May 8, 2017

[Books] Battletech: Far Country Review

In the early days of the Battletech novels, it felt like every other story was about this or that mercenary company. I suppose these were the easiest stories to get into as they did not require too much knowledge of the Great Houses, their nuanced politics and of course the many different House units and their movements across the Inner Sphere. So it was a rare thing to go beyond those sorts of stories and really explore other things.

Far Country is one such Battletech novel that really decided to go into a whole new story format. It's a book that takes placed on an uncharted world with its own indigenous sentiment species versus the human dominated stories of most Battletech books. Deciding to tackle this was a pretty brave decision on the part of the author given how different this book feels like.

At the same time, it's very possible that the title may be just a little too different for one's comfort. It's a standalone story that doesn't really connect to the rest of the Inner Sphere. I can understand why it was written that way - it helps avoid dealing with the complications of getting the historical data right and all that. But it also makes the story feel like it's not quite in line with the rest of the books.

Synopsis: Battletech: Far Country is a novel written by Peter L. Rice. It is the only book that he wrote for the franchise and the only book that deals with a sentient species other than humans.

Sho-sa Yubari Takuda is in charge of a small Draconis Elite Strike Team (DEST) and a single mercenary lance off on a secret mission. Their departure from Salford doesn't go well as some sort of misjumps and destroys the JumpShip Telendine and the team barely escapes with their lives aboard a Leopard-class DropShip. They note that there was wreckage of another JumpShip (the Raiden) at their exit point before crash landing on the planet.

27 people have survived the incident - 12 DEST soldiers, 11 mercenaries (pilots and support crew) and 4 crew from the JumpShip and the DropShip. Takuda naturally assumes command of the group but Garber Vost, the leader of the mercenaries has other ideas. While this power struggle of sorts begins to grow, the survivors eventually discover that they're not quite alone on this world.

What I Liked: The whole notion of another sentient race is a pretty fascinating one and the isolated world where all this takes place is the perfect setting for things. We have the mystery of why JumpShips are unable to travel through this system safely given the loss of the Raiden in 2510 and then the Teledine in 3056. And we have the aliens on the planet.

This is also one of the few books that make mention a Land-Air Mech, which is a nod to how the original design for the Phoenix Hawk was based  on the VF-1 Valkyrie from the Macross franchise. Thus it's the first time I've read a story that has a Phoenix Hawk transforming into a decent fighter instead of just a mech making controlled leaps via jump jets. So this book is full of interesting ideas.

What Could Have Been Better: The book has characters being a little weird at times like how much the mercenary pilot Brian Seagroves romanticizes his love for flying bordering on it being an addiction even. It's a necessary character flaw given what happens in the story in the long term but it still didn't quite make that much sense. On the whole I don't understand why the Draconis Combine would go out of their way to trust this particular mercenary group for a secret mission given (1) their general distrust of mercenaries and (2) how unconventional and undisciplined they are.

Then we have how the survivors of the Raiden ended up creating the weird society that they did in the book. Given the usual discipline and order that drives the Draconis Combine, especially the older equivalent of the DEST, you'd think that they would have found a way to work things out. Instead we end up with a rather ridiculous setup of three nations constantly engaged in mock wars over territory without anyone winning.

TL;DR: Battletech: Far Country is definitely unique among Battletech novels and one that is both great and terrible because of how different it is. In the end the rather odd characters and weird pacing of the book really hurt things for me and so it can only rate a decent 2 odd bird aliens out of a possible 5.

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