In The Grim Darkness of the Contact Form…

…there are only questions:

Huge fan of your nanofic and your worldbuilding is superb.

Thank you kindly!

That being said, however, I’ve also long been a fan of the less insane parts of the Warhammer 40K universe (in particular the Imperial Guard and Space Marines) for much the same reasons; in my estimation it offers a fairly well thought-out look into the military makeup of a combined-arms force built around the need to combat massed infantry durable enough to reliably close to knife-fighting range.

In a face-to-face matchup between the Imperial Legions and the Imperium, then, how do you think the dice would fall?

Well, now. I’m going to insert a couple of disclaimers up front, here. The first being the more-or-less obligatory one that it’s always hard to compare across universes where the physics and metaphysics are so different. (I’ll be basically ignoring the wackiness of the Warp, for example.) And the second is that I’m not all that familiar with 40K canon – grimdark not being really my thing – so most of what I know about the setting I learned from Ciaphas Cain.


At the top level, civilization vs. civilization as portrayed at the current place in both their timelines, I’d probably have to give it to the Imperium, simply because of size. It’s a galaxy-spanning regime versus a few hundred worlds, and quantity has a quality of its own. I think, for the below reasons, they’d win over a planet-sized mountain of their own dead, but it’s not like the Imperium has any shortage of commanders who subscribe to the We Have Reserves school of tactics.

(Of course, there’s always ADHÁÏC PARASOL and friends to worry about even then, so the Imperium may have some trouble afterwards with the galaxy’s new infestation of self-improving, self-replicating berserker fleets. This is the sort of ‘take everyone with you’ strategy that the Imperials would generally disapprove of, of course, but given the 40K galaxy’s parameters, I suspect they’d see it as civic improvement.)

If, though, we adjust things so the conflict in terms of civilization-scale is equal, or even less disproportionate, then the pendulum swings the other way. One can argue some advantages for either side (the Imperium certainly has an initial advantage due to being, well, highly optimized to hatemurderize basically anyone it comes across given the opportunity; the Empire arguably has a technological edge in various areas, such as preferring to expend readily replaceable machines rather than population; etc.), but ultimately, I think it comes down to these two things:

  • The Imperium has an impressive fighting machine, but it’s a stuck fighting machine. Their technology is stagnant and at best poorly understood even by the Adeptus Mechanicus, their tactics are also terribly by the book except when they get really lucky in choice of commanders, they have a religious proscription against adopting ideas from outside, and anyone who tries to change any of this runs hard into PURGE THE HERETIC. They get away with this because, well, it’s not like anyone else (with the possible exception of the Tau) in their galaxy innovates worth a damn either: the Eldar are stagnant, the Orks rely on genetic knowledge, etc., etc. Meanwhile, the Empire understands exactly how all its stuff works, and innovates, borrows, and steals good ideas from the enemy about as easily as breathing.
  • And the other one is that the Imperium’s fascist theocracy is a seething mass of factions, many of which appear to hate each other almost as much as they do the xenos, and all of whom are paranoid about hidden mutants and traitors. This is the sort of scenario that the Stratarchy of Warrior Philosophy adores, because they specialize in getting into all those little cracks and inflaming the hell out of them until they catch fire and explode. (The Empire’s a lot less susceptible to this sort of thing, and in any case, the Imperium doesn’t go in for it. Even if it tried, it’d probably have to regularly have all its memeticists shot for understanding the xeno outlook.)

To sum up – unless the Imperium is smart enough to realize that it had better use all its biggest hammers right away, and not telegraph its blows, it’s in deep trouble, because it’s fighting people who are scarily adaptive given even half a chance.

Or that’s how I’d read it, anyway.


10 thoughts on “In The Grim Darkness of the Contact Form…

  1. Yeah, that’s pretty much what came to mind when I considered that too.

    Also, the Empire is bigger than the Tau Empire, and the Tau have managed to stand up to the Imperium, Orks, Tyranids and occasional raids by the Dark Eldar, Necrons and Chaos. I think the Imperium would rather quickly unofficially decide to leave the Empire the heck alone, with the same kind of armed-neutrality-with-occasional-flareups that they treat the Tau and Eldar with. (The Imperium fights both, but rarely mounts serious campaigns against either one; neither do the Tau or Eldar regularly engage in major offensives against the Imperium.)

    Considering that the Empire’s light infantry are pretty close to Tau Crisis suits with shield generators and stim injectors (from the Tau rules; kinetic barriers and pain-resistant, quick-repairing engineered eldrae bodies in universe), armed with something that maps pretty closely onto the Eldar shuriken cannon, but available in the kind of numbers that Space Marines are, at least, the Imperium would get a little nervous. Front-line infantry that can wreck your APCs through their strongest armor kinda do that 🙂

    Then again, that’s all headcanon, but it’s surprising to me how closely some things map…

    • My vote would go to xenos: heck, I doubt anyone other than an Ordo Xenos inquisitor would look long enough to realize that eldrae != eldar.

      • That’d be my thinking. Plus, a certain difficulty in getting close enough to take a good look, given the Military Service’s taste for self-destruct devices that take ’em with you, or at least would if you didn’t have a backup.

        “And now, xeno scum, we will torture you for all your secrets!”

        “Um, yeah, one for you first – 25 micrograms of antimatter implanted an inch inferior to the corpus callosum say what?”


        • High-yield self-destruct implants? Kevyn Andreyasn and his antimatter epaulets have found kindred spirits, I think.

          • (Not solely self-destruct, technically – the AM is used to power a one-shot emergency bug-out transmitter on its way to full ‘splode.)

            The milspec version can technically hold up to a full milligram of AM, but there aren’t all that many occasions that warrant three-Hiroshimas of emergency boom. Also, at that level, you’re setting off even fairly crude scintillation detectors.

  2. “…[M]ost of what I know about the setting I learned from Ciaphas Cain.”

    A man after my own heart.

    On a tangential note: Given the comparison that’s already been made between the Empire of the Star and the Tau Empire, I wonder how they would match up: Particularly what the eldrae would think of the theory and practice of the Greater Good.

    (I’m also curious as to what the eldrae would think of the kroot once they faced a group of ’em on the battlefield and learned about the whole “eating the flesh of our enemies to metabolize and adapt their genes” thing.)

    • I suspect the eldrae would figure out a way to hack the Ethereals’ pheromones or something.

    • #insert “disclaimer.h”

      On the Greater Good: well, to some extent, that’s going to depend on the truth behind the speculation that the Ethereals are controlling everyone else with psionics or pheromones. (Although some aspects of their external policy probably aren’t encouraging.) I mean, depending on how the Greater Good is interpreted — well, it’s not like the eldrae can’t preach a good sermon or several about the joys of harmonious cooperation for the common good of all, perfect societal harmony, etc., etc. It’s the coercivity of it (and to a lesser extent the harsh utilitarianism if interpreted that way) which is the problematic aspect, and makes it uncomfortably close to the “dark mirror of us if we’d totally screwed up on the necessity of freedom part of the philosophy”, in much the same way as the Equality Concord.

      That said, they’re still probably the least horribly broken people around, which I’m sure would be cause for much ironic laughter in some circles. As well as putting them right at the bottom of the People Who Need To Be Dealt With list.

      (As for the kroot – well, it might start out seeming distinctly morbid and creepifying, eating the dead, but that would be fixed by some cultural learnings. [As I understand it, the kroot custom of eating the dead, their own and others, comes culturally from respect for the warrior spirit of the deceased, which is something they can understand. Necrophagy is certainly an odd death ritual by their standards, but it’s not taboo or anything.]

      Where the acquisition of genes is concerned – well, it’s not like eldrae and esseli bioengineers aren’t more than happy to, um, acquire interesting genetic material that they come across, albeit by less direct methods, as do various of the people they find themselves across battlefields from. [That’s another one of the reasons for the above-mentioned self-destruct charges: no-one wants to leave behind enough of a corpse to make it easy for the other side to acquire priceless military biotechnology.]

      …now an interesting consideration, if they did happen to come across some un-destruct-charged corpses, would be whether they could pick up the nanocytes that work in tandem with the genes, too…

      …actually. Oh, dearie me. The kroot are going to be in a rather awkward position. Namely, that of being a species with an ability the aforementioned bioengineers find really interesting.)

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