Friday, March 10, 2006

The First Post of this Blog

Wow. How refreshingly original.

But this *is* the first post.

Okay. This blog is going to be about Battletech, and anything else ancillary, like the rest of my life. But the posts will mostly be about Classic Battletech.

Warning: There will be what is generally referred to as 'fan fiction', or fanfic, in here. I personally don't care for ninety percent of Classic Battletech fanfiction - most of it is so poorly written, it makes me squirm with embarrassment. Worse, it makes me want to sit down, critique the offending POS, and send it off to the author with an offer to proofread and edit any of his future work.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not anal-retentive. I like taking a healthy dump as much as the next guy. As for being a sort of verbal 'neat freak', one look at my garage would disabuse anyone of that notion. But some - no, most of what I read in the fanfic sections is pure wish-fulfillment, fantasies generated by frustrated gamers who just can't get past the original games egomaniacal bent. Again, don't get me wrong.

I like revenge fantasies as much as the next guy, but power corrupts, ya know? Even fantasy power. And one of the most annoying aspects - not the worst, because the corruption is the worst - one of the most annoying aspects is that revenge fantasies tend to - well, repeat themselves. Over and over and over. So much of fanfic writing - hell, many of the original paperbacks written for the Battletech game - are about rampaging egos smashing into each other over intersteller distances for what amounts to chickenshit.

"My honor, my tradition, my religeous faith." Meanwhile, the little guy gets the crap stomped out of him, while Our Hero strides about fearlessly in his Battlemech, perpetuating the Clan/Inner Sphere version of the Royal Hissyfit. What about the little guy's family, his hopes and dreams? Or does not being a Archon mean you don't really count?

With all that said, I am going to post occasional fan fiction. But with an important difference. I will actually attempt to tell a story you will want to read.

But I am getting ahead of things. Off to write a bit of the story.

Oh. What's it about? Well, I noticed that Ironwind Metals is actually manufacturing miniatures for the Forestrymech. My first thought was "What the hell for? They don't even get use in the game for which they were originally designed! (Mechwarrior: Dark Age)".

Then I asked myself "what possible concantenation of circumstances could result in some poor bastard actually piloting one of these things into battle?"

That's when I began to put some serious thought into the following questions:

"WHY would anyone pilot something like this into battle? What possible advantages, outside of combat tables skewed in its favor, could persuade someone to play it? If Battlemechs truly existed, if there were such things as small fusion reactors and manufactured muscle fibres, and a plausible explanation for how they worked, what would a Battlemech's real-world advantages be?"

It occured to me that I knew enough of the game by now, I could actually write a scenario which addressed such an encounter. It had to be common, because there are a lot of miniatures out there, waiting to be played. It had to be believeable, because something has to replace the ego boost you normally got from piloting REAL battlemechs, and you weren't going to be beating up any large tanks with this thing. And finally, it had to be about something or someone for whom the average gamer or reader might, conceiveably, give a damn.

And of course, such a scenario requires a little written introduction, a snippet of writing which explains the scenario, and (if the writer knows what he is doing) get the reader's blood moving a bit at the same time.

And now I am up to at least three or four pages of introduction. At least as long as the planned scenario, and likely to get longer. Alas and alack, the tail may end up wagging the dog. But then, that's for you to decide.




J. Steven York said...

Hello, Steve. I read your comment on my writing blog (J. Steven York's Multiplex of the Mind for those who would like to check it out for occasional MechWarrior-related content, I'm the author of several books in the MWDA original novel series) and decided to drop in and say "hi."

Just so you know, as a rule, I don't read fanfic, in part because I don't have time to read all the professionally written stuff I should be reading, and in part because it opens the door to somebody saying to me (or one of the other MechWarrior pro-authors, or to WizKids themselves) that somebody "stole their idea." (This is one of those things professional writers snigger about when they get together. Ideas are a dime a dozen in fiction, and 99% of the work is developing them into something readable.)

As such, I haven't read your fiction posts, but I did read this one, and you have some interesting and thoughtful things to say about the challenges of writing Battletech fiction.

For me, the most difficult and challenging aspects of writing in the universe is that I've tried very hard not to write what I call "war-porn." To me "war-porn" is fiction that celebrates war, killing and violence as their own virtues, and that glosses over, or just plain ignores the human tragedy of it.

I'm talking pure 12-year-old-male wish-fullfillment with no moral or ethical checks at all. "We can kick their asses, and so we shall, and then we will find other asses to kick because it's fun!"

War to me, even fictional war, is always serious business. Not that you'll find my books are humorless. Often quite the contrary. The the overall situation is always serious.

And that's the problem. I believe that war should be about something other than butting heads to have the possiblity of moral justification.

But let's face it, ultimately, war in the Battletech univerese isn't about much of anything. Victories are fleeting, empires build only to be torn apart out of gaming necessity when they become too big an powerful, territory is won but almost never held over the long term. And never is peace won. Never is safety won. It's ultimately futile.

That is, of course, because this is an open-eneded gaming universe. The Battletech gurus joke about the danger of "peace breaking out." Any faction that grows to powerful has to be broken down or broken up. The fighting never ends, and nobody is ever allowed to gain too much of an upper-hand. From a fictional standpoint, that's maddening.

My approach is not to write about war itself, but about the people fighting the war. The outcome of the battle may be important, but from a story standpoint, it's the personal arcs that are really utmost.

War can never (or almost never, if you want to allow things like the peaceful rule of Devlin Stone over the Republic of the Sphere as exceptions) resolve itself in the BattleTech universe, but those character arcs can. Things can happen in a man or woman's heart that cannot be undone, even in Battletech.

One other comment. I know most gamers hate IndustrialMechs, but I love them. Yes, they're probably useless in real game play, and some of them look kind of absurd, with their useless-looking accessories (can you honestly imagine that anybody ever dug a ditch or harvested a crop with one of these things?) and torsos shaped like combines or bulldozers.

And sure, only a fool or a suicidal madman would take one into combat, but in such desperation or bravery is good storytelling to be found.

To me, that's all part of the charm, which is why I've used IndustrialMechs a lot in my first two MWDA novels. I've even invented some new types, the RiotMech (seen in both novels, police Mechs smaller even than IndustrialMech, designed only to go against mobs without serious weaponry, and in combat probably useless even against light infantry), and PetroleumMechs (seen in Fortress of Lies; grimy mechs that run on waste natural-gas from oil drilling, and are designed to work on drilling rigs and pipelines).

My secret hope was the the PetroleumMech, at least, would show up as a actual game piece some day, but now it appears that IndustrialMechs are being dropped from MWDA (by unpopular demand) and so it will probably never be.

Steven Satak said...

Amen to all of that, sir.

I think you are right - ideas abound, but really, nothing that has never been written before. It isn't the idea, it's getting the idea out in a form folks want to read, that matters.

I built costume props for science-fiction convention goers for years. Once, I even thought I could make money at it. But it turned out that the people with the most desire and the best ideas, were the ones who wished least to pay you for your work. Apparently, because they could talk about it for free, you should be able to make it and give it to them for the same price.

I got out of that in 1995, after ST:TNG folded. Haven't gone back, either, although the talkers is still there. Writing seems to me to be much the same. Lotsa people with killer ideas, but very few with any desire or talent to get them on to a blank sheet of paper.

I won't dissemble - I am somewhat disappointed with the fact that you cannot freely read and grade my work. But not with you. Thank you for checking out my first post, and, essentially, supporting my attitude and point of view.

I will get your books, all of them. You are busy, but I have plenty of time to read your work. Thanks for the support concerning IndustrialMechs. I believe the problem with MW:DA is that, even though you have written books which show them in action, the link between telling a story involving them, and the play which goes on at any given gaming table, is simply not there. The game itself does not encourage goal-oriented scenarios, outside of kill or be killed.

Unfortunately, the local CBT league is in the same fix, and it's to the point where you don't see anything but heavies and assaults on the table. Nothing else is a winner, under those conditions, and every special event they run is a variation on 'kill or be killed'.

So no, there is no place for the ForestryMech, or any of the others, in this kind of game.

But I hope to change that with some well-written scenarios. Unfortunately, the short intro I was writing, growed. I recalled the scene in Jurassic Park III, where the T-Rex was chasing Our Heroes through the streets. I recalled how terrifying such a thing was, from the point of the man in the street.

And then it occurred to me that a Light 'mech, such as a Jenner, weighed about as much as seven T-Rex's - 35 tons. What would it be like for an infantryman to have to face one of those, charging at 75 mph, with lasers that could blow a man in half?

And so my intro grows.

Listen, if you can, direct some poor guy who has the time and the experience over my way. I could use the edumacation. But I really want to get this out.

Like you said, it's ultimately futile. But that's on an imperial scale, and only if you consider peace the default setting. In this kind of world, there's plenty of chances for individuals to be brave, selfish, and otherwise tread with honor (or dishonor) the path of life.

In that sense, it's not futile at all.


Machgirl said...

Guy get over it do as the man said use original stuff not the same old ideas people have used before and just slap an new title on it and call it good. Nobody wants to read the same old thing over again-BORING. For a man who was in the military and who is actually does not like war but yet wants to write about it. Something is definitely wrong with you. War is serious business whether real or not. Talk about free you should be one to talk Mr. Freebe. Yes I do know who are and you are not what you portray yourself to others as. You need to quit lying to others and especially yourself. Growup

Steven Satak said...

Machgirl, you are three years behind the most recent post. Take a look at the rest of the blog.

Or don't. It's obvious you are not the target audience, so buzz off.

Trolls... whaddaya gonna do?