Horus XVI legion; Fulgrim, with the III legion, the Emperor’s Children; Angron, with the World Eaters III legion; and Mortarion, with the XIV legion, the Death Guard. Others will join the traitors in the future, but for now, these comprise the core of the rebellion. All three Primarchs come to Horus’s side easily.

But, not all is according to Horus’s plan. A shockingly high number of Astartes are easily swayed to the traitor cause–but not all of them. About a third of each legion will not bend, remaining loyal to the Emperor. Horus cannot tolerate this, and so he devises a strategy to rid himself of the loyalist elements.

It’s important to note that his plan depends on secrecy. The loyalists have to be eliminated before they realize there is a schism in the ranks; if they knew, they would break ranks and warn the Emperor. But fortunately for Horus, Lorgar and Erebus have prepared for this! Years earlier, Lorgar created the Lectitio Divinitatus and released it to the Astartes in secret. This religious text declares the Emperor to be a god, contrary to the atheistic Imperial Truth, which states that there are no gods. It may seem counterintuitive to declare your enemy a god and send worship his way; but faith in 40K serves whichever Warp entity it is directed toward. Lorgar’s goal is to create this faith, and then turn it to Chaos. Now, the faith has spread in secret throughout most of the fleets, in the form of secretive “lodges” where anyone can meet as equals. Many of the loyalists are those who refused to join the lodges, or walked away from them as the situation grew darker. This breach allows Horus to single out the loyalists while diverting attention from the truth of his cause.

Thus, he saves the hardest battle for last. He causes the loyalist elements of the four legions to be dispatched onto the surface of Isstvan III for a final offensive. Then, he moves the fleet into a bombardment position…and launches one of the Imperium’s deadliest weapons: virus bombs.

These bombs contain an engineered virus called the Life-Eater, which is the perfect mass-murder weapon. The virus destroys all forms of organic life in seconds, with no chance of survival. It propagates through air and water, sweeping a planet’s surface in minutes; and then it dies out shortly thereafter, leaving the planet scoured clean and ready for the taking. But Horus isn’t interested in taking the planet; and so he follows up with a firebombing that ignites the atmosphere, burning off most of the breathable air. Most of the loyalists are killed.

And he would have got away with it too, if not for that meddling…Tarvitz? Saul Tarvitz, a loyalist captain of the Emperor’s Children, and friend of Garviel Loken, caught wind of the betrayal just before it happened. Risking his life, he stole a Thunderhawk gunship and raced to the planetary surface, where he would be in range to broadcast a warning to Loken and others. Thus Loken was able to lead some fragment of the loyalists to safety in sealed bunkers before the bombs fell.

At the same time, Horus had his traitors turn on the Remembrancers, who had little stake in his cause, and could serve as dangerous witnesses. Aboard his ships, nearly all Remembrancers were massacred. But some escaped deep into the ships, where they engaged in sabotage before they were hunted down; and one small group managed to escape.

The Remembrancer Euphrati Keeler had been scarred by a brush with Chaos during a recent campaign. That encounter, couple with her strong faith in the Emperor, changed something inside her. When an archivist, at the behest of Loken, conducted research that unintentionally released a daemon into the real world aboard the Vengeful Spirit, it was Keeler’s faith that led to the miraculous defeat of the creature. Now called “the saint” by her amazed congregations, her words and deeds led to a rapid increase in faith in the Emperor among the people of the fleet. When the massacre began, she and Mersadie Oliton, along with Iterator Kyril Sindermann, were rescued by loyalist Luna Wolfe Iacton Qruze. They made their way to a Death Guard frigate, the Eisenstein, where loyalist captain Nathaniel Garro had been stationed after being wounded in action. Garro’s marines took the ship from the traitors, and blasted their way out of Isstvan in a desperate bid to reach Terra and warn the Emperor of Horus’s betrayal.

And on Isstvan III, the fate of the survivors remains to be seen…

My verdict: A most satisfying, and frustrating, book! Satisfying in that this novel gives us the payoff of everything we’ve been building toward. It’s well-written, a real page-turner. Frustrating, in that there are now new plot threads that we need to play out–and I can’t wait!

So: If you’ve kept up with me this far, and you’d like to get into this series, go on and jump in. Try to finish the trilogy, at least. Don’t stop with Horus Rising, even if it doesn’t convince you; it’s a great book, but it poses many more questions than it answers. If you get to the end of Galaxy in Flames, you’ll have everything you need to know in order to decide if you want to continue the series.

Next time: We’ve covered one of the two major battles that begin the Heresy. The other is the Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V; but before we get there, we need to see what happened to Garro and his refugees aboard the Eisenstein! And we’ll get that in book four, Flight of the Eisenstein, by James Swallow. See you there!

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Let’s Read the Horus Heresy! Part 3

Last time, we finished up with a description of the setting of Warhammer 40,000, up to M30 (the thirtieth millennium), just after the conclusion of the Unification Wars that established the Imperium of Mankind. If you’re just joining us now, and especially if you’re brand new to 40K, click here to go back and read that post, and you’ll be caught up and ready for today!

We left things in pretty good order, all things considered. Despite the chaos of the five thousand year Age of Strife (or “Old Night”, as it is sometimes called–if you haven’t noticed, *everything* in 40K has multiple names), things in the galaxy have largely reached a quiet moment, at least in the materium, the physical universe. The Eldar have fallen, but that largely doesn’t concern anyone but them at this point. Slaanesh, the fourth Chaos God, has arisen, but as yet that has not begun to tip the balance of power. In most of the galaxy, the Warp is pretty well separated from the materium (though not everywhere!). Chaos is potent, but hasn’t really done much that would affect the Imperium or other civilizations aside from the Eldar, except in isolated pockets. The Warp storms that prevented most travel have abated. Terra and its neighbors are united under the banner of the Emperor. The Tyranids have not arrived, the Necrons have not awakened, the T’au are still primitive. The Primarchs remain lost, but that hasn’t stopped the Emperor from creating the Space Marines, the Adeptus Astartes.

Thus begins the Great Crusade!


The Emperor’s Plan

It certainly took him long enough–thirty-eight millennia, more or less–but the Emperor has a plan. It’s a far-reaching plan; but here at the outset, the goal is simple: Reunite the scattered worlds of humanity under one banner, that of the Imperium. After the Age of Strife, humanity is distributed throughout the galaxy on potentially millions of planets (there’s never a definite count; like so many things in 40K, this is kept intentionally vague for the sake of the tabletop game, to allow players freedom to design their own campaigns). There’s little communication, and often little awareness that other worlds even exist; it’s not uncommon for planetary civilizations to have regressed to a point where they have forgotten that they came from the stars in the first place.

The Emperor’s views would be barbaric by the standards of the twenty-first century. He holds several tenets: The superiority of humanity; the inferiority of alien races, or “xenos”; the right of humanity to both live and rule. Not very tolerant, eh? And indeed, there will be those even in the Imperium who don’t agree–but mostly, humanity will come to embrace those views. It’s best to just consider them the prevailing attitude of the Imperium, and not be concerned about whether they would be acceptable here in the real world–40K isn’t the real world, and its situation is so far removed from our reality as to not be comparable.

But, the Emperor has a longer plan, too. He is well aware of the threat of Chaos, and the risk it presents to humanity; also, he is aware of the increase in danger posed by the mass rise of psykers among humanity. His goal, ultimately–though it will be a long time before he says it–is to sever humanity from the Warp, ending the risk of Chaos forever.

But first, he has to unite all humanity.


The Great Crusade

The Emperor deployed his twenty legions of Astartes, along with the Imperial Army and Navy, into the galaxy to locate and retake human-settled worlds. Some would join the Imperium willingly; most would resist, and be militarily pacified and occupied. The goal in each instance is to bring the world to “compliance”–that is, full adoption of, and absorption into, the Imperial system (including, of course, taxation and military conscription). Compliance required more than just military subjugation, though; and so, with the fleets went many Imperial Iterators: teachers, philosophers, and other functionaries who functioned as the engine of Imperial propaganda, convincing the locals of the rightness of the Imperial way.

It all sounds a bit fascist–but that’s the unfortunate truth of the Imperium. The Imperium is not a democracy in any sense; it is a monarchy or dictatorship. And that brings me to a central principle of the 40K setting: The good guys aren’t always the good guys. It’s all highly dependent on the situation and the individuals; there are few points of moral high ground when the future is all war. This, again, goes back to the tabletop game; players can play any faction they like, and aren’t bound to behave in an “evil” way just because they play a faction that sometimes behaves that way. The Imperium are, for the most part, the protagonist faction in the setting, but they can be both good and evil depending on the context.

I have to mention that the Crusade didn’t focus only on worlds already occupied by humanity. The Emperor considered xenos to be inferior to humans, and the standing policy of the Imperium is that xenos be wiped out wherever they are found. That will come to the fore shortly.

The Emperor himself led the Crusade at first. This was a heady time, as many systems flowed into the Imperium, and the pace of the reconquest increased. Moreover, one by one, the Emperor rediscovered the twenty lost Primarchs, all now grown to manhood on scattered worlds. Beginning with Horus, he brought them into the fold and set them in charge of their respective Legions, dispatching them to fight the battles of the Crusade.


Ullanor

Around the beginning of M30 (the 31st millennium–remember, the first millennium was 1 AD through 1000 AD, so M30 is the 31st millennium), the Crusade came to the Ullanor sector of the galaxy. This sector was ruled by the Orks under an Overlord called Urrlak Urruk. Under the Imperium’s tenets, this situation couldn’t be allowed to stand.

Thus, the Emperor deployed what was likely the largest concentration of force in the entire Crusade. One hundred thousand Astartes were accompanied by eight million Imperial Army troops and six hundred starships, and deployed into the Ullanor sector. Not all the Primarchs were present–many were too far away to be called to the battle–but Horus and his Luna Wolves legion led the fight, second only to the Emperor himself. It was Horus’s strategic planning that took the capital world of Ullanor Prime, defeating a force that outnumbered them five to one. Within a year of the taking of Ullanor Prime, the rest of the sector fell under Imperial control, and the vast majority of the Orks in the sector were wiped out.


Warmaster

The Emperor chose the victory at Ullanor as the opportunity to enact the next phase of his plan. At Ullanor he initiated a great celebration of the Imperium’s victory. Fourteen legions (of eighteen–the two lost Primarchs I mentioned yesterday had already been removed, with their legions) were able to attend, accompanied by nine of the Primarchs, great hosts of regular military, ships, and Titans–the massive, walking war machines that had been instrumental in the battle.

And then, the Emperor stepped down from the Crusade.

The Emperor honored Horus, the first-regained and favorite of his sons, by naming him the Warmaster of the Crusade. He placed Horus in charge of the Crusade, to prosecute and complete as he wished. Then, the great celebration completed, the Emperor returned to Terra, keeping his reasons and his plans to himself.

This would prove to be a great miscalculation, and a great misunderstanding of the Primarchs. They were, after all, still human, if not exactly normal humans; and they had their fears and their petty jealousies. Ultimately the forces of Chaos would use those flaws to turn some of them against each other and the Imperium.


The Horus Heresy

The events known as the Horus Heresy began not long after the appointment of Horus as Warmaster; but their origins go back further, and are in some way still murky. It is clear that some characters had already begun to be corrupted by Chaos at this point–most notably, the primarch Lorgar and his legion, the Word Bearers. But none of this was known at the time; and the actual beginning of the Heresy can be dated to the corruption of Horus, in approximately 005.M31 (that is, the year 30,005).

I will not try here to cover all of the events of the Heresy, because my goal is to cover it as I read through the novels. But, an overview is in order.

Much tragedy could possibly have been prevented if the Emperor had simply chosen to let Horus in on his plan. It was Horus’s doubts about the Emperor’s commitment to him, the other Primarchs and Legions, and the Crusade itself that opened him up to the influence of Chaos. Likewise, notifying the other Primarchs might have prevented them from seeing Horus’s appointment as Warmaster as a sign of favoritism from the Emperor, and may have prevented some of the rifts between the Primarchs. Moreover, the Emperor created an administrative bureaucracy to handle the running of the Imperium while he pursued his secret plans; of necessity, this meant that the Primarchs now had to bow to the will of civilians. Naturally, this didn’t sit well with them.

Lorgar, having already given himself to Chaos in secret, made sure to place himself close to Horus where he could whisper dissent into his ear. He also created the Lectitio Divinitatus, a religious text that proclaimed that the Emperor should be worshipped as a god. This was contrary to the Emperor’s atheist edicts, the “Imperial Truth”, which sought to eliminate the practice of religion (and thus deny Chaos a source of power, though he did not publicize that aspect of it). He ensured that secretive “lodges” were established among the military and Astartes, to spread this heretical view.

Lorgar then engineered the mortal wounding of Horus on a Chaos-touched moon of the planet Davin. His lieutenant Erebus then arranged for the use of local mystical practices to heal Horus. During the resulting rituals, Horus’s spirit entered the Warp and saw a vision of the future in which the Imperium would become a violent, stagnant, suffering-filled theocracy–a vision provided by the Chaos Gods. It would prove to be true–but, only because of Horus’s actions, a fact hidden from him. Horrified, and already suspicious of the Emperor, Horus gave in to the Chaos Gods and rebelled against the Imperium.

Most of Horus’s Legion, the Luna Wolves–now renamed the Sons of Horus–would accompany him, as well as the World Eaters under the Primarch Angron, the Emperor’s Children under Fulgrim, and the Death Guard under Mortarion. However, some elements of those Legions, as well as the Iron Hands under Ferrus Manus, would not; and so Horus engineered the destruction of these loyalist elements. In two great massacres in the Isstvan system, he set ambushes to wipe out the loyalists in the first great battle of Astartes against Astartes. However, some few survivors escaped. Horus then declared war on the Emperor, and set about trying to bring other legions and Primarchs to his side.


The Webway Project

However, despite Horus’s beliefs, the Emperor had not abandoned the Imperium. He had, instead, begun the next phase of his ultimate plan to sever humanity from the Warp. Travel in the Imperium depended upon the Warp, not only as the medium of travel, but also by way of the psykers required to navigate and to generate the Gellar fields that protect ships. The Emperor planned to eliminate this need by taking control of a much more ancient form of travel: the Webway.

The Webway consists of tunnels outside normal reality, connecting farflung points in space. Technically it passes through the Warp, but is separated from it, and protected from it. The Emperor planned to add new tunnels, centering around a great Webway portal beneath the Imperial Palace on Terra. It was to this project that he had secretly dedicated himself.

It was not meant to be. One of his sons, the Primarch Magnus the Red, was a powerful psyker, perhaps nearly as powerful as the Emperor himself. He and his legion, the Thousand Sons, were dedicated to the pursuit of psychic ability, to the disapproval of the Emperor; such pursuits had already been forbidden to the Astartes at the Council of Nikaea. Magnus, through use of his powers, foresaw Horus’s betrayal. He attempted to warn the Emperor; needing to do so quickly, he chose to do it via a powerful psychic message, reasoning that the Emperor would be willing to forgive him under the circumstances. However, he did not know about the Webway project; and his overpowered message destroyed the psychic wards around the palace, and damaged the project. Thus, daemonic forces of Chaos were able to penetrate the Webway and attempt to breach the gate into Terra itself. A long and desperate battle resulted. In the end, the Emperor was forced to reinforce the barriers himself with his unparalleled psychic powers, sitting on a device called the Golden Throne that served as a psychic amplifier. Only once would he rise from the throne, years later. The Emperor’s plans now lay in ruins.


The Siege of Terra

The Heresy would go on for nine long years. Many battles would be fought, which I will cover in later books. In the end, the Traitor Primarchs and their legions would lay siege to Terra itself. Terra was defended by Rogal Dorn and his legion, with some reinforcements from other Loyalist forces.

At last, Horus himself came to Terra to complete his conquest. He lowered the shields of his flagship, the Vengeful Spirit, and challenged the Emperor to personal combat. The Emperor accepted the challenge. He rose from the Golden Throne, placing his regent, Malcador the Sigillite, on it in his place–Malcador being the only remaining psyker with enough strength to even temporarily take the Emperor’s place there. He then teleported to the Vengeful Spirit, accompanied by the Primarchs Dorn and Sanguinius, several companies of their Astartes, and his own personal guard, the powerful Custodes. The Emperor and Sanguinius confronted Horus, who first struck down Sanguinius before taking on the Emperor himself.

The Emperor won the battle–but not before being mortally wounded by Horus. He then gathered all his psychic power and erased Horus from existence, body, soul, and spirit. He then returned to the palace.

The tech-priests of the Mechanicum quickly swapped out the Emperor for the now-dying Malcador, who sacrificed the last of his own power in a burst to sustain the Emperor’s life. At the same time, they made hasty modifications to the Throne, giving it life-support capabilities. The Emperor, knowing he would never be able to leave the Throne again, gave orders to the survivors on how to cleanse the last of the traitors from the galaxy. He then fell silent, pouring his power into two tasks. First, he devotes the greater share of his power to protecting the webway portal from Chaos; and second, he maintains the Astronomican, the great psychic beacon that serves as a lighthouse to guide ships through the Warp. He would remain on the Throne for the next ten millennia, his body slowly growing weaker and decaying while still alive, dependent on the failing machinery to survive. His spirit remains strong, but he rarely speaks, leaving the Imperium to his underlings.


Aftermath

Nearly all the remaining Primarchs are lost to the Imperium today. Many are dead; of those that survive, some are devoted to Chaos and continue to prosecute its wars. Only two Loyalist Primarchs are confirmed to survive: Lion el’Jonson, of the Dark Angels, secretly survives in stasis in the heart of their fortress-monastery, awaiting his return; and Roboute Guilliman, of the Ultramarines, has returned to the Imperium, and now serves as the Imperial Regent, leading the Imperium in his father’s stead in late M41.

The legions themselves were mostly disbanded and reorganized after the Heresy, in what has become known as the Second Founding. To ensure that no great force of Astartes could ever be corrupted at once again, they were redistributed into small chapters of no more than a thousand Marines each. Each chapter now functions as a smaller legion, waging its own wars and carrying on the legacy of its parent legion as it deems fit. Few, if any, maintain the pure geneseed legacy of their parent legions, with most having some sort of flaw or defect endemic to their chapter. The Imperium is ruled by the Lords of Terra, and policed by the Inquisition. The Imperium has become a dark and grim place, populated by trillions living in suffering. The Necrons are slowly awakening; the T’au have risen; the Eldar remain a potent force despite their fall; the Orks continue to spread; and the Tyranids have come to the galaxy–and over it all is the shadow of Chaos. The people worship the Emperor as their god; the Imperial Truth is all but forgotten. The Adeptus Mechanicus maintains the Golden Throne, while the Adeptus Custodes watch over the decaying Emperor and attempt to carry out his will. And the Throne is failing. Soon the Emperor will die; and whether the Imperium can survive, no one knows.

Perhaps you can see why this setting gave us the term “grimdark”.


But in the meantime, we have stories to tell. We’ll begin with the stories of the Heresy. Next time, we’ll look at the opening trilogy of the Horus Heresy series: Horus Rising, False Gods, and Galaxy in Flames. See you there!

Want to read along? Most books in the Horus Heresy series remain in print; many are available also as ebooks and audiobooks. Check your local retailer, or order at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your preferred online retailer.

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Let’s Read the Horus Heresy! Part Two

What is Warhammer 40,000?

Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K or just 40K, for short) is the story of humanity in the far future. It’s the story of the Imperium of Man, the last great united front of humanity in the universe–its trials and struggles, its darkness and light, and most of all, its wars. After all, you can’t have “war” in the title and not see it happen, right?

But, explaining it requires a look much further back in history.


The Emperor of Mankind

This and all other images taken from the Warhammer 40,000 wiki.

The Emperor: His Origins

Our story begins millennia ago on Earth, long before humanity ventured out to the stars; and it begins with the man who would be Emperor. We never get his name, although he’s had a lot of titles. That won’t matter; the Emperor is an utterly singular figure, and it’s enough to call him the Emperor. Accounts conflict regarding the Emperor’s origins, and Black Library has been reluctant to make it official. My preferred version is the original, which has since been relegated to a possible view: In Earth’s past, humans would sometimes be born with powerful psychic abilities. Many of these psykers, as they would eventually be called, became shamans of one sort or another, leaders among their tribes, with the power to be reborn after death. Over time, these shamans began to lose their ability to reincarnate, as the psykers of other species had done before them. In the eighth millennium BC, in Anatolia, foreseeing a dark and dangerous future, they opted to die together by their own hands, thus pooling their power, their very essence, into a single being, a psyker of unparalleled power and vision. That man, once born, would start down the path that would eventually make him the Emperor of Mankind.

The Emperor is more than just a psyker, though. He is also a Perpetual. Perpetuals are immortals, capable of living without end (as far as we know), not aging or growing weak past a certain point. Although they can be killed, it requires an extraordinary amount of harm; Perpetuals have survived incredible levels of damage, and their bodies possess powers of regeneration that restore them to their usual form over time. Perpetuals can be born that way, a sort of mutant offshoot of normal humanity; or they can be made, via certain arcane technologies. The Emperor was a natural born Perpetual, although we know nothing of his parentage.

The Emperor lived on Earth–which eventually came to be called Terra–for thirty-eight thousand years, working behind the scenes to gently guide the progress of humanity, and sometimes stepping forward on the stage of history, but never revealing the truth about himself. Humanity proceeded through several ages under this benign guidance….but we’ll get back to that.


The Realms of Chaos, part of the Warp.

The Warp

Warhammer 40,000 is, at its core, the struggle between the material universe and the immaterial. The “Immaterium”, as it is sometimes called, is another name for the Warp. This realm of energy and though is many things in 40K; but notably, it serves the same function as hyperspace in other space operas. It’s the realm through which starships pass in order to travel faster than light. And that would be fine, if it was all there was to it…but, you read the title, and you know that’s not going to be the case!

The Warp is more than just a realm of energy; it’s the realm of thought. It is composed of psychic energy, and is the source of all psychic power. But that conduit works both ways; the Warp is also influenced by thought. One ordinary individual makes little difference to the Warp–but, get enough sentient beings together, and things begin to happen.

Safe travel through the Warp in the latter millennia requires the use of a Gellar Field, a sort of protective field generated by a class of psykers. The field allows the ship to keep a bubble of realspace around it, preventing the ship from being touched by Chaos, its effects, and its denizens.

The term “Warp” is often used more or less synonymously with the term “Chaos”. Chaos could be considered a kind of fundamental force in 40K. Where the “materium”, the physical world, is the realm of order, the immaterium is the realm of Chaos. As such it’s naturally inimical to material life; and generally when there’s a breakout of the Warp into realspace, people die, badly. But, it gets worse!


Khorne, the Blood God

The Ruinous Powers

I said that the Warp is inimical to physical life; but that doesn’t mean there’s no life at all inside the Warp. Being a place of psychic–or, one might say, spiritual–energy, there are beings composed of that energy, residing in the Warp. Many of these take the form of demons (or “daemons”, in 40K styling), creatures of varying power, but generally evil in one way or another.

Above the many demons sit the four beings known collectively as the Ruinous Powers. You recall that I said that things happen when you get a large number of sentient beings together? The Ruinous Powers are the result. These beings arose from the collective evil, darkness, hate, and viciousness of billions or trillions of beings throughout history. Their existence depends on the collective psychic imprint of all sentient, psychically active beings (which excludes a few species–we’ll get to that). Although this certainly includes humanity, it also includes many other races, and the Chaos gods–as the powers are called–have no problem preying on other races as well. They arose gradually from the unformed substance of the Immaterium, but generally had awakened sometime after the Emperor’s birth and before the real-world present day.

There are four major Chaos gods, and one additional that may or may not be classed among them, as you prefer, plus other minor gods that we won’t list here:

  • Khorne: Known as the Blood God, and reputed to be the mightiest of the powers, Khorne is the god of all things related to bloodshed. Despite being associated with the Warp, Khorne peculiarly hates the use of psychic powers and magic, and will not grant his followers those abilities as a general rule. He only cares for bloodshed, and doesn’t care how it happens.
  • Tzeentch: Known as the Changer of the Ways, he is Khorne’s chief rival, and is the god of change and sorcery and plots. He and his followers are less interested in the goal and more in the plan; to achieve his goals would be to no longer need to plot, and he cannot abide that.
  • Nurgle: Known as the Plague Lord, he is the god of death, decay, and disease. He thrives on plagues, illnesses, corruption and rot, and the death they bring. He gifts his followers with diseases that generally won’t kill them, but are vile in nature, and will kill anyone they come into contact with. As repulsive as he may be, he generally does not lack for followers.
  • Slaanesh: Known as the Prince of Pleasure, he is the last of the four to arise, only arising around the time of the Great Crusade and the Fall of the Eldar (again, we’ll get to that). Unlike the others, he is beautiful and seductive, and corrupts by way of pleasure and desire. Greed and ambition, therefore, also fall under his aegis.
  • Malice: This fifth Chaos god was a more prominent figure in earlier versions of the lore, but has fallen out of common usage. He was considered the Renegade God, the god of anarchy, vengeance, and nihilism, and was often an opponent of the Ruinous Powers. We won’t deal with him much, if at all, but he’s worth mentioning.

The four Ruinous Powers are able to work together for collective goals, but are otherwise rivals; they refer to the conflict among themselves as the Great Game.


A Thunder Warrior Captain.

Human History

With the exception of information about the Emperor, human history up to the real-world present day can be considered the same in WH40K. Real-world history, and the near future, are sometimes termed the “Age of Terra” or the “Age of Progress” by Imperial historians. This is the era in which humanity lifted itself out of prehistory and into the modern technological age, eventually developing the ability to travel beyond Earth and settle nearby worlds, including most of the worlds of our own solar systems. There was no FTL (faster-than-light) travel at this time, and so colonization proceeded slowly and with only weak interplanetary communication.

In Imperial dating, millennia are counted from the year 1 AD. Thus, 1-1001 AD would be the first millennium, or “M1”; the next ten centuries (to 2001 AD) would be M2, etc. The Age of Progress lasted an ill-defined number of years, but generally is considered to have ended around M15. (For future reference, specific years will be notated as, for example, “M41.942”, that is, year 942 of the 41st millennium.)

By M15, humanity had discovered the Warp, and learned to create engines–the Warp-drive–that could pierce and use the Warp to travel faster than light. It was a dangerous technology at first, but was helped by the advent of Navigators, natural-born psykers who could guide ships through the Warp. This development allowed humanity’s far-flung worlds to reforge their connections and begin to advance on a faster scale. This led to an era now known as the Dark Age of Technology (DAoT, as it’s usually abbreviated). Eventually humanity united under one government, though it was not the Imperium as we know it. Also during this time, artificial intelligence came to the forefront, and at first became a great boon to society; but eventually this led to a great rebellion by the “Men of Iron”, autonomous AI-driven robots. The war was suppressed (although we may in the future see some remnants even in much later times!). Shortly after the war, humanity experienced a dramatic rise in the number of psykers being born, which for the first time fully exposed humanity to the Ruinous Powers and the dangers of the Warp. This led to the collapse of the united human civilization around M25, beginning the Age of Strife.

The Age of Strife lasted about five thousand years, and constituted the fall from the peak of human advancement. With the advent of large numbers of psykers, who then served as conduits for the daemonic forces to make incursion into humanity, interstellar society collapsed quickly, and many planets fell into barbarism and destruction. The planets which survived in best order were the ones that had suppressed psykers, but those were few and far between. Warp storms emerged, isolating many worlds, including Terra. Many fearsome and apocalyptic weapons were unleashed, and the general level of civilization in the galaxy was greatly reduced. This period is badly known to Imperial history due to unreliable recordkeeping and the general state of warfare.

Around M30, the Emperor at last chose to reveal himself fully and take his place at the head of humanity, to save them and the galaxy from utter destruction. It was an opportune time, as the warp storms had finally abated; and it was not a moment too soon, as the fourth Chaos god, Slaanesh, had recently arisen. The Emperor set out to reunite humanity, beginning with the shattered and war-torn people of Terra. To this end, he created the Thunder Warriors, genetically and physically modified superwarriors, which he used to prosecute the Unification Wars on Terra. Unknown to most of the galaxy, when he concluded reunification of Terra, he then put the surviving Thunder Warriors to death (with a few survivors escaping), replacing them with a new breed of superwarrior: the Space Marines, the Adeptus Astartes. He then united the rest of the solar system; in so doing, he struck a treaty with the leadership of Mars. Mars was dominated by the Cult Mechanicus, a society given over to the research, development, and production of technology, serving what they referred to as the Machine God. The Emperor, knowing he would require the assistance of Mars to carry out his goals, signed a treaty, giving birth to the Imperium of Man. He then set his sights on the galaxy.


Nine of the Primarchs: (from left) Sangunius, Mortarion, Magnus, Angron, Jaghatai Khan, Lorgar, Rogal Dorn, Horus, Fulgrim.

Primarchs and Space Marines

Carrying out the Emperor’s vision required great plans–and he started early. Before the end of the Dark Age of Technology, the man who would be Emperor traveled to the planet Molech and passed through a Warp Gate there, thus meeting with the then-existent Ruinous Powers (it is unclear whether Slaanesh had begun to arise, but the timeline would seem to indicate not). There he struck a bargain, the details of which were unknown, but from which he seems to have gained the ability to either create or manipulate Warp entities. This ability would later tie into the Primarch project.

The Primarchs were perhaps the Emperor’s greatest creations. Sometime in or around M30, he drew on his own DNA, and his Molech-gained abilities, to create twenty powerful warriors, the twenty Primarchs. They were intended to be his generals, leaders of his legions, who would follow in his steps to reunite the galaxy and lead humanity to a golden age. He created them in a hidden lab deep beneath the Imperial palace on Terra. However, the Ruinous Powers discovered the project, and initiated a localized Warp storm, which snatched away the Primarchs and scattered them to worlds across the galaxy, often within the influence of the forces of Chaos (and possibly through time, to some small degree, as well). Thus the Primarchs grew to manhood outside their father’s influence, with no knowledge of the as-yet-nascent Imperium.

A Space Marine of the I Legion, the Dark Angels.

This was a major setback, but the Emperor was undaunted. He used the remaining genetic samples from the Primarchs to create the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. These superwarriors constituted the next generation, superior to the Thunder Warriors and functionally immortal (they can be killed, but won’t die of natural causes, as far as we know). They are drawn from the ranks of ordinary men; those who survive testing are surgically and genetically altered, becoming larger and faster and stronger than normal men. They have a number of unique organs with functions that make them incredibly capable engines of war and destruction. Twenty Legions of Astartes were created, one for each of the Primarchs, awaiting only their leaders to stand at their heads.

Over time, the Emperor located and recovered each of his Primarchs, beginning with the one known as Horus. One by one, he set them at the head of their Legions, and gave them a duty: They would prosecute his Great Crusade to reunite the scattered human worlds, stamp out the menace of alien races, and lead humanity to peace and prosperity.

It…didn’t go as planned.

(I have said that there were twenty Legions and twenty Primarchs; but for all practical purposes there are only eighteen of each. A longstanding bit of lore has two of the Legions and Primarchs, the Second and Eleventh, not only missing, but expunged from all records. No names or descriptions have ever been released. This was originally a nod to the tabletop game, allowing players to create unique Legions and Primarchs, but has since become essentially canonical.)


A Drukhari warrior of the Aeldari.

Other Species

Before we move on, we need to take a moment and talk about other species in the galaxy. There are several major races in 40K, most of which are playable factions in the tabletop game (as well as some minor races).

  • The Old Ones: The Old Ones are the first race to have evolved sentience in the Milky Way galaxy (though not the first to exist–the C’Tan predate them, but didn’t evolve sentience within the galaxy). They may be the progenitors of several other intelligent races, including the Aeldari. They are known for having fought a galaxy-spanning war, called the War in Heaven, with the Necrontyr millions of years ago, which they lost. After this they disappeared, possibly becoming extinct, or possibly leaving the galaxy (or a combination thereof). The Old Ones created the Webway, the system of tunnels throughout creation that bypasses the Warp and its Chaos influences.
  • The Necrontyr/Necrons: The Necrontyr were a sentient, humanoid race who went to war with the Old Ones millions of years ago. They once ruled a vast empire in the Milky Way. In order to turn the war in their favor, they struck a deal with the C’Tan, who helped them to shed their mortal forms in favor of immortal robotic bodies–but in the process, tricked them into giving up their souls. After the end of the war, they went into hibernation on planets called Tomb Worlds; now, in the 41st Millennium, they are awakening, and seek to restore their empire.
  • The C’Tan: Godlike energy beings of Aeldari legend, these ancient beings lived by consuming the power of stars. They tricked the Necrontyr into giving up their mortality and their souls and becoming the robotic Necrons, who then served to provide the C’Tan with more sources of energy. After the War in Heaven, the Necrons revolted against the C’Tan and killed most of them, shattering the survivors into semi-intelligent C’Tan shards, which can be deployed as powerful weapons.
  • The Aeldari/Eldar: The Eldar are the 40K equivalent to the Elves found in most fantasy settings. This ancient race was created by the Old Ones. Until approximately M30, they were a mighty and peaceful people, holding a large empire, in which every individual was a psyker. They also commanded control of the Webway, using it to expand their domain. However, their greed and darker emotions caught up to them, leading to the fall of their empire, which in turn provided the burst of psychic power required to give birth to Slaanesh, the fourth Ruinous Power. Once the Eldar were essentially immortal; even in death, their souls would be safely reborn. Now, Slaanesh thirsts for their souls, and their survivors have turned to other, cruder methods to protect their immaterial selves. They are a waning and broken power, but still important.
  • The T’au: The T’au are a young, expansionist humanoid species. As late as M34, they were noted to be living in a Stone Age state, but they have progressed rapidly since then, and have begun to conquer an empire. No T’au psykers exist; the T’au have a very limited presence in the Warp, and are thus immune to much Warp-based activity (although Warp powers fully manifested in the materium can still affect them). This is both a blessing and a curse, as it provides some protection, but also limits their options when dealing with psychically-empowered races.
  • The Orks: A biologically engineered species created by the Old Ones, the Orks are the equivalent of Orcs in a fantasy setting. Often called “greenskins”, they are humanoid, but actually are fungal in nature, reproducing by spores, which makes them very difficult to purge once present on a world. They are singularly devoted to battle, building their entire species around it, often launching all-consuming campaigns of war called a “WAAAGH!” When in large numbers, they generate a psychic gestalt field, in which the power of the Warp is channeled to cause things to happen simply because the Orks believe they will. Weapons will work when they shouldn’t; machines that should be junk demonstrate purposes that make no sense to an outsider–all simply because the Orks believe they should. There’s much more that can be said about Orks, but suffice to say that they are one of the more difficult challenges the Imperium faces.
  • The Tyranids: Hailing from outside the galaxy, the Tyranids are the ultimate predator. This alien race takes a variety of forms, for a single purpose: devouring all biomatter to propagate their own species. Late in M41, the Imperium first encountered this race of devourers, and as yet have no effective plan to stop them. Although only getting started, they constitute perhaps the greatest threat to life in the galaxy in the long run.

And that, I think, is enough for now! We’ll leave off here, in M31, at the outset of the Great Crusade. Terra and its immediate environs have been reunited into the infant Imperium of Man; the Thunder Warriors have been destroyed; the Space Marines have arisen to take their place. The Emperor has begun his crusade across the galaxy, and has begun to recover his Primarchs, beginning with Horus. The Space Marine legions lead the fight, aided by the Imperial Army and Navy. Slaanesh is still a new force for Chaos; the Aeldari have only recently (in the last millennium or so) fallen; the T’au, Tyranids, and Necrons are unknown to the Imperium. Next time, we’ll look at the Great Crusade, and the beginnings of the Horus Heresy. See you there!

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Next

Let’s Read The Horus Heresy! Part One

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.

Thus opens the fictional universe that is Warhammer 40,000.

I chose the term “fictional universe” because, as I’ve written about before, there’s a lot more to Warhammer 40,000–or “40K” or even “WH40K”, as I may abbreviate it going forward–than a simple book series. More to the point, there’s nothing simple about it! The universe began with a tabletop game, introduced all the way back in 1987, and still going strong. Today it’s still perfectly valid to get into 40K by buying and painting a few miniatures, finding a game shop, and dropping into a campaign. Not the route I took, but many people do. But the universe doesn’t stop there; the game’s lore has taken on a life of its own, and the parent company, Games Workshop, long ago created a publishing division, now known as the Black Library. Lo these many years later, we have literally hundreds of 40K novels, audiobooks, short stories, novellas, and collections to choose from. (I last counted in 2019, as mentioned in the post I linked above, and came up with more than 550 entries at that time, and publication has hardly ceased since.) And if, somehow, all of that isn’t enough to satisfy, you can find YouTube videos (some of very high quality), commentary, video games, podcasts, subreddits (I recommend /r/40KLore)…the list goes on and on.

It’s interesting to me that this fandom flew under my radar for so long. After all, it’s exactly the kind of thing that appeals to me: arcane lore and origin stories, huge shared universes, sci-fi/fantasy/action…and on top of that, the whole thing is just enormous. There’s so much ground to cover! The best comparisons I can make–and I have made them before–are Star Wars and Star Trek. Both Star Wars and Star Trek have hotly argued definitions of canon; large expanded universes taking place in various media; a long history of retcons and diverse views on the material; and, though it may come as a surprise, a storied history of gaming, both video and traditional. And yet, somehow, I didn’t become aware of WH40K until about five years ago.

In that time, I’ve begun to read through some of the novels. I feel agonizingly slow about it, as with all my reading these days; but over a few years, I’ve covered some ground. And I would like to cover some of those adventures here.

Now, I know I have several “read-and-review” projects going on right now. There’s the post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars EU; the much-neglected Great Reddit Reading List (I’ll get back sometime, I promise); and over on The Time Lord Archives, I’ve been working through multiple series of Doctor Who material. Frankly, I struggle enough to get things done; and the last thing I need is to start another project like that. So, that’s not what I’m doing here. I’m not going to promise you reviews of all of Warhammer 40,000, or even of any of the shorter series within its bounds. I just plan to talk about books that catch my attention and my interest–the things that stand out to me. I can’t even say with certainty that it will equate to one post per book–after all, that’s not what’s happening here today. These posts, when they happen, will be more along the lines of “Hey, this is cool, and here’s why!”

But here we are at the beginning. There are two things I want to accomplish right away. First, I want to walk you through an overview of what Warhammer 40,000 is all about. Second, I want to give a quick overview of the books I’ve already read in the Horus Heresy series–what exactly that is, we’ll get to shortly. Once those things are done, we can pick up with new books as I complete them.

One thing I want to clear up before we start: If you search the term “Warhammer”, aside from the real-world historical weapon you will find references to not one, but two fictional universes (and some spinoffs), both published by Games Workshop and Black Library. There’s Warhammer 40,000; and then there’s Warhammer Fantasy. Fantasy came first, all the way back in 1983; 40K developed as a futuristic version of similar concepts. While the two share some ideas, and there have been hints of a relationship between them, no such relationship has ever been made canon. I’ll be focusing solely on 40K.


I see that I’ve already gotten long-winded; and there’s plenty more to come! So, I think this is a good place to pause. We’ll pick up in part 2 with the first of my two objectives, above: Just what is Warhammer 40,000 all about? See you there!

Want a video overview of Warhammer 40,000? Check out this series by The Exploring Series on YouTube! (Not affiliated with this site, just recommended.)

Next

Photon: The Strangest Nostalgia Trip Yet

Over on sites like Reddit, there’s an entire cottage industry in trying to remember obscure media and poorly-recalled subjects. A community of subreddits, such as /r/TipOfMyTongue, /r/WhatsThatBook, and others, exists to help you track down that elusive memory, that show that you vaguely recall, that thing that you’re not even certain it existed at all. Then, there are other communities such as /r/IWatchedAnOldMovie, where you can rehash old times and talk about new perspectives. That’s all to say nothing of the hundreds of fan subreddits for particular franchises, with many for franchises which date back years or decades, and often are not in production any longer. All in all, it’s safe to say that nostalgia is a hot commodity!

I’m no exception myself–in fact, I may be the worst offender I know (if you’re inclined to take it as an offense, that is). This entire site, along with my other blog at The Time Lord Archives, exists to bridge the gap between the stories I’ve loved all my life and the ones I’m creating today. Now, I don’t find myself branching out often into the truly obscure; my tastes are usually mainstream with regard to science fiction and fantasy, a little less so with other types of fiction, but all very vanilla, for the most part. My usual strategy is to try to shed new light on those commonly-known franchises rather than to expose unknown universes. Generally, I’m happy doing things that way; after all, there’s plenty of Star Wars and Star Trek out there to keep me busy for a long time, and don’t get me started on the Doctor Who material available!

But, sometimes, all these threads conspire to lead to something truly weird. And with that, allow me to introduce you to a largely-forgotten media franchise called Photon.

Buckle up, kiddies, because this one is weird.

The 1980s are littered with cartoons that were, for all practical purposes, half-hour advertisements for toy lines. From the well-known (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe/She-Ra, Princess of Power; G.I. Joe; Transformers) to the practically forgotten these days (does anyone actually remember Power Lords?), we took in these commercials with our breakfast cereal every Saturday morning, and we pushed our parents to buy the toys. And they did! That success is the reason we still feel nostalgic about He-Man and Optimus Prime today. (Many of them went on to a second life in various more mature media–but we’ll get back to that later.)

Photon, subtitled The Ultimate Game on Planet Earth, was…sort of that. While there were, eventually, home toys, Photon started out instead as an establishment. 1984 gave us the first of many Photon centers, this one located in Garland, Texas. And why would it need a center? Because Photon wasn’t just a toy; it was, like its better known counterpart Lazer Tag, a team sport. I was too young for it, and didn’t live anywhere near an arena, so I know what I know only from research. Photon arenas were mazes akin to modern-day paintball arenas. Players would carry guns that emitted infrared light (not the lasers these games usually purported to be, but close enough) and wore sensors that would accept the hits from the guns (or “phasers”, in Photon terminology). The arena itself had sensors, as well, one for each team; thus it became a sort of capture-the-flag game, in which players sought not only to shoot the opponent’s goal, but also to take out opposing players. (When your sensor was shot, your weapon deactivated itself for a short time, taking you out of play.) By 1986–the same year that Lazer Tag launched–Photon had released a home version as well, in time for the Christmas season.

I did not find any photos of an actual arena, all of which have been closed for decades.

But, every phenomenon needs promotion; and all the cool toys were getting TV shows! Why not Photon? Good question! And indeed, Photon did get a television show, a live action series, which you can view in almost-complete form on YouTube right now if you like–here’s a marathon of nearly nine hours of it. But…don’t. Seriously, I’m warning you. Don’t click that link–unless, that is, you have brain cells to which you’re not particularly attached; because Photon, as a TV series, is hot garbage. It’s terrible. It is, quite possibly, the worst TV series I’ve ever seen. It’s so bad that I can’t bring myself to watch more than a little of it, and therefore I can’t give you much discussion of it here. A bit like a low-budget Super Sentai series, a little like a weird Sesame Street parody, and a ton of batshit insanity–if you really want to melt your brain, Photon is the show for you. Being high may help, or it may scar you for life (note: I’m not actually advocating being high).

Say hello to Mandarr! Yes, it’s that silly. Just wait til you meet Dogarr and Bugarr!

So, if I never played Photon, and can’t stand the television series, then why write this post? Why talk about the nostalgia? Because there was a third part of the franchise, and it was much more my thing. While Photon was still hot, the producers created a series of tie-in children’s novels, written by none other than Peter David (mentioned on this site before for his Star Trek novels)…although under the pen name of David Peters, because children’s tie-in novels don’t do much for your street cred, even as an author of nerdy things. My exposure to Photon came by way of those six novels, and they kicked off a brief but powerful obsession that I still remember fondly today.

Picture blurry for your protection. (Left to right: Lord Baethan, Bhodi Li, Parcival, Tivia.

Photon–whether you’re talking about the television series or the novels–is the story of Christopher Jarvis, a teenager and a Photon (the arena game, that is) enthusiast. In the game he goes by the name Bhodi Li, and he is without question the best player in his town. What Chris doesn’t know, though, is that Photon is much more than a game. It’s the very real struggle between Light and Darkness (capital letters deliberate) out in the universe. Photon arenas on Earth and other planets are recruitment grounds for the Photon Guardians, the forces of Light; and Chris, or rather Bhodi Li, becomes their latest recruit. Keeping his newfound Photon Guardian identity secret on Earth, he joins his fellow warriors when summoned by the Guardians’ central computer, MOM (the Multiple Operations Matrix) to bring Light to uninhabited worlds and make them ready for life. The Guardians do so by locating the Photon Crystal on each world, and shooting it with their phasers while calling out their catchphrase, “The Light shines!” Arrayed against them are the forces of Darkness, the Arrians, under the leadership of the Warlord of Arr, who also capture Crystals with their own phrase, “The Darkness grows!” Any Crystal captured by the Guardians brings one hundred years of Light and life to the planet; any Crystal captured by the Arrians brings one hundred years of Darkness and death.

The home version.

Sounds simplistic, right? Typical Saturday morning fare, custom made for episodes and Aesops. And you’re right, it is exactly that. I loved it at the time because I was the right age for it, and also because it seemed to have a degree of backstory and complexity that I found fascinating (despite the simple format). The books, apparently, were a little more advanced than the series, but the general plot and other elements were the same. And it was all safely part of my past. Occasionally I would run across references to it, and it would come to mind–notably, I picked up one of the books at a flea market some years ago–but I generally concluded that although it has some fascination for me, it was too juvenile to try to bring into any adult frame of reference.

Children’s book series covers. Only six volumes were published.

But then, a few days ago, I watched this video from the Toy Galaxy YouTube channel. I expected a little nostalgia trip; but I found a buried treasure! You see, apparently there was one more iteration of Photon, of which I had never been aware. In 1987, Michael P. Kube-McDowell (writing as Michael Hudson, because Photon doesn’t do much for your street cred either) released Thieves of Light, a Young Adult novel that retold the beginning of Photon’s story. Of course I had to check it out! So, I located a copy–not too difficult, despite the obscurity of the series these days–and read it.

I need to pause and explain something about myself. As a writer of fanfiction, one thing I love to do is attempt to take established stories and bring them into the realm of believability. Sometimes this takes the form of adapting video games, which are inherently unrealistic due to gameplay constraints–for example, my Megaman Legends and Parasite Eve fiction, or The Courier’s Tale. (I may have trouble finishing said works, but that’s a topic for other posts.) Sometimes it’s bringing lofty biblical tales down to a level where the characters seem more human, as in the unpublished Timewalkers series from which I drew my username (maybe someday!). And sometimes it’s taking children’s media and lifting it to a more realistic, more mature status (as with the Power Rangers stories with which I taught myself to write). So, when I discovered someone had already given Photon the grown-up treatment–well, maybe you can understand my excitement.

The novel did not disappoint. The handful of reviews I found noted that the book is dated, especially with regard to its pop culture references and its characters’ slang. I expected that, though, from a YA novel that featured contemporary characters. I’m not put off by that; after all, every work is a product of its time, and novels like this are in some ways more a product of their time than other works. The book works hard to take Photon‘s admittedly hokey premise and turn it into something series, and it mostly succeeds. It gives serious, in-universe explanations for things such as the ridiculous appearance of some of the aliens, often turning the funny into the frightening. It transforms the Photon Guardians from a single team to a force appropriate for fighting on a galactic scale, with levels and officers and support elements and a fleet of ships. It gives a more scientific explanation for the Photon Crystals (terraforming devices) and the way they can be turned from one side of the conflict to the other (complex, time-consuming reprogramming).

Where it can’t explain, it downplays. The acronym “MOM” is dropped; the central AI is called the First Guardian. There’s no real explanation for how the very young (somewhere between ten and thirteen? It’s not specified) Parcival can be a Guardian, and it’s taken for granted rather than explained that he is a genius with a remarkable IQ. The Photon Guardians have sensors incorporated into their armor, but they aren’t explained (as opposed to the children’s novels, where the phasers hurt if they strike anywhere else, but kill if they strike a sensor–and covering them is against the rules of the conflict). The contrived nature of the war is explained by Parcival as akin to ancient wars by champions rather than generalized battles. And, where the book can’t downplay, it lampshades; the character of Pike at one point makes a mocking joke to explain why all the Arrians’ names end in “-arr”, a convention held over from the TV series and the book series. (It doesn’t explain why Pike is able to say that it’s “arr with two R’s”, when he’s not actually speaking English and is only understood by way of a universal translator–but whatever, just go with it.)

The book was clearly intended to be the first of a series. Characters who are important to the series–the warrior princess Tivia, the cyborg Lord Baethan–are minimized here, and don’t get much screen time at all, but in such a way that it’s obvious they would have reappeared in later installments. Unfortunately that series never emerged, and we’re left with one intriguing, frustratingly short, but well written novel.

Thieves of Light cover.

And, frankly, that’s not enough. Now, I have no intention of writing more material in this series–I have enough on my plate without starting yet another project I won’t finish–but I did give some thought to how I would do it, if I were to do so. You see, while staying true to the conventions of Photon, the novel changes the backstory quite a bit. The Guardians have been told that their war is an epic and longstanding conflict between Light and Dark, a spiritual as well as temporal battle, and yet there’s no proof. Parcival explains his theory that secretly, it’s a bit of a sham; and he wonders ominously about what might be behind the curtain. Maybe this would have been further developed in sequels, but we’ll never know. However, we do know what the other book series set out as the answer to these questions–and to me it’s the most fascinating aspect of the series.

One of the children’s books–and I apologize, but I’m not sure which one; I don’t have them available today, and summaries are impossible to find–establishes the cosmology of the Photon universe. It establishes that the universe is, essentially, a game between two gods. It’s hinted that neither is good and neither is evil, per se; in fact they may have swapped sides in the past. While the universe develops and plays out in the background, the two players use the mechanism of Photon to play their game. It’s much like chess; there are pieces of varying value. The Guardians and the Arrians are essentially pawns. The MOM computer and its dark counterpart (yes, you guessed it, it’s DAD–the Diverse Activities Database) are the queens. Each side also had a king–but in a brilliant and possibly duplicitous move, the dark player took out the Light’s king early in the game, leaving only MOM to lead the Guardians. The Warlord of Arr remains as the king for the Darkness. The Guardians find themselves confronted with the end of the universe when the Light player accuses the Dark player of cheating and flips the board, as it were; this gives us the most ridiculous world-saving scene in history, when Bhodi Li saves the universe with five words: “Best two out of three?”

Cover art without text.

But, as ridiculous as it may be, that scene is the hook on which I’d hang the continuity. I’d suggest that the series covered in the children’s books constitute the first game. That game, for better or worse, can be considered won by the Darkness. (Caveat: this might require reading books out of order, to put the story in question at the end. But as the books don’t resolve the series, that should be no problem.) I would suggest that the TV series constitutes the second game. That series ends in what is effectively a draw, with both sides charging the final Crystal together, and a warning that evil can always rise again. Now, Thieves of Light would constitute the third game, the third iteration of history. This would explain why things are a bit different here–each reality differs from the others. This version is more serious, more hardcore, because this could be the deciding game; with a Dark victory and a draw behind them, the Darkness is poised to win it all. The Guardians must win, or lose everything forever. From there, I’d eventually expand on the cosmology, and pull back the curtain, showing the truth to the Guardians, while keeping the story at least nominally grounded in some form of reality (as much as any space opera is ever so grounded!).

All in all, not bad for a game–whether that game is the game of two gods, or the real-world Photon itself.

So, what do you think? Do you remember Photon at all, whether by television, books, arenas, or toys? What did you think of it? For me, it will always hold a fond place in my memory, no matter how silly it may have been–and with the addition of Thieves of Light, it may just be a little less silly.

Happy reading!

Photon: Thieves of Light and the six Photon junior novels are out of print, but may be found on Ebay, AbeBooks, and other book resellers.

Revisiting Star Wars–X-Wing: Wraith Squadron, and X-Wing: Iron Fist

It was a true underdog story!

The veteran in this competition was a recent newbie himself. But he had four wins under his belt, and that’s more than enough. It only takes five kills to make an ace. And he was good, too–his wins weren’t just wins; they’re still talked about today. How could any challenger think to take his crown away?

And yet, that’s exactly what happened. I’m speaking, of course, of the X-Wing series…or rather, its authors.

Not that it was a literal competition. In all the background reading I’ve done, I’ve never seen any indication that the two authors involved were anything but cooperative. The competition is all in the minds of us fans, who pick our favorites and make comparisons. And until recently, I was sure I had mine all figured out.

A little background here. To understand the X-Wing series, you need an idea of how the Star Wars Expanded Universe (today called Legends) was shaping up in the 1990s. Prior to 1991, it had been eight years since the previous novel, 1983’s Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka (not covered in this reread, but very entertaining–I recommend that entire trilogy). 1991, then, gave us a single novel–but what a novel! Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire hit the then-quiescent fandom like a bomb (that’s “explosive”, not “failure”). The results were instantaneous and far-reaching; and it’s no exaggeration at all to say that with a single book, Timothy Zahn launched the entire future of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. (He’s still doing it today–he’s published several books in Disney canon that essentially parallel the role of Heir to the Empire and its sequels from the EU.) We’ll get to Zahn’s work soon.

The next several years were packed with new releases. If you look at the list of novels by release date, you’ll find a number of adult-level novels, accompanied by a similar number of children’s and YA novels. Nearly all were set in the era we’re covering, the post-Return of the Jedi era (aka the New Republic era), because this WAS Star Wars. No new movies were yet in the works (although there was some early hints of the prequels), and so the novels were carrying the torch for the future. Many of the novels we will be covering here were published during that time; in fact, it’s surprising to me now, looking back, just how many important novels were published between 1991 and the end of 1995. First the remainder of Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, then The Truce at Bakura (which we’ve already covered), The Courtship of Princess Leia (coming up soon), the Jedi Academy Trilogy, the widely panned The Crystal Star (yes, we’re going to cover it), the early parts of the Young Jedi Knights series of YA novels, the Corellian Trilogy, and Darksaber (not to be confused with the hand weapon of the same name)–all of these novels launched in that short window. Most novels were released in a loosely consistent chronological order; there were gaps, but not much doubling back. The major exception was that the Thrawn trilogy had been set later than some of these novels; but it gets a pass, because it came first, and had such an impact.

Therefore, the X-Wing series was something of an insert. The first book, Rogue Squadron, was released on New Year’s Day 1996. However, it–and most of the series–is set in 6-7 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin, according to the out-of-universe dating system in common use). This predates everything thus far released in the 1990s except The Truce at Bakura (4 ABY). Thus it’s very early days for the New Republic–when the series begins, they haven’t even captured Coruscant, the galactic capital. I can imagine that such a maneuver is both liberating and restricting for the authors. On one hand, it’s virgin territory–no one had set any stories in that period. On the other hand, there’s a tight set of expectations that have to be met, because one cannot contradict anything that came later. It’s not without its stresses; in an interview with Jim Fisher, when asked how much research was required, Aaron Allston said:

“A lot. I wish I’d had time to do more. I read every Star Wars technical manual I could get my hands on, plus Stackpole’s novels, Zahn’s novels, other novels in which Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron make appearances, comic books, and several of West End’s Star Wars game supplements. I watched the movie trilogy repeatedly. I played the X-Wing computer game. I bought eight of the Action Fleet toys and used them for measurements and estimations of their performance in atmosphere. I read books on aircraft carrier life and pilot survival.

Michael A. Stackpole was the initial choice to write the series, and released the first four novels (Rogue Squadron, Wedge’s Gamble, The Krytos Trap, all in 1996, and The Bacta War in early 1997). Those novels, which we’ve already covered, continue the exploits of the rebuilt Rogue Squadron in the taking of Coruscant and the battle against Ysaane Isard. The novels are heavily told from the point of view of Corran Horn, former CorSec investigator and future Jedi Knight. When Stackpole was approached for a four-book continuation of the series, however, he declined, citing other commitments; but he recommended Aaron Allston for three of the four books (and planned to write the fourth himself when his schedule cleared). Allston was obligated to hit the ground running…and that’s where we are today.

Allston’s diligence and research paid off. We open with book five, Wraith Squadron. Wedge Antilles looks back at the amount of infiltration and guerilla work his pilots had to do on Thyferra in The Bacta War, and comes up with the idea of a new type of X-Wing squadron, one that is built around the idea of doing its own ground work as well as flying. With the help of veteran Wes Janson, he pulls together a team of screwups and wash-outs, each of which has some valuable secondary skills–and some destructive tendencies. There’s Kell Tainer, a hand-to-hand combat and demolitions expert who freezes up in battle, and lives with a terrible secret: That his father was killed by none other than Wes Janson in a friendly-fire incident. There’s Garik “Face” Loran, a former child actor living under the weight of guilt for his unwitting work in Imperial propaganda, whose disguise and espionage skills are nearly inhuman. There’s Tyria Sarkin, a mediocre pilot with a lot to prove, and a grudge to settle. There’s Ton Phanan, a cyborg doctor with an allergy to bacta and an unmatched wit. There’s Hohass “Runt” Ekwesh, an undersized, horselike Thakwash with multiple personalities and a wide array of unexpected skills. And there’s Voort “Piggy” saBinring, a genetically-modified Gamorrean with a frightening level of mathematical and analytical acumen. Others come and go, ensuring a constant rogues’ (wraiths?) gallery.

Where the Rogue Squadron novels have concerned themselves with Ysanne Isard, the director of Imperial Intelligence who seized control of Coruscant, the Wraith Squadron trilogy deals with the other major threat among the Imperial warlords: Warlord Zsinj. That’s a name I’d been hearing for years–he gets mentioned time and again through other stories–and here’s our chance to witness his downfall. He’s more entertaining than most Imperials, in my opinion; he’s not the caricature that most are, but rather he’s very human. He’s moody but not usually angry (or at least not comically so), he swings from emotion to emotion, and he makes mistakes. He’s very skilled at constructing his own little empire, and yet he remains approachable to his underlings–the very opposite of the terrifying Isard. Like Isard, he commands power from a Super Star Destroyer; Isard had the Lusankya, while Zsinj has the Iron Fist. The first novel chronicles the Wraiths’ efforts to pick away at his empire; the second, aptly titled Iron Fist, covers the first attempt to strike directly at Zsinj and his vessel.

But, as interesting as Zsinj is, it’s the Wraiths that steal the show. When one takes different types of dynamite and throws them into the fire together, there’s bound to be explosions. The Wraiths are no exception; one by one, their problems and flaws boil to the surface; and like the other kind of boil, they must be lanced. From Kell Tainer’s fear of freezing up and his hatred of Wes Janson, to Tyria’s imposter syndrome, to Runt’s failure to coordinate his various minds, to Phanan’s bitterness and Face’s guilt and Piggy’s loneliness and Myn Donos’s depression over the loss of some former comrades, one challenge after another threatens to destroy the Wraiths…and one by one, they learn to survive and overcome. They do this in the midst of an increasingly insane series of military and paramilitary feats that leave their supervisors shaking their heads, more often than not.

Of particular interest to me is a character introduced in a minor way in Wraith Squadron, but raised to protagonist status in Iron Fist: Lara Notsil, also known as Gara Petothel. In Wraith Squadron, Gara Petothel is an Imperial intelligence officer–a spy, essentially–working as an analyst for one of Zsinj’s underlings. She’s a troublesome pest to the Wraiths, although they are unaware of her presence. She survives the catastrophe that destroys her employer, and escapes to forge a new cover identity on Coruscant; she takes the name and identity of a long-dead farmer from Aldivy named Lara Notsil. In the midst of planning to escape back to Zsinj, she is unexpectedly caught up in a plan by the Wraiths to take down a corrupt officer; and much to her own surprise, she ends up in the squadron. However, she soon begins to suffer identity problems, as she finds that she would much rather be the hopeful and upright Lara Notsil, than the Imperial-aligned and deceitful Gara Petothel–but, in doing so, she’s perpetuating another lie to cover the lies she wants to escape. As of the end of the book, her mental state seems fragile, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

In the end, I have to hand it to Allston. I expected competence–most Star Wars authors have demonstrated as much, and even bad Star Wars is better than no Star Wars (except The Rise of Skywalker; there’s no excuse for that one). I didn’t expect him to outdo Stackpole, but that’s exactly what happened. His characters are more vital and endearing; his battle sequences and strategies are top notch; and his stories are endlessly creative. Someone at Lucas must have agreed; Allston would go on to write a total of thirteen Star Wars novels, right up to the and including a third of the Fate of the Jedi series that (nearly) closes out the post-RotJ era of the EU. (No, Crucible, we haven’t forgotten you!) Unfortunately and sadly, Aaron Allston passed away seven years ago today, on February 27, 2014, of heart failure; and we remember him fondly.

Aaron Allston, 1960-2014

Next time: We’ll round out the Wraith Squadron trilogy with Solo Command! See you there.

Happy reading!

X-Wing: Wraith Squadron and X-Wing: Iron Fist are available from Amazon and other booksellers.

You can find Wookieepedia’s treatment of the novels here and here.

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Family Movie Nights

We are a family of five (if you don’t count the pets). In addition to me and my wife, there are three children. My oldest daughter is fourteen, about to turn fifteen (learner’s permits! Driving lessons! Gasp!). My son is in the middle, at the awkward age of thirteen (puberty! Personal hygiene! GASP!). And then there’s the little one, my younger daughter, who will be seven in a few weeks (yelling! Picky eating! GASP!!).

Our family is blended, though that always sounded like a weird term to me; my older children are the product of my first marriage, while the youngest came as part of the package with my current wife (and what a package it was!). Needless to say, every part of this life is a new experience for someone. My wife never had older children before she was thrown into the deep end with two of them; I never had such a range of ages to deal with at once (there’s only twenty months between the two oldest). And for the kids, well, everything is new, all the time. Relating to each of them can be a challenge.

But tackle that challenge we do, each in our own way. Now, I can’t speak for my wife, whose talents and interests–and thus her tactics for connecting with the kids–lie in other directions. For myself, though, I’ve always tried to connect with them through the thing that I love: fiction. Be it video games, books, or television, I try to find things to enjoy with the kids, things we’ll all love. And more, I try to introduce them to old favorites from my life. I want to know them, and get inside their heads and their worlds–but I want them to feel that they’ve done the same with me. They’re too young now to understand how important that will one day be to them; so my job is to put the experiences and memories in place, and let them come around to them in their own time.

To that end, I’ve started orchestrating movie nights with the kids. (My wife joins us when she can, but between work and parenting and nursing school, she’s understandably busy right now–so we save the movies that will appeal most to her, and watch them when she can be with us.) Mind you, I have to go out of my way not to call it a Movie Night, capital letters; my kids will balk if they feel like it’s an obligation or appointment. Instead, I just catch them and ask them if they want to watch a movie. Or, sometimes, now that we’ve been doing this for awhile, they’ll ask me. To which I very solemnly, but enthusiastically, say “Yes! Yes, I will watch with you!” Sucker, you fell right into my trap! Come and spend time with me, bwa ha ha!

The oldest never falls for it. She’s quite happy in her own world, as far as I can tell. Now, don’t take that as a problem; she connects in other ways. But, she would rather spend time talking to her friends on the phone than sitting through a movie with me. (I thought those phone calls would have long since been replaced by some form of texting, but nope–I can hear them getting loud all the way from her basement bedroom to my living room. The old ways live on!)

But the others, though–they join me. Lately it’s superhero movies–thank God for the Marvel Cinematic Universe! The boy and I have been slowly working through the MCU in release order. He likes everything he’s seen except for Thor: The Dark World (which is, admittedly, the least memorable of the Thor films). He skipped Captain Marvel entirely, not for any sexist reason, but because he has a thing for chronological order, and Captain Marvel violates it by about twenty-five years (if you haven’t seen it, it’s set in 1995). He hasn’t picked a favorite movie, but Iron Man and Avengers: Infinity War seem to be in the running.

As for the girl–the younger girl–she did watch Captain Marvel with me, and loved it. Her mom has been watching the WandaVision miniseries with her, and I’ve come along for that ride. She wants to know everything about everyone in every movie and episode, which delights me to the core of my comic-nerd soul, and I’m glad to tell her whatever she wants. After the recent surprise cameo in WandaVision episode 5–no spoilers here; if you know, you know–we decided it was time to branch out and check out the X-Men series (except for the Deadpool movies; she knows she’s not allowed to watch those yet, and will solemnly tell you that “Deadpool is not for children” if you ask her). She’s also, not coincidentally, the other big Star Wars fan in the house; we’ve watched the entire film series, and most of The Mandalorian, and I expect to introduce her to The Clone Wars when I get a little time.

None of this, of course, is about the movies.

I love fiction. I love science-fiction, and fantasy, and comic book superheroes. I was a comic book nerd in the nineties, during the heyday of the X-Men and all their related series. I was a Star Wars fan as far back as I can remember. I got into the Lord of the Rings in junior high. I collect old pulp Golden Age sci-fi novels. These things are my world. You know what else is my world? My wife and my children. None of these things would be worth it to me if I didn’t have them.

I love that I can use these things that I’ve loved for so long, to connect with the people I’ll love for the rest of my life. It might just seem like a movie night to the kids; but it’s so much more than that to me. One day, they’ll see that it was more than that to them, as well. That’s worth it.

Welcome to 2021! And, Review: The Infinite and the Divine

Welcome to 2021! And we are definitely off to a running start, at least here in the USA. Granted, the “running” has included Congress running from a mob, our president running from responsibility, and our nation running from the consequences of its actions; but, here we are!

But let’s put that aside for a second. This isn’t a political blog. I do occasionally make reference to what’s going on in the political sphere, but not as a topic of my posts. (Don’t hold me too tightly to that; I may have made a political post before–I’m not going back to check. It’s not my general plan, though.) We’re here, as always, to talk writing, reading, and books!

So, how did 2020 end for you? I mentioned a few weeks ago that I didn’t make my own goals for the year. I suppose, with the Coronavirus pandemic turning all our lives upside down, not many of us did. Or maybe you found the time to meet one, but everything else fell by the wayside. That’s okay. Hard times are, by definition, hard; and if you simply survived to this point, you did it. You made it through (as much as we are through, anyway). That’s all the victory we require right now–everything else is grace.

Personally, I didn’t make my writing goal for the year. It was a nebulous goal, I admit; I wanted to make significant progress on a few projects. I fell short of that goal–I finished a few chapters of The Courier’s Tale, wrote one short story (Doctor Who-themed, not posted here), and did a fair bit of behind-the-scenes work. That ain’t “nothin'”, so to speak, but it’s not nearly where I planned to be. Given the circumstances, I’ll take it. This year, I’m refining that goal a little, but it’s still fairly nebulous; I still want to make considerable progress on The Courier’s Tale, and I’m working toward another project that I’ve had on the back burner for awhile. We’ll see if any of it pans out, given that we’re not out of the woods yet with regard to the pandemic and our bizarre political situation. We’re still in “go easy on yourself” mode here!

Nor did I make my reading goal. I set my initial goal last year at a rather ambitious 100 books for the year; halfway through the year, I knew the situation was hopeless, and reduced it to the 52 books that I had set as the previous year’s goal. I fell short, at 38 of 52. I’ve been tracking long enough now to notice a pattern; I seem to succeed at my goal every other year. Here’s hoping that’s good news for 2021! Having learned my lesson, I’m starting out with a goal of 52 for this year again. I also know that I tend to slack off in the busy fall and early winter–that is, the last quarter of the year–and so I’m trying to front load the year by knocking out as many books as possible here in January and February. We’re almost two weeks into the year as I type this, and so far I’ve finished four books (Goodreads tells me that puts me three books ahead of schedule).

This year I’m doing a new thing for me: Adding in audiobooks. I’ve never been much of an audiobook reader; most of my reading has been in ebook form the past several years, with occasional print books thrown in. I’ve warmed up to the idea, though; and it’s an easy way to have two books going at once. Time that I can devote solely to reading will go to print or ebooks, and I can listen to audiobooks while driving, cooking, etc. I realize this is nothing revolutionary for most people, but it’s new territory for me.

I also want to review what I read this year. I’ve always posted reviews of some of the books I read. Generally I post according to certain series or lists I’ve tried to finish–over here I’m working through The Great Reddit Reading List, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe (aka Star Wars Legends), and over on The Time Lord Archives I review various Doctor Who novels. So this goal isn’t revolutionary either; the only difference is that I want to pick up the books I read that don’t fall into those categories. I believe this will help me stick to my goal, and may push you to stick to yours as well. The reviews may not be in-depth or long (ha, who am I kidding??), but I hope to include them all here.

To that end, here’s my initial review, of Robert Rath’s Warhammer 40000 Necrons novel, The Infinite and the Divine, my first read of the year!

I have not been a Warhammer 40000 fan for long. I had been seeing incidental Reddit posts about this fictional universe for some time before, in 2019, I finally built up enough interest to join one of the discussion subreddits about it. Finally, in March 2019 (which, in terms of my reading, really isn’t long ago at all), I picked up my first novel, Guy Haley’s *Death of Integrity*. I can’t recommend that book enough for 40K noobs like me; it’s a great intro to the Space Marines, the general setting, and even the deeper lore and history, and it’s as action-packed as one could ever want. I was quickly distracted, though, by what is arguably THE set piece of the 40K universe: the Horus Heresy. This historical series actually takes place in what is informally termed “Warhammer 30K”, ten thousand years prior to the “present day” of the series; it paints a far different world from the grimdark setting we all knew and loved–and then smashes it up and grinds it to powder, and uses the powder to paint said grimdark setting. It’s all very dramatic, very exciting, and deadly serious (well, serious for Warhammer anyway–a series which is notorious for practically parodying itself). That’s where I’ve been since then; I’m several books into the Heresy, and it will likely show up again this year.

And THEN, there’s *The Infinite and the Divine*.

Have I mentioned everything so far has been serious? Well, throw that out, because *The Infinite and the Divine* is hilarious. It’s the first (and only, so far) 40K novel I’ve seen that is deliberately comedic. Necrons, for the unaware, are a race in 40K that, many millennia ago, made a Faustian bargain for immortality, trading their physical forms for replaceable robotic bodies, but in the process losing their souls. The bulk of the race remains in hibernation, but are on the verge of waking up and crusading to reclaim their place in the universe from the other major races. “Verge” is a relative term when you’re millions of years old; accordingly, this book takes place over more than ten thousand years.

It’s the story of two rival Necrons: the archivist Trazyn the Infinite, and the chronomancer Orikan the Diviner. Over the centuries, these two powerful Necrons fight a private war for the fate of an artifact called the Astrarium Mysterios, which proves to lead to an even greater–and much more dangerous–piece of history. I won’t spoil it; the end of the quest has great implications for the Necrons and their place in the 40K universe.

But the details of the plot are not the selling point here. The rivalry between the two protagonists–one can hardly call either the antagonist; they’re equally good and bad–is the key. Trazyn and Orikan spend literal centuries sniping at each other, taking more potshots at each other’s egos than at their bodies. Since starting the book, I’ve often said they are the Statler and Waldorf of 40K; they insult each other constantly, but absolutely deserve each other as well (I’d be tempted to call them soulmates, if Necrons had souls). Together, they create a wonderfully funny commentary on, well, everything else in 40K, from the Aeldari to the C’Tan to the upstart Imperium of Mankind. It’s entertaining to imagine these strong, immortal bodies, housing the essence of two old men who just can’t let things go; the book even goes so far as to say that, were they still in their mortal bodies, their physical combat would be laughable. When the Necron leaders are finally forced to step in and moderate their fight, the duo just double down; rather than shooting at each other, they make obscene gestures across the courtroom (made funnier by the fact that they haven’t had context for such gestures in millions of years) and conspire to hide their rivalry from their watchers while still stabbing each other in the back.

The book pokes fun at everything. There’s a Necron play that lasts for literal years, poking fun at their long lives and slow paces. There’s Trazyn’s collection of, well, everything, including living samples of other societies (where else would you find a space marine in a museum display??). There’s Orikan’s habit of winding back time to make the courtroom drama play out in his favor–with hilariously disastrous results.

In the end, there are no winners and no losers here…except us, the audience. I love Warhammer for what it is–grimdark (it literally coined the term, I believe), serious, overpowered, action-packed. But it’s wonderful to take a step back, get a little perspective, and just laugh at the absurdity of it all. It is absurd, after all–how could a universe like this be anything but? It’s a credit to the authors that they can take it seriously as they do; but it’s a credit to Robert Rath to round things out with this great comedy. If you’re a 40K fan, and looking for some levity, you should check it out.

Happy reading!

Wrapping It Up

I’m a historically bad gift wrapper. Everyone in my family knows when the gift is from me long before they ever look at the tag. They can tell by the end flaps of mismatched length; the uneven and irregular tape work; the occasional patch job when I’ve miscalculated the amount of paper I would need. It’s become such a running joke, that a few years back I quipped on Facebook that I was going to write a book and call it Badly Wrapped and Impractical: A Gift-Giving Guide for Men.

I never did write that book, but I find myself thinking about it as we “wrap up” the year 2020. I don’t think many of us would call it a gift; but if we did, well, it’s certainly both badly wrapped and impractical! But it has another thing in common with most gifts (at least in my house): It’s never quite what you expected it to be.

For us it was a combination of good and bad. On the bright side, we started the year fresh off of buying our house (the first either myself or my wife had ever owned). We’ve all been healthy and reasonably happy. One child started high school; one became a teenager; one started first grade. We ended up with two new (to us, that is) vehicles. We got to visit my wife’s family on the other side of the country, for the first time in three years (and the first time ever for the two teenagers). I celebrated ten years at my current job, and my wife was accepted to nursing school (starting in January!).

But there was the bad, too. The new vehicles happened because we saw the deaths of not one, not two, but THREE vehicles. One of those went out in a blaze of glory as my wife had a serious accident (she was somehow uninjured, thank God, but the car was totaled). All of those blessings have stretched our finances to their limit. My wife’s schooling (including the preliminaries she did this year) means that she spends the bulk of her time either working or in class, which frustrates her. The newly-minted teenager may have an unexpected health issue–I’ll know in a few hours, when I take him back to the doctor. And all that isn’t even considering the COVID-19 pandemic, or the election cycle, both of which are plaguing our entire country.

Ah, COVID, you awful bastard. What a mess this year turned out to be, all because of you. I won’t even try to mention the infection and death stats right now, because they change so fast that it’s impossible to keep up. And so many of us deny it’s even happening, or else deny that anything can be done…it’s downright disheartening. In my house, we’ve been fortunate; everyone, right down to the six year old, is pretty handy with a mask and a six foot distance, and so far we’ve avoided illness. We have had two exposure incidents, both from the children’s schools; one resulted in the six year old testing positive, though she was asymptomatic and never spread it to the rest of us. Far too many people haven’t been so lucky. The disease has gone through both my and my wife’s workplaces like wildfire, with a number of serious cases (not sure about deaths–none at my workplace yet, but possibly at hers).

As for the election…don’t get me started.

This was not the year for reaching anyone’s goals. 2020 blew in like an out of control truck, sending people flying in every direction, and we’re frankly lucky if we made it through; so perhaps we can be understanding with ourselves if our plans were derailed. Most of us don’t thrive in an environment of restriction, of confinement at home, of constant stress and worry.

That’s okay.

Go easy on yourself.

I didn’t meet the goals I set this year, either. Back in January, I set a very ambitious goal for myself: I planned to read 100 books this year! Audacious, I know, but people manage it every year. I had managed 60 books in 2019, over a goal of 52; so one hundred didn’t seem impossible at all. Then, suddenly, COVID! And my motivation, like everyone else’s, went down the drain.

It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? Here we are, with more time than we anticipated having, and we ought to be able to put it toward whatever end we like. But instead, suddenly everything feels like a chore. Reading shouldn’t feel that way, but it did. Even now, the thought of opening a book feels heavy in my mind.

Halfway through the year, I knew I was in trouble. I cut my goal down to the previous year’s 52; but even that, in the end, proved not to be enough. I’m going to finish the year tomorrow with 38 completed books of a total of 52. But I’m going to call that, if not a win, at least acceptable. (Hey, it could be worse–in 2018, I only read 17 of a planned 50! Actually, now that I think of it, I seem to fail my challenge every even-numbered year–maybe there’s something to that.)

I didn’t finish my writing goals, either. I’ve been aware for some time that this isn’t prime time for my writing career; between childcare and a full time job and managing the household, it doesn’t leave a lot of spare time. Most mornings I’m rushing to get the six year old to school or daycare, and myself to work; most nights, I’m falling asleep before I can even think of sitting at the keyboard. I want to post here at least a few times a month; it comes out to a little less than once a month. I hoped to finish several short stories, and some work on a few longer projects; I put in a few chapters on one of the projects (The Courier’s Tale) and finished one short story (not posted here). But I made progress, and for now, I’ll take it.

Tomorrow, we wrap up this year. Someone joked that they’ll make sure to stay up til midnight tomorrow, not to see 2021 in, but to make sure 2020 leaves! I don’t believe that the problems of 2020 will magically be over at midnight tomorrow; but there’s something symbolic about it. After that, Lord willing, we’ll set some new goals. Perhaps they’ll be more reasonable goals than my 100 books for 2020; or maybe we’ll chase our ambitions again. Either way, plan to go easy on yourself.

You made it this far. That’s accomplishment enough for today. Don’t knock it.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year!