The Devlin Stone you thought you’d get, and what the reality is. “Welcome to the Rock!”
Before I dive deep into this novella – allow me to say that these books are group efforts. I like to think I’m a decent writer with good ideas. My editor, John Helfers, makes me better. I believe John and I make a good team. There are other people like Phil Lee who offer useful insight and input to the process. Together, we create a story with solid character that is impactful. So as much as praise is thrown to me as the author, there is a team behind the scenes that is immensely important and helpful.
After the super-secret writer’s summit in September of 2019, we decided to break up the big book of the ilClan into parts. The original intent was to have a storyline that was already in the ilClan novel kind of stand on its own, then the big battle. My esteemed editor John Helfers reached out to me and said, “Hey, we ought to do another story before all of this, showing the Republic getting ready for all of its uninvited guests. Are you interested?”
“Hell yeah!” Actually I used the F word here. You get the idea.
Now, let’s be clear about a few things, the Republic of the Sphere is a tricky faction to write about. It is a faction that has been getting its butt kicked and kicked hard for years. The Republic was supposed to bring about peace – in a game that has the name ‘Battle’ in its title, go figure. Pacification led to the Industrial ‘Mechs and while that offered a new definition of “getting drilled,” it otherwise suffered the slings and arrows of the grognard’s of the fan community. Even to this day, some fans still can’t get passed the WizKids Clix-Mech stuff without trying to start some sort of fight. Let it go people – it brought in a lot of new players! The Dark Ages, which ushered in the Republic, was hard for seasoned fans to enjoy because there were new factions, a lot of missing characters and units, and a bitter post-Jihad aftertaste left in their collective mouths. The early years of fiction were a mixed lot. Toss in the Magic Space Shield (Fortress Republic) and you get a faction that is more tolerated than loved. That makes writing about them tricky.
Still, there are die hard Republic fans out there so you have to be very respectful of their faction. The Republic has been the Inner Sphere’s punching bag for some time in the Dark Ages, and sometimes people confuse being a victim with being a hero. Personally, I like a good underdog as much as the next person. I wanted to avoid all of that craziness with this novella. At the same time everyone needs to realize that the Republic is a more than credible threat to the aggressors that are on its doorsteps. After all, it is led by Devlin Stone, arguably one of the greatest military strategists of his time. Don’t believe me? Ask the Word of Blake. Oh wait, you can’t! See?
So I started with a simple question – what parts of the Republic do I like as a writer? Knights Errant—check. The Fidelis – double-check. The secrets of the Republic we’ve never shared – check. Give the readers a glimpse at Devlin Stone – check.
In going over Shattered Fortress I saw a story that intrigued me – that of the Remnant and Damien Redburn. It had some interesting possibilities and it had the Fidelis. That served as the backdrop of the plot I would write, but there is a LOT crammed in this tale. It goes far beyond the Remnant and Redburn. This is the story of the Republic preparing to face a coming threat. Rarely in BattleTech do the characters know such a huge battle is looming.
There was a single rewrite of this material and perhaps the biggest thing we (Editor John and me) struggled with was Damien’s character. I initially leaned more for an Apocalypse Now kind of person, let to fend for himself, frustrated and angry, whacked. We settled for something a little more subtle. He’s not entirely crazy, but damned close to it at times. Anger consumes him. He has been abandoned outside of the Fortress walls, left to fend for himself. He’s had some luck, but such isolation, on top of watching your dreams be crushed, well, that hurts. Redburn is not insane, but he is someone pushed to the breaking point, where his decision making is clouded, and that is a cool place to start with a character.
Also, there was some stuff in the sourcebook that, as we discussed it, really didn’t make sense – so we were going to need to explain it or justify it. Example: Why would Redburn fire on Jonah Levin? There had to be a reason, a justification. We did what writers and editors do, we argued, talked things through, brainstormed, and compromised. The result – I understand Damien Redburn well now – and I hope you will too. His role in future events are interesting and fitting. In the end, his character, I hope, is quasi-sympathetic. We have all been pushed too far at some point – been stressed out to the point where rational thought is paper-thin.
John had me rewrite the ending. I had it with Damien having a mental breakdown when he faces Stone. My thought was break him down completely so he could be built up again as a new man. John’s idea was better, as much as I hate to admit it. Have him angry at Stone, pissed off. I ended up liking that idea better because it would reflect what the readers were feeling. It was all about the characters.
This is not a story about sympathetic characters though.
That leaves us to talk about Devlin Stone. Amazingly not a lot about Stone as a character has been written fiction-wise. It is hard to believe that someone so pivotal in the BattleTech universe has gotten relatively little air-time. For me, that left a lot of open ground for me to determine his true personality.
It was VERY tempting to make him lovable, endearing, a Victor-like character that fans would get cuddly with. That didn’t feel right, not at all. The more John and I spoke about him, the more I realized he needed to be more human – egotistical and arrogant.
Stone, as a character, always has a plot or two in play; that is the basis of who he is. He’s a lot like Littlefinger in some respects, just older and more wrinkly. His plots have plots. He sees himself as a master schemer – my wording here is careful – wink, wink. You, as the reader, want to like Stone, you want to back his horse in the coming contest, but there is an arrogance about him that makes that difficult. I played off of that. I didn’t give you the leader you wanted, I gave you the leader you deserved.
In many respects, Stone’s thinking is what the Republic needs and has been lacking; strategic plans for the coming storm. Stone is proud of his deviousness, even when it goes to shit. You will get a taste of that in this story – the HPG outage, Fortress Republic, etc. If you read between the lines you will understand what has transpired. That is balanced by the fact that Stone is, in some respects, the best Inner Sphere defense against Clan Jade Falcon and what Malvina represents.
So you, as a reader, are a little torn with him – hating the egotism, but secretly hoping he crushes the invading armies. Just when you think you can cope with that, you come to realize that the Republic doesn’t exactly have clean hands in all of this and much of that blood is on his palms. You want to like Stone, but there’s a lot there that makes that hard to do. That is what makes him an interesting character, in my opinion. Embrace the suck.
I know some folks are not going to like Stone. They will loathe his ego. Well, you don’t pull off the defeat of the Word of Blake without having a big ego. He DOES see the Republic as his personal plaything. He did create it. He did bring about peace in the Inner Sphere. He has good reasons for having an ego.
This book is not about a story as much as it is about characters. These are not cardboard people. They are people, and in many cases, they are flawed individuals. There’s a lot of complexity in this story. Tucker Harwell, who I created, is a good example. Harwell is the antithesis of Stone, his foil, one of the few people that is even willing to challenge him. He says the things that the readers have in their minds. Tucker is not devout, he hasn’t consumed Stone’s patented brand of KoolAid. He sees him for who he really is. Tucker’s life has been defined by betrayals. It isn’t enough to be a Wesley Crusher-esque character. He has a long character arc that goes far beyond this short novel.
Some of the Republic’s secrets are exposed or, at least, confirmed. Of course, for every one closed, more questions arise. That’s how the real-world works.
Make no mistake about it, this story is the Republic’s prelude to the ilClan novel, Hour of the Wolf (HotW). It sets the table for the Republic, the defense of Terra, etc. If I were you, I would not write them off too quickly. They have had years behind the Fortress walls to prepare for what is coming – be in Capellan, Wolf, or Jade Falcon. They have had 15 years behind Fortress Republic to arm, build new units, create defenses, even build new technologies. They have the Superheavy BattleMechs. Many units are fanatics and nothing can be more dangerous than a true believer in a BattleMech. The main event is looming, the storm clouds are rolling in. Fans should want the Republic to win, especially against the Jade Falcons. I mean seriously, Malvina is cunning, ruthless, and wantonly reckless. Worse than that, Malvina wins, she is victorious all of the time leading up to this. If she wins the fight for Terra, well…it’s game over-ish. Which, in my opinion, could lead to some fantastic stories.
Onto the Fidelis. Yes, we will see the Custos in action again, but with some background behind what transpires in Shattered Fortress. This short novella will tell you more about the character of Paul Moon, the man. It is weird that when you read Shattered Fortress, some of the showdown where he fights just lacks the motivation for his character to do the actions, which I get to address. Much like The Anvil; what you read in the sourcebook is just the Cliff Notes version of what actually went down. The Custos and the Fidelis are surprisingly simple people whose arc is inspiring by the end of HotW. The Fidelis are cool and you will get some hints of what is to come in the next prequel novel. I have seen a lot of rumors and theories about their role. Trust me, it is awesome and unexpected.
So what is my favorite scene? It is Paul Moon in the jail talking to the prisoners. Laurentis talking with Synd is a great conversation but Moon talking to both of them is great. The Custos has a quirky sense of humor that sneaks in now and then. I also love the scenes with Tucker Harwell and Stone, especially about the HPG blackout. Tucker learns the truth and Stone explains to him that there’s not a lot he can do with it. There’s a lot you can get out of those scenes.
There are a LOT of Easter Eggs here too. One being the return to Lady Synd from Surrender Your Dreams. She has a neat character arc that goes beyond this novella into HotW as well. Surrender was an important book on a lot of fronts and going back to it was critical. Synd is more cynical in Rock of the Republic. She has seen some shit go down. She has seen the Republic at its best and worst. She is like Redburn but more stable, more in-control. Her scene at the end of all of this is fun.
Other Easter Eggs are pretty hidden…good luck in finding them. The biggest one is at the very end of Rock. You get the title for the next novella, a long one, The Children of Kerensky. Other Easter Eggs are pretty well buried.
In some respects, the stage is set for the Republic at the end of this story. There is a tension as invading armies – Cappie, Wolf, and Green Birdie, all eye the Republic as a fresh carcass to fight over. The Republic is defiant, led by a brilliant leader. The Wall is still up…but how long can it hold?
About the length. It is a novella. I have had some fans say, “Make those short novels full novel-size.” No. They are as long as they need to be, no more or less. I’m not going to take a story and extend it, fill it with worthless fluff, just so you can get a thicker product. That’s stupid. Worse, it’s bad story telling. Adding in characters and subplots just for a weightier book is wrong. Deal with some reality…some stories are long, some are short. I don’t focus on the word count or page length, I focus on the characters as the story I’m telling. If you want more, buy two copies. So while this clocks in at around 31k words, Children came in around 55k, just around 10k from the old ROC novel lengths. As I am fond of telling my wife, size doesn’t matter.
After this, as far as stuff I have written, comes Children of Kerensky. Icons of War will pop around that time…then the big enchilada – Hour of the Wolf. You’ll love Icons by Craig Reed.