Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Twilight of the Clans that Never Was

Okay, now picture this without the 'Mech and a warship instead...

I’ve told this story before at Gen Con but never in my blog.  This is the story of the original first story of the BattleTech book set, Twilight of the Clans.  For people who write novels in a shared universe, or writers in general, this is a story to help you see some of the thought process that went into a big event in the BattleTech universe. 

When this idea was first floated up, Sam Lewis told me, “We’re going to take the fight to the Clans and wrap this phase of the universe.”  Prior to the Gen Con BattleTech summit, we were given preliminary assignments.  Somehow I got the first book of the set.  My job, “pave the way for the Inner Sphere to get to the Clan homeworlds.”  Bill Keith was to follow me with a two book set about the attack.  Mike was to tie the bow on the entire affair. 

The BattleTech summits were really just meals with the authors where we could brainstorm ideas, talk about the next year’s products etc.  I always got a chuckle watching the serving staff bring us our food while we talked about how we could kill Melissa Steiner-Davion.  They must have thought we were crazy – but then again, it was Milwaukee and Gen Con…they probably just ignored us. 

The original plan I came up with was to hijack a Clan warship and take the information of the route to the homeworlds from their navcomputer.  That was what I drafted at least.  There was a ground battle at a spaceport (you had to have some ‘Mech combat after all) then the team would make their way to the ship in orbit, seize her in a furious shipboard battle against Elementals – and the route to the Clan homeworlds would belong to the Inner Sphere.  I called it Exodus Road, the route back along Kerensky’s exodus route.

There were flaws with the idea in terms of a novel.  One was that it was going to lack cool ‘Mech battles which were the mainstay of the novels at the time.  That made everyone, including me, a little nervous.  At the same time it would get us onto a warship which opened up some cool possibilities. 

To execute this book I had to map the Clan homeworlds (an honor I might add) and map out the planet that Bill would be attacking.  The map I drew up was originally for Strana Mechty.  My thinking (and Bill’s at the time) was that we would be hitting that planet for the main assault. 

Bill came up with a great idea for the attack – one he shared with me and I was allowed to contribute to (albeit in a minor way).  The Inner Sphere fleet would jump on Strana Mechty.   Their target, the Clan’s central genetic repository which was a massive pyramid.  The premise he floated was that the Clans kept all of their genetic material in one secure location, never really fearing an external attack.

The assault would come in several parts.  One DEST team was going to seize Kerensky’s flagship (which held his coffin) orbiting the world and use it to augment the planetary bombardment.  This was my little contribution to all of this – I loved the idea of using the McKenna’s Pride to bombard the Clans.  The rest of the forces would drop on the pyramid and take it.  Holding their precious genes they would force the Clans to submit.  Sure it was blackmail, but it would work…I was sure of it. 

But we all know that the Clans would come in – with everything they had.  The battle would be horrific.  In the end the Inner Sphere would beat the clans (thanks to the bidding system) but the losses would spell the end of the Gray Death Legion (Bill told me that Gray would simply walk off into the jungles, horrified at the level of war he was forced to unleash).  Holding the Clan genes as a bartering chip, they would force the Clans into eventual submission. 

Bill and I both thought it was awesome.  And to this day, I still think so. 

But at the breakfast summit we bounced the ideas off the other writers.  Sam Lewis and others were concerned about my thought of simply stealing the map of the Exodus Road from a warship.  As I remember it, “Blaine, the Clans wouldn’t be that stupid.”  (Notice that he didn’t say they weren’t stupid in general – just not that stupid.)  I preferred to think of it as arrogance on their part, but ultimately Sam said, “Let’s make it a traitor to the Clans that betrays them.”  Thus the concept of Trent was born in a hotel restaurant in Milwaukee.  I remember thinking, “oh boy (sarcasm) a traitor as the lead character in a book.  Yeah, people will bond with that guy.” 

Mike Stackpole, (if I remember correctly) suggested that we didn’t have to go after all of the Clans, we needed to wipe out one of them.  There was some discussion about which one we should target too – a fairly active debate.  Ultimately the Smoke Jaguars were chosen as the sacrificial lambs of the Clans.  So, my map of Strana Mechty was changed, albeit slightly, to become Huntress – the new target of the assault. 

Bill’s thinking of the genetic repository seemed sound but there was a lot of debate that the Clans wouldn’t keep their genes in one place.  There was some logic in that – but we were talking the Clans.  Logic alone didn’t work with these folks.  Bill pointed out that going after one Clan didn’t make sense.  The Clans would clamor for a chance to wipe out the Inner Sphere task force.  Holding their genetic material as hostage seemed to be good way to blunt all of the Clans pouncing on the Inner Spherers.  Politics, it was decided, would leave the Smoke Jaguars isolated and forced to fight alone. 

Bill’s invasion obviously had to change as a result of all of this.  Bill never complained to me but I think he was pretty disappointed.  He had really mapped things out pretty well.  It is hard sometimes to work in a shared universe.  Bear in mind I was still trying to figure out how I could make a Smoke Jaguar turn traitor.  Bill ended up taking a pass on doing the novels.  The Gray Death Legion didn’t die on Strana Mechty – it clung on for several more years. 

Some things did get reused, though in different ways.  I loved what we came up with about stealing General Kerensky’s flagship (McKenna’s Pride) and using it to bomb the planet.  So, when I did Betrayal of Ideals (the infamous Wolverine saga) I leveraged the scene and finally got it into print.  That little scene is a private tribute to Bill Keith. 

I liked the final product of the Twilight Series with one minor exception, how Trent was dealt with. Mike and I sent some emails back and forth about the scene.  He argued strongly that Victor would never fully like or trust Trent.  I felt that made Victor a little two dimensional.  Trent was a man of honor just like Victor.  In the end, Trent’s alleged demise seemed somehow inappropriate.  (Don’t worry folks, I laid a plan to resolve this several years ago – you will one day see this in a slightly different perspective.) 

So there you have it, a nugget of BattleTech history.  What are your thoughts?  Would you have liked the story that was originally proposed?


  1. This series (twilight of the clans) was my first step into the battletech books, and is still one of my favorites to read.

  2. I was a big fan of Betrayal of Ideals. It's neat to know where the idea came from. With hindsight, I prefer the bombardment in that story. Every clanner knows the Inner Sphere is full of sneaky, honorless freebirths, but when it's one of their own that pulls of the trick? Epic.

    Two questions:
    1) Was Clan Smoke Jaguar your initial pick for annihilation? Did you do the convincing or were you convinced?

    2) This one tacks on to the Bill Keith and potential death of the Gray Death story: If a writer brings a unit to life in the btech-verse, do they have a say in what happens to it from then on out? For example, you fleshed out the Highlanders and Archer's Avengers.

  3. Mikallo,
    I really didn't have a preference as to which clan got hit. I remember suggesting the Nova Cats, but that was only me tossing a name in the proverbial hat.

    Writer's can get some sway in how a unit or individual is handled - but in the form of suggestions. Ultimately when you write for a shared universe, the owner of the Intellectual Property gets to make the call.


  4. Blaine,

    Also a big fan of "Betrayal of Ideals". I was sorry to hear that there were a few people who got a little carried away in disagreeing with that storyline.

    Personally, I like the way things played out with Trent. It also seems like Stackpole was into torturing certain characters, and I think not giving Trent what he wanted was a part of that.

    Sorry to dredge this old post up. But it was very interesting and hard to not comment.

  5. BattleTech fans are passionate folks. I'm proud of Betrayal of Ideals.