Literature / The Cobra Trilogy

A series of books written by Timothy Zahn, which analyse and deconstruct the idea of Super Soldiers in a Space Opera setting. The original trilogy was written in The '80s. Twenty years later, a second trilogy "Cobra War" was written, followed by a (current) third, "Cobra Rebellion". The books are:

  • Cobra
  • Cobra Strike
  • Cobra Bargain
  • Cobra Alliance
  • Cobra Guardian
  • Cobra Gamble
  • Cobra Slave

The series opens with the alien Troft having conquered two worlds from the Dominion of Man. Young Jonny Moreau volunteers to join the army, with a particular interest in organising guerilla resistance on the occupied worlds. Recognising his aptitude for this, he is shifted into the experimental Cobra programme, which equips soldiers with such wonders as implanted weaponry, unbreakable bones, servos that grant Super Strength and a nanocomputer that allows them to pull off complex moves and auto-target enemies. Crucially, none of this is obvious from the outside, allowing the Cobras to blend in with the general populace.

Only a part of the first book is devoted to the actual war. After the Trofts are defeated, suddenly humanity has to try and deal with the Cobras as they struggle to reintegrate into normal society. Sooner or later, accidents happen, and Moreau is responsible for the solution: creating colony worlds spearheaded by the Cobras on the other side of Troft space. Some years later, the "Cobra Worlds" are cut off from the Dominion of Man and must rule themselves. The later books follow the adventures of Moreau's Badass Family descendants as they deal with threats from the Troft and the lost human colony world of Qasama.

Contains examples of:

  • Always Someone Better: In Cobra Slave, the Cobras finally meet their match when Dominion Marines with more advanced technology are able to outfight them in a Curb-Stomp Battle. They are forced to resort to more subtle techniques.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Early on in the Cobra Worlds, Jonny Moreau had to prevent a coup by some Cobras who believed this trope gave them the right to rule. Even later on, a compromise is reached by which Cobras have a double vote in Cobra Worlds elections.
  • Badass Family: The Moreaus. Many of them are Cobras, and those that aren't are still badass in their own right.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Spine leopards, which from their description are not actually that much like leopards.
  • Deadly Upgrade:
    • A side effect of the Cobra procedure is that Cobras suffer from premature arthritis, anaemia and other health issues, and this shortens their lifespan.
    • Taken to extremes by Fadil Sammon, who submits to drug procedures that briefly turns him into a war-winning human supercomputer, at the cost of permanently being left a quadriplegic...or he would be, had not Cobra conversion allowed him to walk again.
  • Death World: Caelian, largely because of the way its flora and fauna gang up on any unwelcome intruder.
  • Deus ex Machina: How the Moreaus escape being put on trial for treason at the end of Cobra Gamble (though an example of the trope on paper, it doesn't really feel like one due to how the twist is set up).
  • Watch It Stoned: The Qasamans routinely use a variety of drugs to enhance their intelligence and allow them to learn things rapidly. They work, but have negative side effects: overuse leads to premature ageing and in at least one case, quadriplegia.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Caelian's biosphere.
  • Fun with Acronyms: "Cobra" is actually an acronym for "Computerised Body Reflex Armament". The third word is important—Cobras rely on their nanocomputers giving them quick reflex responses to threats, which leads to tragedies when they try to rejoin civilian society.
  • Gambit Pileup: The result of both the Cobras and Qasamans having access to Chessmasters.
  • The Ghost: The first book mentions a second alien race, the Minthissti, who Jonny Moreau's father fought in an earlier war—we never get to see them.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Cobra Bargain introduces the Jects (short for Rejects), the Cobra trainees who received the surgery but washed out of the programme due to psychological issues and still have the sucky results of the treatment but none of the weapons or powers. Understandably they tend to fall under this trope.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The Troft, with their beaks and throat bladders, look somewhat like humanoid chickens.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: Jin Moreau, the protagonist of Cobra Bargain, is the first female Cobra. A subversion of how this trope usually goes—she's also the last female Cobra as of the current series (set thirty years later), the experiment having been judged by the military establishment (somewhat unfairly, for political reasons) as a failure.
  • Meaningful Name: "Qasama" is derived from the Arabic word that became "kismet" in English, reflecting the fact that its people regard the fact that their colony ship went off course and reached the planet as being an act of fate.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Played with in Cobra Bargain when Jin is tutoring her younger sister in speaking Troft. According to Jin's Internal Monologue the potential mistake is actually fairly innocuous and she's playing it up to hold Cari's interest.
    "Again—and remember the aspirated-p in pierec'eay'khartoh this time. You pronounce it the wrong way to a Troft and he's either going to fall over laughing or else challenge you to a duel."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Jasmine Moreau is known to everyone as Jin.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • Qasama and paranoia. Partly cultural, partly the effects of their mojos.
    • One of the few sci-fi settings where an alien race (the Trofts) have a better claim to the hat of "infighting factionalism" than humans themselves.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Justin and Joshua Moreau. Identical twins, but always distinguished by the fact that Justin is optimistic to the point of naivete while Joshua is more cynical.
  • Punctuation Shaker: Troft names. Even the race's name itself would more accurately be transliterated "Trof'te".
  • Shout-Out: In Cobra Gamble:
    "You can drive one of those vehicles?" Rashida asked, sounding doubtful.
    "Sure," Jody said. "I mean, how hard can it be?"
  • Space Romans: The Qasamans are descended from Arab colonists and another lost colony appears later which seems to be descended from Scandinavian colonists.
  • Stay in the Kitchen:
    • While the Qasamans, being Space Muslims, are quite patriarchal in general, interestingly even the mainstream Dominion of Man seems to take this attitude to the military, not allowing women to serve even in non-combat roles. This isn't just Society Marches On, because militaries were already more open than this in The '80s when the first book was written. It may concern the later history of the Dominion, but has never been explicitly explained.
    • In Cobra Slave, the Dominion of Man military visits the Cobra Worlds after a hundred years, and some of its members are contemptuous about the more prominent role women play in Cobra Worlds society.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: [The Trofts, they talk like this. The noun, they place it first].
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Why the Cobras find themselves heading out to the colonies after the war.
  • Super Soldier:
    • Besides their Super Strength, unbreakable bones and computer-aided reflexes and targeting, Cobras are armed with two antipersonnel lasers in their little fingers, a heavy antipersonnel laser in their right thigh that fires out of the bottom of their right foot, a sonic weapon and an electrical arcthrower.
    • Later the Qasamans attempt to create a counterpart to the Cobras, the Djinni. Though limited by the Qasamans' inferior technology (no nanocomputer reflexes or unbreakable bones) they wear suits made of the native krisjaw hide which provide armour and house servos and lasers with the same capability as the Cobras'. They are also implanted with filters in their noses which allow them to throw around gas canisters with abandon and not suffer the ill effects.
  • Technology Marches On:
    • It's subtle, but you can tell the first trilogy was penned in The '80s, such as references to magnetic tapes. The more recent ones by contrast are influenced by more modern technologies, such as the Troft using unmanned reconnaissance drones.
    • In the Cobra Rebellion trilogy, this is reflected in-universe, with the Dominion of Man being a hundred years more advanced than the isolated Cobra Worlds, and 'new' Dominion technologies being more influenced by what is current now, such as augmented reality implants in eyes.
  • Theme Naming:
    • The Cobra Worlds are named after the Seven Hills of Rome: Aventine, Palatine, Caelian, Esquiline and so on.
    • Most members of the Moreau family have names that start with J; the few that don't, such as Corwin, tend to be the non-Cobras in the family.
  • Twin Switch: On the first mission to Qasama in Cobra Strike, they plan to do this with Justin and Joshua Moreau, one of whom is a Cobra and the other isn't, in order to conceal the existence of Cobras from the Qasamans—they can scan the non-Cobra one, and then he'll be replaced with the Cobra. Fails epically because the Qasamans put a fake bomb on one twin with concealed cameras, meaning they see the switch happen.
  • The Unpronounceable and Overly Long Name: Troft names. They recognise this and generally go by descriptive aliases when dealing with humans.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Trofts operate as loose coalitions of their constantly-infighting desmense groups, and even when allied are always jockeying for position, not always showing weakness or sharing information with their allies.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Moreaus' opinion of Qasaman Magnificent Bastard Moffren Omnathi.