Someone asked me for some details of units in Measure of a Hero last week and I realized that it released in July of 2000, making this month its 20th anniversary. So I thought this might be a good time to reflect back on Archer Christifori a little.
This novel was one of the first where I really spent time on the character. Plot driven novels are great in the BattleTech universe, but this one started with the character. In looking at BattleTech at the time, most of the characters were larger than life young people. I thought it would be fun to have a main character that was older, retired. He had served, but was more of a face in the crowd…a quasi-success (he won the Star League Medal of Honor) but otherwise he was a footnote in a history book at best. This was someone that wanted to step away from military life, unlike so many characters in our universe. He was going to be content running his family business. He commanded the Thorin militia but it was more of a part-time commitment.
That was not meant to be. Circumstances, in the form of his sister’s death, compelled him to once more pick up the sword. This was not the same officer that served in the 10th Lyran Guard however. He was filled with a mighty resolve, one that Katherine Steiner-Davion would come to regret.
A lot of fans like Archer and I am pleased. I like to think that he represents us all. We are all living our lives, trying to stay out of trouble (well, not me, but the rest of you) and just doing what we need to get by. Archer is like Dick Winters from Band of Brothers, he wants to go home to a quiet place and settle down. We all like to think that if pressed, we could summon that inner hero, step up to the plate, and be a great leader. That’s a big part of his appeal. Archer is the epitome of what happens when you push the wrong person into action against you, when you make someone take up arms.
The story of Measure of a Hero was an afterthought. I knew I had this idea for a hero, and I wanted him to have the right circumstance to evolve. The backdrop of the FedCom Civil War was a requirement from the Line Manager at the time, so I crafted a tale that would let Archer emerge.
His ‘Mech was one I designed, the Penetrator. I’m still a big fan of that ‘Mech.
Did he have a romantic interest with his XO Katya Chaffee? I really wanted to explore that in some detail. I rarely cover romance in BattleTech and thought it was only natural that he would hook up with her at some point – I just never took the time to dive into that. Besides, it was not central to who his character was.
To me the real antagonist in the story is not Blucher as much as it is Katherine Steiner-Davion. Blucher was a tool. Heroes are defined by their adversaries in many books, and Archer had been wronged by Katherine more than anyone else…the most hated bitch we ever forged into a leader short of The Master. He was less fighting for Victor as he was fighting against Katherine. It was deep and personal.
Archer was supposed to be a one-off character – appearing in one book. Taking two planets was not a big deal overall in the civil war. The problem was the fans loved him and the book sold a shitload of copies. Archer and I became the victims of our own success. The powers that be wanted a follow-up book. So I wrote Call of Duty. I wanted to extend Archer’s character arc in that book. I wanted him to be known for something, other than a military leader. One night I was reading about Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign and thought, “wow, we rarely do things like this in BattleTech. This could be the kind of leader and the kind of war that Archer is known for.”
Yes, I know a number of you will whine that I am a ‘Confederate sympathizer,’ or a ‘Closet-Confederate.’ You are wrong, dead wrong. I am a military historian and recognize great leaders and don’t color my preferences based on what is politically correct at the time. That is sloppy history, cherry-picking the parts you like and book-burning the rest. The comparison of Archer’s campaigns and those of Stonewall Jackson remain legitimate.
In Call of Duty, I got to fictionally introduce a unit I forged, Snord’s Irregulars and Rhonda Snord in particular. That was fun on a bun. It surprised the fans to see the Irregulars in action.
When my next novel assignment came up it was dealing with those pesky Jade Falcons launching an offensive. I was told I needed to use Adam Steiner too. Talk about a challenge. The cartoon series was, well, interesting. I didn’t have to use Archer at all, I was given free-rein to come up with any characters I wanted to. In thinking about Adam’s character though, I thought it would be fun to make him have to work with someone that was fighting on the other side of his cause…which led me to Archer once more. I thought the tension between the two characters and their distinct personalities was fun to play with. Again, it was all about the characters. Adam was headstrong, arrogant, always wanting information for ammunition. Archer was seasoned, cool-thinking. Putting them together made for some fun challenges in writing.
Archer and the Avengers were going to be done after that. There was only one thing I wanted, and that was for him to face down Katherine Steiner-Davion. I didn’t see it as a novel, but I totally played it out in my head. I was asked by BattleCorps to do an Avengers story and saw my opening. I wrote The Longest Road, where Archer is the person that takes Katherine prisoner. Her total indifference towards him was great. For him, it finished his arc as a character. The war was over…he could return home to a quiet place and settle in again, having done his bit for king and country.
Archer died during the Jihad – death by sourcebook. It was idiotic, wiping out characters we had spent years building, with a mere paragraph in a book. It was a disservice to the fan community and an insult to the authors. I dislike the Jihad period for a lot of reasons. When I heard that Archer had been summarily killed without the benefit of a good death scene, well, let’s just say that it tainted my views of certain people. I get it. BattleTech fiction was not a thing during that period. Still, it demonstrated a remarkable lack of respect to just kill off Christifori without so much as asking for some input. He deserved better than he got, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
It is hard to believe that all of this started two decades ago for the fans (I had written the book months before its release obviously). I still have fans reaching out to me about Archer, wondering if I will write more on him. Anything is possible, but I think we have gone as far as we need to with his character. We are approaching a new era, that of the ilClan. That means new characters, new stories, new directions! Archer is a character that is near and dear to me, we are good friends he and I.