Literature / The Citizen Series

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How do you travel through hyperspace? Well, you could fly like an aircraft, or sail like a seagoing ship, but what about bicycling?

The Citizen Series is a Military Science-Fiction Space Opera novel series by David Drake and John Lambshead, based on the rise of the United States. An unspecified number of centuries into the future, much of the galaxy remains unexplored due to the difficulty of Faster-Than-Light Travel, which can only be accomplished by large, fragile ships or man-powered "frames". The Cutter Stream Colonies lie across a vast "bight" in the Continuum from the Home World of Brasilia, quiet, agrarian, and vulnerable to predation by nomadic Riders. Due to the terminal illness of his brother, young gentleman Allen Allenson is forced to take command of the Cutter Stream Militia, and on an expedition to inspect his family's holdings on the edges of the Stream he discovers signs that Brasilia's rival, Terra, is trying to make inroads into the remote Hinterlands. It is determined by the provincial government that this cannot be allowed to stand, and so Allenson is sent to lead the Militia against the Terran forts.

According to the dedication, the series was originally the late Jim Baen's idea.

Books in the series:

Tropes:

  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Downplayed in two ways: non-Earthlike planets are present but ignored by the characters, and just because the other ones Earthlike doesn't mean they're fun. Nengue is volcanic and only marginally habitable, settled only to support a trading post between the Cutter Stream and the Riders. Mudball is geologically inert and has nothing but single-celled life (fortunately, most of it is photosynthetic algae so the atmosphere is breatheable). Even among habitable worlds, the settled part of Manzanita (the Cutter Stream's capital world) is unsuitable for growing grapes due to its soil chemistry, while Allenson spends the tail end of his first campaign perfectly miserable thanks to it being the local rainy season.
  • Betty and Veronica: Allenson's two love interests, Lady Trina Blaisdel and Sarai Destry. Trina is a sweet, friendly society widow with a couple children. Allenson likes her but isn't super-passionate. Sarai is a Man-Eater married to his friend Destry for political reasons with whom Allenson has a passionate mutual attraction. Allenson has an affair with Sarai for much of the first book but knows she's bad for him, and marries Trina at the end of it.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Allenson actually approves of this, on the theory that since the people making the ridiculously expensive luxuries have to hire people to make them, it helps relieve income inequality.
  • Democracy Is Bad: To the extent that Allenson and Colonel Buller both consider it a poor way to run a military, with good reason. A Cutter Stream world that favors direct democracy wants the Army to work the same way, with the common soldiers electing their officers and every regiment sending a representative to command-level briefings. Allenson quickly shuts this down.
  • Destination Defenestration: Councillor Rubicon, a politician who came up from the commoner class, takes a derisive attitude to the Non-Idle Rich Allenson, saying that he probably thinks he's beneath his status to duel. Allenson retorts that duels are "a stupid way of settling disagreements"... and instead throws him bodily out the nearest window. It's only a bit later that another councillor reminds him they're on the third floor.
    Allenson: Oh dear. I hope I have not killed him.
  • Duel to the Death: Dueling does exist (Allenson and Sarai's affair hypothetically becoming public is cited as cause for one), but in response to Rubicon's accusation that Allenson considers him beneath his status to challenge, Allenson responds that he considers dueling a stupid way to settle disagreements. Throwing the offender out a third-story window, on the other hand...
  • Earth That Was: A common trope with Drake. Old Earth's so-called Third Civilization nearly wiped itself out with biological warfare, which future humanity still bears the scars from: Allenson's brother Todd dies of a genetic disease, and Allenson is sterile.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: If you've studied the rise of the United States you'll be able to predict a lot of the plot points and battle outcomes. Allen Allenson is a stand-in for George Washington during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. The space battle tactics, though, are right out of World War I and World War II air combat.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Cutter Stream is colonial America, sparsely populated and featuring Merchant Prince-style social stratification. The Riders are Space Nomads that stand in for the Native Americans. In theory Brasilia and Terra represent respectively Hanoverian Britain and Bourbon France but they're essentially interchangeable.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: Much genetics research is absolutely illegal, a response to the dark age that followed the Biowars that destroyed Old Earth. Having people die of genetic diseases is viewed as preferable to enabling the development of bioweapons.
  • Future Imperfect: A lot of old Earth ("Third Civilization") knowledge has been lost by the time of the series. In Into the Hinterlands the Molotov Cocktail is erroneously attributed to a king, rather than being named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov by Finnish soldiers.
  • General Failure: Downplayed. Like Washington, Allenson loses more fights than he wins, but he never loses heart. His genius in Into the Maelstrom is turning tactical defeats into strategic victories, ceding the field after giving the enemy a nasty beating but keeping his army relatively intact.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: The Riders use these to great effect, shattering a Brasilian troop column in the first book. Allenson learns well from them and is able to use raids to similarly destroy a Terran relief army, buying time for Brasilian troops to capture the Terran outposts in the Hinterlands.
  • Indentured Servitude: The series draws a specific distinction between "servants" (indentures) and "employees" (free men). The latter are more expensive.
  • Knight, Knave and Squire: In Into the Hinterlands, Allenson, Hawthorne, and Destry form this type of Power Trio.
    • Allenson is the Knight, leading men in battle with authority and care for those under his command, fighting for the cause of the Cutter Stream Colonies' survival and improvement.
    • Jem Hawthorne is the Knave, an Unscrupulous Hero unafraid to get his hands dirty to directly solve problems that the more idealistic, genteel Allenson and Destry couldn't (such as disposing of a treacherous quartermaster).
    • Royman Destry is the Squire. He's not much of a fighter, but is better-educated than Allenson or Hawthorne and gets tapped to do R&D and intelligence work, once locating a Rider encampment using techniques such as geographic profiling.
  • I Fight for the Strongest Side: The Riders initially side with the Cutter Stream, but after Allenson loses his first major campaign they pull a Race Heel Turn to the invading Terrans.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Laser small arms do exist and are effective in planetside battles, but they result in self-immolation if used in the Continuum since they reflect off the field that protects the traveler. Space combat is mainly a realm of antipersonnel "spring guns", basically crossbows or spearguns (or actual spears in the case of the Riders). Late in the book an Arms Dealer whom Allenson recruits into the Militia has the idea to bolt them to the front of the frame to make a Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon that can be aimed much easier, mirroring the development of air-to-air combat in World War I.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Allenson hoped to have several children by Trina by the time of Into the Maelstrom, but it turns out he's sterile due to familial genetic defects dating back to the Biowars.
  • Lost Technology: It's indicated that a lot of old Earth ("Third Civilization") knowledge has been lost, leading to a certain degree of Schizo Tech between the Home Worlds, the colonies, and especially the Riders who have devolved back to Stone Age nomadic hunter-gatherers. Destry comes up with several innovations (for example, World War II fighter plane tactics applied to frames) by going over surviving historical records.
  • Military Moonshiner: Trying to run a "dry" army essentially just means that the men avoid being drunk on duty; they'll otherwise make tonk with anything that has cellulose. Hawthorne at one point combines the moonshiners' output (from sea algae in this case) with lubricating oil to make Molotov cocktails.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Destry is a member of an old Brasilian noble family but they're Impoverished Patricians. His wife Sarai is a merchant's daughter. He gained money, she gained social status.
  • Punny Name: Somebody makes a wisecrack about "crossing the Rubicon" after Allenson throws Councillor Rubicon out a window.
  • Put on a Bus: Destry leaves for Brasilia at the start of book two.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: Deconstructed, following Washington's example. Allenson sneak-attacks enemy mercenaries while they celebrate a festival day.
  • Serial Killer: Discussed. Destry takes criminological techniques used for investigating serial crimes to analyze Rider raids and locate their camps so Allenson can hit back.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: The Riders are warriors fighting for loot and plunder and at first appear to fight as individuals, while regular soldiers of both Brasilia and Terra rely on formations, fortification, and practiced drilling. Rider raids are able to shatter an overly complacent Brasilian troop column in the middle of Into the Hinterlands. The Cutter Stream Militia start out as citizen levies with little organization, but the Power Trio forges them into a more effective military force that takes the best bits of both philosophies, codifying ad hoc Rider raid organization into a formal flight squadron system, adding a logistical and intelligence machine, and improvising new weapons and attack patterns to deal with harder targets like cargo trains.
  • Space Is an Ocean: The Continuum is treated much like an ocean conceptually, with strong currents and vast voids between planets. However, trackways can be built across the Continuum that act like roads, artificially stabilizing the currents to ease travel in particular directions.
  • Space Is Cold: Averted in the description of a large cargo ship, which has to store its waste heat in huge internal heat sinks until it can land on a planet with fresh water to cool itself off over several days, after which it will be raining across the whole region.
  • Space Nomads: The Riders are a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture that travel from world to world on mysterious "beasts" that can travel through the Continuum unaided.
  • Space Whale: The mysterious "beasts" that are partially domesticated by the Riders can transit into and out of the Continuum unaided. They seem to be partially made of crystal and are known to kill their Riders if agitated.
  • Spoiled Brat: Trina's son from her previous marriage by the time of Into the Maelstrom. He's a wastrel who constantly gets into serious trouble and has to have Allenson bail him out, but Trina refuses to let Allenson discipline him.
  • You Are in Command Now: Allenson inherits the Inspector Generalship of the Militia from his older brother, then later takes command of surviving Brasilian forces to get them home after The Brigadier is killed by Riders.
  • Your Cheating Heart: With marriages being mainly a matter of Altar Diplomacy, the key value is not fidelity but discretion. Allenson and Destry's wife Sarai are mutually attracted and Allenson narrates that Destry probably wants them to have a covert affair and get it out of their systems, but if it were to become public Destry would lose face and have no choice but to call Allenson out. Sarai unfortunately doesn't seem to care about the social niceties.

Alternative Title(s): Into The Hinterlands

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