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Literature: Competitors
Competitors cover
Competitors (Конкуренты, Konkurenty) is a Science Fiction novel by the popular Russian sci-fi and fantasy author Sergey Lukyanenko. The novel starts in modern-day Moscow involving a freelance journalist named Valentin Safonov and then diverges into two parallel storylines: one continues in Moscow, and the other picks up on a Space Station in an unknown star system. The chapters alternate the perspective of the protagonist, who has been duplicated far away from home by means of unknown alien technology. Both versions of the protagonist seek to discover what is going on and why people are being sent to live and die far from Earth with no way back.Valentin is told to log-on to www.starquake.ru to keep tabs on his duplicate in space, which is a Real Life Flash-based MMORPG.

The novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Lena (AKA Driver) is definitely not a delicate flower. Back on Earth, she is a taxi driver (not a job for the faint of heart). In space, she is a tough-as-nails fighter pilot.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Averted. When Space!Valentin and Space!Lena are locked in a room on the Platform, Valentin suggests escaping using a vent. Lena laughs, saying he's been watching too many movies. The vents in the room are no more than a foot wide. Also, when Valentin suggests setting off the fire alarm, Lena calmly lets him know that the automatic procedure in this case is to isolate the room and vent the atmosphere.
  • Artificial Gravity: The Platform and all ships are equipped with artificial gravity generators, which also compensate for inertia. They are deliberately turned down slightly in order for the pilot to feel a tiny fraction of the G-forces to aid in piloting. The Platform's field actually extends a little beyond the external hull, which results in a ring of garbage "orbiting" the station.
  • Asteroid Miners: One of the ways of making money in space is by finding resource-rich asteroids and mining them for resources using a tool called a "digger". The resources can be sold on the Platform or on colonies for use in Matter Replicators.
    • Due to the largely lawless nature of space, claim jumping is frequent, and a friend of Lena's mentions casually incinerating a miner who happened to be mining an asteroid she took a liking to (a year after he found it) and regrets that the valuable asteroid was also destroyed in the process.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: People who arrive on the Platform are unable to have children. Doctors can't find anything to explain this. It turns out the Bugs do it deliberately, as they think it's too cruel to bring children into such dangerous life.
    • Members of a colony are trying to find a way to conceive. As such, any male who arrives on the planet is required to either donate a semen sample or have sex with a local woman (if she's ovulating) in a specially-screened room in hopes that this will block any possible "sterility field". Needless to say, most men don't mind the latter.
  • Betty and Veronica: Averted. While Valentin appears to be initially attracted to Inna, one of the Platform administrators, whose original works at the hiring agency, he quickly loses interest after meeting (and sleeping with) Lena. Played straight in that Inna is a natural blonde (although her Earth counterpart dyes her hair in order to avoid the blonde stereotype), while Lena is a brunette. Inna also turns out to have a slightly bitchy nature (Lena outright calls her a bitch during a show trial). Lena and Inna even have a scuffle while Space!Valentin is unconscious (i.e. we only get Lena's brief version of the Cat Fight, which she recounts to him).
  • Bigger Is Better: As a rule, larger ships are better armed and defended. All new pilots start with a tiny Sylvana but can, eventually, get bigger and better ships, up to the awesome Prime class. All ships are capable of landing of planetary surfaces, though.
  • Bio-Augmentation: One of the results of studying the Bugs' bio-technology is an implant that attaches to the back of the neck and allows a person to survive high-G maneuvers with Artificial Gravity turned off. This allows a ship to accelerate and turn much faster than normal. The implant dies in a few hours, though.
  • Black Box: Since the aliens who built the Platform didn't bother to leave instructions, people who are sent there have to figure things out on their own. Luckily, a number of arrivals are engineers, who spend their time tinkering with the Platform's systems, frequently with lethal results. However, while the engineers may figure out the purpose of a piece of machinery, they usually have no idea how it works.
  • Bug War: The humans on the Platform have to occasionally fight off ships belonging to an alien race known only as the Bugs.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Any initial arrival to the station is given sufficient credits for a beginner ship. However, it's not enough to equip the ship with a hyperdrive, even if one removes weapons and shields. After spending some time in the system, though, mining or trading, one can earn enough credits to afford a better ship which can feature a hyperdrive. Then traveling to another system is as easy as picking a star on a two-dimensional map. A hyperjump is instantaneous and doesn't feature any special effects. A ship's jump range is limited only by the available fuel. However, there's nothing stopping a pilot from jumping and then looking for a resource-rich asteroid to mine for the fuel. This can take anywhere from several weeks to months, though.
  • Comm Links: The "coms" are large bracelets with several Context Sensitive Buttons and an LCD-like screen that also act as watches. They serve as a personal ID, a communicator (as long as comm relays are within range, and credit account access.
  • Crew of One: All ships feature only one control console, which Valentin thinks is just ridiculous. This becomes even more evident when, during the Bug attack on the Platform, Valentin's wing is ordered to strike the enemy from the rear. Valentin thinks that, normally, such a thing should not be possible, as the large Bug ships would have manned rear-facing turrets. Due to the fact that the tactic works, he concludes that the Bugs also engage in this trope.
    • Averted in the end, when La Résistance rigs their flagship to have multiple specialized consoles specifically to avoid the obvious pitfalls of this trope.
  • Death Is Cheap: The pilots take a "philosophical" approach to their views on death and usually have no problem killing others (it's much easier since you don't actually see the other person). A memorable example involves a female pilot (a friend of Lena's) cheerfully chatting about how she found a nice gold asteroid with some "upstart" on it who claimed to have been mining it for over a year. She refused to recognize his claim ("How can it be yours when I just found it?") and just as cheerfully mentions incinerating the miner along with the asteroid. It's also common for friends to calmly accept someone's violent death and not seek revenge, as long as it was an "honest duel".
  • Deflector Shields: Ships are normally equipped with standard sci-fi bubble-shaped shields, although there are typically two sections: forward and rear. Power can be transferred between the two. The Platform has extremely-powerful shields due to its larger power plant.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Extinguisher is a missile that can destroy a star.
  • Escape Pod: While ships are normally equipped with them, the pilot doesn't always have time to eject before being incinerated or spaced (if a ship is cut in half). Also, there's nothing preventing the enemy from destroying the helpless floating pod.
  • Foreshadowing: Space!Leonid, a young Jewish violinist, mentions that, as soon as his original on Earth finds out the truth, he's going to storm into the agency demanding answers or just shoot everyone there. Space!Valentin just shakes his head at this. When Earth!Valentin and Earth!Lena later break into the agency at night, they find two dead bodies, one of which belongs to a young Jewish man and the other to the agency's security guard, who turns out to be an alien. Earth!Leonid tried to do exactly that but got shot by the guard after shooting him in the head.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: One of the main weapons of a ship. While Valentin sees lines on the screen, he understands that they're too fast for the eye to see, and it's the ship's computer adding them for visual aid.
  • Genius Bruiser: Roman is a massively-built guy with the look of a professional boxer (see the cover above for the guy with the Hand Cannon). He often travels with Master and acts the part of his bodyguard. When he's back on the base, however, he puts on a lab coat and reveals that he has college degrees in mathematical physics and artificial intelligence.
  • Hand Cannon: When Space!Valentin first encounters Master and Roman, the latter is holding a huge gun in one hand that Valentin clearly sees would've been held in both hands by a normal-sized person. The weapon in question is a plasma gun.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Space!Valentin discovers a conspiracy aboard the space station involving some of the unofficial leaders. He takes the remaining leader aside and explains to him his discovery. The remaining leader promptly knocks him out. He's in charge of the conspiracy.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Happens near the end of the book.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Oleg is a system administrator and spends a lot of time on his computer. He also goes to the gym and is in excellent shape. He's a little shy, but not cripplingly so.
    • His appearance is described as athletic, muscular, whose face is of the "ladies like" type.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Lampshaded by Space!Valentin during a major battle with the Bugs. His flotilla makes as if to escape and then closes in on the enemy as they engage the other two flotillas. According to Valentin, hitting an enemy in the rear should not work in space, if you have cannoneers manning rear turrets. However, it turns out that the Bug ships are also controlled by only one Bug. This only serves to reinforce how much this looks like a game.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: For their services, the human accomplices on Earth receive payment in the form of advanced technology, which they can patent through shell companies. One of the accomplices is a former KGB agent who sees his actions as patriotic. After all, he's helping to improve his country's place in the world.
    • Also played straight on the Platform, except Inna explains that it took a long time for even the most basic things to be figured out (e.g. that there are bathrooms on-board spaceships or how to flush them without Explosive Decompression), and the casualty rate among engineers is fairly high, as, for the most part, they have no idea what they're tinkering with. Part of that is why engineers are the most highly-paid professionals on the Platform.
    • Additionally, Phoenix-class ships have been modified with Bug bio-technology, which can't be replicated.
  • Improvised Weapon: Space!Valentin's original ship doesn't have any weapons or shields. So when they are chased by a raider, he realizes they're doomed. However, he then notices that one of the hijackers is carrying a heavy plasma gun. He suggests that one of them opens the airlock in a spacesuit and fire at the approaching ship. The other ship knows that Valentin's ship is unarmed and doesn't bother with shields, so a single plasma hit is enough to cripple it.
  • Inside a Computer System: The Seekers believe that they're all trapped in a Matrix-like simulation. The only way to break out is to force their captors' hand by blowing up a star.
  • ISO Standard Human Spaceship: Averted, as the ship designs were already in the Platform's memory banks and were not designed by humans. Each ship type is radically different. Some have a vague Space Plane-like shape, while other may look like a series of criss-crossing horseshoes. It helps that, with Artificial Gravity and Deflector Shields, one doesn't really have to think about aerodynamics.
  • Kangaroo Court: After Space!Valentin and Space!Lena return to the Platform, the station administators have a hearing of sorts for their actions. Half of the administrators/judges recognize that Valentin and Lena were forced to aid criminals in their escape, while the others insist on fines and ship confiscation. The tie-breaker administrator openly explains that the administration has nothing against Valentin or Lena but are looking for an excuse to confiscate Valentin's brand-new Phoenix-class ship (which has some Bug bio-tech integrated in its systems) and are even willing to give him another ship in exchange.
  • Laser Sight: Earth!Valentin and Earth!Lena are talking in his apartment when he notices a red dot on her head. Being Genre Savvy, he pulls her on the floor, just before a shot rings out from a sniper rifle on the roof of another building. However, it turns out that the sniper's goal was to scare them into dropping their investigation, not kill them, so the laser sight is justified.
  • Matter Replicator: A number of these of various sizes are located on the Platform. While a few small ones are located in colonies, the big ones, capable of replicating ships, are only available on the station. They also require the input of the necessary elements in order to replicate something, which is why asteroid mining is always a profitable venture. There are also food synthesizers.
    • These food synthesizers are limited in what they can do, though, as programming a meal is much more difficult than simply synthesizing ingredients and making the meal yourself. Also, despite the people's best efforts, the synthesizers can't produce complex alcoholic drinks, only pure alcohol. According to one character, one of men's favorite past-times is to try to use this to make half-decent cocktails.
  • All Periods Are PMS: Lena mentions once accidentally naming a newly-discovered star PMS.
  • Mutual Kill: Close to the end of the novel, a young Jewish boy breaks into the office of the agency with a gun. He shoots the security guard in the head, unaware that he's a shapeshifting alien. Despite the wound, the guard is able to kill the boy before dying himself.
  • Naming Your Colony World: Stars and planets are traditionally named by the first pilot to scout the system. Lena mentions accidentally once naming a star PMS.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Since all ships have a Crew of One, this is the normal way of ship-to-ship combat, even for larger ships.
  • Organic Technology: The Bugs use this. Some of it has been adapted into Phoenix-class ships but cannot be replicated.
  • Plug And Play Technology: Lampshaded by Space!Valentin when discussing the strange compatibility between Platform technology and Bug bio-technology. He refuses to believe that Real Life works like that. The Bugs are actually the builders of the Platform and specifically designed things that way.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Nigredo is an ice world with a twist. All water on the planet is black but otherwise identical to regular water. The protagonist specifically mentions Hoth when first seeing the planet.
  • Space Battle: There's plenty of that throughout the book.
  • Space Police: A group of pilots have banded together and voluntarily patrol the areas near the Platform and inhabited worlds.
  • Space Station: The Platform is a large disc-shaped space station in the middle of nowhere. For its flattened shape, the humans living on it often refer to it as the Bun. It's well-armed and defended, although a large enough fleet can destroy it.
  • This Is Reality: Space!Valentin constantly lampshades various space-related tropes and how they should not work in Real Life. He's proven wrong every time because the entire set-up is deliberately done by the Bugs in order to cull their young using humans.
  • 2-D Space: While normally averted (given that it's a book and not a videogame), the navigational map used to plot hyperjumps is a typical videogame 2D map. Played straight with StarQuake itself, which is a regular Flash-based browser game without a lot of graphics.
  • Unusual User Interface: Averted. Spaceship controls are ridiculously simple, obviously designed for regular humans. A control stick for turning and firing weapons, and two pedals for accelerating and braking. A touchscreen for navigation and other functions. Each ship, no matter how big, only has one set of centralized controls. Later on, though, La Résistance rigs a large ship to have multiple specialized consoles for more efficient control. Everything is displayed as either an analog gauge (e.g. a rising bar) or a pictogram that can be understood fairly well by anyone (although it takes the protagonist some time to get used to them).
    • Valentin quickly finds out that most of the piloting is actually done by the onboard computer, and the pilot's actions only serve as general guidelines as to the pilot's intent, which the computer interprets and acts upon.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The alien agents on Earth are able to assume any shape they wish. They use this ability to demonstrate that they really are extraterrestrials to their human accomplices.
    • It's later revealed that these aliens are Bugs.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: While this is not the future, credits are the standard currency for the humans in space.
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