I love this review. I think it's a great look at the novel, even if the choice at the end wasn't to share it with his young daughter, yet.
The Nellus Academy Incident (review)
I went through The Nellus Academy Incident in a night. Not surprising: it's a YA novel that was originally written as a web-serial.
I have to approach this as an old BattleTech Gamer, as a Parent, and just as a general reader. I'll try to be clear which voice I am using. I am also going to do my very best to avoid spoilers.
Gamer first: I can't find anything in terms of BT Canon or Tech that she got wrong. That is the first (and for some, only) thing that many will look at, and if she made a mistake, it's going to take somebody far more anal-retentive about these things than I am to find it.
Well, let me take that back. There is one thing that Jennifer got very wrong, and in doing so, she finally got it right. I don't care if the BT purists disagree with me on this!
See, it is an article of faith in Battletech fiction and gameplay that Ton For Ton, Nothing Matches A BattleMech. Oh, sure, Aerospace Fighters can fly...but a 'Mech can shoot them down easily enough. Tanks are cheaper, but 'Mechs just step on them: they are nothing more than a distraction. Infantry is useful for guarding the barracks where the 'MechJocks sleep, but in a real fight, they are only good for suicide attacks against a Mech's kneecaps--and then only if the MechJock is stupid enough to let them get that close. Traditional BattleTech is a story where the real heroes are giant robots in a world populated by parasites called humans and also annoying things like aerospace fighters, helicopters, tanks, hovercraft, and gun emplacements--and occasionally useful things like DropShips and JumpShips. Oh, and WarShips, but no 'Mech really likes them. They cheat: they bombard from orbit.
Jennifer Brozek breaks that rule repeatedly, consistently, and in an authentic manner. A Mech is still a very powerful piece of equipment, and it can do things none of the others can do and do them very well. But a Tank is nothing to sneer at, Aerospace can ruin your whole day, even Infantry is a serious threat. In this relatively short story, she manages to showcase each of these things without going all grognard on us (another common flaw in BT fiction). The characters have a Combined Arms/Team philosophy where every part is an important piece of the whole. The first person to seriously kick ass is the Medic: yes, there are some ugly things you can do with a medkit. Nobody looks down on the tech or the groundpounder or the pilot. They all have a job to do.
So, the author got all that wrong, but it's a wrong that has been too long in coming. Kudos!
Now for the "General Reader" voice:
The youthful characters are believable. For no particular reason other than "feel", I found myself reminded of Taps: a group of cadets--kids, really--in a situation that would challenge many adults, doing the best they can with what they have. These kids are the product of a formal military education, and one is, technically, already a veteran. Compare what they accomplish with the feats of kids the same age in Poland in World War II who did not have the advantage of military training, and you have to say, "Yeah, they could have pulled that off." I liked the way they handled the shock of combat and death: having lived with a combat vet who still had nightmares years later, I find their reactions all too authentic. This is not a game....
Quick-paced and you never know where the next threat is coming from. These are kids up against professionals, including a rather sociopathic antagonist. To say more would be to get into spoiler-land.
As a Parent, and also that guy with a degree in teaching Junior High/High School English:
The one thing that gave me pause was the amount of profanity. I realize that I am a product of my culture, here: somebody getting shot in cold blood is OK in a story, but shouting "Fuck You!" is a problem. It would be a bar to getting this book into a High School Library in many places.
I was mostly viewing it as the parent of an almost-10-year-old who is reading on the High School level. This isn't something to lay at the feet of the author, it's just the classic dilemma of "finding appropriate reading material for the young Gifted child." We won't even talk about what I was reading at that age, thanks to a clueless librarian. I pay closer attention now that I am Daddy.
The language...fence-sitting. She hears that language every day: we live in the city that gave us "Rocky Balboa", and whenever we visit his old stomping grounds, we are reminded that the "F-Word" just means that two guys really want the same parking space, and that it can be used as noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and pronoun. The language in this book doesn't begin to approach that level. It's just how teenagers talk when authority figures aren't around. She knows she is not to use that language herself. And she doesn't--at least where we can hear her.
The violence...well, there is a lot of it. It's a war story. She took Pacific Rim, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games in stride, I think she could handle the violence level, but we would really want to talk about it and the context.
And that last is what made me decide that, even though she really loves all things Mecha, my daughter is not ready for this book. Yeah, I am still fence-sitting on the other stuff, but this is what decides me: it's not an entry-level book for any age. It was written for a website full of people who already know the backstory, have probably played one of the games, etc.
In English Teacher mode, I look at it as "The student will already know and understand the following: ER Laser, TAG, neurohelmet, Free Worlds League, Lyran Alliance, Inner Sphere (not mentioned but implied), LRM, SRM, [....]" This is not a flaw: it's written for someone who has already experienced BattleTech.
So, I am going to give it a year. Maybe I'll teach her how to move little mech figures across a hex map and kick my butt the way Mommy used to do when we were younger.
(Permission given to Jennifer Brozek to repost in whole or in part. I don't make public posts for a reason.)