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.