Saturday, December 26, 2020

Faith Finds Battletech

   It dawned on me the other day that I've never really shared how I got into Battletech and what it was that drew me to the franchise to a point where twenty or more years later I am still just as enamored with the universe, if not more, than I was when I started.

    Let me start by saying that I'm just reaching that stage of life where things in my past, particularly in my childhood, aren't the crisp and precise recollections they once where, and are now slightly more fuzzy memories centered around the core of the events. So I no longer remember the exact day I discovered Battletech, or the building where I picked up the book, but the core memory is still intact and just as powerful at it's heart as it was then.

    What I do know for sure is that the Faith who discovered Battletech all those years ago is a comically different little girl from the person I am today. I discovered Battletech sometime around late middle school or early high school, I'm not precisely sure as to which. But the Faith that discovered this amazing universe was quite the firebrand at the time. I was at that stage where I was just discovering that there were schools of thought and patterns of ideas out there that seemed to be in reasonable agreement with all these fierce and strong viewpoints I was discovering that I held. I was discovering what it meant to be a feminist, and at the same time, I was struggling mightily with the torrent of emotions that floods a girl's world at that time of life, while at the same time, discovering that truth and rationality seemed important to me, even if it wasn't always easy to put those things into practice in my ever expanding world. I was a just-blossoming feminist and a fledgling skeptic, while still trying very much to have fun as a teen. I would hang out at the mall with my friends and laugh at silly things and pay attention to boys (I still very much had not begun to even start to come to grips with my sexuality at that point), and then I would come home and plop into bed to read a scathing feminist critique of this or that piece of literature, or pour over a science magazine reading about some new discovery and thinking how amazing it was that science was uncovering these things.

    And of course there was writing. I loved reading and writing from a young age, but in my formative years I really latched onto them as a way to explore the world around me and to grapple with all these competing ideas that were fighting for traction inside my young mind. This was the point in my life where I was becoming a literary snob. I would read works as much to tear them apart for their ideas as for their enjoyment. What I found was that I loved action and adventure, but I hated that the kind of action and adventure I seemed to like only seemed to happen to boys. Sure, there were plenty of girls in these stories, but they were always the sidekick, the helper, the mom, the prize at the end of the journey, etc. To add to that, I hated magic. As a young skeptic, I was convinced that fantasy, magic, and anything of the sort were just silly frivolities. I wanted adventure that, while not perhaps being realistic, was rooted in reality. I wanted new and cool and unique, but I didn't want magic or the force or fairies.

    And so this little girl found herself at some kind of large book exchange. I don't remember the specifics of it, I just remember going into a large building or gymnasium of some kind filled with books with the express purpose of finding one that I wanted to read and write a book report about what I found interesting about it. I think it was over the summer, and I'm pretty sure it was some kind of school project. Regardless, I dug through all kinds of books and cast them aside. They looked to be too centered on magic or too much of a fairy tale, or carried some other mark that disqualified them in my young mind. 

    And then I picked up Decision at Thunder Rift, by William H. Keith Jr. It was the original edition cover, with a Locust striding through an alley while a young blonde soldier hid from it, but not in a completely awestruck manner. I remember thinking it might be worth a shot. I loved the idea of giant robots or fighter planes, because they seemed to be a great gender equalizer. Girls could pilot a jet fighter or a big robot just as well as boys could, so that was cool. The problem, of course, was that most of this kind of mecha fiction was linked to anime, and I had very early on discovered that anime was filled with far too many gender stereotypes and tropes for my liking. But this one seemed to be outside of that realm just enough. There were no oddly proportioned robots, no doe-eyed girls in skirts shorter than my field hockey uniform blinking at the strangely triangular hero boy.

    So I gave it a shot. I picked it up and took it home as my choice for this project, and started reading. Now, as you can guess, it wasn't long before I was flinging the book across my bedroom and railing against the patriarchy. Who was this silly Lori Calmar woman, and why was she a weak-kneed trope of a figure. Why was she fluttering around like a fairy tale princess, pinning her existence on the up and down whims of a man who was practically her abuser?! I hated the book utterly. But as I stewed and fumed, something grabbed me. I hated the story, but I didn't necessarily hate the world. Sure, I had more problems with the story than I could count, but that was only because of how the writer told the story. There was nothing inherently sexist about the world. In fact, it seemed for all intents and purposes that the fictional world itself was just about as perfectly egalitarian as I could hope for. I began creating stories of cocky, stick-it-in-your-face MechWarrior women in this battlemech world, and they fit perfectly. They thrived in it. It was the perfect sandbox.

    From there, I was hooked. I got my dad to take me to some bookstores to ask questions, which led me to comic book stores, which led me to a gaming store, where I found this treasure trove in a back corner that had not only novels, but this thing called a Technical Readout and an early edition of the MechWarrior RPG. From then on, I was hooked forever. I sat at home modifying mechs with scrap paper for the heroines in the stories I wrote down on paper and played through in my mind. It wasn't long before I had legitimately gotten settled down with some actual tabletop rules, and those times that I couldn't twist my siblings arms into playing with me, I fought my own solitaire games with grand stories of the MechWarriors in my head.



  1. Interesting read, and interesting take of the 'verse. I personally came to BT because it was huge stompy warmachines, but not Transformers-like robots or anime mecha. The universe felt "real" and gritty, although I hated the racial stereotypes (heroic space Americans, crazy Capellan Asian subhumans) and Stackpole's novels in particular.

    Still, the benefits far outweighed the cons. I also loved that women played an important and strong role without any "in your face" feminism. Which is what sets the old(er) novels apart from the new ones. I for one utterly hate the new feminist take, the Wolf's Dragoons stars that have one man and four women, or female liaison-officers that get the Combine into a shooting war with the FedSuns and get *commended* for it (Schmetzer's Redemption Rift), or the Tukayyid stories that have strong and emotionally settled women and the one raving lunatic of a male Khan (don't remember offhand which one that was).

    This is also why I stopped buying the new fiction, although I see myself making an exception for Blaine Pardoe's novels. They are very much "classic" style, which I love. I know you see things differently, but you must also admit that there are very few women who are into wargaming at all. And no amount of feminism will ever change that.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. There’s a lot to unpack in what you have to say, I’m only going to touch on a few things. You say that you dislike the “in-your-face” kind of feminism of the newer books. Could you give me a few examples? I promise I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m genuinely curious to understand what it is about this perceived feminism that you don’t like or what it is that you object to. Perhaps it’s a stylistic thing that the community as a whole can work on? I’d genuinely like to hear more of your thoughts on this issue here, or contact me privately if you’d like. I’m always interested to understand the perspective of people in our great community.

      I can say from my standpoint, I don’t like anything overtly feminist, that is to say, I don’t want the universe to feal preachy or judgemental. What I do want it to feel is inclusive. What that means is that I would like to see the universe from a variety of perspectives. That includes cishet white guys too! But it also includes seeing things from other perspectives, like the female perspective, or a non-heterosexual perspective. It allows us to see the wonderful universe we play in from a variety of different angles, and that’s a good thing. No one particular angle is “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, they’re just different.

      Thanks for commenting, and I absolutely hope to talk to you about this some more, either here or on some other platform. :)

    2. I can tell you a bit more about my background, though I'd rather do that via email. But before I'll throw a wall of text at you, I'd like to know first if you have read Redemption Rift by Jason Schmetzer. It would make discussing the content much easier, especially given that it stands for a new generation of BattleTech fiction.

    3. E-mail would be great. My e-mail is on my profile if you click on it here. And yes, I have read Redemption Rift. I look forward to hearing from you!

  2. I think Battletech really does stand out from its equally aged competitors by the fact that it is quite egalitarian, especially for something that started in the late 70's early 80's.

    Whilst yes some tropes are dragged around as well as steriotypes, these tend to have faded into the background by now. Battletech has a LOT of very diverse and inclusive characters, and a LOT of female representation where they're not weak kneed anjou's who collapse into convnient fainting couches when Hanse davion smiles three rooms away.

    If you suggested such a thing to Natasha Kerensky, she'd kick your ass some time into the middle of next month if she was being 'playful', Katrine Steiner Davion might only have to shot, better than being dissapeared and then made a plaything of Loki.

    Whilst LGBT stuff's not that well represented, I'm not actually too concerned about that, and I say that as a gay man. In a lot of modern media (games, comics etc) when they put an LGBTQ+ character in it very quickly tends to go into BAD steriotypes. Like that horrific Trans character they put in Mass Effect Andromeda who basically storms up to you and for all intense and purpose goes

    "HELLO! I AM CLAIRE BUT I USE TO BE DAVE BECAUSE I AM TRANS!" before turning to look at the POV camera with her cold dead eyes and go "WE ARE INCLUSIVE!"

    Or when you get a gay character you will either see.

    A - An escapee from a Tom of Finland book (IE the large muscular leather daddy type)

    B - The effeminite, lisping queen who's so flaming that they will spontaniously combust soon. A case of

    "Hello Dhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarling! I'm Marvin the Mage!"

    "Uhh..hi Marvin what do you do?"


    "Uh-huh..anything else?"

    [Achivement unlocked - Signaller of Virtue]

    A lot of media tends to make characters who are LGBTQ+ who's only defining characteristic is how gay they are. So you end out with a gay who happens to be a character.

    On the other hand, Blizzard got it right with Tracer. Who's basically the FACE of the game, and she's a lesbian. But her sexuality isn't the only thing about her. Its a case of

    "Oh I've done this, been here, saved that, flew experimental jets, gone there, done all of that, this is my girlfriend, oh I went there as well!"

    Etc etc. They have a personality beyond 'the gay' and that's GREAT! And I think that if it's done today in the Btech books then the writers would go "Oh yeah X is deffo gay or Y is deffo on the autistic spectrum.." but not make that their ONLY defining feature.

  3. Part 2

    Because a lot of the media is quite old and was written back when it was far less 'acceptable' to have openly LGBTQ+ characters and the like, its probably why we see little in the way of that representation (plus these were books written for young adults for the most part) but we still got a BIG slew of POC and different races, it wasn't wall to wall whitey! And in the Clans, with their completely lezze faire view on sex, you'd bet your bottom dollar that you've got a whole lot of gay and lesbian clanners, because in their society it means NOTHING, as their view on sex and a flirt would be

    "Warrior Claire, would you like to couple?"
    "Offering me a 'Trial' Warrior Victoria?"
    "My quarters, fifteen minutes."
    "Well bargained and done."

    And with Btech being so far in the future, the societal outlook on gender, sex and everything else would probably have changed dramatically. Whilst some intitutions would remain (marrage etc, its a human construct) being LGBTQ+ I doubt would be a thing where you'd have to even consider hiding it, save perhaps in certain situations where you could be the daughter of a duke and you NEED to find a Husband on their orders to continue the inheritance and line etc and you being a lesbian has zero interest in that nonsense, causing much of a kerfuffle at home and the tongues a wagging at the local court because *gasp* scandal! :D

    So where am I going with this? I love the setting, love its inclusiveness but i'd want to see more for sure! But not purely to have more. Virtue signalling and basically waving an LGBTQ+ character around on a stick and going "BEHOLD THE GAY!!!" is a BAD thing to do and feels horribly forced. So best to do it naturally, and make a character about their character, not about their sexuality, idenity or anything else.

    1. Thank you so much for your reply! I totally agree with you on the gay thing. There have actually been a fair bit of gay characters in the recent works (I'm always looking!!!!) but their sexuality is handled just as it should be, it's there and it's not spotlighted.

      And I totally agree with what you're saying on the progression of the universe. I've had this conversation with Mike Stackpole about how his work has grown in leaps and bounds from where it started. Read Mellissa Steiner in the Warrior Trilogy, and then go read his character of Veronica Matova in the new Kell Hounds short stories, and the representation of women in the two is night and day. It's amazing, and I'm super excited about it.