We meet Galen Cox in Michael A. Stackpole’s Lethal Heritage. He quickly earns his place in the storyline as the man who punches Victor Steiner-Davion. He’s a company commander in the Twelfth Donegal Guards, who volunteered to ride herd on their new, noble, and inexperienced battalion commander.
His background is that Draconis Combine raiders killed his parents in his past. And his future, well, you only have to keep reading after Lethal Heritage to learn that. But I like figuring out how people become the people we see on the page.
This was my question: how does a man whose parents are murdered by the Combine become a reasonable, level-headed combat officer? A man who joins the military for justice, for revenge, for bloodlust… how does he turn into the man we read about alongside Victor Steiner-Davion?
I decided there had to be a time when he sated that bloodlust. There had to be an action where he learned valuable lessons, an action that taught him the necessity of leading and making hard choices. There had to be a fulcrum that turned him into the man who would keep a kid battalion CO from killing them all.
So I wrote one. And I called it Vengeance.
To talk about Vengeance we have to talk about Blitzkrieg.
This novella, as well as a couple of others by myself and Steve Mohan, were written specifically to be sold on Amazon. This is, gosh, almost a decade ago now. 2012, from the publication date. By 2012 the first-generation Kindles had come out and shown the world that the move toward ebooks wasn’t going to stop. It’d be a couple more years until the market really got going, but Steve and I saw which way the winds were blowing, and we wanted to test.
We pitched Loren on Blitzkrieg, a test series of ebook-only novellas to go on the Amazon Kindle Store, in a test engagement. He agreed, and we outlined and wrote the books that would become Ice Storm, Vengeance, and Ghost Bear’s Lament. At the time, new BattleTech fiction was coming out regularly on BattleCorps in PDF under the subscription model, and doing very well. But we wanted to try something new.
All three were successful, certainly by the standards of 2012, but we got focused on other projects and never went back to the program.
Today, in the world of 2021, the Amazon ebook market is fully mature and new BattleTech novellas come out there on a regular basis. I think back about these Blitzkrieg books often. I’ve never asked John Helfers, the Catalyst executive editor, if he saw the Blitzkrieg books as an opportunity and kept going. I like to think he did.
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When I sat down to start planning the story, I had two choices. I could write a simple combat story, a straight-up fight between a company of the AFFC and the DCMS. But we’ve seen that a thousand times. I didn’t think that would carry the emotional weight that I needed, to drive the change in Galen’s character that such a character shift would require.
Instead, I made a list of all the things that had been going on in recent years in the spaces around where I wanted to set the story (the planet Ryde) and among the characters. This is after the War of 3039 but before the Clan Invasion. The Federated Commonwealth, the combined Steiner-Davion nation, is still young. The Combine, though it had beaten back the AFFC in 3039, was still deep in the realignments taking place as Theodore Kurita assumed more and more control from his father Takashi. There is the hint of advanced technology but it is by no means prevalent.
And people, everywhere, have families, goals, ambitions, and desires.
I knew the protagonist would be Galen Cox. I knew he would be young. I knew the adversary would be the Combine, but I knew it wasn’t going to be something conventional. And the Free Rasalhague Republic was barely ten years old.
I knew Duke Ricol, from the Saga of the Gray Death Legion, would continue to be important.
So there appeared to be fertile ground.
The AFFC Side
Galen Cox was a given, and there were no sources saying the 12th Donegal Guards couldn’t be on Ryde in 3046. War of 3039 had them on Trellwan and 20 Year Update had them on Trellwan, but there’s plenty of time for them to have rotated somewhere else. I invented a company with an old-school Lyran commander.
Rychert I was careful to try and make not a social general dilettante; he’s old for his age, and though proper and a prig, he is a good officer. There are things he has to teach Galen, whether Galen wants to learn them or not.
I had a great deal of fun building a mixed AFFS/LCAF company and talking up the combined-military aspects of it. When two hidebound and traditional organizations enmesh—and any veteran will tell you, despite innovation in warfighting, there are few more traditional and hidebound organizations than militaries—there are going to be growing pains.
Bets Matheson and the other Ryde Militia tankers I wanted to make sure readers felt were both equal to, and contributed as much toward the victory as, the MechWarriors. I understand and even applaud the primacy of BattleMechs in the setting, but I’ve always felt and continue to feel the conventional forces still deserve airtime and respect. I’m not going to lie, I re-read Vengeance in preparation for writing this and I choked up a little at Bets’ death scene. Sometimes you get something right.
And finally, I figured what the hell, if I was stealing Mike Stackpole’s characters, I may as well take two, so I brought back Rhinestag from Warrior: Coupe. He was a throwaway plot device character in that book, so if you don’t recall it, don’t feel bad. But it was nice to bring him back as a more adult character.
The DCMS Side
Arik Arlansson was so much fun to think about and write. I told myself, “imagine a samurai Viking.” And then I had to work out what circumstances would create such a person, what events would shape him. The Ronin War is not that long over, institutionally. The 3039 war would be fresher, but there would absolutely be junior officers at Rasalhague’s formation who were now reaching field grade rank.
How would that shape a person? What if you were ethnically Rasalhagian, but socially Kuritan? What if you remained loyal to your nation and not your world and heritage? How would the generally -ist (let’s be honest, at various times they’re racist, misogynist, etc.) DCMS accept you? Would you be partisan of Theodore Kurita? What if you were all those things, but resisted the Kanrei’s teachings?
Who would your patron be then? And then the answer was obvious: the Red Duke, Duke Hassid Ricol, he of Trellwan and Verthandi and Helm and and and…
And what would Ricol’s goals be? Power, of course, as Theodore eroded all the traditional avenues of power with his reforms. So why not lie down with the snake, as it were? Why not introduce a reform of your own, to your own benefit?
If Theodore could take criminals, yakuza, and make them MechWarriors, why couldn’t the Red Duke take Rasalhagians and make them trainers?
This is really the story of two people, Galen Cox and Arik Arlansson. I play in a lot of points of view, because sometimes the best way to illustrate a person’s actions is by looking at them from the outside, but it’s their stories. They, as characters, get the arcs.
Galen’s character arc is pretty conventional; if you know the basic three-act character arc, or even Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, you’ll recognize it. He begins the story in a place of comfort (in command of his lance, sure of his place and his desire for revenge), takes actions that have consequences (disobeying the hauptmann, getting Bets killed, taking command) and is changed by the outcomes (a respect for his role as a soldier, a respect for the sacrifice of others, the realities of command, etc.).
Arik’s is more compressed, and much more traditionally based in the real world. He makes decisions that have costs (the ambush of Latham’s company, the separation between companies in the second battle, deployments in the third) and those costs change his output and his goals. He begins the story on a mission for acceptance from others; by the end, he is so fearful of the judgment of those same others over his defeat, that he can scarcely countenance a withdrawal.
I also wanted to give the supporting characters more to do than be window dressing. Sergeant Major Hiram, for example, gets to play the senior NCO trope to perfection. The Combine tai-is have, I think, just the right amount of ambition and derision.
And the Ryde Militia troops get to be the quiet professionals who just get shit done.
All These Years Later
As I said, I re-read this novella for this post. I don’t honestly remember the actual writing. I know in 2012 I was probably in the best writing shape of my life, cranking out projects like nobody’s business. So, I suspect it came out pretty fast and pretty clean.
I’m pretty satisfied with this book. That’s not always the reaction you have, when you go back and re-read something you wrote when you were younger. Mid-forties me doesn’t have at all the same worldview that mid-30s me had, for example.
But there were a few scenes. Man. I used to get stuff right.
Bets Matheson’s death, as I said above.
The byplay between Staff Sergeant Canne and his gunner, near the end, when they’re about to engage the DropShip. I laughed out loud earlier.
I want to go back and write the next adventures of Joachim Rhinestag, now. I think it’s the perspective of age; I identify a lot more with that character now than I did when I was writing him. Now I want to know if he quietly stayed on Ryde during the Clan invasion, or whether he transferred to a line regiment and cracked track with the best of them.
We know, of course, what happened to the Twelfth on Trellwan. There were these guys, from outer space, and Galen got to punch the heir to the throne in the face. But there had to be a couple good years in there, getting drunk in the bars in Sarghad, walking through the old Legion battlefields at Thunder Rift…
Who knows? Maybe an opportunity will arise.
I’ll ask you all a favor, if you go back and re-read this or if you read it for the first time? Leave a review on Amazon. Tell the people what you think, good or bad. I won’t tell you any stories about algorithms or rankings, nothing so technical. I just like knowing whether I hit the mark.
Even all these years later.