Saturday, March 31, 2012

April Fool's Day for BattleTech Fans

For April Fool's this year, my list of BattleTech plotlines and story ideas and plotlines that were never fully considered.  Having been part of this universe for a long time, my sense of humor has been twisted rather tightly.  Most of these concepts and story ideas were discarded for damn good reasons, though in all honesty, I think that the powers that be missed some golden opportunities with some of the ideas I've toyed with over the years.  So, for a chuckle - here you go!   
Kerensky's Coup:  When Stefan Amaris offers Kerensky the chance to serve under him - he accepts.  While the Usurper secretly plots Kerensky's assassination, the old man kills the First Lord first and assumes control of the Star League.  The Rim Worlds Republic is shattered quickly as the SLDF units don't have to fight their way into the Hegemony.  The Star League never dies. 

The last scene of Endgame is Katrina and Victor sleeping with each other.  (Oh come on, you've all suspected that she secretly loved him…)

Kai Allard-Liao slips into an Elemental suit to prepare to do battle, but can't use it because it's too damn big (LIKE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO WORK?).  He climbs out and is squashed like a bug under the footpad of a Clan Vulture. 

Nicholas Kerensky proposes the idea of the Clans and is then sedated and locked up.  "Single combat when I have a fully company of 'Mechs at my disposal, what in the hell is he thinking?  Give up sex to reproduce using iron wombs?  And what is up with all that babbling about Smoke Jaguars?  What's he been smoking?"

The Inner Sphere is invaded by giant intelligent chicken creatures.  They are not only wiped out, but served as dinner to victors.  (Courtesy of Colonel Wayne Waco Rogers Roasters) 

The "What if I had a Jihad and no one showed up?" scenario.  At the outbreak of the Jihad Outreach is reduced to radioactive slag.  Only problem, Wolf's Dragoons isn't there.  Uh oh.  They got intel on the strike and moved against Terra.  Double uh oh.  The Dragoons shatter the Word of Blake there and declare themselves at the ilClan. 

The "Liao isn't as dumb as he looks," scenario.  Mad Max Liao, suspicious of the wedding of Melissa Steiner and Hanse Davion - orders his military to invade the Federated Suns at the time of the wedding reception.  They catch the Davion forces on their staging worlds, unprepared, and inflict massive casualties.  The Federated Suns crumbles, ill-equipped for a defense.  

Jerome Blake IS The Master.  Using lost Star League tech, Blake's brain is put in a cybernetic body and never steps down as the head of ComStar.  None of the religious mumbo jumbo ever becomes part of the ComStar culture.  ComStar essentially becomes a very big powerful corporation with its own army.  When the Jihad happens, its is ComStar putting an end to the Succession Wars. 

When Victor-Steiner Davion denies Trent a chance to command, Trent kills him.  "Any last words Mighty Mouse?" 

Kahn Ward is attacked by a marauding band of giant intelligent chicken creature which peck him to death. 

Primus Waterly named the First Lord of a new Star League.  Her plan to cripple communications works (Operation Scorpion,) bringing the Federated Commonwealth to its knees, then the rest of the Inner Sphere follows.  She kills Focht and establishes herself as the First Lord of a new Star League. 

House Liao's ultimate betrayal.  During the Clan invasion, House Liao strikes at House Marik and Davion, taking out manufacturing centers.  Without arms coming in, the Clans crush the other houses and Sun-Tzu Liao has backed a winner, earning him a place of honor in the court of the Star League. 

The Outbound Light doesn't find the Clans, they find the Wolverines.  The Wolverines tip off the Inner Sphere about what happened to Kerensky's children.  The Inner Sphere unites out of fear and armed with the intel given by the Wolverines - leads as preemptive strike into Clan space. 

Vlad kills Phelan Kell.  There should be more to this but just nurse it for a moment.  Ahh…

Devlin Stone is the son of Frederick Steiner (Focht) and Myndo Waterly.  She wasn't killed, but has been the true force behind ComStar all along.  I know - scary...

Snord's Irregulars launch a surprise attack on Terra at the end of the Third Succession War and seize the planet.  Cranston Snord becomes the new First Lord of a new Star League. 

Jerome Blake doesn't seize Terra - instead House Kurita does in a surprise assault.  With control over ComStar and Terra, it is a battle royale between the rest of the Inner Sphere and the Draconis Combine. 

Wolverines Triumphant.  Nicholas Kerensky is killed while fighting the Wolverines.  The Clans morph into a more benevolent society as Kerensky's extreme weirdness is stripped away.  The caste system is dissolved.  The Clans become a unified peoples, still militaristic, but not so Klingon-ish. When they do invade the Inner Sphere, there's no bargaining…it's all out war. 

What if the scientist caste was on top in the Clan heirarchy?  Rather than the Warriors, the scientists rule the Clans.  Technology leaps ahead centuries by the time of the invasion.  Bio-BattleMechs and stuff.  Nastier weapons.  Uber-Tech. 

The Smoke Jaguars win against the Star League.  Victor's head is held in Osis's hands before the Clans.  The Nova Cats get VERY nervous as a result of their betrayal. 

The Nova Cats have a vision about giant Chicken aliens invading the Inner Sphere.  Everyone laughs at them. 

House Marik wipes out Wolf's Dragoons as Joshua Marik takes the throne of the Free Worlds League.  He picks apart the loot from the Dragoons and uses it to rebuild the League into THE major force in the Inner Sphere.   He also figures out where the Dragoons came from and prepared his nation, but not the others, for the eventual invasion. 

Katrina takes X as a mate.  X = Kahn Ward, Thomas Marik, Lincoln Osis, Archer Christifori, or Sun-Tzu Liao.

The Knights of the Inner Sphere put on the play Spamalot II. 

What if we never changed the universe?  So a company of patchwork 'Mech defend an entire planet.  No factories, no regiments, and big merc units numbered twelve dudes and skimpily clad dudettes with 'Mechs.  Ice ships, pirates, and salvage means staying in the fight. 

One word:  Cylons. 

ComStar's network becomes self-aware and renames itself "Skynet."  Short android copies of Victor Steiner Davion are sent out to kill the leaders of the Inner Sphere.  (I have to admit, I'm still fleshing this idea out, but you get the idea.) 

Kahn Ward loses his arm in battle and Clan scientists replace it with a chainsaw appendage. 

All MechWarriors in the universe have the "Ghost 'Mech" capability that Morgan Kell demonstrated, and they use it a lot. 

The Word of Blake comes across a planet inhabited by giant intelligent chickens.  They use cybernetic implants on these creatures creating the Manei Cluckini, an army of killer chickens. 

"Everybody on Exodus…be back in one hour."  Kerensky wasn't the only one to go on the Exodus.  All of the major houses send out forces into the Periphery to create empires they might need someday.  Each of these mini-Exodus's cuts ties to their home governments during the Succession Wars and all come back as unique distinct cultures to invade the Inner Sphere. 

Richard Cameron sees right through Amaris and pops him with his laser before the coup unfolds.  The coup never happens and Rim Worlds League is laid waste as a result of Kerensky learning of their deception. 

Rather than fight a bloody Civil War, Victor has Katherine assassinated.  The Federated Commonwealth remains intact going through the Dark Ages. 

What if Kerensky came home sooner?  Rather than the civil war that led to the Clans, the SLDF remained intact and prospered.  In Kerensky's lifetime they came back to the Inner Sphere on a war to reestablish the Star League.  But instead of arriving in 3050, they come a century or two earlier. 

‘Mechs invade Endor.  While not a viable idea, I like the idea of crushing Ewoks. 

Three words:  Battlefield Nuclear Weapons.  Not as optional - as standard equipment. 

The Succession Wars don't happen.  Hell, Terra was pretty trashed anyway.  Why fight for control of the Hegemony worlds?  When the Clans arrive they find house governments with massive militaries that had not been battered by three centuries of warfare.  Surprise!

Daleks invade the Free Worlds League!  A little Dalek-on-'Mech action would be fun.  Question:  How many points does a toilet plunger ray gun do?  Answer:  5 but the range sucks. 

The arrival of Wolf's Dragoons results in their immediate attack and destruction.  The Inner Sphere learns of the Clans from their databases and sets off to attack the Clans first (or better yet, feeds them misinformation about the Inner Sphere prior to their own invasion.) 

House Ward is part of Clan Wolverine.  Phelan Kell tells the Wolves that capture him that he carries the Ward bloodline in his veins…and they kill him. 

Return to suggested Clan Names That Didn’t Make It Past The First Cut:  Turkey Baster, Iron Scrotum, Killer Sloth, Pregnant Hamster, Viper-Poodle, Pap-Smear, Smoke Stoner, Jade Prostate, Mammoth Shrimp, Amorous Armadillo, Snow-Weasel, Emerald Ball-Crusher, Pink Flamingo, Black Hemorrhoid, Fire Frogs, Azure Zit, and Rabid Monkey. 

Instead of building NAIS, House Davion builds a ‘Death Star.’  (Imagine me doing the quotes in the air like Dr. Evil and it’s funnier…)

FASA buys Steve Jackson games and introduces Ogres against BattleMechs.  (Somehow I picture House Marik fielding a lot of these – go figure.)

We introduce a Wave-Motion Gun for ‘Mechs and Spaceships.  Let’s face it, you wish you’d come up with that. 

And finally…Adam Steiner from the TV Series becomes Archon!  What?  What do you mean we did that?  WTF?  Huh?  It was mentioned in one of my books?  Aw crudstunk…

PS.  If you believe any of this, Google the definition of April Fool’s Day. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Review: Berlin 1961

Spoiler Alert:  We won the Cold War.  Sorry, I had to do that. As a historian, this is about as funny as it gets.   

I have to admit, I picked up Frederick Kempe’s book, Berlin 1961, in hopes of doing some research on the defense of Berlin during the following year, 1962 (during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)  I’m one of those writers that live in the footnotes of a book for potential sources and logic.  I profess, prior to this book, what I knew about the wall going up in Berlin was that it went up, and they shot people trying to get across from East Berlin to the west.  Like most people, I had no idea of the depth of political and diplomatic wrangling that went on that led up to the crisis. 

To start with, Kempe’s writing style is very engaging and entertaining.  There were a few parts where I actually chuckled at his prose, in a good way.  I enjoyed reading this book.  This is not a boring read - it's a book that is highly readable. 

Having said that, this book is not entirely for the faint at heart.  The politics and diplomatic to-and-fro in this were a researcher’s nightmare to keep track of.  Kempe does an admirable job of keeping the reader engaged without bogging down in too much detail (as is often the temptation.)  I had no idea all that had occurred during the Berlin crisis and found it highly entertaining to read. 

There are some drawbacks to the book.  This crisis ends rather anti-climatically.  That’s not Kempe’s fault as a writer, but the reality of historical events.  He does a very good job of building up the characters and their motivations and the build up to the climax.  But in the end, we all know we didn’t go to war in 1961 with the Russians and East Germans so, well, you kind of know that it ends peacefully.  My only complaint with the writing in the book is that I wanted more at the end.  The crisis ended, there was a nice lead in to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s infamous speech on Berlin – but that was it. 

My only other issue has nothing to do with the author.  I got the Kindle edition and there were no photographs.  This has happened with a few publishers and it’s irritating.  Kempe’s writing refers to iconic photos, but there were none with the Kindle edition. 

Is the book worth picking up – yes.  It is THE book on the Berlin crisis and a real lesson in diplomacy and how countries painfully examine what is said by leaders and take action on those words. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Fine Line

As a historian/author, I have to walk a fine line in my writing about a subject.  When it comes to my books on the Great War, I have to present not just the good about the men I write about, but their weaknesses as well.  Such is the case with my latest book on Bert Hall which I’m hip-deep on writing. 

Historians should be relatively fair and balanced.  It isn’t easy with a character like Bert Hall.  But I am finding out some truths that were a bit surprising as I dig through the thousands of pages of research material.

When I was writing Terror of the Autumn Skies about Frank Luke Jr., I was tempted to expand on what I was thinking about Frank’s relationship with Marie Rapson and the possibility that they may have had a child.  I could never find the proverbial smoking gun, simply facts that, if taken in the right context, pointed to this birth happening. Proving it and thinking its right are two different things.  So I presented the facts in the book and allow the reader to form their own opinion.  It was the right thing to do and I stand by my decision. 

In Cruise of the Sea Eagle where I wrote about Count Felix von Luckner I did the same sort of thing about his alleged ties to the early Nazi movements.  There’s facts, then there are speculations.  As a historian, I had to straddle that line carefully.  I had to present the known facts and from there, readers need to draw their own conclusions. 

I’m having the same sort ‘fun’ with my Bert Hall book project. 

One thing I intend to probe is Bert Hall’s reputation.  Many of the ‘sources’ of the stories about bawdy Bert can be tied to one man – Paul Rockwell.  This presents something that every character needs, an antagonist.  Paul certainly filled that role for Bert.  It is clear that Paul Rockwell had a hatred of Bert Hall that began with his brother’s death in 1916.  He fed information (true or false?) to historians for years, working hard to minimize or even exclude Bert Hall from the Lafayette Escadrille’s history.  This was validated when I spent time at Washington and Lee University in their collection of Paul Rockwell’s correspondence and materials.  So while I will present the perspective of Bert that most people are familiar with – the brothel hopping, card cheating, scoundrel…I will also present how that image got formed and what was behind it. 

In the research for this book I have also come across some tid-bits of information that present Bert in a less-than-lovable light.  Those will go into the book as well. 

In the end I want readers to form their own opinions.  My job is to present the facts.  All I can say is if you think you know Bert Hall, I intend to give you some new details about his fascinating life and career that will force you to rethink your view on the man.  If nothing else, it is entertaining.  I’d write more, but Chapter Seven is calling me...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Preparing for the summer book tour(s)

This is a big year for me on a number of writing fronts.  Coming out soon is Secret Witness, my first true crime book on the murder of Nola Puyear in Marshall Michigan in 1967.  Coming out at nearly the same time will be Business Rules:  The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords.  Then in July, a real exciting book, Virginia Creeper.  Then, this autumn I jump back into military history with, The Bad Boy: Bert Hall: Aviator and Mercenary of the Skies.  I’m also hoping to get at least one more book done before December.  Truth be told, I can’t think out that far. 

One of the things most authors don’t talk about is the publicity that we need to do to help sell books.  In the last few weeks I have been arranging for the book tour events just for Secret Witness.  For me, this is planning a week in Michigan doing lectures and book signing events.  I’m also hoping to do a few book clubs – if everything works out.

You would think it would be easy, but you have to try in a short period of time (a week) to arrange multiple events with multiple venues, with multiple calendars. It means finding bloggers willing to do interviews with me about the book – and finding the right places to go and speak. 

I have about five events where we are still playing with the dates etc., but as it stands the first week of June I will be in Michigan (Battle Creek, Marshall, Kalamazoo, Detroit areas) doing the following events for Secret Witness:

June 4             Be Scene TV interview in Battle Creek
                        7:00pm Marshall Public Library
June 6             Albion Public Library, 12:15pm
June 8             Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo at 6:30pm

I have a few more events scheduled, more about those as I lock down the dates. 

If you are in the area, drop in.  Heck, bring your BattleTech novels to get them signed if you want.  Also, if you have a venue in Michigan that week, or a book club you think would enjoy speaking with an author about their book – reach out to me.   If you write a blog, I do blog interviews too. 

As far as the other venues for the other books…I’m working on it!  Suffice it to say, I will be doing a lot of public speaking stuff in the coming year just to keep up with this publishing schedule.  I look forward to seeing or hearing from you. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My inspiration to be a writer? Star Trek!

I received an email from a fan recently that asked what inspired me to be a writer.  I had to think about that for a while.  Ultimately what drove me to being a writer was…brace yourself…Star Trek. 

I was a child of the 1960’s and 70’s.  When I came home after school, every day at 5:00pm, Star Trek was on.  This was not the sanitized Star Trek of The Next Generation, this was Captain James Tiberius Kirk.  Those shows rocked.  Say what you will about William Shatner, but you can’t bad-mouth James Kirk.  The man could beat a Vulcan and three-dimensional chess, beat the crap out of Klingon, and had no problems scoring with the ladies. Oh, I respect Picard – but the guy I’d like to sit in a bar and have a drink with is Kirk.  Three words here – Flying Leg Kick.   

Yes, the special effects were cheesy by today’s standards…but the stories were great.  It was the first time I watched TV and said, “the guys that write this are the real stars.” I remember looking at the show and thinking about the characters and their dynamics – how they interacted with each other.  For me I started thinking for the first time about the work that went into creating good characters and how important their dialogue was. 

And I saw the impact of good story telling.  You may not remember this, but when NASA rolled out the first space shuttle they had a contest as to what to name her.  The winner, by far, was Enterprise.  This was a case where fiction overtook the real world and made a deep impression on me.

I went to college at Central Michigan University with a business management major.  We had a kick-ass school paper then – the CM Life.  I decided I wanted to write an editorial column for the paper – to test out my creativity.  I drafted three columns, typed them (on a typewriter – boy am I dating myself!) and went over to the editorial offices to push for the job.  I was going to be competing against people that were going into this field as a career…business students simply didn’t write for the paper.  I remember thinking, “pull a Kirk here – bluff and bravado can pull this off.”  I met with the editor and got the job.  For three years I wrote columns for the newspaper and I didn’t take a single journalism class.  People were asking me “how come I never see you in my journalism classes?” and I would shrug.  The reality was I was taking classes at the other end of campus in the school of business.  James Kirk got me that job. 

My last year in school a role playing game came out from a little company called FASA based on Star Trek.  I played D&D and the chance to play sessions aboard the Enterprise was appealing.  I came up with an idea for a scenario set for the game and wrote it up.  I sent it into the publisher and waited.  Nothing.  I was bummed.  After I graduated I wrote them a follow-up letter and they came back and said they wanted to buy it!  But first, before that came out, they had a new game they wondered if I would write for – Battledroids (BattleTech).  So I became a part-time writer for them.  Eventually my Star Trek material came out – The Strider Incident.  That led to me writing other Star Trek sourcebooks and game product.  My experience there led me to write computer games tips books for Star Trek games for Brady Books.  Yup, you got it – Star Trek got me into writing for the game industry. 

When I was writing the tip book for Star Trek Generations I was sent out to California to meet with the programmers.  They had some of the props from the movie for filming the scenes in the game.  I got to sit in a Klingon captain’s chair straight out of the movie.  Face it, a number of you are jealous right now - aren't you?  Up close it was a little disappointing, it was a Chevy Vega bucket seat with a cheesy plywood base around it – but I didn’t care.  The guy from Paramount told me that the season wrap party for Star Trek Voyager was the weekend after I was slated to go back…and I could come if I wanted.  I couldn’t!  I always regretted that.  Three words – Seven of Nine. 

Writing game material led me to write BattleTech novels.  Writing those novels let me write business management books (Cubicle Warfare) and military history.  But, when you look back, the origins were me sitting on the floor of my Battle Creek home watching my folks black and white TV, watching Star Trek after school. 

Thank you Trek!  I owe you big time.