Sunday, 5 January 2020

There Is No Bus - Peter Fehervari's Dark Coil

A long time ago, in school I had a teacher in Russian History and was trying to explain the slavic temperament.

They talked about being in Russia; they went to the bus stop and found an old lady waiting for the same bus.

they wait

they wait more

This teacher turns to the old lady and says;

"Looks like the bus is late."

The lady stares back and says;

"Perhaps there is no bus."

This is likely why Peter Fehervari is big in Russia. Because for him, there is no bus.

Stolen from this reddit thread;
With Apologies


Peter Fehervari's 'Dark Coil' books are a strange little corner of the Warhammer 40k Universe made up of three books, which I have read, and a handful of short stories, which I have not. For some reason (perhaps interdimensional meddling) the first two were given rather odd names.

Fire Caste - still has its primary name, which has little to do with its contents. (Although A Fehervari book having a curiously misleading name become strangely appropriate as the series goes on). Here the Imperial Guard fight the Tau on the planet of Phaedra which is essentially Jeff Vandermeers or JG Ballards 'Apocalypse Now; Fungal jungles, coiling rivers and spiritual decay.

Cult of the Spiral Dawn - used to be called 'Genestealer Cults'? Here the Imperial Guard fight the eponymous cult on the Koronus Ring, a black megastructure on the world of Redemption, which is mainly fire, doom  and spiritual decay.

Requiem Infernal - The Adeptus Sororitas and Imperial Guard fight, well mainly themselves, which is a main theme in every Fehervari book, but also Chaos, on the Koronus Ring, which here is on the world of Vytarn, a planet made of water, religion and spiritual decay.

Is Vytarn Redemption? If so, how? Well read to find out I guess.

All the books are quixotically interconnected, not in a direct sequential way, but through a kind of web-work of timelost wanderers, strange chains of cause and effect, dream-visions etc. They all interrelate but you can read each individually and there is no real beginning, and no end - JUST THE CREEPY SPIRAL.


Reading a Fehervari book is like walking into a cinema in the middle of a horror movie, and then the cast and story of a different horror movie cross over with it, or the events of a whole new horror movie, with a different monster and cause, start up in the second act. And the film just keeps-going, so at some point, you leave.

As if the protagonist of Rosemaries Baby ends up in a lift with someone who is being pursued through dreams by Freddie from Nightmare On Elm Street and they meet Ellen Ripley, either traumatised after the first film or actively living through the second.

This, and the relentless interconnections between stories, create the really strong illusion that there is this warp and weft of just really terrible stuff happening to almost everyone most of the time. occasionally they meet and interconnect and we only view one particular section of these connections. Like looking at a map through a toilet roll.


The actually-scary (or at least, perturbing) elements of a Fehervari book are rarely at the end, when the actual monsters show up, the horror-movie 'scenes', stuff pulled from cinema (there are actual 'jump scares' in Reqiuiem infernal, which is, its wierd seeing people in a textual medium describe things as they would be seen in a film on the screen, with all the assumed camera movements and furniture but I suppose its as valid as any other aesthetic choice from other generations), and usually by the time of the big fights at the end, the full war-scenes.

When things become explicit in his books, and the horror is actually manifest, that a relief, even if people are dying, because there it is, you can see it

The actually-worrying things;

- Dark Imperial Culture, just pushed a little further into horror than it already was. The Imperiums already fucking dark, but now its a little worse. Like the fanatical teen commissars wearing barbed wire on their hats, with rotten teeth, reading intel from a stained page, the dirty and self-blinded monks with lips sewn shut, the Inquisitors who will literally watch a world die to measure exactly how it happens.

To some extent this is the stuff that would be happening in the Imperium anyway, but we don't see it through the eyes of other writers, but its also just Fehervari.

- The Interpersonal Perturbation - the not knowing.

The small personal resentments echoing through peoples webs of relationship, the micro power structures of small units, the desire for recognition, justification, power, submission, escape, violence.

Because Feheravis stuff is so morally multipolar, and because the cast changes each time, (there are no long-running, marketable 'soap opera' characters who's death is a 'big moment'), it means everyone can die - which matters less for itself than for what it signifies. Everyone can be wrong, and everyone IS wrong, probably, or deluded in some way.

The complexity, disposability and variety of the cast allows him to create situations which are a hair more like real life, in which many people are operating on subtly different perceptions and different assumptions and in which no-one is absolutely wrong in a highly dramatic way.

In a shorter more intense story, people will by necessity operate across a simpler moral axis, it'll be based around a single decision.

"Do we kill fluffy in the plane crash?"

And the argument, whether its verbal or physical, will play out more like a debate than an actual real life disagreement. Its either good or bad to kill fluffy, or  its necessary, but then at the end you say "yes we killed fluffy, but *at what cost*. So the axis is mainly good, but a bit bad

Or "yes we were terrible in killing fluffy, but wasn't it in a way understandable?", so mainly bad but a bit good.

But the same axis. And this is really largely a necessity in many kinds of story

Here you have something more like a weird soap opera where everyone is slightly mental because of slightly different things, and where everyone is super intense, but about different stuff, and deluded or mistaken, often for quite reasonable reasons, but about different things.

Everything is a lie in the Dark Coil, but its not one large central lie, like a schizo fantasy where you pull back the curtain and behind the lie is a TERRIBLE TRUTH. Its ALL a lie. Even the demons, when they turn up, are deluded, and even they don't really know how things are going to go, even though they live outside time.

But to bring it back to my main point, the complex texture of slightly dark and partially deluded interpersonal relationships, and Fehervari hopping around from head to head, means its like being at a party where you know half the people and it feels like they are talking about you behind your back. Not just for the characters, but for the reader as well. Uncertainly. Fear.

- The Time Loops

God fucking damn it did I become the demonic monster which I was chasing- AGAIN??

Like the baddy I met at the beginning of the book was actually me at the end of of the book, just really fucked up from all the shit I did during the book, which was all motivated by my encounter with the main baddy at the beginning? who was actually me? aaahh fuckin' chaos! >shakes fist at sky<

If you are in a Feheravi book and you have what feels like an 'inciting incident' with something alien, demonic, dreamlike or strange, very quickly ask them to take off the mask, or have a walk around or good look at them because there's a 1 in 4 chance its you from the future, shadow-you, you from a forgotten past or some other version of you.

time loooooops!!

- the Reality Shifts/Memory Shifts

This is some Descartes nightmare fuel.

Did your memory just change, like when you remember your mother was that really your mother? Do you feel like something shifted inside your head but can't recall what it was, and now even the recollection of the change itself is fading, leaving only a sense of wrongness like a bruise you got while blacked out drunk?

Did you just change your mind about an important topic? Like maybe you like ketchup now when you didn't before? Was it you - OR DID YOU GET ABSORBED BY AN ALIEN HIVE MIND?

hey if Weird Forces can just change reality like that why don't they just change it so they already won?

> powers strong but not infinite?
> feeding off the moral decay better than winning?
> not really interested in you specifically
> just kinda dinguses
> they already did and this is that reality you are living through
> complex time reasons
> they themselves are deluded and wrong, even though they have terrifying power over *you* <<<<<<<[its this one]

The horror of the reality shifts reminds me a lot of waking up hungover after being really drunk and/or really high. this feeling of formless shame, as if I did something terrible, or failed morally in some way but can't remember it, that there is something terribly wrong somewhere, and I don't want to think about it and my thoughts shrink from it as if from a blow, but even if I do think about it - only darkness responds.

Memory! Its just clay really isn't it?

- The *relatively* subtle psychology of chaos corruption

Its not always this basic but a pretty common bit in a warhammer book is someone either going TOO FAR

as in;

Do we need to explode that planet of puppies?

YES because CHAOS!

You fought CHAOS but in doing so you went TOO FAR, which means you get corrupted by CHAOS

Or them just being a flake who probably would have bought weed from the guys in the bike sheds at school anyway.


One or both of those is true and then at some point a demon literally physically turns up and just pulls a straight up Faust;

"hey hey hey mortal, you seem pretty corrupt, how do you feel about Hentai/ RAAAAGE/ Antidepressants/ NoClipMode?"

Then the mortal is either "no" - in which the demon goes "ha ha ha, we'll getcha next time!!"

or "yea", in which case here are your spikes and gothic tailoring

Corruption in Fehvari is not totally different, but much better done. Its really impossible to seperate actual Kaos from just the slow mental collapse that everyone is already dealing with. Everyone is just quietly falling apart, deluded, and deluding, facing impossible pressures and dark choices.

In large or small, minor or major ways, their enemy is themselves and the texture of reality. It is chaos not like a lure, except at the end but like a kind of gravity, as if reality is on a moral tilt and all any of it can do, human, transhuman, alien or even demon, is just sloooowly tumble.

In Requiem Infernal one character defies the shit out of Nurgle even to the point of death (though the Chaos gods themselves are never named), and they do die, still defying chaos, and then dead, chaos still has their soul, and still tortures and torments them because even death was not an escape, the suffering truly was infinite. And then they break.

There really is no bus is what I'm saying.


Toyetic is the wrong word, because it already has a precise meaning, but also the RIGHT word, because....

Main thing here is the really strange contrast between;

- scenes from sci fi/horror/war movies
- exacting descriptions of toy lines

This stuff isn't *bad* but its an interesting dissonance.

So there's a bunch of different warhammer books; Listening to Guy Haley Pharos right now on audible. this is a relatively 'light' fun read with some strong and lively character work good situation building and where the somewhat gauche elements are balanced by the good parts, and here (which also has a standard 40k 'faust' scene) the bits that are a bit like movies or which have detailed descriptions of the toy line or 'references' to pop culture (actually I always think the references are bad in any 40k book Graham mcNeill I'm looking at you), but these things don't really stand out as different or odd as they match the tone of the story being told

And there's your 'gourmet burger' 40k authors, where, yes we are doing proper drama now *actually,* where if there are references in a Dan Abnett book they are probably to specific sit rep reports he read about a battle, and with Aron Demski Bowden its probably to some social justice thing. But if you asked ADB to put in a reference to, say, a marvel movie, in his books, all you would see was the whoosh of his cape as he exited the audience room in High Disdain. (the correct response).

But in Feheravris work, well, 'Fire Caste' is a LOT like Apocalypse Now, and also a lot like Aguirre-wrath of god by Herzog, and I think has references to both of those

Spiral Dawn is a LOT like Aliens.

And in all of his books, the toy line, which in this imagined world is actually the military equipment and uniforms etc, is exquisitely detailed, often down to the exact model he's picking out. So the Genestealer Cult General in Spiral Dawn is armed exactly as the model is, and the cult wear exactly the same clothes as the models do.

Its not bad, its just very strange, because in the main thing he's interested in, and the thing he's really good at; the spiritual, entropic and nightmarish structure of reality itself, Ferhravi is top-tier, really unique and really expressive in how that comes together. And then here's your exact toy line. So its a bit like watching a Herzog film in which the characters are replaced by the Cartoons from Masters of the Universe but they are still doing all the same Herzogian stuff.


I guess the only correct way to end a review of a Fehervai book is with a link to a continuation, which is also a review of this review, which is itself different, yet somehow the same, and which links you to another review of that review, which links you back here, so there is NO ESCAPE FROM THE DARK REVIEW COIL

So if anyone actually want to do that, let me know and I will link it in.

Stuff I didn't cover is the visceral, grimy upsettingness of the world-texture, BIG SCENES at the end with SUPER BATTLES, and who knows what else?


  1. >"how do you feel about Hentai/ RAAAAGE/ Antidepressants/ NoClipMode?"
    Not to sound shallow, because the whole review is very interesting to the point I wish to read the books, but this is best characterization of Ruinous Powers I saw in recent memory.

  2. God damn I love Fehervari - wish Black Library had more authors working in this register.

  3. I have a good friend from the Soviet Union and Ukraine; I've larned a lot from him aboot his experiences. Aboot the general Russian character (as much as can be said given that there are a lot of subcultures and ethnic groups): life was sh*t, life is sh*t, and life will be sh*t, so why not laugh? And his riffing on Russian problem solving: a group of Russians need to get past a wall so they all hit at one spot with their elbows until they make a tiny hole; SUCCESS! :)

  4. I have recently lent my copy of Fire Caste to a friend - the cycle continues....

    I understand Fire Caste was meant to be called Thunderground.

    The toyetic elements are there (this is just how destructive the Tau and their horrible allies are for the average guardsman), but
    Feheravri does have a habit of using all-new regiments or orders - I do not believe there are any official miniatures for the Arkhan Confederates. This escapes any pre-existing sentiments, as well as expanding the scope of the universe (the Cadians again?!)

    The short stories of his I have read are pretty good - further jungle horror on Phaedra or tormented iconoclast space marines.

    I may have to return and publish another, subtley different comment....

  5. Oh. Now I wants these books.