Two thing always catch my attention when I’m reading fiction: world building and characters. It’s why I like the Harry Dresden books I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.
Today I’m going to write about another series of books I enjoyed. One with a strange lineage.
The ancient progenitor of the books is an old animé series entitled Macross. Like so many such series it consisted of a lot of battles between giant robotic weapons known as mecha.
Than a game company, Games Design Workshop, appropriated these machines and retitled them BattleMechs. They turned out a game they called BattleTech. This game was played on a hex board with standing counters representing the Mechs. These machines could be outfitted with weapons from machine guns to 200 mm cannon to multiple missile launchers. I had a copy a couple of decades ago and it was fun to play. Eventually there was a bad cartoon series made from it, and some very successful computer games published under the title of MechWarrior.
But it’s the books set in the universe of the game that I want to talk about.
The people working on these books created a long and complex history for the universe starting from humans leaving Earth for the stars. They went mostly in national/racial groups that founded nations of stars. Eventually a Star League was formed, sort of a cross between the Holy Roman Empire and the UN. It was organized along roughly feudal lines as central control was almost impossible. That fell when a usurper killed the royal family. This started a civil war which the usurper lost. The nations that made up the Star League started fighting amongst themselves over who got to rule. The leader of the Star League’s army got teed about this and took off for parts unknown with most of the people under his command. The Successor States battled one another for another two hundred years, nearly blowing themselves back to the Industrial Age. It’s at this points where the books start.
The first few books basically covered the conflict between two of the Successor States; The Federated Suns which was mostly English/American in nature, and The Capellan Confederation which was mostly Chinese. There’s intrigue, battles, betrayal, politics and marriage involved. The characters are interesting ranging from royalty like Hanse Davion, known as The Fox and leader of the Federated Suns, to Justin Allard, a gladiator on the world of Solaris. This covers three books and they were an okay read.
Then, in my opinion, the books really took off.
The Inner Sphere was invaded by an outside enemy know as The Clans. The Clans possessed superior warriors and their Mechs were superior as well. They started to go through the Inner Sphere like grass through a goose. Although they were human beings no one knew where they had come from which frightened people even more.
Again the books cover multiple points of view. Many of these are the children of characters in the first series. There’s Victor Steiner-Davion, son of The Fox. Kai Allard-Liao is the son of Justin Allard, and there’s Phelan Kell, son of Morgan Kell, commander of one of the leading mercenary units in the Inner Sphere. There are also several Clan characters as well which gives a lot of insight onto Clan society.
Again there are battles, politics, betrayal and intrigue, plus a few marriages. We slowly learn about The Clans, what sort of people they are, where they came from and their intrigue, battles, betrayal and politics. No marriages though. Clanners don’t marry.
I just loved The Clans. The people behind the series posited a society very different from ours. Clanners are a caste society; warriors, technicians, scientists, merchants and laborers, in approximate order of power. The warriors are the ones the books deal with the most.
Clan Warriors are all conceived in vitro and then brought to term in an ‘iron womb’, a machine in which the fetus develops. Sperm and eggs (Clanners, in fact everyone in this future are remarkably free from misogyny) are taken from warriors when accepted into the caste. If they distinguish themselves their genetic material is used to create a new batch of children.
Those children are place in a sibko, which is short for ‘sibling company.’ They are trained to be warriors from the time they can walk. Of a sibko of forty usually only four or five will become warriors. The rest fail and get moved to other castes, or die. The Clans don’t hold back in training.
When the time comes the potential warriors mount up in a Mech and battle a group of Clan warriors. The more they defeat the higher their rank will be in the caste. Not winning any means failure and they don’t get second chances.
There are only 800 last names in the Clans’ warrior caste and only twenty five can have a last name. When a ‘Bloodnamed’ dies that particular name is fought over for the right to hold it. This is known as a ‘Trial of Bloodright.’
Although each Clan is ruled by a council of the Bloodnamed, who vote on policy, often policy is fought over. A losing side in a vote can call for a ‘Trial of Refusal.’ Then the two sides select people to fight over the vote, with a little twist. The side that lost the vote cannot use more force than the amount they lost by. So if they lost by 100 to 60 votes, they couldn’t bring more than 60% of what the winning side brings to a fight. So Trials of Refusal aren’t common.
It’s never that simple with the Clans, because leaders bid on their battles. Two commanders are chosen for each operation. They roll dice, essentially, to see who can bid first. The second takes the force that the first commander selects and removes units from it, declaring that is what he or she will fight with. This goes on until one is no longer willing to bid. This ensures that warriors and units are not used carelessly and guarantees that commanders have to be sharp.
In fact just about everything in Clan warrior society is fought over. There are Trials of Position where warriors fight over a rank. There are Trials of Possession for goods that can range from planets to genetic material. Once there was a Trial of Annihilation.
A Clan used an atomic weapon on one of another Clan’s genetic repositories. The other Clans destroyed them. They didn’t even take prisoners, which they often do. In many cases Clans will adopt captured warriors from other Clans if the warrior is good. They didn’t in this case.
As you can tell by the way I’ve been going on, I loved the BattleTech books. I’ll especially recommend those written by Michael A. Stackpole.
If you ever need a series of books that will keep you engaged for a long time, that have interesting characters and wonderful world building, buy these books. You’ll have to get them second hand though. I believe they’ve been out of print for quite a while.
In case you’re interested, there’s a wiki for the BattleTech universe. Be careful reading though. Like all wikis there are a lot of spoilers.