The Star Carrier
series is a series of Military Science-Fiction
novels by William H. Keith, Jr.
under his pen name Ian Douglas, better known for a variety of Expanded Universe
titles and the nine books of the Galactic Marines
In the 24th century humanity is a spacefaring power, the Terran Confederation of States, that had been trading profitably for about fifty years with a species called the Agletsch Collective. This came to an abrupt end when the masters of the Agletsch, a vast empire calling themselves the Sh'daar, demanded that humanity take its place as a vassal state or cease all trade with the Collective. There was some disagreement on that point
, and when the series picks up in 2404 with Earth Strike
humanity has spent the last four decades slowly losing ground to a second, very warlike, Sh'daar vassal race called the Turusch.
The series focuses on the efforts of Admiral Alexander Koenig, commanding officer of a Confederation Navy battle group led by the kilometer-long
star carrier America
, to turn back the Sh'daar and save humanity. It currently consists of:
- Earth Strike (2010)
- Center of Gravity (2011)
- Singularity (2012)
- Deep Space (2013)
The series is pretty crispy mil-SF, probably rating One Big Lie
on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
. Spacetime manipulation is about the only really out-there technology and it informs much of the rest.
The Star Carrier series provides examples of:
- Abnormal Ammo: H'rulka weapons shoot what amounts to miniature black holes at enemy ships. They can one-shot smaller Confederation ships at quite long range.
- Ace Pilot: The VFA-44 Dragonfires, with Commander Marissa Allyn and Lieutenant Trevor Gray being particular examples. Allyn's Blue Omegas at one point use the Bushwhacker style to ambush some Turusch fighters.
- Alcubierre Drive: Two versions, both on large ships. At slower-than-light speeds the drive simply compresses space ahead and expands it behind to accelerate large ships. Accelerating to lighthugging speeds allows ships to use their relativistic mass to generate an Alcubierre warp bubble and pass the light barrier.
- This appears to be a case of Early-Installment Weirdness, as capital ships in subsequent books use the same gravitic acceleration as fighters for in-system travel, and the ship size limitation for singularity propulsion isn't even mentioned after that first time.
- In the first three novels, the maximum interstellar speed for most Confederate ships is about 1.5 light-years per day. By the fourth novel, taking place 20 years later, improved drive technology theoretically allows speeds of up to 400 light-years per day, but power generation technology hasn't quite kept up and only allows a maximum of about 18 light years per day. Only specially-designed unmanned probes can go up to 360 light-years per day.
- Alien Catnip: Acetic acid (read: vinegar) is a mild intoxicant for the Agletsch.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Cleanly averted. Eta Bo÷tis IV, locally called Mufrid, is more like Venus than Earth, but has several types of native life and several hab-dome colonies. Various other species are known to have evolved on non-Earthlike planets.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Earth Strike's title is justified: two-thirds of the way through the book, the Turusch launch an attack on Sol. Thanks to Koenig spotting their diversion and managing to intercept the main force, coupled with an absolutely insane offensive use of anti-missile countermeasures by Trevor Gray, the attack does much less damage than it rightfully should have, but that's a relative statement: millions are killed by long-range kinetic strikes to Earth, Mars, and several space stations, including much of the Confederation military brass.
- Anti Matter: Using anti-matter as a weapon is strictly forbidden by Confederate law. So when Confederate forces use anti-matter missiles against USNA marines, President Koenig has no choice but to declare war.
- Slan ships fire positron beams that deal devastating damage to any form of matter on contact.
- Apocalypse How: In chronological order:
- Regional/Societal Collapse: In the backstory. Global warming-induced sea level rise forced the evacuation of most coastal regions; they're currently lawless slums. World War III was set off by Islamic terrorists nuking several major cities around the world, and World War IV by a Chinese Colony Drop that struck the South Atlantic and killed half a billion people. As a result the Islamic alliance is barely tolerated by the Confederation Parliament and the Chinese Hegemony is denied representation altogether.
- In Earth Strike, when the Turusch return to Mufrid they do a Planetary/Human Extinction by long-range kinetic strike. They attempt to do the same to Sol, but thanks to the heroics of America's fighter group it is reduced to Stellar/Societal Disruption.
- Arcology: Various ones on Earth, "grown" by throwing nanites at decommissioned garbage dumps to have them rearrange the available materials at the atomic level into Star Scraping arcologies.
- The Battlestar: America's primary armament is her fighters, but she does have a modicum of weaponry of her own and is quite well-shielded.
- Big Applesauce: New York, along with most other coastal cities, had to be evacuated because of rising sea levels. What was left was devastated by tsunami brought on by a Chinese Colony Drop.
- Big Dumb Object: The 12 kilometer long hollow cylinder found in Singularity is, at first theorized to be a Tiper cylinder but is later revealed to be keeping a wormhole open, with the other entrance/exit being surrounded by an identical cylinder.
- Bigger Bad: The fourth novel introduces a new race/faction that even the Sh'daar are afraid of. That is why they are gathering a fleet to quickly take care of humanity before focusing their efforts on the new arrivals. On the other hand, the epilogue implies the new arrivals may be friendly to humans, and the destruction of the research vessels was an accident.
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: All sentient Agletsch are females. Their males are small slugs that they normally carry attached to their bodies. The male feeds off the female and will, when necessary, fertilize her. They are similar to some species of anglerfish in this respect.
- Boarding Party: Used three times in the novels to board alien ships. In the second novel, a SEALS team boards a H'rulka one-man ship (sort-of) of enormous size (H'rulka are gigantic gas bags). In the third book, they board a Sh'daar Planet Spaceship to rescue two POWs. In the fourth book, a Space Marine unit boards a Slan flagship to retrieve a captured Space Fighter pilot.
- The Captain: Fighter pilot Trevor Grey becomes captain of the America by the fourth book.
- China Takes Over the World: There have been two Sino-Western Wars in the books' backstory. At the end of the second one, a Chinese ship (which the Chinese government claims to have acted without orders) sets three asteroids to Colony Drop in the Atlantic Ocean. Two are stopped at great cost, but one (dubbed Wormwood) splashes down, drowning coastal cities in the Americas, Africa, and Europe. The Chinese Hegemony is still banned from Confederation membership.
- Deflector Shields: The Verse's shield technology relies on manipulation of spacetime to bend incoming ordnance back in on itself. This destroys missiles outright and deflects kinetic and beam weapons. Douglas also recognizes that an effective deflector shield also makes for a decent cloaking device: the shields also block light, and must be dropped to return fire or send and receive transmissions. This means that ships under heavy enough fire can't shoot back, nor can they radio for help or give orders.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Koenig's lover Admiral Karyn Mendelson is killed by one of the long-range kinetic strikes launched by the Turusch during their attack on Sol in Earth Strike.
- Eagle Land: Much more prominent in the fourth book, where the Confederacy attempts to wrest control over all national Space Navies invoking its Military First Right law, allowing them to ignore the proper chain of command and simply order ships around. Most nations are fine with this, but not the United States of North America, especially since the original Confederation constitution specifically states that all member nations retain control over their armed forces. After this move, President Koenig contemplates secession, which would likely result in a civil war.
- The Empire: The Sh'daar are called one, and in fact are one in the governmental sense of the word, as a conglomeration of various peoples under a single totalitarian government.
- Evil Luddite: The Sh'daar try to stop any technic species from reaching the Singularity. The reason for this is the ur-Sh'daar was a conglomeration of races from another galaxy who have Transcended, leaving behind the Refusers with no social or technological infrastracture. After the Sh'daar have rebuilt their society, they then spent millennia finding new races and putting a cap on their technological development in fear of another Transcendence. Those races who refuse are exterminated.
- Expanded States of America: An Implied Trope for the first couple of books, based on the fact that it's now called the United States of North America. This is later explained: USNA is made up of US, Canada, Mexico, and several smaller countries (Guatemala and Honduras are mentioned by name). At the same time, these nations retain a measure of autonomy, as several ships are mentioned to be Canadian or Mexican.
- At the end of the fourth book, Mexico and Honduras secedes from the USNA and ally with the Confederation, striking at California and Texas.
- Fantastic Racism/Fantastic Slurs: Trevor Gray gets some of this due to his having grown up in the slums in the ruins of Manhattan, outside USNA jurisdiction. "Prim," short for "primitive," is used against him by a couple of rather Jerkass squadmates who look down on him for his mild technophobia. Similarly "monogie," from "monogamous," is a slur used by the supposedly more enlightened arcology dwellers against those who reject their extended family sex circles.
- Fantastic Religious Weirdness: In the wake of World War III, sparked in large part by radical Islam, every faith was required to ratify a pledge called the White Covenant that outlawed many religious practices. It took the "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins" approach: all adherents of all faiths could believe as they wished so long as that belief did not harm others. Proselytizing, most missionary work, and conversion by threat or force were now violations of basic human rights. Naturally this didn't go over well, with some, such as the colonists on Mufrid, choosing to GTFO rather than ratify.
- It's mentioned in the fourth book that merely being religious and listing it in one's file can seriously hamper one's career.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Ships accelerate to near c, then use the extra relativistic mass to bend spacetime around themselves to accelerate past lightspeed. Most Confederation ships can make about a light-year and a half per day.
- The Federation: A pretty good example of a federation in the legal sense. Earth's nation-states are still around in various forms, but they all contribute representatives to a world government that grew into the Confederation, and contribute ships and soldiers to the Confederate military. The America's prefix TC/USNA denotes the Confederation first and her nation of origin, the United States of North America, second. The Confederation Senate is a parliamentary system with no political parties and where the executive and legislative branches are merged.
- It's implied in the third book that the ur-Sh'daar were also this prior to the Transcendence.
- By Deep Space, though, Confederation appears to be heading on a One World Order route, usurping more and more power from its member nations. Most nations don't mind or can't do anything about it, with USNA being the main vocal opponent of such actions. Tensions between USNA and the Confederation rise, coming to a head when the Confederation invokes its Military First Right law and orders the bulk of the USNA fleet to join the main Confederate fleet on its mission to re-take a system recently taken by the Slan without following the proper chain of command. While the USNA fleet is away, the Confeds launch a surprise attack hoping to capture a USNA 5th generation AI on the Moon. The use of illegal Anti Matter weapons by the Confeds forces USNA President Koenig to declare open hostilities. By the end of the book, Russia and North India secede from the Confederation and ally with the USNA, while Mexico and Honduras secede from the USNA to ally with the Confederation. The Chinese Hegemony and the Islamic Theocracy agree to ally with the USNA if the USNA agrees to petition for their membership in the Confederation after the conflict with the Islamics also demanding the abolition of the White Covenant.
- Four-Star Badass: Admiral Alexander Koenig, especially given that he started his Space Navy career as a Space Fighter pilot. At the end of Deep Space, Trevor Grey is promoted to Rear Admiral, having taken the same path (including the fact that both were commanders of the America in their time).
- Free-Love Future: Played for drama. Most arcology dwellers live in a sort of sex circle (kind of like a group marriage, only not a legal union), and they look down on those, like the slum dwellers in the ruins of the East Coast, who prefer monogamy.
- Frickin' Laser Beams:
- Turusch and human ships have particle beam emitters that accelerate charged particles drawn from the zero point field to near c. They vary in effectiveness but are generally not as powerful as their kinetic guns and missiles.
- The Sora ships introduced in Center of Gravity are armed with gamma ray lasers that are terrifyingly efficient against fighters.
- Sh'daar fighters fire beams that, effectively, collapse any matter into microsingularities on contact, causing fighters to disappear when hit without even a flash.
- Slan ships introduced in Deep Space fire fusion and positron beams.
- Galactic Superpower: The Confederation is one of the small fringe factions trying to be avoid being subsumed by the Superpower, in this case the Sh'daar Masters.
- At the end of the second book, Koenig gets his hands on a galactic map showing the various Sh'daar vassal races and gets a real feeling of the sheer scale of Sh'daar control. There are thousands (maybe even millions) of space-faring races that the Sh'daar could call on to crush the tiny Confederation should humans prove to be too much of a nuisance.
- Grandfather Paradox: Discussed in the fourth novel between President Koenig and an Agletsch with the result being that any attempts to alter the past would simply result in a new reality branching off and nothing changing in the original one (besides the time travelers simply vanishing).
- Grey Goo: Nano-disassemblers are normally used to break down ores and asteroids into raw materials in order to nano-grow useful objects. However, nothing prevents them from being weaponized. So far, only humans have done that, although Confederation law expressly forbids using them (and any other WMDs) in internal conflicts. This all goes to hell when the Confederation uses a nano-disassembler missile to destroy Columbus, D.C. (formerly Columbus, Ohio), the capital of the USNA.
- Not only that but Russia and North India secede from the Confederation and ally with the USNA against the Confederation as a result.
- Higher-Tech Species: The Turusch are noted to have better combat tech than the Confederation. The H'rulka in turn are even higher on the scale. The Slan are even more advanced, in other areas, such as FTL technology.
- Home Guard: The High Guard, a sub-fleet of the Navy that acts mostly as an early warning system for Earth and was originally set up to spot and prevent Colony Drops. Several High Guard ships sacrifice themselves to provide intelligence on a Turusch fleet attacking Triton, which turns out to be a diversion.
- Most High Guard ships aren't even armed with ship-to-ship weapons, as they are usually composed of old Navy ships whose weapons are removed in favor of more room for supplies for long-term patrols. The most they have are fusion bombs used to "nudge" asteroids. A few still have their main railguns, but they are usually no match for anything the enemy has to throw at humans.
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: The fourth book features a first face-to-face (sort of) encounter between a Slan and a (female) human. The Slan scans the human using their natural sonar and tries to identify various organs. It correctly identifies the purpose of the heart and the intestine but completely messes up the location of the brain (which the Slan places somewhere in the stomach area) and the human's sound-projecting organs (which the Slan use to see like bats). The latter the Slan assumes are what two "bumps" in front of the human's chest cavity (i.e. breasts) for, even though the "sound-projecting organs" lack any mobility and don't even point in the same direction. When it tries to touch these organs, the human, for some reason, gets very defensive. Very alien.
- Hyperspeed Ambush: The Slan pull this on the Confederate fleet in the fourth book, revealing they are able to use the Alcubierre drive (or their equivalent) to perform FTL jumps in-system, something that is still beyond human science (despite the As You Know speech by Koenig at the start of the first book).
- The closest humans can do is a high-c Space Fighter strike, which is the standard opening move for any invading fleet. Basically, a fleet arrives to the target system at 40 AUs from the star and immediately launches fighter squadrons at the detected enemy ships before accelerating towards the enemy. The fighters reach near-light speeds in about 10 minutes of gravitic acceleration and arrive at the destination shortly after the enemy first detects the arrival of the fleet. The fighters then launch nuclear-tipped "crates" (anti-capital missiles) at relativistic speeds, usually allowing them to take out several capital ships before the enemy has a chance to maneuver.
- Interservice Rivalry: Marines/Navy, mostly played for laughs. For example, the Marines general on Mufrid grumping that he had to get his ass bailed out by the Navy.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better:
- Various types of kinetic weapons are used in conjunction with nuclear warheads and beam weapons, including in a devastating attack on Sol. In particular two capital ships in the America battle group are described as using railguns for their primary weapons, and in addition to their other armaments SG-92 Starhawks are armed with Gatling railguns that fire steel-jacketednote depleted uranium slugs. America herself sometimes uses her fighter launch catapults to accelerate slugs instead. And of course there's the non-standard tricks Trevor Gray has used with AMSO canisters, anti-missile countermeasures filled with sand. In Earth Strike, he and the fighters he's leading accelerate to near light-speed before firing the canisters at the Turusch. This causes a spectacular amount of chaos and wins the day. In Center of Gravity Gray destroys the previously mentioned Sora ships the same way.
- Averted with the Sora destroyers (called "Claws" by the Agletsch). These are armed exclusively with gamma-ray lasers, which are extremely effective at swatting down fighters and doing heavy damage to capital ships. According to the Agletsch, the Sora use neither kinetic weapons nor missiles.
- Macross Missile Massacre: The primary method of fighter combat, and the primary Turusch point-defense technique.
- Mexico Called; They Want Texas Back: The epilogue of the fourth book reveals that Mexico has seceded from the USNA and taken the side of the Confederation, striking at California and Texas.
- Mile-Long Ship: America is stated to be a kilometer long, and the Turusch have several ships that are created from hollowed-out asteroids that are several times larger. H'rulka ships are nearly twenty klicks in length and are actually several ships docked together, each of which is several kilometers long and crewed by a single colony creature.
- Nicknaming the Enemy: The Turusch are "Tush," "Tushies," or "Trash." Their fighters are "Toads" due to their lumpy potato-like shape.
- No Warping Zone: Most starships in this series are unable to transit to Alcubierre Drive within approximately 40 Astronomical Units of a star, and then only after accelerating to near-lightspeed in normal space. The Slan, however, can apparently subvert this trope quite easily. Not only do they transit to FTL deep within a "No Warping Zone", but they do it without a long, tedious acceleration, even "micro-jumping" during combat to attack or evade. However, this is likely a Sh'daar innovation, as the Slan barely understand how their engines work, and the Turusch are later seen making a Hyperspeed Escape from within a planetagy gravity well using the same means.
- Orbital Bombardment: Frequent tactic of Sh'daar-aligned races, though the ranges vary considerably, ranging from continuous orbit-to-surface fire to kinetic strikes from several AU away.
- Our Wormholes Are Different: An artificial Lorentzian wormhole is discovered in a remote system in the third book. It's even mentioned that, under normal circumstances, such a tunnel would collapse in a tiny fraction of a second. However, someone has built a Big Dumb Object around it to keep the wormhole open and act as a near-instantaneous gate to an identical structure in a large globular star cluster. The object in question is a 12 kilometer long hollow cylinder of superdense matter rotating at a high percentage of the speed of light. The "centrifugal" effect from the rotation is what keeps the wormhole stable. Approaching an opening results in the ship being pulled into the cylinder, accelerating it, and depositing the ship out an identical cylinder at the destination with the ship's initial velocity.
- Later, it's revealed that the wormhole also goes 900,000,000 years into the past.
- Planet Spaceship: The Turusch build their larger warships out of hollowed-out asteroids. An extreme form of this is the Regrets of Parting which took part in the attack on Earth in Earth Strike. It was built out of a dwarf planet at least 900 kilometers in diameter and massing over 900 quadrillion tonnes.
- Point Defenseless: Human, Turusch, and H'rulka ships don't really have good point-defense systems, mostly relying on "sand" barrages (effectively, a shotgun spread of fine metal spheres launched at high speeds towards missiles). Beam Spammers like the Sora, the Slan, and the Sh'daar are very good at swatting missiles and fighters from the sky.
- The Political Officer: The rather useless John Quintanilla is the America's so-called political liaison. He doesn't really have any power over the fleet's operations and is at worst an irritant to Koenig.
- Proud Merchant Race: The Agletsch are this by day. They also unknowingly act as forward scouts for the Sh'daar Masters, evaluating new species.
- Reactionless Drive: Ships bigger than 80 meters use an Alcubierre Drive to accelerate to speeds fast enough to cross solar systems in hours. It's noted in an infodump that turning it off drops the ship back to the speed they started at, making a suggestion by America's Senate liaison foolish. Ships smaller than 80 meters can generate a singularity ahead of the ship that allows far greater accelerations: Whereas it takes the battle group the better part of an Earth day to cross to Mufrid from the Eta Bo÷tis Kuiper Belt, the fighter squadron Koenig sends ahead for a surprise attack crosses in about an hour and a half.
- Reporting Names:
- Turusch capital ships are designated with the Military Alphabet since the Confederation doesn't know their actual names. Also the Turusch apparently call themselves the Gweh, with "Turusch" being the name given to them by the Agletsch.
- The name "H'rulka" is also Agletsch. The H'rulka themselves refer to themselves by a term most closely translated as "All of Us".
- The Sh'daar have their own names for their vassal races. They are usually very long and consist of a number and certain chemical characteristics (e.g. oxygen-breathers).
- Slan ships are labeled based on bladed or ancient projecting weapons, likely because some of them feature blade-like fins on their hulls. Examples include Stiletto, Ballista, and Onager.
- Ruins of the Modern Age: Global warming caused water levels to rise, with many coastal cities across the world drowning, while others were only protected by sea walls. Then the Chinese performed their Colony Drop in the Atlantic, causing most of those cities to be completely flooded. Now, these largely abandoned cities are called the Periphery. Only squatties live these, refusing the join the modern society. In particular, the ruins of Manhattan are frequently referenced, as Trevor Grey, one of the point-of-view characters, lived most of his life in the ruins of the Tribeca Tower. Another key character is from the Washington Swamps, the remains of the former D.C. area (the administrative District of Columbia has been moved to Columbus, Ohio, the new capital). Yet another character is from the ruins of Baltimore. Notably, the Statue of Liberty is mentioned to have largely survived being drowned several times, and Periphery restoration efforts are shown at the end of the third novel.
- Sacrificial Planet: At the start of the series the Sh'daar Empire's vassal races have already destroyed several of Earth's extrasolar colonies. By the middle of the first book their latest victims are most of the inhabitants of Eta Bo÷tis IV, killed by a multi-AU kinetic strike from a Turusch warfleet. This foreshadows the Turusch attack against Sol late in the novel, which is only barely driven off at the cost of tens of millions of lives.
- The Singularity: The Sh'daar Masters are reportedly attempting to prevent humanity from reaching it. One theory floated in Center of Gravity is that the Sh'daar are actually Luddites (relatively speaking) left over from a race that did achieve the Singularity and vanished. The Sh'daar confirm this in the third book.
- Space Fighter:
- The SG-92 Starhawks have variable hull geometry (nanotech is involved) that allows them to reconfigure themselves between several forms: a slim needle for launch and space combat, an airfoil for atmospheric flight, and a sperm-like teardrop for crossing distances at near-c. They're armed with kiloton- and megaton-yield nuclear missiles, the aforementioned Gatling railguns, and a particle beam. Turusch "Toads" are armed similarly but are more massive, less maneuverable, and lack the variable geometry which makes them crap for air combat.
- The fourth novel takes place 20 years later, when the Starhawks are considered to be outdated, with two new models (SG-101 Velociraptors and SG-112 Stardragons) now considered to be the workhorses of the fleet. However, the Confederate Navy has been hesitant to retire the Starhawks, as they still don't have enough of the new fighters to completely replace them.
- Space Is an Ocean: But one that relies on 20th- and 21st-century nautical metaphors rather than ones from the Age of Sail, somewhat like Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). For example, it's not a bridge or quarterdeck, it's a CIC, and the commander of the fighter wing has the title "Commander, Air Group" (which gets lampshaded, and explained as the old name sticking despite efforts to update it), CAG for short. Even the SEALs are still around, except the acronym got updated to SEALS ("Space" added to the end), although an individual member is still called a "SEAL". And space itself is not an ocean. (Worth noting, the author is a former Navy corpsman.)
- Space Is Cold:
- For someone who has done his research, the author makes the typical mistake of assuming that water exposed to space will freeze in an instant instead of boiling.
- In Singularity, water spilled from a shield cap is mentioned to be both boiling and freezing at the same time. Still incorrect but closer to the truth.
- Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: The singularity drive used by fighters can generate the singularity to the side instead of in front, allowing for extremely tight high-speed turns. This is dangerous in combat, however, as the slightest perturbation of the fighter's AI-calculated course, such as from enemy fire, can send it into a spin that will disintegrate it in seconds.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Space fighters, reconnaissance ships, destroyers, frigates, heavy cruisers, line battleships, carriers, command and control ships, et cetera.
- Starfish Aliens: Most of them.
- The Turusch evolved to live in Venus-like atmospheres and exist as pairs of cylindrical organisms with a Starfish Language where each speak a different line, and the two lines together form a third.
- The H'rulka are Living Gasbags, colony organisms a couple hundred meters long that originated in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant and were technologically uplifted by an unidentified Sh'daar race called the Starborn.
- The Agletsch are spider-shaped aliens with a method of eating that most humans find very disgusting.
- The Slan don't have eyes. The closest thing they have is a weak light-sensing organ. However, they "see" via incredibly detailed echolocation (like bats or dolphins) and are even able to project sound in a specific direction in order to do a detailed ultrasound scan. It took a long time for them to discover the existence of other stars, as their light-sensing organ doesn't even pick up on most stars in their night sky. After that, they had to invent their version of telescopes, converting starlight into recognizable sounds. In fact, they have a hard time understanding the concepts of "space", "star", or "planet". Since they can't see space (no air to echolocate), they just assume it's a humongous cave full of nothingness that requires the use of ships to get from one habitable cave (subsurface of a planet) to another. The Slan have a Hive Mind but in a termite-like way. Each Slan is an individual, but everything they do is for the good of the community.
- The fact that the humans appear to be able to understand the Slan so well shocks them, as no other race has been able to do that.
- For that matter, there are no Human Aliens, or even any race out there remotely resembling humans in appearance or thought. (There is at least one species of Humanoid Aliens seen in Center of Gravity, but they're much bigger than we are.) In the fourth novel, two characters spend a few minutes trying to figure out which of the alien races they know of even have eyes.
- Strange Syntax Speaker: A small example with the Agletsch, although this is more a feature of their translation devices. Specifically, their questions are statements with a "yes-no" added at the end. It's not much different from an English sentence ending in "isn't it?", although that implies that the Agletsch are unable to ask an open-ended question.
- Technology Porn: Many, many, many infodumps on how the Applied Phlebotinum of the setting works.
- Time Dilation: Taken into account with high velocities, but it's more of a wrinkle of a few extra minutes or hours rather than something life-altering. Ships keep track of both subjective and objective time, and Earth Strike has a scene of Trevor Grey, on a near-c attack run, watching the minutes on the objective time clock blur past in a flash.
- United Europe: The Paneuropean Federation appears to be this, except the various nationalities are still bickering constantly. Very few think of themselves as "European" (or "Paneuropean") but still as British, French, Polish, German, etc.
- Weaponized Exhaust: A non-typical case given the ubiquitous use of gravitic acceleration, which involves projecting a flickering singularity ahead of the ship and falling towards it. In Deep Space, a fighter pilot cripples a Slan cruiser by engaging the fighter's singularity projector without the "bootstrap" function which is supposed to evaporate the singularity before it consumes the accelerating fighter. The moving singularity then impacts the Slan cruiser and eats through it, with the fighter pilot following up with a particle beam strike.
- Wingman: In theory Terran Confederation fighter pilots in the Star Carrier series are organized into wing-pairs. Trevor Gray's is Lt. Katie Tucker. In practice the chaotic nature of fighting in a 3D environment where ships can spin on a dime and fly backwards on inertia while shooting guys behind them means that more often than not, pilots fight individually and cover their own asses.
- World War III: Earth is noted to have suffered it, mostly started by Islamic radicals getting ahold of nuclear weapons and destroying several major cities including Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C. There's also been a war with the Chinese Hegemony that involved a Colony Drop which struck the South Atlantic and killed half a billion people.