May 25, 2010

[Books] Battletech: Ideal War

Battletech: Ideal WarOne of the first PC games that I was exposed to as a kid was MechWarrior. Sure, the game was a bit too complex for my young mind to handle on my own plus it scared the heck of out me to think about piloting a mech and so my uncle would let me be his "co-pilot" when he played. He'd maneuver the mech using his flight simulator style joystick and I'd be at the keyboard reconfiguring his weapons, identifying targets related to the mission or even haggling prices for mercenary contracts. Yeah, as much as I loved robots to begin with, this really pushed me over the edge and I knew I was going to be hooked on them for life.

As I grew older and learned to appreciate pocketbooks, I soon discovered that there was a series of Battletech novels based on the universe where the MechWarrior game was set. Now I had a new way of exploring the world of these towering metal behemoths and I did my best to find every last book available. Sadly, the books weren't as popular as could be hoped and the limited bookstores at the time (this was pre-Fully Booked after all) hardly kept them in stock. Thus my collection has some pretty gaping holes, and yet I've done my best to keep them with me despite multiple moves. Plus I really do like them.

This was one of the first "new" Battletech books that I've had a chance to acquire in recent years. I found this one at a thrift shop with my partner. Ah, small geeky treasures of the bargain bin universe.

Mechwarrior BOXCOVERImage via Wikipedia

Ideal Wars is actually the 9th Battlebook ever released and it takes place between 3054-3055 with respect to the Battletech calendar, which places this after the Clan Invasion and within the Truce of Tukayyid. As is the style of many of the Battletech novels, this book was focused on a particular segment of the Inner Sphere, in this case House Marik.

Captain-General Thomas Marik has just allowed the Comstar splinter group known as the Word of Blake to settle on the Marik world of Gibson. He discusses with his friend Captain Paul Masters, a MechWarrior, about the decline in human civility with respect to conflict and the escalation of violence. He feels that if nothing is done, the Inner Sphere will descend back into the barbaric traditions of old, which means the use of atomics and other weapons of mass destruction and battles taking place within cities and other locations involving civilian casualties.

To combat this decline he decides to form the Knights of the Inner Sphere, a group of elite MechWarriors who will hold themselves to a more honorable code of combat in the style of the knights of Arthurian legend. As the group is formed, Thomas tasks Paul Masters with his first mission - to investigate the current conflict on Gibson and determine the status of the war that has been raging on the plant for far too long. Masters thus journeys to Gibson to find the planet caught in a brutal guerrilla war - precisely the kind of depraved fighting that the Knights were created to prevent.

This book was a bit slower than some others and was a lot more philosophical and dramatic compared to some of the others. That does make sense given the author, Christopher Kubasik, was trying to explore the reasoning behind the Knights and what they represented in the hearts and minds of the House of Marik. Other books just presented them as a military force with a sort of cheap gimmick, and Kubasik spent a lot of time making sure we appreciated what they truly represented within the context of the Battletech universe.

And the story was also delightfully complex - a lot more convoluted than I expected from a relatively shorter Battletech novel. He managed a lot more twists and turns that some authors had to spend two or three novels' worth of story to accomplish. It didn't feel too compressed, although I could imagine drawing things out a bit more to make things a bit more substantial.

Mech combat depictions were decent, but hardly some of the best I've encountered. The author seemed to be obsessed with reminding all of us that MechsWarriors had a secret word that was used as a passcode to activate the mech. I think he stressed this almost every single time Masters entered his Phoenix Hawk and it got pretty annoying after a while. Plus choice of mechs was pretty disappointing. I mean come on, of all the mechs in the Clan-invaded Inner Sphere, the hero's mech of preference was a Phoenix Hawk? Plus he didn't really use the mech's jump abilities until more than halfway into the book, which was weird since this is one of the main reasons authors rationalize the involvement of this particular battlemech in these stories.

Thus I felt the author wasn't really that comfortable with the mech side of things, which was ironic given that's one of the main points of the book. his main goal was to write a Vietnam-inspired story that just happened to be set in the Battletech universe and that was that. So yeah, I was kind of disappointed in that sense.

Still, Ideal War was a nicely intellectual read and not quite as mindless or nonsensical as some of the other books and it's worth a once-over at the very least. It gets 3 lackluster battlemechs joining the final battle out of a possible 5.

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