Children of Kerensky Blog Post 1: Who are all these people?

Hey, you got muck all over my new ‘Mech!

This is full of spoiler-stuff.  If you haven’t read Children of Kerensky yet, don’t read this.  Or, read it, but don’t bitch about it.  We cool? Also, if you HAVE read the book, please post an online review on Amazon or wherever you bought it.

Ah, where to begin? This book leverages some characters that appear in numerous BattleTech works. To list them all would be folly and in some cases, very self-serving. I want to thank those that went before me and ask your indulgence as we inch closer to a new era.

This is a book about a boy and a girl who share a common dream.  Sure that dream is the conquest of Earth and the formation of a stellar empire that will impact the lives of hundreds of billions of people with war, chaos, turmoil and mayhem. But hey, it’s still a dream. Everyone should have goals. It doesn’t seem like they are asking for much.     

When I began writing BattleTech stories, some 35 years ago, my stories were primarily plot driven, as opposed to character driven. Both have their place in the BattleTech universe. I see myself now, more than at any time, as a character-based writer. Divided We Fall is about fantastic and strong characters. It is short, so character development is limited, but it is a story about the key characters and the ones that are there, pop and sizzle. Forever Faithful has a big plot but it is the story of a handful of Clan warriors – that is its essence. Same with Rock of the Republic. That book reintroduced Devlin Stone as a full-blown character in the universe and gave us a glimpse into Damien Redburn far beyond a snippet of text in a sourcebook. 

Children of Kerensky is all about characters. In this case, the plot is a thin-veil the wraps the characters and keeps them together. This is about how outstanding characters in extraordinary situations.  This story is about two of the greatest warriors of their era and their markedly different styles to striving for the ultimate success – to become the ilClan.     

This story began its life as the first third of the original draft of Hour of the Wolf. At the writer’s summit, we decided to split it off as its own book with some significant modifications and additions. The intent was simple – have Children take us up to the start of Hour of the Wolf, right to the edge, tell the story of the Clans rushing to Terra (at least the ones the reader knows about.)  This book can/should (in my opinion) be read just before you hop into Hour of the Wolf.  It is all about the characters, giving the reader the perspective of the two major Clans Khans and their approach to cracking the nut of Terra. It is the counterbalance to Rock of the Republic which dealt with the Republic perspective of the coming conflict.    

This author’s problem was complicated. Both of these characters have been established in bits and pieces in other novels that remain out of print. Each is not a character that readers are going to easily bond with. They are hard to like.  Alaric is aloof, cocky, sometimes vicious, and at times feeling like he has some plot armor under that uniform (which I had to surgically remove.) And with Katherine Steiner-Davion-Wolf as a mother – well, you feel sorry for him, but don’t want to hang with the guy. Malvina, well, she is vicious, cunning, ruthless, vicious, relentless, vicious and lacks any moral compass. Did I mention vicious?  Even some seasoned BattleTech writers chalk her up as crazy and walk away. I don’t see her as that.  Regardless, as a writer, if I wrote a book from just their perspectives alone, I feared I might turn off readers.   

So their story has to be told through the perspectives of those around them.  In a weird way, you learn a lot about Alaric and Malvina through the other characters that are introduced in this book. Malvina and Alaric are complicated and complex. Also, when the smoke settles, we will be in a new age, the era of the ilClan.  That means we need a suite of new characters for fans to bond with.

Let’s dive into some of the new characters in Children:

To begin, let’s talk Chance Vickers.  Hands-down one of my favorite characters ever. Chance is dedicated to Alaric, committed 100%.  Chance is a true-believer, and they are the most dangerous characters of all.  She is a secret weapon for Alaric to employ.  Devoid of ambition, she is the epitome of the Clan breeding system in some respects.  She is focused on the ultimate prize and what it will take to get there.  What inspired her was General DeChavilier and his relationship with Aleksandr Kerensky.  Alaric needed that.  On his own, as a character, he can be overpowering, so much larger than life.  Chance makes him human.  She asks the questions we all have of him, because she’s the only one that can.  She is one of the few that can challenge him intellectually, but most of that comes from her being inside his head to begin with.   

Her arc of development is big, complicated, and challenging as a writer and I’m sure as a reader. Wait until Hour of the Wolf.  She is based on a number of real people and other characters from other sci-fi series (Honor Harrington). As a person Chance is simple, almost binary in her thinking. Loyalty is what she is about, unwavering devotion to a cause and a man, Alaric.

Underestimate Chance at your own risk. She is as much an architect of the plan to take Terra as Alaric.  Chance is playing to win, all out win. Alaric acknowledges that with her rank and role in the fight that is coming.

Ramiel Bekker.  It ain’t a party unless there’s a Ghost Bear in the house! Woot woot! You cannot ignore the Ghost Bears so I decided to honor them, at least in this book, with the character of the Warbear – Ramiel Bekker. There will be more Ghost Bear hijinks in Hour of the Wolf.   

This idea for Ramiel came from a fan, believe it or not.  I asked for volunteers for their names to be used in the book.  Stephen Peter submitted his name and a callsign “Warbear” to be included in the novel.  I liked the sound of that. Not his name, but the Callsign/nickname.  That got me thinking, how could I incorporate a Ghost Bear into this complex story? The Ghost Bears could not be ignored, they are a persistent bunch with deeply devoted fans. It had to be done in a way to honor the Ghost Bear fans out there, but still be organic to the characters and the story. I loved the concept I arrived at but it took some time to decide who Ramiel Bekker really was as a character. Ramiel is the eternal skeptic…bitter about being ripped from the Ghost Bears. Everyone acts like being a bondsman is a simple transition. Personally I struggle with the concept, as you will see in Hour of the Wolf.  Bekker shows it is heart-wrenching and conflicted. When he comes around you realize just how important Alaric is to Clan Wolf.   

Ramiel is a tactical genius beyond compare.  Putting him in his Trial of Possession against Alaric, a strategic genius, offers some wonderful contrast.  What is better to have, superior strategy or tactics? 

That led me to flesh out his background.  Having him come from Angela Bekker’s gene pool (Roar of Honor) was a nod to the fan community as well. A lot of fans love that book, a few rabidly. Ramiel is a sequel to Angela Bekker. Ramiel has a big role to play in Hour of the Wolf, so a lot of this is foundational character building in this book. Ramiel Bekker is not just a former Ghost Bear, he was their best Ghost Bear. 

Haake Sukhanov. I had always planned on Alaric bringing in a Snow Raven ristar into his fold. I have always felt that the Snow Ravens were short-changed in terms of fiction. Haake’s character was there from the beginning of my thinking, going right back to the first brainstorming session at GenCon in 2017. The Wolves are good, but Alaric knows that to win, you need a dream team of sorts. He does so going far beyond Clan Wolf, which is remarkable all on its own. That separates him from Malvina…she is all about herself.  If you are going to fight in space, get the best of the Snow Ravens to help you do it. Even in his relative youth, Alaric is planning Terra’s conquest. The fact that he does not delude himself into thinking he can do it alone is remarkable when you contrast it against Malvina or Devlin Stone.  Perhaps he did not inherit that from his mother?   

Haake is a great character in that Alaric seduces him with the ultimate temptation – to go to Terra and take it.  Alaric plans on a zero-g fight but is stunned to have to fight Haake in a ‘Mech.  Alaric makes mistakes.  Haake quickly becomes a true believer along with Chance.  He has a great moment or two coming up in Hour that you are going to love. The time for the Snow Raven’s to shine has come, under the auspices of Clan Wolf!  

Paul Moon.  The arc of the Fidelis/Smoke Jaguars is complicated and cool. Paul shares a lot in relatively few words. For folks that read Divided We Fall and Rock of the Republic, you finally get one more vital piece of that story. The time has come for the Smoke Jaguars to prowl the stars once more!  Moon strikes a bargain, one with a heavy price.  Some of his people will remain Fidelis.  Others will start a new road, back to becoming a full Clan again.  Paul Moon as a unique perspective of his people’s place in history and how they got there…betrayed by everyone. He harbors no ill will, which says a great deal about him as a man. Moon tells Alaric all about the defenses of Terra and that Devlin Stone has returned. Moreover, he lays the foundation for the possible return of the Smoke Jaguars. Moon’s saga is coming to an end, as we saw in Surrender Your Dreams.  Sidebar:  No one will give credit to the fact that I got the year right for the downfall of the Republic in Surrender Your Dreams.    

Anastasia Kerensky. As a writer, Anastasia is a hard character to write about. Some of her early appearances, she is erratic and difficult to follow. She mellowed under the pen of KevinKilliany in the Wolf Hunters.  Steven Mohan Jr. and Loren Coleman has his own interpretation of her, as do other authors. Some of these characterizations conflict. I’m not criticizing the other authors, but the most consistent thing about her is that she is one of the best warriors of this generation. 

So, how did I handle her as a character? I took the best of all of these great writers and carved out my own path with her.  Anastasia is core to some of the best scenes in his book.  Her and Chance at the spaceport, and her getting her orders from Alaric. Both know Alaric differently.  Anastasia tries to punch Chance’s buttons and succeeds.  Was that wise?  

My underlying thought was simple:  When you have a precision instrument of war, you need to use her just right.  Anastasia is not a blunt object.  And we see in this book, she has a mission of her own that is as important as Marotta Kerensky’s…going to attempt to lure back the Wolves in Exile…or what is left of them. 

Spurlock Conners. The Watch never gets the light of day in fiction. Alaric uses his intelligence service in a way that no other Clansman has done before. He wages a war of counterintelligence. Alaric manipulates his enemies, feeds them misinformation.  Compare that to Malvina who uses it to spy on her own people.  We all love good spy commanders, and Spurlock is a great.  He will move and operate in ways that no one can anticipate. 

Garner Kerensky.  So, here’s the deal.  Prior to this novel, Garner just ups and disappears in a sourcebook, with Anastasia taking his place. No explanation – just sourcebook speculation.  I hate that shit sometimes in our universe. So I decided not to have him die off, but go on a secret mission. That was the plan from day one.  I came up with the idea for the plan in 2017 – he was going after the McKenna’s Pride and General Kerensky. Then I was told the Pride was still in the homeworlds.  So, I said, “Let’s go get it!”  That became Icons of War, which dovetails into this story.      

Garner as a character is a lot of fun.  He’s older that Alaric.  He’s old school Clan Wolf, while Alaric is more hip and groovy.  Garner is not quite that old guy, yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, but you could see that in his future. What I like about Garner is that he wants to win the battle for Terra and is willing to change how he thinks to achieve that goal.   

Stephanie Chistu. If you want to understand the dichotomy of the Jade Falcons, you need to look at Chistu and Malvina. Malvina hates Stephanie because Stephanie refuses to drink from the Mongol Doctrine ceremonial beer mug.  Stephanie understands her precarious position but dances on the fine edge of that blade perfectly. Chistu dances to her own tune. She knows just how far she can press Malvina – which is remarkable on its own.

Alaric reaching out to her – and then providing her with the way to penetrate Fortress Republic is fun on a bun.  Alaric wants to get inside the head of Malvina and does so masterfully. He pits Malvina against one of her best Galaxy Commanders with nothing more than a short conversation. She gives us a great view into Malvina Hazen that is the most accurate of all.  

Khalus Pryde.  A strong Pryde character is needed…hell, required. During the summit where we changed the original cut of this book, Loren insisted on a neat Pryde character that would be in the Jade Falcons.  Like Stephanie Chistu, Khalus is that character and so much more.  He has far too much of Aiden Pryde in him, and against Malvina, that is dangerous.  He walks a risky path, just like Stephanie, but a different one. Where Stephanie weighs political implications, he does not. His arc is fascinating as well, though less-so in this book. 

The McKenna’s Pride.  Believe it or not, ships are characters.  Look at Star Trek and the USS Enterprise.  Garner brought back the McKenna’s Pride and General Aleksandr Kerensky.  That is a glorious quest worthy of any Clan character and certainly a saKhan.  We don’t see much of that ship in this story, but her mere presence is as important as any human character.  The Pride is a precious icon as most major battleships are (Examples:  HMS Victory, the USS New Jersey).  It has played a part in the BattleTech universe for a long time. The last time I used the ship was in Betrayal of Ideals.  Craig Reed’s excellent book dives deeper into how that ship came back. Trust me, the old girl as a few tricks up her skirt still.

Given the wealth of stuff written about Alaric and Malvina, you might think it hard to bring up these characters in the past.  After all, we have never heard of Chance, Haake, or Ramiel before this book.  It is not retcon. It is new information. They were there the whole time, working on a secret invasion plan.  You never heard of them before because they didn’t factor in the preceding novels. Alaric, in particular, has been planning this his entire life…just in secret. He is not your typical Clan leader, especially given his DNA. We needed some outstanding characters for the new era too, so introducing them now was important. All I have done is fill in the space between the lines, played in the areas that were not covered elsewhere. 

In my next blog post, I will explore a few of the things you may have missed. Stay tuned!  Post your comments.     

New Update October 2020 – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction

I find this so damn funny.

We are inching closer on the ‘main event,’ Hour of the Wolf.  This list includes the updated people included in the fiction for Children of Kerensky. Many of those that appear in Rock, Divided, and Children will reunite in Hour of the Wolf.  Well, the ones that survive.  It ain’t easy getting to Terra.

Also popping this week was the Kickstarter which included the Bonds of Battle.  This continued the story started during the Kickstarter with Rules of Engagement. The final segment of that story has been written and will appear…soon!

There’s a staggering number of names involved with all of this and it has almost caused me an aneurism on more than one occasion. The character arcs, storylines, and other stuff is a massive thing to track. There are days I regret doing this service to the fan community, but they are few and far between. So while I bitch, piss, and moan – it is only because I like doing that.

I usually don’t put out fan names for stuff unless it has cleared edit. So don’t ask.  Some characters end up on the cutting room floor. 

So, here is the updated list:

Children of Kerensky

David Abzug

Agustin Sierio Barj

Elmer Lee Bechdoldt

Dennis Busse, for Kerek

Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq. (Yo Tex!)

Michael “Brent-Killer” Ciaravella

Xander Cosgrave

Olaf Dittmar

David “Dunny” Dunlap

James Doughty, for TacShadow

Adolfo Fernandez

Jason Gambrel

Adam Grimm

Oliver Haake

Claire Harpham

Hannes Hinterberger

Michael Hofacker

Jerry Hornick

Spencer Huff, for Khalus Pryde

Rylan Thane Ingram

Franz Jelinek

Ka’u Johnston-Kitazawa

Artem Kostyukov

Josh Koziura

Jean-Jacques Labbé

James Lee, for Jamie Hazen

Larry Leslie II

Kevin Markley

Marco Mazzoni

Tackett McClenny

Thomas “Dreacon” Miller

Todd More, for (Mike) Wallace

Shane Overstreet

Stephen Parac

Stephan “Warbear” Peter

Juergen Schneidemesser

Rowland Seckinger III

Jeremy Spurlock

Rob Watkins

Sharizal Zarie

The Bonds of Battle

Star Commander Cymril Tseng, Clan Ghost Bear

Adam Bear, (Kaningamu), contributed by Gregory Adam Cunningham, formerly of the Draconis Combine, now bondsman to Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

William James Hamblin, Chu-i Biru Hamblin of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Ayden Ryken, of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Carrie Shumar, of the Draconis Combine

Sho-ko Mateo Vaux, of the Draconis Combine

Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior

Kashira Jack ‘Reverend’ Benner, Sonkei-suru Benner of the Draconis Combine

Rock of the Republic

Eric Kraaier

Jean-Jacques Labbé

Ed Miller

Stanislav Shimuk

Travis Sumpter

Jakapan Thunpithayakul

Jonathan Warrington

The Flames of Idlewind (Shrapnel #1)

Marc de Villasante Lahoz

Euan James

Ronald Ledwon

Daniel Leskov

Matthias Pfaff

Benjamin Tang

Divided We Fall

Michael Barber

Timothy Byrne

Felipe Cintron

John “Doc” Crouch

Tony Deegan

Jared Donner

Wes Frenz

Jürgen Frey

John Gaisano III

Ed Hatchel

Matthew Hinks

Hannes Hinterberger

Robert BJ Horncastle

Cal Hornstien

Garry Jackson

Alex Kaempen

Kristopher Tyson Koniczek

Andrew Krull

Wayne Ledbetter

Brianne Elizabeth Lyons

Joseph McEachern

Joshua McHugh

Roderick van Noorloos

William C. Pelcham

Lon Porter

Corey Riordan

Nicholas Roche

Andrew Roy

Patrick J. Saul

Sebastian Schröder

Kevin Seibert

Richard Skelton

Andrew Sternglass

Jason Tuttle

Matt Valgardson

Derek Weese

Jason Weiser

Scott Whyte

The Anvil

Moses Obadiah

Nicholas Tockert

David DiFranco

Eric Belcher

Clifford McKinney

Jeff Sockwell

Daryl Noonan

Jonathon Scott Schofield

Cord Awtry

Ryan James Broadhead

Ben Myers

Troy Lee Cowell

Krzysztof Krecislaw

Chad Parish

Jack Lafreniere

Joshua Bressel

Marcus Odekirk

Robert Ostrowski

Mark Havener

George Tholburn

Erik Helgeson

Winter Guite

Jukka-Emil Vanaja

Christopher Turco

Juan Ochoa Jr.

Steven Molen

Broccán Mac Rónáin

Kenyon Burguess

Dave Alsager

Forever Faithful

Benjamin Starkey

Av Paredes

Adam Mckern

Brian Blaney

Trixter Phillips

Alexander JW De Santis

Jamie Rife

Brandon Fisher

Andrew Gardenhire

Todd Farnholtz

Clint Woodall

Clifford McKinney

Adam Thompson

Ray Arrista

James McHenry

Patrick Finnegan

Oliver Kraft

Camille Klein

Shane Jaskowiak

Shawn Bruno

Colin Duffy

James Eyers Mclean Miller

Nathan Pelchat

Josh Ellis

Craig Gulledge

Peter Farland

Eric Eny

James Bixby

Thomas Lagemann

Craig Reed

Mike Lubowitzki

Devin Ramsey

Dustin Ballard

‎Jose Alvarez‎

Aaron Gregory

Bradley Proffitt

Dean Manning

Brian Chiasson

David Shell

Keegan Reid

Sam Snell

Alex Clarke

Redemption and Malice

Derek King

Gerry S. Xydis

Jack Halloran

Rules of Engagement – Released for the Kickstarter

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

Wolf’s Dragoons – Examples of the Use of the Word Unity

I really just wrote this up as a chance to show off my new dice puck for Wolf’s Dragoons
Sweet metal dice of doom!

As we approach the era of the ilClan, I thought I’d share a funny little primer I made.  In writing about Wolf’s Dragoons in Divided We Fall, I researched the word ‘unity’ that the Dragoons toss around so casually.  So, for grins, here are the accepted contexts and meanings of the word in use in fiction (totally unauthorized and non-canon):

Dismay                                             For Unity’s sake! 
Curse                                UNITY!
Death of an enemy                                                  Uni-ity!  (read with a little sing-song – ask the guys on WolfNet Radio)
Threat                                                                        We are going to get all-unity on this guys ass. 
Family/Team                                                             Seyla!  Unity!
Acknowledgement of desperate plight                Unity.  Yeah, you bet your ass unity. 
WarningLet’s open a can of unity on these guys.
ExhaustionTired?  Me too.  Unity…
Preparing to rush into battleI’m about to shove a lot of unity down this guy’s throat!
We’re screwedOh – Unity!
Dealing with an idiotThis guy doesn’t get unity. 
Ordering another beerAnother round down here…Unity!!
ConfusionWhat the unity is going on here?
AgreementYou bet your ass unity!
StressWhat in the unity is going on here?
OutsidersYou don’t get unity.  That’s a Dragoon thing.
Let’s kill these guysUNITY!!!
Misuse of the word unityYou don’t know unity the way I know unity. 

Non-Spoiler Review of Icons of War – By Craig A. Reed Jr.

Pew Pew Pew! You missed me, you missed me!

I was honored to have read several drafts of this book and am excited for its release. Icons of War is a book primarily set in the Wars of Reaving, a series of events that has not had a lot of fiction coverage for BattleTech fans. It has made me like the Wars of Reaving much more than I used to. To be honest, I tuned out at Clan Stone Lion.

The story covers a LONG period of time. Craig Reed is emerging as a pretty damn good BattleTech author, and this book cements it. His characters are solid, which is something I really focus on. I think he did a good job of weaving in the myriad of events taking place during the Wars of Reaving without letting that stuff bog down his story. Things like that are tricky in our universe. Some authors struggle with it, Reed does not.

As you can see by the cover, this isn’t your usual fare. This has space and ground battles. And not just a space battle, a VERY cool space battle with a true BattleTech icon. I’m a big believer that certain ships are more than their tonnage and firepower. They are characters themselves. HMS Victory and the USS New Jersey are good examples. Ever watch Star Trek? Duh. The USS Enterprise is a character every bit as much as Captain Kirk. Remember when they blew it up, it hurt like hell.

BattleTech fans have one such ship – McKenna’s Pride. Craig puts his hands on a vessel I got to once, and took the helm like a seasoned author. Space battles are hard to write, but he does so with grace and skill.

This is not retcon, this tells a story that has never been told before.

The ending of this book is fantastic. I won’t ruin it for you, but it is my favorite part of the story. Five out of five stars, easily. Lots of action, a dollop of politics, and space battles…how can you resist?

Terrible Swift Sword – A Game of Summer’s Past

When I was in high school-ish, my first wargame experience was Panzer Blitz followed by Tactics II and Blitzkrieg.  They were great games, especially Panzer Blitz.  The geomorphic maps were a neat concept.  All wargamers have fond memories of those early games they were exposed to.  There was a simplicity that made them playable and fun.  Nothing was as great as pulling off a victory condition in the last turn, let’s face it.  Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat was always a thrill and still is.   

It was struggle to find gamers in an era before the internet.  I found a note at our hobby store about a summer-long game of Terrible Swift Sword.  I had a few issues of Strategy & Tactics, and loved reading their ads about their games – so I knew this one…Gettysburg.  I called the guy running it, whose name I have long forgotten, and went. 

A couple of guys set it up on a ping-pong table and we played every Saturday for two months – hours at a time.  Everyone wanted to play the Confederates, so I got stuck playing the Union (Sickles Corps).  As a side note – someone could earn a PhD studying why gamers pick Confederates and Germany so often in games.  I guess it is that chance to reverse history and everyone loves an underdog.  There were five or six of us playing. We did a thing where the guy playing Meade would hand-write out orders for us, just for a sense of realism.  Of course, being gamers, and me playing Dan Sickles, I took a lot of leeway with those written orders.  I think they stuck me with Sickles out of the thought that, being the youngest guy there, I couldn’t possibly be as stupid as he was in real life. 

I remember that game well.  It was intense and everyone was playing for keeps.  Holding the Devil’s Den was not nearly as costly as trying to take it…I grew to understand how thin your lines can get and why that is bad. The Confederates pushed hard on Day Two and managed to get a foothold on the Union’s high ground, cutting us in two for an hour or two.  It was costly for both sides. 

Every move had risks associated with it.  Every hex could be the one that spelled the difference between retreat and victory.  Those were not cardboard counters taking losses, those were my men.  When the artillery opened up, if the rolls were right, the ranks of infantry were mowed down.  Even opting to do nothing came with consequences.  Gaming is like that, a delightful cocktail of decisions, fate, and destiny.  All throughout the week, between sessions, I contemplated my next moves – thought out the tactics I would employ.  

We are building a house and my game collection is in storage until we move in.  I have a flat box edition of the game but haven’t played it in years.  I was thinking about it in the last few days, breaking it out and setting it up for another run.  I find myself longing for those games of yesteryear and those moments of glory when you outdid the real men on the field of battle. 

I’m sure all of us have similar memories from that period. I will never forget playing that game and how stressful and fun it was at the same time. 

Review of: Honor’s Gauntlet by Bryan Young

A Jade Falcon novel?  Count me in.  I’m not weighing in on their current political slant. I’m looking at this for story potential. No matter how you cut it, the Falcons are ripe for stories given that their leader is bent on victory above all else and sees terror as a ‘soft and cuddly’ way to keep people in-line.  It opens the doors for a lot of great stories about those that follow Malvina Hazen, and those that don’t. 

This is the latter.

It is the story of Archer Pryde, who is not a believer of the Mongol Doctrine.  I won’t ruin the story for you, but a lot of the conflict is him against his enemies and his own leadership.  That alone makes for a good foundation for a character and story.

I liked the story.  It was respectful of the events in The Anvil and other Dark Ages material.  With new authors in the universe, I look to that carefully.  The canon-road is a difficult one to walk.  Archer has a fairly narrow arc for development, which is just fine.  Personally, I think it would have been cool to see an arc for Archer’s commander as well.  We really haven’t gotten a look at how warriors mentally justify some of the war crimes of the Chinngis Khan.  I think that would have been a neat counterpoint to Archer’s journey…but then again, that’s just me and my taste. 

This is not a story of sweeping changes in the universe, but does give us a glimpse into Jade Falcon occupation that frankly, we rarely see. Overall, I enjoyed the story.  It ends on a quasi-cliffhanger.  I recommend reading this story in the coming months…hint, hint.   

Review BattleTech Novel: Grey Watch Protocol by Michael J. Ciaravella

The Northwind Highlanders laddie!

In fairness, my editor gave me a copy of this book upon request but did not ask for a review or attempt to slant my opinion. He knows not to ask for a good review just for the sake of it.

Mike Stackpole first introduced us to the Northwind Highlanders in his Warrior trilogy, with just a few paragraphs really.  I got the write the first two Highlander novels, Highlander Gambit and Impetus of War.  There were some Dark Ages novels as well, but I felt the authors really missed the mark with them as a unit.  As such, I approached this novel with a bit of trepidation.  I was a little surprised that no one asked me to at least read through the manuscript before it went to edit.  But hey, my little ego was a small price to pay.

I knew the story from Shattered Fortress going into this book.  In fact, I indirectly contributed to this novel.  When Phil was writing Shattered Fortress we talked about the unit, and I offered the name, “Grey Watch.”  I also asked one favor, make a Jaffray command it.

This weekend I read the book and I have to say, ‘Kudos’ to Michael Ciaravella.  I think he did something that other authors failed in the Dark Ages, he captured the essence of the Northwind Highlanders.  He expanded on the original story in Shattered Fortress, and did so in a positive way (I won’t ruin it for you.) 

House Liao is coming at Northwind, after the HPG.  The Highlanders, torn and a wee bit bitter about their relationship with the Republic of the Sphere, are not so willing to turn it over.  Out of that comes a mysterious new unit, filled with 3025 awesomeness – the Grey Watch. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, part I of the Highlander Covenant.  The characters are fairly solid.  Most importantly, for me, I felt he was respectful of the work others of us have done on this storied unit.  Plunkett having a bar named after him was heartwarming for me.  The author did his research.  He had to deal with the baggage of the Steel Wolves from the Dark Ages and did so quickly and painlessly, without making us rehash some complicated storylines. 

My only complaint – this book leaves you on a cliffhanger.  I would have preferred to get it all as one big thick book rather than two parts.  That’s just me. 

So, completely biased, I give this five out of five stars.  Now wrap up this story so we can haul ass to Terra!

The End of My Saga with Minuteman Miniatures (Miniature You)

 

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Me as a miniature…at long last! 

Per my blog post from October of 2019, I had some serious issues with this company.  I ordered three minis for my son, grandson and myself on December 28, 2018.  It was supposed to take 6-8 weeks.  They did not respond to emails – a LOT of emails.  So I put up a blog post blasting them:  My original rant on this company

Part of the benefits of being retired is that you have time to follow-up.  My plan was to sue them in small claims court here in Virginia then have some fun pursuing the actual cash.  I continued to email them every so often, none of which were replied to.  Three weeks ago, I Googled them and my blog post was one of the top entries for the company.

So I emailed them again.  Essentially I told them about the bad publicity and that the only way that post was ever coming down was if they gave me a refund or delivered.  Again, no response.

Then this week, a box arrived.  It was sent to our old address, we had moved, but I was about to reroute it with UPS so it was cool.

I have to admit, I was skeptical.  So I opened the box and was surprised.

I had ordered three minis, one of each of us.  I got one of my son and grandson, and three poses of me.  Also, they gave us doubles of each one, which was very sweet.  It is worth noting that my son’s and grandson’s figures were not quite the ones we ordered, but close enough.

The quality is VERY good.  The plastic reminds me of Reaper’s Bones, though these are clearly 3D printed.  The faces, which we had scanned in 2018 at GenCon were dead-on accurate – what they said they would deliver, they did. Of course it took them 581 days to do it!

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My grandson

 

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My son – A Jedi Master

So, ultimately, would I order from these guys again?  No.  Look, if they had responded to any of my emails over the year and a half I might feel differently.  I get the impression that they only replied to be because of my previous blog post.  I will take it down…in 581 days. I have actually put it on my calendar.  That is the level of douchebaggery I am capable of.

For those of you out there who replied to me off-line saying you were waiting, don’t give up hope.  They seem to have our files and are producing miniatures still.  Be persistent and annoying with these guys. Follow-up and pester them.  They are not a complete rip-off, they can and do deliver.  They simply suck at customer service and any hope of meeting a delivery commitment. In my case, they over-delivered.  I don’t know if that was to simply shut me up, or if this is their policy to attempt to make amends.  I hope it is the latter.

CLASH – The Unofficial and Completely Unsanctioned 2020 Presidential Debate Drinking Game – Up On Kickstarter

CLICK HERE to go to CLASH on Kickstarter

Clash

A few years ago my good friend Brent Evans (of Catalyst Game Labs) reached out to me about joining him at a little startup company he wanted to get going – Creative Juggernaut.  Brent and I spent a lot of time talking and realized that we had a pretty cool vision for what a company could do.  We didn’t just want to produce games, we wanted to build IP’s (Intellectual Properties) that spanned RPG’s, tabletop games, comics, fiction, animation, film – the whole shooting match. We are not competing with CGL, we are on very friendly terms with them.  It is all good in the ‘hood.

Just so there’s no confusion, Shock Monkey Games is our games division.  It’s all part of the Creative Juggernaut uber-corp.

So, we started work on a massive project, working late hours and weekends.  It is called Land & Sea.  Along the way, we came up with some cool one-off games as well.  The first of those was Clash, which was a drinking card game for the 2016 election.

We released it just before the first debates and Eric Crew, who is on our team, had copies made for us to share with friends and family.  The response was pretty positive.

Work on Land & Sea continues…the first three massive novels are DONE and we will be Kickstarting those pretty soon. There’s a LOT going on there, including some fantastic miniatures that will be made right here in the USA.

I proposed that we update Clash for the 2020 Presidential Election.  If there was ever a year I wanted to get drunk watching television, it is 2020!  So we did.  We updated the rules, the cards, and decided to launch it as a Kickstarter.

It funded in the first 11 minutes.  Bear in mind we set the bar pretty low because we have already gotten the production work lined up.  After all, the game is done, tested, laid out, ready to rock.  All we need to do is provision it and we are doing that with DriveThruCards.  Our goal is to deliver it a week or two before the first debate.

I know there are a lot of rumors that the debates might not happen, but Clash can be used watching any of the news channels.  Just turn on CNN or Fox News for an hour and start playing – you’ll be hammered by the second commercial break.

The game doesn’t have to be a drinking game.  It can be played just for grins or for pennies or M&M’s.  It DOES force you to pay attention as to what is being said.  In this year in terms of politics, that is going to be a big deal.  Also, we poke fun at both sides of this contest.  We are equal opportunity abusers. With these candidates there is plenty of material to work with.

So, I hope you will join us in the launch of Clash 2020.  Feel free to share this with your networks as well.

The Behind the Scenes Story of Rock of the Republic

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 KerenskyIcons of War will pop around that time…then the big enchilada – Hour of the Wolf. You’ll love Icons by Craig Reed.