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Author Topic: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...  (Read 791 times)

Sartris

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So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« on: 09 January 2021, 13:22:22 »
Colt had the au-damn-dacity to suggest that I take one for the team and make some summaries for this... commented upon trilogy (the Sarna summary sections are stubs so I may just)

Honestly I’ve never read them so I just go along with the joke. Well until now anyway. I started A Silence in the Heavens last night and got through the first 70 pages or so (about all I’m good for in one sitting before my Dog-From-Up-ADHD kicks in and I have to chase after something else)

What makes these novels widely regarded as stinkers? I mean the prose is less than elegant... the shift between four clause sentences and super choppy short ones is jarring but survivable. The writing duo does do that thing I hate (Stackpole did this too in the bok novels) where the POV character has two paragraphs of internal monologue in the middle of a conversation. Also that there are two whole mechs on northwind is hilariously absurd. But I don’t consider these kinds of things to be fatal flaws that relegate books to be near the very worst. The characters are ok - the novel so far meets my critical threshold of not being annoyed by the main characters in the first quarter of the book.

So what’s the deal? Don’t worry about spoilers. I don’t care. Beyond the action of the characters themselves I already know the contours of the story. My professional training is as a historian where we blow any sense of suspense in the introduction anyway  ;D

FaithBomb

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #1 on: 09 January 2021, 16:57:54 »











I think I might have to go back and re-read the whole trilogy, as it has been years since I've read them.








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DarkISI

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #2 on: 09 January 2021, 17:34:15 »
Just wait for the Mechs to perform handstands, run hot from moving the little toe and dance waltz. Not kidding here (at least not by much).
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Sharpnel

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #3 on: 10 January 2021, 05:31:48 »
After 'Ruins of Paper', this trilogy are the three worst books written about the Dark Age. Even Mike Moscoe's book is better.
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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #4 on: 10 January 2021, 05:44:09 »
Its, ah, not actually that bad?

Overheating 'Mechs after a brisk walk and general dislike of the Clickytech setting seems to drive most of the dislike for the early Dark Age novels. Plus they tended to be longer than the classic novels, which probably didn't help.

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #5 on: 11 January 2021, 23:33:39 »
The first book is fine, nothing special, not great writing and bog average quality. The problems really become obnoxious in the second book with major character shifts with no buildup and other issues.

Also there is about 1 good battle and its in the first book I think. Its been a while since I read these. At least there is less mech Gymnastics than a Grey Death Legion book.
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DarkISI

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #6 on: 12 January 2021, 15:57:35 »
I would not say less, but the original GDL books can defend themselves with "early installment weirdness". Proving Grounds cannot ;)
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Lorcan Nagle

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #7 on: 12 January 2021, 17:51:40 »
It's the handstand, and that's about it.  One page out of three novels, and they're derided as the worst books ever.

That isn't to say they're good, because they're not - but they're mediocre rather than offensively bad, there are far worse novels in the Dark Age line.  I think a big part of their bad rep is that relatively few hardcore fans have read the Dark Age books, and the early ones got a disproportionate amount of attention and therefore more ire than later ones.

(for the record, I'd put The Ruins of Power and Phadera WeldonIlsa Bick's Dragon's Fury books as worse than the Proving Grounds trilogy without a moment's thought)
« Last Edit: 13 January 2021, 11:25:47 by Lorcan Nagle »
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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #8 on: 12 January 2021, 17:54:41 »
Phadera Weldon's Dragon's Fury

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #9 on: 12 January 2021, 18:27:47 »
It's the handstand, and that's about it.  One page out of three novels, and they're derided as the worst books ever.

that Pack Hunter is doing way more than just one handstand. But it doesn't stop there.
Mechs get overbearingly hot by moving a single foot, which is taking the whole heat thing to 15.
But even if you ignore that: Terra is only defended by ... nothing, I think? Not a single Battlemech? Just ... nothing.
That's really what screws the pooch for me. You can invade Terra with a single Lance and if the Highlanders don't come to the rescue, you could win!
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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #10 on: 12 January 2021, 18:31:09 »
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Sartris

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #11 on: 15 January 2021, 11:26:21 »
i'm up to part 4 (where the steel wolves land on northwind). kerensky sucks as a character - she's just a bundle of all the tired clan + bad girl tropes. also seeing TASSA KAY every other page cheapens the value of the alter ego... especially when the primary difference between the two sides appears to be bar clothes

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #12 on: 15 January 2021, 17:44:10 »
And yet, I still enjoyed them more than Hour of the Wolf
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Sartris

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #13 on: 15 January 2021, 18:19:29 »
you've mentioned that you didn't like it, yeah

DarkISI

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #14 on: 16 January 2021, 02:59:54 »
This thread is not about Hour of the Elf, though. So let's stay focused on the books it's actually about :)
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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #15 on: 16 January 2021, 03:11:07 »
It's the handstand, and that's about it.  One page out of three novels, and they're derided as the worst books ever.

That isn't to say they're good, because they're not - but they're mediocre rather than offensively bad, there are far worse novels in the Dark Age line.  I think a big part of their bad rep is that relatively few hardcore fans have read the Dark Age books, and the early ones got a disproportionate amount of attention and therefore more ire than later ones.

(for the record, I'd put The Ruins of Power and Phadera WeldonIlsa Bick's Dragon's Fury books as worse than the Proving Grounds trilogy without a moment's thought)

I genuinely wished Ruins of Power was better. I like the concept and setup of a power hungry legate and the propaganda minister deciding to manipulate the media and throw off the Republic.
Unfortunately, it’s some of the worst writing ever.


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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #16 on: 01 February 2021, 16:57:13 »
I would not say less, but the original GDL books can defend themselves with "early installment weirdness". Proving Grounds cannot ;)

Actually, I would argue that they almost CAN defend themselves with "early installment weirdness." Basically the DA novels/setting was a complete reboot. You had planets defended by a single mech or a couple of tanks. You had mechs with chainsaws and looking like a failed entry on BattleBots. You had the entire Inner Sphere basically not existing beyond a few blacked out planets surrounding Terra who had all somehow turned into old logging towns. The setting itself was just TERRIBLE. There's only so much you can do within the constructs of an absolutely terrible, totally gimped universe.

So, dealing with a few of the main criticisms specifically:

1) Heat scale (i.e "Your cockpit is a sauna after flexing your left hand actuator"). Ok the heat scale is borked. But I would counter with..."What heat scale?" In early DA there basically IS NO HEAT SCALE. You don't have detailed record sheets and statistics. You have stompy stompy, pew pew, click click. Mech stats are basically handled by clicking a little wheel and reading the little windows like the magic decoder ring from a box of Lucky Charms. This isn't a flaw of the writing, it's a flaw of the entire game being reimagined for 8 year olds so they can fight for entire planets in 5 minutes with a booster box or two and the toys out of last week's Happy Meal.

2) The Hand-stands: Again, this is a flaw of the reimagined universe. You're aiming the whole thing at kids playing the game on their train table. Is it THAT surprising that brand new novelists are going to write it like any other of the 9,576,407 anime mecha franchises out there with  mecha flying around with giant swords, doing martial arts with flashy graphics behind them? Not really. You just threw out everything that makes BattleTech what it is, then you're surprised when it reads like mecha anime for 12 year olds?

3) Character development: The Character development regressed in a lot of ways. There was a lot of potential, but you're basically starting over with new characters in what amounts to a brand new universe. Also, keep in mind, the rebranding was a flawed effort all around from the start. The core demographic of Battletech has skewed a little bit older than most since it left the 80's and mid 90's. The fan population was getting older from the start, and by the time you reached the end of the FCCW era and were approaching the Dark Age time jump, you had an audience that had matured A LOT over 20+ years. Now, you reboot the franchise and intentionally try to aim it a new, younger demographic. The product becomes more toy-like. The combat gets simplified. It's an intentional shift. And so are the novels. You're now writing for a younger audience, and that is NOT an easy thing to do. Hell, I have a hell of a time sometimes writing with a "PG-13" audience in mind. So is it THAT surprising that an older more mature fanbase is going to balk at novels intentionally written for a younger fanbase?

Put another way: How many of you have read Jennifer Brozek's YA novels? Now how many of you would rank her books among your top favorite BattleTech novels? I would argue that she does an absolutely amazing job writing what she does, they are great books, but they're not going to have the same appeal as some of the other novels to a big portion of the fanbase because they're not really written with us as the target audience. There's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't make them bad, neither does it make anyone who doesn't enjoy them as much bad readers. It's just two vastly different audiences. I would argue that the early DA novels suffer a similar fate. In fact, they suffer a far WORSE fate. Brozek writes great books because she knows her target audience. The Early Dark age books suffer from NOT really knowing their audience, or maybe more accurately, trying to write to TWO different audiences at the same time, and falling short as a result.

4) Scale (i.e. "The whole universe has like 5 mechs in it!!!!") Again, this wasn't a flaw of the novels, it was a flaw of the entire reboot attempt. There was a conscious effort to "get back to the roots" of Battletech, and for better or worse, that meant trying to get back to a broken down frontier feeling setting. They tried to recapture the zeitgeist of the early GDL novels, where the fate of whole planets was decided by the GDL with 4 mechs held together with duct tape and Grayson killing entire garrisons with a TK assault rifle, a grenade, and a bandana. People praise these novels, but they're not that good. The mech fights are cheesy. The characters are BEYOND tropish. I kid you not, as a teenage girl discovering her inner feminist, I literally threw at least one GDL novel across my bedroom with how absolutely TERRIBLE and infuriating Lori Kalmar was as a character. Yet we absolutely pine over these novels at times. Well, all the early DA novels were trying to do was recreate the feel of those GDL novels, and in a lot of ways they succeeded at that, we just learned that without looking through the lens of nostalgia, those weren't really good books to emulate.
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DarkISI

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #17 on: 01 February 2021, 17:37:16 »
I kid you not, as a teenage girl discovering her inner feminist, I literally threw at least one GDL novel across my bedroom with how absolutely TERRIBLE and infuriating Lori Kalmar was as a character.

I wrote something similar to Cubby a few months back about another female character when I revisited her for a project. Still under NDA, so not much more I can say at this point, but I get what you mean. I think I did this other character more justice this time around. Will try to remember to point you towards her once released ;)
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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #18 on: 02 February 2021, 12:31:59 »
I wrote something similar to Cubby a few months back about another female character when I revisited her for a project. Still under NDA, so not much more I can say at this point, but I get what you mean. I think I did this other character more justice this time around. Will try to remember to point you towards her once released ;)

If it helps, I only rolled my eyes and silently fumed at Melissa Steiner in the Warrior Trilogy, there was no throwing of books in that case.
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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #19 on: 03 February 2021, 16:54:31 »
So, I finally started re-reading these for laughs yesterday, just finished the first volume. A couple of things stood out:

1) No handstands yet, but there are multiple incidents of mechs either getting hit by weapons or physical attacks and getting 'knocked over' into a roll back onto their feet immediately, like you would expect in a physical fight scene between humans.

2) In one instance, a Hatchetman hits its jump jets, and as it jumps over an IndustrialMech, it kicks it in the head and literally nothing happens. The IndustrialMech literally just turns around and shoots the Hatchetman.

3) Anastasia Kerensky is just plain bat-s*** crazy, like 1 notch below Malvina level crazy. She's randomly stabbing people, fantasizing about destroying cities, etc. Nothing like what we see in the more recent novels. As near as I can remember, she tortures Alaric Ward in a later novel, and apparently that magically cures her of her sociopathic tendencies????? IDK, just weird.

4) Ezekiel Crow defeats Anastasia Kerensky by.....shooting a laser into the sky above her mech during a thunderstorm, causing lightning to strike her mech and disable it. WHAT? This is even worse than Joanna's jump jet to the face while Natasha Kerensky stands there and lets her face get melted off. I'm pretty sure that the author just painted himself into a corner with his choice of Mechs. Tara Campbell pilots a Hatchetman, Kerensky pilots a Ryuken II, and Ezekiel Crow pilots a Blade. He wanted Crow to defeat Kerensky in single combat, yet he had a Blade facing a Ryoken II. There is virtually no way that you can write this duel and have Crow defeat Kerensky in an actual BattleTech fight. He is in a mech 40 tons lighter, his most powerful weapons do 5 points of damage, and he is facing one of the best BattleMech pilots of the era. In addition, Kerensky's Ryoken II is a custom variant sporting 2xER PPCs, 2x Medium lasers, and 2xStreak SRM-6 racks. Crow has a SLIGHT edge in speed, but lacks jump jets. Kerensky can splatter away with her Streaks and down him in no time, and 1 or 2 lucky PPC hits at minimum is going to tear his little tin can apart. The ONLY way Crow is going to win is with some kind of cheesy maneuver, and sure enough, that's what we get, calling down lightning bolts with a medium laser.

5) I don't know if this is unique to the Kindle edition, but starting about half way through the novel, each chapter contains MULTIPLE POV changes with absolutely nothing signaling the change. You will have Anastasia Kerensky talking and piloting her mech in one sentence, then the next paragraph will literally be Crow talking or the infantry characters fighting in a trench somewhere. No extra spacing, no little symbol to indicate a break, nothing. You get something like:

     Anastasia fired her PPC's. "I have you now, freebirth!"
     Tara Campbell called out over the command frequency. "Find me Paladin Crow immediately! I need him to report to me in grid one-two-three-four-five!"
     Will checked the power pack for his thunderstroke Gauss rifle. Damn! I'm down to my last charge!

It is horribly distracting, especially in the middle of a disjointed battle.

6) That's not to say that everything was badly written. In particular, the parts where the scouts are watching the mountain pass and the Steel Wolf armor is trying to pass through was pretty well done. You have a decent portrayal of the fog of war so you don't just have the Wolves pouring through unchecked.

7) Of course, this good part is followed up by the absolutely horrible delaying battle. We have tanks and infantry and elementals against a ragamuffin band of infantry, a few tanks, and a Koshi. And Somehow, the Koshi runs up and down the line, singlehandedly turning the Wolves back for HOURS. That's right, ONE KOSHI! Also annoying is that we don't ACTUALLY know what kind of Koshi it is. It seems like it's the BattleMech version instead of the Omni version, but that's just conjecture. And then, after hours of holding the Wolves off, the Wolf commander is like "Hey, I think that Koshi is their leader, shoot him" and like 30 seconds later they just shoot him and, wham, Koshi down. Really, it took you like 8+ HOURS to figure that out?

8) The majority of the combat doesn't seem like BattleTech combat, it seems more like some Napoleonic war fight. You have two static lines with the leaders riding up and down them. Most advances are basically one leader or the other saying "Hey, see that hill over there, fire some LRM's at it" followed by "Look, their line is breaking, attack that hill!"

Left me thinking of one of the many cheesy lines from the movie Gettysburg: https://youtu.be/SWABH9kzMlk
 
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DarkISI

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Re: So the Proving Grounds Trilogy...
« Reply #20 on: 03 February 2021, 19:27:38 »
I'm so unbelievably glad I forgot all of that until you posted it here ... I feel like a wound has reopened and is starting to ooze ...
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