'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

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R.D.
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#19 » Mar 16 2013 07:02

Doombringer wrote:R.D., I think I take more exception simply because it's hard to write tau well, and from the preview we had of Out Caste, I was very hopeful that Fire Caste, and by extension Fehervari, would get it right.

That's not to say that the novel was poorly written. Quite the contrary! It just missed some subtleties that would be reasonably difficult to pick up on without being a bit more familiar with the source material, and perhaps got it so close (Fehervari clearly did a fair share of research, if his use of tau naming conventions and customs, Battlesuits, war fighting philosophy, etc. is anything to show for) that it was doubly disappointing that it happened to fall short on some rather glaring points.

And while tau aren't fully homogenous, it has been beaten into us with a stick from the Codex that the tau are a collectivist and notably (abnormally?) highly unified species. Games Workshop has gone to great lengths, through in-universe discussions, postulations, and even interrogations of ranking tau (including ethereals), that the majority of tau simply do not comprehend the idea of dissent at a culturally alien level. Part of what makes Farsight's story so unique and compelling is that he is perhaps the only recorded instance of a tau openly expressing his doubts and acting on them (though why is still unknown, and I'd rather not speculate within the scope of this thought). To make matters worse, tau do not kill other tau outside of ritual combat (the thought is physically sickening on a racial level due to the ever present reminders of the mont'au), and all this scheming, backstabbing, tension, and individualism is somewhat uncharacteristic, internally.

Perhaps I'm the one who is off the mark, but I can't imagine that a race of people who live under the constant, indoctrinated fear that they could bring about another mont'au, and who live amongst constant, daily reminders of the evidence of progress they have made through specialization and cooperation with one another, would so readily commit to clandestine scheming that results in the deaths of countless members of their own species, or wear their disillusionment, individual hatred, or disrespect for one another on their sleeve as obviously as Fehervari's tau do. I was able to rationalize Kill Team as a decision by the High Council on T'au to double cross the Imperium and unify the Empire, in the name of the Greater Good, against the human threat and kick off the Third Sphere Expansion. To see yet another example of such meddlesome acts by a tau, for such shaky personal reasons and without any of Ambassador Coldwind's goals and aspirations, is disappointing in the extreme.

And yes, one thing Fehervari does remarkably well is capture the tau way of war. There is a distinct and well written conveyance of the tau's use of maneuver warfare, their caution, and desire for planning before committing to battle, which no other novel has yet been able to match. Additionally, I found Fehervari's pathfinders and stealth suits very convincing, as were the tau's use of screening forces and auxiliaries.


Honestly, having a bunch of people with no concept of dissent, personal struggle, or things like that...well, it's rather boring to write and read about in a full novel. It's like how people complain about Space Marines often being one-note; having Tau characters all being selfless warriors with nothing but the Tau'va on their minds...well, it doesn't make for things like characterization or development. How many personalities are you meant to fit in there?

And anyway, from what I can tell, the context of this novel is a rather gruelling and protracted conflict, and when you're dealing with that sort of nightmarish scenario, especially in the 41st millennium, it wouldn't make any sense for at least some Tau to not start showing cracks. Remember, the Tau did get flak for coming across as too 'pure' in the past, and adding some more dimensions to them, well, that's not a bad thing.

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Doombringer
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#20 » Mar 16 2013 10:34

R.D., now now, I never said tau wouldn't have a concept of personal struggle or other character developments. They just wouldn't be what we'd immediately recognize as human characteristics.

It doesn't mean tau can't have doubts or concerns. It doesn't mean tau can't have passions, aspirations, or personal demons or failures.

It just means that thanks to a lifetime of pseudo-religious indoctrination accompanied by didactic education, leadership's rigorous scrutiny, and advanced "mental health care," the concepts of activist dissent, hijacking a war effort or backstabbing their fellow tau over what would be considered personal opinion, and putting personal pride and faith over humility and evidence wouldn't immediately occur to the tau. If they did, tau aren't known for being particularly brazen compared with their human counterparts. They are culturally reserved, thoughtful, and patient, the most common manifestations of these traits in our tabletop and Codex being the tau's caution, planning, and unwillingness to commit to a course of action where intelligence isn't forthcoming or a plan goes awry.

A tau's character development is one of internal struggle. It's a battle of the mind and thought, rather than of impulse and action. It's the balance between the doctrine and the experience, and while the Aun are generally there to help guide the tau and address individual concerns, the tau are taught from an incredibly early age that they are not alone, but are united in purpose. Then there is the ta'lissera. Tau who go through bonding ceremonies set aside personal doubts, and if they have them, they now have the private counsel and community of their bond partners, which would likely go a long way toward ensuring a modicum of conformity, collectivism, and confidence.

To keep it short, saying that there are a lot of checks, balances, and reassurances is putting it mildly.

The theme of creating tau protagonists who are "broken" in some way appears to be the a new theme of writing we have from Games Workshop and Black Library (Fire Warrior, Fire Caste, The Arkunasha War, Por'la Kais' Inquisitor background, very closely and most recently Braden Campbell's Alo'rra, etc.). I don't think that's a failure of the average tau being uninteresting, I think that's a failure of the author who may not be comfortable or skilled enough to write a compelling story about tau who aren't simply anthropomorphic representations of blue humans, or put the collective ahead of individual. You can fit as many personalities as you want in there.

And yes, the context of the novel is a grueling and protracted conflict, but one that is tempered and designed to be that way, so as not to escalate the fighting any further than small skirmishes in designated regions. Tau who show cracks aren't unheard of. There are whole threads here covering the various battlesuit neuroses and fio treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. Fire Warrior had a fantastic section of the book dedicated to explaining general mental health policies, social "incompatibility," and the process of identification and reindoctrination. If that's something like what Jhi'kaara was experiencing, the only loose ends are how she managed to slip by the fio for so long, and what will happen to her when or if they eventually find out. ;)




Seishin, thanks for the response and your involvement here! Take your time, of course.

And don't take our criticisms too hard. I'll try to keep the thread constructive, and I can tell by your novel's internal consistency that you certainly didn't act flippantly or without deliberation. Plus, you've still written the tau military machine far better than any of your Black Library compatriots (I'm looking at you, Courage and Honour!), so that's got to count for something amongst the community. ;)

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BabaGanoosh
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#21 » Mar 16 2013 10:48

I wouldn't be too quick to condemn the Tau infighting in the novel. Phaedra, the planet they're fighting on, is a miserable fungus-ridden hell-hole that would be extremely trying on any organization, and it is not as though the Tau forces immediately set about infighting after the ethereal died. On the contrary it seems to me that the Tau coalition on Phaedra was incredibly long-lived and well ordered. A human military commander of any society I can think of, historical, modern, or fictional would not have bowed to an essentially civilian authority for so long in a situation like this.

And militarily speaking, the Tau had held their position without reinforcements for decades, against a stream of imperial forces, however substandard. I'd say they did just fine, and I thought the depiction of Tau military doctrine was well-done.

R.D.
Shas'La
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#22 » Mar 16 2013 10:54

@Doombringer: fair enough, good reasoning. It is worth keeping in mind that BL writers are human (well, as far as we know ;)), and, well, you tend to write what you know. And like I said, it does seem that the propensity for more 'darker' Tau, at least for some works, was a response to some of the fanhate that came to them for being too 'goody-goody', at least when they were initially released.

@Seishin: Definitely be checking this book out. The more variety in BL the better, so consider one reader encouraging you to do more. :)

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Calmsword
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#23 » Mar 17 2013 02:51

I'm in agreement that the Tau way of war described in Fire Caste is much MUCH better done than in Courage and Honor. In fact, the only thing that really rubbed me for a moment was the extreme usage of Pulse weapons that the imperials took advantage of. Not because of heretical tech usage, but because Tau have FF nodes in almost all their gear that prevents them from firing on one another (Damocles Gulf books) however, there's no consistency with this fact since a SM used a markerlight to hit an Orca with a seeker missile.

... That broke my heart.


The Tau portrayal in the book is good, it shows an inner conflict that is interesting to examine about the Tau and the grumblings between the Castes that may take place without the presence of an Ethereal. The lifespan issue is, as usual, an issue because if the Tau of Phadra had been engaged for 50/50+ years without any reinforcements then why aren't all the Tau dead? Right?

My personal gripe is just the usual lack of Tau'centric fluff-but as I've stated above it's a really good Imperial book.

SEISHIN: On a personal note, it is interesting to have a BL author actually on the forums- maybe this isn't new for others but I'd like to take the time to thank Seishin for his work and I look forward to seeing more (Out Caste was great- I really wanted to keep reading that story). If you're indicative of the direction BL is going then I'm happy. I'd also like to say a big BIG thank you for taking the time to research. People like Doombringer, Elliot and Isoroku and many more spend oodles of time grueling over ever scrap of information we can get our hands on to make sense of all this.
~Good Hunting

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ARC'Thunder
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#24 » Mar 19 2013 10:17

Sorry I'm a bit late to the party.

I finished the book last week. And first off I want to thank Mr. Fehervari for writing Fire Caste. It was a pleasure to read (my copy is already lent to a friend of mine). Sadly, I haven't the propensity for wordsmithing necessary to write a good review myself, but I'd like to throw my opinion in on a few points. Mind you I don't have my copy with me, so I can't pull quotations or anything to support my arguments.

On the infighting between castes. I think it may have been overdone in some respects, but I feel as though it may not be as inconceivable as it may seem. I'm not Mr. Fehervari so I can't comment on his intentions or ideas, but I can try to fill in my own.

In the book they mention deferring leadership to the Por'O because he was the highest rank on the expedition. In this respect I agree with O'Doombringer, the Por'O had no business in conducting a war. That is not his role. However, I feel like his control over the mission may have evolved and grown over the 50 or so years of conflict. For instance, the Shas'El may have simply looked to the Por'O for mission guidance. He was a diplomat after all, and I think his intention that Phaedra be used as a testing ground for conversion through attrition may have been a goal accepted by all Tau present on the mission. However, as time went on he may have pushed for more control while a naive Shas'El may have been too acquiescing on that matter. In O'Seishin's mind he may not have even realized the ambitious nature of the push. Simply justifying it in his own mind that it was for the Greater Good.

And as far as the idea of dissent being a near impossible concept to them, I feel like that is a question of Nature vs. Nurture. We know that the Tau are overly unified, and they likely employ near brainwashing levels of education for all, but we aren't really sure why or how they are so unified. Even the codices imply that the simple presence of Ethereals is the sole cause for such unification. But the Tau may have violence and intra-species conflict in their blood, if you will. And O'Shovah is proof that without an Ethereal, Tau can "deviate" from the Greater Good on a massive scale given enough personal embitterment (We still aren't really sure what O'Shovah intentions are, or even if he believes he has forsaken the Greater Good).

Again, most of what I'm saying has not real basis in the book (as far as I can remember). I feel like Mr. Fehervari wrote a fantastic novel, and while there were some hiccups, I don't think they really detract from the quality that much. I wish the bit about the Warp was resolved a little more clearly, but I feel like it was reminiscent of those Short Story cliff-hanger "what?" endings that I have such a love-hate relationship with.
Last edited by ARC'Thunder on Mar 19 2013 08:11, edited 1 time in total.

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Calmsword
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#25 » Mar 19 2013 02:48

ARC'Thunder: I wouldn't bash yourself to hard, getting a thought to your fingertips through the interverse is hard enough and you do well.

I think the infighting, while slightly irregular and fairly human'esque, is believable. If the Tau had just, straight up, started killing one another I would have just put the book down and let myself forget it.

As to a Por'O taking over (and this touches on a few other members thoughts) I'm not surprised he took over. After all, there are Tau expeditions that have Por'O's in charge (the expedition to Pech for example) and I don't doubt a variety of command situations have a 'civilian' take over (especially when it seems both sides orchestrated the event). Indeed, the tactic of converting large swathes of Imperial crack troops to the Greater Good seems to have been a great success (even if the 50 year period makes no current sense in regards to a Tau force cut off without additional troops)- note: I also think it highly unusual for T'au or Sept command to let a world like this slip out of their concern, unlike the Imperium the Ar'Tol seems to be very much on top of things (more like the Alliance in Star Wars).
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CommanderStormDrain
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#26 » Mar 19 2013 05:29

...unlike the Imperium the Ar'Tol seems to be very much on top of things (more like the Alliance in Star Wars).

Warning: Topic Divergence Ahead
[spoiler=]The Rebel Alliance, especially in the early part of the Galactic Civil War, was in no way on top of things. The Alliance was made up of cells spread out across the galaxy, mostly left to their own devices and poorly equipped (maybe a dozen or so men with some crates of blasters and explosives, in the worst cases). The disparate rebel cells severely lacked supplies, and, even more so, training. That only changed because of the defection of a few high-ranking Imperial Officers that came to lead the rebel brigades they had been fighting against, later forming the Alliance Special Forces, which served to train the cells and do sneaky commando things (and that was only after the Rebels' "Operation Domino" trainwreck, and many defeats).
/end rant
That being said, I get what you meant, and realize that there are other parallels to be drawn between the Tau and the Alliance. And I apologize for going so off topic, I just really like talking about Star Wars, especially when I get to bash on the Rebellion. :evil:[/spoiler]

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Calmsword
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#27 » Mar 20 2013 08:42

I... Are we really doing this? Um... Okay, at least before the 90's:

The Rebel Alliance was, before the assemblies on Cloud City, was not a cohesive movement but more like the 'Arab Spring' movement. Afterward the Alliance was united by an overarching code of morality and opposition to the Empire but needed to be able to operate without consistant contact (very much like the Tau Empire which does not possess a FTL means of communication [before Doom jumps in here the Messanger ship network doesn't count in comparison to the hyperspace network])

The Shas'Ar'Tol is divided into a series of campaigns that are, overall, called the 3rd Sphere or, more poetically, the Wars of Expansion. They do not have a means of maintaining constant contact with these campaigns, but they certainly wouldn't let 50 years go by before checking up after not hearing anything. Tau forces are well-equipped but nowhere near the levels of that the Imperium can muster (when they pay attention).

The Empire has a cultural morality they adhere to which is enforced by the caste system. The Rebel Alliance maintains their own level of morality and could not afford to let go of planets and missions without some kind of oversight. Ergo, I don't think the comparison is that far fetched.

Seriously- the level of nerd this conversation just became just broke my mind.
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CommanderStormDrain
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#28 » Mar 20 2013 10:29

Seriously- the level of nerd this conversation just became just broke my mind.

Same. And fair enough. Like I said, there are other parallels to be drawn.

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Tastyfish
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#29 » Mar 23 2013 02:32

Calmsword wrote:-There is a strange conversation between an Imperial and a Shas'o where the 'O struggles to tell him what caste he is apart of and says 'Smoke' I don't know what this means, but in my opinion I think that the Shas'O was suffering from battlesuit neurosis and perhaps he was describing that he should be of the Fire Caste but now he's just 'smoke', don't know, the author doesn't explain it and you're better off for it.


I think that's more a reference to the fact that Earth, Fire, Air and Water are not quite the right translations for the Tau caste names but are the most apt in this instance. "Shas" being something more akin to "from fire" so, without an understanding of Terran idioms and traditions, a direct translation from the Tau's point of view is a little more complicated.

Overlord666
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#30 » Mar 23 2013 02:50

Could he be of mixed cast? Earth and fire would make smoke right? Burning grass or trees gives smoke so maybe his family was originally earth cast which then he went to fire cast?

Just a guess, I haven't read the novel.

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Doombringer
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#31 » Mar 23 2013 03:04

I'm willing to side with Tastyfish that the caste names aren't simply elemental in nature and that there are deeper, underlying subleties.

"Smoke" seems like a poetic and simple explanation, as if to a child, for a number of things ranging from retirement to some tribal or ceremonial form of voluntary desertion to engage in a targeted hunt. Pretty much any Fire Caste member not actively serving on the frontline could be explained to a human as "smoke" in a manner that would convey an idea accurately enough.

I'm much more accepting of that than any idea of mixed castes, which undermines the very purpose of castes in the first place.

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Calmsword
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#32 » Mar 23 2013 05:39

I'm in agreement. Poetically it sounds like the final moment in a warriors life to try and erase a final wrong, perhaps one that happened under your command. It could even be a kind of exulted 'monat' perhaps.

I don't think that crossing castes is either possible or keeps up with the Tau culture and style of their stories, personally.
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Lyi'ot
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#33 » Mar 23 2013 09:30

For those keeping track (me!), Peter Fehervari's Black Library blog post on Fire Caste is now live.

Man, I can't wait for my hard copy to arrive in the mail! But it seems like I should read Heart of Darkness first...

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Jefffar
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#34 » Mar 23 2013 09:54

The idea of lesser Tau Castes makes sense, even if not supported in the Codex. Alternately they may be closer to clans than castes, but the translation does not support the distinction.

So for example, Smoke Caste might actually be the descendants of a Smoke Clan within what became the Fire Caste. They would be Fire Caste, but they would have that additional layer to their identity.

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Lyi'ot
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#35 » Mar 23 2013 09:57

Jefffar wrote:The idea of lesser Tau Castes makes sense, even if not supported in the Codex. Alternately they may be closer to clans than castes, but the translation does not support the distinction.

So for example, Smoke Caste might actually be the descendants of a Smoke Clan within what became the Fire Caste. They would be Fire Caste, but they would have that additional layer to their identity.

While an interesting theory, it's not born out by any of the fluff, not even Fire Caste. The implication is that the shas'o in Fire Caste is speaking in an extended metaphor.

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Jefffar
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Re: 'Fire Caste'-spoilers/review

Post#36 » Mar 23 2013 10:09

I admit to total speculation in my part as I have yet to acquire the text in question.

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