Literature / Line of Delirium
Line of Delirium
, Liniya gryoz; can be also translated as Line of Reveries
or Line of Dreams
, which are more appropriate titles) is a Space Opera
trilogy written by the popular Russian science fiction author Sergey Lukyanenko
. The setting of the trilogy was influenced by Master of Orion
, although the only things that can be tied back to the game are the names of the alien races and several planets. The novels describe a distant future where humanity is living in a Crapsack Universe
still recovering from a devastating interstellar war and dealing with a radical new technology called aTan (anti-Thanatos) that allows a person to be recreated in case of death
, essentially granting immortality to anyone willing and able to pay for it.
The trilogy consists of two novels (Line of Delirium
and Emperors of Illusions
) and a short story (Shadows of Dreams
) set before the events of the novels. The protagonist of both novels is a professional bodyguard named Kay Dutch (AKA Kay Altos, AKA Kay Ovald), whose life radically changes when he is hired by the founder and owner of aTan, the second most powerful man in the galaxy, to escort his teenage son and heir Arthur on a secret mission to a faraway colony. Not only is the entire Empire
on their tail but also several alien races very interested in the boy and his mission.
In Emperors of Illusions
, Kay finds out that their entire universe is nothing more than an illusion created for the benefit of one man, Emperor Gray. Or at least Kay thinks it's Emperor Gray he was wrong, it's not Emperor Gray but Gray will get his own universe in the end
. Rejecting the idea of another man controlling his fate, Kay resolves to do the impossible. He must kill an immortal.Shadows of Dreams
describes a small human colony hosting an interstellar regatta when a powerful alien warship enters the system, whose crew still believes they are at war with humans. With no help coming, the colonists have no choice but to prepare for a hopeless battle with an enemy they cannot beat.
The trilogy contains examples of the following tropes:
- Adventure-Friendly World - it's heavily implied that this was Vyacheslav Shegal's desire when making this world. Given what he does for a living, this may be true. The fact that it's a Crapsack World for a good number of people doesn't seem to matter.
- At the end of the second novel, Tommy leaves to create one for himself.
- Agony Beam - algopistols emit a field that ramps up all the pain receptors in the human body Up to Eleven. The target dies after a few seconds of intense agony. It's called the weapon of losers.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot - the reason why AIs are illegal in the Empire. Kay's ship has an intelligence that approaches that of an AI. In fact, it may be too perfect an imitation, and the ship ends up performing a Heroic Sacrifice to help Kay and evade capture.
- Alien Among Us - the Darloks are master spies, and their agents are hidden throughout the other empires.
- The Alliance - the Trinary Alliance between the humans, the Bulrathi, and the Meklar, formed after the Vague War.
- There is also the Darlok-Alkari Alliance in the first book, but it falls apart when the Alkari refuse to honor the agreement when the Empire declares war on the Darloks.
- Anarchy Is Chaos - averted on three planets in the Empire that don't have official governments (Jienakh, Rukh, and Taaran). For a good number of people on the planets, it's perfectly livable, especially if they have the protection of a powerful clan. The lack of laws on the planets means that any pleasures forbidden on other Imperial worlds are offered there. Kay mentions that even porn is filmed live here instead of the Imperial-approved computer-generated porn that is available everywhere else (although Kay admits that computer-generated porn is better). According to Kay, the Emperor ignores these worlds, for now. Once they become too much of a nuisance, the Imperial fleet will crush their resistance, take them over, go through the population with a fine-tooth comb to weed out the undesirables, and impose a legal government. The anarchy worlds will be reborn elsewhere on the periphery. As Kay puts it, "every decent house needs a garbage can, so that the refuse isn't all over the place".
- Anti Matter:
- Anti-helium has been frequently used during the Vague War for Orbital Bombardment.
- The Ultimatum is a heavy handheld weapon used by human forces during the Vague War. When fired, the weapon fires a laser that clears the path through the air between the Ultimatum and the target before the weapon fires a stream of anti-protons through the "corridor". All this takes a split-second and is highly destructive.
- Arbitrary Maximum Range - some space weapons are described as being short-range. How arbitrary this is is unclear.
- Armor Is Useless - most heavy infantry weapons (especially those used during the war) can quite easily punch through even the toughest Powered Armor. For most use, though, regular Powered Armor is usually pretty good about stopping a plasma shot or two. Kay, though, manages to kill a soldier wearing Powered Armor with a single plasma pistol shot by aiming at tiny slits between armor plates, cooking the soldier in his own shell. His wiser partner, realizing the skill it takes to do that, doesn't even try going for his gun and runs away, only to throw a stun grenade through the hatch.
- Balance of Power - the Silicoids, due to their nature as living columns of rock, are obsessed with the idea of balance in all things. This also applies to interstellar relations. During the Vague War, they allied with those whose defeat would upset the balance (e.g. humans during the early days of the Empire).
- Bears Are Bad News - The Bulrathi are large ursine beings obsessed with hand-to-hand (or paw) combat, frequently going into battle without weapons. They frequently charge into battle on all fours, as they know that this tends to throw off most sentient beings who can't fathom another sentient being attacking on all fours, not to mention the psychological effect of a huge charging bear.
- BFG - plenty, including a bazooka-sized anti-matter gun, a laser Gatling gun, and the Excalibur tachyon rifle, which fires before the trigger is pulled (think about it).
- Big Eater - Kay reveals that he became one in his mid-teens when his body began to restructure itself from that of a weakling to a true genetically-engineered super.
- Big Fancy Castle - the Imperial Palace on Terra is huge and full of splendor. The Emperor frequently summons various courtiers but fails to specify the meeting location, forcing them to run around the enormous grounds in search of him. Considering that much of the palace is located in Florida (only a small piece is on Cuba), it's obvious that it tends to put the sweating courtiers in their place.
- Blind Jump - plotting a hyperjump is a luck-based affair. A rookie pilot can sometimes plot a more efficient course (i.e. faster and requiring less fuel) than an experienced navigator. No computer can guarantee an effective course. Theoretically, there's always a chance of a perfect course that is instantaneous and uses no fuel, but no one has ever been able to plot it.
- In the second novel, a private yacht receives Kay and Tommy's distress call, after they bail out of a ship traveling in hyperspace and end up in interstellar space. Kay knows that it would take days for a ship receiving the hyper-signal to reach them, but the yacht arrives an hour later and picks them up. The owner of the yacht is incredulous and can't stop talking about his perfect jump.
- Brain Uploading - when a person first purchases aTan, he or she is implanted with a neural net, a mesh of organic implants in the brain that can upload the person's memories to the aTan servers via Subspace Ansible. This is done at the moment of death, so that a newly-replicated body can then have the memories downloaded into it. This is a lie, the memories are uploaded continuously. The end of the stream is what signals death to aTan. It is the person's soul that allows the replicated body to be fully alive instead of a lobotomized shell. Only Curtis van Curtis understands how the neural net works. Without him, it's just a collection of inert parts.
- Brother-Sister Incest - Kay and Lyka were best friends when they were children and had even wanted to marry before their colony world was invaded and their lives separated. When they meet decades later, one of the first things they do is sleep together. It's then revealed that they were both grown in the same test tube and share many of the same chromosomes, making them at least as close as siblings. They know it, by the way, and don't seem to care.
- Casual Interstellar Travel - while most people can't afford to own their own ship, taking a trip to another planet is probably not much more expensive than buying a plane ticket. Many merchants, though, are able to afford at least a small cargo ship with a low-end hyperdrive. Travel times between stars can be measured in weeks, often days.
- In the second novel, it's mentioned that small Grasshopper-class ships are mass-produced on Endoria and can be purchased fairly cheaply. Effectively, they are a tiny glass cabin on top of a hyperdrive disc and two plasma engines. No Artificial Gravity, weapons, or defenses. While mainly sold as in-system craft, they have enough fuel for a single hyperjump. In fact, many companies use these as the equivalent of a company car.
- Cat Folk - the Mrrshan are marsupial cat-like creatures with three sexes. They are most known for their excellent wines.
- The Cavalry - just as Kay and Arthur are about to be turned into loyal Darlok spies (actually, implanted with Puppeteer Parasites that destroy the original personality), the entire Silicoid fleet (about 32,000 ships) arrives to rescue them, laying waste to the rest of the planet for no reason.
- Character Name Alias - in the second novel, after landing on Grail, Kay and Tommy introduce themselves as David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, respectively. The spaceport official recognizes that something is strange and asks for their ID. Kay tells him that they are members of the Cult of Anonimists who are against being photographed (hence, no ID) and adds that even their names are taken from literary characters after seeing that the trick didn't work. Interestingly, this is the first time Kay's alias has a different first name. A character previously notes that, no matter the alias, Kay always keeps his first name.
- Child Hater - Kay does not deny his hatred of children, at least until he gets close to Arthur. Curtis van Curtis claims that this is because Kay himself never had a real childhood (his planet was invaded and his foster parents killed; he was bullied and raped by other kids in a shelter).
- Circus Brat - after escaping the orphanage where he was constantly beaten, swirlied, and raped, the teenage Kay ended up being taken in by a circus. He reflects that these were some of the happiest years in his life, and the carnies who took care of him and taught him their tricks, including two gay clowns who never once tried to take advantage of the boy.
- Cloning Blues - Arthur van Curtis is a clone of Curtis van Curtis, as is Tommy Arano.
- Combat Pragmatist - Shivukim Ahhar is a Bulrathi, who normally prefer hand-to-hand combat to the point of obsession. However, being a veteran of the Vague War resulted in Ahhar relying on a gun more than his paws, although he still refuses to wear armor. He only switches to his paws when he feels he has the decided advantage. His mistake is assuming that he has that advantage with Kay Dutch, who kills the massive bear with a single kick.
- Crapsack World - the entire universe, possibly by design.
- Crew of One - Imperial warships are designed with simplicity in mind ever since the Vague War, when ships frequently had to go into battle with only 5-6 people aboard. While crews are normally much larger, the design philosophy hasn't changed.
- Death Is Cheap - averted, for the most part, despite the existence of resurrection technology, in large part because the procedure is extremely expensive, and the vast majority (96%) simply can't afford it (or can only afford it once). The very wealthy ones, though can sometimes get a little cavelier with their lives. The protagonsit is a professional bodyguard who's used to putting himself between a gun and his employer. He has already died half-a-dozen times and is able to afford aTan because he comes highly recommended and tends to protect the very rich. However, even then, Curtis van Curtis tells him that, at the rate he's going, he won't be able to sustain his immortality for more then several years.
- Declining Promotion: Early in the second book, the Emperor offers his top operative Vyacheslav Shegal a promotion to a chief of staff position. Shegal politely declines, pointing out that his place is in the field. He's unable to do so at the end, when the Emperor seems to name him as his successor in his will.
- The Determinator - Isabella Kal will go to any lengths and cross half the galaxy to get her hands on Arthur and the knowledge in his head.
- Nothing will stop Kay from completing his mission, especially since he gave his word to Arthur.
- Deus ex Machina - literally. While everyone sees God differently, to Curtis van Curtis he appears as a machine that can grant him every wish. To Arthur, who died many times, usually painfully, God is a world of pain. Kay, an atheist, doesn't see God at all. The whole universe was created to fulfill one character's wish.
- Disproportionate Retribution - the Human Empire responds with the Sakkra taking three of its colonies by exterminating the entire race.
- The other aliens are still a little upset at this.
- The Emperor - Emperor Gray has ruled the Human Empire since its founding thanks to aTan giving him effective immortality. He has no heirs, as there is no need for them. He is a Reasonable Authority Figure, although within the walls of his palace he picks and chooses which planetary laws and customs to follow.
- While the rulers of the other races aren't called Emperors, they are equivalent in terms of political power and status. The ruler of the Silicoids is called the Foot of the Basis and always carries the name Sedimin no matter the individual. The ruler of the Meklar is called the Perfect One, implying he has achieved nigh-complete cyborgization.
- The Empire - the Human Empire is somewhere between a Federation and this, having an Emperor but with colonies retaining many self-governing rights.
- Expendable Clone - Kay plans to use Tommy Arano this way when raiding the Imperial orbital station to rescue Arthur. He changes his mind halfway through.
- Explosions in Space - ships explode with bright flashes.
- Fantastic Fighting Style - synthesis-iodo is a style designed specifically for children, relying on the opponent's strength. With this technique, a twelve-year-old can easily break an adult man's fingers, for example.
- The Jen self-control technique allows a person to instantly and painlessly stop his or her heart in the manner of ancient fakirs but much faster. This is mainly used by aTan practitioners in order to evade capture and torture. However, the brain remains viable for several minutes after this, meaning that a prepared enemy can hook up the person to life-support machinery and keep him or her alive indefinitely (aTan is triggered by brain death).
- Fantastic Racism - despite several decades passing since the Vague War, many humans still feel uneasy about the aliens. The fact that The Empire is now allied with two of the most brutal races is not helping matters.
- Also, cloning and genetic engineering are illegal in The Empire, and any discovered clone is stripped of all rights and executed. Any discovered genetically-engineered person is forced to undergo "reduction" surgeries that equalize his or her abilities to a normal person. Even tweaking animal genes is considered illegal. Plants are fair game, though, as pointed out by Henrietta, who's growing apples that taste like strawberries in her garden.
- A Father to His Men - Admiral Karl Lemak fought in the Vague War, so he knows the value of a soldier. When he loses two dozen men in an assault on his station (the rest have aTan), he makes sure to send the notices to their families personally.
- He is particularly skeptical about the attempts to replace highly-trained soldiers with Hunter droids, figuring that no programming can compete with experience and the ability to think on one's feet.
- Flying Saucer - Alkari ships are saucer-shaped and are capable of seemingly-impossible feats thanks to their inertialess drives. They also claims to have been traveling the stars when humans were still figuring out how to fly to other planets. While not mentioned or suggested, it's possible that an Alkari scout ship visited Earth in the 20th century and started this trope.
- Frickin' Laser Beams - many weapons described and mentioned in the novels are of this type:
- After being resurrected on Incedios, Kay and Arthur go to aTan's weapon shop. Instead of his usual Bumblebee plasma blaster (which is restricted to military and bodyguards), he is forced to go with a civilian Convoy laser pistol. Officially, the Convoy is a less-than-lethal weapon that only leaves mild burns on the target. Unofficially, the weapon has a full-auto mode and a decent charge, meaning a series of laser pulses on full-auto can cut through a human body in 2 seconds.
- Other handheld laser weapons include Career (an obsolete Vague War pistol), Style (an old-but-reliable civilian pistol), Old Bob (a civilian rifle), Blitz-D (a high-powered army rifle), Chance (a six-barreled spinning heavy laser designed to take out whole army units, commonly known as "forest cutter").
- General Failure - according to Emperor Gray and Admiral Karl Lemak, humanity's losses at the start of the Vague War can be attributed to the incompetence and bureaucracy of the old Earth government. After their coup, the war took a turn for the better, eventually. See Historical Hero Upgrade.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke - Kay Dutch is genetically-engineered to be stronger, faster, and smarter than most humans and some aliens. Lyka Seiker is created in the same test tube but her abilities are mostly limited to mental (e.g. probability calculations).
- Great Offscreen War - the Vague War is exactly that. Almost nothing is revealed about it, except that it involved humans fighting all known alien races (not necessarily at the same time) and surviving. It also marks the beginning of The Empire.
- The Tukai Conflict (sometimes called the Tukai Massacre) is another such war.
- Hero of Another Story - Vyacheslav Shegal, a top agent of Shield, the Emperor's special forces, makes a brief appearance in the first novel but proves himself to be a formidable operative. The second novel reveals that he reports directly to the Emperor and that the entire universe was created for him.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners - Kay and Tommy become this by the second novel, although it's more because Kay feels responsible for Tommy, and Tommy doesn't quite see the world as real. In the end, Tommy ends up leaving this universe for a new one tailored to his innermost desires, while Arthur once again becomes Kay's companion. A girl asks Kay if Tommy and he are lovers. Kay explains that he's of the traditional orientation, while Tommy prefers to spend his time playing Virtual Reality games.
- Higher-Tech Species - the Psilons have technology that far surpasses that of the other known races. Their Powered Armor allows three Psilon soldiers to completely level a city. They are the supposed inventors of the aTan technology (this is a lie).
- High Priest - the Patriarch of the Church of the Unified Will carefully maintains a Secret Identity. No one, not even the Emperor, knows what the Patriarch looks like or if he's even male (despite the title). The Patriarch always wears black hooded robes that cover his entire body, and electronic equipment jams any nearby scanners. His vocal cords have been surgically altered to sound gender-neutral. Given the existence of aTan (and the Church's support the technology), it's entirely possible that the Church had the same Patriarch for centuries. Officially, the Patriarch has authority similar to that of the Emperor (but spiritual instead of political). Unofficially, the Church has never tried to impose its will on the Emperor.
- Historical Hero Upgrade - Emperor Gray and Admiral Karl Lemak are seen as brave heroes who, in the time of great crisis for humanity, took the initiative to overthrow the inept Earth government and establish the Human Empire. Nobody ever mentions whether it is true or not.
- Honor Before Reason - the Bulrathi prefer hand-to-hand combat to a shoot-out.
- Humans Are Average - it's mentioned by several aliens that human's aren't very remarkable compared to other races. They still can't figure out how humanity has managed to not only survive but also come out ahead during the Vague War, when all alien races were, at one point or another, were against them. Kay, though, points out that no one can hate quite like humans, and hate can be a very powerful emotion.
- Hyperspace Is a Scary Place - while not technically scary, one must always take care to decelerate before exiting into real space lest one exit at a relativistic velocity.
- I Have Many Names - Kay routinely changes his last name when necessary. His birth name is Kay Dutch. During the evacuation of his home planet, a senator's wife gives him her dead son's ID, so he is temporarily known as Kay Lacitis. At the orphanage on Altos, his last name is taken away, and he becomes Kay Altos. As his cover ID for the mission, he is known as Kay Ovald.
- I Lied - after Kay and Arthur are captured by the Darloks and are about to be turned into loyal Darlok agents, Kay requests to meet with a Darlok agent he knows from his past, Ezsanti Kri Chesciafo (although Kay knew him as Bart Paolini). During the meeting, Kay asks Ezsanti to be awake during the procedure in order to learn what the Darloks really look like. Ezsanti agrees but only after Kay promises not to resist. During the procedure, Kay attacks the guards and Ezsanti. Just before killing him, Kay tells the Darlok to consider him a liar.
- Immortality Immorality - avoided with the fact that resurrection via aTan is extremely expensive and must be paid in advance. Immorality stems from many people willing to go to any lengths to obtain the secret to aTan.
- Imported Alien Phlebotinum - the founder of the aTan Corporation claims that the technology was purchased by him from the Psilons, the most advanced race in the galaxy. This is revealed to be false.
- Inertial Dampening - present on all ships for all races but one. The Silicoids, being, effectively, columns of rock that float on self-generated EM fields, have no need for "gravicompensators" (until recently, their ships were little more than hulls being "manually" accelerated by the crew; they borrowed the idea of external engines and weapons from humans).
- Alkari research into causality has yielded inertialess drives as a side effect. Coupled with their natural affinity for three-dimensional thinking, this makes their ships the most maneuverable in the galaxy being able to turn and stop on a dime.
- Insectoid Aliens - the Klackons are briefly mentioned several times. While the books make no mention of their appearance, their insectoid nature can be inferred from the Master of Orion games.
- Invincible Hero: It's pointed out by Kay that the person, for whom this universe was created, has to be vulnerable to something. No one wants to be entirely invincible, as that would make life boring very quickly. Thus, even unconsciously, there has to be a way to kill him.
- King Arthur - The first novel intentionally references the myth several times, especially in regard to the names of the protagonists. Arthur even mentions that the "King Arthur" myth had a minor character named Sir Kay. Their destination is a place called Grail, where Arthur wants to find God.
- Kill It with Fire - single-use pyrocharges are small tubes that, when broken, emit a powerful directed flame at the target. They were frequently used by Imperial terror groups during the Vague War and were so simple to manufacture they could be produced in spaghetti factories. Henrietta uses a pyrocharge to kill one of the operatives left by Isabella Kal in her house.
- King Incognito - Curtis van Curtis, the owner and president of the aTan Mega Corp., is unable to leave his luxurious residence on Terra without all his enemies learning this. So, he sends his only son and heir with a bodyguard to a remote planet under a false name.
- At the end of the second novel, Emperor Gray sneaks out of his palace, donning normal clothing, in order to trade his aTan for a new universe. Nobody recognizes him until it's too late.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia - Tommy Arano got into a car accident and lost his memory. At least, that's the story his parents told him. In fact, he's an aTan clone of Arthur van Curtis whose memories were erased in an attempt to stop Arthur from reaching Grail. The memory wiping procedure triggered aTan, and another Arthur was created back on Terra with all the original memories. Tommy became a whole new personality and given to foster parents.
- Lizard Folk - the Melkar are reptilian in nature but have long ago replaced most of their organs with mechanical parts.
- Lowest Cosmic Denominator - at some point in the Empire's history, all religions were merged into one, the Church of the Unified Will, which became the official church of the Empire. No one uses the term "God" anymore. Instead, "Will" is the preferred address. There are still local flavors of the one religion, differing from planet to planet. The Patriarch is usually fine with that, as long as these varieties don't violate the core tenets of the Church. Also, the Church doesn't have as much power as the previous religions did, in part because the merging of religions pushed more people away than it attracted.
- The Mafia - the Family is an extremely powerful criminal organization based on planet Gorra, masquerading as a legitimate corporation. The hierarchy is reflected in the member titles: the head is the Father or Mother, his/her second is the Eldest Son/Daughter, etc. They have access to military-grade hardware, including top-secret developments. It's implied by Kay that the Family has connections to most crime in the Empire all the way down to street thugs and biker gangs. The head of the Family converses with the Emperor once a month. In the second novel, Gray asks the head of the Family to be one of the three witnesses to his revised will, the others being Curtis van Curtis and the Patriarch of the Church of the Unified Will.
- In the second novel, Emperor Gray muses on the existence and status of the Family. In the past, he has "cut off the head of the spider" three times, only for the it to grow back somewhere else later. Eventually, even he gave up trying to rid the Empire of organized crime. It's better to have a single all-powerful crime syndicate than can reign in their people and, occasionally, help the Empire in such ways that would never work or would take too long through legal means (e.g. the Family ended the civil war on Incedios in a matter of months through several acts of terror and large bribes to the right people, something that would take the Imperial Security Service years with all those regulations in place).
- Matter Replicator - a key component of the aTan technology. After a person who has paid for resurrection dies, a new body is replicated in the nearest aTan facility from the most recent matrix in the aTan database. It's not clear if replicators are used for other purposes.
- May–December Romance - in Emperors of Illusions, Kay ends up sleeping with a girl in her teens on planet Tauri. Kay is in his 30s, although his physical body is younger thanks to aTan (there is still an almost 10-year difference between them). As Kay is leaving her room via window, he meets the girl's father having a smoke, who merely makes sure Kay hasn't hurt himself jumping from the window and asks that he take off in his flyer quietly.
- Kay is actually more attracted to (on an emotional and intellectual level) to an old lady living nearby.
- The Emperor prefers the company of girls in their early teens. The parents usually consider it a privilege.
- In the second novel, Kay uses this to get The Mole near the Emperor. The girl's mother, being old-fashioned, doesn't approve but can't refuse the Emperor.
- Mechanistic Alien Culture - The Meklar were originally The Reptilians, but they have embraced machine-like thinking, viewing everything organic as inferior, and each of them begins replacing body parts with cybernetics soon after birth, becoming fully Mechanical Lifeforms by the end of their natural life span.
- A number of humans have also embraced this philosophy and view the Meklar as ideal lifeforms, enhancing their bodies in similar ways. One of the antagonists, Marjan Mohammadi, is a professional bodyguard who has chosen to "enhance" herself in such a manner. This, of course, makes them incapable of using aTan, which only works on organic matter.
- One of the Meklar does mention the disadvantage of utilizing only built-in weaponry instead of handheld weapons: it's much easier to design a better handheld weapon and give it to someone than try to upgrade a weapon built into your own body.
- Mega Corp. - the aTan Corporation has a monopoly on the resurrection technology of the same name, a privilege granted by the Emperor only because Curtis van Curtis, the founder and owner of aTan, is the only one who knows how the technology works. All attempts to reverse-engineer it failed. The corportion has offices on every human world and several alien ones (at least those races that are able to use aTan and don't have any religious taboos against it). Curtis van Curtis literally has the power over life and death, and the aTan Corporation is often called "an empire within an empire". However, despite its power, the corporation has always offered only one service - resurrection in the 2 centuries of its existence. The second novel deals with the addition of a new service.
- Setico is another powerful corporation that constantly engages in corporate espionage against aTan, despite the fact that they are not competitors in any market.
- The Milky Way Is the Only Way - mostly played straight, until an Alkari mentions that their people are preparing to depart en masse for another galaxy, as they have given up trying to conquer this one.
- Multi-Armed and Dangerous - the Meklar have six limbs. It's not clear if they have always had them or only added them as part of the roboticisation process. The Hunter robots have identical limbs whose design was copied from the Meklar.
- Must Have Caffeine - when visited by the Patriarch of the Church of the Unified Will, Emperor Gray personally pours coffee for him and offers to partake in the ancient coffee ceremony originating on the continent of America. The Patriarch points out that there has never actually been any coffee ceremonies in the past before inviting the Emperor to visit him for a tea ceremony and pointing out that these did exist.
- Never Mess with Granny - Henrietta Fiscalocci (AKA Wanda Kahowski) is a retired Space Marine midwife, living on a paradise world. But mess with anyone under her wing, and she will blow your head off with any number of weapons she has around the house. She is not known as Wanda Blood throughout the alien worlds for nothing.
- She's not just a midwife. She's the only female commander of an Imperial terror squad with the alien bodycount in the hundreds of thousands. The aliens are still officially at war with her.
- No Biochemical Barriers - it's mentioned that, while considered taboo by most humans, certain people like to have sex with members of other races. Additionally, Mrrshan wines are renouned throughout the galaxy as the best.
- No Endor Holocaust - averted with a habitable world about to be settled by humans. A huge battle between the human and Alkari fleets takes place above the planet (Alkari prefer to fight near planets in order to make full use of their unparalleled maneuverability). After the battle, debris from thousands of destroyed ships either orbits or falls to the planet. The ground is radioactive from all the crashed reactors, missiles, and bombs, and some places are glassed. Nobody bothered to try to make the planet habitable again, preferring to find a new world.
- Nom de Guerre:
- While participating in the massacre of a seceding colony's population, Kay has earned the nickname "Measles" after pointing out that the measles virus has killed many more children than they're planning to.
- Wanda Kahowski, the only female commander of an Imperial terror group during the Vague War, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead aliens. Her brutal tactics have earned her the nickname "Wanda Blood" and the hate of most alien races.
- Not Growing Up Sucks - Arthur has died so many times (over 70) and has always come back to his twelve-year-old body so much that he is no longer capable of turning into an adult (mentally), as his psyche is permanently scarred.
- Numbered Homeworld - the Silicoids number their colonies.
- Old-School Dogfight
- Ominous Floating Spaceship - gravity propulsion allows a ship to land or take off without using its primary plasma engines. However, in a subversion of this trope, hovering like this for a long time will quickly drain the ship's power and will also crush anything under the ship into fine powder.
- Omniglot - the primary reason for Kay's genetic engineering was to create a superior linguist. Among his qualities, Kay is able to absorb any language extremely quickly. His command of alien languages is impressive, and he once perfectly copies a famous singer's voice.
- One-Federation Limit - there is only one Empire in this 'verse, the Human Empire. The aliens may have a similar political structure but they don't call themselves empires. The other named governments are the Silicoid Basis (or Silicoid Foundation), the Mrrshan Territories, the Darlok Unity, and the Alkari Branch.
- One-Hit Kill - Kay fights two Bulrathi in the first book. He kills both of them with one strike (a different strike for each). He does the same with a Silicoid but only cripples the living column of rock.
- Only One Name - no one knows Emperor Gray's full name or even if it's his real name.
- Our Souls Are Different - if the same person is resurrected more than once at the same time, only one of these bodies will be fully conscious. The others will remain in a zombie-like state (e.g. can eat, talk, answer questions but lacking will), despite having all the same memories. This is because, when a person dies, his or her "psi-factor" leaves the body and departs, unless an identical body is available. Needless to say, aTan received full Church blessing after this revelation.
- This information is kept from the general public, though, and a cover story is used instead.
- Only two other races in the galaxy have the "psi-factor", which means that no other race can use aTan.
- Pardon My Klingon - among his vast linguistic skills, Kay has picked up quite a few alien insults from people who have fought them. He goads his Bulrathi teacher by using a phrase in Bulrathi he heard from an acquaintance without knowing its meaning. He then finds out that he gave the Bulrathi permission to lick his excrement.
- Petting Zoo People - Alkari are birds (they are excellent pilots, as they naturally think in three dimensions).
- Pintsized Powerhouse: Whenever the Emperor leaves Terra, his shuttle is always accompanied by a wing of top-of-the-line fighters. It's stated that each of those fighters has enough firepower to take down a cruiser. It's also implied that Alkari fighters are also fairly powerful, as they tend to rely more on small, nimble craft than large, unwieldy capital ships.
- Planet Terra - Earth has been renamed Terra. It appears to have happened some time during or after the Vague War, as Kay finds an old note dating back to the war that still uses the old name.
- Plasma Cannon - plasma weapons are used as both handheld and shipboard weapons. The named handheld weapons include Bumblebee (medium-power plasma pistol, standard-issue officer sidearm), Bumblebee-M (modernized version with increased power and a higher charge), Condor (effective but heavy and bulky plasma submachine gun), Condor-ST (modernized version with a higher charge and longer range), Typhoon (obsolete Vague War-era plasma rifle), Hornet (heavy submachine gun with 2 independent charge packs for uninterrupted fire while reloading), Argument-17 (medium-power pistol with an intellectual circuit), Argument-36 (Swiss Army Weapon variant with an additional Stun Gun and Frickin Laser Beam), Cobra (army plasma rifle), Guardian (high-powered Powered Armor-mounted plasma gun), and Diana (Guardian variant with a higher rate of fire).
- Powered Armor - used by most soldiers. The Psilons, being the most advanced race, have extremely-powerful power armor to the point that several soldiers can level a city.
- When storming an Imperial orbital base at Dogar, Kay wears the top-of-the-line Seraph armor that can emit a plasma shield. It's use is not defensive but offensive. Specifically, he uses it to make his own way through station bulkheads by simply walking at them and leaving a Kay-shaped hole in it. It drains a lot of power, though.
- Precursors - averted. When jokingly suggested by Kay that Curtis van Curtis may have found Lost Technology left over from Precursors, the Silicoid leader Sedimin calmly points out that there have never been any Precursors. The Silicoids and the Darloks are the oldest galactic races but they don't qualify, especially since their technology isn't any more advanced that that of the other races.
- Privateer - Curtis Van Curtis, the second most powerful man in the Human Empire, used to be a privateer during the Vague War.
- It's stated that the privateers (who were issued one-man FTL-capable corvettes with a pair of anti-fighter weapons, a torpedo launcher, and a few grams of bottled Anti Matter for Death from Above) had done more to help the war effort than the fleets.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy - the Bulrathi are a race of these. Despite advanced technology, they still prefer to engage their enemies in melee and have even managed to figure out how to beat a Silicoid without weapons. It's never stated how a Bulrathi would fare against a Meklar, though.
- One of the worst insults one can give a Bulrathi include phrases like "your father brought up the rear of the company" and "your mother bathed in hot water".
- The Mrrshan have traits of this as well.
- Public Domain Artifact:
- Curtis van Curtis owns a lot of land on Terra where parts of his enormous palace are located (connected by portals). When walking through it, Kay notes a circular collection of standing stones, likely Stonehenge, right near van Curtis's wartime ship.
- Lyka Seiker's bath chamber is topped by the Sistine Chapel's painted ceiling. She reflects that the reclining figure on the central panel always reminds her of Kay.
- Puppeteer Parasite - the Darloks are revealed to be small snakes with tentacles that burrow into a sentient being's body and take over its functions. The original personality is destroyed. After death, the parasite and the host's brain rot in a matter of minutes, making autopsies inconclusive. After the Empire finds out the truth, they start scanning peoples' upper backs and then blasting them with a Stun Gun if a parasite is detected.
- Reactionless Drive - gravity propulsion is only used to take off and land on planets. It's safer for the environment than plasma engines but will crush anything under the ship. It's not clear if they're truly reactionless, as they're described as pushing against something.
- Resurrected for a Job - Kay is secretly resurrected by Curtis van Curtis on Terra in order to hire him (not that Kay has much of a choice) to deliver his son and heir to Grail. Van Curtis was specifically looking for a professional bodyguard who is killed without paying for aTan.
- Sacrificial Lamb - when Kay asks Lyta Seiker for help in storming an Imperial orbital base, she gives him several operatives, including a pair of twins whose self-preservation instincts have been suppressed. Nobody expects them to return. They don't.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them! - The Emperor usually tries not to do this, although, in his palace and the surrounding grounds, he can arbitrarily pick laws from any of the Empire's planets (or, if no existing laws apply, then he goes with one of the anarchy worlds). The Prostration is an annual ritual involving the Emperor visiting all the planets in the Empire and ritualistically prostrating himself upon exiting his ship. It was started when he tripped and fell and tried to save face by starting a new ritual. In the second novel, he forgets to prostrate himself and simply tells the ruler of the planet that he's changing the ritual.
- Additionally, for practical reasons, Gray has never tried to be a tyrant, understanding that an interstellar empire can't be held together by a single person. Instead, he acts as a unifier and a symbol, while planets retain a large degree of autonomy and elect representatives to the Imperial Senate.
- Silicon-Based Life - the Silicoids are sentient columns of rock capable of levitating and manipulating objects with focused EM fields. They communicate with each other using the same fields. For talking with other races, they vibrate their entire bodies.
- They are the only race who cannot be infiltrated by the Darloks.
- Smart Gun - The Argument 17 and the polycharger Argument 36 are noted to be somewhat autonomous due to "Intellectual Circuitry". This ends up getting Kadar killed, as he aims his Argument 36 at Kay, only for Henrietta to point a weapon at him. He tries to quickly point the gun at her, only for the intellectual circuit to stubbornly try to keep aiming at Kay, giving Henrietta the opening to shoot him. They are also, apparently, programmed to automatically avoid shooting children.
- Spider Tank - Hunter droids have six agile limbs whose design was copied from Meklar mechanical bodies. They are extremely fast and have machine-level reaction time, as well as three independent turrets. However, no one bothered to program them to fight someone with a tachyon weapon, capable of hitting the target before being fired.
- State Sec - the Imperial Security Service has offices on every planet of The Empire. Its authority supersedes that of local governments. In fact, the novels don't show them as evil but as a typical government security and intelligence agency. The main antagonist is a high-ranking ISS official, but she is actually acting outside the normal structure, and her actions are seen by some as treasonous. There is some Interservice Rivalry between the ISS and the military.
- Stealth in Space - no known way to hide a ship in space is mentioned. Kay at one point has his ship equipped with a decoy that generates his ship's energy signature when detached. This does not fool The Empire for a second, as the decoy has a much smaller mass than the ship. They have the decoy destroyed anyway in order to avoid confusion.
- Stun Guns - stunners are used by both civilians and military to subdue targets without killing them. Naturally, the military models are more effective, while the civilian ones are only really good for scaring away gangbangers. It's not clear how they work, but a person hit by a stunner blast is knocked out for some time and has trouble regaining muscle control for a short while after waking up. There are no long-term effects, though. Stun grenades are also occasionally used to subdue a group of people.
- Swiss Army Gun - "polychargers" are handheld weapons that can be switched to different modes, from a Plasma Cannon to a Stun Gun. The Argument-36 model also features intellectual circuits designed to aid in targeting, which can be also programmed to avoid hitting allies.
- Synthetic Plague - plenty have been used during the Vague War by all sides (although they're useless against the Silicoids), especially by the Meklar, who are masters of bio-warfare despite being cyborgs. When Kay and Arthur end up on Incedios, they find out that the planet is in the middle of a civil war with the liberal use of the doom virus and bio-terminator.
- Teacher/Student Romance - sort of. The main character of Shadows of Dreams lives on a small colony and dreams of leaving. By the time he realizes he's not going anywhere, all the eligible women are already married. The only single woman is his former high school teacher, who is twenty years his senior. He is not exactly thrilled with the prospect.
- Technical Pacifist - Vsevolod Martyzenski is a famous weapons designer, responsible for a large number of things that kill people. He is also a pacifist, who regularly attends peace rallies, only to come back to his lab upset after numerous attempts to beat him up and design an even deadlier tool of war. It is rumored that his employers deliberately organize a peace rally whenever he has a designer's block.
- Temporal Paradox - the Excalibur tachyon rifle fires about a second before the trigger is pulled. Doesn't break causality, as it fires if and only if the trigger is pulled. Which can be a little frustrating, such as when Kay pulls the trigger already knowing he missed.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill - after Kay and Arthur are captured by the Darloks and taken to one of their colonies to be turned into loyal spies, the Silidoids arrive to rescue them and bring their entire fleet (about 32,000 ships), laying waste to the planet.
- Time Dilation - a real danger if a ship drops out of Subspace or Hyperspace without decelerating first, meaning the ship will end up traveling at relativistic speeds. Decelerating after dropping out will result in decades or even centuries passing outside the ship. The Psilon battleship in the short story had its hyperdrive damaged during a battle with humans and was forced to retreat by accelerating to near-light speeds. Thus, its crew still believes that the Psilons are at war with humans.
- Torture Always Works - played straight and averted. While they're not used too often, the Imperial Security Service and the military have established procedures for third- and fourth-degree interrogations. Third-degree interrogations involve anything from Truth Serums to physical harm, while fourth-degree interrogations go beyond that and, basically, involve the person being vivisected while alive and conscious. Arthur's body and mind are conditioned enough that he goes through these without even a whimper.
- Torture Technician - Marjan Mohammadi is an expert on extracting information using less-than-ethical methods. She appears to enjoy this part of her job.
- Touch of Death - Kay's Bulrathi trainer teaches him the one weak point on a Bulrathi's body, the sigmoid gland. A powerful strike there will trigger a flush of pleasure hormones which end in death in a matter of seconds. The trainer, not being Too Dumb to Live, has protected his sigmoid gland with an implanted armor plate. Unfortunately for him, Kay knows about other Pressure Points (called "reflex points") on a Bulrathi's body and kills him that way. Curtis van Curtis reveals that he also knew about them from his Vague War days and was occasionally tempted to show the old Bulrathi how wrong he was. Kay ends up killing Shivukim Ahhar using the first method.
- Transferable Memory - aTan has vast databanks collecting clients' memories in real-time. When the signal stops, this indicates death. If the person has paid off his or her aTan, a new body is created from a previously-scanned template, and the memories are downloaded into the brain up until the moment of death. If the resurrection has not been paid in advance, then the person's memories and the body template are purged from the database (i.e. Killed Off for Real). It is possible, although illegal, for the aTan operators to record and watch the memories of the resurrected. This becomes a plot point in the first novel.
- Unrealistic Black Hole - a collapsar generator is ashort-range ship-to-ship weapon whose main advantage is the fact that no shield can stop it. It creates a short-lived singularity in the target, usually resulting in a One-Hit Kill. However, the generator can be detected pretty far away, and most ship weapons have a far greater range.
- Unusual User Interface - while wearing Powered Armor, Kay controls its systems with his chin.
- Vocal Dissonance - the Bulrathi are huge bears... with falsetto voices, described by the main character as a quirk of evolution. They do make good tenors, though, when they are not ripping your head off. Interestingly, they have managed to adapt this into a weapon against the Silicoids, by creating a high-pitched resonance that disables their organ that generates EM fields.
- Voice Changeling - the computer on Kay's ship in the first novel constantly changes its voice. When asked by Tommy, Kay explains that the computer is still deciding its identity (e.g. male or female, child or adult).
- Voice of the Legion - the Silicoids normally communicate via EM waves. In order to communicate with other races, they vibrate their entire bodies, which generates sound that sounds like a chorus is talking.
- Wave Motion Gun - Kay's ship in the second book is armed with a black hole generator, one of the most devastating ship-to-ship weapons in the galaxy. Highly illegal, they cannot be simply mounted on just any ship and have to have ships built around them. That's only done for a single operation, after which they are destroyed. The one Kay has purchased was sold to him by someone, who wanted to make a quick buck instead of scrapping the ship. Still, Kay has to be careful, when approaching Imperial planets, as any ship carrying a black hole generator is vaporized without warning due to the danger to the planet. Anarchy worlds are the only ones that don't care. The weapon collapses the gravity at a single point within the target until a singularity is formed, tearing the target apart from the inside. It's entirely unaffected by shields or armor but has a very short range.
- Weaponized Exhaust - Kay's ship uses its plasma engines to incinerate two Hunter robots sent to guard it. Maybe standing next to its engines is not such a great idea. It then switches to its gravity drive and pushes out the hangar doors.
- An unintentional example just before the start of the first novel. When landing on Kailis using gravity drives (they push against the ground), he accidentally kills a girl who sneaked onto the landing field in order to offer Kay some local drugs. The novel starts with Kay waking up to the girl's brother about to kill him with an Agony Beam.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human? - human cloning and genetic engineering are illegal in The Empire. Any discovered clone is immediately destroyed. Needless to say, they have no rights. Genetically-engineered people are forcibly "reduced" to a normal person's level.
- Worthy Opponent - the immensely-advanced Psilons take no prisoners. The rare exception is an enemy who is able to kill many Psilon soldiers singlehandedly. Such enemy is enslaved instead.
- You Are Already Dead - one favorite tactic of the Bulrathi is to hit a prisoner with a special strike to the liver, let them go, and have them suddenly die in a few days.
- You Can't Fight Fate - Alkari faith is based around the concept that the fate of the universe and everything in it has been set at the moment of the universe's creation, which they call the Damned Moment (apparently, they don't agree with quantum mechanics). Their research into causality has resulted in them proving that the universe was indeed created by an omnipotent being. They also managed to find the so-called Probability Zone, which exists outside the universe and would create a new universe if the Alkari move their stars there, a universe not bound by the same fate as this universe.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters - during the Vague War, the Empire actively used terror squads to attack alien races. When signing the peace treaty, the aliens have pointed out that they remain at war with any member of these squads still alive. Those who survived live under fake identities.