The Warhammer 40k franchise is at it’s core based in the tradition of science fiction, as a result, technology and science are essential themes to the narrative. Technology and discussions of scientific discoveries being a cornerstone in much of modern as well as classic science-fiction.
As with earlier parts, we are going to discuss these phenomenons through the lense of the Imperium of mankind, the allegory for humanity within the Warhammer universe.
We will later discuss how science and technology is presented in the franchise as a whole. For now what you need to know is that within the universe there exists a source sometimes referred as magic and sometimes referred as psychic powers, and the line between this power and technology is often highly blurred. It is with this setting in mind that we will discuss the technology of the IoM. (Hill 2016)
The imperium of mankind is described as stagnant and in constant regression. Much of their technological advancement is lost to time, and what small slivers of technology that remains ar seen with fear and suspicion. Especially any form of artificial inteligense is strictly forbidden. In the core Codex for the faction Astra Militarium (Hill 2016) is this described as a result of superstitious and conservative ways of the Adeptus Mechanicus, a religious order tasked with taking care of, and researching what technological wonders humanity still has left conducts their operations. Were one to read closer tough, further texts discuss a war between man and armies of an artificial intelligence, that was the true reason for the outlawing of many technologies. (Hill 2016) This is just one example of how the Warhammer 40k francies uses unreliable narrators and conflicting narratives is used to create a fuller universe as well as a sense of mystery and intrigue. With unreliable narrator I am referring to an “in universe” narrator, this narrator can be implicit or explicit, who presents a wholly or partly false picture of the events in the narrative. Note that I will in this instance use the unreliable narrator to describe an implied ever present narrator, rather than a specific narrators with a specific point of view.
In the Imperium of Mankind is human component used to compensate for the missing advanced computing power. One example of these are in the service droids known as “servitors”.
This is an example of a mindless worker droid used universally within the IoM, they do everything from help navigate star ships to harvest crops. Some of the more advanced functioning once are wired directly in to larger Machines. These lobotomized humans are used as a loophole to keep using the technology that originally used artificial intelligence.
As you can tell from these two pictures are these Servitors as varied in use as they are in design. The Imperium also uses so called “servo skulls”, human skulls adorned with technological components capable of carrying out simple tasks. (Hill 2016).
These mashine/human creations helps further the atmosphere of stagnation and backwardness, as well as adding a element of body horror to aesthetic, individuals being quite literally being added to the machines that make up the various establishments.
Scrolls, quills and papyrus is a common visual elements of the Imperium of Mankind, as well as candles and other form of primitive forms of lighting. These elements is often paired with highly technologically advanced elements such as robots, lasers, advanced prosthetics or huge spaceships. This apparent disparity is what we are going to discuss in the remainder of this text.
Many of the visual cues, such as skulls and scrolls can also be prevalently seen in Games Workshops other tabletop series Warhammer Fantasy (Cruddace 2011). Skulls and scrolls are a particularly common theme. As both franchise are owned and produced by the same company, it’s understandable that some visual elements carry over, and in fact this stars a trend of mixing sci fi tropes with elements form their Fantasy series. Candles and parchments makes us think to medieval dark ages. This leads us to how the “knowledge creators and preservers” are depicted. By this I mean, individuals that is responsible for creating, distribution and curating knowledge. There are the above mentioned adeptus mechanicus, but also what Hills (2016) text call “scribes” or (adeptus administratum). Both departments taking their names from latin, or “high gothic”. Adeptus being able to be translated to “overtaken” or “obtained (adeptus) and mechanicus and administratum being, engineer and administrator respectively. These titles would suggest that the individuals has been “overtaken” by their profession. Above do we see member of the administrarium, as you can see is he dressed in a robe much like a western monk. All these elements brings together a very archaic and feeling of stagnation. If we tie these elements with what we discussed in the earlier chapter will we start to get a notion of what kind of place the Imperium of mankind truly is.
Next time to follow up on the same theme, we will take a closer look at the Adeptus mechanicus and discuss more deeply how the 40k franchise uses dramatic irony to produces a sense of dread and horror.
Cruddace.R (2011). The Empire. Games Workshop. Lenton, Nothingham.
Hill, J.D. (2016). Astra militarum. Games Workshop. Lenton, Nothingham.
Adeptus. (2017, June 27). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 3, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self_care