Monday, July 11, 2022

Stories told by Monsters - Part 5.3 Sins of the Fathers

The following is the tenth entry in a 13-part article series. Click here for an overview and a table of contents with links to the various parts.

Striving against established narrative patterns

What most of Primogenitor’s and Clonelord’s characters who are striving against harmful, dominant narratives have in common is that the narratives they try to emancipate from have been coined by the generation before them. All Space Marine Legions were shaped by the personalities and decisions of their “fathers”, the Primarchs. The Primarchs are not biological fathers to any of their Legionnaires (it stands to reason that the Primarchs, just as the Space Marines, are sterile), but they serve as the genetic template for the genetic modifications that turn human boys into adult Space Marines.

The process of transformation is irreversible and usually leads to a loss of memory for the time before it, a Space Marine forgetting most of his early memories from his real parents and upbringing to what it means to feel fear. The absoluteness of this memory loss varies from Legionnaire to Legionnaire, and there are several instances where Legionnaires can remember key memories from their life before their transformation (like Fabius at the beginning of Clonelord), but in general the human boy that was chosen can be considered dead and a new person, a Homo Astartes, to have been born.

As such, the Primarchs are the genetic forefathers of these new-born persons: Space Marines often display physical as well as psychological similarities with their Primarch, and as a lot of a Legion’s culture is formed along the will, personality and upbringing of a given Primarch, they act as father-figures with powerful emotional connections to their “sons”.

For Traitor and Loyalist Legions alike, that also means that a lot of the dire state both sides find themselves in since the Heresy can partly be attributed to character flaws and subsequent decisions of those fathers. Despite the many failings of the Space Marines that followed their fathers into war and betrayal, it was Fulgrim’s ego that allowed him to be seduced by the daemon, it was Horus’ arrogance and insecurities that were exploited to turn him from the Emperor, and it was Angron’s impotent rage against the Imperium and himself that bled down towards his sons and turned them all into puppets for the Blood God.

Like the bickering gods of Olympus, the jealousy, the discontent and the feuds between the Primarchs were magnified into a war that dragged mortals and demi-gods alike into its chasm. The self-stories of the Primarchs became templates for the self-stories of their offspring and turned into dominant narratives for their whole Legions.

Quite often, this is a process familiar to persons seeking therapy, when the self-stories, fears and expectations of their parents become dominant stories for them, stories which can become the source of anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and failure. In other instances, the stories presented in the life of parents can take on the character of prophecies for a person’s own story. Payne (2006, p. 87) specifically mentions people suffering from fear of becoming abusers themselves, because they have been abused in their childhood. Pop-psychology has taught many people that experiences in childhood determine behaviour as an adult.

“I have lost count of the number of persons who have volunteered early childhood experience as an explanation of their difficulties through metaphors of damage and conditioning. Couples often give ‘communication problems’ as the source of difficulty in their relationship (sometimes when their conflicts are being communicated all too vividly). People who have been sexually abused have told me that they are terrified of sexually abusing their own children, believing that this is almost inevitable. Violence is sometimes shrugged off as the inevitable result of violent early family life.” (Payne, 2006, p. 180)

This combination of taught determinism through pop-psychology, memories of childhood and the stories exemplified through a parent’s life can become powerful, harmful narratives affecting a person’s life. Payne tries to counter this in therapy with a de-constructive approach to pop-psychology and the associated beliefs of a person visiting him, as well as avoiding the traditional language of expert psychologists:

“I take pop-psychology explanations seriously as an influence on the way persons represent their lives to themselves and thus perpetuate their distress and sense of inevitability. Deconstructive unpacking of pop-psychology, and the identification and elaboration of alternative stories and perspectives, is usually possible and productive: ‘You have an idea that his unhappy childhood is the main reason your husband’s leaving you. Shall we look at that?’ Sometimes I give the results of research which suggests alternative perspectives, for example, that two-thirds of people with a background of being abused do not become abusers (Kaufman and Zigler 1987, quoted in Tavris 2003: xii). In other words, I try to counter pop-psychology concepts, when they are part of the person’s story, by avoiding professional-psychology terminology and talking in a mode similar to the direct and forthright discourse of folk psychology.” (Payne, 2006, p. 180)

We see this “distress and sense of inevitability” in many of Primogenitor and Clonelord’s characters that struggle against the narratives presented by their father-figures, as discussed in the examples of Fabius, Oleander and Arrian.

Another example for an attempt at subverting and changing a narrative written by a predecessor can be found in Fabius’ work of creating a New Humanity.

Fabius is working against a narrative that itself was supposed to subvert a narrative that came before it: the Emperor’s plan for humanity as an answer to the downfall and near extinction of the Aeldari race. The Aeldari were the race that ruled the galaxy before the Imperium was born. They became so technologically advanced and powerful that there were basically no challenges to their rule. Due to an abundance of resources and no goals to strive to, the Aeldari slowly slid into stagnation and decadence. They were also an old race that became psychically sensitive at an exponentially increasing rate, which made their emotions increasingly more resonant in the Warp and attracted the attention of the Warp-residing Gods of Chaos. The extreme emotions of the Aeldari and their drive to ever more extreme experiences bled into the Warp and led to the formation of the fourth God of Chaos, Slaanesh. When the accumulated emotions reached a critical point, Slaanesh was born in a reality-ripping, soul-devouring explosion in the midst of the galactic Aeldari empire, killing most of the race and forcing the rest of them into a life as refugees from the new-born God which the Aeldari called She Who Thirsts.

With the death of the Aeldari-empire, the rule of the universe was once again undecided, and humanity could start to prosper and spread amongst the stars. The Emperor, however, knew of the fate of the Aeldari and that of countless other unnamed species and what had led to their downfall. He saw the signs of the same process in humanity, with more and more humans being born with psychic sensibilities and the species at large becoming more resonant in the Warp, making it the next target for the ever-hungering Gods.

The Emperor devised a plan to save humanity and subvert this seemingly preordained story: conquer the universe to unite all the splinters of human population spread across it, starve the gods from worship by banning religion and sorcery and create humanity’s own version of the Aeldari Webway, an inter-dimensional network completely closed off from the Warp. To that end, he created the Primarchs and the Legions of Space Marines as weapons to complete the first step of his plan, the conquest of all of humanity across the stars, with which he succeeded.

The Heresy, however, ruined the rest of the plan: as the fires of betrayal and war spread, the Gods manipulated one of the Primarchs to inadvertently destroy the Webway project, and the final outcome of the Siege of Terra saw the Emperor interred upon the Golden Throne, unable to repair what had been destroyed.

Important to a discussion about Fabius’ work, younger publications of the Horus Heresy-series have suggested that the civil war itself was part of the plan the Emperor had all along, albeit one that spiralled horribly out of control (Master of Mankind, 2016; Malcador: First Lord of the Imperium, 2017; The Board is Set, 2017). The Primarchs and the Space Marines were never intended to replace mortal humans and would have served their purpose once the galaxy was conquered, but the Emperor knew that there would be some among the Primarchs and their Legions not willing to give up the place of sovereignty they held during the Great Crusade. As such, it is implied that the Emperor might have actively fostered the jealousy between and the unstable character of some of the Primarchs to lead to a civil war, a controlled fire that would expunge the more unstable elements of his creations and leave only those willing to accept their place amongst a humanity no longer defined by their actions.

As it happened, the Gods probably anticipated this plan and turned it on its head, letting the civil war erupt too early to be controlled by the Emperor and sabotaging the Webway project, an early death-knell to the Emperors plan for saving humanity from the predators of the Warp. The Emperor's inclosure upon the Golden Throne served as the final nail in the coffin, and since then the Imperium is slowly decaying while still expanding, humanity providing the Gods with new worshippers every day and the Imperium inadvertently feeding the Gods with an endless supply of war, famine and cruelty.

Whatever the truth of the details of the Emperor’s plans, Fabius considers the Primarchs and the Space Marines as a failed experiment to save humanity from the predations of the Warp and seeks to succeed where the Emperor failed. While the Emperor was presented with and tried to subvert the story of the fall of the Aeldari, a template for the story of every sufficiently advanced species in the Warhammer 40.000-universe, Fabius in turn can look back upon the story of the Imperium’s fall integrated into the narrative framework that the Emperor had at hand.

Josh Reynolds describes Fabius’ view upon humanity in a universe plagued by the Gods of Chaos and the Warp as such:

“Chaos as a whole, and its adherents, are a fire to scour the universe clean. And Fabius Bile believes that his creations will survive the conflagration. They will spread in its wake, like new green shoots pushing out of the ashes.” – Author’s Note to Primogenitor (2016)

The Primarchs and the Space Marines were a new version of humanity that failed to resist the temptations of Chaos and, even worse, were designed in such a way that they dragged the rest of humanity along with them. They enhanced the problem rather than serving as the solution. Fabius’ version of a New Humanity takes the pyramid of narratives provided by his predecessors - the Emperor and the Aeldari – and twists it in key ways to achieve a different end.

Contrary to the Emperor’s Space Marines, Fabius’ New Humanity, the New Men of old and as per Primogenitor the gland-hounds, are wholly intended to replace “base humanity”. Fabius even cooperates with an expert for biological warfare, Khorag, to be able to scour whole galactic systems clean of human life to provide space for a fresh start for his New Humanity. Also contrary to the Space Marines is the fact that the gland-hounds are able to reproduce naturally and are consequently mixed-gender, not limited to males.

Just as the Space Marines, the gland-hounds are designed to work together as close packs, but lack a central figure of authority like a Primarch. Consequently, Fabius very intentionally distances himself from the role of god or authority-figure he could be for his New Humanity and sees them as the final note to his life – he “might not live to see it flourish”, but would be content in the knowledge to have shaped humanity into a form able to “weather the storm that batters the walls of reality”.

By following in the Emperor’s steps, but using his knowledge of the narrative patterns of those that came before him, Fabius tries to retell the Story of the Advanced Species in the grim darkness of the far future in a new, healthy way of his own design. His own self-story is written along this goal, and his successes and failures in trying to write his own version of his and humanity’s story can be considered the central theme of both novels.

Continue with 5.4 The Female of the Species

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