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Literature / Titanicus

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Titanicus is a standalone novel by Dan Abnett, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. When the vital forge world of Orestes comes under attack by a legion of Chaos Titans, the planet is forced to appeal for help. Titan Legio Invicta, although fresh from combat and in desperate need of refit and repair, responds, committing its own force of war engines to the battle. As the god-machines stride to war, the world trembles, for the devastation they unleash could destroy the very world they have pledged to save.

As part of Warhammer 40,000, the novel involves a large number of the tropes on that page, as well as employing literary and narrative tropes of its own:

  • Action Prologue: The book opens following a doomed PDF regiment trying to survive against a Chaos Titan.
  • Ambiguous Ending: While most of the story threads are tied up, the fates of many characters are deliberately left ambiguous. To wit:
    • Whether Varco and Kell initially appear to die when the Chaos tower collapses, with them simply being described as knocked flat and the second last paragraph of the book implying they at the very least made it back to the halt. Their fate after that is unknown.
    • Max Orfuls and Morbius Sire are last seen in the pitched Titan battle cornered by three archenemy Warhounds, with Imperial Warlord Tantamount Stridex moving to assist. Whether Stridex arrived in time is unknown.
    • Lau is reported killed in the ground fighting of the same battle, though it is specified that these reports are unconfirmed, and they remain such for the rest of the novel.
    • Tarses, Prinzhorn, and Dominatus Victrix are last seen doing well in the fight, but taking damage and facing down an archenemy Warlord. Though the crew are confident, whether they won this duel or survived the battle is unknown.
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    • The toymaker is last seen hiding in his store after nearly getting caught up and killed in an anti-Mechanicus riot. Kids are shown playing with his toys after the war is over, but nothing is said over whether they had been freshly bought or if they were purchased earlier, so whether or not he survived the riots is unknown.
  • Anyone Can Die: It's a Dan Abnett novel.
  • Artificial Limbs: The members of the Adeptus Mechanicus are augmented to varying degrees.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Many of the Titans have appropriately awesome names. Hell, even the very Legio's name is its own Badass Boast: Invicta, the undefeated.
    • Invictus Antagonistes which translates from High Gothic as "Undefeated Adversary."
    • Divinitus Monstrum - "Divine Monster"
    • Dominatus Victrix - "Dominating Victor"
    • Sicarian Faero - "Killer"
  • Bar Brawl: A drunken Stefan kills a man from Tanith after he indirectly badmouths Cally.
  • Brown Note: The "shockroaches" (Chaos combat servitors) cause Cally to projectile vomit when she gets a close look at the Chaos markings on their armour.
    • The Chaos scrapcode is painful to the augmented members of the Mechanicus, and is implied to have other negative effects.
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  • Boisterous Bruiser: The skitarii, the military arm of the Mechanicus, are described as being boastful, loud, and flamboyantly dressed (the Invicta skitarii favor feather-crested helms), in contrast to the dour, disciplined, and subdued Imperial Guard stationed on Orestes.
  • Book Burning: Imanual burns any sequestered book that comes his way that might threaten the Imperium. It's how the conspirators suss out that he'll never side with them, as they are the ones leaking the books to gauge who's sympathetic to their cause.
  • Civil War: The revelation about the God-Emperor and the Omnissiah threatens to split the Mechanicus from the Imperium, as well as fracture the Mechanicus itself between fractured loyalties. Civil war is put on hold as a secondary force of Chaos Titans are discovered on the far side of the planet and closing on the Mechanicus's forges, and only narrowly averted by the novel's end.
  • Covers Always Lie: There are no Space Marines in this book - it's reused artwork from an earlier gaming supplement, which predominantly featured Titans alongside other units including Space Marines.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Orestes Pride Armor corps is wiped out by the Chaos Titans, due to the latter's superior maneuverability and firepower.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Princeps Maximus Pietor Gearheart is worried about losing his personality to the machine spirit in his Titan, Invictus Antagonistes. He strives to know his crew personally and even makes it a point to try to engage them in small talk, so he can hold on to his humanity. It's not working very well, since he keeps mistaking his current crewmembers for deceased ones who originally held their stations.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Linking the control of multiple Titans to one princeps is forbidden, as interacting with multiple machine spirits at the same time runs the high risk of driving the princeps insane, as well as being potentially vulnerable to The Crackers. When the Dark Mechanicus unleashes its Imperator-class Titan in the penultimate battle, Princeps Kung orders all of the Invicta Titans to link their control to his own Titan. They do so under protest but it allows Kung to target all of their weapons at one spot on the enemy Imperator, which causes its shields to completely short out, allowing the Imperium forces to tear it to pieces. Fortunately, Kung is able to do this quickly enough to avoid damaging his sanity.
  • Doomed by Canon: The conspirators of Orestes plan on divorcing Mars and Terra (ignoring their enemies' plea that it would be disastrous for both). Considering what we know about the future of Warhammer 40,000, they obviously can't succeed.
  • Enemy Mine: The discovery of the second Chaos Titan Legion forces the Legio Invicta and Legio Tempestus to set aside the theological dispute that was splintering the Mechanicus on Orestes to defeat them. Fighting side by side in the biggest Titan battle in millennia also unites them into a single force that was willing to take down Tolemy once the battle was over.
  • Ensign Newbie: Guido Prinzhorn, a princeps from Legio Tempestus, is assigned to take the place of the princeps of the Legio Invicta Titan Dominatus Victrix, whose entire crew save Moderati Zane Tarses was killed when Invicta was battling the Eldar in their last mission. Unfortunately, Prinzhorn has never seen actual combat. After some difficulty getting along with Tarses, it turns out he manages to acquit himself well enough when the shit hits the fan.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Egan, Feist's boss, ascribes to the belief in an Omnissiah separate and distinct from the Emperor, but he does not want to be party to murder and is distraught when Tolemy kills Imanual, and when Feist is slated to be killed as well. When Tolemy accidentally implies that he manipulated the data that caused the schism, he kills Tolemy to prevent him from killing Enhort (who was willing to call off the whole plot and reconcile with Invicta and the Imperium, since the reason for the schism was now in doubt), but then turns his bolt pistol on himself.
  • Guns Are Worthless:
    • Horrifyingly played straight in the opening where the PDF team are unable to even scratch the Chaos Titan stalking them with the weapons they're equipped with. They use every last round they have, and the PDF commander literally throws his damaged radar at the Titan since he has nothing left. Lampshaded when Valkryie Gunships are sent to help and the PDF commander says they won't be able to do a thing against the giant robot-monster stalking them.
    • Also played straight with Varco's Vanquisher tanks, even though they have specially designed anti-armour cannons, they're designed to eliminate other tanks, not Titans; the most they do to an enemy Titan is force it to take a single step back. The Titan they were sent to distract leisurely kills them all.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Varco's entire crew of survivors perishes in order to bring down the Chaos tower. Meanwhile, Imanual sacrifices his own life in order to help Feist and Kalien escape the conspirators.
  • He Knows Too Much: Feist, Kalien, and Imanual. Only the latter gets offed, however.
  • Humongous Mecha: It's Imperial Titans versus Chaos Titans on a scale rarely seen since the Horus Heresy.
  • I Know Your True Name: Invoked in an non-standard way. Most of the Chaos Titans in the enemy army were Imperial Titans before the Horus Heresy. Knowing this, a Mechanicus research team begins working out what they were originally commissioned as, and cross-referencing against other records on those Titans from the pre-Heresy days, acquire information about their performance and inherent weaknesses that the Imperial Titan legions can use against them.
  • Irony: Cally and Stefan are both afraid the former won't make it home from the war. Cally survives on the battlefield against all odds. Stefan gets himself gunned down by a hometown policeman.
  • Just Between You and Me: Feist earnestly requests that the conspirators explain their plan to him before they kill him, and then they do so. Feist records the entire conversation.
  • Little Hero, Big War: The narrative is spread out among the various plot threads, the Titanicus princeps actually fighting the war, and the Imperial-Mechanicus and inter-Mechanicus politics take center stage, but the other plotlines follow around little folks.
    • Stefan and Cally, a longshoreman who emigrated to Orestes, and his wife who got to join him by conditionally joining the PDF. As the war starts up, Cally is called out for support and possibly to fight, while Stefan tries to continue to work in wartime conditions and come to terms with the idea that his wife might not come home.
    • Varcos is an armoured battalion commander who narrowly survives a brush with an enemy Titan. Now in the wilderness with his small band of survivors with no tanks, no support, and no means of communicating with the Mechanicus, Varcos has to find a way back or do his part in the war.
  • Madness Mantra:
    • "The magos organos's name was Kercher."
    • Chaos Titans are depicted as constantly screaming their names in corrupted code language.
  • Machine Worship: While all the members of the Adeptus Mechanicus engage in this practice, Titanicus sees the debate on the theological relationship between God-Emperor and the Omnissiah reach a breaking point. The members on Orestes generally see the Omnissiah as a separate being, while the members of Legio Invicta see them both as the same. Also, at several points, a few people on both sides of the ideological divide roundaboutly argue — to avoid open heresy — that it doesn't matter if the God-Emperor isn't the Omnissiah; Mars and Terra can't endure independent of one another, and attempting to divorce them will just invite extinction for both.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Tolemy, master of the archives, is the one that comes up with the plot to initiate the schism between the Mechanicus and the Imperium. Turns out he's doing this purely for personal gain, as the plan would result in him becoming Adept Seniorus of the Forge, a position he felt was unfairly denied him.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Varco has an Omnissiah medallion that was originally attached to the armor of his tank, Queen Bitch, and after Queen Bitch is destroyed by a Chaos Titan, the medallion mysteriously appears in his pocket, and for the rest of the story it seems to give him some incredibly good luck.
  • The Merch: Invoked Trope. One subplot is a toymaker who thinks to repair his declining fortunes by selling model Titans. It works, then he starts making more money by painting them in the colors of the two Legios defending Orestes, then even more by painting them in the heraldry of specific Titans that were featured in Imperial propaganda for distinguishing themselves in battle. Then the Mechanicus schism breaks out, causing his former customers to mistake him for a Mechanicus sympathizer by Imperial citizens, and he nearly gets killed by a rioter. What happens to the toymaker after that is never specified.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Enhort and Egan when they realise they were used by Tolemy so he could make a power grab, Egan feels so guilty he shoots himself.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The surprise attack conducted by the second armada of Chaos engines helps to avert a civil war that could possibly have destroyed the Imperium and driven humanity to extinction. To be fair, they weren't exactly in a position to know an Enemy Civil War was about to break out.
  • Pardon My Klingon: The novel includes a number of curse words used by the Adeptus Mechanicus. For a group so dedicated to logic, they can still get incandescently error shunt abort (pissed off) enough to call someone a scrapshunt (heavily implied to be an insult on the level of "motherfucker").
  • Red Shirt: Pretty much everyone in the PDF, examples include the PDF in the opening, the PDF in Varco's armour column who who don't survive and most of Cally's Tertiary PDF.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Princeps Maximus Gearheart is this when the threat of Civil war starts by trying to maintain the status quo, supporting the Imperial Governor and refusing to fire the first shot at Legio Tempestuous.
    • Adept Senorius Imanual is another example. A throw-away comment shows that he has the exact same theological stance as the rest of the forge, and even shows contempt for the idea that the Emperor and the Omnissiah are one. However, he is also smart enough to know that a schism would destroy both the Imperium and the Mechanicum, so even when presented with "proof" of his views, he refuses to use it, and instead destroys it.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Inverted in The Reveal how the God-Emperor and the Omnissiah are proven to be different entities. The reader is not told what it is or how it's framed, only the characters' reaction and that the evidence is pretty much bulletproof.
    • We get an explanation in the Horus Heresy novel Mechanicum. Turns out the Omnissiah is actually a C'Tan.
  • Sociopathic Soldier:
    • The Skitarii are described as this by design, they're augmentically enhanced to be deadly killing machines, brainwashed into being psychopathic and as soon as the fighting starts, they're pumped full of drugs to send them into a murderous fury. They also deliberately invoke this with battle dress that's made to look more like barbaric armour for the intimidation factor. Lampshaded by some of the characters' reaction to the head Skitarii.
    • Made even worse with the Chaos Skitarii. When Cally meets one, she immediately thinks she's looking at an enemy Skitarii. In fact, he's actually a regular loyalist skitarii, but his looks were so fucked up, that Cally immediately thought that he was a traitor.
  • Status Quo Is God: See the Doomed by Canon entry above. Savvy readers will know that there's absolutely no way that the Mechanicus schism will come to anything and that the conspirators are doomed to failure because Games Workshop refuses to move the overall metaplot forwards in any way, shape or form.
  • Suicide Mission: Varco's groups assault on the Chaos Shield tower is one of these although its implied Varco and Kell managed to survive.
  • Title Drop: The wheelbarrow Cally's PDF group put the recovered Tempestuous Princeps in is jokingly named 'Titanicus'.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Tarses snaps and kills the magos organos who tells him his wounded princeps died during transit. He feels immense regret about it once he's cooled down, and only avoids summary execution because Legio Invicta needs him, the sole surviving member of his Engine's original crew, to ease in the newbie replacements.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: The chapters are numbered in binary (1, 10, 11... instead of 1, 2, 3...).
  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Kalien is this to the conspirators.
    • Tolemy expects Enhort to be one for him, but that lethally backfires.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of the toymaker after the riots due to the revelation isn't given. There is a scene at the end with children playing with some of his model Titans, but they could easily have been toys that he had sold much earlier, rather than an indication that he's still making and selling them.
  • We Have Reserves: Inverted - while Orestes has vast manpower resources, it being a Forge World and all, and while the governor is more than happy to use them, the call-up of the Tertiary Reserves of the PDF (including Cally) makes it clear that the war is going really, really badly for them.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Enhort genuinely believes he's the doing the right thing by proving the Omnissiah and the God-Emperor are not one and the same, as opposed to Tolemy who's just making a power grab.