The Acts of Caine is a series of fantasy-science fiction (trending toward fantasy) books by Matt Stover.There are currently four books: Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife, and Caine's Law. In addition, Stover has created the Overworld.tv project, which will initially involve a graphic novel in the Acts of Caine continuity.The series's setting is an interesting combination of a futuristic earth run by corporate governments with a strict caste system and loads of repression, and a parallel high fantasy world called Overworld that earth humans have learned to travel to and exploit. This exploitation initially takes the form of The Studio, a company that produces a sort of reality entertainment by sending "actors" to Overworld. These actors are trained in either magic or combat, implanted with a kind of video recorder and sent to Overworld to "risk [their] lives in an interesting way". On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, the series tends towards cynicism, although it's not without bouts of idealism. A more detailed synopsis here, with minor spoilers from the first three books.The books are centered on the character of Caine and his actor Hari Michaelson. Heroes Die tells the story of Hari/Caine as he tries to rescue his love interest Shanna/Pallas Ril from Ma'elKoth. As with all the books in the series, Heroes Die comments on the morality of violent entertainment and explores of a myriad of other moral questions.Blade of Tyshalle takes place seven years later, reintroducing Hari and Shanna in their later married, unhappy and semi-retired lives (along with the no longer divine Tan'elKoth). This tedium is of course shattered by plots set into action by the corporate leaders of Earth which Hari's friend, Kris Hansen/Deliann Mithondionne tries to avert. This novel turns the moral philosophizing up to 11 or 12, adds questions of identity, resource usage, destiny (or lack thereof) and humanity's drive to exploit and use up everything. It also features the end of the world, in a way.Caine Black Knife follows Caine in both the present (roughly a year after the end of Blade of Tyshalle) and twenty-five years ago as he interacts with the Black Knife clan of Ogrillos. The present arc of the story includes a broader exploration of Orbek Black Knife, a side character introduced in Blade of Tyshalle. The philosophizing is turned back down to about 8, but questions concerning the legitimacy of guerrilla warfare and online FPSs are still asked. Also has some rather overt references to either the Iraq War or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, complete with a suicide bombing.Caine's Law follows immediately after (and in some cases, simultaneously with or even preceding) the events of the third book, as Caine faces the consequences of a deal he made with a god at the start of his Acting career—and the fallout from the last book, as timelines begin to get screwed around and gods start to intervene. The philosophical questions return with the advent of a mysterious mythical woman called "the horse-witch" and a recurring theme about the treatment of horses and humans. Caine travel through different parts of his life, trying to put things in order for an explosive showdown with the dark Powers at work.
Charles Atlas Superpower: Hari/Caine. In Heroes Die he tries to vent his anger against a gel punching bag that hardens against force up to the strength of human bone before resetting. Well before he's gotten the rage out of his system, he's easily, repeatedly working it over.
Fantastic Racism and Fantastic Slurs: Played with in that the Earth fantasy names for the species are considered slurs: elves prefer to be called primals, dwarves to be called stonebenders, orcs to be called ogrilloi, and pixies to be called treetoppers. The ogrilloi have an interesting nickname in their language for humans too.
Foil: Berne to Caine. To summarize a lengthy spiel, while both are vicious and skilled fighters, Berne is The Hedonist, while Caine has a cold discipline.
For the Evulz: Inverted. The bad guys always act out of self-interest, ideology, or pure hedonistic lust. The protagonist is the one who, for fun, escalates conflicts almost compulsively. So far, this includes "escalating" a verbal argument into a lethal fight, a skirmish with an ogrillo tribe into ethnic cleansing, and a minor political conflict into a civil war. And the bad guys are still worse.
Heroic Sacrifice: Talaan in Heroes Die, Deliann in Blade of Tyshalle. Subverted in Caine Black Knife, where Caine acts to make the Adventure look like this but is really just planning to mess up the Black Knives for the hell of it.
Caine: In the end, what was he going to kill me for? Because I called him names. I have my vanity, I just don't kill for it. I'm not pretending I'm a better man than him, I just hate that people say he's a better man than me.
Involuntary Suicide Mechanism: Actors are conditioned not to say that they're Actors, speak Earth languages, etc. This protocol is eventually reversed when Aktir hunters get wise to the simple test of demanding a suspect say "I am an Aktir." in English.
It's Personal: Subverted. One of the things that makes Caine/Hari dangerous is his willingness to take all fights this way.
Papa Wolf: Messing with Caine's family is a good way to get yourself marked for death.
Physical God: Ma'elKoth and Pallas Ril, before the events at the climax of Blade of Tyshalle.
Powered by a Forsaken Child: In Heroes Die, Ma'elKoth spends the life of his devotees when using combat magic. Unlike most, he is aware of the cost; when he gives Berne a smidgen of that power to use, he reminds the man of the human cost, and he uses this fact against Pallas Ril.
Attempted in Blade of Tyshalle with the Blind God and Ma'elKoth trying to gain control of Overworld by mind-raping Faith.
Red Shirt: subverted. Guys who seemed like mooks in Heroes Die have plot impacts in Blade of Tyshalle, and the unfortunate death of one guard in Caine Black Knife becomes a point of argument between Caine and his Knight of Khryl escort.
Satisfied Street Rat: Caine to a ridiculous degree, Orbek Black Knife and Majesty/Toa M'Jest to a lesser extent.
Schizo Tech: By Caine Black Knife Overworld has shotguns and automatic weapons but is still mainly a medieval-to-Renaissance aesthetic.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Earth's caste system means that most of the Businessmen (management) caste think this way, and the Leisuremen (executives and shareholders) above them are even worse.
Warrior Monk: The Monastics. Played with in that they're not a religious order per se, but a brotherhood devoted to protecting the Future of Man and the Covenant of Pirichanthe that keeps the gods in check.
Weak, but Skilled: Deconstructed in Heroes Die. Talaan may have more skill than Berne but it isn't enough to compensate for the latter's superior power, which gets her killed.
Zombie Apocalypse: HVRP is rather similar to one. Infectees are fully concious the whole time, and grow more and more paranoid and violent as their physical condition degrades. It was estimated that every victim with the virus killed 2.8 people. It led to the breakdown of standard government and the rise of the Caste system of corporate overlords. Exactly as the Blind God wanted.