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!
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.
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, TheChildren 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.
I have been getting this question a LOT since Rock of the Republic released: “What should I be reading to lead up to Hour of the Wolf? Suddenly I became everyone’s librarian. I get it, I write stuff, so I should have this at my fingertips right? No. It doesn’t work that way.
So, this is my list. It is not official because I am not official. I took time out of my busy writing schedule to put this together. If you have questions, please look to the bottom of this for the updated Bob List.
FICTION IN-PRINT LIST
I did not include the Dark Ages novels because they are out of print. See the subtitle? I have prepared a separate list below of the pertinent ROC novels.
I am only including the books where I know their storyline, pertinence, timing, etc. If I look like I’m glossing over someone stuff, chances are I’m not in the loop on what they are writing. I know, it’s a shocker. It’s not me being a douche and purposefully ignoring someone stuff. I haven’t seen the sequels to Grey Watch Protocol, for example. I assume they would normally appear on this list.
This is the recommended reading order I suggest. That doesn’t make it right. Well, it kinda does. But frankly, you can shuffle some of these around
No, I’m not doing this to sell more books. Don’t be a Bob-level ass. I don’t get paid that way.
Forever Faithful – Talk about your unintended consequences. Let me tell you about Clan Smoke Jaguar and the Fidelis.
A Bonfire of Worlds – Tharkad gets visited by Malvina and Alaric who trash the place worse that the hotel room in The Hangover. Tucker Harwell learns that family isn’t everything. Spoiler Alert: Katherine Steiner-Davion gets killed. It is worth reading for that alone.
The Anvil – Malvina Hazen and Stephanie Chistu have a pillow-fight over Coventry. It sounds more sexy than it is. Okay, there’s no pillow-fight…I did that just to get you read it.
Splinter of Hope – Julian Davion is kinda important. Then again all Davions think they are important. Some more than others. Just ask them, they’ll tell ya. Then there’s Caleb. Don’t be Caleb, like, ever. Trust me on this one. He raped a Liao. Really he did. We all know the Davions think about it (metaphorically), but Caleb did it. That is messed up on many levels.
Divided We Fall – It ain’t no party until the Dragoons drop in. No, seriously, they bring the good beer.
Rock of the Republic – “Stone, Devlin Stone. I prefer my Republic shaken not stirred.”
Grey Watch Protocol – What’s that noise? “That is the warpipes of the Northwind Highlanders laddie!”
Honor’s Gauntlet – Do you dare refuse my batchall? Jade Falcon goodness…if there is such a thing.
Children of Kerensky – Clan daycare gone horribly awry.
Icons of War – Pew pew pew – in SPACE!
Hour of the Wolf – You have arrived at your destination.
Field Manual 3145
Era Report 3145
ROC DARK AGES NOVELS YOU WILL FIND HELPFUL
Note: These are not in a particular order
The Wolf Hunters
Sword of Sedition
Masters of War
A Rending of Falcons
Flight of the Falcon
Target of Opportunity
Surrender Your Dreams
The Scorpion Jar
GOT A QUESTION? DON’T BE BOB!
If you have questions – read the list – follow the list, embrace the list.
Do not pitch me your ideas for a character or ask me to include you, your kids, your dog, your dead friend/relative in my book. If I need names, I post the casting call on Facebook. You don’t use Facebook? Too bad for you. No I will not change the rules for you. Yes, I can be bribed, but not cash.
I do not know if anything will be available in hard copy. Complaining to me does you zero good. Telling me you want to hold a physical book in your hands is not necessary. What you do with your hands is between you and your hands. I just write this stuff. Telling me you want the book in a certain format falls on deaf ears with me because I am not involved in production.
I don’t know anything about audio books. I can’t stress enough on this point – I really don’t care about audio books.
I do not have dates when anything is coming out. I have projected dates but I will not share them. Don’t ask. Sometimes even my editor is surprised when stuff comes out. Most of the time I am. Adding insult to injury, you will probably get your copy of the book before I do.
I don’t know when the books will be translated into any language.
I am not affiliated with the Kickstarter. Don’t ask me questions about it. I don’t know. I like not knowing. I have no idea if Kickstarter exclusives will be available to non-Kickstarter people, but I think the word “exclusive” is a pretty big clue.
No, I will not tell you if you appear in the fiction as a Khan, First Lord, Custos of the Fidelis, a MechWarrior, a member of Clan Wolverine, a salty tech, a cook, a drunk, a swamp, a city, some ruins, or anything else. If you want to find your name in a piece of fiction, search for it when the product comes out. Just to make it hard, I may have altered your name because, well, I can.
I am not your reference library for BattleTech.
I will not read your fanfic, your Clan Wolverine screenplay, or anything else you write. I don’t need or want your ideas for fiction…I have plenty on my own.
You don’t need my permission to use stuff I have written about for your campaign.
No, I do not have a paint scheme or TO&E for some unit that I wrote about in the 1980’s. It worries me that you think I would have something like that in my possession. Seriously…
Hopefully this post will stop the inquiries. Somehow, I doubt it. Too little time, too many Bobs.
I like including fans in the fiction, even if it is in a small way. It started out as fun and games for me. After all, the fans have kept BattleTech alive for years – so it was great giving some of them a chance to be a part of the action. Then the Kickstarter happened along with a massive wave of canon character backers and that complicated things considerably. Ray has done a yeoman’s job of straightening out the canon character list from hell and I feel like things are moving along smoothly at long last. It took months however…
Now things are moving fast and furious. Last month we had Divided We Fall finally drop. Rock of the Republic has finally released, then comes another long novella, and then Hour of the Wolf. And that’s just the stuff I have written! Other authors have tie-ins as well. There are two stories I have written for upcoming anthologies too, which haven’t been announced yet, Spotlight on Snord’s Irregulars, and Shrapnel stuff I have in the works.
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. It happens. Sometimes it is me, sometimes the editor.
So, here is the updated list:
Rock of the Republic
(Technically Oliver Haake should probably be on this list – but trust me, he will get the full recognition he deserves in several upcoming things.)
The Flames of Idlewind (Shrapnel #1)
Marc de Villasante Lahoz
Divided We Fall
John “Doc” Crouch
John Gaisano III
Robert BJ Horncastle
Kristopher Tyson Koniczek
Brianne Elizabeth Lyons
Roderick van Noorloos
William C. Pelcham
Patrick J. Saul
Jonathon Scott Schofield
Ryan James Broadhead
Troy Lee Cowell
Juan Ochoa Jr.
Broccán Mac Rónáin
Alexander JW De Santis
James Eyers Mclean Miller
Redemption and Malice
Gerry S. Xydis
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
The Bonds of Battle (To Be Released in the Clan Boxed Set)
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
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.
Every now and then I get a pop-up ad for some gaming stuff. Most of the time, I blow by them. I am, however, a sucker for dice. Like most gamers, I have more dice than a human can ever need, but I never stop buying them.
Skullsplitter Dice SkullSplitter site does these Mystery Blind Bags every now and then. The first time I ordered I was skeptical. I figured I would be getting a random bunch of ugly dice. My first bag rocked. As such, I have ordered them twice. I’m not sure why, I don’t need more dice. Both times it was a pure impulse purchase, and both times I have been more-than pleased.
You get a full ‘mystery dice set’ from their collections, one metal die, and a handful of random dice from other sets. When they are on special, the cost is $9.99 plus shipping.
This time I got a set that I really liked, green with kind of a weathered finish, very easy to read. I got a heavy metal 10-sider, and a few random dice, mostly six siders (but you can never have too many of these, ask any Shadowrun player.) They even throw in a cheesy velvet pouch.
While I have reviewed a lot of gaming products, I’ve never tackled dice. I mean seriously, do I roll them and try and compare the rolls? I’m 57, so for me, the key is my ability to read the dice. The once I got had good contrast between the numbers and the die material.
Here’s the deal, SkullSplitter dice are very high quality dice. You are not getting cast offs or defects in the mystery bags – some of the dice I got are from their top of the line stuff. There is a bit of mystery when the package comes – you aren’t sure what you get and that is part of the fun of ordering them. I was further suprised that I ordered and got them in three days.
So, check them out. I give the mystery bag five out of five stars, if that means anything. If you like the random gambling aspect, order up your own mystery bag. They have a metal dice mystery bag too – which has been calling to me too.
When the Kickstarter came out for BattleTech and I saw one of the incentives was a BattleTech magazine, I have to admit a little kid inside me squealed with joy. I remember the old days when we had fan magazines, StarDate, and BattleTechnology. BattleCorps was a good source of fiction, but there wasn’t enough of it. There is a lot of goodness out there for BattleTech that isn’t novel-length, and a magazine would be a great format.
The Kickstarter backers got their copies two weeks ago. Stop whining if you think that wasn’t fair, you had your chance to take part in the Kickstarter… I was stunned at the sheer size. It took me a while to get through it. This is easily the size of a small book…much more than I expected.
The fiction includes the first part of a multi-part story by Mike Stackpole on the Kell Hounds (huzzah!) some Crescent Hawks love, a fantastic piece by my favorite author (me) on the Smoke Jaguars, and several other solid pieces. Some of these stories are pretty long and engaging, especially the Ghost Bears story. Grimm Sentence by Chris Hussey actually made me give a damn about Hendrik Grimm, no small task mind you. There’s a lot of unexplored corners of the BattleTech universe screaming for this kind of good fiction.
There’s some game support material on the Eridani Light Horse and sniper rifles, for you RPG fans. I loved Craig Reed’s fiction, Tales from the Cracked Canopy.
Perhaps the most important thing is that Shrapnel opens the door for fans to get their fiction published. The submission guidelines are there – so go to town! Fiction is back in the driver’s seat for the universe so this is your chance to prove your mettle. Will you accept my batchall?
My only hope for improvement is more artwork. This issue was packed with fiction but not a lot of art. I would have liked to see more artwork in the pages.
Don’t be a Bob and ask me if this is going to be in print-copy. I heard it was, but I honestly don’t know for sure. I also have no idea if this will be an audio book, and, I can’t stress this enough, I don’t care.
I have been silent and deliberately misleading about the ilClan book for a long time. But this announcement: The Big News! allows me a chance to finally say two titles out loud – Rock of the Republic and Hour of the Wolf.
There’s another prequel coming out that is not on the list. I think it simply got overlooked. Shit happens. More on that as soon as I find out what is happening with it. I’m confident it will come out at the same time as HotW (Hour of the Wolf) or before since it lays some pretty critical foundation for the events of ilClan.
So, for over a year now I have used XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX for Hour of the Wolf in my social media posts. We were worried about the title getting out because people make assumptions – usually incorrectly. Technically, to throw people off, this fake title could have been deciphered to: Hour of the Jade Falcon. So all of you codebreakers out there, you didn’t count on me being a total douchebag and deliberately using the wrong number of X’s. Bad call on your part. Welcome to the Thunderdome!
Key thing here…don’t let the title fool you. As with everything in the BattleTech universe, nothing is black and white. Personally, I think it is a fantastic book with some fairly significant twists and turns. Then again, I wrote it. We shall see when the editor comes back with final “tweaks.” I seriously doubt we will be changing the winner(s) in this coming struggle.
You don’t have to read the prequels that come out – but honestly, they all layer together to tell a massive universe-changing story. The story stands alone for new fans that want to jump into BattleTech with both feet – but for the experienced fans, I recommend devouring all of the fiction leading to the big show.
Rock’s rewrite was finished last weekend, so it is going to happen soon. This story will set the stage for Devlin Stone’s defense of Terra – with a dash of Fidelis goodness tossed in. I haven’t seen the cover for it, but I know it’s being worked on. Usually, around the time I see the cover, that’s when I know it’s going to pop. The unmentioned book will set the stage for Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon. Throw in Icons of War and some Northwind Highlander shenanigans, and what you’ve already read in Divided We Fall, and everything leads up to Hour of the Wolf!
I only wish we could have done the release in August at GenCon – as planned. Then again, fans can’t strangle me if I’m not there…so there’s that.
Buried in the announcement is the Spotlight on Snord’s Irregulars…which dovetails into another fiction piece on that iconic unit. The boys are back with a vengence!
So, finally, the title is out. People will read into the announcement summaries and see in them whatever they will. Some of you can cook up schemes and plots better than I can. All I can say at this time is we are building up to a huge fight, sweeping politics, and the deviousness of key characters that BattleTech is known for. Which Wolf am I referring to? What of the Dragoons? Is there are reason that there are Northwind Highlander books coming out too? What other new ‘Mechs are coming? Will The Republic of the Sphere be triumphant? What about the other Clans? What is Julian Davion wearing to the fall formal? How do you pronounce Alaric again? Where is Terra on the map? Where in the hell are the Wolverines? He mentioned Snord’s Irregulars, what’s the deal with that? Why does he mess with us so?
While I have written a lot of role playing and table top miniatures gaming material (and novels) over the years, my start in gaming was with board games. Like so many people, I started with Avalon Hill and SPI. I had a copy of Tactics II that I played long and hard. A veteran on my paper route had a game collection and we played almost every week – starting with Panzer Blitz, Strategy I, Panzer Leader, Squad Leader, Blitzkrieg, Soldiers, and other titles.
A bunch of us traveled to MichCon at Oakland University one hot summer, staying in the un-air-conditioned dorms and gaming to all hours of the night. In 1978 I went to Origins (I think in Ann Arbor) and actually got to play D&D under Gary Gygax himself.
During my recent move (we are building a new house) I came across two relics of that era. One is the photograph of Tim Hopkins and me, in February of 1978, playing Arab Israeli Wars. I’m the goofy looking kid on the right. That was a great game. It made me do research into the weapons and the war itself, which was what was great about gaming. It’s a gateway drug to broader learning.
The other relic I found was my Origins 1978 coin they gave out. Note: RPG’s are not mentioned on the coin! It is odd, but I think traveling to these colleges helped me decide to further my education – so another positive byproduct of my gaming.
One summer I played Terrible Swift Sword with some guys…and we played weekly, all summer long. That was wild. I also got into miniatures, playing Tricolor Napoleonic’s using Airfix minis. No matter what you did those Airfix minis would not hold the paint.
I started with RPG’s in high school, 1977-ish and still have my white box D&D first edition. I never lost my love of board games – but I did lose the time needed to play them.
In college, my Freshman year, I fell in with a gaming group. We played D-Day, with Panzer Leader. It was on a series of maps that covered four ping-pong tables and we played round the clock, all weekend. Thousands of counters – tons of fun. My airborne forces (I was the 101st) were scattered but managed to cling onto our objectives…barely.
Of course I moved on to RPG’s, hell, many of us did. I still have a good collection of board games though that I cherish. There was something about those early days, moving the counters, rolling the dice, that was pure fun.
Anyway, I thought I would share these with you and I invite you to share your origin stories in gaming in the comments.
SPOILER ALERT. I strongly suggest you purchase, download, and read Divided We Fall before diving into this because this blog post will RUIN the story for you.
If you have read the book, please post a review on Amazon or wherever you got it from. Every little bit helps.
There is trepidation in writing about the Dragoons. Wolf’s Dragoons lovers treat the regimental CO’s like saints in the Church of Jamie Wolf – I get that. Just saying “Misery” conjures up images of deep-seated emotional pain for them, even after all of these years. On top of that, when you write about Wolf’s Dragoons, it is always done in the shadow of Robert Charrette’s fantastic novels. As a writer, you have to admit that up-front. I always wanted to write about them, but was leery of doing so. After all, I am no Bob Charrette. The work he did with Jamie Wolf has stood the test of time. BattleTech fans can be pretty unforgiving (I know, big holy-shitballs revelation eh?) and the Dragoons were sacred ground for many of them. I knew whatever I wrote was going to be compared to Bob’s books and they were beloved. At the same time, I wanted to write this story.
I’m a gamer…and sometimes, you gotta roll the dice and pray for boxcars.
Some other “fans” warned me in advance about their feelings. They told me they feel that the Dragoons are a “Mary Sue” unit, toughened by ferro-fibrous plot armor, immune to things that “normal” units (as if there is such a thing) must deal with. I guess if you get nuked and survive the Mary Sue label comes with it. I never saw the Dragoons in this light. They are the big boys on the block though, and deserve the respect they have earned. I don’t see them as plot armored, and it will be reflected in upcoming works. They are not infallible. Some leaders have flaws that all leaders do. In other words: “Hold my beer…I’ve got this…”
And to you Mary-Sue whiners”: Who wants to read a story where the big unit gets its ass handed to it and everyone dies? You would bitch and moan if I wrote that story. So I might as well write the story that I would like to read. Note: This is my approach to writing anyways – write what I want to read.
I waited for years, biding my time for the right opportunity. Jason Schmetzer did some great work with the Dragoons a while back (Redemption Rift) and I knew he was paving the way for other writers like me. Besides, I wanted a really special story to write about around the Dragoons, and this is it.
After the Jihad era, I felt like the Dragoons were hard to distinguish from other big merc companies. Their luster was gone somewhat. The Jihad did that to the great mercenaries. Fu*king Jihad. Yes, they had a storied past, but in that post-Jihad era we didn’t have Jamie Wolf, Natasha Kerensky, or the other iconic characters that had made the unit pop back in the day. Sourcebooks simply don’t allow for that. In other words, the time was right to tell a new story, with new characters, to make the Dragoons sizzle and pop again.
I wanted to tap the roots of the Dragoons and give the fans a small unit that they could easily embrace. To do that, I had to go back to the original Black Widow Company. I hope I achieved this. It was my desire to make the Dragoons stand out again for what they were. To go forward, you have to look backwards sometimes.
The plot was important, but not nearly as important as the characters. The things people like reading about are the characters. I wanted to show the Dragoons, warts and all. The Dragoons are elite and when you have a bunch of elite characters, you end up with characters that start looking and sounding the same. This is me fighting that Mary Sue contingent of fans. Most of the characters have flaws, and their flaws define them. In their heart and core though, they are God Damn Wolf’s Dragoons. Unity!
That led to going to my shelves of source material. In doing this novella I broke out my first printing of Tales of the Black Widow Company as a starting point. Boy did that bring back some memories, since I was writing BattleTech back in those glory days. Admit it, you liked the rebellious nature of Kerensky’s band of misfits. Elite? Aff! Perfect? Neg. I realized that no matter what I did, I wanted to have some ties to that era. I wanted to recapture some of what made that company so awesome back in the day. For the grognard fans, the old guard, this will hopefully bring back some of that era for you.
I wanted an enemy/antagonist that was worthy the Dragoons. As it turns out, the best enemy for the Dragoons is the Dragoons. No one is the bad guy in this book, which makes it complex. They are all fighting for the right reasons.
I dove in on General Brubaker as a character. He is not Jamie Wolf. I hope that comes through in the story. He is not beholding to the history of the Dragoons, and that is a huge hindrance to him as a leader. We have all had that outside manager that came in as our boss who thought he kicked ass and took names later…only to fall short. Brubaker created his own problem with Crews. His response of leaving this people in a Combine jail tells you a lot about him. He does reflect on that in one line of the story, which also gives him a lot of depth. People think that Crews is the one that set things in motion – but in reality, it was Brubaker’s decisions that forced Nicholas Crews into a specific course of action.
BEGIN SIDEBAR: Not to criticize those that went before me, but when the Black Widows became a battalion, and were no longer filled with reprobates, some of the luster of the unit was lost to me. I wanted to go back, if only just a little, to those heydays of the game. Small unit action is the core of BattleTech play. I like this book because you can play out the scenario for yourself – I did. END SIDEBAR
Of course, I am treading on sacred soil. There are some die-hard Dragoons fans out there who will light torches and grab their pitchforks when they read this book. By the same token, this is happening. You either get on the bus or get run over by it. All I know is that I am behind the wheel with my foot on the accelerator.
In the final rewrite John Helfers had some good suggestions; his best being the death of Doc Crouch. I loved that character and the thought of killing him bothered the hell out of me for an hour or so. I didn’t like the thought of Doc dying, by my hand. It wasn’t that it was hard to write, that only took twenty minutes to make the changes. My issue was that Doc was a neat character, not an off-the-shelf Dragoon. I figured that if it bothered me, it would play on the heartstrings of the fans too. Doc was a vital link between the Dragoons of old and Marotta Kerensky; he was a bridge. Removing him hits both me and the characters hard. So, I pulled the proverbial trigger. Seyla Doc! Trust me, this is just the start of the blood I have on my virtual hands.
To me, writing about characters means they have an arc, a larger story, that is compelling. Some start small, like Major Andrew Krull in this story. Seeds must be planted to grow. You will see him again (assuming he survives the Survivor-ish editing process) and when you do, well, it is awesome. Minor characters can have great story arcs. PS. It helps that I know Andrew and I know he will pee (just a little) when he sees where I am going with all of this.
Garry Jackson got his name in the story as a request from one of the European BattleTech communities for his contributions. Where I can, I try and be user-friendly with these groups. Yes, I can be an egotistical douchebag most of the time, but not always. I try like hell to support BattleTech everywhere.
What you need to know is that this short novel is part of a series of stories that leads to, well, the big show – the ilClan. That will be evident from the start. Each one stands alone, but they all are connected and interconnected. It is a massive thing you are starting with this story.
In the past, I was pretty casual with the paint schemes of BattleMechs. After hall, camouflage is pointless on a three story running 80 ton 96 kph war machine. Seriously, hot pink would be just as good as gray or green. I have changed that stand over the years. A lot of fans like painting a unit. As such, I spend some time on thinking this through. I really make a point of talking paint schemes now in the fiction.
My favorite character is Marotta Kerensky, of course. His character arc is much larger than this book. Much larger. He is a trueborn Clanner that has been given a nearly impossible task to accomplish in a difficult time line. I think Clan warriors are their most interesting when they are outside of their comfort zones. Marotta has to change as a character; learn or die. Unity!
Marotta can best be summed up with the fact that he painted the front of his BattleMech during his Bloodname Trial specifically to infuriate his enemy. Marotta is not your typical Wolf warrior. By the end of the book, he is a skilled diplomat too, and that is something rather unique. His arc, as a character, is very big. You are just seeing the start of the Marotta legend. Parts of that have already been written too, so be prepared.
About the scene on New Earth. You get it right? You know, that ancient Elemental, right? Aw, come on! So what’s going on with that? That Chapter 1 scene actually dovetails into another book that is forthcoming which will explain all. The links (Easter Eggs) in these novels and stories are many and cool. Some fans are going to say, how did he plan that out? Was that intentional? The answer is, aff! Note: There are at least two Easter Eggs that fans have not called out yet.
Other mysteries emerge. Where in the world was Garner Kerensky? Where is Anastasia going? What’s going on with the Fidelis? I mean, this opens on New Earth…oh, the intrigue! Is it possible that the Fidelis/Smoke Jaguars are fighting with Clan Wolf, or is something else in play?
Chance Vickers is introduced in Chapter 1 as well. She slid in during the final rewrite. She appears in two upcoming books in much greater detail and is one of the more interesting characters I’ve created in years. Chance is someone worth following, as you will eventually see. It was time for a female character to emerge who was not overly quirky or batshit-Malvina-Hazen crazy.
In terms of the story, Deborah “Debacle” Sheridan is one of my favorites as well. We are talking ties directly back to the Black Widow Company. She has to struggle with where her loyalties are – to a person, her past, or the Dragoons as a whole. How we interpret honor and loyalty is a subtheme of this story. Also, her Bloodhouse is not a Wolf one, which leads to some interesting questions about the origins of the original Dragoons. That will be further poked at in an upcoming story about Snord’s Irregulars that I have written.
The end of this book is a beginning of sorts. Sheridan’s new command is awesome and a tribute to the Black Widow Company of old. Will we see them in action sometime soon? (Yes, but don’t tell anyone. It will be our little secret.)
Byrne is a neat character too. We see so little of the lower castes in fiction – it is interesting to see a merchant playing such an important role, that of a mentor to a warrior. I could have omitted that chapter but it also tells us about Marotta – he is amazingly self-aware for a warrior and knows he does not have what it takes. He needs Byrne’s experience. Byrne is just freaking awesome because he is a teacher.
Another subtext of this story is the nature of Wolf’s Dragoons. Are they just a mercenary unit, or do they have a higher calling? What would Jamie Wolf Do…WWJWD…is important. His ghost haunts the Dragoons, not literally, but metaphorically. PPS. I will be disappointed if I don’t see T-shirts at the next Gen Con with WWJWD? on them. That, I’m afraid, will have to wait until 2021. Unity!
One of my favorite moments of the book is a simple line. The last time a Kerensky fought for the Dragoons it was Natasha – the Black Widow. Let that sink in and it makes those of us who have followed the unit from its origins smile. That, my friends, is a moment in BattleTech history rekindled to a roaring flame.
Another favorite line is: “My apologies, Colonel,” Marotta replied. “It is my first prison break.” Marotta has a quirky humor.
Should this have been a larger book? Not really. I was slated to do about 32k in words and went over because that is what I do. Divided clocked in at over 42k words. Old school BattleTech novels were 65k words or more. It would have been interesting to draw out some parts of the story, but I think the pacing here is critical. The pacing of the story mirrors the time constraints that Marotta is facing. Tick-tock! Yes, I do think at that level. Pacing is everything, and I wanted readers to experience that tension. The first draft came in at around 33k words. When I read it, I realized that we wouldn’t have a ‘Mech battle until the end of the story, which can make it a hard read for some fans. People like the ‘Mech battles. So I added in Marotta’s Bloodname trial. It tells you a lot about him.
Yes, I included fans in this book as I have been doing for the last few years. Two are Kickstarter backers – the rest are volunteers chosen because I like the sounds of their names. I love incorporating fans in the fiction because it gives them a sense of ownership. One is mentioned, Aaron Krull, but I didn’t put him in the acknowledgements. He actually challenged me on Facebook to put something in about his canon character and, as it turns out, you can’t toss down that gauntlet casually. I was including fans in the fiction long before the Kickstarter and will continue to do so. Please don’t ask me to include you. If I need names, I will post it in Facebook. You don’t use Facebook? Aw, too bad for you…
So, some douchebaggery to consider:
How will Alaric use the Dragoons? Just the word of that question has a lot of potential.
What happens to those Dragoon units that were not heading for Terra? Imagine how pissed the DCMS is going to be that a massive part of the Dragoons have packed up and left without notice.
Will they arrive in time on Terra, early, or late? What are the implications of that? Imagine a scenario where the Dragoons arrive after Clan Wolf and Jade Falcon slug it out. Oh, intrigue…
Will any of the other Dragoon officers learn of the mutiny? How will that impact Brubaker and the others?
Is Alaric playing the Dragoons as Brubaker insinuated? If so, will the Dragoons flip it back on him?
Can Brubaker retain command after all of this? He’s had a regimental CO mutiny, one he took an active part in lying about. That lie can and should come back at some point to bit his ass. Given this is BattleTech, it should happen at the worst possible time for Brubaker.
When all of the smoke clears, what is the fate of the Dragoons? I can feel your angst with that question.
Marotta has been successful, but at what ultimate cost to the Dragoons? This is a Wolf who has now fought with his dream team as a Dragoon. How far can we stretch his loyalties and what will be the result?
For a short novel, there’s a lot of possibilities opened in just a few short words.
I have had the honor of writing about some fairly historic mercenary units in BattleTech fiction: The Northwind Highlanders, Snord’s Irregulars, the Eridani Light Horse, and now I get to add The Wolves Dragoons to that list.
So – enjoy – savor what is here and start to anticipate what is to come.