Literature / Humanx Commonwealth
The Humanx Commonwealth
is the general name given to a series of novels and short stories written by Alan Dean Foster
that is set in a common science fiction universe
. The setting was introduced in Foster's first published novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang
, and has been the star franchise of his decades-long writing career. It has heavy roots in Space Opera
as well as Speculative Fiction
The Humanx Commonwealth is also the name of the major alliance of spacefaring species
in the stories, the two principal members of which are humans and the insectoid Thranx. They are joined by a fantastically diverse cast of other species
of varying levels of intelligence and technological progress. The spiritual counterpart of the Commonwealth is the United Church, an ecumenical council that embraces all religions under a single roof of universal tolerance. The major enemy of the Commonwealth is the AAnn, a xenophobic reptilian species that has its own empire
and whose members constantly scheme against the humans and their allies (and each other).
There is a long Back Story
, the Xunca, who held the entire galaxy under their dominion a billion years in the past, but fled in the face of a galaxy-devouring Great Evil
. More recently (500,000 years or so), two powerful species called the Tar-Aiym and Hur'rikku fought a war that resulted in their mutual annihilation and the scouring of all higher life forms from a swath of star systems known as the Blight. Artifacts from these civilizations and others litter the worlds of the galaxy and provide a plentiful source of Lost Technology
The Humanx Commonwealth
series is best known as the home of Phillip Lynx, aka Flinx
, and his pet minidrag
, Pip. Adopted at a young age, he manifested a talent for Empathy
and promptly became embroiled in a number of unlikely schemes. Both the story and his powers expand over time to the point where he becomes the Chosen One
who is fated to save the universe from the same Great Evil that the Xunca failed to deal with billions of years ago. And he hates it
The series tends to sit very heavily on the ideal side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism
. In terms of hardness
, it mainly falls under One Big Lie
: FTL Travel
is prevalent, as is FTL communication, although both are fairly expensive for the "average Joe". Distance is not ignored, but Space Is an Ocean
is an inevitable consequence of the method of FTL travel, to the point where independent traders ply the spacelanes like merchantmen of the Age of Sail. Fantastic planets
litter the galaxy, ripe for exploration but ready to entrap the unprepared
. And there's always a Deus ex Machina
around the corner to save the day.
The major miniseries and story arcs are as follows:
- Flinx and Pip: Chronologically, this series begins with For Love of Mother-Not, although that book was published much later and retconned Flinx's origin story to bring it into the main plot. From The Tar-Aiym Krang through The End of the Matter, the story is fairly lighthearted and episodic in nature, with Orphan Star starting Flinx's search for his parentage. Flinx in Flux brought Cerebus Syndrome by introducing both the Great Evil plot and Flinx's ongoing Love Interest. The next several books fill in the story of his quest for a Lost Superweapon to counter the Great Evil, as well as the resolution of the search for his parents. The Grand Finale is Flinx Transcendent.
- Icerigger: A trilogy set on the ice world of Tran-Ky-Ky. Part of the Commonwealth series but otherwise unconnected to the ongoing plotline. Involves a Cool Ship (pun intended) made to traverse the ice world on, essentially, giant skates carved from the hull of a crashed shuttle.
- Cachalot: A novel set on the water world of Cachalot, where all the Cetacea note were transplanted from Earth to make amends for their near-extinction.
- The Founding of the Commonwealth: A trilogy that details the Back Story elements discussed in The Tar-Aiym Krang, beginning with the first encounter between humans and Thranx, going through the Pitar war, and culminating with the The Plan that eventually led to Amalgamation.
- Various other one-off novels, many of which tie directly or indirectly to the main storyline.
- There exists a GURPS RPG adaptation, sadly out of print.
A timeline of the Commonwealth universe can be found here
This series provides examples of:
- Absolute Xenophobe: The Pitar are a species of Human Alien who are encountered by humans shortly after meeting the thranx. They turn out to have a dark secret — they hate all other life forms and befriend humanity only to steal the women to use as Uterine Replicators for their rapidly declining species.
- Abusing the Kardashev Scale for Fun and Profit: The scale of technological capability of the various precursor races ranges from the Tar-Aiym and Hur'rikku, who can construct planet-sized starships and/or artificial black holes, to the Xunca, who can manipulate entire galaxies and send planets to alternate dimensions..
- Action Bomb: As Flinx gains more control over his powers, he sometimes tries to use his Super-Power Meltdown offensively, with varying degrees of success, and occasionally forgets about it completely when it's inconvenient to the plot.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Commonwealth has one of these a-la Star Trek, providing rules of conduct when dealing with species that haven't developed interstellar travel on their own. Like all such rules, it exists mainly to be bent or broken by the protagonists. Sometimes coupled with placing a planet or species Under Edict so nobody stumbles upon them accidentally. In one particular case (the Ulru-Ujurrians), this was used not to protect the Innocent Aliens from Commonwealth society, but vice versa.
- Always a Bigger Fish:
- In For Love of Mother-Not, the giant lakes of the planet Moth contain fish so huge that they are hunted from giant skimmers using explosive harpoons. In one scene, Lauren notes to Flinx that the penestral they have just caught — a fish large enough to feed an entire town for months — is itself predated on by an even larger fish known as an oboweir. In a later scene, an oboweir swallows a skimmer whole.
- The flora and fauna of Midworld frequently serve as the Bigger Fish to rescue the heroic characters from potential death, and for every ridiculously efficient predator, there's always one bigger and more terrifying.
- Animal Wrongs Group: The main antagonists of Flinx in Flux are an ecoterrorist group who feel that any human exploitation of the natural world is a crime and seek to punish offenders by summary execution. They attack the Coldstripe research installation on Longtunnel and later hunt Flinx down.
- Another Dimension:
- Space-plus and space-minus are alternate dimensions used for travel and communication.
- "Elsewhere", the source of the antimatter "white hole" created by the Hur'rikku anticollapsar weapon.
- The Xunca packed up their entire galaxy-spanning civilization and moved to another dimension, possibly one that they manufactured, in order to escape the Great Evil.
- The Great Evil itself is thought by the Xunca to have come from an alternate universe, and is eventually banished to another one by their superweapon.
- Flinx spends much of his early life as a thief and spends most of his adult life trying to avoid being The Hero of whatever situation he's in. He wants the universe to leave him in peace, but his uniqueness attracts problems to him like flies to honey.
- Skua September is a Boisterous Bruiser who plays by his own rules and has a mysterious, quasi-criminal past. He's not intentionally a hero type, but gets roped into helping Flinx when the latter winds up on his doorstep, pursued by a small army of Alaspinian natives.
- Malcolm Hammurabi is a merchant captain, not a hero, but when he accidentally stumbles upon a cache of the vicious drug bloodhype in one of his shipments, he decides to hunt down the man responsible. He's also a romantic, and his chivalrous urges cause him, against his better judgement, to rescue Kitten Kai-Sung from torture and death.
- From the prequel trilogy, the human Cheelo Montoya and the thranx Desvendapur, both accidental murderers with few scruples, lay the groundwork for what would eventually become the Commonwealth. Completely by accident.
- Apocalypse Cult: A cult called the Order of Null appears in Flinx's Folly and later novels. They have learned of the approach of the galaxy-devouring Great Evil, and see it as their role to remove any obstacles to its coming. This includes Flinx himself, who is the Chosen One fated to destroy it. It is later revealed that they are abetted by none other than Flinx's archnemesis, Mahnahmi, a powerful telepath and an embittered nihilist.
- Apocalypse How: Being a Space Opera series, various horrifically destructive events occur or are threatened.
- The Blight in the backstory was the result of an interplanetary biological weapon released during a massive war. It wiped out all higher life forms (anything with a developed nervous system) on millions of planets.
- The posigravity/KK drive is capable of gouging out sizable chunks of a planet's crust if brought too near, which makes its use near a planetary body one of the most severe crimes in the Commonwealth. A flashback scene in Orphan Star reveals that a partially constructed KK drive sabotaged by a mind-controlled engineer obliterated an entire underground starship construction facility and the mountain it was built beneath.
- In Bloodhype, the Vom is an Eldritch Abomination that travels from planet to planet by using Mind Control to hitch a ride with any hapless spacefaring race that answers its call. Once on a world, it eats all life, down to the smallest microbe.
- In The End of the Matter, the protagonists must deal with a rogue collapsar, a super-massive black hole that sucks up entire star systems and threatens, in its path across the galaxy, to destroy three inhabited Commonwealth planets.
- The Great Evil is a region of sentient nothingness that can swallow entire galaxies. If left unchecked, it could in theory render the entire universe down to inert matter.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The vast majority of technology in the Commonwealth 'verse is given no more than a Hand Wave explanation in terms of real world physics, if any explanation is given at all.
- Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: After the events of Orphan Star, the grateful Ulru-Ujurrians rig Flinx's bank account with enough funds to allow him to live an independent life as a private starship owner and bribe his way through almost any obstacle he meets. His balance, while not stated explicitly, is sufficient to raise the eyebrows of anyone who sees it.
- Artificial Gravity: Both used to create and applied as a side effect of the posigravity/KK drive.
- Badass Bookworm: Bran Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex, military veterans and renowned scientists both, carry around enough firepower for an entire squad of peaceforcers and know how to use it. They also like making The Cavalry entrances. In one book Flinx picks up telepathic reverberations of violence fading into the distance. He later learns that it was Bran and Tru disposing of an ambush laid for him, Flinx, by trained assassins.
- Because Destiny Says So: Played with. There's no grand destiny of the Universe that anyone knows of, but it just so happens that Flinx is the "lucky accident" that the Xunca were hoping would evolve to become the trigger for their ancient weapon against the Great Evil. Once this is revealed, major forces dedicate themselves to the sole purpose of making sure Flinx fulfills this destiny, often over his strenuous objections.
- Bee People: Averted by the thranx, which used to have an ant-like social structure, but re-evolved the capacity for all females to breed in the course of becoming sentient.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: On an epic scale — the Great Attractor was apparently constructed by the Xunca as a superweapon.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: In Bloodhype, between Mal Hammurabi and Kitten Kai-Sung. He rescues her from certain death and she rewards him by acting like a spoiled brat. The clash of personalities is so strong that it is practically inevitable that they hook up in the end.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: The thranx, though it is a subversion as they are humanity's closest ally in the setting. In the beginning each group had to overcome their mutual instinctive feelings of revulsion. There were terrorist groups from both sides that utterly opposed the Amalgamation, but decided to work together to try and prevent their species from working together toward a common goal.
- Big Damn Heroes: Start counting the number of times one or more characters get rescued in this manner. You'll be at it a while.
- Big Guy: Skua September and Malcolm Hammurabi are both regarded as giants, and are happy to play the role. Bran Tse-Mallory is no shorty, either, but he pales by comparison with the other two.
- Bird People: The Quillp, sapient avians that resemble giant secretary birds and have friendly relations with the thranx and humans.
- Bizarre Alien Locomotion:
- The Tran from the Icerigger subseries move using their "chiv" skate-claws, propelled by the "dan" sails beneath their arms. Many other life forms of Tran-Ky-Ky use sails to glide across the ice on padded feet or mucus-coated bellies.
- The sentient inhabitants of Jast, the Vssey, are basically giant mushrooms that get around by hopping.
- The xenologists of Quofum meet a primitive race that slides along the ground on paired narrow skids, and discover carved pictures of another species that bounced like rubber balls.
- Bizarre Alien Reproduction: One of Quofum's weird aerial life forms births its young from multiple ventral cloacae as it glides silently over potential hosts for its parasitic larvae. The newborn larvae are transparent, tissue-thin leaf-shaped creatures that drift down to land on unsuspecting animals, which don't feel a thing until the parasites have adhered to their skin. The larvae then pull in their sides, becoming worm-like, and either burrow into their prey or (if detected and disturbed) coil around any handy appendages with an unbreakable grip, while secreting caustic fluids that fend off efforts to scrape them off.
- Bizarre Alien Senses: The setting gives us the insectoid Thranx, who have a "Faz" sense granted by their antennae. Apparently, the antennae are sensitive to air currents.
- Bizarre Seasons: Because it has an extremely eccentric orbit around its star, Tran-ky-ky alternates between a frozen ice world and a tropical climate over the course of tens of thousands of years.
- Body Horror:
- The outcomes of many of the Meliorares' genetic experiments were horrifically deformed children that had to be Mercy Killed.
- The flora and fauna of Midword have evolved a massive number of ways to horrifically kill people. Among them:
- Having your insides liquefied while a narcotic toxin keeps you too high to notice.
- Being consumed from the inside by a ravenous plant whose flower you unwittingly clip to your hair.
- Having your blood painlessly sucked out through your foot while you're distracted by a decoy, and replaced with spores that will hatch out and devour you from within.
- Quite a few frontier planets besides Midworld have their own nasty indigenous life, from millimites and miner beetles that'll chew up anyone without protective clothing on Alaspin to fungal infestations from Longtunnel that'll grow into living flesh as easily as detritus.
- Getting spat on by Pip isn't exactly a tidy way to die, what with the corrosive venom that will eat its way into your eyes and face, and all.
- Bond Creatures:
- Alaspinian minidrags form empathic bonds with their partners. Normally this is one-sided, with the human only able to generate affection rather than receive it, but Flinx has a unique relationship with Pip, who acts as an amplifier for his powers.
- Furcots in Midworld and Mid-Flinx are symbiotes created by the planet's sapient ecosystem to act as lifetime partners for their humans.
- A Boy and His X: The basic premise of Flinx's story is that he is an empathic, genetically altered mutant who has formed a lifetime bond with Pip, a Alaspinian miniature dragon, who acts as an amplifier for his powers.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: Interstellar travel in the Humanx galaxy is a matter of buying a ticket, hopping on a passenger ship, and arriving at your destination a few days or weeks later. While not cheap, it's easily within reach of the middle-class or equivalent. Corporations and wealthy individuals may own or lease private craft.
- Chosen One: Flinx, by virtue of his powers and unique origin, is the key to defeating the Great Evil... whether he likes it or not.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Abalamahalamatandra, who acts with a complete disregard for danger and speaks in a neverending flow of gibberish, creating the impression of a whimsically brain-damaged alien puppy.
- Common Tongue: Symbospeech was developed to allow humans and thranx to share a language pronounceable by both species, and turned out, serendipitously, to be at least functionally usable by most of the other species in the galaxy.
- Cool Ship: The Slanderscree, of the Icerigger subseries — literally a giant raft on skates used to cross the frozen seas of Tran-ky-ky.
- Cool Starship: Flinx's KK starship was engineered by the super genius Ulru-Ujurrians and has capabilities that Commonwealth scientists can only dream of. Among other things, it can disguise its appearance and it can land on a planet on KK drive.
- Creepy Child: Mahnahmi is introduced this way in Orphan Star, cheerfully telling Flinx how her "daddy" is going to torture him and asking to be present while he does it. It is a facade concealing far worse things.
- Deadly Environment Prison: How to imprison a bunch of human lawbreakers on frigid Tran-ky-ky? Herd them into a heated but isolated warehouse, take away all but the minimum of clothing, and don't even bother to lock the door.
- Death World: A lot of planets are like this, but the Up to Eleven example is Midworld. A huge, complex ecosystem, the plants will kill you, the animals will kill you, and the native humans might not kill you, but either way you're pretty much fucked unless you have a native human or four to guide you- and even then, they might die because some forms of death are just impossible to predict.
- Decoy Protagonist: Trellenberg in Quofum, who's the main viewpoint character for the first half of the book, up until he's killed by the Quarm infiltrator.
- Deflector Shields: Standard equipment on most starships.
- Designer Babies: This turns out to have been the methodology used by the Meliorare Society to create their "test subjects". Much to Flinx's distress, as he eventually finds out that his genome was synthesized in a lab from dozens of donors, so his hunt for his natural father was doomed from the start.
- Deus ex Machina: The Ulru-Ujurrians are The Cavalry for Flinx on several occasions. They do so by showing up completely unannounced, almost literally out of thin air, and fixing whatever problem he's got. Flinx lampshades this on one occasion, and it's subverted in Flinx and Flux by having them show up after he's solved the problem himself. More generally, Flinx has a habit of getting himself into hopeless situations and then getting bailed out by the arrival of a completely unexpected third party.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- In The Tar-Aiym Krang, Flinx's quasi-telepathic powers are not well defined in their scope, and he seems to have no compunction about using them openly in front of people. Further, other characters observing him seem to accept his powers as unremarkable, if not precisely commonplace. Once the Meliorare Society backstory becomes canon, this becomes nonsensical, as Flinx's capabilities are shockingly rare and a public demonstration could easily trigger a Witch Hunt. Plus, he is empathic rather than telepathic and is never clairvoyant.
- In Orphan Star, Flinx visits Earth and sees thranx body surfing. Later novels (by publication date) establish that thranx have breathing spicules on their abdomens and would therefore drown in two feet of water, plus they are not buoyant. Possibly the surfers were using floatation devices and the equivalent of snorkels?
- Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Averted in that Earth is one of the two capitals of the Commonwealth (the other is the Thranx homeworld of Hivehom), but gets no more (and often less) plot time than any of dozens of other worlds.
- Easy Amnesia: Happens to Flinx in Shifting Sands due to a Tap on the Head, leading to him being adopted into an AAnn nest.
- Eco-Terrorist: Flinx in Flux features as its primary antagonists a fanatical ecoterrorist group who believe in destroying all forms of "exploitation" of the natural order by humans. Their current target: a small genetic engineering firm working on the planet Longtunnel, which is renowned for the plasticity of its native lifeforms. Flinx gets involved when he accidentally rescues one of the company's researchers, the lovely and talented Clarity Held, who was kidnapped, interrogated, beaten, and left for dead on Alaspin. The group later mounts a full-scale armed assault on the Longtunnel facilities, and eventually tries to capture Flinx himself, once they learn what he is. In this final battle, they pull a Nice Job Fixing It, Villain! by accidentally breaking the mechanism keeping Flinx and Pip asleep.
- Eldritch Abomination:
- The Vom is a hyperintelligent mass of pitch black organic material that consumes all life on a planet to satiate its hunger. Its mental powers are such as to be able to Mind Control and/or Mind Rape any other sapient being it encounters. It is theorized by the AAnn who discover it that it may be extragalactic in origin.
- The Great Evil is a region of sapient nothingness that consumes entire galaxies. Its presence can only be detected by the absence of other matter, and by Flinx, whose mental journeys have led him to witness it directly. Even at a distance of parsecs, its merest glance in his direction is sufficient to destroy his being; it is fortunate for him that it misses. It's so horrifying that anyone without a very strong mind will Go Mad from the Revelation when they share Flinx's experience.
- Electric Torture: Flinx encounters a version of this at Conda Challis' hands — a bracelet that administers an extraordinarily painful neural discharge.
- Emotion Bomb: One of Flinx's offensive uses of his empathic abilities is to project terror and/or despair into his enemies. In one case, the terror is enough to kill a weak-hearted man. In another situation, he uses it to open up the depths of his personal angst to a prideful street gang, who are promptly incapacitated.
- The Empath: Flinx's primary power is this. Unlike many examples, it is very useful when it works, and later he develops a projective version which is downright devastating when used
- Empathic Weapon:
- The Krang is the ultimate weapon constructed by the Tar-Aiym. In keeping with their martial nature, it is both musical instrument and weapon, and is telepathic/sapient to boot, merging with its operator in a synergistic mecha-mental fusion.
- Flinx himself can be said to be a weapon, as he is both genetically designed and possessed of powerful talents that can be used offensively.
- Empty Shell: One villain from the Icerigger subseries chooses to die rather than be mindwiped for his crimes, because he believes the process will invoke this trope upon him rather than just change him into a good citizen.
- Enemy Mine:
- Happens between the AAnn and Commonwealth twice, both in the face of overwhelming external threats. The first time is in Bloodhype when their respective fleets offer to team up against the Vom (which proves futile, but hey, it's the thought that counts). The second occurs in Flinx Transcendent, and is somewhat one-sided, as the AAnn Emperor agrees to call off all acts of aggression against the Commonwealth for one year in order to allow Flinx to pursue the resolution to the Great Evil crisis unhindered.
- Happens in a very ironic manner in Diuturnity's Dawn, the last book of the Founding of the Commonwealth trilogy: Human and Thranx terrorists opposed to unification run into each other while planning to attack a cultural fair, and, while at the fair, coordinate their efforts for maximum effect; they work together to prevent their species from working together.
- Epiphany Therapy: In Flinx Transcendent, Flinx conveniently gets over his Wangst in time to wrap up the series. On the other hand, Flinx's powers give him the ability to inflict a form of this on others... Mahnahmi may be the most extreme example.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The commander of the AAnn base on Repler may be studying a world-devouring Eldritch Abomination under the nose of the Commonwealth and lamenting the lack of humans to eat, but he's still disgusted by Bloodhype peddler Dominic Rose.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Midworld, Fluva
- Evil Is Not a Toy: Curious AAnn, meet the Vom. The Vom wants to eat everything in existence. Trying to control it won't turn out well for you.
- Evilutionary Biologist: The Meliorare Society's goal is to "improve" humanity through applied genetic engineering. Even after they are outlawed and hunted down, their last remnants continue to stick to their beliefs, making life quite difficult for Flinx as they try to recover their "subject".
- Exposition Beam: Flinx has a unique way of telling people about the Great Evil — he takes their minds there to experience it themselves.
- Eye Scream: Pip's primary weapon is an extremely potent and caustic neurotoxin, which she instinctively aims at the eyes. If it enters the bloodstream, it kills in less then a minute, and it leaves horrible scars behind even on the survivors.
- Fantastic Drug: Bloodhype, obviously, plus a handful of others that don't get as much page time. Another notable example is the emotion-inducing drugs in the short story Emoman.
- Fantastic Racism: Humanity's (natural) fear of insects plays a major role in the Founding of the Commonwealth stories, plus the converse from the Thranx. By the main storyline, just about everyone has gotten over it. In fact, racism in general is pretty muted with the possible exception of the AAnn, who arguably deserve it.
- Many of the stories involve Fantastic Racism between "primitive" tribes of aliens, which the more advanced Commonwealth representatives often try to settle.
- Of the few individuals who have found out about Flinx's origins, many have directed open revulsion towards him, much as if he'd been a participant rather than a passive victim of the Meliorares' genetic crimes. Granted, those who've reacted this way are usually villains.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Via a device known as the KK, or posigravity drive, which "pulls" ships through space by generating an artificial gravity field in front (with a bit of No Conservation of Energy thrown in). Later in the series, more exotic forms are found to have been used by the Precursors.
- The Federation: The Humanx Commonwealth is an egalitarian and democratic alliance of dozens of spacefaring species, under the notional leadership of the humans and thranx. Throughout the main series, the stability of the Commonwealth (and its spiritual arm, the United Church) is taken as a given, with little in the way of existential conflict.
- Food Pills: Meal concentrates. Most characters express a preference for the real thing, however, or at least use equipment to make the concentrates more meal-like.
- Foreshadowing: In Midworld, Born passes by a stormtreader tree and avoids a Buna floater just before witnessing the skimmer crash. It's a stormtreader tree, together with the floater's laser-shooting Photoid cousins, that bring down the company station at the end.
- Forgot About His Powers: The times Flinx remembers to use his Emotion Bomb and Superpower Meltdown powers offensively in the later novels seem to be based less on his competence and more on whether someone else is coming to save him.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: The trope itself is averted in that lasers are treated fairly realistically, and are only one of a myriad of weapons used in personal and spatial combat. There is an odd case in The Tar-Aiym Krang where a laser weapon is employed in space-plus, implying that the beam travels faster than light.
- The Photoid floaters of Midworld can focus sunlight into organically-generated laser beams.
- Gene Hunting: Flinx was adopted and never knew his real parents. In Orphan Star, Conda Challis claims to have found information about his "maternal line", and this prompts Flinx to chase him over half the Commonwealth. The subsequent search for his father takes more than ten years and at least six novels.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The Meliorare Society sought to manipulate the genes of unborn children to create supermen. What they got was... ugly, to say the least, leading to them and their victims being outlawed and hunted down. Flinx and Mahnahmi are the only two altered subjects known to have escaped.
- Genius Cripple: The human children raised alongside thranx larvae in the Founding Of The Commonwealth novels tend to see their quick-witted, limbless companions this way, although it's more a case of the larvae being mentally somewhat more mature than smarter.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Anyone who touches the Great Evil needs some pretty strong willpower to avoid having their brain fried.
- Green Rocks: The powerful sacred stones from The Howling Stones appear to be this at first. When someone not familiar with how to use them tries the results can be very bad. They turn out to be Lost Technology.
- Here There Be Dragons: The Blight is a region of the galactic map noted for a lack of higher order life forms on any planets. This is because they were exterminated by the Tar-Aiym's plague half a million years ago, and spacefaring species in the nearby regions are still afraid to go there for fear that it might be lurking somewhere.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Humans and Thranx tend to form these types of partnerships, especially after they've worked closely together. The most prominent example is Bran Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex. Of course, in these cases there's no question of biological compatibility, so any Ho Yay has to be limited to the imagination. Not that Kitten Kai-Sung didn't try...
- Hostile Terraforming: Attempted by the villains of The Deluge Drivers, to convert Tran-ky-ky from an ice world to a human-habitable one. In a twist, this would happen naturally several thousand years in the future, but the culprits don't want to wait and would cause a change too swift for the native Tran to endure.
- Human Aliens: The Pitar, tragically so. Humanity goes nuts over the uncanny similiarities and rapidly moves to befriend them, only to have the Pitar turn out to be Absolute Xenophobes.
- Humanity Is Superior: The idealistic version - plus, we had the help of the Thranx.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Flinx's resentment of the separation his powers cause from the rest of humanity drives him to quite a bit of Wangst in the later novels.
- Improbable Use of a Weapon: Skua September puts in his first appearance wielding a Mark Twenty, a military grade laser that's designed to be tripod or vehicle mounted.
- Innocent Aliens: The Ulru-Ujurrians start out this way, being exploited by the AAnn and Rudenuaman Enterprises for their little schemes. After Flinx gets in touch with them, however, they reveal that they are exponentially intelligent and rapidly develop a society and technology far beyond the Commonwealth's.
- Instant Sedation: Used more than once, but most prominently in Bloodhype, when Kitten Kai-Sung, Mal, and Porsupah infiltrate the AAnn enclave on Repler using pistols that fire Tranquillizer Darts.
- Instant Waking Skills: Flinx possesses this trait. He doesn't know if it comes from his abnormal genetic heritage or his early life as a petty thief on the streets of the planet Moth, but it comes in handy a few times. He also finds as he gets older that he needs only a few hours of sleep each day and can adjust his circadian rhythm more or less at will.
- Interspecies Romance: Averted, as the series takes biological compatibility quite seriously. However, the concept is given quite a working over by Kitten Kai-Sung, who has apparently studied the art of interspecies sexual stimulation and deliberately uses this knowledge to squick out her companions.
- Interstellar Weapon: The Tar-Aiym weapons platform and the Xunca superweapon, in Flinx Transcendent, which can fire (if such a term is even applicable) across intergalactic distances.
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Flinx's justification for leaving Clarity Held in the care of Bran Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex in Flinx's Folly, conveniently putting her on a bus until the grand finale.
- Just Like Robin Hood: First line of The Tar-Aiym Krang — "The Flinx was an ethical thief, in that he only stole from the rich."
- Kick the Dog: Too many villainous moments to list (Conda Challis, anyone?), but Flinx gets his own Designated Hero moment in Reunion when he uses his projective empathy to infiltrate the Terran Shell.
- Kinky Spanking: Mal Hammurabi administers some "eleemosynary chastisement" to Kitten Kai-Sung in Bloodhype, in retribution for the number of times her stubborness has nearly gotten them all killed. It winds up as Slap-Slap-Kiss.
- Knight Templar: The Church agents from the Moral Operations branch who pursue Flinx and the Meliorares in For Love of Mother-Not wish to see the Meliorares destroyed and all their experimental subjects put down or "made normal", regardless of the cost in lives and/or the desires of said subjects.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The process of mindwipe (which the Church agents use) surgically removes memories from the victim's brain, leaving them "cured" but a shell of their former selves. Said to be used in only the most egregious of cases.
- Last of His Kind: Peot, the Tar-Aiym Guardian. At one point it is suggested that Abalamahalamatandra is the last Hur'rikku, but this theory is quelled. He is the last something, though, even if it's just a Living MacGuffin.
- Lensman Arms Race: Happened between the Tar-Aiym and Hur'rikku in the Back Story, to the point where the two species destroyed not only each other but wiped out all higher life forms from a large chunk of the galaxy. The efforts of the Xunca to counter the Great Evil fall into this category as well, when you consider that the grand finale in Flinx Transcendent involves using the equivalent of several million galaxies' worth of energy to rip a hole between universes to remove the Great Evil from existence.
- Living Lie Detector: Both Flinx and Pip can detect lies by reading the emotional state of the person telling them. Pip does it instinctively, which can lead to some rather nasty consequences (read: she spits a corrosive venom).
- Living Relic: Peot, the Tar-Aiym Guardian, from Bloodhype. Five hundred thousand years old and the Last of His Kind, after his task of defeating the Vom is concluded, he commits suicide.
- Locked Out of the Loop: As part of the retcons necessary to fit The Tar-Aiym Krang into continuity, it's explained in For Love of Mother-Not that Mother Mastiff decided to lie to Flinx about his origin in an attempt to protect him. This causes him to be rather unpleasantly surprised to learn the actual details in Orphan Star and later.
- Loners Are Freaks: Flinx in a nutshell. Which one causes the other is a matter for debate, but he's not helping things by his constant indulgence in self-pity.
- Long Runner: From 1972's The Tar-Aiym Krang to 2009's Flinx Transcendent.
- Long-Runner Tech Marches On: The early Flinx novels have him accessing information on microfiche. A mere ten in-universe years later, the Commonwealth has globally networked data storage facilities overseen by sapient AI.
- Lost Colony: The humans of Midworld descend from colonists on one of the original slower than light "sleeper" colony ships sent out from Earth before the invention of the KK drive. Their adaptation to their world is so complete that they have forgotten about this entirely.
- Lost Superweapon: The ancient civilizations of the galaxy had a penchant for building superweapons, then going extinct (or going elsewhere). Specific examples include the Hur'rikku anticollapsar weapon, the Tar-Aiym Krang, the Tar-Aiym weapons platform that is made of Krangs, and the Xunca's galaxy-sized superweapon.
- Magnetic Hero: Flinx's oddity and straightforward self-sufficiency attract people to him wherever he goes, which makes his desire to be a loner all the more ironic.
- Mars Needs Women: The reason that the Pitar make contact with humans. They believe that their similar appearance may indicate convergent evolution, and they may be able to interbreed, which would counter the Pitar's falling birthrate. However, the Pitar move to accomplish this by stealing female reproductive organs from a human colony...
- Meaningful Name: Abalamahalamatandra. His name, when run through the translation program that Bran Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex create for him, comes out as "key". Ab says this himself in one of his sing-song nonsense rhymes, but Flinx has no way to understand the significance at the time.
- Mental Fusion: Commonwealth stingships are piloted by one human and one thranx, mentally linked to one another and their ship. Sophisticated battle-drugs enhance the human's killing instincts and the thranx's calculating dispassion, effectively letting them operate as two halves of a single brain and pinpoint the optimum moment for a devastating attack.
- Mighty Whitey:
- Flinx tries playing up his superior "alien" knowledge and technology with some primitive aliens in Running from the Deity, only to find out that they aren't so innocent after all, running a scam to sell access to his medical equipment.
- In The Howling Stones, the protagonist believes that his superior sophistication over the natives means he can steal their ancient Green Rocks and experiment with them to his heart's content, despite not knowing the first thing about how they work. This backfires badly.
- Painfully subverted by virtually any newcomer to Midworld who assumes this trope applies. If they're lucky, the jungle's predators kill them before eating them...
- Mind Control: The AAnn scheme to implant suicidal thought plays into the Janus Jewels mined from Ulru-Ujurr in Orphan Star.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Mahnahmi, a telepath, grew up in Conda Challis' household and was unavoidably subjected to the full extent of his depravity. This warped her youthful psyche beyond recognition.
- Mind Rape: Both Flinx and Mahnahmi can use their projective empathy/telepathy offensively, and do, even to the point of killing people (by accident in Flinx's case). Also one of the powers of the Vom in Bloodhype.
- Murder, Inc.: The Quarm are a feared guild of assassins whose creed, apart from ruthless efficiency, is that they never fail to kill a target. Flinx and his allies are among the few claimants to have successfully defeated them, as is Williams from the Icerigger subseries.
- Mysterious Parent: Flinx's search for his genetic mother and father doesn't turn out quite the way he expected.
- Negative Space Wedgie:
- In terms of its narrative function, the collapsar from The End of the Matter functions as a doom-bringing space anomaly that Flinx and company have to find a superweapon to defeat.
- The Great Evil is a galaxy-sized negative space wedgie that eats other galaxies.
- Neglectful Precursors: The Xunca, who fled the galaxy rather than face the Great Evil, leaving the countless sentient species who would arise in their wake to face the music. A very thin justification is given in Quofum, amounting to, "We built the weapon to kill it, but lost the key."
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: At the climax of Flinx in Flux, the Animal Wrongs Group that has been hunting Flinx down in order to "make him normal" shows up just in time to accidentally rescue him from the Big Bad who wishes to experiment upon him instead. As a double example, Flinx finds that the sedation method that the Big Bad used on him has also woken a new form of his empathic powers, which he subsequently uses to defeat both groups of antagonists.
- Nigh Invulnerable: Abalamahalamatandra, who is apparently immune to arrows, poisons, vaccuum, and massive electric shock. (The Quarm try to use explosives, but Flinx foils that attempt.) It's less surprising when it's revealed that he's a construct that's at least five hundred thousand years old.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Played With. The majority of species can breathe the same atmospheres and eat the same food, they just don't always find it comfortable, and often require dietary supplements. The other side of it is that just about every species has something that some other race considers Alien Catnip as part of their essential diet. This drives drug cops into conniptions; the one time they found a drug that got pretty much every species high, they wiped out all life on its planet of origin in order to eliminate it - and still failed to keep it out of the hands of drug lords.
- No Endor Holocaust: Averted. The use of a posigravity/KK drive too close to a planet causes devastating damage and is banned by all civilizations. One of the reasons Flinx's Cool Starship is special is that its Applied Phlebotinum allows it to avoid this issue.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Abalamahalamatandra, whose gibberish mumblings are revealed to be the whimsical alien's attempts to render hundreds of thousands of languages as phonetic symbospeech, all to communicate the location of a Lost Superweapon.
- Omnicidal Maniac: If you merely count eating all life on a planet and moving on to the next, you get the Vom. If you count eating the galaxy, the Great Evil would fall into this category. If you count believing the galaxy is too corrupt to continue existing and therefore killing anyone who tries to stop the Great Evil, you get the Order of Null.
- One-Letter Name: Among the Aann, the fewer letters there are in one's surname, the higher one's rank in society. Their Emperor thus has a one-letter surname.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Although the United Church is established as the spiritual arm of the Commonwealth, exactly what they believe in is never really stated, and it's implied that, for most people, direct deity worship has been discarded in favor of a kind of universal spiritualism.
- Person of Mass Destruction: Flinx has a tendency to violently explode in a telekinetic storm when his powers are stressed. It's as bad for his surroundings as you might imagine.
- Planet of Hats: Most obviously, the AAnn. Lots of other species get this treatment due to limited page time, but the Thranx are a notable exception.
- Planimal: A whole bunch of Midworld species including the furcots.
- Poison Is Corrosive: Pip's caustic neurotoxin spittle.
- Power Incontinence: Flinx's abilities are erratic, to say the least. One minute, he'll be receiving the emotions of every being on a planet, the next he's as ordinary as the next person. Naturally, his powers have a tendency to go out when he most needs them.
- Precursors: The Xunca. Also the Tar-Aiym and Hur'rikku to a lesser extent. In fact, the planets of the Commonwealth universe are absolutely littered with the ruins of ancient civilizations.
- Psychic Powers: Flinx's empathic powers are the focus of his storyline, but there are lots of naturally telepathic and empathic beings throughout the galaxy, such as the Tar-Aiym, the Ulru-Ujurrians, the natives of Longtunnel, the entire planet of Midworld, and more.
- Put on a Bus: Clarity Held, Flinx's Love Interest, gets this twice. At the end of Flinx in Flux, Flinx more or less tells her to get lost and he'll come find her again when he's figured out what to do about the Great Evil. At the end of Flinx's Folly, just after their reunion, she nearly gets blown to pieces and Flinx leaves her in Bran and Tru's care.
- Rape as Backstory: Mahnahmi's childhood features rape by mental proxy, as she telepathically witnessed the full extent of Conda Challis' depravity, including his intention to turn her into a sex toy when she matured.
- Reality Warper: A side-effect of the Vom and Guardian's mental battle is a bunch of weird things happening in physical reality. Some rocks turn to precious gems, a nearby gas giant's orbit is altered, a crustacean has a massive intelligence boost (and is promptly eaten by a fish), and so on.
- Really Gets Around: Kitten Kai-Sung, in Bloodhype, or at least that's the impression she likes to give.
- Really 700 Years Old: Abalamahalamatandra is really five hundred thousand years old, give or take a few dozen millennia. The Xunca Mutable assigned to Horseye, which the Redowls encounter in Voyage to the City of the Dead in the form of one of the natives, is close to a billion years old.
- The Reptilians: The AAnn
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The AAnn get this treatment because they are a Planet of Hats of narcissistic xenophobes. Later, in both Reunion and Sliding Scales, we get to see that not all of them are like that. While anyone who knows what Pip is reacts with alarm due to her highly lethal nature, she is completely docile when with Flinx and not threatened.
- Retcon: Because both The Tar-Aiym Krang and Bloodhype were written before the major plot points of the ongoing series had been established, a lot of work had to be done to fit them in. For Love of Mother-Not establishes Flinx's canonical origin story at odds with some elements of Krang (the given explanation is that Mother Mastiff was lying to Flinx for his protection), and there are some glaring continuity gaps around Bloodhype (Pip's gender, Flinx's age, and the design of his starship). Foster acknowledged these and offered some explanations, but admitted that complete consistency was impossible.
- Saintly Church: The United Church is portrayed as well-meaning and idealistic, almost saccharinely so. On the other hand, its operatives are well trained, and can go around very well-armed, when called for.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The one glaring example here is the scale of the interstellar merchant trade. There would have to be literally millions of ships running nonstop routes between every star system to deliver even a fraction of the goods required to sustain an economy the size of the Commonwealth's. On the other hand, The Tar-Aiym Krang does contain a passage explaining how difficult it is to patrol interstellar space; if you don't travel within sensor range of a monitored system, you can go anywhere you want.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!:
- A rare example of the protagonist using this trope; after Orphan Star, Flinx is so rich (the Ujurrians rigged his account with effectively infinite wealth) that he can buy his way out of many situations. Of course, in later novels he's wanted by nearly every Commonwealth authority, so the value of his "inheritance" is a bit dubious.
- Blatantly invoked by Jack-Jax Coerlis, the first villain of Mid-Flinx, at least until the real threat (the AAnn) show up.
- Sealed Good in a Can: Peot, the Tar-Aiym Guardian, in Bloodhype.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The Vom, also in Bloodhype. Although in this case, it's a planet-sized can that is opened when an AAnn exploratory vessel lands there and decides to take the mysterious alien lifeform to an inhabited world for study. This doesn't turn out so well for them.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Truzenzuzex is occasionally afflicted with this malady. The rather more laconic Bran Tse-Mallory loves to rib him about it.
- Shoulder-Sized Dragon: Pip all but breathes fire.
- Shout-Out: The silverslith from Midworld is essentially an arboreal shoggoth. Foster's first published work was a short Lovecraft pastiche, originally a gag letter he sent to Arkham House for fun.
- Shown Their Work: Alan Dean Foster loves using his Real Life excursions to exotic locations on Earth as inspiration for describing alien worlds.
- Single-Biome Planet: There are both aversions and straight uses of this, depending largely on how much time the story spends on a given world. Terra, Hivehom, and Moth get the most love, and have highly detailed descriptions of widely varying climates and terrains; but then you have examples like Midworld (forest), Longtunnel (caves), Tran Ky Ky (ice), and Cachalot (ocean).... Prism falls somewhere in between the two extremes.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Mal Hammurabi and Kitten Kai-Sung are at each others' throats for most of Bloodhype. By the end, after a session of Kinky Spanking, they become lovers.
- Slipping a Mickey: Happens to Flinx in Orphan Star, courtesy of an unscrupulous thranx hired by Conda Challis.
- So What Do We Do Now?: Flinx's last line in Flinx Transcendent — "I'm bored."
- Space Fighter: The Commonwealth has stingships, two-person attack ships each carrying a single SCCAM missile.
- Space Is an Ocean: Most particularly in that the method of FTL used allows interplanetary travel measured in days or weeks. "KK drive" starships therefore cruise the void much like sailing vessels, complete with merchant traders and trading companies run by wealthy magnates.
- Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: In The Tar-Aiym Krang, the protagonists use a neutron star as an FTL slingshot to escape pursuing AAnn, who refuse to follow due to the danger of the maneuver.
- Spoiler Cover: The novel Cachalot is set on a world almost entirely covered by ocean, a planet to which all terrestrial cetaceans have been transplanted after they've been administered a serum which makes them as intelligent as, or more intelligent, than humans. The plot opens with the mysterious destruction of several human habitats and the arrival of a team of specialist investigators who attempt to discover what has happened. Possible candidates are the highly intelligent but aloof toothed whales, the dumb but inoffensive baleen whales, or some indigenous but unknown form of life. Except... the cover of the first UK paperback edition clearly showed a bunch of baleen whales smashing up a town. Cheers, cover artist.
- Sssssnaketalk: The AAnn.
- Starfish Aliens: Foster delights in presenting fantastically weird alien species in every new book he writes. The one notable aversion in the Back Story (the Pitar) come with a nasty little twist. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the planet Quofum, where mutation and evolution have been artificially sped up to absurd rates.
- Starfish Language: The Sumacrea's empathic powers are so sophisticated that they don't need a spoken language to communicate, expressing their desires and concerns directly. The few audible signals and coherent feeling-"words" in their vocabulary aren't much more sophisticated than chimpanzees' vocalizations.
- Street Urchin: Flinx starts out as a orphan who spends a lot of time on the streets as a petty thief under the auspices of his adoptive mother. In Trouble Magnet, he takes some urchins under his wing because they remind him of his past.
- Subspace Ansible: The Deep Space Beams, which use "space minus", but are very expensive. Ordinary interstellar communications are carried on starships through space plus, or sent via messenger drone.
- Subspace or Hyperspace: Called "space minus" and "space plus", respectively, and occupying the traditional roles for each.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Xunca. Also, the Ulru-Ujurrians become this over the course of the novels. That is, they grow from illiterate hunter gatherers to near Reality Warper level in less than ten years.
- Summon Bigger Fish: Born saves the Home Tree via this trope, by luring in the only jungle menace capable of challenging the Akadi: another swarm of Akadi.
- Super Drowning Skills: Due to their physiology (a rigid exoskeleton, normal posture that is upright but canted forward from the vertical, and breating spicules located on the underside of their abdomens,) a Thranx would drown while standing in a 2 foot deep puddle. They would rapidly sink in deeper water.
- Super Intelligence: The Ulru-Ujurrians are said to be capable of exponential learning, which is triggered by Flinx arriving on their world and offering to teach them the "game of civilization". In the months he spends there, they go from illiterate hunter-gatherers to building spacecraft. Over the next ten years, they learn to tunnel through space-time and are hinted to be Reality Warpers. Flinx and the Commonwealth are very lucky that they are true Innocent Aliens, lacking any malice or ambition.
- The Swarm: The Akadi of Midworld.
- Talking Through Technique: Phycode, employed by Kitten Kai-Sung in Bloodhype to send a hidden message to the Humanx authorities on Repler, consists of subtle body language adjustments and muscular twitches that are invisible to any unpracticed observer.
- They Would Cut You Up: Why Flinx doesn't trust Humanx authorities or reveal his abilities to anyone who's not extremely close to him.
- Trail Of Breadcrumbs: Beset by kidnappers, Mother Mastiff douses herself with perfume, allowing Pip to scent-track her captors' route out of the city.
- Traveling Planet: Quofum, which is only occasionally found at its traditional spacetime coordinates. It's the Xunca homeworld, and they rigged it to dimension hop, which is admittedly more convenient than getting in a starship if you want to go somewhere quickly.
- Ultimate Evil: The galaxy-eating horror that's approaching from across the universe. Although it's presented as the greatest threat to existence ever known, it doesn't do much aside from giving off "evil vibes" and is so far away that it only shows up in the most advanced of astronomical instruments (and Flinx's mental projections). And then, in Flinx Transcendent, Flinx triggers an ancient Xunca weapon that simply makes it go "foop".
- Unrealistic Black Hole: The conclusion of The End of the Matter, wherein a "white hole" composed entirely of antimatter sucks material out of the black hole so it can mutually annihilate.
- Unperson: The United Church puts information about people or places it doesn't want anyone to know about Under Edict. Public records are redacted, the few remaining official records are heavily guarded, and even star maps are altered to remove planetary coordinates. Automated warning systems are placed around Edicted planets with instructions to destroy intruders who don't have a Church override.
- Ursine Aliens: The Ulru-Ujurrians are described as resembling immense Kodiak bears. More than one human has fainted at the mere sight of them.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The climactic chapters of Flinx Transcendent read like an exercise in applied string theory. Where did the Xunca go again? How exactly does the Lost Superweapon work? Better hope you're up on your applied math or have a scientist friend handy.
- Wave Motion Gun: Constructing superweapons was apparently a hobby of the Tar-Aiym, Hur'rikku, and Xunca. The first one we are introduced to, the Krang, can obliterate entire fleets of starships. By the end of the series, weapons are found that can destroy entire solar systems and even galaxies.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Meliorares. Their professed goals were to "improve the species" through genetic manipulation. Even as they are being hunted down, they persist in the belief that just one successful "experiment" might yet justify their actions; hence, their pursuit of Flinx.
- What Is Evil?: The Vom attempts to bargain for its existence by claiming that evil is a meaningless concept. Peot and Flinx' answer: "Shut up and die."
- What the Hell, Hero?: The Commonwealth puts Flinx on their wanted list in response to his actions in Reunion, which include using projective empathy to manipulate his way into the Terran Shell and then triggering a trap that nearly levels the entire complex. Also, Flinx gets rather thoroughly chewed out by Tru and Bran in Flinx Transcendent, after revealing that he spent the last four novels navel gazing rather than searching for the Tar-Aiym superweapon.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A fairly brief one at the end of Flinx Transcendent.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Mahnahmi, as the only other surviving Meliorare experiment, has a backstory that could charitably be called a Deus Angst Machina and might qualify for Worst Childhood Ever. Unfortunately, she tries taking it out on Flinx while he's busy trying to save the universe.
- The Worf Barrage: Despite being over a hundred times more powerful than the original Krang, the one and only time the Tar-Aiym weapons platform is fired is in the last novel and it proves completely ineffective against the Great Evil.
- The Worf Effect: Pip suffers from this increasingly as the series goes on. Justified in the sense that anyone seriously threatening Flinx does their homework to learn how to neutralize her, but it still feels a bit cheap. On the other hand, by the end of the series, he doesn't need her protection nearly as much.
- Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Pip started as a "he" by default, since there was no xenobiologist handy to inform Flinx otherwise. In The End of the Matter, the duo visit Alaspin, where Pip socializes with a male minidrag. A few months later, Flinx discovers to his surprise that Pip is a "she".
- 0% Approval Rating: The Meliorare Society is outlawed by the United Church after their scheme to produce genetic supermen is exposed, and all information about them is edicted. Those who know about them and/or remember the outcomes of their experiments uniformly revile them. Flinx is subject to the same treatment merely by being associated.