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January 22, 1979

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  1. In Topic: BattleTech

    14 May 2021 - 04:04 PM

    The Warrior Trilogy Book 3: Coupé by Michael A. Stackpole


    The Inner Sphere has erupted in the Fourth Succession War. The forces of the Federated Suns have launched a devastating assault on the Capellan Confederation in reprisal for an attempt to assassinate the ruling prince, whilst the Federation's allies in the Lyran Commonwealth have launched spoiling raids to stop the Draconis Combine and Free Worlds League from coming to the Confederation's aid. Whilst Capella's defences crumble and recalcitrant member worlds take advantage of the chaos to declare independence, Chancellor Maximilian Liao has developed plans for a bold strike far behind the lines to halt the offensive in its tracks, but endanger the entire economic future of the Inner Sphere in the process. Whilst the Federation rallies scratch units to fight a final, desperate battle, the Kell Hounds and the Genyosha agree to an honourable duel to end their long-running feud.

    Following up on the events of En Garde and Riposte, Coupe concludes the events of Micheal A. Stackpole's Warrior Trilogy. The first major "core" work in the BattleTech universe, this trilogy redraws the borders of the five major powers and advances the timeline through the first major military conflict to take place during the setting's "present day" timeframe. Stackpole is juggling a lot of factions, characters and stories here, as he has throughout the entire trilogy, and manages the admirable job of retaining a core focus whilst also telling an epic story on an enormous scale.

    It's also a book with a lot of variety in the storytelling: Andrew Redburn and his mercenaries fighting on the front line, Justin Xiang walking a political tightrope at the heart of the Confederation's intelligence network, Prince Hanse Davion having to retain sympathy and support whilst he undertakes an effective war of aggression, the struggles of the Genyosha as they debate their loyalty to the sometimes-duplicitous House Kurita with the demands of honour, and Morgan Hasek-Davion's struggles to balance his desire to fight on the front lines with the needs of his family, to which he is the only heir.

    Stackpole orchestrates this enormous story with impressive grace, knowing when to focus on a storyline and when to back away. There is still too much story here for one volume or even one trilogy, and other books and authors fill in some details which are skipped over here: Robert Charrette's Heir to the Dragon explains why Theodore Kurita is suddenly such a big deal, for example, whilst the hard-to-find Wolves on the Border explains why Wolf's Dragoons have such a hate-on for the Draconis Combine, enough for the highly-reputed honourable company to betray their former employers and plunge their border into chaos (the Dragoons themselves have some oddities which aren't fully explained until Stackpole's subsequent Blood of Kerensky trilogy). This is both a way of letting other stories get filled in whilst making people buy more BattleTech books, which was a great idea for the publisher in 1989 but is not as effective in 2021, when many of those other books are unavailable.

    There are other weaknesses: a few characters are killed off whom I think we were supposed to feel quite bad about, but because they only got a fairly nominal amount of development through these three very busy-but-short novels, these don't always land very well. There's a few eyebrow-raising coincidences, and the whole thing is of course old-fashioned space opera pulp, which some may feel has dated more badly than others. Fortunately, this novel increases its predecessor's achievements in rolling back the stereotypes and increasing the complexity and nuance of the factions.

    Overall, Warrior: Coupe (***½) matches its predecessors in being a solid novel which delivers on political intrigue, splendid action sequences and fun characters.
  2. In Topic: BattleTech

    12 May 2021 - 12:22 PM

    View PostMentalist, on 10 May 2021 - 01:24 PM, said:

    I started with the Blood of Kerensky trilogy, and loved them to death.

    Stackpole's sequels to those books (which show the Clan invasion) are pretty epic in scope, but the series fizzles out with Twilight of the Clans sequence (written by diff authors), and I've heard the story doesn't really have a satisfactory ending.

    They ran into rights problems for years which slowed things down, but managed to overcome them a while back (after defeating a Harmony Gold lawsuit) and are now getting up to speed. The latest run of novels has moved out of the Dark Age era and has finally resolved the outstanding Clan storyline:

  3. In Topic: BattleTech

    10 May 2021 - 01:16 PM

    The Warrior Trilogy Book 2: Riposte by Michael A. Stackpole


    3028. The Inner Sphere has been rocked by the news that Prince Hanse Davion, ruler of the Federated Suns, is to wed Melissa Steiner, the Archon-Designate and heir to the Lyran Commonwealth. This union will unite almost half of the human race under one banner. The Draconis Combine, the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation are opposed to the union but, after a failed assassination attempt on Melissa's life risks open war, seem powerless to stop it. As the governments of humanity gather on Terra for the wedding of the century, former enemies find themselves united in common cause as they begin to realise that ComStar, the priesthood-conglomerate that rules humanity's homeworld, has been keeping a dark secret from them...

    Picking up after the events of En Garde, Riposte continues Michael A. Stackpole's Warrior Trilogy. Set in the BattleTech universe - think Game of Thrones meets Pacific Rim - this trilogy is a wildly ambitious work which sets to tell the stories of both individuals and cultures clashing a thousand years in the future, when wars are fought with building-sized robotic war machines called BattleMechs. En Garde was a fun but extremely busy novel which had more storylines and character arcs going on than most thousand-page epic fantasies, making for a novel with a cracking pace but on occasion could feel rushed,

    Riposte calms down that pace and has a bit more time to smell the roses. There's still a lot going on but it's mostly a continuation of the first book's storylines rather than introducing new ones, allowing the story to breathe a lot more.

    The book is divided into two general sections. The first section, before the wedding, is mostly setup as we rejoin the characters. The Kell Hounds mercenary group are recovering from the tough battle they fought in the first volume, Andrew Redburn's meteoric career rise is continuing and Justin Xiang (formerly Allard) has been recruited to serve in the Capellan Confederation's intelligence division, where he now directly contests the plans of his father, the Federated Suns' intelligence chief. This section is low on action but high on intrigue, and is mostly well-handled.

    The wedding is the centrepiece of the novel and shows how you can use a wedding in an SF novel to completely upend the balance of power in a story without murdering everyone present (cough). The wedding arguably remains the most notable gamechanging moment in the BattleTech universe (or maybe the second, after the events covered in the subsequent Blood of Kerensky trilogy), even being live-reenacted at GenCon 1988 as a clever way of kicking off the BattleTech miniatures battle tournament. It's a fun scene which, oddly, we don't get to see the full events of, with Stackpole choosing to cut away at the key moment to events elsewhere and we only see the aftermath in flashback, which is mildly disappointing. It does make the second part of the novel much more of an all-out war novel, with major characters in action on the front and setting things up for the concluding part of the trilogy.

    Some of the weaknesses of the first novel remain - the book veers at times towards melodrama and pulp, entertainingly realised but old-fashioned by today's standards - but others are solved. The first novel made it appear that Houses Steiner and Davion (based on European powers) were the "good guys" and Houses Liao and Kurita (based on Asian powers) were the "bad guys" (House Marik continues to mostly be ignored at this stage), This book throws that into considerable doubt and makes the setting more morally grey across the board, which is more interesting, and instead encourages readers to sympathise with individual characters rather than their polities. Another weakness is that some key characters from Book 1, most notably Melissa Steiner, all but vanish in this second volume, making their storylines feel curtailed.

    Still, Warrior: Riposte (***½) is a fun action-SF novel set in a well-realised universe of giant stompy mechs fighting other giant stompy mechs.
  4. In Topic: Discworld by Terry Pratchett

    01 May 2021 - 03:46 PM

    Discworld #10: Moving Pictures


    The Guild of Alchemists have created a new form of entertainment: moving pictures! Soon, Ankh-Morpork, perennial city of fads, is gripped by the phenomenon and everyone wants to break into the business. Semi-rejected wizard Victor Tugelbend and Theda Withel - who comes from a small town you've probably never heard of - are surprised when they become the biggest stars in Holy Wood. They are more surprised when it turns out that the magic of the movies is causing the threads of reality to break down and endanger the future of the Discworld. But that's showbusiness for you.

    If there's ever such as a thing as an archetypal Discworld novel, Moving Pictures is probably it. Pratchett finds a facet of our everyday life that he finds interesting and transplants it to the Discworld, where he subjects it to all kinds of satirical analysis and character explorations, having a huge amount of fun in the process. He'll later do the same thing to rock music (Soul Music), the theatre (Maskerade), Christmas (Hogfather), war (Jingo), the press (The Truth), the post office (Going Postal), banking (Making Money) and football (Unseen Academicals), among many other examples.

    It's a solid format and one that results in a much greater variety of stories than you might expect, although there is the sense that Pratchett didn't have much more of an idea here beyond "Discworld movies" before starting writing, as the plot only loosely comes together. It's certainly not as tightly-plotted and constructed a novel as Mort or Guards! Guards! That doesn't stop it being entertaining. It helps that Pratchett avoids contemporary movie references (the novel came out in 1990) in favour of more classic and long-lived ones. A series of King Kong gags are fortunately still relevant thanks to more Kong movies being made, although the Keystone Kops and Laurel and Hardy references might go over younger readers' heads. One joke feels stunning prescient - a troll actor calling himself "Rock" and there being widespread mirth at the idea of an actor with such a name - until you realise that Pratchett is referencing Rock Hudson rather than Dwayne Johnson, but amusingly that joke still works for the next generation. It also helps that some of the things Pratchett was mocking - advertising, product placement and crass commercialisation - have become if anything even more dominant forces in modern films.

    The book features some more world and character-building. The tendency of Unseen University Archchancellors to have a briefer lifespan than terminally depressed lemmings living next to the Grand Canyon comes to a merciful end with the arrival of Mustrum Ridcully, whose cheer and straightforward approach to all problems sends shockwaves through the establishment (most of them landing on the head of the Bursar, still semi-sane at this point, although his decline into terminal bewilderment arguably begins when Ridcully nearly shoots him in the face with a crossbow). Unseen University also gets most of its regular cast going forwards: the Dean, the Lecturer in Recent Runes, student genius Ponder Stibbons and the ancient Windle Poons. We also meet Gaspode the Wonder Dog, and more character development for characters introduced in Guards! Guards!, such as Detritus the troll and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, who gets his biggest starring role of the series.

    The book's biggest problem is pacing. Pratchett is usually very good with this, packing a lot into a modest 300-400 pages and then clearing out when the story is done, but Moving Pictures feels a bit sluggish, probably a result of the author knowing where he's starting and finishing, but a bit vague about making it join up in the middle. The book also arguably has a few too many endings, with several big climaxes in a row rather than one bigger, more elegant ending. Also, the fact that Victor and Theda become the biggest stars on the Disc only to go completely unmentioned in later books is odd, although possibly also a commentary on how the biggest actors can completely vanish from view after a few years in the doldrums.

    Moving Pictures (***½) is a fine, readable but distinctly second-tier Discworld novel which has a ton of great ideas which don't entirely cohere into strong whole. But, as usual, Pratchett delivers enough laughs, intelligent observations and quotable lines to make the book worthwhile.
  5. In Topic: Discworld by Terry Pratchett

    25 April 2021 - 07:04 PM

    Discworld #9: Eric by Terry Pratchett


    Eric is a young demonology hacker who has discovered the spell he needs to summon a demon to fulfil his worldly desires. Unfortunately, due to a bit of a cock-up on the reality front, he summons the ostensible wizard Rincewind (who was banished to hell during the events of Sourcery). The always-reluctant Rincewind finds himself accompanying Eric on a prolonged road trip through time and space as he attempts to get back home.

    Eric is a bit of an oddball Discworld novel, even by the series' elastic standards of tone, character and format. It's the shortest Discworld book of them all (barely cracking 150 pages) and feels almost bemusingly lightweight. After the previous several Discworld books featured much-improved and deeper characterisation and exploration of ideas, Eric is a bit of a throwback to the first couple of books by being more of a knockabout, travelogue adventure.

    The explanation is that Eric isn't really a mainline Discworld novel, instead starting life as an illustrated side-project. The success of the Discworld novels in the UK was at least partially attributed to Josh Kirby's eye-catching cover art, which made up for in enthusiasm what it lacked in accuracy (such as Twoflower being depicted with literally four eyes rather than wearing glasses). Eric was conceived as a vehicle for Kirby's illustrations. However, the original, illustrated version of Eric fell out of print for many years, and it's the illustration-less version of the novel which has been most commonly encountered by readers. Fortunately, a new edition of the illustrated version of the book was issued a few years ago and is still commonly available.

    Eric is a lightweight and disposable tale, though Discworld fans will enjoy it resolving Rincewind's cliffhanger fate from Sourcery and the mild worldbuilding work it does with setting up new locations (the Tezuman Empire). But there is a slight feeling of redundancy here. The Luggage rushes around and eats more people, the wizards of Unseen University fret futilely, Rincewind runs away from trouble, and the Tsortean-Ephebian War and its multiple not-Trojan horses which formed part of the subplot of Pyramids is here revisited without much effect. Eric feels distinctly half-assed in the writing stakes for a fair bit of its length.

    Kirby's artwork is colourful and fun, and helps flesh out the relative sparseness of the narrative. Kirby's artwork is something of an acquired taste, though, much more stylised than it is accurate, and the continued rendition of Rincewind as an decrepit old man despite The Light Fantastic suggested he was only 32 years old (at the time of that book) remains odd. But it certainly makes the book work better than the unillustrated edition.

    Eric (***) is a brief, mildly diverting tale which is a more successful showcase for the late Josh Kirby's artwork than it is for Pratchett's full writing powers.



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    22 Jan 2021 - 09:19
    Whoa ... meaning of life. Happy birthday
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    05 Mar 2020 - 09:29
    Sorry, missed your birthday this year. Hope it was a good one.
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    22 Jan 2019 - 11:51
    Dun dun dunnnnn ...
    Have a good one.
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    22 Jan 2018 - 08:24
    Same as below. Better make it a good one because it's 40 next year.
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    22 Jan 2010 - 15:32
    Happy Birthday, now go out and get wrecked :)
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