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)
- Dark Matter (2014)
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.
- The CBG eventually identifies the main weapons used by Sh'daar Attack Drones as meson beams, weapons that fire the particle which carries the nuclear strong force, causing any matter it touches to undergo nuclear collapse.
- 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.
- Slightly amended in Dark Matter, where it's stated that, theoretically, an Alcubierre bubble can travel at infinite speeds, able to get anywhere instantaneously. It's the power-generation technology that limits the speed of the bubble.
- Alien Catnip: Acetic acid (read: vinegar) is a mild intoxicant for the Agletsch.
- Alien Lunch: The fifth novel describes how the new aliens feed. They keep room-sized genetically-engineered food animals aboard their ships, which they feed on by ripping them open, climbing inside, and eating the insides with their many mouths. Since the animals have an amazing Healing Factor and a distributed nervous system, they can probably survive for months despite the daily feedings before expiring. Attempts to put the poor creatures out of their misery fail due to the same distributed nervous system (i.e. no key vital organs to destroy).
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Cleanly averted. Eta Bo÷tis IV, locally called Haris (short for "Al Haris al Sama", Arabic for "Guardian of Heaven"), 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. A planet in 40 Eridani A (called Vulcan) is a rare gem, being one of the precious few known worlds whose local biochemistry matches Terrestrial norms. However, despite this, the joint German-Argentinian colony on the planet is fairly small (about 87 million), since people don't feel the need to emigrate from Earth and its comfortable arcologies.
- 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.
- Animal Theme Naming: Confederation missiles are named for venomous snakes. The Krait is carried by fighters, the Mamba by capital ships. Newer, more powerful missiles are introduces later called Boomslangs and Taipans, also fitting this pattern.
- 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.
- Armchair Military:
- Frontline General Koenig expresses great disdain for these types. Earth Strike has a mention that his orders from Central Command include a clause mandated by the politicians that says Koenig isn't supposed to take the America closer than six light-hours to Haris, since the carrier is one of only six ships of her class. The obvious problem is that in a setting with no Subspace Ansible, it's completely impossible to direct a fleet from that far off. So the more realistic members of the Central Command have to insert a giant ass-covering clause directing Koenig to keep the carrier back if he judged it appropriate, which would obviously never happen.
- A specific example is Grand Admiral Giraurd, who is sent to Alphekka after Koenig in Center of Gravity and pursues him to a refueling stop in Singularity. Koenig exposits that Giraurd had made it to admiral mostly on political and family influence and had never actually seen combat.
- 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 Haris 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.
- Regional/Physical Annihilation in Deep Space when a Confederate ship drops a nano-disassembler warhead on Columbus, D.C.
- 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.
- Attack Its Weak Point: Outside of near-c Alpha Strikes and direct hits from missiles, this is the main way for a fighter to kill a capital ship. In the first book Commander Allyn brings down a shield section of the Turusch flagship Radiant Severing by targeting a narrow "seam" between shield segments where the wave guides generating them are accessible.
- 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. The same goes for her sister ships, among them the Constitution and the Intrepid.
- 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 Tipler 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.
- Binary Suns: The Eta Bo÷tis System consists of a large sun and a white dwarf, with the inhabited planet Haris orbiting about twice as far out as the dwarf. This is suspected as a possibility for the real life Eta Bo÷tis, but not currently confirmed.
- Bizarre Alien Psychology:
- The Turusch all have split personalities that are aware of each other. The Mind Above is basically equivalent to a human's lizard brain and rarely says anything other than "Threat! Kill!" The Mind Here is the thinking brain that makes decisions. The Mind Below is the mental representation of the Sh'daar Seeds, implants created by the Sh'daar Masters that network the minds of their client races (and often double as The Political Officer).
- The Slan are the next-best thing from a Hive Mind. They're still individuals, but their hat is collectivism: Everything they do is for the good of their Community, and taking actions harmful to the Community is considered insane. This informs how they look at war: Slan-on-Slan battles more closely resemble a shoving match and end when one side establishes dominance. The human willingness to fight even in the face of overwhelming odds scares the hell out of them.
- The new aliens introduced in Dark Matter see nothing wrong with lying to get what they want. Granted, this is something that many humans do as well, but this appears to be their racial view in general. Their "alliance" with the Confederation lasts about a day before they abruptly break it and invade. It's likely that their only reason for even talking to humans was to trick the Confederates into showing them the location of Earth, especially since their near-identical biochemistry means they can eat humans, which they do... while humans are still alive; when people wonder how a sapient creature can eat another sapient creature, someone else points out that this is nothing more than a human viewpoint. The aliens likely see nothing wrong with this or with breaking agreements.
- They also have a much more polarized version of the human "fight or flight" response thanks to their evolution as a middle-tier predator (meaning they are both predator and prey) on their Death World home planet. If they have a clear advantage, they will attack with an overwhelming force and numbers. If met with an overwhelming force or numbers, they will retreat. Naturally, they assume every other sapient race is the same, which is why it's a shock to them when human ships don't break and run when two of the alien ships charge them. In fact, this proves to be their undoing, as their charge left the two ships isolated from one another.
- Bizarre Alien Senses: The Slan "see" exclusively by echolocation (they have light-sensitive organs, but they can't really process light the way smarter Earth animals can; they can detect it and that's about it). This proves a disadvantage in space combat: hull breaches mean air leaks out of the ship, meaning they lose the ability to see or communicate. They also don't understand the concept of "space", since they can't echolocate it. To them, space is just an enormous cave that requires the use of starships to cross to get to another habitable cave (i.e. planet). This proves that they didn't invent their space travel tech but were given it by the Sh'daar.
- 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.
- Boarding Pod: In Deep Space the Marines use a cloud of one-man pods to board a Slan flagship to rescue a captured fighter pilot. The pods use nanites to eat their way into the hull.
- Brainwashing for the Greater Good: It's implied (though not stated) that the Confederation does this. Gray's wife Angela became almost a different person when USNA doctors fixed her up after she had a stroke. (The Confed side of the story is that they had to regrow/replace a fairly large part of her brain, with the "unfortunate side-effect" of a major personality change - which just happened to be perfectly compatible with Mainland society.)
Gray: (narrating) When theyĺd wired (Angela) to their machines and downloaded reading and writing, Cloud-Net skills and language training, social norms and Mainland mores, had they also told her what to believe? Who to love? How to love?
- In Dark Matter, the USNA government attempts to do this en masse to a large chunk of the Confederation by using "meme" worms in the Confederation 'Net to create a brand-new religion that opposes the "peace at any cost" view of the Confederate Senate.
- It's also stated that the White Covenant was also only accepted after a mass brainwashing program centuries ago. The science of "Recombinant Memetics" grew out of this and is widely used to attempt to get masses to do certain things.
- The Captain: Fighter pilot Trevor Gray becomes captain of the America by the fourth book.
- Centrifugal Gravity: America has twin counter-rotating habitation rings that are kept at about .5 gravities, due to the mixed crews from bodies all over the Sol system (Earth has 1 G, the Moon has 1/6, etc.). These are also used as an alternative way to launch Space Fighters, by placing them in slots on the rim of the ring and letting inertia fling them clear of the carrier's shield cap.
- 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.
- Cult Colony: Normally averted due to the fact that most nations were forced to sign the White Covenant severely limiting religious expression in order to join the Confederation. Most Muslim states refused, though. The series starts with the Confederation fleet arriving to help evacuate a Muslim colony that has been attacked by the Turusch. Well, technically, the mission is to evacuate the Space Marine contingent on the planet, but Admiral Koenig decides to save as many colonists as possible, focusing mainly on women and children. The conflict comes from the Muslim men being horrified that their women would be among infidels without their husbands. Koenig has to threaten the colony with Death from Above for the colonists to finally allow their women to board the transports.
- Deadpan Snarker: Koenig's flag captain Randolph Buchanan, on occasion. From the first chapter of Earth Strike:
I don't believe in "galactic empires". (snorts)
The whole idea is silly, given the size of the galaxy
Well, the Sh'daar appear to believe in the concept, Admiral. And I doubt very much that it matters whether they agree with you on the point or not.
- Death World:
- Haris, at least for humans. 1.85 gravity? Check. Seas and rain composed of aqueous sulfuric acid? Check. Air composed of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbonyl sulfide, among others? Check. Surface temperatures ranging from 30-60░C? Check. Sand dollar-like native critters that think humans in emergency suits are crunchy and good with ketchup (regardless of whether they actually are)? Check.
- For that matter, most extraterrestrial bodies are Death Worlds (it's just that Haris is the only one really described in detail). Of all the planets shown, Earth, Osiris, and Vulcan are the only ones where humans can survive unprotected.
- 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. Singularity notes that shielding tech is one of the few places where humanity has a decisive advantage.
- Eagleland: 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.
- In the fifth novel, Koenig contemplates that the problems between the USNA and the Paneuropean-dominated Confederation lie in the core beliefs and histories of the Old World and New World nations. Many in Paneurope believe in the "peace/survival at any cost" approach and are more likely to give in to the demands of the Sh'daar, claiming that the "give me liberty or give me death" views of the Americans are too black-and-white to be realistic.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Earth Strike states that only ships up to 80 meters in length can safely use a singularity drive. Anything bigger would presumably be torn apart instead of accelerated. Bigger ships use an STL version of the Alcubierre Drive. Center of Gravity retcons this, although small ships retain their acceleration advantage.
- Eats Babies: The new aliens discovered in Dark Matter are hermaphrodites. Their offspring are frequently "born" in stressful situations, when they judge it unsafe to remain in their parent. On their Death World home planet, the aliens frequently use their offspring to distract the larger predators while they run away... or as a light snack. In space, the offspring are usually either a nuisance or food. The alien commander is shown to eat one of the "children" it just produces when one drifted a little too close to one of its many mouths.
- 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 Measurement System: The Turusch use units such as g'nyuu'm for time and lurm'm for distance. 12,000 lurm'm = 5 light-g'nyuu'm. Meanwhile g'ri is a unit used for mass, with several vessels in the America battlegroup described as massing more than 28,000 g'ri.
- 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 Haris, 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 (though book four mentions that the USNA provides a disproportionate amount of military forces relative to its voting power). 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.
- At the end of Dark Matter, the Confederation is undergoing a rapid collapse. The Confederate army launches a coup. England, Germany, and Ukraine are seceding. Italy and Spain are likely to secede as well. This is only a week after a USNA hacker infiltration plants "meme" worms that result in the creation of a new religion in Paneurope promoting views contrary to the official Confederate line. Koenig wonders what will replace the Confederation and thinks it will probably be something centered in the USNA instead of Paneurope.
- Fictional Geneva Conventions: Confederation law bans the use of both antimatter and nanotechnology as weapons. Confederate forces violate both bans in Deep Space when attacking the USNA.
- Fictional Political Party: The Confederation Parliament is officially non-partisan, but that doesn't stop unofficial party-like voting blocs from developing. One named early on is the Conciliationists, who hope to work out a negotiated peace with the Sh'daar. The fourth book focuses more on Earth politics and names several inside the USNA, such as the Freedomists who want the country to at least maintain as much autonomy from the Confederation as it can, if not secede altogether.
- 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.
- French Jerk: The new Confederate President in Dark Matter, who isn't above casually threatening to destroy a few more American cities with Grey Goo bombs and telling Koenig that he plans to rewrite history to claim that the destruction of Columbus was Koenig's False Flag Operation.
- 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 meson 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.
- The new aliens introduced in Dark Matter use x-ray lasers as their primary weapons.
- Future Slang:
- To "zorch" is to fly very, very fast. "Zorchie" is Marine Corps slang for gravfighter pilots.
- "'Cubing", a term introduced in Deep Space, is shorthand for jumping to FTL. It's presumably a derivative of "Alcubierre".
- 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.
- The new Confederate President (a French Jerk) casually threatens Koenig with dropping nano-d bombs on more USNA cities and then falsifying records to show that it was a False Flag Operation by Koenig himself, if the USNA doesn't surrender to the Confederation.
- Heel Race Turn: Implied by the ending of Deep Space. The Slan commander tells the Sh'daar Seed that the humans grok the concept of Community, sacrosanct in Slan culture, and leaves to tell this to his government. He strongly indicates that the Slan will likely be reconsidering their membership in the Empire.
- High-Speed Missile Dodge: Missiles are pretty darn hard to shake (they're flown by A.I. and have a huge array of sensors to beat any ECM), so a dodge by itself doesn't work. In fact, it's actually counterproductive since chasing you out of the battlespace is almost as useful as an outright kill. Instead, you use the dodge to lead the missile to where you want it, then dump "sand"note and let the missile fly into it.
- 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. However, the Starhawks are better fighters than Turusch "Toads", and between Singularity and Deep Space their Deflector Shields improve to where they are noticeably better than Sh'daar tech.
- 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. By Deep Space, though, they appear to have more formidable weaponry due to the mounting tensions between the Confederacy and the USNA.
- Humanoid Aliens: The Nungiirtok are at least human-shaped, but they're much bigger than humans. The Sh'daar use them in ground combat primarily.
- Humans Are Warriors: The Slan especially have this reaction. Slan-on-Slan battles are more like shoving matches that only continue until one side establishes its dominance. Humans are much more inclined towards total war.
- 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.
- Later, when audio-visual communication is established between Grey and the Slan commander, the Slan assumes that Grey is blind/deaf because he lacks the sound-projecting organs (i.e. Grey doesn't have tits).
- Hyperspeed Ambush:
- 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 Kraits (anti-capital missiles) at relativistic speeds, usually allowing them to take out several capital ships before the enemy has a chance to maneuver.
- 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).
- Illegal Religion: Downplayed. The Terran Confederation's "White Covenant" law means that, while religion isn't banned outright, many of its common practices are. In particular proselytizing, many missionary activities, and conversion by threat or force are considered violations of basic human rights. This came about after Islamic terrorists nuked several major cities and set off World War III, and understandably doesn't sit well with a lot of religious groups (the Muslims especially, since it bans a core tenet of the faith, to bring the word of Allah to the infidel).
- Insistent Terminology: A minor Running Gag in the first book is the Book Dumb Marine Lieutenant Ostend trying to describe the native wildlife of Haris (the shadow swarmers, specifically) in terms of Earth biology, and getting corrected that, no, the terms he's using don't really apply except as a rough simile. One of his more learned compatriots uses the term "florauna"* because it's the closest English can get.
- Also, the Agletsch are not arachnids or insectoids, despite their females looking outwardly like human-sized spiders. In fact, attempting to put any alien race into an understandable category usually fails due to the radically different evolutionary paths taken by them, not to mention the different biochemistry prevailing on habitable worlds.
- Interservice Rivalry:
- Marines/Navy, mostly played for laughs. For example, the Marines general on Haris grumping that he had to get his ass bailed out by "damned Navy zorchies".
- More seriously, there's friction between the American and European ships in Singularity, due to the Pan-Europeans having been sent to reel in Koenig for exceeding his orders. It gets very briefly violent but cooler heads prevail, and the French admiral's flag captain and most of his command actually mutiny and join Koenig.
- 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, in addition to her spinal railguns. 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.
- Sh'daar drones in Singularity use both meson beams and "crowbars", small masses accelerated to high percentages of c. Gray gets lucky and survives a hit from one because it struck his drive singularity instead of his ship. Others aren't as lucky.
- 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.
- Knowledge Broker: The Agletsch are this, and human merchants have become this as well, since it's not cost-effective to transport goods and materials from system to system, as they can be manufactured (or grown) with nanotechnology much quicker and cheaper. When asked if the Agletsch accompanying the America are sending information to their Sh'daar masters, one of them replies that they only send information of little value, since the Sh'daar aren't paying them for the truly important data. It takes a few seconds for the humans to realize that the Agletsch has just made an attempt at a human joke, although that one probably has a large dose of truth as well.
- Literal Metaphor: Done in the narration in Earth Strike during a Xenofiction moment.
- The Lost Lenore: In Earth Strike, Admiral Alexander Koenig's lover Admiral Karyn Mendelsson gets all of two scenes before being killed offscreen when the Turusch launch an extreme-range kinetic attack on several objects in the Sol System. For the next two books Koenig misses her so much that he keeps her image and personality as the avatar for his personal AI.
- Macross Missile Massacre: The primary method of fighter combat, and the primary Turusch point-defense technique. As Gray narrates in the first fight scene of Earth Strike:
"And that was the other half of the equation. Standard Turusch tactics were to fire whole swarms of missiles, sending them at him from all directions, until no maneuver he made could possibly jink past them all."
- Matter Replicator: Achieved through nanotechnology. Deep Space has a scene of a character ordering a coffee and having it basically 3D-printed by nanites.
- Mercy Kill: Grey attempts this in Dark Matter after seeing the new aliens eat one of their genetically-engineered food animals live. The marines shoot the creature in what appears to be the face, but all they end up doing is causing it more pain (it's later revealed that it has an amazing Healing Factor and a distributed nervous system, meaning it doesn't have a centralized brain) and result in the feeding aliens trying to rush the marines. Another person later points out that it's the equivalent of someone opening fire in the America's mess hall. Grey admits he screwed up, letting his human point-of-view cloud his objective judgment.
- 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. It's revealed in the fifth book that the Confederation promised them all the territory they lost in the Mexican-American War.
- 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.
- The aliens introduced in Dark Matter have fairly large ships. One is stated to be about a kilometer long (i.e. the length of the America), but Gray points out that, while the America is mostly thin (except for the mushroom-like shield cap), the alien ship is much thicker.
- Mildly Military: The way Grey is promoted from captain to the temporary rank of admiral may be justified by the You Are in Command Now situation, but then President Koenig goes and personally promotes him to the rank of full admiral (albeit provisionally) in order to keep him in command of the joint task force. Koenig even mentions that it's an O-10 pay grade (same as in the Real Life US Navy). Apparently, the President of the USNA can do that. On the other hand, it is mentioned that the USNA has a different constitution than the one we have now, so maybe it's one of the presidential powers.
- The Milky Way Is the Only Way: Alcubierre Drive is far too slow to have a hope of crossing the void between galaxies. Double Subverted with the Sh'daar: They arrived from a dwarf galaxy that was "eaten" by the Milky Way a few hundred million years ago. Their Singularity was set off when they went into a frantic increase in technological advancement to survive the intergalactic collision.
- Mirror Chemistry: Osiris, the planet orbiting 70 Ophiuchi, is a rare Earthlike "garden world" where humans can live unprotected, but the native life has the opposite chemical chirality from Earth life, rendering it inedible.
- Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Turusch personal names translate to things like "Emphatic Blossom at Dawn", in this case referring to an ambush hunter from the Turusch homeworld, noted as an appropriate choice for a tactician.
- Naming Your Colony World: All three of the planets we actually visit use the "Symbolica" subtype for their local names. (The navigational names use the Numbered Homeworld subtype.)
- Eta Bo÷tis IV's local name "Al Haris al Sama" means "Guardian of Heaven" in Arabic.
- 70 Ophiuchi is orbited by a garden world named Osiris, after the Egyptian deity.
- 36 Ophiuchi A is orbited by a proto-garden world dubbed Arianrhod after a figure from Welsh Mythology, specifically the Mabinogion.
- A habitable world in 40 Eridani A is appropriately dubbed "Vulcan". The fifth novel even goes into an extended infodump about the history of the name, including the original idea that 40 Eridani would have an Earth-like world that astronomers named after the Roman god of fire and the name of the fictional planet from Star Trek (although the name of the show is not mentioned) also stated by Word of God to be in that system. When probes actually scanned the planet, everybody was shocked that it is not only a world similar to Earth, but all life on it shares Terrestrial biochemistry, meaning humans can eat local plants and animals.
- Nicknaming the Enemy: The Turusch are "Tush," "Tushies," or "Trash." Their fighters are "Toads" due to their lumpy potato-like shape. In Singularity a character briefly refers to the Nungiirtok as "Nungies".
- Nonindicative Name: All TRGA cylinders but one, since the acronym stands for "Texaghu Resch gravitational anomaly", Texaghu Resch being an Agletsch name for the system where the humans first encountered such cylinders.
- 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 planetary gravity well using the same means.
- Nom de Guerre: By Singularity Trevor Gray has acquired the callsign "Sandy" due to the various times he used AMSO canisters, devices filled with granules of degenerate matter ("sand") intended as a missile countermeasure, as offensive weapons. Gray isn't sure he likes his new callsign, but it's better than "Prim". By Dark Matter, even high-ranking admirals and the President of the USNA frequently call him "Sandy" even at official meetings. Gray is used to the nickname by that point (20 years having passed since he got it).
- Not the Intended Use:
- Gray is described in Singularity as having added a footnote to the manual for use of AMSO canisters by repeatedly turning the intended anti-missile countermeasures into kinetic kill weapons. By Deep Space this has become a standard tactic.
- In Deep Space Gray's Suspiciously Similar Substitute Lt. Donald Gregory charges a Slan warship and passes it so close the narration mentions him hearing their hulls scrape. This is so he can engage his singularity drive inside the ship with the "bootstrap" function that switches it on and off disengaged, consuming the Slan vessel from the inside out.
- Numbered Homeworld: Planets are referred to both by a "star name-roman numeral" designation (e.g. Eta Bo÷tis IV) and by local names (Al Haris al Sama).
- 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. Human theatre shields are basically impenetrable to the actual bombardment, so during pitched battles the tactic relies mainly on seismic effects.
- 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. The America's fighter group disables it by dumping literally its entire payload of Kraits at it and then running the fuck away before it can return fire.
- The CBG encounters a Sh'daar version in Singularity, an Alcubierre-capable planet that carries several structures on the surface and the Brain Uploaded consciousnesses of at least one transcended Sh'daar race in molecular circuitry woven into the very rock.
- 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.
- Amusingly the Sh'daar Seeds that every member of a Sh'daar-aligned species carries have this as one of their functions. Among other things they help keep the Turusch "Mind Above", its warrior brain that only ever says "THREAT! KILL!", from being a Leeroy Jenkins. They also desperately try to convince the Slan commander at the end of Deep Space that the humans are not a Community, but it doesn't work.
- Power Source: All major human power generation is done using quantum power taps, although fusion reactors are used as well for smaller power requirements. Basically, a single quantum power tap is a pair of microsingularities (tiny blast holes) that spin around a common center at a high percentage of the speed of light, extracting power from, basically, vacuum. The singularities are kept contained (and away from one another) by a Higgs field. If the field collapses, bad things happen. A single QPT can power a Space Fighter, but is not nearly enough to power an entire starship, not to mention the Alcubierre drive. This requires the use of phased arrays of QPTs.
- Proud Merchant Race: The Agletsch are this by day, making profit by trading information across the stars. (A star system has resources aplenty to fabricate items, so the Agletsch trade schematics instead.) 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 Haris 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.
- Recoil Boost: Exploited inverted. Marissa Allyn uses the recoil from her Starhawk's RFK-90 kinetic kill cannon to increase her time on target when attacking the Turusch flagship Radiant Severing.
- 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 projectile weapons, likely because some of them feature blade-like fins on their hulls. Examples include Stiletto, Ballista, and Onager.
- Required Secondary Powers: Ships moving at near-c generate a gravity well ahead of them to clear away dust particles and such, which would cause severe damage if struck at relativistic speeds.
- 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.
- Rules Lawyer: In Center of Gravity, as the America battlegroup is preparing to leave for Alphekka to undertake Operation Crown Arrow, a message drone arrives from the colony at 70 Ophiuchi saying the Sh'daar have arrived. Based on past performance Koenig knows that the Confederation Central Command will scrub Crown Arrow in favor of sending him to defend the colony, so he has the battlegroup leave early before the orders can be transmitted.
- 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.
- Sapient Cetaceans: The books mention a few times that humans now consider whales and dolphins to be intelligent species.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: William Keith avoids the usual sci-fi trap of underestimating the scale of the universe (for starters, fleets move in formation at ranges of hundreds of km), but gets tripped up by capital ship firepower numbers in Earth Strike.
- When the America enters the fray against the Turusch fleet, the power of her spinal-mounted particle beam is given as 1.15 TeV. That's 1.15 teraelectronvolts, which Wolfram Alpha equates to 1.2 times the kinetic energy of a mosquito. Contrast this with a rough calculation of 418 kilotons for a Turusch particle beam two chapters earlier. (However, this unit could actually refer to the energy applied per particle accelerated, so YMMV on this one.)
- The same page that gives us the 1.15 TeV number describes the railgun cruiser Kinkaid's spinal mount as accelerating a slug at 500 gravities down a 1 kilometer barrel. This results in a muzzle velocity of about 3.1 kilometers per second, only about four times the muzzle velocity of the average assault rifle. At that speed it would take a very large, very heavy slug to do much damage, which sort of defeats the purpose of using a railgun that long (real railguns have achieved 2.4 km/s with a much shorter barrel).
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The Slan-led Sh'daar battle group at 70 Ophiuchi at the end of Deep Space. Based on prior conversations with Trevor Gray, and a Badass Boast invoking Slan culture delivered during the America battle group's final attack run, the Slan C.O. decides that the Sh'daar had deliberately lied to them when uplifting them and bringing them into the empire, a big no-no in Slan culture, and jump out to present this information to their government. The surviving Turusch ships, now badly outnumbered by the humans, run for their lives.
- Shame If Something Happened: The new Confederate president uses similar wording to threaten President Koenig into surrendering the USNA lest several more American cities be destroyed with Grey Goo bombs.
- Sickly Green Glow: More like Sickly Blue Glow. The Turusch bombardment leaves the area surrounding the Marine base so irradiated it gives off Cherenkov radiation in places.
- 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, calling themselves "Refusers". Their civilizations, plural, completely collapsed when everyone else hit the Singularity and changed beyond all recognition.
- 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. Singularity introduces the Starhawks' predecessor, the SG-55 War Eagle which also lacks variable geometry, as well as Pan-European and Chinese counterparts to the War Eagle and Starhawk.
- Meanwhile the Marines use SG-88 Rattlesnakes, less capable space combatants optimized for close air support.
- 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, the America has a CIC rather than a flag bridge (the latter term is used in Honor Harrington), 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. Also, the Marines still use Navy corpsmen rather than medics. (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. Bonus points for the pilot not feeling any g-forces from the turn, since the fighter is technically moving straight through a curved region of space.
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Space fighters, reconnaissance ships, destroyers, frigates, heavy cruisers, line battleships, carriers, command and control ships, et cetera.
- Due to unspecified reasons, only the USNA appears to field heavy carriers. All other nations only field light carriers as part of their battle groups. In Deep Space, the Paneuropean fleet is actually based around a battleship (since that's where the admiral has his flag before moving it to the America). This is likely a reference to the Real Life situation of the US being the only country to field a large number of supercarriers in its navy. At the same time, in a number of battles, USNA fighters find themselves overwhelmed by a huge number of Paneuropean fighters.
- Averted with the new aliens in Dark Matter. They only have one type of ship fulfilling all necessary roles (each ship is The Battlestar). They may have different sizes, but the same type of armament, fighters, cargo/transport space, etc. They don't understand why humans bother to create different types of ships. Hell, they don't even have a distinction between military and civilian ships. All their ships are the same.
- Starfish Aliens: Most of them. The Sh'daar state in Singularity that out of roughly 50 million intelligent species they've catalogued, humans are only about the twenty-thousandth that even has a carbon/nitrogen/oxygen/water metabolism.
- 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. And that's just the females. The males are small non-sapient slugs that the females keep attached to them.
- 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.
- Super-Persistent Missile: Missiles are stated outright in the very first dogfight of Earth Strike to be nearly impossible to shake with passive systems such as ECM. They're flown by weak A.I., use a huge variety of sensors to track targets, and can easily out-accelerate any fighter. The only viable countermeasure are active systems. Human and Turusch ships dump "sand" (granules of gravitically compressed lead) into space to serve as a physical barrier or shoot them down with energy weapons, and they're little threat to Beam Spammers like the Sora, Slan, and Sh'daar.
- Super-Persistent Predator: The aliens discovered in Dark Matter view humans as this. Having evolved from middle-tier predators themselves, their core behavior is called "Balancing" involving a mix of predator and prey behaviors (or, as humans call it, "acting like a bully"). They will attack when they have the advantage, only to flee or submit when the enemy proves superior, only to attack again the moment the enemy shows weakness. During a battle with human forces, their two technologically-superior ships charge the human fleet with the expectation that the humans will turn tail and run, just like they would do. Except the humans don't and continue to bear close. The difference is that the alien don't see humans as predators but as prey (having an identical biochemistry which allows them to digest human meat).
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: A variation where the person being subbed for is still present (albeit having Ranked Up). Deep Space's Lt. Donald Gregory is one for now-Captain Trevor Gray. Both are looked down upon by squadronmates for their upbringing (Gray grew up on the Periphery, Gregory was born on an extrasolar colony), and both come up with outside-the-box ways to kill enemy capital ships (Gray's AMSO canisters, Gregory's hitting Slan ships with his drive singularity).
- For that matter, Gray is that for Koenig. Both have risen in ranks from fighter pilot duty to the command of the America to admiralty. Both are mavericks who don't have much patience for armchair admirals or fleet politics. In a message where Koenig bumps Gray's rank to full admiral (bypassing two pay grades in the process), he knows exactly how Gray is going to react (hint: a Precision F-Strike), but tells him it's a provisional rank only meant to keep Gray in command of the joint task force, so Gray doesn't have to answer to any of the Russian, Chinese, North Indian, or Islamic admirals in command of their own fleets.
- Taking the Bullet: The America is crippled by an alien ambush in Deep Space. Before the alien ship can finish her off, a USNA light cruiser interposes itself between the alien ship and the [[spoilerAmerica]], taking an x-ray laser blast at near-point-blank range. Just before, we get a glimpse into the mind of the light cruiser's captain, who doesn't particularly like "Sandy" Grey or the war with the Confederation. And yet she chooses to sacrifice herself and her ship to ensure that the mission continues. The light cruiser is obliterated, although a few survivors are later recovered.
- Technology Levels: Discussed in Dark Matter, invoking the Kardashev scale, although describing how it's been refined since then. Humans are rated K-1.2 thanks to quantum power taps. The Sh'daar are in the K-2 range (the ur-Sh'daar were likely much higher). And the so-called "Rosette aliens" are believed to be a K-3 civilization, existing in multiple universes.
- 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.
- Time Skip: Twenty years pass between Singularity and Deep Space. Then-Admiral Koenig has been elected first to the USNA Senate, then to the presidency, and then-Lieutenant Gray is now a captain and commanding officer of the America.
- To Serve Man: While, for the most part, humans are poison to aliens with different biochemistry, it's not impossible for an alien species to have developed the same biochemistry as humans with the same type of amino acids and sugars. The newly-discovered aliens in the fifth book turn out to really like eating humans... while they're still alive. And the Confederation has just shown them where Earth (i.e. an all-you-can-eat buffet) is located.
- 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.
- The Watson: An interesting variant is that he is also The Political Officer - the Confederation itself has no military, and places civilian oversight on command craft. By making this civilian an idiotic strawman who is almost deliberately unaware of the mechanics of space warfare, the reader is educated on Phlebotinum at the same time as the idiot.
- 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. More generally loose drive singularities (usually from the ship having been destroyed while the singularity was switched on) are a flight hazard in combat.
- The drive singularity also has a defensive function that can be turned around. The drive singularity attracts spaceborne dust particles, which keeps them from impacting the fighter (even tiny dust motes can be damaging at near-c velocities). When the pilots throttle back to attack, the dustballs are released and end up as navigation hazards.
- Earth Strike has a paragraph just before the main battlegroup engages the Turusch in chapter six that says that if a ship under Alcubierre Drive doesn't shut it down in time, it might hit something (like the planet Haris, in this case), disrupting the planetary crust and dumping the ship into the resulting chaos. Koenig idly wonders if the Sh'daar have ever done that on purpose.
- We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Advances in nanotechnology allow humans to cure pretty much any disease and grant people significantly longer lives (200-300 years) without looking old. Naturally, there are people who reject this tech, such as people who live in the Periphery (i.e. off the grid) and members of the Purist sect (who believe that modifying the human body is a sin).
- 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: It was started by Islamic radicals getting ahold of nuclear weapons and destroying several major cities including Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C. For that reason the Islamic Theocracy is barely tolerated by the Confederation Parliament.
- World War Whatever:
- The two Sino-Western Wars, the second of which ended with a Colony Drop which struck the South Atlantic and killed half a billion people. China is thus denied a voting seat in the Confederation Parliament.
- World War VI starts in Deep Space when the Confederation tries to seize control of sovereign USNA assets on the Moon, then launches an Orbital Bombardment of its capital Columbus, Ohio with treaty-banned Grey Goo weapons. China allies with the USNA, and the Islamics also offer assistance on condition that the White Covenant be repealed afterwards. Meanwhile Mexico and Honduras secede from the USNA and ally with the Confederation, while Russia and North India secede from the Confederation to ally with the USNA.
- The Worm That Walks:
- Earth Strike has the nonsentient "shadow swarmers" of Eta Bo÷tis IV, a colony creature that separates itself into thousands of smaller creatures that resemble a cross between a leaf and a sand dollar. The smaller creatures range across hundreds of kilometers in search of food, then alert each other with ultrasound when they find some.
- Center of Gravity introduces the H'rulka, 200-meter Living Gasbags that live in the atmospheres of hydrogen-helium gas giants. They're sapient, and their name for themselves roughly translates as "All of Us".
- Xenofiction: The books intersperse human points-of-view with alien points-of-view, exploring what the world and events look like from their perspective. Examples include the Slan, a heavily collectivist species that sees by echolocation, or the H'rulka, Living Gasbag colony organisms 200 meters long that view a Boarding Party of Navy SEALS as bizarre parasites.
- You Are in Command Now: In the fourth book, the Confederation invokes its Military First Right law to take command of the America battlegroup without approval from the USNA chain of command. A Pan-European admiral is placed in command of the fleet made up of the USNA and Pan-European battlegroups. As the America is the largest carrier in this fleet, the Pan-European admiral moves his flag to the America and the USNA admiral is forced to be his staff member instead. Later, the fleet is ambushed by several Slan ships, and one of the Slan beams destroys the flag bridge. Captain Grey, America's CO, attempts to continue the mission but comes into conflict with the captain of the Pan-European battleship from whence the slain admiral transferred his flag, who intends to return to Sol for new orders. The ship's AI claims that there is equal amount of precedent for both command claims, and Grey ends up commanding only the USNA ships, while the Pan-European forces jump out and leave their surviving fighters behind.
- After the fleet returns to Sol, Grey is personally promoted to a full admiral by President Koenig, jumping several pay grades, something Grey isn't too thrilled about.