Author Topic: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age  (Read 1383 times)

Dubble_g

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Spoilers for the plot of Stackpole's novels below.

Now, on the surface Stackpole appears to be writing techno-fetishistic military sci-fi with Mary Sue characters and comic book dialog, but what if we've misjudged the man? What if there's something more going on between the lines?

Stackpole's thesis I believe is this: One's personal identity, one's sense of self, is an artificial construction with no grounding in reality. Happiness is therefore found not by realizing one's "true" self (because no such thing exists), but by assuming an identity pleasing to those around you.

Let's look at the evidence.

Doubles
There is an obsession in these works with doubles. Hanse Davion has one, Melissa Steiner has one, Tormano Liao kills one, Joshua Marik is replaced by one, Thomas Marik is one.
The concept of the double expresses the fear that one's identity can be stolen, that your very life can be stolen, by someone who looks like you.
Implicit in this fear is the realization that who you are is literally only skin deep.

Assumed Identities
Almost everyone who isn't a double is pretending to be something they aren't. Justin Xiang pretends to be a Capellan loyalist. Frederick Steiner pretends to be Focht. Sharilar Mori pretends to be a ComStar operative. Jaime Wolf pretends to be a mercenary. Phelan Kell pretends to be a clanner.
Thing is, nobody ever breaks these disguises.
Each one of the above people perfectly, perfectly play their role. Stackpole is showing us how easy is it to assume a new identity, which will be totally indistinguishable from our "real" identity. How is this possible, unless our real identity is also an act, a sham, a play we put on for others?

Paper thin loyalties
Time and again, we see how easily supposedly fanatical loyalty is broken. The Capellan Confederation is betrayed a record three times in the space of two years: Pavel Ridzik and the Tikonov Republic, the Northwind Highlanders, Candace Liao and the St. Ives Compact.
Loyalty to hone, family, friends and colleagues is often seen as one of the cornerstones of our identity, yet we are shown how weak such loyalties really are, driving us to wonder, what else about our identity is also paper thin?

Happy Endings
Happy endings are few and far between and usually only temporary, but let's see who qualifies.
Justin Xiang, an assassin who lied about his identity and aided his homeland to slaughter millions of supposed countrymen, is rewarded with a beautiful bride and glory.
Phelan Kell, who betrays both his natural homeland and his adopted one, is given refuge by the former and the most exalted leadership position by the latter.
Who dies in these stories?
People unable to shift their identities. Yorinaga Kurita attempts to stay true to his ideals, and gets to commit suicide for his pains. Tsen Shang is wed to a psychopathic murderess.
Clearly, happy endings are only earned if you are willing to change who you are to suit those around you.

In short, we have underestimated the much maligned Mr Stackpole. Or not. Could be he's just a bit of a hack.

beachhead1985

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #1 on: 09 March 2017, 00:30:11 »
You may have something here, but as arrogant as Stackpole comes off; this is a depth of pretentiousness I just don't see in him.

You absolutely do identify a number of strong recurring themes though. Frankly, however; I think that if Stackpole had left these breadcrumbs intentionally, we would have heard about it by now; almost certainly from him, in another essay telling us how stupid and easily led we are.

Then again, when he says in his two well known BT essays; "Your ideas are my ideas", maybe he's alluding to just this sort of manipulation.
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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #2 on: 09 March 2017, 08:49:55 »
No, I don't think any of this was deliberately put into the books. Far more likely that the same 2-3 plots have been endlessly recycled. But I thought it would be interesting to see if you could try to extract some deeper meaning ... from a series of books about big stompy robots.

Sharpnel

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #3 on: 09 March 2017, 10:56:03 »
Which makes sense as BT novels do fall under the category of pulp fiction.
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beachhead1985

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #4 on: 10 March 2017, 17:23:28 »
Well...then again...the doubles thing could be an artifact of the setting.

Consider; Stackpole wrote pretty early on and he also did most of the real court intrigue stuff. He had a lot of rope to lay out what was and was not impossible and what worked and what didn't in the BTU, but he had some guidelines.

One being Sword and Dagger.

In Sword and Dagger; the damn evil twin schtick *almost works* if it wasn't for some typical SF Adventure nonsense plot with Sortek, it would have. It's not totally out there that with this precedent, for a character in the BTU to look at that incident and think; "Hey, I'm smarter than Mad Max, I bet *I* could get it to work."

Heck; set aside realism and look at the plot; "Thomas Marik" made it work for *DECADES*.

Stackpole merely added to a foundation that makes that seem reasonable.
« Last Edit: 10 March 2017, 17:27:21 by beachhead1985 »
Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,      Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
The hour when earth's foundations fled,         They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
Followed their mercenary calling,               What God abandoned, these defended,
And took their wages, and are dead.             And saved the sum of things for pay.
     
A.E. Housman

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #5 on: 10 March 2017, 22:29:01 »
You're right, it's more the setting than any one specific writer. Still, just because it's pulp fiction doesn't mean there can't be more to it. I mean, look at Warhammer 40K: the creator openly said the space marines are a criticism of organized religion, but everyone ignores that in favor of chainswords!

Now in BTech's case I don't think any deeper meaning was planned, but if you look at the books as a group, you can make out some points they seem to be making subconsciously.

beachhead1985

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #6 on: 13 March 2017, 09:44:46 »
I think it's certainly possible, but is there any way we can know for *sure* what the author intended?
Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,      Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
The hour when earth's foundations fled,         They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
Followed their mercenary calling,               What God abandoned, these defended,
And took their wages, and are dead.             And saved the sum of things for pay.
     
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Lt_Jam

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #7 on: 02 April 2017, 11:20:17 »
Like a certified mechanic witnessing a bunch of teenagers pounding on a Ferrari at a Jiffy Lube, as a near PhD in literature I have to weigh in.  This is the worst discussion of literary criticism I've seen in years.  Let the yelling begin.

beachhead1985

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #8 on: 02 April 2017, 17:55:17 »
Like a certified mechanic witnessing a bunch of teenagers pounding on a Ferrari at a Jiffy Lube, as a near PhD in literature I have to weigh in.  This is the worst discussion of literary criticism I've seen in years.  Let the yelling begin.

Well, I for one would love to hear what you think; even as I hammer this prybar into the side of the battery WHICH IS STUCK! So go right ahead.
Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,      Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
The hour when earth's foundations fled,         They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
Followed their mercenary calling,               What God abandoned, these defended,
And took their wages, and are dead.             And saved the sum of things for pay.
     
A.E. Housman

Dubble_g

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #9 on: 02 April 2017, 23:24:58 »
You know what this thread needs? Someone to completely miss the evident tongue in cheek tone and come in with an "actually..."

skiltao

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #10 on: 15 April 2017, 23:14:54 »
The Capellan Confederation is betrayed a record three times in the space of two years: Pavel Ridzik and the Tikonov Republic, the Northwind Highlanders, Candace Liao and the St. Ives Compact.

I think the old House Liao book mentions that Capellan loyalties aren't straightforward. Specifically, that Capellans are expected to be loyal to caste, commonality and Confederation, but that these loyalties often conflict; and I seem to recall that Tikonov, the Northwind Highlanders, and St Ives all seceded not because of their own disloyalty but because they perceived disloyalty (in one way or another) from the Chancellor.

Quote
Stackpole's thesis I believe is this: One's personal identity, one's sense of self, is an artificial construction with no grounding in reality. Happiness is therefore found not by realizing one's "true" self (because no such thing exists), but by assuming an identity pleasing to those around you.

Hanse Davion himself personally refutes your thesis in his final message to Maximillian Liao. ;)

I think you're right that there's something going on with identity, though. Morgan Kell pulling out that verigraphed "deny Morgan Kell nothing" note, Yorinaga being recognized by how his Warhammer moves, Justin Xiang/Allard being half-Capellan, Clovis...

Interesting approach! It may be possible to extract a deeper meaning, but if it is, I'm not up to it right now.
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Dubble_g

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #11 on: 20 April 2017, 09:50:18 »
Quote
Hanse Davion himself personally refutes your thesis in his final message to Maximillian Liao.

Well he's dead now so who cares what he thinks?

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #12 on: 21 April 2017, 10:11:46 »
Well he's dead now so who cares what he thinks?

Well, he's born centuries after you die so I think he gets the last word.  #P
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Jaim Magnus

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #13 on: 21 April 2017, 15:51:49 »
Well, he's born centuries after you die so I think he gets the last word.  #P

Also, he's, you know, fictional.   :o


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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #14 on: 21 April 2017, 15:53:52 »
Also, he's, you know, fictional.   :o

Shhhh! Don't let him know. :-X
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beachhead1985

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #15 on: 21 April 2017, 18:19:14 »
Also, he's, you know, fictional.   :o

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! :D
Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,      Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
The hour when earth's foundations fled,         They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
Followed their mercenary calling,               What God abandoned, these defended,
And took their wages, and are dead.             And saved the sum of things for pay.
     
A.E. Housman

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #16 on: 21 April 2017, 21:57:09 »
You know what this thread needs? Someone to completely miss the evident tongue in cheek tone and come in with an "actually..."

actually...  :D

Hmm, it's an interesting concept; that being said, that sort of thing makes my brain hurt, so I have nothing real to contribute--I just had to be that guy  :P
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Dubble_g

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #17 on: 22 April 2017, 01:45:07 »
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! :D

Do not listen to the their lies. Hanse Davion is alive and well. Or was. Up until the ol' ticker stopped, y'know, ticking.

Dubble_g

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #18 on: 22 April 2017, 01:47:29 »
Shhhh! Don't let him know. :-X

Never fear brother. I too cannot detect sarcasm.

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #19 on: 22 April 2017, 02:04:41 »
actually...  :D

Hmm, it's an interesting concept; that being said, that sort of thing makes my brain hurt, so I have nothing real to contribute--I just had to be that guy  :P

Guess I'm disappointed nobody picked up on the (to me) obvious joking tone. I was hoping people might share their own crazy ideas about what BattleTech is "really" about...

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #20 on: 24 April 2017, 14:48:42 »
Never fear brother. I too cannot detect sarcasm.

No, I meant don't let Hanse know. He might have a heart attack. Waaaait a minute....
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ErikModi

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #21 on: 07 June 2017, 20:45:24 »
I think Stackpole's theme is less about loosing identity and more about finding identity.  To quote a favorite Sci-Fi series of mine, "In the right new environment, you'll thrive."

Phelan Kell never really fit in among his peers in the Inner Sphere.  He was always mouthing off, getting into trouble, going his own way and doing his own thing.  Ironically, this rebellious spirit finds himself among the Clans, where one would think the rebellious wouldn't last long.  However, Phelan rebels to follow the dictates of his conscience, doing what he believes is best, and ultimately the Clans reward results.  Phelan gets results, so Clansmen kind of stop caring how he does it.  And the "Might Makes Right" society of the Clans, you lead by proving your worth as a warrior.  No one's going to second-guess Phelan because he clearly knows what he's doing (he gets results) and he might kick their asses.

Victor Ian Steiner-Davion always knew he was destined to lead the Federated Suns, but he had to learn for his own how he was going to go about doing that.  He had to learn to put aside who everyone else wanted him to be and learn to be himself alone.  He had to reject the path of his mother the Peacemaker, his father the Magnificent Bastard, his potential grandfather-in-law the Noble Samurai, and everyone else's assumption that he was either an egotistical hothead out to prove himself or a spoiled brat who expected everything to be done for him.  Victor had so many premade identities laid out before him, he had to pick and choose the best parts of them to forge his unique identity.

Kai Allard-Liao.  Oh, where to begin?  It's outright stated when we meet him how he feels the burden of living up to what's expected of him is crushing him, and how he's absolutely convinced he's just not good enough, not smart enough, and doggone it, people don't like him to be the great warrior everyone knows he is.  He honestly, steadfastly believes everything he tries will ultimately end in horrible, fiery failure.  He has to be almost literally clobbered over the head with the fact that not only is he just as good as everyone says he is, he's in fact even better.  He has to learn to let go of his self-doubt and self-loathing and consciously accept the confidence necessary to truly fulfill his insane potential.  Like Victor, he needs to become who he should be regardless of the outside influences forced upon him, but unlike Victor, Kai's conflict is almost all internal, with his challenges and demons all springing from his own mind.  The exterior conflict of Victor's multiple potential identities is mirrored in Kai's internal struggle with his own inferiority complex.

Interestingly, Hohiro Kurita is less of a main character, and rather a supporting character for Shin Yodama.  Similarly to Kai, Shin is very humble and credits luck and others far more than himself, but it's quite clear he's an exceptionally capable warrior.  The major difference is that while Kai's humility stems from his inferiority complex, Shin's comes from a genuine desire to place credit where credit is do, not overestimate his own abilities, and to live up to the standards of proper behavior within the Combine.  But here is where Shin's quest for the "right new environment" comes up.  He's yakuza, a barely-tolerated element of Combine society, yet he's also a MechWarrior, the very pinnacle of warriorhood his warrior people aspire to.  He must learn how he fits into the rigid structure of Combine society under this duality, and must carve his own niche where one does not exist.  Because of his genuine desire to live up to and serve the principles of the Dragon, he does this behind his polite, unassuming facade, neither forcing others to accept him on his terms, nor allowing himself to be dismissed because of another's preconceptions.  His is the tale of not merely finding the correct identity, but creating one from whole cloth because what you are is so outside everyone's expectations they have no frame of reference for it.  As with many things about Combine society in Stackpole's books, this is presented so bluntly yet so subtly it's very hard to pick up on unless you're looking for it.

Characters like Sun-Tzu Liao and Katherine Steiner have to decide which identities they will craft for themselves to achieve their goals.  Sun-Tzu hides his brilliant scheming behind a facade of madness to get others to underestimate him, while Katherine hides her scheming insanity behind a facade of gentle kindness to get people to underestimate her.  The discovery of not just one's personal identity, but what perceived identity will best benefit it.  A double-whammy.

Even the Clans as a whole are on a quest for identity.  The driving question behind the Crusaders, one they dare not admit even to themselves, is "if we are not the restorers of the Star League, what are we?"  The Wardens have an answer, but the Crusaders don't like it.

This metaphor becomes very clear with the addition of the Clan totem masks worn at the Clan meetings.  A mask not only hides your identity, it presents a new one to all who look on you.  The Clansmen who wear their totem masks adopt the identity of their Clans themselves, becoming one with it, speaking for it, making decisions for it.  But behind the mask the person is still themselves, and must still obey the dictates of their own conscience, whatever they have decided those must be.  Note how Ulric, Natasha, and Phelan rarely, if ever, wear their masks, and note that these are the strongest and most confident of the Clansmen, the ones most assured their course is correct (and the ones the reader is meant to most strongly sympathize with).  They refuse to even pretend to subsume their identity into that of their Clan, because they are keenly aware they always decide matters of great import to the Clan.  That responsibility is no mask one can take off and put on at will, it becomes the fiber of one's very being if one is to be a truly great leader.  Note also how Phelan adopts Clan speech and mannerisms, attempting to fit in, while Natasha, raised among the Clans, doesn't care if people are upset by her contractions.  Both are imposing their discovered identity on the Clans themselves:  Phelan by showing them someone from their Inner Sphere can "beat them at their own game," Natasha by showing them that "corrupting" influence of the Inner Sphere has no bearing on a warrior's skill, determination, or intelligence.

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Re: Re-evaluating Stackpole: Personal identity in the modern age
« Reply #22 on: 17 June 2017, 06:09:42 »
Thanks for your thoughtful reply to this thread as well Erik. To be honest, you've probably put in more thought than the OP deserved; very interesting analysis!

Rather than debate abstractly I thought I'd put my word where my mouth was (strange as the concept may be) and have written a couple of short stories exploring identity in the BTech universe. I won't link them here, since this isn't really the subforum for that, but you can find them in the Fan Fiction sub on this site.