Literature: Deathstalker

It's a bad old time for Humanity in general. The human Empire is presided over by Empress Lionstone, aka the Iron Bitch, a ruler who makes Josef Stalin look like Gandhi. Everywhere in the Empire, rebellions are popping up and popping heads as fast as one can blink, and are slaughtered with utmost efficiency. Espers, clones, degenerates, and slaves are ubiquitous, treated as third-class citizens when they're not being tortured, experimented on, or simply shot. And, for once in the Empire's history, nobody is truly safe - be it noble, commoner, or servant.

That's not the worst of it, though. From the borders of the Empire, a number of threats have arisen: a group of formerly subservient AIs which broke free of their programming and formed the planet Shub, driven to exterminate their old masters; the Sleepers, a group of aliens genetically engineered as weapons, intended to destroy all in their path... and other horrors from beyond the Darkvoid, a multiple-light-year-wide sphere of death which the Empire created hundreds of years ago. Oh, and that's still nothing compared to the court intrigues, only kept at bay by the terror the Empress bestows upon her subjects.

The eight-book Deathstalker series, written by Simon R. Green, drops the reader right into the midst of this, beginning with the outlawing of one Owen Deathstalker, an aristocratic historian who just wanted to relax in comfort on his idyllic, pastoral homeworld. That changes fast, and he's forced to take up arms with the smuggler Hazel D'Ark, the bounty hunter Ruby Journey, the hero of the rebellion Jack Random, and the former Hadenman Tobias Moon... as well as a host of other unsavory characters, all of whom are out for themselves as much as anything.

In short, the Deathstalker series is a Fantasy Kitchen Sink Space Opera, soft as warm butter on the Mohs scale, and is sliced up into hundred- or two-hundred-page sections which could generally stand as stories on their own right. One can expect quite a lot of HSQ and similar moments when explaining any given segment, particularly as one reads further on. Finally, outside of the series itself, there are a handful of other stories written by Simon R. Green in the same universe, including the compilation Twilight of the Empire.

  • Twilight of the Empire (1998)
  • Deathstalker (1995)
  • Deathstalker Rebellion (1996)
  • Deathstalker War (1997)
  • Deathstalker Honour (1998)
  • Deathstalker Destiny (1999)
  • Deathstalker Legacy (2002)
  • Deathstalker Return (2004)
  • Deathstalker Coda (2005)


This series contains examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Monofilament swords.
    • All the swords, actually. While most everything in the Empire is described as being made of steel, the swords seem to have no problem cutting through whatever opponents are in their way. Unless those opponents are Grendels, who are just about immune to everything.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Golgotha's sewer system is essentially most of the interior of the planet.
  • Action Girl: Simon R. Green seems to love this. Examples are Hazel, Ruby, Investigator Frost; Jesamine; Rose; Investigator Topaz; and . . . pretty much every woman of any note in the books.
  • A God Am I: Owen and Hazel, eventually.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: In the later books it is stated that dealing in Alien Porn is extremely lucrative and a statutory death sentence.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Shub. Also, Haceldama.
  • Alien Geometries / Mobile Maze: The Madness Maze.
  • Almighty Idiot: An infant with the power to annihilate stars with a thought.
  • Anti-Hero: Nearly every character.
  • Artifact Title: Not so much with the series itself (there is still a Deathstalker in the last three books, though an indirect descendant whose family took the name out of respect.) But while the Imperial capital world of Golgotha is renamed Logres for the last three books, its major city is still called The Parade of the Endless, so-named because of the endless meatgrinder of its main feature, the Arena. In the last three books, the Arena still exists, but the sport is less about blood and death than it is about skill (and regeneration machines keep death at bay, at least for the sapient combatants.)
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: A favorite tactic of the heroes.
  • Badass Bookworm: Owen Deathstalker. He never really enjoyed the warrior training his family required of him, but he did it because he had to. After spending a few years getting soft, it all comes back to him. But his real passion is to sit back and, in his own words, "write boring histories no one ever reads." His vast store of historical knowledge actually helps the Rebellion plan effective strategy. Having read about countless successful and failed rebellions, he knows what tactics work and what mistakes to avoid.
  • Badass Normal: Alexander Storm, and quite a few other members of the rebellion - including Finlay Campbell and Kit Summerisle.
  • Battle Couple: Jack and Ruby; Owen and Hazel; Lewis and Jesamine; Bret and Rose; Silence and Frost; Finlay and Evangeline; David Deathstalker and Kit Summerisle.
  • Big Bad: Empress Lionstone XIV.
    • In the final three books, Finn Durandal.
  • Bigger Bad: Shub, The Recreated, The Hadenmen.
    • In the last three books, The Terror.
  • Big Damn Heroes: By chance, Hazel and Owen's first meeting.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family
  • Body Horror: Shub does this to some folks. ... well, okay, everyone they find. Also, Half-A-Man.
    • Simon Green seems to really like this trope. Wormboy, a giant tub of goo which literally fills an auditorium, the Maids, young girls converted into mindless cybernetic monsters, marines in the Madness Maze, hell, even the Empress gets her moment of this.
  • Bury Your Gays / Hide Your Lesbians: Averted in one case, with the Stevie Blues; played straight as an arrow in another case, with David Deathstalker and Kit Summerisle.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The Madness Maze after it was supposedly destroyed by Captain Silence.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Multiple occasions, at least one appears between the books, Deathstalker: Return and Deathstalker: Coda. In Return, Lewis Deathstalker discusses parties of jaded big game hunters going to Shandra-kor to hunt the monsters there. After ten hunts, the only thing that came back was a note saying, "Send more hunters." In Coda, said monsters agree to aid Lewis in his rebellion and are riding in a cargo bay of Lewis's star cruiser during a "Pure Humanity" loyalist mutiny. The loyalists go to the cargo bay to cleanse the "abominations," the monsters tear the loyalists apart and eat them. One monster sends up a com-request to the bridge to "Send more loyalists." This could be a Brick Joke if you didn't find the idea of big game hunters being eaten funny.
  • The Chick: Evangeline Shreck, though she gets her Badass Action Girl moment.
    • Given the issues she's dealing with, it's amazing she's as well-adjusted as she is. see "Cloning Blues," below.)
  • Church Militant: The Church of Christ the Warrior, with its Jesuit commandos.
    • In the later books this is played straight up with the . . . "Church Militant."
  • Cloning Blues: They're perfectly identical copies of the original, but without any memories or experience, and can be shot on sight.
    • Evangeline Schrek, full-stop. Cloned from the original after the original committed suicide to escape her incestuous father, she originally believed the original had died in a car accident. Daddy still "loves" her, but threatens to kill her several times if she lets it slip she's a clone, or refuses his advances. In fact, at least once he strongly implies that he can kill and clone her as long as it takes until one of them loves him back. Torn between duty to her Family name, her abusive father, keeping her clone nature a secret, and her love for Finlay Campbell (Campbells and Schreks being mortal enemies and all). . . well, the girl's got issues.)
  • Comedic Sociopath: Ruby Journey, Finlay Campbell, Kit Summmer Isle, Rose Constantine, Saturday. Hazel D'Ark, to a lesser extent. Owen sometimes frets about turning into one, when he's not slaughtering Imperial soldiers by the starcruiser-full. His indirect descendant, Lewis, and other Paragons are often seen as this by people at large. Also, Empress Lionstone XIV, often described as having a mercurial, wicked, and deadly sense of humor. Not an Informed Attribute, either.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: Disruptor cannons can fire through most armor - once, every two minutes. Beyond that, swords come into play. The only reason projectile weapons aren't still around is because they were systematically banned.
    • Disruptor weapons get a little better in the last three books. It just takes 30 sec. to recharge. Just long enough to get run though if you miss, or fighting more than one enemy and have only one gun. which lead to Badass Bandolier.
      • This is also interesting because it seems that disruptor weapons were systematically nerfed when projectile weapons were banned because Owen discovers that in the past (i.e. in the "fallen" first empire), energy weapons could fire without pause.
  • Cool Old Guy: Jack Random. Thanks to the Madness Maze, he gets younger as the books go on. But he stays cool.
  • Corrupt Church: Cardinal Beckett, and a few others.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Families tend to be run like corporations, with all that entails.
  • Creepy Children: The espers of the Abraxus Information Center.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle. Especially notable as the first series progresses, the characters find themselves in increasingly dire straits, with much dazzling description of their combat prowess vastly exceeding those of mere mortals in speed and strength, but still hopelessly outmatched by their opponents, then their Maze powers flare up. . .
  • Deadly Decadent Court
  • Destruction Equals Off Switch: Averted with Oz
  • Deus Est Machina: The Hadenmen set themselves up as the gods of the Genetic Church, which is to say that they convert people into cyborgs at gunpoint.
  • Deus ex Machina: Frequent and unashamed.
  • Doomed Hometown: Virimonde.
  • Door Stopper: The books clock in at a decent 500 pages apiece, in general - which doesn't seem horribly long until you remember that there are (at last count) nine of them.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Terror
    • To a much lesser extent, the Grendels. The city their Vaults are located in is described in tones reminiscent of HP Lovecraft, and the creatures themselves are something like the antagonist from Alien, only much more vicious and difficult to kill.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Shandrakor. To be fair, though, everything is also trying to kill everything else.
  • Fantastic Drug: Valentine Wolfe tends towards these... well, actually, his body is probably 50% Fantastic Drugs by weight.
    • To illustrate, the gentleman's ''blood'' is effectively toxic beyond belief, his entire body has mutated time and time again to give him the ability to handle these drugs, and his whole life now revolves around getting a yet better high.
      • A drug dealer/chemist in the later books is exposed to the Madness Maze, he starts producing drugs that cause specific effects, like killing off the left, or right, side of the body leaving the user as a half-dead junkie, and thats not even the limit of Doctor Happy...
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: In the first chapter of the book, we have gravity sleds, assassin concubines, Turing-class AIs, massive starships, hyperspace-compatible yachts, regeneration machines, organ smugglers, and a corrupt empire. It gets more convoluted from there.
  • Fate Worse Than Death
  • Five-Man Band
    • The Leader: Owen Deathstalker
    • The Lancer: Hazel D'Ark
    • The Big Guy: Ruby Journey
    • The Smart Guy: Giles Deathstalker
    • The Chick: Jack Random
  • Five-Bad Band
  • Genius Loci: the Red Brain: a giant, sentient forest, that may or may not be an entire planet. There is also another, literal living planet, and then at least one other world that was effectively a Genius Locus after a Big Gray Goo scenario. The A Is of Shub may also count, being three sentient computers the size of a planet.
  • Ghost Planet: Grendel. Unseeli untill Legacy
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: And how.
  • Healing Factor: One of the alternate Hazels.
    • Regeneration machines are this. Step in one, and if you're not already dead, you'll be fine.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Giles Deathstalker's rationale for using the Darkvoid Device.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Owen never wanted this! He's a historian, not a warrior!
  • Implacable Man: The Investigators, as well as the Hadenmen.
  • Inadequate Inheritor
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Once she gets her hands on them, Hazel finds that she likes projectile weapons. A lot.
    • In fact, it's stated in the books that projectile weapons were banned because they were so effective. Sure, the Empire has force screens that stop bullets cold, but those same force screens deflect disruptor beams, so abut equally effective. But a disruptor takes two minutes to recharge, while a projectile weapon can fire as long as you have ammunition. Projectile weapons are cheaper and easier to maintain, so the Empire banned them specifically to keep effective, deadly, point-and-shoot weapons out of the hands of people who might not appreciate a bunch of aristocrats telling them what to do.
  • Living Toys: Haceldama.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Me's a Crowd: Hazel D'Ark eventually learns how to summon clones of herself. Unfortunately, when she gets experimented on, her captors start killing them, one by one.
  • The Mole: Loads of them. Oz, the Lord High Dram (as Hood), Alexander Storm, and Young Jack Random, to name some. The poor rebels.
    • In the later books Saturday for all the six lines of dialog or so he/she gets
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jesamine Flowers. Aside from being described as absolutely gorgeous and using her sexuality as a weapon, she's performed an entire play completely nude at least once. Rose Constantine may be this, or may be Ms. Fan Disservice, depending.
    • Averted on the whole, though. Most of the major female characters throughout the series are described as being not really beautiful, but more authentic, and thus more desirable, than the gorgeous women who buy their looks in body shops. Also, most major characters gauge their attractiveness to women based on how capable they are, not what they look like.
  • Musical Assassin: There's a type of esper called "Sirens," who can use their own voices as sonic weaponry.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Silence, Stelmach.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: "Golgotha," the capital world of the Empire, is also the name of the place where Christ was crucified. Also "Haceldama" is where Judas hanged himself.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The first series as the Esper Liberation Front (ELF, EL Fs, or elves for short), the militant wing of the Esper Underground. The second series as the Esper Liberation Force. The first elves are anti-heroes even among anti-heroes, the second elves are straight-up villains.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Wampyrs, who have all their blood pumped out and replaced with a rather more potent drug.
  • Outlaw Town: Mistworld, an entire planet populated by thieves and political fugitives, left more or less to kill and prey on each other in peace since the empire found an orbital blockade cheaper than the effort required to clean the place up or even nuke it from orbit.
  • Parental Incest: Gregor and Evangeline Shreck.
  • Playing with Fire: The Stevie Blues.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Giles' baby is the Darkvoid Device.
  • Psychic Link: Owen, Hazel, Jack, Ruby, Moon, and Giles (at first); and Silence and Frost
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Julian Skye.
  • Psychic Powers: Espers, who may or may not be the next evolution of humanity.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Played with in the Stevie Blues. While they are certainly psycho, and lesbians, they really do care for each other, and are among the best fighters (or maybe weapons) the Clone and Esper Undergrounds have access to. Though even the Undergrounds consider their arrangement an "abomination," though whether that's because they're esper clones, lesbians, in a group marriage, or in a group marriage with each other remains nebulous.
  • Punch Clock Villain: John Silence, Investigator Frost, Security Officer V. Stelmach. All three on the side of the Empire, and put into conflict the with the Rebellion (and major characters) fairly often. Silence, in particular, has no illusions about how bad the Empire is, but is firmly convinced all the alternatives are worse.
  • Retired Badass: Jack Random, when first encountered.
  • Rule of Cool: Oh yeah. This series runs on it.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Thousands of habitable worlds within reach, each and every one of them either under The Empire or rebelling against it.
    • Almost annoyingly present in the later books and backstory when it comes to the Terror. The terror "ate" an entire galaxy traveling at slower than light speed. Fine . . . Problem is that those being eaten could move faster than light. Solution: Move your freaking population about . . . 1000 light years ahead of the terror, chill for 900 years, repeat. Terror starves to death chasing you. Next issue: Terror arrives in Empire, eats a star system, everyone else freaks out. Problem is that the empire is literally thousands of light years across and has ultra-FTL capabilities. It would be literally a thousand years before the Terror could even reach the inner systems which have more than marginal populations. Similar solution to that above in that you could just shift populations from system to system every . . . 40 or so years and the Terror would eventually starve, give up, or . . . well, go FTL out of desperation. Oh, on a more practical note, the Terror goes through three habitable star systems in something like two years or so. I think the travel time for one trip was like six months. At light speed, six months would not even get you out of the Ort cloud of our solar system, much less the 4 light years to the nearest star or the 20 or so to the THEORETICAL closest star that MIGHT have a planet that could support life. Of course, this may also be an example of Fridge Logic.
    • Actually stated that, travelling at just under the speed of light, the Terror would reach the next batch of inhabited planets in "weeks." No sense of scale indeed.
  • Scrap Heap Hero: Jack Random in the first book
  • Shoot the Dog: Owen puts a young plasma baby out of her misery on Mistworld.
  • Spare to the Throne: Douglas in the second series, who had been content with being a Paragon until his brother was killed by a drunk driver.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: Our heroes find themselves asking that question after the rebellion. Ruby gets hit hardest by it.
  • Sword and Gun: Tends to be justified because the disruptors have a two minute recharge lag.
  • Snarky Non Human Side Kick: Ozymandias, the AI that's oftentimes by Owen's side.
  • Stable Time Loop
  • Teleportation: Giles Deathstalker. Espers can do this, as well. The Empire was actually developing teleportation technology, but discovered Espers can do it cheaper and more easily, leading the tech to being abandonded. Shub picked it up and improved on it, as Shub does.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Silence and Frost's reasoning for not telling anyone about their abilities.
  • Touched by Vorlons: The people who went through the Madness Maze; and to a lesser extent (they already had powers), the espers touched by the Mater Mundi.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Silence and Frost, cut short by Frost's death. To be fair, Silence admitted that even if Frost lived, their relationship would always be in this state, since Frost is an investigator.
  • Up to Eleven: In general, the series reads like Star Wars meets the French Revolution on steroids and laughing gas.
    • Specifically, the Grendels. Living weapons locked in Vaults deep underneath a planet, they're so vicious and deadly the last time they got out the only solution was to scorch the entire planet, and set up a blockade so no one else messed with them. They're kind of like the antagonist in Alien, but moreso.
  • Victory Is Boring
  • Villainous Incest
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Darkvoid Device.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Various alien races, as well as espers, clones, and whatnot.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: One of the Empire's torture devices is a stasis field that does just this.
  • Your Head A Splode: One of the battle espers in the Vault of the Sleepers; some unfortunate Marines in the Madness Maze.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: Shub, quite possibly.

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