I have trying to get caught up on all the Tau stories and novels that are available from Black Library. Many of these works have already been reviewed by others here in the Library section, but I’m going to give my two-cents anyway.
WARNING: Everything from here on out is a spoiler.
The Arkunasha War
The first thing you have to know it that The Arkunasha War is a short story and not a novel; and therein is the problem. Even though the word “war” in the title, there is no way someone can do a whole war in a single short story. Let me digress for a moment, to say that scale has always been a problem for both Games Workshop and Black Library authors; like with stories of a single squad of space marines liberating an entire planet of a Tyranid splinter fleet. Sometimes it feels as if Games Workshop is trying to reduce the entire Milky Way galaxy down to the size of a postage stamp. However, Andy Chambers does something different in his short story. He tackles the problem by downsizing everything to a manageable level and makes the Arkunasha colony a small frontier outpost.
Farsight arrives on the planet by himself, to take command of what is essentially a single Hunter cadre. And the colony itself is all in one place in the Argap highlands, with only a few small outlying production sites. The Arkunasha colony is so small that an unnamed Shas’ui (one of only four characters in the story, and the only female character. Who by the way never does get a name?), asks Farsight:
“It’s just… why would the shas’ar’tol send someone like you to a place like this? Surely you would do more good in an active conflict region than being crèche supervisor in some forgotten outpost.” - Shas’ui pg. 6 The Arkunasha War.
Essentially saying to Farsight, “Why are they sending you to baby sit us?”
Oddly, by the third paragraph there is open hostilities between the Ethereal caste, the Fire caste and the Earth caste. The Aun’o has told the firewarriors to not carry weapons as “there is nothing living on the planet to fight”; and seems to hates the very thought the fire caste are even being on Arkunasha. The one fio’ui character is sullen and hesitant about having to repair any fire caste equipment, as he can’t spare the manpower or time to do so. This is solved by Farsight asking him to train his fire warriors to repair their own equipment.
Uh? Whats with all the hostility between castes? It's almost as if, Mr. Chambers expects for us to believe inter-caste rivalries, are an everyday occurrences for the Tau. Doesn’t the Tau’va stress cooperation between castes, as part of the path of service to the Tau’va? This odd 'hostility' is never explained or dealt with at all in the story.
After this, the plot is pretty much the story of Arkunasha as given in the first and second codices. Only reduced as I said earlier to single cadres doing all the fighting. With one additional plot point, and that is that Farsight gets the Aun’O to evacuate in case the colony is overrun.
The story’s first publication date is given as 2011 in Hammer and Bolter Issue 9, and then republished in 2015 as an ebook. However, it really feels like something written much earlier, like in 2005(?) And I say this because the Tau lore given is very much like that of the first codex, Codex: Tau, 2001. Example the equipment for the crisis battlesuits feels like the first Tau codex; there is no air bursting fragmentation grenade or cyclic ion blasters for instance. Also the action described resembles the 4th edition Warhammer 40,000 rule set. If anyone remembers the “target priority”rule, then you’ll know what I mean. So over all, it feels like the story was bought by Black Library, but then they sat on it before finally publishing it in 2011. For those of you not aware, Black Library has done this before, with Aun’Shi by Braden Campbell. Black Library bought the story, but by the time they published it, the new 6th edition codex had come out; and Tau lore had changed, making the story “obsolete”. My suspicion is that something similar happened with this story.
The story itself, well I have to say I was disappointed, as the author is Andy Chambers and all. My disappointment coming from the reduction of the “war” to a few engagements by a single cadre. I knew it was a short story, but I thought maybe, it was going to be about one outstanding event in the war. Maybe the incident where Farsight earned his name “Shovah”? But, besides that one disappointment, the story is quite well written. Mr. Chambers is very economical in his description and dialogue, and the action of the moves along at good pace. And his depiction of Commander Farsight, is so far my favourite, of all the Black Library or Games Workshop authors.
Farsight comes across just like always I thought he would be, a hard hitting, no-nonsense, get-the-job-done commander. The first thing he does when he gets to Arkunasha is to challenge the entire cadre to fight him with wooden sticks (swords?). Farsight has made them remove their armour; which they can’t put back on, until they each one of them defeats him in a one-on-one fight. He does this to rebuild their morale and to remind them that they are fire warriors. Another tip off that this is only a single cadre, is that it takes Farsight about day-and-a-half to fight them all.
‘The will, the ability to fight, to be a warrior, does not reside in your weapons, nor is it inside your armour unless you bring it there yourself! The warrior begins within, a warrior is one who still fights with whatever they have and with nothing at all if they must!' Commander Farsight, pg. 6 The Arkunasha War
(There are a couple more quotes, but I don’t want to spoil them for you; it’s only a short story after all!)
It was this incident in the story made me think of something, “Hey, this sounds like something that would happen in a John Wayne movie?” Wait a minute, this is a John Wayne movie, it’s Fort Apache with John Wayne and Henry Fonda! Now, I must confess something, for as long as I have played Tau, and I play only Farsight Tau; I have imagined Commander Farsight as Sean Connery. A Tau version of Sean Connery of course, but always “Mr. James Bond” as the commander from Vior’la. But having read The Arkunasha War by Andy Chambers, I think John Wayne would do just as well!
Rating: Two-and-half Blue Thumbs Up (Only for being a short story and having dated lore)
Should I Put This on the “To Read List”?: YES
The Arkunasha War by Andy Chambers © Copyright Games Workshop 2015; First published in Hammer and Bolter Issue 9 (2011). This eBook edition published in 2015 by Black Library, Games Workshop Ltd.
Pedro Armendariz as the unnamed Shas’ui, and John Wayne as Commander Farsight
Gerry Owen Regimental March of the 7th Cavalry
"The Seventh First!"