Literature / The Killing Star

If a species develops space ships that can cross interstellar distances in less than a lifetime, its space ships can also be used as weapons of mass destruction. And if it encounters another species with an emerging civilization, it might figure that they could develop such weapons themselves — and decide to wipe out that civilization before it can get off the ground.

Such is the premise of The Killing Star, a hard science fiction novel written in 1995 by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski.

The first hint humanity gets that spacefaring aliens exist is the detection of gamma rays consistent with antimatter-powered engines. Our elation is short-lived, however. Almost immediately afterward, a fleet of "R-bombs" — spacecraft accelerated to 92% of the speed of light — slam into every inhabited planet in the Solar system, including Earth. The result is the near annihilation of the human species.

The rag-tag remnants of humanity must try to stay alive in a Solar system infested with aliens who are bent on our complete extermination.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Aliens Speaking English: The aliens don't actually have the correct vocal apparatus to reproduce human sounds. But they do have a convenient translation device which was calibrated using the next trope on the list.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: It's how our attackers find out that our civilization exists.
    • And why they considered us a threat. Old war movies made them conclude that we are violent. The high number of Rubber-Forehead Aliens in Star Trek made them conclude that we were so xenophobic that we would never accept relations with anything that isn't humanoid.
  • Anyone Can Die: Considering that the story begins with the destruction of Earth and the majority of the human race, things still continue going downhill from that point.
  • Apocalypse How: The aliens cause an Class 4 event. In order to avoid capture, one group of humans causes a full-blown Class X-2.
  • Artificial Intelligence: The attackers are eventually found to be these. Originally built by a race of deep-sea octopus-like creatures, they had taken over some time ago and now keep the descendants of their builders as pets.
  • Author Avatar: The historical-in-universe character Richard Tuna is a thinly-disguised Charles Pellegrino, right down to his discussions with Jim Powell.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: A group of humans being chased through the Solar atmosphere conclude that they will eventually be captured. Rather than risk whatever horrible fate the aliens might have for them, they set off their huge stockpile of freeze bombs to destroy themselves, their pursuers, and a healthy chunk of the Sun.
  • Clone Jesus: And Clone Buddha! Made from, respectively, the Shroud of Turin and a tooth of the original Buddha by a doomsday cult, they and their other clone friends rebelled against the cult and went off to forge their own lives. Jesus and Buddha ultimately wind up in control of one of the last few surviving human settlements.
  • Computer Virus: The aliens send one of these to our SETI listening dish. Even with the dish unplugged from the computer network, the virus still manages to reprogram it into a Killer Robot.
  • Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us: The aliens' motive for wiping out humanity.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Before the R-Bomb attack humans had cloned dinosaurs and were using miniaturized versions as pets.
  • Freeze Bomb: Humans had developed a devastating tool decades ago that transforms ambient energy into matter, leaving the surrouding area completely frozen. One group of survivors uses this to hide inside the Sun's atmosphere and ultimately to destroy the Sun after choosing death over capture by the attackers.
  • From Bad to Worse: The story begins with the destruction of Earth's biosphere and nearly all of humankind. Things go downhill from there.
  • Grey Goo: Weaponized by the alien invaders to destroy one of the last groups of humanity hiding in the asteroid belt.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Especially when they're going 92% of the speed of light.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The battle inside the sun has both ships firing salvos of hundreds of missiles at each other.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: Two human survivors of the alien attack are abducted and have an audience with the invaders. Initially, they assume that the octopus-like creature that they're having a conversation with is one of the leaders of the invasion. In fact, it turns out that the rulers are actually the little robots that are taking care of and feeding it which the octopus race had created long ago.
  • No Sense of Velocity: The speed of light is quoted to six digits of precision as 305,040 kilometers per second. In Real Life, since 1983 (13 years before the book was written), the speed of light in a vacuum has been defined as 299,792.458 kilometers per second.
  • The Plague: Decades before the story begins, nearly all birds on Earth are wiped out because an ambitious scientist cloned a virus that had been preserved from the time of the dinosaurs.
  • The Singularity: It's heavily implied that the attackers achieved an equivalent to this some time ago.
  • Star Killing: It's theorized that enough absorbic bombs, which turn energy into matter, might cause the sun to implode.