After Chris Wraight kicked off the Warhammer Crime book line with Bloodlines, No Good Men comes along to give us a cross-section of looks at the crime genre-oriented fiction line’s setting, the hive-city of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. No Good Men is a title which invites the question “What about the women?”; they are here, and they are in significant supporting roles, but as we’re going to see they don’t exactly get much of an opportunity to take the lead role in a story.
Aberrant by Chris Wraight is another Agusto Zidarov story; set before Bloodlines (since his daughter has only just headed off to the schola here), it finds Zidarov asked by the Ecclesiarchy to track down some suspected mutants. Of all the three things the Imperium hates most – mutants, unsanctioned psykers, and xenos – mutants are the ones which are best-known in Varangantua; psykers are very rare, and the world is far enough away from most conflict zones that its inhabits question whether xenos even exist, but mutation appears everywhere in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and Imperial propaganda has primed Zidarov – and more or less everyone he speaks to in this story – to fear and despise the mutants.
This time around, the mutants Zidarov is tracking down – who are being used as slave labour – all have rather similar characteristics. It is remotely possible that they are Eldar of some variety (perhaps tricked into slavery by a Rogue Trader), though it feels more likely that they are a stable divergent strain of humanity like ogryns, squats, ratlings and other sanctioned abhumans – the sheer numbers of slaves, for one thing, suggests that we’re talking about more than a few renegade lone Eldar picked up here and there. Either way, the consistency of their features means that their mutations are not a sign of the favour of the Chaos Gods, making their persecution even less justifiable from an out-of-universe perspective. Heck, even Chaos mutations don’t necessarily mean someone is collaborating with Chaos – but in the setting the Imperium conflates correlation with causation.
(I guess they could be Genestealers – they have a unit called “Aberrants”, after all – in which case Zidarov has doomed his world through this call. I tend to think not. The consistency of the mutant features would not show up in a mass of Genestealers unless you happened to get a crop all from the same generation, and even then there’s significant variation within generations – the Aberrant units among Genestealers certainly would look far more monstrous than these mutants. On balance, I suspect Black Library would have opted against having the Warhammer Crime setting implicitly doomed by a Tyranid invasion as a result of decisions made in one of the first stories; if nothing else, Tyranid invasions are poor backdrops for the sort of crime story the line is meant to be about.)