The Twilight of the Clans That Almost Was

Exodus Road
This wasn’t how it originally was going to go down.

I’ve told this story before at Gen Con years ago and in my old blog, but I have updated it a little bit.  This is the story of the original first story of the BattleTech book set, Twilight of the Clans.  For people who write novels in a shared universe, or writers in general, this is a story to help you see some of the thought process that went into a big event in the BattleTech universe.

When this idea was first floated up, Sam Lewis told me, “We’re going to take the fight to the Clans and wrap this phase of the universe.”  I have to admit, I was excited.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the Clans, but I felt like we were stagnated with the stories.  Back then, the novels/fiction drove the sourcebooks and products, and without good stories, we were stuck.  A truce, in the BattleTech universe, was akin to death from a novel perspective.

Back in those days fiction drove the universe.  The last few years it has been sourcebooks that have done that, albeit with some fiction provided.  Novels drove the story.  We didn’t have carte blanche to do what we wanted.  Fiction had to fit in an established framework.  Game product was tied to novel releases so that fans could read the story, then fight the battles.  That continued on into the Dark Ages.  I won’t go there right now because the mere mention of it still sets off some readers out there.  I DO have opinions as to what went wrong…but I will hold those for another blog.

The whole Twilight series was going to take us out for 4-5 years of stories and products.  We didn’t start with an end-state other than this was going to be a huge set-back for the Clans at the time, allowing us to focus more on Inner Sphere non-Clan fiction.  The intent was to lay the foundation for the Fed Com civil war.  When the victors came home, surprise!

Prior to the Gen Con BattleTech summit (which were always fun), we were given preliminary assignments.  Somehow I got the first book of the set, kind of the sacrificial lamb role.  My job was to, “pave the way for the Inner Sphere to get to the Clan homeworlds.”  Bill Keith was to follow me with a two book set about the attack.  Mike was to tie the bow on the entire affair with the defeat of the Clans.  At this point, we weren’t sure what that looked like just yet.

The BattleTech summits were really just meals with the authors where we could brainstorm ideas, talk about the next year’s products etc.  I always got a chuckle watching the serving staff bring us our food while we talked about how we could kill Melissa Steiner-Davion.  The staff must have thought we were crazy – but then again, it was Milwaukee and Gen Con…they probably just ignored us.

(Sidebar: My suggestion was to kill Melissa by having someone push her down a flight of stairs on Christmas Eve.  “Why Christmas Eve?” someone asked.  “I don’t know, it just sounds kind of cool.”  Clearly that got rejected.)

When it was my turn, I presented my concept to kick us off.  The original plan I came up with was to hijack a Clan warship and take the information of the route to the homeworlds from their navcomputer.  That was what I drafted at least.  It was no more than three paragraphs at this stage.  There was a ground battle at a spaceport (you had to have some ‘Mech combat after all) then the team would make their way to the ship in orbit, seize her in a furious shipboard battle against Elementals – and the route to the Clan homeworlds would belong to the Inner Sphere.  I called it Exodus Road, the route back along Kerensky’s exodus route. More importantly, I got to play with a warship which was something I always wanted for Christmas but never got.

There were flaws with the idea in terms of a novel.  One was that it was going to lack cool ‘Mech battles which were the mainstay of the novels at the time.  That made everyone, including me, a little nervous.  At the same time it would get us onto a warship which opened up some cool possibilities.

To execute this book I had to map the Clan homeworlds (an honor I might add) and map out the planet that Bill would be attacking.  The map I drew up was originally was for Strana Mechty.  My thinking (and Bill’s at the time) was that we would be hitting that planet for the main assault. It was very cool, getting to not only draw up the map but name all of the Clan homeworlds (with the exception of the Pentagon worlds which we named in the Wolf Clan Sourcebook and Strana Mechty which Mike named.)

Bill came up with a great idea for the attack – one he shared with me and I was allowed to contribute to (albeit in a minor way).  The Inner Sphere fleet would jump on Strana Mechty.   Their target, the Clan’s central genetic repository which was a massive pyramid.  The premise he floated was that the Clans kept all of their genetic material in one secure location, never really fearing an external attack.

The assault would come in several parts.  One DEST team was going to seize Kerensky’s flagship (which held his coffin) orbiting the world and use it to augment the planetary bombardment.  This was my little contribution to all of this – I loved the idea of using the McKenna’s Pride to bombard the Clans.  The rest of the forces would drop on the pyramid and take it.  Holding their precious genes they would force the Clans to submit.  Sure it was blackmail, but it would work…I was sure of it.

But we all know that the Clans would come in – with everything they had, having been caught flat-footed.  The battle would be horrific.  In the end the Inner Sphere would beat the clans (thanks to the bidding system) but the losses would spell the end of the Gray Death Legion (Bill told me that Gray would simply walk off into the jungles, horrified at the level of war he was forced to unleash).  Holding the Clan genes as a bartering chip, they would force the Clans into eventual submission.  “You come at us and your gene pool gets microwaved.”

Bill and I both thought it was awesome.  And to this day, I still think so. I think Bill wanted to have Gray come full circle – he would have recovered the Star League memory core, and seen it used to horrific ends.

Anyway, back at the summit – we bounced the ideas off the other writers.  Sam Lewis and others were concerned about my thought of simply stealing the map of the Exodus Road from a warship.  As I remember it, “Blaine, the Clans wouldn’t be that stupid.”  (Notice that he didn’t say they weren’t stupid in general – just not that stupid.)  I preferred to think of it as arrogance on their part, but ultimately Sam said, “Let’s make it a traitor to the Clans that betrays them.”  Thus the concept of Trent was born in a Hyatt restaurant in Milwaukee.  I remember thinking, “oh boy (sarcasm) a traitor as the lead character in a book.  Yeah, people will bond with that guy – NOT.”  You don’t see a lot of people wanting to read about Benedict Arnold.  There are no Benedict Arnold tee-shirts that kids on campus are wearing.

We were talking a complete rewrite of my proposal, which was frustrating but okay.  That’s how things go if you write in a shared universe.  It made Trent a real challenge as a character, which stretched me as a writer.  How do you take a traitor and make him someone that everyone would be secretly cheering for?  I personally like to think I rose to the occasion.

Mike Stackpole, (if I remember correctly) suggested that we didn’t have to go after all of the Clans, we needed to wipe out one of them.  There was some discussion about which one we should target too – a fairly active debate.  Ultimately the Smoke Jaguars were chosen as the sacrificial lambs of the Clans.  So, my map of Strana Mechty was changed, albeit slightly, to become Huntress – the new target of the assault.

I thought that the Hindu and Indian cultures had gotten short changed in BattleTech, so I consulted with a co-worker who helped me with the naming of the Huntress cities and features.  I guess I was being diverse before diversity was a thing.  For a long time it was the only mapped out Clan homeworld.

Bill’s thinking of the pyramid genetic repository seemed sound to me but there was a lot of debate that the Clans wouldn’t keep their genes in one place.  There was some logic in that – but we were talking the Clans.  Logic alone didn’t work with these folks.  Bill pointed out that going after one Clan didn’t make sense.  The Clans would clamor for a chance to wipe out the Inner Sphere task force even if we did take out one Clan.  Holding their genetic material as hostage seemed to be good way to blunt all of the Clans pouncing on the Inner Spherers.  Politics, it was decided, would leave the Smoke Jaguars isolated and forced to fight alone.  Politics had always been a big part of BattleTech, so we could make it work.  I prefer the sword over the words though.

Dealing with the Nova Cats had to be addressed too since they shared an invasion corridor.  I always felt like we missed an opportunity to do more fighting with them.  Instead they changed sides, more or less, backing the Star League.  I would have enjoyed a whole novel dedicated to fighting the Cats much more.  Yes, it was all true to the nature of their clan, blah, blah, blah.  I would have liked more fighting.

Bill’s invasion obviously had to dramatically change as a result of all of this.  Bill never complained to me but I think he was pretty disappointed.  He had really mapped things out pretty well.  It is hard sometimes to work in a shared universe.  Bear in mind I was still trying to figure out how I could make a Smoke Jaguar turn traitor.  Bill ended up taking a pass on doing the novels.  The Gray Death Legion didn’t die on Strana Mechty – it clung on for several more years.

After the meeting Bryan drew up a detailed proposal for the entire series (which I have and will be releasing in future blogs) which we were supposed to follow. Stress “supposed.” Some changes (some major) were made, all for the better.  Once you get writing books you sometimes come up with better ideas.

Some things originally proposed did get reused, though in different ways.  I loved what we came up with about stealing General Kerensky’s flagship (McKenna’s Pride) and using it to bomb the planet.  So, when I did Betrayal of Ideals (the infamous Wolverine saga) I leveraged the scene and finally got it into print.  That little scene is a private tribute to Bill Keith.   Bill would have done it better, but I thought his idea deserved seeing a day in print.

I have always wondered how things would have played out if we had gone with Bill’s invasion plan.  The end results would have been the same.  Bill had planned some space battles, but the final novels had a lot more of that.  The Eridani Light Horse got more fiction play rather than the Gray Death Legion.

I liked the final product of the Twilight Series with one minor exception, how Trent was dealt with. Mike and I sent some emails back and forth about the scene.  He argued strongly that Victor would never fully like or trust Trent.  I felt that made Victor a little two dimensional.  It also seemed to be callous and disingenuous to Trent who we set up in the first novel.  Trent was a man of honor just like Victor.  In the end, Trent’s demise seemed somehow inappropriate.  What do I know, I just created the character.  I am pleased to say I have found a way to come to peace with Trent and you will all get a chance to enjoy it soon!


12 thoughts on “The Twilight of the Clans That Almost Was

  1. Woah.

    Exodus Road was the first book that got me into Battletech. Hearing that Trent wasn’t even originally part of the plan is blowing my mind.

    Thanks for this blog and I look forward to the rest of the posts in this series!

  2. jprife

    They should have gone with your and Bill’s original ideas, bringing everything full circle with a stunned Grayson Carlisle staggering out into the Strana Mechty wilderness (kinda like Cat Shannon in ‘The Dogs of War’)…I too like it better than what we ultimately got, even though Trent was a great character and you treated him very well. With that said, I always had trouble with the other Clans simply abandoning the Smoke Jaguars and leaving them to their fate, when it was clear that they were next to be attacked and subdued. Would they have really been THAT stupid?

  3. Paul Brown

    Yeah your & Bills’ plan sounded WAAAAY better.
    The end of the Twilight of the Clans series was a farce, because the Clans needed to abandon their own laws in order for the Inner Sphere to win. In the Grand Refusal the clans could have outnumbered their opponents 2 or 3:1 and stomp their faces in yet they fought on even terms and in some cases (see Blood Spirits), in idiotic circumstances. In the end, the people you expect to win won, and the people you expected to lose did so as well, essentially a rote plot, the worst kind.

    What’s worse is that very little changed. The Jaguars disappeared, who cares, and the clans were prevented from attacking which they had not been doing anyway. If instead, their main repository got damaged or destroyed in an assault it would send their society down a new interesting road with new possibilities for stories. Great stories are about raising the stakes, and fighting on even terms, with Victor killing so and so with a sword, is not raising the stakes, it was just going through the motions.

  4. Clay S.

    Happy to hear you’re working on Battletech again!

    In relation to Trent’s fate, I’m curious as to whether or not you have any thoughts about Russou Howell’s ultimate fate–he seems to have been the fall guy for much of the Twilight of the Clans series, and even beyond. He even becomes a bogeyman during the Wars of Reaving!

  5. Jerrin Pryde

    Mr. Pardoe, thank you very much for the fantastic work you (and your feeliw writers) have done to flesh out the BattleTech Universe. Of the hundred plus novels I have read, Twilight of The Clans remains my favorite story. Rather than fill my character count with adulation, let me say this: only yesterday was I thinking about Trent, defeating an Elemental in honorable hand-to-hand combat, with his ending line reflecting his character beautifully. “My codex remains untainted”. Don’t worry, ‘ya done good.

  6. Matthew Holt

    Exodus Road was my first Battletech entry, and I am still a obsessed super fan to this day. You were always my favorite writers in general, and your characters stuck with me more than the “primary” faces of the greater series. Thank you for all the good times sir.

  7. I wasn’t a big fan of the Twilight of the Clans series overall, but I always regarded Exodus Road as not just the best of that series, but one of my favourite Battletech novels full stop. I definitely felt you succeeded in making Trent a compelling and sympathetic character, one reminiscent to me of the likes of Stauffenberg or other German resistance figures. I too was disappointed by his abrupt disposal in Prince of Havoc(?), and am certainly intrigued at hints that he may be touched upon in the near future!

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