My heart is broken. Broken for the good man Goth Sullus once was. Back when I wrote up Galactic Outlaws, I left a long comment on Jon Mollison's response to me saying that I thought Sullus was once a man of honor too. It turns out that was true. And now I know exactly what pushed him over the edge of the galaxy.
I don't know that I would have done any better, in his place. He endured more than any man should, and accomplished more than most. He genuinely wanted to protect others. Thus his fall, when it comes, is all the worse.
Going back to Socrates, there is a principle of moral philosophy that no man really seeks evil: we all seek what we think is good. It is through our brokenness and weakness that evil comes about, because we aren't really up to the task of seeing what is good and what is not. This Greek idea was fused with a Hebrew one, that our ability to seek good is actively thwarted by things that really do want evil.
In the Aristotelian tradition, there is also a principle that only something truly good can really become evil in a meaningful way. This is because of the identity of being and goodness: having a greater capacity, a greater power, is a good thing in and of itself, a kind of perfection. A man who lacks intelligence and self-control lacks the capacity to be as dangerous as someone bright and disciplined.
Thus the angels, when they rebelled, were far more dangerous than men, because they had greater perfections. Thus too, Goth Sullus, the man, longer of life, more wise and powerful than the average man, is something far worse than the average man when he loses his humanity.
Except that he doesn't really lose it. He gives it away. Why he chooses to do that is a great and mythic story. I think I can almost understand why some people see Sullus as a tragic hero. After a very long lifetime of trying to protect people from themselves, at the final hour when the demons from outside the galaxy are about to sweep in and conquer when the races of galaxy are squabbling amongst themselves, he gives up everything in order to gain the power to protect those who in many ways don't deserve his sacrifice.
And yet, there is something about his sacrifice that seems, unworthy. If pressed on why I think so, it is a lot of little things. Much like Cain, after his sacrifice, Sullus kills his brother. He is indifferent to the fate of little girls, especially little girls he arguably owes a debt to. His deepest well-springs of motivation seem to be fear and revenge. It was Nietzsche, perhaps in light of the tradition I cited above, who said, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
There is a kind of man for whom the abyss holds no fascinations. The kind of man whose life is duty, who is an immovable rock. The man who became Goth Sullus, is not that man. When good, his archetype is Merlin, the powerful wizard who manipulates behind the scenes. When bad, his archetype is Faust, the man who gambles for power and knowledge.
In Imperator, we get much of the backstory of the Galactic Republic. The Savage Wars, so frequently referenced in the earlier books, were far more horrible than I had imagined. Savage AF. The things that Rechs and Sullus saw are nigh unimaginable, but since I wasted my youth with videogames, I can come pretty close.
The Savage Wars, and the depraved millenarian lighthugger societies that spawned them, are a reminder that no matter how bad you think things are, there is almost always a way for it to be far, far worse.
One lighthugger had tried to develop the powers of the mind by living in total darkness and going long periods without sleep. When the UNS found the ship and cracked the hull, the people they found within referred to themselves as demons. They said the humans who had once occupied their bodies were all gone now. They said they, the demons, had come in from the outer dark. Their minds were shattered. They were stark raving mad.
They were mad, right? Right?
In addition to the origins of the Galactic Republic, and the fate of the long-lost and fabled Earth, we get some tantalizing hints of what made Tyrus Rechs who he was. We see Rechs through the eyes of the man who will eventually kill him, because of a broken promise. That betrayal, the inevitable consequence of a temptation that was not resisted, was perhaps fated.
We'll have to wait for his standalone novel to truly see Tyrus Rechs for who he was. In the meanwhile, we can now see Goth Sullus for what he was, and what he has become.