Literature: Confederation of Valor
And the moral of the story: Never call a two star general a bastard to his face. Captain Rose:
I'm a little surprised you didn't already know that. Torin:
You and me both, sir. You and me both.
—The Better Part of Valor, by Tanya Huff
The Confederation of Valor is a science fiction book series by Canadian
author Tanya Huff
. The lead character is Torin Kerr, a non-commissioned officer in the Confederation Marines. Alongside her fellow humans, the Confederation has recruited the Taykan
to fight their battles as they've completely outgrown the desire, or even ability to fight
. This becomes a problem when The Others, a war-like collective of various races, slowly start to attack Confederation space. The books follow Torin Kerr and the Marines serving under her as they face down various threats to their society and their lives.
Written with a sharp sense of humor and a lot of strong characterization, the series is well-worth reading, especially since Torin Kerr stands out as a true Action Girl
who still manages to avoid any unnecessary sacrifices to the altar of Badass
. It also manages the delicate balance between glorifying the combat and condemning it, often presenting the battles (and lives lost in them) as something that is a necessity, but not something anyone really enjoys.
The stories, while possessing a chronology, are very much self-contained in their own right as well and do not necessarily need to be read in order to enjoy them, though occasional Brick Jokes
will make the experience more enjoyable.
There are currently five books within the series:
- Valor's Choice (2000) — Staff Sergeant Kerr, along with a platoon of marines, are sent on a diplomatic mission which turns out to be anything but diplomatic when their transport ship shot down.
- The Better Part of Valor (2002) — Staff Sergeant Kerr, along with a hand-picked squad of marines, investigate a ship of unknown origin in a previously unexplored area of space, alongside the civilian salvage operator who found it.
- The Heart of Valor (2007) — Gunnery Sergeant Kerr escorts a newly rehabilitated major to training grounds for a field exercise which does not go as planned.
- Valor's Trial (2008) — Gunnery Sergeant Kerr must escape from an underground Prisoner Of War camp.
- The Truth of Valor (2010) — Kerr has retired and is trying to build a life with Craig Ryder. Instead they're attacked by Space Pirates; Craig is taken prisoner and Torin is left for dead.
The Confederation of Valor series provides examples of:
- Action Girl — Boy Howdy, does this series feature this in spades. Aside from the obvious example of Torin Kerr herself, a few of the female marines in Sh'quo company certainly qualify. If a marine is given more than a handful of lines, expect them to do something awesome or heroic at some point in the story.
- Alien Blood — Most of the other races have very different physiologies.
- Alien Catnip: The Krai drink a beverage called sah, which for them is the equivalent of a hot cup of tea. For humans, it's the equivalent of a hot cup of PCP with an amphetamine chaser. The law requires that anyone buying it be a Krai, and holds the Krai in question responsible if a human gets any.
- Alien Geometries — Big Yellow, at least.
- Aliens Are Bastards — The whole reason the Confederation had to recruit the humans to fight for them in the first place. They sent diplomats to point out to The Others that Space Is Big and that there was no reason whatsoever for them to fight the Confederation for territory. The Others sent back the dead diplomats with a bomb.
- The Alliance — The Others are a collective of races bent on destroying the Confederation. The Confederation are a collective of pacifist races who were forced to recruit several war-like races to help avoid extinction.
- Always Chaotic Evil — The general belief by the Confederation about The Others. It certainly seems to apply to their leadership.
- Annoying Arrows — Averted in the first book.
- Anyone Can Die — Don't get too attached to the well-characterized marines introduced at the beginning of each book. Some of them are going to die.
- Armour Is Useless — Completely averted. Marines have armor and it's generally the only thing between their fragile flesh and a lot of pain. In fact, their armor is highly useful, containing survival gear and beneficial functions which generally keep the marines alive far longer than they'd be without it.
- Artificial Limbs — Mentioned, but when one marine is informed his legs will have to be replaced, it's noted that it'll mean a medical discharge.
- Atop a Mountain of Corpses — Pretty much the end of the first book. It is treated as horrifically as it actually is.
- Attack! Attack! Attack! — Again, the first book. Two thousand Silviss against roughly forty marines in a fortified position.
- Author Appeal/Free-Love Future — Much like many of her other stories, pretty much everyone is bisexual as well as sexually active.
- Badass — Torin Kerr and her marines.
- Badass in a Nice Suit — The first book finds Torin and her marines fighting a last stand in dress uniform. Thankfully, the Marine Corps was smart enough to realize that dress uniform should probably still offer some decent protection, and thus they're not entirely helpless.
- Badass Normal — Again, Torin Kerr and her marines, but applies especially to Torin. She's not especially tall or heavy, yet she'll go up against the worst horrors The Others have to offer.
- Bang Bang BANG: Subverted with the Marines' KC-7 rifles. The Confederation has the ability to make the weapons completely silent, but research showed that the soldiers preferred to have their shots be audible.
- Bar Brawl — A memorable scene in the first book, when some of the Marines sneak out of barracks for a night on the town. Torin uses it as an opportunity to see how the Silsviss and existing Marines react to each other off-duty.
- Because I Said So — Often used by Torin or other Sergeants serving with her to get their marines doing something when not actively being shot at.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension — Torin and Ryder.
- Bizarrchitecture — Big Yellow.
- Bizarre Alien Biology
- Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: The H'san apparently think Humans Are Special because we're the first species in the galaxy to invent cheese. So much so that in the Confederation Marine Corps the response to asking an expert in X "Can you do X?" is "Do the H'san like cheese?"
- Blue and Orange Morality / Mad Scientist: The Big Yellow aliens started an interstellar war between the Confederation and the Primacy as a sociology experiment.
- Boring but Practical: Most Confederation military technology and practices. The Marines are armed with chemical-propelled bullets and use hand-carried stretchers because they aren't vulnerable to EMP, unlike energy weapons and antigravity. The Navy uses wet-navy logistical and command structures because they work just as well for it. The Others are similarly pragmatic.
- Breast Plate — The first cover◊. Torin's armor is different from the di'Taykan and Krai marines, presumably to hold her tits for some reason. Averted in the actual text of the book.
- There is a question of comfort. The other marines pictured are male.
- Bullet Proof Vest
- Bug War
- Butt Monkey — In the first book, Haysole stands out as equal parts this and Plucky Comic Relief.
- Chekhov's Running Gag: In The Truth of Valor, both Torin and Craig touch basically any piece of plastic because the Big Yellow aliens are sapient plastic, and during The Better Part of Valor they left a protein marker in them that can reveal BYAs masquerading as inanimate objects. Usually nothing happens, but at the end of the book, it turns out there were BYAs on the space station, and they helped Torin and Craig escape.
- Chunky Salsa Rule — The Krai have several descriptive words for the impact of an anti-personnel rocket on a soft target.
- Cluster F-Bomb — Nearly every single non-commissioned Marine.
- Combat Pragmatist / Even Evil Has Standards: In Valor's Trial, the Others apparently say "screw this" and hit the ground battle from space with some kind of strategic warhead that fuses the entire battlefield into volcanic glass. According to the Primacy lieutenant Torin and company team up with later on, members of their own ruling council considered this weapon horrific.
- Cold Sniper — Binti Mashona. Granted, she's perfectly social when she's not shooting things in the face at extraordinary distances, but put her behind the butt of a rifle and she's more likely to be annoyed at the inferior equipment she's using than anything.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience — Nutrient tabs for the three Younger Races. Blue are for humans, pink for di'Taykan, and yellow for Krai.
- Covers Always Lie — Averted in the second through fourth books, and even the first book's cover is fairly accurate... Except for the landscape. This◊ does not look like the dense jungle described.
- But it does look like the landscape at the Battle of Rorke's Drift, a real life battle in what is now South Africa, and which the events of the book were explicitly based. In fact, the cover bears a strong resemblence to many famous paintings of the battle.
- Deadpan Snarker — Several characters, including Torin. Ryder is prominent example, as well.
- Death from Above — Marine dropship pilots employ this method of attack to get the troops on the ground before anything goes amiss.
- Declining Promotion: Kerr is offered a commission, but refuses on the grounds that Gunnery Sergeant is her niche.
- Determinator — Torin Kerr is certainly one, though several minor characters prove to be this as well.
- Drop Ship — Naturally.
- Elves Versus Dwarves — The Confederation thought there'd be a huge problem with Humans learning to get along with Taykan (genetically slutty space-elves) and Krai (Extreme Omnivore hairless ape people). The fact that all three are similarly-sized mammals beside the more bizarre anatomies of the elder races of the Confederation meant these fears fell short.
- Enemy Mine — Torin's marines join up with a group of Others to escape a shared prison camp.
- Energy Weapon — The "Bennies" used in battles taking place aboard ships fire a beam which does not do nearly as much damage to a purely inorganic substance as it does to an organic substance. This is because putting holes in a space ship is a very bad thing.
- Ensign Newbie — Lieutenant di'Ka Jarret is this at the start of Valor's Choice. He grows out of it by the end thanks in part to Torin's tutelage.
- Ethical Slut / Everyone Is Bi — Every di'Taykan.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave — The Others' orbital bombardment in Valor's Trial kills everyone involved in the ground battle on both sides, including several named characters from previous books. Torin and a few others are "rescued" by the Big Yellow aliens.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys — The Krai are hairless monkey guys who can eat anything and have bones and teeth enamel so tough that Confederation scientists are attempting to grow it for spaceship armour.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin — Most of marines in the books do demonstrate valor quite a bit.
- Expy — In the first book, Ressk is a somewhat irritable Krai who has a bit of a superiority complex about his computer abilities. Remove the computer abilities and add Recon. Meet Werst in the second book.
- Which gets interesting when Ressk meets Werst in book four.
- Extreme Omnivore — The Krai as a race have the most efficient gut in the galaxy and can eat pretty much anything (including plastics and metal)... and often do. Upon being integrated into the budding Taykan and Human military, a rule about not eating the bits which might fall off fellow soldiers had to be established.
- Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The author admitted to basing the final battle of Valor's Choice on the Battle of Rorke's Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel — Susumi space. Enter it, and you can emerge on the other side of the galaxy exactly when you departed, though for the people on the ship it does take hours to get there.
- The Federation: It's called a Confederation, but it matches the trope based on its description.
- Forever War — The Confederation, as a whole, wishes for a pacifist solution. The Others, as a whole, wish for everything that is not them to die.
- Valor's Trial reveals that the Big Yellow aliens have been manipulating things for the entire length of the war, to keep their sociology experiment going.
- Genre Savvy — A lot of the marines display flashes of this.
- In the first book, one marine prevents her corporal from showing pictures of his family, telling him that it's practically a guaranteed death sentence. Said death sentence is averted.
- In the second, Werst notes that Guimond, the overly-large, overly-friendly, but not overly-bright young marine everyone loves, will be the first to die, forcing the rest to avenge him and go on to win one for "poor Guimond." He's pretty much right.
- Going for the Big Scoop — Presit, who not only risks herself and her crew, but also the entire Berganitum and everyone aboard following it into Susumi space in her quest to get the story on whatever top-secret thing the ship must be doing. She then promptly insists on being escorted into unknown territory, relying on the marines to keep her safe.
- Heavyworlder — Torin is from a world with 1.2 times Earth's gravity, which comes in handy during a Bar Brawl in the first book since the Silsviss homeworld has about 0.8 gravity.
- Hero-Worshipper — Kichar to Torin.
- Heroic Sacrifice — Happens in a few places, of course.
- Hive Mind — The Big Yellow aliens.
- Hollywood Hacking — Ressk indulges in this as one of two defining character traits, the other being his racial hat of eating anything and everything.
- Hollywood Tactics — One character employs these. Unfortunately for everyone else, he's their commanding officer. None of the marines are happy about this.
- Homage — Tanya Huff based the major battles of the first book on the battle of Rorke's Drift.
- Human Outside, Alien Inside: A fairly subtle example: the Taykans become mature physically, sexually, and (to a limited extent, at least) socially long before they become fertile.
- Humans Are Warriors — First justified, then subverted in the back story. The Confederation offered humanity membership because they hadn't yet evolved past violence (unlike the rest of its member races), and thus could fight the Others. The subversion came when the Taykan, Krai, and Silsviss were brought in for the same reason.
- Humans Are White — Averted. Though the book doesn't specifically identify characters by race, several humans are distinctly not Caucasian.
- Hyperspace Is a Scary Place — Susumi Space requires very specific calculations in order to successfully traverse it. Making even a tiny small mistake can destroy a ship completely. Valor's Trial adds that it also exposes travelers to severe irradiation (though ships are built to withstand it) such that spacers and military personnel typically bank reproductive material just in case.
- Intrepid Reporter — Presit, especially in the third book. Although her motivation may be more that 'verse's equivalent of a Pulitzer rather than the truth.
- Introduction by Hookup: Valor's Choice opens with Torin waking up with a pheromone hangover from the di'Taykan she went to bed with. At the briefing she discovers that said di'Taykan happens to be her platoon's new second lieutenant, di'Ka Jarret.
- Jerkass — Presit. She's a reporter with a superiority complex, an inflated sense of entitlement, and a lot of dislike for the military in general. Even her own news crew doesn't like her in the novel she's introduced.
- "Join the Army," They Said — Most of the marines will find cause at one point or another to curse the fact they're marines.
- Kill It with Fire — Heavies in each squad have flamethrowers, though the use of it on sentient beings is generally regarded as completely outside of acceptable battlefield practice.
- Killed Off for Real — Lots of characters.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Justified. Both sides explicitly have the ability to use EMP to knock out high-tech weapons, so all tech used by the Marines is designed to work just as well in its primary function when its electronics have been disabled. Explosive-propelled bullets don't need electricity to fire.
- Also averted somewhat in shipboard combat, where bullets run the risk of causing a hull breach. The Marines are issued cellular disrupters nicknamed "Bennies" in such situations.
- Last Stand — The first book nearly becomes one.
- Living Ship — Big Yellow, which is mostly made of organic material, heals damage to itself, reconfigures its interior architecture, and is secretly testing both sets of alien species that have landed on board. As it turns out, it's not really a ship, but rather a group of molecule-sized aliens with a Hive Mind.
- Mars — Humanity had a shaky toe-hold on Mars when the Confederation swooped in and pointed out that they could either join the Confederation and fight their battles for them or get steam-rolled by The Others when they got there.
- Military Science-Fiction — Natch.
- A Mother to Her Men — A stern as hell parental figure to be sure, but Torin certainly gets pissed off whenever one of the marines under her command dies. Everyone serving under her is very aware of this fact, as well as the people who rank higher than her. Her marines have complete confidence in her abilities, too.
- The Neidermeyer - Captain Tarvis.
- No One Could Survive That — The Marines to Ryder after Torin is declared KIA. He doesn't really believe it, and neither does Torin's father.
- No One Gets Left Behind — A rule of the Corps. If there's a body, it gets brought back. If there's an injured marine, there is no such thing as too injured to bring along.
- Not Staying for Breakfast: Torin, in the very first chapter, with a di'Taykan she shacked up with. Although in this case, it's more her sneaking out so that he won't ask her for "once more before breakfast", making her late coming back from leave.
- Our Elves Are Better — Taykan are essentially space elves with pastel-hair, superior senses to a human, and the ability to produce pheromones which can get any mammal in the mood. Lampshaded in that the Taykans have been compared to elves in-universe and find said comparison amusing. Torin's even met a di'Taykan named Celeborn.
- Pardon My Klingon / Screw You, Aliens! — Aside from the obvious pun, the races in the Marines learned to get along by learning to swear at one another in their native languages.
- Perfect Pacifist People: Zigzagged. In the backstory it's justified: for the most part only species that evolve past violence achieve Faster-Than-Light Travel, because species that don't have a tendency to blow themselves up first. Deconstructed when the Others show up and begin attacking, and the Confederation has to uplift first humanity, then the Taykans, Krai, and Silsviss because they haven't evolved past violence. Arguably reconstructed as of the latest books. The war turned out to be a giant sociology experiment by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens operating under Blue and Orange Morality, and it seems highly likely the Others have the same arrangement as the Confederation.
- Pleasure Planet — Any Taykan world, very likely.
- Plot Armor — Torin, to a degree. Forgivable since she's the main character. Averted for every other marine.
- Powered Armour — Fairly low-key. Played a little more straight with Heavies.
- Properly Paranoid — Torin more than once. In the third book she thinks that she really doesn't care if people call her paranoid so long as it saves her people's lives.
- Psychic Powers — Hinted at in the first book, with Jarret informing Kerr that "there's a reason mind-reading races in the galaxy are universally despised" when she is able to read his body language and use her experience with other new second lieutenants to accurately guess his thoughts.
- Punctuation Shaker — The Taykan language is a mishmash of this. (For example, mature but not yet fertile individuals of the race are called "di'Taykan.")
- Puny Earthlings — Taykan have superior senses and the Krai are, in some ways, ridiculously durable compared to humans.
- Puppeteer Parasite — The Grey Ones, although they more often tend to only be observers. From your brain.
- Rank Up: Torin starts as a staff sergeant and is promoted to gunnery sergeant after book two.
- Redemption Equals Death — During the second book, Torin uses this to make her useless, fatally-injured superior look good for the Katrien reporter who's been watching the "war-hero" be a useless Jerk Ass.
- The Reptilians — The Silviss.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens — Both averted and lampshaded. The reason that the humans, Taykan, and Krai get along is because they're all bipedal mammals with two arms and legs. The rest of the Confederation are vastly more alien:
- The Dornagan are absolutely massive furry cat-bear things.
- The Katrien are small Cat Folk.
- The Miktok are large spider aliens renowned throughout the galaxy for the beauty of their art.
- The Rakva are feathered, bipedal birds with hands.
- The H'san are different somehow, but their appearance has been carefully avoided.
- Sacrificial Lamb/Sacrificial Lion — Several of each in each book.
- Scary Dogmatic Aliens — The Others absolutely refuse to back down.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale — Averted, for the most part.
- Sergeant Rock — Torin, full stop.
- Shout-Out — There are a few subtle nods to other science fiction work.
- Sssssnake Talk — In an unlikely occurrence, Torin hears the Silviss this way due to her translator being broken.
- Space Is an Ocean — The Confederation still uses wet-navy command and logistical structures for its Space Navy (because they work), but the rest of the trope is averted.
- Space Marine — A well-done example.
- Space Navy — Of course.
- Standard Sci-Fi Army: The series mainly deals with line infantry wearing Powered Armor, but we've also seen tanks, artillery, and aircraft.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Mostly ignored, but present.
- Standard Sci Fi Setting — Pretty well.
- Standard Time Units
- Starfish Aliens: Aside from the entries mentioned under Rubber-Forehead Aliens, the Big Yellow aliens are sapient plastic.
- Swiss Army Weapon — The Heavies have a weapon which allows them to swap between various guns.
- Un-Canceled — Certainly fans thought this was the case for a while, with nothing new from Tanya Huff in the series for nearly six years.
- Vitriolic Best Buds — In the second book, Werst and Guimond quickly grow to be this. Pretty much all of the vitriol is on Werst's end of the relationship.
- War Is Hell
- We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future — Justified. Both sides of the conflict can use EMP to knock out a lot of the fancier gear, so the Marines quickly realized that they needed to
- Weapon of Choice — Most marines prefer the standard KC-7 to the Bennies, and those that prefer the Benny won't say otherwise.
- Whole Plot Reference: The battle in Valor's Choice is explicitly modeled on Rorke's Drift.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz — Fuk you, it's awesome to swear like that.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair — The Taykans, whose hair comes in every improbable shade you can imagine, from neon blue to fuchsia.
- Your Head A Splode — This is what happens when you combine a sniper like Binti Mashona with a rifle round titled an "impact boomer".