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Author Topic: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn  (Read 2363 times)

Grey

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Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« on: 29 July 2015, 06:52:30 »
Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
Who: Talon Zahn
What: MechWarrior, Stapelton’s Grenadiers
   Unknown officer ranks, Capellan Reserve Cavalry
   Senior Colonel, Capellan Confederation Armed Forces
   Strategic Military Director, Capellan Confederation Armed Forces
   Sang-jiang-jun, Capellan Confederation Armed Forces
When: 17 January 3024 - Unknown
Weapon of Choice: BattleMech, class(’s) unknown
      The Capellan Confederation Armed Forces
 
In matters military the Capellan Confederation has often been derided due to the slow contraction of its borders over the centuries. Nonetheless the 31st Century saw the greatest defeats and also the greatest successes in the military arena, coinciding with the rise of one man: Talon Zahn.

As much as Sun-Tzu gets the publicity and credit for reversing Capellan fortunes he is a leader who knows how to pick and choose his subordinates, and how much freedom to permit them. The primary method we see of this is in Talon.

Interestingly enough he starts his career as a ‘common’ MechWarrior, earning a position in Officer Candidacy School on Sian, this marks him, without explicitly saying so, as a commoner who has worked his way up, waaaay up, the ranks.

Indeed, his final promotion comes from an act of insubordination, since I can’t think of any other way of classifying saying ‘I told you so’ to your senior commanding officer.

Talon, the unconventional man who will speak his mind openly and unafraid, something that would normally mark him as suicidal or a mutant in the Confederation instead gains his leader’s attention and is promoted for this behaviour.

These two features mark him as completely unpolitical in nature, clearing him of the Battletech short hand for villainy or corruption.

This promotion characterises Sun-Tzu as much as Talon, it speaks of a leader who wants the honest, unvarnished truth, as much pertinent information as possible, even when it comes in impertinent forms, the better to operate and succeed.

It works, the two form a solid partnership in the war against St Ives, it’s one of the recurring scenes in the duology where Sun-Tzu sets a goal and Talon lets him know how realistic it is with what resources. Sun-Tzu adjusts his plans accordingly.

Though there is technically no exact equivalent in other realms Talon Zahn is effectively a combination of Prince’s Champion and Marshal of the Armies in the opposing FedSuns, or, a little more closely, Gunji-no-Kanrei, particularly when Kiyomori Minomoto held the position during the Jihad.

Basically he was a combination of military leader, Sun-Tzu’s proxy to the military, and regent during the Jihad, though this was never formalized, like a lot of things during that period.

While the former and latter are not uncommon roles in Battletech fiction being a military proxy is, as a character role. This is largely a function of the setting, military sci-fi fiction, which requires leaders, particularly of factions and nations, to be warriors of some stripe.

And though Sun-Tzu makes stabs at being a MechWarrior he is far too political and not particularly military, so in choosing a leader of the CCAF he chooses a proxy, a warrior representative for his nation. This also requires that said proxy be more than just competent, a degree of brilliance is implied.

Note that I said implied. One thing about the position of supreme military leader of a nation is that you’re not supposed to be down in the trenches firing guns, or even on a world dictating where the units present go. Ideally you set a goal, allocate resources and order it to be done, degrees of subordinates taking care of the smaller details.

And stunningly this is exactly what we see Zahn do, as opposed to Victor, Hohiro, even Theodore, Morgan Hasek-Davion taking the field when they felt the need.

Smart? Yes. Realistic? Yes, but it robs Talon of the ability to show his personal abilities, he operates at too high a level.

To be sure we see great successes by the CCAF in the Chaos March, St Ives and the Jihad’s assorted battlefields, a four front war with only one ally, but none of it really speaks of Talon’s skills, instead we are given the feeling that the Capellans are pushing back all invaders more through fanaticism, desperation tactics, no holds barred tactics and a degree of xenophobic bloodlust that exceeds most Clans.
Again, this is because of the level he operates at during his time in the fiction.

Case in point: while we know he is trained as a MechWarrior we have no idea what he piloted, having never seen him in so much as a simulator. This is a significant lack in a military character.

Don’t get me wrong, Talon has received just enough backfill to his story to come across as a credible military commander, especially one who can outperform many foes, but the political structure of the Confederation means that while he is supreme military commander he is not actually the sole military authority under the nation’s leader as others are. The Warrior Houses exist as a check on the CCAF, the Maskirovka monitors both who will pounce upon the Mask with enough reason, it is a scenario explicitly maintained to limit the possibility of opposition to the Chancellor by internal forces.

This isn’t a foolish choice, the ISF, DCMS, LCAF and others have taken active roles in deciding who leads in the past, through conventional coups or less conventional means.

Thus Talon can be brilliant, but not too brilliant. Not simply as a character trait but in terms of opportunity, he must look over his shoulder while trying to succeed, anyone who has been heavily monitored at work understands that this is not a motivational scenario.

Unfortunately this leads to a character who feels somewhat lacking compared to contemporaries like Minamoto, Adam Steiner or even Jon Davion. Though in fairness the former two had far greater impact on the setting in part because they had the freedom to run around without looking over their shoulder, and Minamoto in particular was up to shenanigans that prove why the Capellan command structure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Is it fair to the Capellans to have a military leader who is, relatively speaking, reduced so much?

Yes, no, and fair has nothing to do with it. On the one hand the setting has limited his powers and role within the faction he operates, on the other it continues to rob the Capellans of strict military credibility, especially as things are being won with unconventional actions, and then the third hand creeps up and points out that the scenario would be boring if every faction had a direct analogue for every position and role from nation leader down to lance commanders, all operating under the same conditions in each nation.

Talon is intended as a rough parallel because Sang-jiang-jun is a position that must logically exist as much as General of the Armies, but it makes things more interesting from a story perspective if he has different limits placed upon him

Finally, it should be noted that eventually there is a combat vehicle named after him. There’s a lot of that going around with the Morgan, Zibler and Sortek also extoling relatively recent heroes (yes, I know, all FedCom/FedSuns aligned, but it’s interesting to note that the best the Free Worlds League can do is go back to the common ancestor with the Juliano).

What would Talon Zahn make of his namesake? An incendiary people killer? Given his blunt nature and pragmatism he would probably note the military efficiency and necessity of the machine and be slightly uneasy that it is being used against prospective (or lost) Capellan citizens, but he is a Capellan military leader and not one to turn away any weapon that works, especially one that works well and will help keep Capellan troops safe.

You see, unlike a lot of characters, Talon is never really classed as a good guy or a bad guy, or even somewhat controversial and in between like his patron Sun-Tzu.

Much like the position he holds Talon is necessary. The position must be filled as a part of the CCAF command structure, and someone must stand for Sun-Tzu as military leader.

Sun-Tzu has the authority but not the ability, that’s what Talon supplies.

So he’s a support character, a tool used by another to pursue actions, with an odd minimum of ethical complication by virtue of having none, all actions he takes are at the behest of someone else, and we can debate those actions but they avoid Talon as a source, from a writing point of view, these matters would naturally be murkier inside the setting.

Does this sell him short? Not really, as I said Talon is a support character, a well fleshed one, but still only a support character, so there are limits as to how much he can shine in a situation, otherwise he would overshadow Sun-Tzu who is clearly the Capellan hero.

It’s a fine line to tread, but it is done very well, and while most Capellan characters have an aura of villainy about them, the legacy of the early fiction where they were the villains, Talon Zahn avoids that, even though he must have authorised more than a few nukings to get the job done during the Jihad.

He is a reasonable, well rounded, realistic character who fulfils his functions excellently, to be honest we need more like him.

Frabby

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #1 on: 29 July 2015, 09:25:29 »
He is Sun-Tzu's right hand, his weapon arm, the hand wielding the boomstick. In a TVTropes word, he's the Dragon.

But, notably, he seems to have no ambition beyond second rung on the ladder - which is what keeps him alive. Sun Tzu trusts him to the point that Zahn can assume leadership of the entire Confederation during the Jihad while the Chancellor was in his bunker and thought dead following the ortillery attack. When Sun Tzu comes back out, he's still Chancellor and Zahn quietly steps back into second rank.

Brilliance... hm. The vibe I got from all stories featuring Sun Tzu always seems to strongly indicate it is Sun Tzu who comes up with the brillian plans. Zahn is good at carrying them out (which in and of itself is a great challenge, given how intricate and difficult to carry out those plans usually are), but perhaps not so much at coming up with them.
The best analogy would perhaps be Thrawn/Pellaeon. Maybe the... unusual... name "Talon Zahn" is actually a nod in this direction, as Talon Karrde, Thrawn, and Pellaeon were all created in the Timothy Zahn novels.
Or, in a BattleTech context, Romano Liao/Tsen Shang (the latter being the Confederation's unsung hero because he, not Romano, kept the show running).
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Wrangler

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #2 on: 29 July 2015, 10:08:33 »
Talon was interesting guy, first leading general who have the rank to back it up.

I honestly didn't know alot bout his back ground outside of the St. Ives-Capellan Wars duology and the minor moments he had in the Jihad Hot Spots books.   Thank you for enlightening me to him, Grey

I may suggest another subject?   Sun-Tzu's left hand (or his old right hand man)  Ion Rush.
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jklantern

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #3 on: 29 July 2015, 14:19:33 »
I'm digging these "Supporting Military Roles" CotW.  I second Ion Rush, and also request some of the notable Kuritan Warlords.

I like the idea that Sun-Tzu's big thing was knowing who to recruit and where to put them.  He recognizes that he is not a military man, so he uses Zahn.  And despite the fact that he knows that he was involved in his mother's assassination, he uses Ion Rush.
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Frabby

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #4 on: 29 July 2015, 15:04:49 »
I like the idea that Sun-Tzu's big thing was knowing who to recruit and where to put them.
Well that basically sums up the novel Highlander Gambit;)
And despite the fact that he knows that he was involved in his mother's assassination, he uses Ion Rush.
I wonder... were we ever told if Sun Tzu actually knew (and not just suspected)? And one step further, if he knew, did he even disapprove?
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Stormlion1

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #5 on: 29 July 2015, 18:15:20 »
Talon struck me as the perfect tool for Sun Tzu to have. A military man that knew his place, was competent, and loyal. And was no Yes Man. He was so far away from what Romano Liao had in her chain of command he was the proverbial breath of fresh air. But he was a behind the lines commander and that made his less interesting I think. Its more fun to read about Patton, than Eisenhower as a comparison.
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #6 on: 29 July 2015, 18:56:17 »
He is Sun-Tzu's right hand, his weapon arm, the hand wielding the boomstick. In a TVTropes word, he's the Dragon.

'
Yes, this is probably the best, most accurate description for him in non-Battletech terms.

But as I said Talon's brilliance is more implied than seen because of his position. The same could be said of Jackson Davion during the Civil War, the key difference there is because Katherine Steiner-Davion was even less militarily inclined than Sun-Tzu and wielded her armed forces like a blunt instrument the few victories the Loyalists had were more commonly attributed directly to Jackson, thus his reputation was, well, more concrete I suppose.

Though I can't remember where I read it I am sure that Sun-Tzu knew Ion Rush was involved in Romano's death, these things are hard to hide from the Mask, but Sun-Tzu, even aside from his own ascension, considered her death necessary and pretty much a foregone conclusion.

To his thinking it showed that Rush was loyal to the Confederation over the Liao family, which Sun-Tzu saw as a very necessary thing in the long term. This was something that could be used to counter Talon Zahn if the military leader ever did become ambitious, but from what I can see despite Sun-Tzu's patronage Zahn was similarly loyal to the Confederation over the Liao family.

jklantern

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #7 on: 29 July 2015, 20:52:52 »
'
To his thinking it showed that Rush was loyal to the Confederation over the Liao family, which Sun-Tzu saw as a very necessary thing in the long term. This was something that could be used to counter Talon Zahn if the military leader ever did become ambitious, but from what I can see despite Sun-Tzu's patronage Zahn was similarly loyal to the Confederation over the Liao family.

Given Sun-Tzu's upbringing and parentage, perhaps there was more than one motive for this.  While I'd argue that Sun-Tzu himself was more loyal to the Confederation than the Liao family, I'm reasonably sure that he was afraid that, perhaps, he'd end up as mad as some of his ancestors.  Maybe, in addition to having these forces as a ready check on each other, perhaps he wanted there to be a ready check on himself, if need be.  If he ever started sliding down too far down the road of insanity, perhaps he wanted a competent framework in place that wouldn't be afraid to take him down and replace him:  there are always plenty of Liao's around, no?
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #8 on: 29 July 2015, 21:38:33 »
Given Sun-Tzu's upbringing and parentage, perhaps there was more than one motive for this.  While I'd argue that Sun-Tzu himself was more loyal to the Confederation than the Liao family, I'm reasonably sure that he was afraid that, perhaps, he'd end up as mad as some of his ancestors.  Maybe, in addition to having these forces as a ready check on each other, perhaps he wanted there to be a ready check on himself, if need be.  If he ever started sliding down too far down the road of insanity, perhaps he wanted a competent framework in place that wouldn't be afraid to take him down and replace him:  there are always plenty of Liao's around, no?

Almost without a doubt, yes, this would have been Sun-Tzu's thinking, and it's paid off well when he was buried in his bunker, Talon took over very well and handed back the power easily when the time came.

And while there are plenty of more Liaos out there it's not really presented as such, not to the degree of Steiners, Davions and Mariks, there are only a few Liaos, including hyphenated ones, floating about in the military, the main place to be seen in this setting. So while there are far more Liaos out there, we're not really aware of them, at least not for succession purposes, making Kali an even greater threat really.

JadedFalcon

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #9 on: 30 July 2015, 01:30:55 »
To me, Talon Zahn always seemed like someone who's ego was wrapped up with his intelligence instead of his ambition. I got the impression he was more interested in being right, and being recognized for it than being angled at power and prestige. I think that's the core motivation that makes him perfect for his role in the Capellan Military. He also gets a nice sidebar in FM: CapCon, which gives more detail on his antics in 3057.

Maybe the... unusual... name "Talon Zahn" is actually a nod in this direction, as Talon Karrde, Thrawn, and Pellaeon were all created in the Timothy Zahn novels.

Funny bit of trivia: in the acknowledgements of Threads of Ambition, Loren Coleman mentions his children - one of which is named Talon.

Karasu

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #10 on: 31 July 2015, 11:34:54 »
I'm digging these "Supporting Military Roles" CotW.  I second Ion Rush, and also request some of the notable Kuritan Warlords.

Could I expand on that with Hassid Ricol?  We've got stories with him as the external antagonist, the internal antagonist and even the protagonist, which is a bit unusual.

jklantern

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #11 on: 31 July 2015, 20:55:01 »
Could I expand on that with Hassid Ricol?  We've got stories with him as the external antagonist, the internal antagonist and even the protagonist, which is a bit unusual.

Wait, really?  How'd I miss that?
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #12 on: 31 July 2015, 21:55:03 »
Karasu might be talking about the time in the Gray Death Trilogy where Ricol, having been the master mind villain, basically backing all their foes, up until that point, wound up working with them towards the common goal of disseminating the Helm Memory Core. If so it's not so much that he went from antagonist to protagonist but to ally.

Frabby

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #13 on: 01 August 2015, 04:47:56 »
He's a point-of-view character or arguably even a protagonist in Black Mist Rising. (If that story can be said to have protagonists.)
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Grey

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #14 on: 01 August 2015, 06:06:20 »
Yeah, given the nature of that series it's difficult to say, you could see him as a protagonist, though it's never explicitly stated it's poorly veiled and deliberately so. A matter of personal opinion I would say.

So I was thinking of doing Zane next, a recent request and one I found surprisingly easy to start, but how do people feel about the Red Duke at this point?

jklantern

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #15 on: 01 August 2015, 08:55:01 »
If you've got Zane going, feel free to knock that one out.  I know he's only a bit character, but as you've demonstrated, bit characters can be really interesting, especially since he's one of the few Nova Cat PoV characters we get.  The Red Duke will still be around after you finish Zane.

(Really, I'll take any Character of the Week article you decide to do, because your take on them is interesting!)
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Karasu

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Re: Character Study of the Week: Talon Zahn
« Reply #16 on: 26 August 2015, 05:16:23 »
Wait, really?  How'd I miss that?

Sorry for the long-delayed answer: I'm thinking about the short story in Shrapnel by Mr Keith.

 

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