Literature: Here Be Dragons
"There will be war in heaven until there is peace on Earth."
A 2013 science fiction novel by Craig Alan.
By 2153, the Global Union of Earth has spent four decades locked in a cold war with the mysterious "outsiders," a hostile force which has seized control of Jupiter and its moons, and violently attacks anything and anyone that comes near. Elena Gonzales, captain of the new ship Gabriel
, is chosen to lead the first ever manned mission to outsider territory. But the deep divisions within humanity itself may prove to be an even greater danger than the one outside.
Although it's a reasonably hard novel in the Mohs sense, there is relatively little math for the layman to digest. Instead it's mostly a character-driven, told from Elena's perspective as she and Gabriel
approach the outsiders, and as she flashes back to how she came to be there.
The book provides examples of:
- Alien Sky: When Elena goes on a spacewalk on the other side of Jupiter, she's struck by how awesome and terrible Jupiter's visage is when viewed from the same distance as the Moon from the Earth - and by how bright and clear the Milky Way is without the Sun's glare to wash it out.
- Aliens Speaking English: Averted. When the crew of Yeshua begin broadcasting in Hebrew, Elena has no idea what they're saying.
- The novel itself also includes several bits and pieces of untranslated foreign language as a Bilingual Bonus.
- Applied Phlebotinum: There is a brief mention of "neutronium" factories above the Earth, which are presumably used by the avrams to defy gravity.
- Arc Words: Victor Jara's song "Deja La Vida Volar" is sung in the first and final chapters. The lyrics even fit the story, to a point.
- Attack Drone: It's explicitly stated that the vast majority of combat takes place between drones built by the Space Agency and the outsiders, respectively. Gabriel's mission is accompanied by two such unmanned vehicles, albeit unarmed.
- Artificial Gravity: Space stations such as Glenn consist of rotating barrels to provide centripetal force. Spaceship crews deal without, and undergo a rigorous medical regimen to maintain their bone and muscle mass as best as possible.
- Badass Gay: Elena Gonzales, the youngest captain the history of Global Space Agency and owner of an undefeated combat record, is a lesbian.
- Bilingual Bonus: Bits and pieces of Spanish, Hebrew, Latin, Russian, and Marathi go untranslated. And anyone familiar with Indian culture will recognize that "Vijay Nishtha" is actually two given names, not a given name and surname. It's revealed that Vijay never knew his family's name, and took his deceased his sister's as his own.
- Boarding Party: When Gabriel discovers a derelict outsider vessel, Elena sends three of her crew to investigate, as she deems it the intelligence coup of the century. She later boards it herself, for a very different reason.
- The Bridge: Gabriel has one of these, buried at her center beneath multiple layers of armor. It has enough room for the flight commander, officer of the watch, helmsman, and communications officer, along with a Holographic Terminal that fills the center of the room.
- Chekhov's Gun: Several:
- Elena's mother gives her some very expensive coffee beans as a going away present, and Elena manages to convinces her superiors to allow her a zero-gravity coffee machine in her stateroom, despite the scalding hazard. Guess what she later uses as a trap?
- Similarly, Elena takes the gift of a dress as a keepsake, as such clothing is rather...immodest in zero-gee. It's later used to bandage her knife wounds.
- Jupiter's enormous magnetic field, the impenetrable radio noise it produces, and its ability to shield the planet from solar flares comes up early.
- It's noted that the ballista uses a gas injector to start the cannonball on its journey before its flung forward by the magnetic coils at high speed to annihilate its target. And if the target is already traveling fast enough, you don't even need the coils.
- The final example is Ikenna's discovery that one of Gabriel's missiles was equipped with a transmitted that Metatron used to track her. Elena uploads this same missile with evidence of the outsiders' true nature and fires it on a path towards home, ensuring that she'd win the war even if she lost the battle.
- Chekhov's Gunman: There are quite a few mentions of Captain Muller and Elena's lost love Anne throughout the book. They're the same person.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: What happens the first few times Gabriel goes into combat. Indeed, this is what the Archangels are designed to do. Then she meets another one.
- Everyone Knows Morse: A fairly tense moment is defused by the fact that Elena can recognize Morse code.
- Explosive Decompression: Averted. An unlucky crewman is exposed to the vacuum and killed, but the only evidence of physical damage are his bloodshot eyes.
- Explosive Instrumentation: What happens when a ship is flooded with electromagnetic energy from a nuclear explosion. It is depicted quite a bit more graphically than the average example, and quite a bit more realistically, as such an onslaught could easily overwhelm safety systems.
- Fantastic Rank System: The Space Agency doesn't follow any of the prototypical rank systems used by today's armies, navies, or air forces. This is a bit of Truth in Television, as modern astronaut corps, staffed mostly by civilians, don't use such rank systems either. There are Third, Second, and Chief Officers, commanded by Captains and overseen by Flag Officers.
- The Federation: The Global Union, a sort of United Nations successor, stands in for this, though it is limited to our home planet and a few nearby colonies on the Moon and Mars. Importantly, not all of Earth is united under its flag.
- Fictional United Nations: The Global Union again, though it is much stronger. It elects its own Assembly and Prime Minister, and wields military arms in the form of the Space Agency and the Security Forces.
- Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon: The distinguishing feature of the Archangels is the “ballista,” a coil gun the length of a football field. Also doubles as a One-Hit Kill for most targets.
- Heavyworlder: Inverted: Colonial brats born and raised on the Moon and Mars are abnormally tall and thin, and Elena spends so long in microgravity that she can barely walk unaided when she returns to Earth. The outsiders, who have spent generations living on the moons of Jupiter, routinely reach seven feet in height.
- Hurl It into the Sun: How Earth's nuclear weapons were destroyed, after the Treaty of Jerusalem outlawed them.
- In Medias Res: The novel begins with Gabriel at the end of its journey and about to attack the outsiders. Each even numbered chapter flashes back to Earth and how the journey began, while the odd numbered ones continue the story around Jupiter.
- In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted. Elena notes that if the interior of the helmets contained lights, the user inside would be blinded by the reflection off the faceplate.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: From missiles to guns to the ballista, every weapon is kinetic. Given that the science is reasonably hard, presumably the power requirements for notoriously inefficient lasers were too much. The only exception, a plasma torch, is noted to be very short ranged, useless outside of the vacuum, and very unwieldy in general.
- Latex Space Suit: The shipboard duty uniform worn by officers of the Space Agency. It combines a polymer skin with resistant carbon fibers and a layer of dilatant liquid armor that rests between the suit and the body. The uniforms are literally skintight, and so difficult to put on and take off that most officers wear them for the duration of their deployment. (Presumably there's a plumbing system.) Dilatants are materials that harden when subjected to stress, the liquid armor can stop an object moving a high speed, like a bullet. A knife swung by a human hand is another story.
- Lonely at the Top: Elena struggles with the distance she as commanding officer must maintain between her and Gabriel's crew.
- Mildly Military: Space Agency personnel seem to be a cross between modern day astronauts and naval officers, with the education to match. There appear to be no enlisted personnel whatsoever, and it's possible that, as an elite force, discipline is accordingly somewhat relaxed than would be for rank and file spear carriers. It's still more spit and polish than you're likely to see outside pure military fiction, however.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Class 4. With the notable exception of the avram, the technology depicted is relatively advanced, but not impossible.
- Multinational Team: Thanks to the strongly internationalist bent of the Global Union and the Space Agency, not a single member of Gabriel's crew is from the same country as another. Notably, none of the main characters' nationalities are stated outright, though they can be guessed in most cases.
- The Mutiny: Vijay attempts to relieve Elena of command to stop her from revealing the conspiracy to the world. It does not end well for ether of them.
- No Bisexuals: Vijay Nishtha is attracted to both men and women.
- Nonindicative Name: There's not a dragon to be found. Which is kinda the point.
- One-Hit Kill: The rationale for the ballista. Instead of trying to sneak a fragile missile past point defenses, or pounding away with standard issue cannons, the Archangels are intended to annihilate the enemy with a single blow - hopefully unseen.
- Point Defenseless: Averted. Most military spacecraft seemed to be armed with (relatively) small coil guns firing projectiles the size of ball bearings, which serve as their primary anti-missile defense. And on two separate occasions they're used to parry a cannonball from a ballista.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Elena is respective of her crew's abilities, and receptive to their input - to a point, anyway. Prime Minister Jacob Erasmus is one of these as well.
- Solar Flare: A coronal mass ejection reaches Jupiter at about the same time as Gabriel, and forces Elena to power down the ship's systems lest they short circuit. A nearby outsider ship tries to ride it out, and is disabled. In the backstory, an enormous solar event in 2052, referred to only as the Storm, knocked out most of the Earth's power and communications, and sparked a series of conflicts that culminated in nuclear war. It also had the added effect of wiping out reams of computer data, hiding the outsiders' exodus from Earth in the previous few years.
- Space Cadet Academy: More than one character makes reference to their time spent at Phobos Academy, and Elena's experiences there prove to be formative. Unusually for this trope, it's not the only means of entry to the Space Agency. Rather like the actual maritime expression "going up the hawsepipe," any civilian astronaut with enough experience can apply for a commission, though it's implied that relatively few are accepted.
- Space Is Cold: Gabriel's biggest problem in combat is not the cold vacuum, but the waste heat that the vacuum is keeping trapped inside the ship.
- Space Jews: Gabriel's doctor is Jewish, and even holds a space seder. It's later revealed that the outsiders are Jewish refugees from a second, 21st century Holocaust.
- Space Plane: By the middle of the 22nd century, most of the world's major airlines are spacelines as well.
- Space Station: Gabriel was constructed at Glenn Station, in Earth orbit. Several other space stations, civilian and military, are also mentioned, including one at an Earth-Sun lagrange point.
- Stealth in Space: Dealt with in detail. It's repeatedly emphasized that Gabriel is quite warm when using a lot of energy, and her most notable feature are her four enormous radiating sails. It takes an awful lot of preparation to sneak up on the outsiders, including limited rockets burns, powered down fuel cells, and flying out of the sun. She later uses a solar flare, and the plasma torus that shares the orbit of Jupiter's moon Io, to hide.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Vijay, from Mumbai, speaks English with Received Pronunciation, making it appear as if he had been educated in a British public school. He was actually born and raised in a refugee camp outside the city's radioactive ruins, and affects the accent.
- Take a Third Option: Pretty much Elena's stock in trade.
- When one of her crew finds a hidden nuclear artillery shell stashed aboard ''Gabriel'', she can either blow the whistle openly and destroy her career, and likely those of her crew, or report it through normal channels and let it be swept under the rug. Instead she uses it for target practice, resulting in a nuclear detonation in Earth's orbit, and pleads ignorance afterwards.
- Gabriel and another ship are locked in a Mexican Standoff on either side of a derelict vessel. If Elena tries to flee, she'll be a sitting duck. But if she fires, her opponent will counterattack automatically, resulting in mutually assured destruction. Elena detonates the explosives she had left onboard the wreck, making it look like as it had self-destructed and distracting Metatron long enough to escape.
- Near the end of the book Gabriel has been crippled by a nuclear missile, and Metatron is closing in for the kill. Gabriel has enough power left to either fire the ballista or the engines, but not both - and either option will flood the ship with enough waste heat to kill the crew. Instead Elena drops a cannonball on the path behind her, without firing it, and Metatron's collides with it at a high enough velocity to cause catastrophic damage.
- Title Drop: One of the few personal touches in Elena's stateroom is a 16th century map of the Earth, complete with sea serpents and fiery dragons at the unknown edges and emblazoned with the legend HC SVNT DRACONES. Likely a combination of the Lenox globe and Carta Marina.
- The War of Earthly Aggression: This is what it looks like from the outsiders' perspective.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: This is how Gabriel disposes of the mission's first casualty, as there are no facilities onboard to store corpses. It's also how Elena suggests she would deal with mutineers.
- Unseen Character: Helena Dixon and Sir William Campbell-Azzam are very important to the plot, but only show up in media appearances, while Moishe Avramovich, the founder of space colonization, is long dead by the time the novel begins. For most of the novel, it appears that Jacob Erasmus is another one of these.