The following is a guest post by Arkee Escalera.
Have you ever read a Science Fiction book with sociopathic old ladies who operate BattleMechs the size of buildings? I did, and it was one of the best fucking things I did this year!
Bryan Young has a brain unlike any other author. And his novel “BattleTech: Honor’s Gauntlet” proves this. In the novel, we’re taken on a journey with the lead protagonist Archer Pryde, who battles with being a prideful MechWarrior and being a man with a conscience. Add a political uprising to that scenario and you have a kickass book.
Big Shiny Robot couldn’t get enough, so we got a chance to speak with the genius a little more about the novel.
Arkee Escalera: Honor’s Gauntlet is the first BattleTech book that I have ever read. Yet, you wrote the book in a way that engages new readers and veteran readers. How difficult was that
Bryan Young: Very! Trying to craft a narrative that would serve both new and old readers was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever had, and it was something the editors really helped me figure out the balance for. This is my first BattleTech novel, and I wanted to make sure that the people who were fans of my previous work—who had never read anything BattleTech—would be able to cross over, read it, and feel like they got something from me because they’re interested in my previous work. I also wanted to make sure they didn’t feel lost. I’ve read books in universes, BattleTech included, that made me feel like it was too steep of a climb to get into without having more knowledge about the universe, and I really wanted to avoid that. Getting thrown into writing BattleTech was a bit of a shock. I had to learn over a thousand years worth of alternate history. There’s a whole bunch of history before the time of Honor’s Gauntlet. I realized that what I needed to do was focus on the characters, make them as relatable as possible, and hone in on what was going on politically, so that no one felt overwhelmed by the crushing weight of history.
AE: In a licensed world like Battletech, how much creative freedom were you given? And what elements were you able to introduce to the BattleTech world?
BY: I was given a lot of creative freedom, actually. Obviously, since [Catalyst Games] is working with a number of different authors to tell one big story across their games, other novels, short stories, and the sourcebooks for the games, naturally there were things that the story would be tied to. For example, the last work I did aside from my proof edit was figuring out which planets the conflicts took place on and figuring out the dates everything happened because it needed to adhere to everything else. I was given a few sentences which told me what Honor’s Gauntlet needed to accomplish, then asked what I thought would best accomplish that. Then I came up with an outline based on that, and there wasn’t a lot of pushback. Actually, there wasn’t any pushback. There was maybe a bit of correction where I maybe got some of the details of the world wrong, but they really enjoyed the story and the progression of the characters. When you work with editors like that, their goal is to always make the book better. One thing I was able to introduce to the BattleTech world was some LGBTQ representation. That was a huge victory for me. I was told that Kallen and Aliya’s relationship was the first same-sex relationship to exist in BattleTech. I would like to see some non-binary and trans representation in future BattleTech stories because I think those stories are interesting, especially in a world that is thousands of years removed from ours.
AE: As a Black American, I like to easily identify the political climate of every book that I read. Am I right to associate Honor Gauntlet’s political climate with our current political climate?
BY: The current political situation causes a lot of anxiety for me, and writing is definitely a way for me to cope with that and reflect my ideas about these things. I think that the uprising happening in Honor’s Gauntlet was definitely inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t want to say that people forgot about Black Lives Matter, but people with the privilege to forget about the movement certainly have forgotten about it. And it wasn’t until the death of George Floyd that it came back, and by then I was working on my final revisions. This allowed me to really connect the dots. The Jade Falcons are similar to the police force. They’re policing people who have no need of their policing and telling them what they are and what they’re not. Of course that’s going to cause people to resist. And then I know with the dichotomy between the main antagonist, Malthus, and the main protagonist, Archer, there was definitely some of that push and pull about whether there can be good cops in that system. While Archer tries to do the right thing, the system still pushes down on him and forces those horrible outcomes. Is he doing enough about it, though? I’m not sure.
AE: It seems like Archer struggles with being a prideful Mechwarrior and a regular man with a conscience. How were you able to build off of those two unique characteristics?
BY: I think a lot about toxic masculinity. There’s a lot of situations where men feel like they have to put on a front and sometimes that comes out in Archer. Sometimes, Archer tries pushing back against the inherent compassion and wonders if his actions are valuable. We’re all really complicated people and we all contain contradictions. I think one of the central contradictions of Archer Pryde was he had empathy and a desire to protect the people in his care, but he has also been raised in a system that borders on sociopathic, and a lot of those cultural sorts of markers pushed down on him. So, how he navigated those characteristics was really interesting.
AE: It seems like women are largely in charge of the book. We have the star Colonel. We have the Khan. Does this do anything to Archer’s male ego.
BY: I’m not sure that it does. I think, in the clans, gender is meaningless. One thing I’ve tried to do in a lot of my writing is populate as much of the novel as I can with women in positions that don’t comment on the fact that they’re women. Like, if I would have written Malthus as a man, it would have been the same thing. I think there’s a dearth of that in fiction, especially in military science fiction. I read The Sword of Shannara and I was shocked that I didn’t see a single woman represented in it at all. And that was kind of disturbing because it’s not the world we live in at all. I try to populate as many positions as I can with women, not because I want to push the pride of the men, but because that’s reflective of our world in a way that’s not always reflected in our fiction. Sometimes, I find myself pushing back on that. Sometimes, I find myself wanting to create male characters to reflect my thoughts and feelings, but women can also have my thoughts and feelings. I don’t want it to seem like I have a diversity counter and I’m just checking off hash marks in my notebooks. But in my opinion, there’s no reason not to populate your stories with an even makeup. And I think it makes people feel seen and it’s just a better depiction of our reality. That’s why it was so important for me to have people of different genders on different sides of issues. For example, Kallen and Aliya are different from each other, and they’re very different from Malthus, and they’re very different from the minister of agriculture. I just think it’s really important to see a lot of that and not comment on it based on their gender, but on their positions.
AE: On Page 117, Archer says that he knew what a “real Jade Falcon in the Malvina Hazen Clan would do.” Does Archer consider himself a fake Jade Falcon? Or does he consider the Malvina Hazen clan more real than his own?
BY: I think that’s one of the moments where he’s having that reckoning, right? Where he’s worried that he’s not a true Jade Falcon, or he’s worried that he’s a true Jade Falcon and they’re not. He doesn’t have to consider that because they’re still in command. What’s the truth? It’s one of those really ambiguous shades of grey that I really enjoyed exploring. As he’s saying that, he’s navigating what’s right and what’s wrong. He knows what’s right for anybody else who was taking orders from Malvena’s clan. And his actions say that he doesn’t think that’s true to the Jade Falcon code. But I think in that instance, he thinks a true Jade Falcon would start burning everything down, which is a nonsensical way to run a war. I think that was one of my initial interests in writing this book, figuring out how the clans would survive with their scorched earth mongrel doctrine, like how did they stay functioning and how is it sustainable? I don’t think it is, and I think the only reason it is is because there’s warriors like Archer to push back against it.
AE: There comes a point where Malthus asks Archer if he would jump off a building if the Khan asked. He doesn’t answer directly. What would you make of this?
BY: In that scene, Malthus is testing Archer’s loyalty. In her twisted mind, a good MechWarrior and a good Jade Falcon soldier would jump off a building if the Khan commanded them to jump off without questioning any perceived benefit. It’s that waste of resources and life that Archer has been trying to push back against. I think that’s what she’s trying to probe, and he tries to give political answers. That scene was about Malthus testing how far Archer would go, even if he disagrees with the orders.
AE: What if the Khan gave Archer the direct order to jump off the building?
BY: I think that he would be very conflicted about that. I think it might be different for him, and he might be waging the calculus, right? How much, if he really wants to improve the system, can he do if he’s taken out of his position of power or dead?
AE: Who was your favorite character in Honor’s Gauntlet?
BY: I think it’s sort of a tie between Archer and Kallen, which is why I got to the point I did when Kallen almost died. I liked her too much, and I needed something terrible to happen. They were fun to write, the trio (Aliya, Kallen, and Archer). They just function really well together as a trio, and I think it’s the three of them.
AE: And who do you think your least favorite character is?
BY: I absolutely loathe Malthus because I think it’s reflective of me that I’m even able to get into that mindset… Because of how carefully I can tap into that, I wonder how much of that is in me. I really love watching good villains who do horrible things, but I think it’s a little different as you’re writing about it and have to tap into yourself to create a monster, then put that out there. I think I loathed her that much because I really liked the trio (Archer, Aliya, and Kallen). She was constantly probing and undermining them. I’ll tell you this, all of the parts of Malthus’ point of view came in the second draft because she wasn’t originally a point of view character. I spent two weeks inside of Malthus’ head, and it wasn’t awesome, but I’m glad it worked. That’s the thing we do to create art like this, right?