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.

 

Updated – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction

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He’s right behind me, isn’t he?

Everyone keeps asking me the same things, over and over:  “When is the Wolf’s Dragoons novel coming out?  When is that big book “you promised” last year coming out?  (I ‘promised’ nothing you filthy surats!) “Is my character still in book X or did I die in an editing accident?”  This is usually followed with questions about will the books be in hard copy, audio books, translation to foreign languages, and inquiries about the Kickstarter.

Hopefully this post will stop the inquiries.  Oh, who am I kidding?

First off, this is all my mistake.  I own it.  I shouldn’t have been so open with the fan community in the first place. I should have just included fans covertly, under the table. I also should never have presumed that things would have released when they were supposed to. My bad. It won’t happen going forward.  If you ask me the dates on when anything I have written will be coming out I will refuse to answer and likely be snippy with you in the process. I AM TALKING TO YOU BOB.

Allow me to introduce you to some realities as an author:

  • I do not know if anything will be in hard copy. Complaining to me does you zero good. Telling me you want to hold a physical book is not necessary. What you do with your hands is between you and your hands.  I just write this stuff.
  • 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 have a raging ego, but even mine isn’t big enough for me to want to listen to someone read my books out loud.
  • 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.
  • 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. Yes I know, no I will not share. NOT EVEN TO YOU BOB.

So here’s what happened in the last few months.

The books got written and went through edit reviews early last year.  Ta Da!  The Powers That Be realized that the sheer scope of these things in the books was staggering.  So some decisions were made at the writer’s summit last fall about the best way to approach this.  First, we had some changes suggested to the Wolf’s Dragoons novella – which became a short novel.  (Don’t’ ask me to explain the difference, it has to do with word counts, magic, and stuff.)

The big novel I wrote, got broken up into two short novels and the big book (which got bigger), working title, XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX (oh, and by the way, that isn’t the real title, I am just messing with you.)  Those are just the parts I had to write.  There are other novellas by some great writers that tie into all of this too. Let’s just say, we took something big and made it massive.  Some chapters simply are gone, tossed out.  Shit happens. A lot of new material got added, and many things got changed.  The result is a much better product which I think makes up for the wait. 

Before you ask, you do not have to read all of the prequel material to XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX, but it will help your overall entertainment experience.  AND, BOB, BEFORE YOU ASK, I DON’T KNOW IF THEY WILL BE SOLD IN HARD COPY.

In the middle of all of this came the Kickstarter and people purchasing canon characters.  Where practical, I needed to use them.  I am not deliberately pushing fans out of the book to put in canon characters, I AM using whatever constitutes the best character for the story.  For the record, the list of canon characters is a huge blessing for me…though there are some “challenges.” The net result, in XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX there will be my usual cadre of fans and a lot of canon characters from the Kickstarter, some of which are downright awesome!

On top of this, I also volunteered to write stuff for the Kickstarter before the canon characters survey got distributed. That added a layer of complication but in the end, it’s all cool.

You may be wanting to say, “This sounds like a hot mess,” but you would be wrong.  It’s only a hot mess to me (which everyone seems oddly comfortable with.)  Most of the stuff actually makes the books better, and cooler, and there is more there. Honestly, it is a nightmare for me to keep it all straight, but I am (so far).

On top of this, during this “process” John Helfers and I have discussed shortening the character arcs for a few characters.  That’s my way of saying, “We decided to kill off some characters.”  I did get John to agree that some of the chopped chapters (and fan characters) could be published in the magazine sometime down the road.  If he fails to live up to that, they will go in my blog as “The Missing Chapters!”

I am not making a big concerted effort to find homes for characters that got cut. My job is to write a good story with great characters – not turn this into a hodge-podge of fan fiction wet dreams.
On the Wolf’s Dragoons stuff, it is done and through edit.  I have seen and offered comments on the cover art concept.  NO BOB, I DO NOT KNOW WHEN IT WILL BE RELEASED. I have finished the prequel short novels, in draft, but hey, a lot can happen in editing.

All of this is good in the end, more fiction, more fan community involvement and engagement, more BattleTech.

PS. Don’t be Bob.

So, here is the updated list:

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

 

The Short Story – Redemption and Malice – Which, to my surprise, is coming out to the Kickstarter backers any day now: 

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

 

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

 

The Upcoming Wolf’s Dragoons Short Novel (I am not releasing the title because it may contain a spoiler)

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

 

Honor and Glory Short Novel – An Eagle Among Falcons

NO COMMENT OR COMMITMENT AT THIS TIME

 

UPCOMING NOVELLAS AND XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX 

NO COMMENT OR COMMITMENT AT THIS TIME

 

Review of Battlestar Galactica Starship Battles Game

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Battlestar Galactica brings the little screen to the tabletop

Santa (actually Ares Games) dropped off this little gem just prior to Christmas and I have to admit, I was pretty geeked.  I saw the prototype game at GenCon this year and was looking forward to kicking some toaster-ass. Ares Games has delivered with Battlestar Galactica Starship Battles.

I was worried this was going to be a reskin of Wings of Glory – it is not.  First off the designers have captured the essence of what was saw on the TV screen with the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  When you play with the complete rules your ship must deal with kinetic energy and you can do those awesome maneuvers we saw, like rotating your ship while moving a different direction.  Fracking awesome!   This game does not portent to be a mathematically accurate simulation of space combat.  Instead it favors fun and playability, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

First off, you get two Vipers Mk II’s and two Cylon Raiders from the most recent TV series. Ares has committed that this will cover the old TV series as well, so I have to admit I am excited at that prospect.  The amount of stuff you get in the game is staggering – stands, pilot cards, maneuver cards, rulers, dice damage counters, talent cards, maneuver markers, asteroids, a scenario book and the plastic control panels (and more).  The control panels are neat – they allow you to track your speed, kinetic energy, and the rotation of your ship.

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The control panel

Like Wings of Glory (or Sails of Glory for that matter) you use cards to determine your maneuvers.  Firing is a matter of rolling dice to hit then drawing damage chips.  For the Quick Start Rules, this is about all you have to master – meaning you can unpack this game and be playing in, per my calculations, about 15 minutes.  The Quick Start Rules are enough to get you going but it is the Complete Rules that make this game purr.  Here you deal with kinetic energy you build up in your flight maneuvers and you also can rotate.  It took me a few test turns to fully get these rules down to where I understood them, but once I did I saw the brilliance of the design.  It turns this game from a simple fighter combat into a more complex tactical simulation – especially rotating.

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A steep banking curve maneuver card

The complete rules also change the damage your ship takes, using the damage counters.  It makes the games shorter when you start doing special damage to your enemies.   The Complete Rules makes movement more fluid, breaking it into multiple phases.  I found in my solo playtest that it shortened the game considerably.

The optional rules implement altitude changes, ala Ares Games peg elevation system, and introduces pilots and their talents.  So you can play Apollo right down to all of his skills.

The miniatures are exquisite and a little larger than I anticipated – a pleasant surprise.  I am sure in a matter of days there will be custom paint stuff out on the web for these but they are fully playable right out of the box and look awesome.

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The paint is incredible

So what is the downside to this game?  Well, the scale means we probably won’t be getting a miniature of the Galactica, Pegasus, or the fleet ships…my estimate is the Galactica would be over 18 feet long if built to scale (but would be awesome!).  I am not sure how well this game will work with large battles, but I am willing to give it a whirl!  I found you need some space for this game given some of the maneuvers you can do.  Also, the series did not introduce a lot of new ships, which means expansion of this game is going to be likely pilots, talents, etc.  I am looking forward to a Raptor mini though.

The upside of this game – it captures tactical space combat in a way that most game have struggled with for generations and does it with style and polish.  The game cards and rulebooks have the corners clipped off of them to give them the feel of paper materials we saw in the series.  It is that kind of attention to detail that makes this game sizzle and pop.

I give this a solid 10 out of 10 rating – definitely worth picking up and following.  I can’t wait for the “classic” Vipers and Raiders from the old TV series – and the chance to mix things up between the two eras.  Don’t flee from the Cylon tyranny – swing around and blast those toasters! By my command…

Writing BattleTech – A Huge Sigh of Relief For The Weekend

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Welcome to the chaos of my reference material as I work on a BattleTech novel

 

Most of this post will come in the form of a disjointed rambling rant of sorts.  My wife went to Michigan for the weekend, leaving me to work on THE BattleTech novel.  The result, five chapters in two days.  Whew!  Time for a break I think.  When you have philosophical debates with yourself about firing missiles, it is getting close to Beer O’Clock.  Yes, it is a volley of missiles– but is it also a wave, a salvo, or a barrage?  Barrage sounds better for autocannons.  Then comes the entire nasty-ass debate about what color comes from what laser.   So I played a few rounds of MechWarrior Online (and lie to myself about it being research) and I don’t agree with their color choices (or sound effects) – so I broke out Call of Duty (my BattleTech Novel) and opted to go with what I put in there.  When you write the canon, you use the canon.

I have printouts of two Clan toumans, six specific BattleMechs, and a number of vehicles close at hand.  Here’s a photo of the side-desk next to me (above) – littered with its own battlefield of Tech Readouts and references.  I am glad I kept my old MechWarrior Dark Ages Writer’s Guide (that’s the big green cloth covered beast standing upright.)  I haven’t had to use it in ages, but it is nice to.  Of course I get distracted for 15 minutes reading through it.

Your mind gets racing with mistakes you make – warship vs. WarShip, for example.  I know I should use the writer’s guide, but I don’t at this stage.  I want to capture all of this stuff before I forget it. Notes are made on sticky notes for things you have to go back and fix.

Then there’s the goofy stuff you can’t find.  A warrior I found a reference to in the Dark Ages material pilots to BattleMaster BLR-4S-A.  What the hell?  I know what a 4S is – but not a 4S-A.  That A stands for “Argh!”

At one point today I had six PDF’s open at once, searching for specifics about character eye and hair color and – oddly enough scars.  It turns out, we have scarred the heck out of a lot of characters.  I am beginning to think we paid our artists based on the number of scars they drew.  I need to remember that joke for Brent – so I jot that down.  Which arm on that character was bionic again?  Then, surprise, you find contrary information.  What source do I use?  More notes for when the continuity people come back at me.  Sarna.net is a great source at times, but there are lot of Dark Ages gaps.

Being old school, the newer ‘Mechs do drive me nuts.  I have to explore that non-game mechanics of AP Gauss Rifles and MRM’s. The Dark Ages stuff adds in chainsaws and drills too. A lot of head shaking goes on.

Then comes the conversations with myself.  What would he say?  I read the line out loud and realize that on paper the line is great, but it is impossible to say without pausing for a breath of air.  Okay, that has to be changed.

I check Facebook and get into a debate with some fan, which usually ends with me shutting off Facebook for a while.

My mind drifts to the logistics of the operations…how much do I want to put the reader through.  I have read some Warhammer 40k stuff and cringe at some of the detail they sometimes dive into.  You can’t ignore the logistics, but it doesn’t make the novel any more fun.  I know if I gloss over it, the fans will whip out Strategic Operations and make my life a living hell.

On a break, I check the word count.  93k so far.  I remember the days when we are capped at 65k words.  John has warned me to target 124K.  I didn’t want to chuckle out loud when he said that – because I will pass that target. That also means I have to keep a list of things that are candidates to be cut.   More sticky notes.

This book comes with a lot of pressure tied to it.  First off, it is a major storyline book.  Hell, it is the first of its kind in a long time.  Mike Stackpole always made it look so easy.  I have to walk a tightrope between too fanboy, too political, too military, too earthshattering (literally) and too much.  You end up reminding yourself that there is a contingent of fans out there that are going to bitch and whine no matter what you do.  I love the fans, but there are times…   Ultimately I end up reminding myself that I need to write a novel that I would enjoy reading.  That seems to have worked for me a few times in the past.

I reave (deliberate use here) the list of fan names I use for characters and places in the book.  There’s a lot of them here, which is great.  I know a few will not be happy with the choices I made, but it has been a lot of fun so far.

And then the day comes to an end.  Enough BattleTech for now.  Time to respond to some FOIA stuff on my latest true crime book project.  Yes, I am writing two books at once.  I sure hope I don’t get them confused…

I knew I was in trouble at Moe’s ordering my lunch when I was asked if I wanted a burrito.  I replied, “Aff.” I would love to tell you I am joking here, but I cannot.

I’m going to back away from this now…time to chill.

From My BattleTech Archives – The Planning Documents For Twilight of the Clans (Part I)

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Am I dropping a hint or just using a photo from Gen Con?  You never know what secrets this might reveal!  Then again, I could just be an ass trying to mislead you.

I dug these out of my files recently because we (the creative team at Catalyst plus a few of us honored to join) are undertaking a similar Herculean task – mapping out the next big thing for BattleTech. I thought it might help to see what we did back for Twilight of the Clans.
When you map out something this complex, things DO change over time. Take a look at page 5 and you will see it was not Morgan that died en-route to Huntress…but another major character. Authors get a little bit of discretion in tweaking things. Not a lot, but if they can make a case that it is cooler, they will be heard.
I have been undertaking the role that Bryan did for Twilight – capturing our ideas into a cohesive format. I am proud to have worked with Bryan, and I learned a lot from him. I also know the incredible burden that rested on his shoulders with a project like this. I am looking at some of the stuff that is coming and saying to myself, “Holy shit, this looks awesome to me. I wonder how it will play with the majority of our fans?” I say majority because there are always some trolls that will take shots at whatever we do, even if we did everything they asked for.
This all came out of our summit meeting at Gen Con that year. It is a pretty cool peek under the covers at the creative process that goes on when you get some top-notch (not me, the other guys) talent in the room to map out something huge.

I remember when the document arrived.  It was so much fun to read, despite having been there when we brainstormed it.  A few times I almost tossed it…but didn’t because so much BTech history had already been lost.

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I think I’m safe in posting this to the net at this point

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With BattleTech we don’t talk about endings, we talk about what is coming.  Brace yourselves boys and girls, this one is going to be a hell of a ride.  More to come on this document.  I recommend you follow my blog, just to make sure you don’t miss out on the next installment.

Some author humor: You know you are a writer when you…

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I write in a lot of different genres, from true crime to sci-fi to military history.  Over the years I have accumulated a lot of experience in being an author.  This list covers a pretty wide variety of those genre’s.  It is intended for my author friends out there to give them a moment of self-indulgence.  As such, I present the following:

You know you are a writer when you…

…carry on conversations in your head (or out loud) with people that are either dead or who never existed.

…hate math but when you look at your Amazon author’s ratings you want to get into full algebra mode to try and figure out your book sales, ratings, etc.

…delete more words than ever appear in print.

…begrudgingly admit when an editor catches something you missed.

…wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea…and in the morning you can only remember having the brilliant idea, not what it was.

…you look at an editor’s comment about a paragraph and say, “That’s cute, but there’s no fucking way I’m changing that!”

…have stacks of research and notes all around your PC and can find any single page in less than 20 seconds if called upon.

…experience dread when sitting at a lonely table at Barnes & Noble to autograph books.

…spend six hours reading to get three sentences of content and consider yourself productive.

…have referred to an editor as, “That Fuckity-fuck-fucking-fuck-faced-fucker.”

…don’t express emotion when a person in your life dies, but you weep when you kill one of your favorite characters.

…are writing stories in your sleep.

…critique other writer’s sources and footnotes.

…have told someone, “Yes, everyone has a novel in them.  That doesn’t mean they were meant to put it on paper.”

…think the character you are describing is George Clooney but the fans think it’s Jerry Lewis.

…are accused of having subtext in your work that doesn’t exist.

…devise new ways to procrastinate.

…get excited to learn a new feature of MS Word.

…have seen comments from an editor and said things out loud like, “How in the hell can you have a problem with the word ‘red’?”

…get into arguments with fans about continuity errors.

…get into arguments with characters that don’t really exist outside of your mind.

…can watch TV and know when a suspect is lying on a true crime show because you have studied how to spot it.

…name a character after some douchebag in your life, just so you can enjoy killing the character (slowly, without mercy.)

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…read your own words and physically cringe.

…see something on TV and you’re sure they lifted it from one of your works.

…hide Easter eggs in your manuscript just to see if readers find them.

…wince when someone sends you an unsolicited manuscript and expects you to read it and provide detailed input – by Wednesday – pro bono.

…have standing instructions to destroy your personal journals upon your death.

…consider caffeine the top of your food pyramid.

…have asked yourself, “What would my character do in this situation?”

…have boxes of research material you can’t toss because it was so hard to get in the first place.

…have been days when you have not seen sunlight because of your craft.

…lost your temper when someone has asked for a free copy of one of your books. “Can you shoot me a PDF of your latest book?”  “No.  Fuck no.”

…you own a hoodie that says, “Basically a Detective.”  (true story – thanks CrimeCon!)

…engage in debates with people about the range of lasers, particle projection cannons, and rail guns.

…have toys in your workspace to spark creativity.

…have spent 15 minutes rewriting a sentence only to delete it.

…know the archivists at the National Archives by name (or they know your birthday.)

…take notes of people’s personality and physical quirks to use later in your stories.

…own maps for planets that do not exist.

…have nightmares because of things you are writing.

…have books on your shelf that you wrote that you have not opened in years – and when you do, you critique your own work.

…secretly believe your characters are meeting and plotting against you.

…question other people’s/character’s sanity, but never your own.

…have debates with yourself over how a sentence can be interpreted…and lose the argument!

…appreciate why Hemmingway drank so much when he wrote.

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…have flipped-off the PC monitor after reading an idiotic review on Amazon.

…know the tunnel system under the Library of Congress as well as your own basement.

…go through Facebook for photos of people to use as characters in your novel.

…have to ask someone what day it is because you were so busy writing, you are no longer sure.

…never feel alone because of the voices in your head.

…get calls from your police friends asking, “Did you see that shit on TV?”

…can’t cook breakfast but have a solid understanding of forensics psychology and/or quantum mechanics.

…define a great day as, “having scored at the National Archives!” and It has nothing to do with sex.

…meet other authors and realize that there’s a reason you work in your home office alone.

…look forward to meeting your fans and dread it at the same time.

…repeat yourself often because you can no longer distinguish the conversations in your head and the ones you say out loud.  (true story)

…can’t remember the last time you ate, but can describe the last meal your character had in intimate detail.

…are actively considering taking up alcoholism because it might help hone your craft.

…you can’t change the oil on your car but you know when a fusion reactor doesn’t sound right on a BattleMech.
…have written up reviews of reviews you have received.  “Your review of my recent book demonstrates a third grade understanding of grammar, at best.  While I don’t use the words, ‘flatulating butthead,” often, they seem to apply in your case.” Or, the more popular, “Does your mommy know you are on the internet?”

…are caught by your spouse looking at pictures on your PC, and it isn’t porn, it’s autopsy photos.  (true story)

…read an interview where you are quoted, but you were never interviewed by the writer.

…cringe at questions about book production.  Example:  “When will this be available in Australia, as an audio book, in French?”  Rant Mode Engaged:  We are writers, not publishers.  We don’t know this shit.  We are the LAST to know this shit.

…are convinced that white van parked for three hours in front of your house is the FBI or Virginia State Police surveilling you. (true story)

…count comic books and movies as “research expenses.”

…watch a true crime show and mentally pick up on all of the procedural mistakes.

…have spoken in the voice of one of your characters, hopefully when alone and in private.

…like a book for things that no one else does.  “The plot structure was unorthodox and cool…I’m SO stealing it for my next project.”

…consider among your best friends, characters you created. Sidebar:  Do not use them for references on job applications.

…you get hang-up phone calls from burner phones and are convinced it is serial killers you have written about.  (true story)

…are unsure what day it is because you are so in-deep with a writing project.

…spend your whole life waiting to be recognized and asked for autographs, only to find each one to be an awkward and sometimes disturbing encounter.

…are recognized for something you wrote that you put little effort into; while the work you are most proud of is hardly read by fans.

…have missed one or more meals because of a sentence that is being a bitch and refusing to be written correctly.

…study things that most other people do not, just so you can be accurate.  Example:  Geographic profiling algorithms.

…have had an argument with a fan over a character you created, and killed.  “How could you have killed her that way?”  “You do realize that she’s not a real person, right? And I killed her because I created her!”

…have made someone uncomfortable at a dinner party when they ask you about your latest project.  “…and she was brutally stabbed repeatedly for a dozen times.  The splatter pattern was everywhere…”

…realize your search history on our PC ensures you are going to go to jail.  Examples:  Ligature strangulation.  Time to asphyxiate an adult.  Moving dead bodies.  Decomposition of human remains.  Unsolved serial killing sprees.  Murder kits. Note:  My wife is the safest person on the world.  If anything happens to her, I will go to jail on my search history alone.

….apply what you learned about police interrogations and spotting liars into your day-to-day interactions with other people.  “Oh, she’s lying, listen to how she responded by my question…”

…have no idea what kind or size of engine is in your car, but can rattle off the fusion reactors and manufacturers for every model of BattleMaster BattleMech ever produced.

…have maps of WWI battlefields (or similar locales) laying around your office because you never know when you might need them.

…experience both excitement and sheer terror when a new book is released.

…struggle telling people at your day job what you do at night.  “Technically, when I’m not here, I’m out fighting crime…”

…admire when another author gets it right!

Things People Say to, or Ask of an Author

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Being a writer is cool, I am not going to kid you.  It pays crap, but it can be emotionally and mentally rewarding.  For me, it is a form of therapy. Perhaps some of it is atonement for something I did in a previous life; it’s hard to say. I love it because when I am writing, my life is more in balance.  It provides me a way to be more human.  I have met some of the most interesting and colorful people being a writer.

There are some downsides to being an author though.  People say things to authors that they would never say to people in other professions.  They make “requests” (demands) of us that are sometimes unreasonable; and other times, bat-shit crazy. When I think I have heard them all, someone hits me with something new and frustrating.

As a proviso, you have to bear in mind, I write true crime, science fiction, military history, business leadership, humor, and other genres.  So I get questions about a wide range of topics.

For my fellow writers out there, I am sure you can appreciate the wry humor here.  Feel free to share.

Can you give me a copy of your latest book?  (Or the more irritating, “Where can I download a free copy of your book as a PDF?”)  By and large this question comes up the most.  While it sounds mercenary on my part, I don’t write books to give them away.  Even my mom purchases a Kindle copy when a new book comes out.  This would be like me walking to your house and saying, “Hey, can I have one of your kitchen chairs?”  Asking me where you can steal/bootleg a copy of my book, well, there’s a special kind of douchbag hell for you.  I actually had one guy argue with me that he was a fan, but couldn’t afford to purchase a book…as if I was the bad person in that conversation.  Don’t ask for freebies.  This response also applies to someone asking for a copy of a book that I wrote two decades ago…yes, people send me these kinds of queries as well.  If all else fails, go to your local library and do an interlibrary loan if they don’t have my stuff on the shelves.

Eighteen years ago, in book X, you wrote something I disagreed with.  Why did you do that? I am tempted to respond to this query with, “I did it for this very moment, when I ruined your reading experience.”  In fairness, I write books I would like to read. At the same time, I don’t pander to play off of what readers want.  If you didn’t like it, I’m sorry.  It wasn’t personal.  Whatever I wrote I did so with purpose.

You true crime authors just make money off of other people’s misery.  I have heard this one several times, ironically from some people holding a copy of our book asking for an autograph. People that say this are often attempting to impose their uninformed self-determined moral authority on my work, and I don’t take that lightly.  Allow me to refute this with the following points.  First, the illusion that all authors get rich from books is a speculative fantasy.  Given the number of hours at nights, on weekends, on days off, etc., that are expended to write a book, sometimes over the course of years, what little compensation I make is often less than the minimum wage. This is a hobby I have where I get to tell stories – not a get rich quick scheme.  Some of those stories I tell are heroic, others are tragic.  All take massive amounts of time and effort.  Second, I believe I deserve to be paid for the work I put into a book, regardless of the topic.  I have to pay for research trips and materials, copying, supplies, postage, legal expenses and a myriad of other out of pocket costs to write any non-fiction book.  Just getting a set of court or police documents can run hundreds of dollars.  This is all paid out of pocket before I write one single word.  What money I make on a true crime book sometimes doesn’t even make a dent in those costs for years.  Third, the entire genre of true crime are about crimes and victims.  Under your logic, no such books could be written.  I do not appreciate your attempt at censorship.  Fourth, my books on cold cases generate new and often actionable tips and leads for law enforcement.  Before you pass judgment on me, let me ask, what have you done to try and solve a cold case in your community?  That’s what I thought.  Fifth, I almost always (where possible) offer family members of victims an opportunity to be a part of the writing process so that their stories can be told too.  My books are not just about the dead, but about the living.  So you would deny such people a voice?  Sixth, I write historical biographies as well.  So why is it okay to write about events and people in history but not about crimes, which are part of history?  Crimes often define us as a people.  Look at the Kennedy assassination, or the OJ Simpson trial – these are crimes that often reflect our culture and shatter our beliefs.  Finally, and foremost, if you don’t like true crime books and feel that the authors are opportunists feasting on the dead, why are you purchasing and reading them in the first place?  Whew!  Time for a deep breath.

I have a great idea for a book.  Why don’t we do it together?  I’ll give you the ideas and you do the writing.  Um, this is all about me doing all of the work and you getting half of the credit and royalties.  Seriously?  If you want to write a book, then write a book. This may shock you but most serious authors are not sitting around waiting for ideas.  I have far more ideas than I will ever have time in a lifetime to write.

Can you read my manuscript?  Many years ago I got sucked into reading manuscripts.  First, it takes a lot of time…time I don’t have.  Second, don’t ask if you don’t want honest feedback.  I learned that most would-be writers, don’t want that.  They desire compliments.  Third, I had someone once accuse me of stealing their idea, from a manuscript I never read.  Lesson learned – I will NOT read your draft material.

Can I have the name of your agent?  No. I don’t use my agent any more but I also don’t refer total strangers to him or anyone else for that matter.

When are you going to be in city X to do a book signing?  I think some folks have the illusion that writers travel the country, randomly wandering into bookstores and setting up book signings.  Usually I am very selective about where I do events and they are tired to subject matter I wrote about in the book.  Also, I tend to do events for the six months or so after the book comes out.  It is very hard to get a store to do a signing on a book you wrote a decade ago. If I am coming to your town, I will be posting on this blog – so follow it.

Why don’t you write more X type of books?  They are your only really good ones.  A compliment and insult at the same time. I write books based on what I feel like writing.  Sometimes that is fiction, sometimes that is non-fiction.  I don’t do a poll of readers and take their advice.  What is life without whimsy?  And for the record, I think all of my books are the “really good ones,” at the time they come out. Well, except that one I wrote in 1997…

I want to be a full-time writer – so how hard is it?  I have no idea.  I am a part-time author.  The reason is that it is very hard to make a living being an author.  I need a full time job to help pay for my habit/hobby. I admire people who make a living writing, but I’m not the person to ask about that.

How do you become a New York Times bestseller?  I appreciate you acknowledge that my daughter and I did write a NYT bestseller.  Having said that, we didn’t set out to get on the list – it just happened.  If it was easy enough to simply recite, everyone would do it.  Luck, fate, and a good subject seem to be the keys.

Can I just buy a book from you?  Then can you autograph it and send it to me? (I don’t have time to go to the bookstore or use Amazon.com).   This may shock you, but I don’t have boxes of my books here in my bunker/office.  Further, I don’t want to get into the book reseller business.  I have a process on my web site where you can send me a book and return postage, I will sign it, and send it back to you.  I have been stuck paying $7.00 postage on a book that I make $2.38 in royalties far too many times in the past.  Lesson learned.

Can you give me a copy of your research files?  I had a guy once ask, then demand, that I provide him a case file I paid $300 + to obtain.  I initially agreed, but realized that all of my notes were on the pages and it would take far too much time to redact those.  Then he got mad as hell that I wouldn’t make him a free copy of 500+ pages and take hours to blacken out my notes. I will try to help others with specific requests, but if you want access to my entire archives on a case – the answer is a resounding “no.”  Go file a FOIA on your own to get the material.

How much do you make on a book?  I’ll tell you if you tell me your salary annually.  First off, it is a rude question, and one I get quite often.  For some reason people feel it is okay to ask authors about this.  It’s personal and professional.  Don’t ask.  Simply assume that it is far too little and you’ll be pretty close to reality.

Why don’t you put this book on TV or in a movie? While I appreciate the compliment, I don’t have that kind of influence…not yet anyway. Production companies and the networks decide what goes on the air, not the authors.  If I did, TV and film would be far better.

Your characters/books suck. I get this from time to time. Look, it’s simple. If you don’t like my work, don’t read it. Telling me you hate a character is pointless, because I won’t change it in a future edition.  Funny side story – I had someone do this once with a non-fiction book’s subject/character.  Seriously.  It was one of those rare moments were I didn’t have a snarky comment to come back with.

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Your book doesn’t fit the canon in the BattleTech universe. This one pops up from time to time.  Let me say this, my books DO fit the BattleTech canon.  They are checked specifically for that.  I wrote a lot of that canon. If they book didn’t past canon, it would have been sent back for a rewrite.  Deal with it…Clan Wolverine exists and it went down exactly as I described.  You people…grr…

Have you considered donating the profits from you book to cause X?  No.  It is amazing that some people emerge to ask you to give your money to their cause in such a manner. Per my previous response, there’s not a lot of profit to be found.

Why did you only write two books last year?  Some years I write more, some less.  I don’t do this full time, so it is a boatload of work to crank through a book.  Also, just because I have finished a book, that doesn’t mean it will come out that year.  I have a completed trilogy that is ready to rock, we’re just waiting for the right time.   

I want you to do me as a character in your next novel.  No. Don’t ask.  I have a BattleTech novel coming out this year where I pulled down the names of some fans, mostly at random from Facebook groups, and included them in the book as either people, places, or something else.  I thought it was a fun gesture, a nod to the fans, a chance for them to be part of the canon of the universe.  Then a few bad people ruined it.  “I want you to use my MechWarrior’s name, and he pilots an Awesome – make sure you include that.  His units is the Whitehall Banshees – make sure you include that.  Here’s his hair color and descriptions of his tattoo…”  Ugh.  Yes, a few fans took a nice gesture and decided to do make it all about them.  I did not include them, but I am VERY selective now about such efforts in the future.  Don’t ask and certainly don’t demand I do this for you.

Can I call you to talk about a novel you wrote years ago?  I will do this, but my schedule is pretty tight.  Also, just keep in mind I have written 60 books-ish, so keeping track of every minuscule detail or character is challenging.  I recommend you send me your questions via email.

Someone murdered my mother/father/brother/sister.  You need to write a book on that.  First, I am sorry for your loss.  Second, if you have specifics about the case, I’d be happy to glance at them.  Third, please keep in mind, that while ever murder is a tragedy, it does not mean that every murder is book-worthy.  There are very specific things that I look at when I consider a project for a book.  While your loss is staggering, there might not be something there that sparks enough intrigue for a true crime book.   

I have a book club.  Can you fly in and attend one of our meetings?  I appreciate the fact you think I am living a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark lifestyle and have the money to fly to Pigsknuckle, Arkansas for a book club.  I have, however done book clubs on conference calls and via Skype.  It is all a matter of scheduling.   

I got to the end of the book and you didn’t tell me who did it.  What’s with that? When I write about cold cases…you’re right.  That’s because an arrest hasn’t been made.  My co-author and I are always pretty up-front in the book and say that the case remains unsolved.  If we had solved the case, you would have heard about it on the news.

(At a book lecture)  Why didn’t you bring a box of books to sell? When I do a lecture on a book, I am there to talk about the subject. I don’t want to cheapen the event by selling stuff.  If you want the book, pick it up on Amazon or at a local book store.  I don’t drive around with boxes of books in the back of my truck.  Also dealing with credit cards and personal checks has proven problematic over the years.  Lugging a box of books around just seems cheesy to me.

My father served in (insert war here).  You should interview him for a book.  I sincerely appreciate his service to our country.  Individual soldier memoirs are hard to write or sell because unless they witnessed something extraordinary, they can be dull. I do encourage you to get him to contribute to any number of a veteran memory projects out there, including the Library of Congress, which would be happy to capture his experiences.

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I encourage my fellow authors to add in their own experiences in the comments…

Review of Falling Stars RPG and Tactical Game System by Lock ‘N Load Publishing

 

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I just notice that the female is walking away on the cover…which was a hint at what I should have done

I am an old school gamer.  I own dice older than most of the contemporary players.  I remember those heady days of Traveller – of my characters dying during creation.  I remember first edition Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha.  My first Star Wars RPG used six-sided dice…and I’m proud of that.  FTL 2448 was good too in its own weird way.  Then came Star Frontiers – and a plethora of other early game systems. For a while it seemed that space-opera-ish games were the rage.

The old games all had a framework they followed.  The universe was big.  Man was just one of the races.  There were aliens with psionics – which was the magic of the sci fi RPG genre.  Thanks to George Lucas, the games all had smugglers and aliens that were, for the most part, quasi-human.  You had to have cybernetics too – because that was a thing (thanks to The Six Million Dollar Man.)  They all claimed to be space operas (including the game Space Opera).  I always felt like most (with the exception of Traveller) just were cardboard-like clones.  “Take our fantasy RPG, swap out lasers for crossbows, psionics for magic, and ta da!”

So when I saw Falling Stars, I thought, “Hey, maybe this is a new spin on space operas, with some grit, some depth, some cool stuff.”

God I was wrong.

I rarely blast game products in reviews but this one compelled me to change that policy, if not for me but to save someone the cost of purchasing this system.  First off I’ll tackle the elephant in the room.  The book is 462 pages paperback and costs $54.99.  It is grossly overpriced for what you get.  The layout is a san serif font at around 14 point that looks all boldface, which just made the book too long and hard to read visually.   No RPG should make your eyes hurt – yet this one does…on multiple levels.

The game is well written, but it breaks no new ground.  In fact, it is boring retread of a lot of classic space opera stuff and things lifted from popular media.  The difference here is that the game universe is flat and dull.  Guess what, there’s cybernetics and a psionic race.  Wow. The cybernetics are nowhere as cool as Shadowrun.  The races are uninspiring, unthreatening, and dull.

The combat system is skill based except for a confusingly written Setting the Target Number set of rules. It’s supposed to be a big differentiator for them.  It’s not exciting.  In fact, I wanted to get clarity on it but, and here’s a surprise, there’s no written example in the combat chapter on a few rounds of combat.  I’ll grant you I’m no genius, but I’ve written a LOT of game books (and designed RPG’s myself) and I find examples to be, I don’t know…USEFUL.

The character classes are so bad I felt as if I threw up a little bit in the back of my throat when writing this review.  Example of the fluff text.  “Their cargo is technically considered to be contraband and subject to seizure without warning and for no reason other them being who they are.  Even with all of these dangers and pitfalls, most smugglers tend to make a very good living.”  How is this the case? We’ll never know – there are no rules for merchants and smugglers.  Oh, and the class bonuses?  “Never tell me the odds…” “She can make that run in a unit of measurement that doesn’t actually apply to this analogy.”  I’m not kidding.  This is no homage to Star Wars where they clearly lifted their inspiration – it’s an expensive knock off that lacks any depth.

The spaceship building rules work, but have all of the complexity and thrills of an Excel spreadsheet.  At least with BattleTech there are inherent tradeoffs you have to make – armor, speed, firepower.  With this you purchase modules and I guess they just fit in your spaceship frame.

The artwork is okay – actually, it’s a redeeming feature in the book.  It is all done by the same artist so everything has the same look at feel.  That was good.  What sucks is how they abused the art.  To describe extra arms, they took an image of an alien with extra arms (used elsewhere in the book) and faded everything but the extra arms.  It was as if the designers felt that people wouldn’t know what extra arms were so they gave you a visual reference.  I will grant you, some players may struggle with that concept – but not at my table.

This game needs and overhaul or, better yet, needs to die the same death of many of its other predecessors in the genre. No burial.  Cremation is the only solution for this system.

My review is one out of five stars and I am struggling to be that generous.  There are some interesting nuggets here, but the price to get to those concepts is far too high.  I won’t even taint my other RPG’s by putting it on the shelf with them.  This book should have been titled, “Failing Stars.”  As my mother would say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Farewell your worshipfulness…

leia
“We love you Carrie…”  “I know.”

We all a bit saddened at the death of Carrie Fisher.  Since she had her cardiac incident a few days ago, I had some self-reflection about why her and her character has endured.

Until Star Wars (no number is needed) Fisher was relatively unknown.  Yes, pundits will spout her credits, but to be honest, none of us had seen her face until Star Wars.  The fact she played the role so well with so little experience catapulted her into our collective memory and hearts.

She played a princess that didn’t fit the mold.  Up until that time we had the sugarcoated vision of princesses that Disney had been churning out for decades. Sure, we had Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) but in the end it was her figure that drew us in.  Fisher’s Leia character was a tough, take-charge woman who was as comfortable in diplomatic settings as she was wielding a blaster.  She was a role model without shoving it in your face like so many “stars” try to do today.  A huge part of the appeal of Star Wars is her character and the fact that she did not fit the stereotype of a princess in distress.

Even the other characters like Han Solo, which should have overshadowed hers, were stymied at her audacity and biting lines.  Yes, that was the product of great writing and directing, but in the end it was Carrie Fisher.

Her character fell in love with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and she made it work.  One of the best moments we had in Rogue One was seeing her there, once more, buns in hair, on the screen again.

And that slave girl costume from Return of the Jedi…well, that was another image we proudly carry thanks to her.

Was she a stunning actress with depth?  Probably not.  She didn’t have to be.  One of my favorite moments recently with her was on Big Bang Theory when James Earl Jones and Sheldon rang her doorbell and ran.  There was something so cool in that one short segment that made even the most stiff and cynical critic grin broadly.

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“It’s not funny James!”  “Then why am I laughing?”  

When we saw her in The Force Awakens, we saw that time had stripped some of the veneer off of Fisher but not off of the character she played.  While the years had changed her looks, the spirit was still there and that was all her – all the actress.

She was still our one and only Princess.  She had a father with issues, deep issues.  Yes, she kissed her brother – but we moved past that.  She is gone, and for those of us who proudly refer to ourselves as geeks, we have lost our only true royalty.  Her legacy is one of memory for us.  She will always be in our minds wearing white, hair in buns, blaster at the ready.

For me, like so many, the reflections are personal.  I proudly bear the fond memories of working at the Battle Creek Auto Drive-In for 10 weeks while Star Wars showed every night 1.5 times – to the point when we could do all of the actors parts while we did our jobs.  It never once got old or corny.  I took my children to see the digitally remastered films when they released in theaters, and my grandson to see the new films when they came out.  Carrie Fisher is, for most of us, generational.  Her image is iconic around the globe, which is why we care.

For her to have taken a part in Star Wars was risky…a risk we are all better for her doing.  In her own words, “You came here in that?  You’re braver than I thought!”

Farewell your worshipfulness.  The Force is with you…you are now, truly, one with the Force…

 

Review of Into the Guns – America Rising – by William Dietz

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I am a sucker for novels that deal with the end of the United States and how that would be horrible.  I was in for the John Birmingham’s After America series, though I found myself wanting.  He did a great job of character creation and all – but I struggled with it near the end.

So when I spotted Into the Guns by William C. Dietz, I jumped at it.  Perhaps now I would get some of that satisfaction I felt missing.  I came away liking the book, but felt I was still missing something.

The premise is simple.  In 2018 a meteor shower destroys Washington DC.  War breaks out because everyone assumes it was some sort of an attack.  The results are a fragmented United States stripped of its Federal Government (stop cheering!) and hilarity ensues.

I liked the kickoff premise more than the reality.  Birmingham seemed to factor in a lot of real-world stuff in After America.  Dietz focuses on the characters.  The sole survivor of the cabinet (ala Designated Survivor) paddles his way north from Mexico only to be taken prisoner by a New Confederacy that is setting on most the shattered nation’s oil reserves. The military finds itself splinted into a small bands that fight for survival, trying to retake military bases and protect local citizens.

I won’t shatter the overarching plot for you here – please go and read the book.  Suffice it to say, there is a good strong plot, even if parts if it seem a little forced.  My gripe is that the New Confederacy card is one played out in Alternate History and Sci Fi far too often. Yes, it’s a minor thing – but I would have liked something different…personal choice here.

Dietz shines less with story and more with characterization in this book.  While I can sit here and nit-pick it apart, I won’t.  Look, you have to suspend belief here.  This is less a post-apocalyptic survivors book than it is a gritty military fiction book.  This is where Dietz plays well on his home field and provide readers with some very cool battle scenes.

I give this book four out of five stars.  It is the first time I’ve read the author’s work and I find myself compelled to read more – so it must have been pretty decent.