[Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

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Doombringer
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[Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#1 » Sep 03 2010 09:10

"Unity", by James Gilmer, is a short story featuring the Tau from Black Library's Fear the Alien anthology. Here is my review, posted over at Warseer in response to one member's question of "Did we learn anything new about the Tau?"

...



Spoilers...

Gilmer's Tau weren't all that great. Granted, you never actually see a Tau, but there were quite a few interesting tidbits of information that I couldn't count as anything but mistakes...

First off, the Kroot all had different faces (some had beaks, some had ape-faces?), which struck me as odd. A single Kindred probably wouldn't have that many internal variations in physical characteristics, because they are all guided down the same genetic path by their Shaper, who is in turn directed by their Master Shaper, who has the guidance and vision. Certainly, the Shaper in the story might have been one of these Masters and therefore in overall command of a couple Kindreds, but the numbers just didn't seem to indicate that to me...

Secondly, the Kroot had a human translating for them. This was another "what the *****?" moment for me, because Kroot are supposed to be quite apt at learning new languages, should probably know Low Gothic right off the bat considering the size of the Imperium and the fact that they were being deployed to an Imperial world, and could probably pick up on any local idiosyncrasies in dialect within an hour speaking to civilians or prisoners, tops.

Thirdly, Ges'vesa? Uh, Mr. Gilmer, don't you mean Gue'vesa? As in, Gue'la (Human) Vesa (Helpers)? Ges'vesa is used three times in lieu of the actual term, which just detracts from the story for those of us who actually pay attention to details like this.

Fourthly, it was mentioned that the Tau's reward for the Kroot's assistance is human bodies... Last I checked, the Tau don't publicly acknowledge the Kroot's feeding habits, as they are actively attempting to "civilize" the Kroot and limit their barbaric eating of the opposition (both a moral/cultural and public relations issue - you don't generally want potential allies knowing that they're joining an Empire that promotes the consumption of live enemy combatants...). While this isn't always the case, as it is probably now recognized that the Kroot require genetic material to prevent themselves from stagnating as a species, the Kroot aren't mercenaries to the Tau, so wouldn't require payment in the first place, as the Raven Guard suggests the dead bodies in the barn are. The Kroot are honor-bound, by the Treaty of Anghkor Prok, to fight for the Tau. Any form of "payment" is icing on the cake, not the reason the Kroot are fighting for the Tau in the first place...

These points aside, the story didn't really have that much flair to me. It lacked the little touches on the Imperial side that set it firmly in the 40k universe that writers like Abnett, Dembski-Bowden, and McNeill use with such remarkable ease, and it didn't feel finished. I particularly cringed the few times the Guardsman referred to his rifle's scope as an "NV" scope, though I don't know why. Acronyms aren't usually something you hear too often out of an Imperial mouth. The Space Marine didn't strike me as Space Marine-ish. I'd have expected him to simply abandon the Guardsman to his fate rather than drag him along on his wild romp through the farmland, and he seemed far more human than "superhuman" on an emotional level...

The Tau are depicted, from the viewpoint of the Raven Guard, as ruthlessly efficient (which I like), but coercive and utterly uncaring for their auxiliary human helpers (willing to sacrifice them on a whim). Civilians who did not accept the Tau's proposals at the outset were implied to have been fed to the Kroot, and it was said that wounded opposition were not provided medical treatment, or checked for treatable injuries at all for that matter...

I like that keeping this narrative from the obviously biased Imperial perspective of a fanatical Space Marine at least keeps the thought of Tau using their human helpers as proverbial "ablative wounds" uncertain, and in all likelihood false, but many readers will take this at face value and draw conclusions from it that are in direct contradiction to Codex: Tau Empire's own statements that the Tau value the lives of those who wish to serve the Empire, and do not sacrifice their auxiliaries needlessly.

All in all, I think Gilmer, for all his self-professed love and interest for the Tau, would do well to pay more attention to the little details that make them unique, and a race apart from the others in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Posing them solely as evil overlords and conquerors who value life so little that they won't even treat injured enemies/POWs (a little something that a race that prides itself on its amicable and diplomatic image to potential vassals would probably find particularly important to do, unless they wanted to find themselves in a military engagement every time they come visiting a prospective addition to their Empire...) isn't something I'd see them doing often, even as efficient as they are in pursuit of the Greater Good...

Better luck next time, I suppose, but Unity is not something I'd consider a helpful addition to the Tau's already struggling canonical standardization. At this point, Black Library's Tau are in more of an identity crisis than Jeff Dunham...

Let's see, we have publicly cooperative and "good-natured" Tau who prefer ranged combat and have a hinted-at and ever-so-slight dark side when it comes to the Greater Good (Codex: Tau Empire); diplomatically coercive Tau (Rogue Star/Star of Damocles); militaristic and expansionist Tau who are too inept to kill a single squad of infiltrators (Kill Team); logical, efficiently robotic, morally confused Tau, with a society that shuns individualism and promotes efficient organization (Fire Warrior); Tau who treat those who join their Empire with dignity, respect, and as genuinely helpful and valuable additions to their Empire (Cleanse the Xenos); the barbaric hordes of almost-Greenskin Tau, of which there are some who wield swords and throw tantrums (Courage and Honour); disorderly and individualistic Tau (Black Tide); and now evil Tau who don't give a damn about PR and just come in and kill whoever doesn't immediately surrender (Unity)...

What will they think of next?

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Militant.Jester
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Re: [Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#2 » Sep 03 2010 09:32

Well... that's disappointing. I haven't read any (Tau) Black Library novels, but from what I hear, the actual codex has the 'best' background IMHO.
Thanks for the info, Doombringer! Chatty guy...
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Wolfs16
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Re: [Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#3 » Sep 03 2010 10:07

This is....disappointing.

GW has a truly unique and interesting race in the Tau, yet so many BL writers just can't grasp their identity. They just become "High Tech Villian" in so many stories, becoming a sort of stereotypical copy of what they could be. To me, it seems like many 40K writers get stuck in the grimdark mentality that they cannot portray the Tau as anything but one dimensional beings.

"For The Emperor" seems to me to be a good and accurate portrayal of the Tau mindset. But is would appear that these examples are far and few in between.

Doom, what do you feel future Tau writers need to keep in mind about the Tau? I ask because I think I speak for a few fluff novices in that I want to be as accurate as possible.

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Re: [Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#4 » Sep 03 2010 10:11

Perhaps someone here from ATT should write a Tau novel?

Oh my dear Mr. Monk, Tael has done just that. (Almost!) - Wolfs16
Aur'ocq shath'r'i tskan sha Tau'va

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Re: [Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#5 » Sep 04 2010 12:42

@Wolfs16:
Sorry but- do you mean this "For the Emporer?" I don't know of any others..
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Wolfs16
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Re: [Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#6 » Sep 04 2010 07:28

No, I mean the Ciaphas Cain novel written by Sandy Mitchell that can be found in this omnibus.

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Re: [Review] "Unity", from Fear the Alien

Post#7 » Sep 04 2010 03:51

Crunchy_Monk wrote:Perhaps someone here from ATT should write a Tau novel?

Oh my dear Mr. Monk, Tael has done just that. (Almost!) - Wolfs16


Oh my. I will have to add this to my PDF library, and read it sometime when I have the chance.

I am actually kind of giddy at the thought. :D
Aur'ocq shath'r'i tskan sha Tau'va

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