“So he made us, demi-gods, to stand beside him… The mere fact of me frightens me sometimes.”(Abnett, Horus Rising, p134-135)
Over the past 30 years, Games Workshop’s iconic ‘Warhammer 40,000’ setting has centred around a key narrative conflict set in the 31st millennium: the era known as the Horus Heresy, involving two sides of augmented superhumans, Loyalists versus Traitors, battling it out for control of the galaxy. Based on a tabletop wargame, Games Workshop’s publishing arm, The Black Library, has focused on writing a rich tapestry of background stories centred around the forces and characters involved.
These superhumans are the Legiones Astartes, Space Marines, who are to wage war across the galaxy as part of a conquest of pacification and compliance, which ultimately results in a war against one another. Each undergoes drastic changes, as a youth conscripted for their physical and mental prowess, before being augmented through receiving the ‘gene seed’ that alters them genetically and the implantation of organs that makes them into a transhuman warrior. They are stripped of emotions, conditioned to know no fear, and become instruments of violence and purpose – ascending to an alternative adulthood.
This paper considers the implications of such body modifications and the subsequent consequences, both within the narrative setting and for society more broadly. It posits whether the affordances of this elevation beyond being simply a human vicariously robs them of their humanity – and whether becoming transhuman ultimately makes them less than human, rather than more. It contemplates the body as an object and as a tool, and how such perceptions may be both enfranchising and dehumanising in equal measure. Furthermore, it will explore the nature of physical adaptation within such works of Science Fiction, engaging with their perceived function as well as the affordances of these (re)constructions, for those that experience these transformations to their bodies, and those that then experience what these monstrous bodies may subsequently enact.
About the speaker
Chris Hussey is a part-time PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, UK, exploring real and literary place in Children’s Literature. His research interests focus on aspects of space, place, and identity, in both realist and fantastic texts, particularly works by China Miéville and the Black Library’s Horus Heresy series.