Getting Into Warhammer 40K

I haven’t had much to say on this blog recently, as for the past couple months I really haven’t been spending as much time reading or writing visual novels as usual. A lot of this is due to entering the final stages of my PhD program and the never-ending process of writing and revising my dissertation, as well as just the general depression at the state of the world that I’m sure a lot of other people share. But there’s also another, much more fun reason for my lack of attention for my usual hobbies, and that’s the fact that all I want to hear about right now is Warhammer 40K. So I thought I’d write a bit of a general post about the fictional universe that’s caught my attention lately, and maybe spark the interest of some of my readers as well.

Imperial forces and their Lord Commander

At the center of the Warhammer 40K franchise is a tabletop war game whose players tend to spend an extraordinary amount of time and money on purchasing and painting figurines for their armies, and if you’ve only heard of 40K in passing, you might be under the impression that that’s all it is. But I personally have absolutely no idea how to play that game, and while I’d love to at least decorate my desk with a few little space marines or something sometime, I’ve so far been spending much less money enjoying books, video games, and other media that all takes place in the same universe. There’s a vast amount of lore and worldbuilding about each of the unique factions that clash in battle tens of thousands of years in the future, with a lot of variety and room for creativity for anyone who wants to make up their own stories within it. Want to invent your own planet with a totally new culture and say that your favourite established member of the Imperial Guard or Adeptus Astartes visited it? Sure, there are over one million worlds in the Empire alone, so there’s no reason a planet like that couldn’t exist somewhere. Someone else comes along and says that you’ve described that character doing something the authorities of that military regiment would never allow? Well, maybe it’s technically against regulations, but who knows what people are quietly getting away with in the far corners of the known universe. It turns out something else in canon actually explicitly contradicts what you made up? Just declare that that media was inaccurate Imperial propaganda and yours is the real story!

There’s plenty of Imperial propaganda in canon, such as this diagram from the official newsletter The Regimental Standard which claims that it’s very safe and easy to fight an ork.

One of the factions I’m most interested in exploring and learning more about is the Adeptus Mechanicus, also known as Tech-Priests. A huge part of the backstory of Warhammer 40K is a massive conflict that resulted in humans losing most of their knowledge of advanced technology (similar to Dune, which is one of the franchise’s main influences). As a result, the Tech-Priests developed a religion surrounding the rituals that they believe are necessary to commune with machines and encourage them to do people’s bidding—some of which are actually embellished-but-accurate engineering protocols, and others of which might be complete nonsense. They’re also a bunch of equally cool- and scary-looking cyborgs who gradually replace their organic body parts with bionic upgrades. A lot of them are arguably canonically non-binary (although I don’t think they usually use that term in-universe), since they tend to modify their appearances beyond any conventional human gender presentation, and I think that’s pretty cool! I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but there’s a video game about them called Mechanicus that looks great.

I’ve seen a few good memes along these lines going around. I believe this reddit post is the original source for this one.

Finally, I want to recommend my favourite part of the 40K universe so far: the Ciaphas Cain series of books by Sandy Mitchell, beginning with For the Emperor. The series’ amusingly self-centered hero—a political officer in the Imperial Guard—can be a bit of an unreliable narrator, and one of the things I love most is that the books have footnotes providing context and occasionally correcting him. However, being written by another character in the story who’s editing Cain’s memoirs after the fact, the footnotes really only add another layer of subjectivity rather than any objective truth about the exact details of Cain’s experiences and motivations. It’s another example of the mysterious and malleable 40K canon that I think is so much fun. I would generally recommend For the Emperor to anyone who’s interested in reading sort of a sci-fi political thriller, whether you’re familiar with the universe it takes place in or not—I think you could probably pick up on most of the relevant 40K lore from context, or if not, you could seriously just comment on this post or contact me on twitter to ask about it. I will be so hyped up to talk about Ciaphas Cain. I intend to read all ten books in this series in rapid succession instead of revising my dissertation, and not even the Emperor himself could stop me.

Ciaphas Cain as depicted on the 40K fan wiki, although I personally imagine him looking a lot less ridiculously ripped in reality.

Thanks for reading this rambling post about my new personal interest! I hope that you enjoyed it, and that if any of it caught your attention, you might find something in the world of Warhammer 40K to entertain you too. 40K might take place in a dark and violent universe of constant war, but within those parameters, there’s a lot of room for fun, creativity, and humour—and maybe that’s exactly what I need to see to help me face the darkness in the world we live in right now.

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