Natural Selection was of particular interest to me since it's a Michael A. Stackpole novel, and I think I've written about my respect for him as a writer particularly in these different Battletech novels. I'm on a bit of a quest to particularly cover all of Stackpole's contributions to the Battletech universe and so there's a lot of ground to cover.
He tends to write about pivotal moments in Battletech history or at least stories involving prominent characters in the canon. This particular story didn't necessarily feel epic in terms of implications of for the post-Clan Inner Sphere as a whole, but it still covered interesting ground.
Synopsis: Battletech: Natural Selection is the fifth published novel in the Battletach series of novels based on the tabletop RPG system of the same name. The book was written by Michael A. Stackpole, who contributed significantly to the development of Battletech's lore.
In the period after the Truce of Tukkayid, a group of bandits led by a figure known as the Red Corsair has begun to conduct a series of raids on Federated Commonwealth worlds near Jade Falcon occupied space. They group uses mostly energy weapons, and thus are prepared for fairly deep raids without the need for extensive supplies. They also seem to have a good number of ex-Clan warriors in their ranks based on their skill on the battlefield and the quality of their BattleMechs. To this end the ilKhan Ulric Kerensky dispatches the 31st Wolf Solahma unit to hunt down the bandits as to send a front line unit would be dishonorable.
At the same time, we have Khan Phelan Ward returning home for his father's retirement despite the general unease with him being fully devoted to the Clans now. We also follow Victor as he deals with juggled the still volatile union of the Federated Suns and the Lyran Commonwealth under the banner of the Federated Commonwealth, while his sister continues to charm nobility and common folk alike with her charisma and moves such as changing her name to Katrina, in honor of their grandmother and former matriarch of the Lyran Commonwealth. We also follow the story of a man captured by the Red Corsair and forced to work for them as some sort of Bondsman, but not quite in the full sense of the Clan term.
While most if not all of Stackpole's Battletech novels tend to involve a lot of jumping around different character POVs, there were a number of times that it wasn't immediately clear to me why we were providing additional detail for this plot thread or that character background in the story. The whole arc involving the prisoner with the Red Corsair was somewhat useful in gaining insight into the bandit group but that was about it. I found it easy to just dismiss some of those moments in favor of story elements that moved the plot forward better. At least our prisoner and the Red Corsair favored the use of a Battlemaster, which remains to be one of my favorite mechs dating back to the older MechWarrior game.
This book had its share of political intrigue, particularly tied to a mysterious assassin with a particular contract to execute. But again at times I wondered why we were devoting so much "screen time" to this character as he ultimately was just a weapon and it's not like his supposedly superior intellect and ability to map out complex plans actually helped him evade capture in the end. So this felt a little atypical for Stackpole, or maybe I'm just used to his storytelling style demonstrated in latter books.
Still, Stackpole still has a great flair for combat scenes and he really did a great job of bringing to live the various battles in the story. While we're not exactly talking about all of these battles being the sort that involve the best the Inner Sphere has to offer versus the Clans, but there were still a lot of great moments.
Natural Selection is a clever enough book and a great part of Battletech history, but it's far from my favorite. But hey, I did need some lighter, entertaining reading and this title certainly fit the bill. Thus the book gets 3.5 energy weapons out of a possible 5.