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BattleTech Player Boards => Novel and Sourcebook Reviews => Topic started by: Middcore on 17 October 2021, 11:25:37

Title: Rock and a Hard Place
Post by: Middcore on 17 October 2021, 11:25:37
Just finished this and was slightly surprised to see no thread yet, so here she be!

Stuff I liked

-I've talked about this before with Keith's stuff, but I respect that he really puts effort into picking/creating unique settings for his action to take place. Whereas other BT authors might make a vague reference to a planet's day cycle being a couple hours off Terran standard and move on, Keith picked the space station Wheel, and really made its unique features have an impact on the action.

-If you're into AeroTech and DropShip/JumpShip operations, this is a book for you. I'm not sure there's ever been a BT novel that talks this much about AU's, transit time between jump points and interplanetary bodies, how crews cope with sustained high-G burns, reaction mass (so much about reaction mass!), that sort of thing.

-Similarly, if you want more love given to conventional forces in BT, this is a book for you. Like a lot of other GDL books, Legion infantry play a huge role in events here. They breach and capture a Combine DropShip before even the halfway point of the book. There's even a little tanker action.

-We don't really learn much new about any of the familiar GDL characters here, aside from one brief POV section for Davis McCall talking about his background that I can't remember ever hearing before. It's rather simplistic as character motivation - kind of like it suddenly occurred to Keith that after a half dozen or so books he had never defined McCall's character beyond a lovingly transcribed accent - but I guess it's something.

Stuff I didn't like

Let me start this by stipulating I was never a biggest fan of the GDL books before... however, I really don't think that has any bearing on any of my beefs with Rock and a Hard Place. Going from small stuff to big stuff...

-Keith seems to sometimes get confused in his own battle scenes, and there are a lot of battle scenes in this book. He loses track of which character-in-name-only GDL MechWarrior is in which 'Mech and which 'Mech he's describing at a particular time. One guy's Blackjack turns into an Orion and then changes back again mid-fight. Lori Kalmar at one point fires four lasers from her stock Shadow Hawk. Better attention from an editor was needed here, and it's just enough to take you out of the flow of the action when it happens.

-We are told approximately 200 times that Grayson Carlyle abhors causing civilian casualties, and is well-known for his humane approach to warfare. My question is, In contrast to who? This is 3028. It's been a long time since Kentares, it's been a long time since the nukes were flying around. Keith seems to want us to believe that Grayson is almost uniquely righteous in this regard and what we know about conflict in the IS in this period from other sources just doesn't support that, in my view.

-GDL books have always been plot-driven rather than character-driven and this one is no different, but none of the supporting cast for this book is worth a damn. I don't care about either of the villains. I don't care about Yoshi Kono, who for an LIC operative seems like a bit of a moron, but the climax of Grayson's part of the book is about rescuing him. I certainly don't care about the ninja guy who seems like he was only in the book so Keith could show us all he knows what those split-toed socks are called.

-This brings me to my biggest problem with Rock and a Hard Place, the portrayal of the Draconis Combine and its Japanese cultural/ethnic trappings in general. Now, this is a 3020's GDL book, and in some ways it was probably written with the express intent of being a throwback, so of course the Combine are the main antagonists here. I have no issue with that. The thing is that this is such a one-note, one-dimensional, Yellow Peril portrayal of the Combine that it honestly feels like reading one of Keith's books from the 80's again, and not in a good way.

By the time one ethnically-Japanese Combine character remarks on how gaijin are smelly (after, mind you, Keith has gone out of his way to remind us not all Combine citizens are Japanese!) this stuff turns the corner straight into what the kids these days call "cringe." Keith invests more effort into describing ninja gear than he does into making any of the Combine antagonists seem like actual people. Near the book's conclusion Grayson blusters some Combine mooks by basically bragging about his rank and making them "lose face," then maneuvers a Combine officer into committing seppuku. What makes it worse is I am pretty sure Keith felt like he had achieved a really compelling, human portrayal of that poor guy in the few pages devoted to him, but it feels way more like he just ends up offing himself because there was no way we were getting out of this thing without the "seppuku" box being checked. The climax involves the Combine attempting a kamikaze aerospace fighter attack, because they're Japanese so in Keith's mind of course they just throw away fighters on kamikaze attacks, in a setting where we're told over and over that the House militaries salvage and preserve all the equipment they can because they barely have the industrial capacity to replace losses. I'm honestly amazed that Keith got through the book without making any references to "comfort women."

The portrayal of the Combine in those old books (and the portrayal of other villainous factions who just so happen to be culturally/aesthetically based on countries populated predominantly by people of non-white ethnicities, while all of the protagonists just so happened to be from factions based on predominantly white countries...) certainly isn't great, but IMO it can be accepted as a product of its time, both in the real world and as a product of a fictional universe that wasn't nearly as richly developed as it is now. In 2021, I expect more nuance than this from BattleTech, even in the portrayal of villains. Parts of this were honestly embarrassing to read.

My final assessment

Who should read this book? Well, let's be honest, we all know we're probably all going to end up reading it anyway. I read it and as I said, I never even particularly liked the previous GDL books. Instead maybe it's better to ask who will enjoy it? Actual GDL fans I guess maybe, and people who are just happy to see some novel-length 3025-era action because it's not likely we're going to get anything else any time soon. I can't imagine anyone else having a particularly outstanding time with it. It has no meaningful character development, the plot is basically just connecting the dots of action sequences, and it sets the portrayal of one of the setting's major factions back by 30 years.
Title: Re: Rock and a Hard Place
Post by: abou on 18 October 2021, 21:57:31
When I had read the other GDL novels, I noticed a precipitous drop in my interest with the second trilogy compared to the first. I have to admit that while I want to read this, my hopes are not high. The weird, paladin-like attitude of Grayson just seemed all-around weird. That it continues in this book... well, we will see.
Title: Re: Rock and a Hard Place
Post by: Marveryn on 25 October 2021, 13:15:19
well normally i be one of the first to do a review particular of a GDL but for some reason it escape my notice this book was out and more importantly it wasn't one i already read.  I actually enjoy it but that may be cause i always enjoy GDL story.  a great deal of action in this one no surprise there but a bit surprise since the objected didn't call for lots of mech actions.  I do think Keith getting a bit carry away with having someone betray the legion in nearly every story of theirs at some point someone bound to be honest.  A grayson attitude been with him from be begining so i have quelm about it.  Overall i enjoy the story.
Title: Re: Rock and a Hard Place
Post by: Middcore on 25 October 2021, 13:27:26
I do think Keith getting a bit carry away with having someone betray the legion in nearly every story of theirs at some point someone bound to be honest.

This was one of the reasons I was not a huge fan of his previous work. At least in this one he gets the betrayal out of the way early on.

A grayson attitude been with him from be begining so i have quelm about it.

If you mean the "Righteous Paladin Carlyle, Objector to Civilian Casualties" thing, my complaint isn't that Grayson feels that way, it's that he's treated as very unique for it. It's a bit like Game of Thrones where much is made of Daenerys being opposed to slavery when slavery has already been illegal on Westeros for ages.