To us, the Carmpan watchers, the withdrawn seers and touchers of minds, it appeared that you had carried the crushing weight of war through all your history knowing that it would at last be needed, that this hour would strike when nothing less awful would serve.
When the hour struck and our enemy came without warning, you were ready with swarming battle-fleets. You were dispersed and dug in on scores of planets, and heavily armed. Because you were, some of you and some of us are now alive.
Not to be confused with crazy bloodthirsty norsemen
or Warriors of Khorne
, or the wrestler the Berzerker
, Fred Saberhagen
series is a collection of short stories, novels, and collaborations with other writers dealing with city-sized, spacefaring robots intent on destroying all life in the galaxy. The Berserkers themselves are relics of an ancient war between two now-extinct alien species.
This series provides examples of:
- Boarding Party: One story had a boarding party made up of robots.
- Very few human ships are powerful enough or large enough to combat a Berserker in a straight shootout. But they are good at carrying Human marines who are generally superior to the Berserker's own small combatant robots. Humanity has exploited this more than once.
- Confusion Fu: In early stories, the berserkers were omnicidal self-replicating war machines whose combat strategies were driven by a random number generator, seeking to avoid predictability at almost any cost. As the series progressed, this aspect of the berserkers' programming came up less and less often and the berserkers' strategies became much more logical.
- Exact Words: A historian is forced to load Berserker fighters with human engrams that will serve as decoys for the Berserker-piloted craft. When questioned whether the engrams are warlike, he points to one who was turned away from the military for being half blind, another who was a mild-mannered poet, and a third who did serve in the army as a behind-the-scenes supply officer. Turns out he's talking about WWI flying aces Mick Mannock, Albert Ball and Manfred von Richthofen.
- Extra Dimensional Shortcut: "Flightspace" is some sort of other plane or space which consists of force currents flowing through the galaxy, between and amongst the stars, which ships enter to reach superluminal speeds.
- Food Chain of Evil: Roger Zelazny's short story Itself Surprised is about the discovery of "Qwib-qwib" — a deactivated anti-Berserker Berserker invented by the Red Race shortly before their demise.
- Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: The Berserker enemy A.I. spaceships are often described as the size of Manhattan Island. Which for a space ship is HUGE.
- Humans Are Warriors: The Carmpan, being pacifists, were unable to confront the Berserker threat directly. Instead they found a weapon: Humans.
- Humans by Any Other Name: All sapient life forms are called Human. Homo Sapiens is called the E.D., or Earth Descended "theme" of humanity (non-human Earthlife is also referred to as E.D. lifeforms).
- Invisible Aliens: If there's intelligent life out there, why haven't we seen signs of it? Well, because most of it's been wiped out by the Berserkers, that's why.
- Killer Robot: The Berserkers
- Les Collaborateurs: Being what the omnicidal machines call "goodlife" is universally treated as a capital crime. For good reason.
- Magic Versus Science: One short story features aliens apparently based on American Indians. They pray to the spirits of animals when they need to kill stuff to eat it. It works for berserkers too, if you can get them close enough.
- Not Just a Tournament: In Berserker's Planet, a cult on Hunter's Planet regularly has tournaments where the contestants fight to the death. Little do the competitors know that the ultimate controller of the cult is a disabled Berserker which is doing its best to carry out its programming to destroy all life.
- The Quisling: "Goodlife" are humans who work secretly for Berserkers.
- The alternative: you are skinned alive as an educational example to others.
- Patchwork Story: Berserker collects a number of Berserker stories and links them together with narration by the Third Historian of the Carmpan (alien) race.
- Precursor Killers: The Berserkers
- Psychic Powers: The Carmpans. The Framing Story is narrated by the Third Historian, who has the power to sense events throughout time and space. Then there are the Carmpan Prophets of Probability who can predict more immediate events.
- Recycled IN SPACE!:
- "Stone Place" is the Battle of Lepanto IN SPACE! Berserkers are Ottoman Turks.
- Berserker Fury is a space version of the Battle of Midway. Painfully the same as the Real Life battle, except IN SPACE! (And the future. With the A.I. Berserkers who want to destroy all life as the Japanese.)
- Robot War
- Sentient Vehicle: The Berserker ships.
- Superweapon Surprise: "Sign of the Wolf"
- Turned Against Their Masters: The Berserkers.
- Fabulously turned on its head with Larry Niven's "A Teardrop Falls" - the human-in-a-computer protagonist uploads himself into a Berserker, taking over two of the three redundant "brains," keeping the third Berserker brain around for reference. Now that he has a majority interest in the decision-making, he can make the Berserker do what he wants while it has no choice in the matter.
- The stories frequently reflect on the fact that often combat is actually between the Berserker and the computers on the human ships, making a deliberate contrast between the two.
- Unrealistic Black Hole: In "Masque of the Red Shift" Johann Karlsen takes a lifeboat into a black hole to lure a Berserker ship to its doom. In "The Temple of Mars" we learn that Karlsen went into orbit around the black hole within the event horizon, and in "The Face of the Deep" he's rescued from the black hole.
- Wetware CPU: Some of the stories had the killing machines attempt to use organic brains to introduce more fuzzy logic into their tactical computers. Later stories say that human-computer fusions usually outperform the Berserkers, which sometimes helps cover for the relative weakness of human ships.