Book Review: Malicious Intent, by Michael A. Stackpole
I felt like reading a dollar paperback about big stompy robots, and I remember Michael A. Stackpole wrote a bunch of Star Wars novels that weren’t terrible (at least, 8th grader me didn’t think they were terrible?) and … here we are.
Malicious Intent is Stackpole’s tenth(!) Battletech novel, of the 14(!) he’s written for the franchise over the years. Which, well, wikipedia-ing tells me that there are over a hundred Battletech novels out there, so … yeah. It’s a surprisingly deep setting … that I know next to nothing about. See, Battletech is one of those franchises I’m aware of, but I’m not really into. Like, sure, I’ve played a couple of the video games, and I did play a bunch of missions in Houston’s Battletech center (which is still around!) back in the day, and I vaguely remember the short-lived cartoon … but that’s about it.
Thing is, Battletech has a surprisingly deep setting for a tabletop wargame, with dozens of various factions and characters and such to keep track of, over a centuries-long timeline, spread out across the galaxy. It’s kind of like Warhammer 40k in that respect, only with less spikey bitz involved.
As such, Malicious Intent jumps right into things, relying on knowledge of various characters and events from previous Stackpole novels. Which … would have been nice to know going in. The book really doesn’t work very well as a standalone novel, sadly. Which just got confusing, as Malicious Intent is never referred to as “Book 2 of the Big Stompy Robot Trilogy!” or whatever, so I was going in blind. Malicious Intent assumes the reader is already a Battletech fan, and assumes you already know the difference between a Clan Mech and an Inner Sphere mech or whatever. Which, I … uh … don’t. I imagine the experience is kinda like reading a Star Wars novel without knowing what an X-wing looks like, or what a Jedi is. Then again, Star Wars has a much broader cultural reach than Battletech.
But all that doesn’t matter, we’re just here for the stompity robots, right? And … there’s some of that. Just … not enough of it. See, Malicious Intent focuses a lot on high level politics– a lot of who is invading which planet, and why. Which is … okay, I guess? It’s like, if the average game of Battletech plays out between a handful of mechs on a battlefield, then most of Malicious Intent is about the proverbial players thinking up excuses for their dudes to fight. Strategy vs. Tactics, as it were. Stackpole at least manages to make things somewhat interesting, even if some of the peripheral characters tended to blend together.
The funny thing is, there are a couple of plot threads within Malicious Intent that could have easily supported their own book. Like, there’s some business about a guy from one of The Clans (eugenics-loving totalitarian proud-warrior-race guys) fighting his way up the ladder and rebuilding his Clan after a disastrous defeat … that gets kind of ignored and sidelined about halfway through the novel. Likewise, there’s also a subplot about a mech-army officer without any combat experience getting stuck with a crew of losers and rejects, only to whip them into shape to oppose a Clan invasion with hit and run guerrilla tactics … but Stackpole only touches on this every third chapter or so, ’cause there are a lot of other playing pieces to move around the proverbial board.
Honestly, I can’t really recommend Malicious Intent as anybody’s first Battletech novel. It’s written well enough, but there’s just too much backstory to keep track of, and Stackpole tosses out a couple of bits of exposition to keep the reader up to date … but, well, there just wasn’t enough giant robot mayhem for a book with that kind of cover.
There are a couple of fun bits at the end of the book, however. For one, there’s a couple pages of pictures of the various mechs featured in the book. Which, uh, I kind of wish I’d thought to look ahead before I kept trying to figure out what a Goshawk-class mech is supposed to look like.
Even more fun, however, is the advertisements at the back– including one for the “Virtual World” Battletech simulators. And on top of that, there’s even a cut-out survey to send in to FASA!
… something tells me I probably won’t win that weekly drawing.
And man, now after all this robot talk, I’m even more impatient for that Lancer rulebook I kickstarted to come in. But that’ll be another blog post entirely!