Wednesday, January 10, 2024

BattleTech as cotton candy

 I bought a bundle of BattleTech fiction on the strength of Michael Stackpole having written a bunch of them. And I have definitely enjoyed Stackpole’s work. But I’ve decided to look at some of the other stuff.

Decision at Thunder Rift seemed like the natural place to start since it was the very first BattleTech fiction ever published. Pretty sure it was also William H. Keith Jr’s first book too. 

I went into Decision with low expectations and, honestly, the book lived down to some of them. Stackpole approached turning a tactical war game into a book by exploring the political backdrop of the setting. Decision turns BattleTech into fiction by being an action thriller, leaning in to the actual gameplay that takes place on the table.

After a savage betrayal wipes out the mercenary group that he was a member of, including his father, Grayson Death Carlyle must scrape together a new group of warriors with backwater locals and whatever giant robots he can find.

That’s the book in one sentence. You have to admit, it sounds like something that would have come out in any given summer of the 90s with giant robots added in.

That said, even though you can see every twist, every plot beat coming, the actual writing is good. I knew what the ride was going to be like when I bought the ticket so I don’t have any complaints. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare and Shakespeare wouldn’t have worked if Keith had tried.

The actual weakest points are when the book goes hard science, describing the weather and ecology of the world Grayson is stuck on. That’s really because it doesn’t really affect the story. Let’s take a famous example of hard science physics: A Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. The planet of Mesklin’s distinct environment drives the story. It’s absolutely key. The physics of Decision’s Trellwen is incidental at best.

Stackpole’s political thrillers in the BattleTech universe are a greasy cheeseburger of fiction. Not good for you but fun. Decision is cotton candy. Nothing really there but sometimes it’s nice to eat a little cotton candy.

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