Literature: The War Against the Chtorr
The War Against the Chtorr
is an incomplete sci-fi series by David Gerrold about an invasion of Earth by an entire alien ecosystem
, set Twenty Minutes into the Future
. Just about everyone in The Government
has become an Obstructive Bureaucrat
, save the odd Magnificent Bastard
. The rest of the world has forced the United States to accept crippling economic treaties
to keep it from engaging in the odd Government Conspiracy
. Then The End of the World as We Know It
begins. First a series of alien
plagues wipes out most of humanity
, and then aliens (much) bigger than microbes begin popping up. The invaders consist mainly of giant worms, insects, plants and other, extremely
unpleasant stuff. They eat everything, resulting in massive environmental damage, but they really
like to eat people
. Then it gets worse
So far there are four books out; the fifth has been coming out real soon since 1994
; there are supposed to be seven altogether.
Tropes featured include:
- Adaptation Expansion: The GURPS sourcebook was actually well-received, and even included a few things from Gerrold's notes that still haven't made it into the series yet.
- After the End: And it just keeps happening!
- Alien Invasion
- All Bikers Are Hells Angels: By the third book, depraved biker gangs are a problem in areas where neither the US government or the Chtorrans have too much presence. Especially when they have rocket launchers on their bikes.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Most people don't believe in the Chtorrans until the worms start moving into towns and eating people. Even then the Fourth World Alliance insists on downplaying the invasion, until a captive worm
escapesis let loose and starts chomping its way through their delegates.
- Armies Are Evil: Averted in that the protagonist is both soldier and scientist and can therefore see both arguments (the scientists want to study the alien invaders, but that means allowing their ecology to gain enough of a foothold to understand how it works. The military want to burn the Chtorr before they can get a foothold, but this approach is inherently flawed, as without better knowledge of the Chtorr the war is hopeless anyway). He's not alone in this viewpoint, but it just tends to make the shouting matches even more confusing.
- Back from the Dead: Uncle Ira. Being dead is a great way to keep people from spying on you.
- Bad Ass: Subverted in "A Season for Slaughter", when McCarthy's badass takedown of an arrogant major has serious consequences both political and personal. Obstructive Bureaucrats are just as much a threat to the war effort as the man-eating worms.
- Batman Gambit: Standard Operating Procedure for both the Uncle Ira Group and the President of the United States.
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: bunnydogs/bunnymen and libbits are the male and female (respectively) of the same species.
- There are clues that there are no individual species per se in the Chtorran ecosystem - just the ecosystem itself - with a vast web of what we would consider "different species" that are genetically compatible for breeding.
- Body Horror: Where to start. It's easier to catalog the stuff that won't eat you from the inside out - those ones just plain eat you.
- Body Surf: The Telepathy Corps, a Hive Mind organisation able to share their experiences via electronic implants. Not everyone implanted with such a device is aware of it, however.
- Brainwashed: In "A Rage for Revenge" McCarthy is captured by renegades (humans who worship and help the Chtorr) and is converted to their cause by charismatic cult leader Jason Delandro. This story is intermingled with flash-forward chapters detailing McCarthy's participation in the Mode Training, which some critics believe to be a form of government brainwashing. Gerrold based Mode Training on est a.k.a. Landmark Education.
- Bug War: And not just bugs, either.
- The Casanova: Ted, except that he's kinda likeable. Sometimes.
- Chew Toy: McCarthy cannot catch a break. So he really doesn't give anyone else much of one, either.
- Child Soldiers: With over six million 'most urgent' jobs waiting to be filled, anyone old enough to work does so.
- Children Are Innocent: A cult of renegades uses this trope to capture McCarthy, by sending in a cute little girl.
- Colonel Badass: Colonel 'Lizard' Tirelli, who flies jet-assisted helicopter gunships on lone combat missions in her spare time.
- Coming-of-Age Story: As might be expected, given Robert Heinlein's influence on Gerrold.
- Death from Above: Lizard dishes this out on several occasions. And in an interesting twist, a group of renegades setting up a night ambush are exposed to a counter-ambush when an orbiting solar mirror is suddenly turned on the area.
- Death World. The original planet of the invaders is assumed to be like this, and they're eager to make Earth just like it.
- Depopulation Bomb: The human race is decimated (as in the pop culture version not the Roman version; reduced not by one tenth its former number, but to one tenth) by the plagues before the alien locusts show up.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Lizard. "I remember her. She bumped into the Titanic once and sank it!"
- Dysfunction Junction: Justified. Since the population crash of humanity, a common catch phrase is "Everybody's crazy"
- Earth Is a Battlefield: A free-for-all one. If the worms, the renegades and the foreign spies don't kill you, your own superiors probably will just because they don't know what else to do with you.
- Eat the Dog: Captured worms like them for treats.
- Embarrassing First Name: Theodore Andrew Nathaniel Jackson grew up in a nudist camp.
- The End of the World as We Know It. Implicit. If the war is won, it won't be in the lifetime of any of the characters. Best case scenario? If everybody got a clue all at once during the first book, the Chtorr would be beaten in fifty years. "Every day that passes without a program of unified resistance to the Chtorran invasion pushes the window of possible victory two weeks farther away." Worst case scenario? "We could all be dead in ten."
- Epigraph. Ranging from newspaper articles and quotes by Solomon Short (a newspaper columnist) in the first two books, limericks in the third book, and long quotes from The Red Book in the fourth.
- Eternal Prohibition. Averted in that drugs can be obtained legally.
- Evolutionary Levels: It's stated that since Chtorran lifeforms have a billion-year evolutionary headstart they have a massive advantage over Earth lifeforms.
- Expo Speak: INFODUMP OVERLOAD! Lectures, newspaper articles, interviews, psychoanalytic sessions, even jokes and limericks (justified because every single freaking one is funny as all hell).
- Falling into the Cockpit. The protagonist is assigned to Special Forces because he has two years of college-level biology (they need a 'scientist'), and is gradually promoted because over the course of the novels he survives long enough to gain the required military skills while everyone around him keeps dying.
- Feathered Fiend: Shambler trees are host to an entire ecology of carnivorous tenants that swarm in their thousands when they sense the vibrations of nearby prey.
- Fire-Breathing Weapon: McCarthy's Weapon of Choice despite having to burn alive the man who first taught him how to use one.
- Flechette Storm: The AM-280 rifle with Laser Sight, which only the user can see because the Goggles Do Something Unusual.
- Freeze Ray: There's a gun that shoots liquid nitrogen.
- Future Food Is Artificial: As there are so few people who actually grow food for a living, real food is a luxury. One form of currency is actually backed by chocolate (!) since Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap.
- Genius Loci: The Chtorran cities, possibly the entire invading ecology.
- Got Volunteered: Subverted on a number of occasions — it's made clear that there are legal precedents involving the use of soldiers on dangerous missions. In the first novel Duke Anderson tells McCarthy he does have the option of refusing to go on a dangerous mission, but then he'll be on the first chopper out of here because a soldier who won't take risks is useless to him.
- Government Agency of Fiction: The Uncle Ira Group AKA United Intelligence. Given that the United States is treated like post-WW1 Germany, the mere fact that it has an intelligence agency is top secret. Likewise with the Special Forces Warrant Agency, a black ops unit whose use of weapons such as napalm is illegal. The Teamwork Army (an unemployment program) actually serves as a cover for training potential soldiers in this ostensibly demilitarized country.
- Government Conspiracy: Every move by the United States government to fight the Chtorrans is viewed by the rest of the world as an attempt to reassert American supremacy. Ironically these suspicions would be all-too-accurate under different circumstances. The best example would be that every single freaking computer chip the US has built since their deposition as a global superpower is in fact a Trojan Horse; each one has a Tracking Device and a Self-Destruct Mechanism - they know where all the weapons on earth are, and can destroy them at any time. As one character put it: "There's enough history between us to fuel a major war, and if it weren't for the convenient intervention of the worms, that's probably what we'd be doing right now."
- Okay, the Uncle Ira conspiracy must be stated in full to be believed. It begins when a periodic Gulf War escalates into a reverse Cuban Missile Crisis. The Third World then gets its act together for five seconds and demands that the US stand down or get nuked. The President at the time submits rather than start World War III, and the US is forced to disband its military and make multibillion-dollar reparations. This is when the conspiracy is hatched; pretend to obey, and in ways that benefit the US secretly. Instead of sending money, they send food and machines, forcing US industries to be redesigned to meet those demands. The US suffers a short depression, but loads of super-technology is developed in the process, causing an economic boom despite the treaties, and making the world even more dependent on US technology (complete with the aforementioned Trojan Horse chips). Space technology is developed, to supply the Third World with energy from solar-power satellites - requiring US expertise to maintain, and enabling them to develop space; thanks to a lunar colony, they have mass drivers. And half a million teachers are sent into the Third World to bring them up to speed; and teach them American values.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: Narrowly averted. (Early printings of the books contained references to the Soviet Union still existing in the future. Later ones, not so much.)
- Gunship Rescue: At one stage McCarthy decides to drive into a Chtorran-infested zone until something eats him, only to have Lizard turn up in a massively-armed jetcopter and blow up the road in front of his vehicle.
- Half-Human Hybrid: The short story Enterprise Fish implies that McCarthy had become this after falling into a Chtorran mandala.
- Heroes Want Redheads: "Lizard" Tirelli is certainly the apple of McCarthy's eye.
- Hide Your Gays. Very much averted. McCarthy is bisexual, and there are several other gay characters (although homophobia is also present). The author even subverts his own work through Randy Dannenfelser who is the personification of every negative gay stereotype in existence.
- Hive Mind: The Telepathy Corps, and probably the Chtorran ecology itself.
- Hollywood Science. Averted as the Chtorran ecology was designed in large part by British reproductive biologist Jack Cohen.
- Hopeless War: Things are not going well, everybody knows it and acts accordingly.
- Horde of Alien Locusts: Everything!
- Hostile Terraforming: The series features this prominently.
- Humans Are Bastards: If you want to see an Alien Invasion scenario with mankind at its most noble... this isn't the series for you.
- Humans Are Special: Then again, the books make it clear that Earth's native ecosystem is all but helpless against the Chtorran invaders, leaving human sentience as the only thing that could possibly overcome them.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each novel has a name of the form "A [X] for [Y]" where the words X and Y are alliterative. "A Matter for Men", "A Day for Damnation", "A Season for Slaughter" and "A Rage for Revenge." Forthcoming books will be named "A Method for Madness", "A Time for Treason" and "A Case for Courage", according to Word of God.
- In That Order: One particular quote- "Life is short. Then you die. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order."
- It Can Think: Inverted, as all the evidence of the Alien Invasion is that there must be an intelligence behind it, yet there's no sign of spaceships or any other means of crossing intersteller distances. The Chtorran gastropedes are assumed to be behind things, yet their intelligence is that of the idiot savant — they're very good at opening locks and can somehow communicate over distances, yet little else. The series appears to be implying that the entire Chtorran ecology is some form of group mind.
- Jerk Ass: McCarthy according to everyone he meets. IRL, most asocial geeks really like him, however. Also his friend Ted, and Randy Dannenfelser, aide-de-camp to General Wainright.
- Though some would judge McCarthy a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. As abrasive as he is to others, he is incredibly self-destructive because he hates seeing anyone get hurt. Then again, he also executes a renegade who is pregnant with his child because she fed his adoptive children to worms. (McCarthy is a complicated man.)
- Justified in that after the initial plagues and population crash, everyone on Earth has a screw or two loose and may exhibit ... unpredictable behaviour. See above re: Dysfunction Junction.
- In the short story Enterprise Fish, someone accuses McCarthy of being Not Himself, but changes his mind when he delivers a Bond One-Liner after watching another Jerk Ass get swallowed whole.
- Karmic Death: The first novel begins with a newspaper article on how a sheriff had fired two volunteers searching for a missing girl, because they claimed to have seen 'Chtorrans'. The novel ends with an article stating the same sheriff had gone missing during the evacuation of her town due to the Chtorran threat.
- Killer Rabbit: Bunnydogs and meeps.
- Technically everything. No matter how harmless, or relatively harmless, it looks, it can probably kill you. Early in the first book, one of the soldiers gets his finger bitten off by a Chtorran millipede. Losing the finger didn't kill him, it was the multiple infections caused by the alien microorganisms that were transferred by the bite that did.
- Most notably is the "Cotton Candy" plant, which looks like Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and is the one of the few things in the invading ecosystem that seems non-threatening. It's not until they go through a massive "bloom" and throw clouds of pink dust all over everything that the problems start: First, the dust is as fine and flammable as grain dust - it floats clear up to the cloud layer, and knocks aircraft right out of the sky. Then it falls to the ground, acting as the terrestrial equivalent of an upwelling, particularly for Chtorran life - most notably, it's full of Chtorran micro-organisms, so anyone who inhales it get multiple strains of Legionnaires' disease, cough their lungs out in bloody chunks. After it rains, it becomes a sea of sticky goo that dries into a solid shell, killing all Terrestrial life beneath it.
- Killer Robot. Four-meter high robot spiders (not always reliable). Replaced by AI-controlled cyber-beasts in the fourth book.
- Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers are the only reliable way of stopping a charging worm, as their alien physiology makes them Immune to Bullets. The protagonist has also used cold-gas weapons when necessary, but doesn't prefer them.
- Kraken and Leviathan: The Enterprise fish, which dwarfs aircraft carriers.
- Lamprey Mouth: The teeth of Chtorran worms encircle their mouth, curving inwards to draw the prey into their body. Once they've taken a bite, they can't stop or they'll choke to death.
- Les Collaborateurs: 'Renegades' worship and help the Chtorran invaders. Their numbers increase as the infestation grows in strength — it's not known whether this is the result of an unknown form of brainwashing or simply a psychological/practical response to the overwhelming Alien Invasion.
- Likes Older Women: McCarthy's relationship with Lizard leads to quite a few "Mommy's boy" snipes from her military colleagues.
- Man, I Feel Like a Woman : The Telepathy Corps do this to all their agents, and it not only allows them to masquerade as women, but pull off a Beautiful All Along by sheer force of personality.
- The Masochism Tango: By the fourth book, McCarthy's relationship with Lizard approaches this level of dysfunction. They get better, though.
- Mentors: Whitlaw, the Global Ethics teacher. Doctor Foreman. Duke Anderson. Jason Delandro.
- More Dakka: The aforementioned AM-280 rifle.
- More Teeth than the Osmond Family. Chtorran worms and millipedes. Rows upon rows of sharp, nasty, pointy teeth. This series should win some kind of an award for "most teeth anywhere, ever".
- Mysterious Past: Most people don't really like to even think about what the invasion has cost them, let alone talk about it.
- No One Gets Left Behind: Averted. Though McCarthy goes to incredible extents to do it anyway and often gets even more people killed.
- No Biochemical Barriers: The fact that Chtorrans are so well adapted to Earth conditions is one sign that this is a deliberate invasion.
- Nuke 'em. For historical and political reasons the government is reluctant to use nuclear weapons, and can only do so after the Uncle Ira Group pulls another Batman Gambit.
- No Kill Like Overkill: Averted; scorched earth tactics only end up helping the Chtorran ecology spread, as it's more aggressive than the terrestrial ecology.
- One World Order. Inverted, as efforts to co-ordinate a worldwide struggle against the Chtorrans are hampered by politics.
- Pedestrian Crushes Car: Don't expect you or your car to survive ramming a Chtorran gastropede.
- Please, I Will Do Anything!: Jim McCarthy does this when begging Randy Dannenfelser for access to a prowler robot so he can look for "Lizard" Tirelli.
- Pretty Boy: Lizard and Ted regard the teenage protagonist Jim McCarthy this way, though he doesn't believe them. But definitely the case with Shaun — a sixteen year-old, bisexual attendant on the luxury airship Hieronymus Bosch.
- Punny Name: Theodore Andrew Nathaniel Jackson. A shout out to Larry Niven's commonly-used phrase "There Ain't No Justice," often abbreviated "TANJ" used as a curse word.
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Robots not programmed to kill on sight command this. Whether they work properly or not.
- Reassigned to Antarctica. McCarthy begins "A Rage for Revenge" working on a plague reclamation unit, thanks to the disastrous end of the previous novel.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: When Jason Delandro's cult kills McCarthy's adopted children during an attack, he raises a scratch force from a unit of rear echelon personnel, tracks down their hideout and wipes them out except for a few prisoners whom he tries before a Kangaroo Court and then personally executes. One of the women turns out to be bearing his unborn child. McCarthy shoots her anyway. "My kids are dead; why should I give a fuck about yours?"
- Resignations Not Accepted: McCarthy ends up in the Uncle Ira Group by accident, and after surviving their initial attempt to dispose of this potential liability is offered a position instead. After McCarthy reluctantly agrees he's warned: "Don't drink your orange juice".
- Right Hand Versus Left Hand: A major gripe of McCarthy's, especially in "A Season for Slaughter", vis-a-vis his covert employers the Uncle Ira Group. The Uncle Ira Group on the other hand are constantly annoyed by his habit of going off half-cocked at Obstructive Bureaucrats instead of trusting them to handle things behind the scenes. He is constantly annoyed because for the past three-and-a-half books, they never bothered to correct his assumption that he was The Only One focused on the enemy instead of gaming the system. Very justifiably, too, as the literal previous time he met the actual leader of the group - the first time they met - the UIG tried to feed him to a giant alien worm. And the only reason he survived was because he, on his own initiative, actually learned how to use the weapon they gave him beforehand - a weapon was chosen specifically because it was nearly useless against giant alien worms. The only reason he survived was because he is a Crazy-Prepared Badass who practiced on the weapon the night before.
- Rock Beats Laser. The invading ecology uses no weapons (though the Chtorr-worshipping renegades do) but even its most innocuous forms can be deadly, as seen when the 'cotton candy plant' creates huge duststorms that knock helicopters out of the sky, explode like grain silos, and cause thousands of deaths by clogging up people's lungs.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Shorty instructs McCarthy in the use of a flamethrower and tells him to burn a Chtorran worm even if someone else is in the way. Guess what happens to Shorty on the next mission...
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: Or is that He Is Not My Boyfriend? Yes, Ted's a jerk.
- Shoot the Dog: The very first chapter has Duke Anderson shoot dead a little girl so she won't be eaten alive by Chtorrans. Things go downhill from there. In fact the entire war consists of Shoot The Dog moments, considering that the survival of the human race is at stake.
- Short-Range Long-Range Weapon: An important part of McCarthy's training is to learn that a flamethrower jet can easily cross a football field.
- Shout-Out: Solomon Short's name is a reference to Robert A. Heinlein's Lazarus Long.
- As mentioned above, Jack Cohen helped design the Chtorran aliens, and "Cohen models" are mentioned off-handedly in one passage.
- Shower of Angst: McCarthy gets a short one in "A Rage For Revenge", right after the renegades have captured him and it becomes clear they're going to try to brainwash him.
- Society Marches On: The author sets out to avert this by having social mores changed as well.
- Spider Tank: Great for jungles and mountains.
- The Squad: Siegal's team in "A Season for Slaughter".
- The Squadette. Averted by the second book; due to universal conscription, unisex combat teams are completely normal.
- Starfish Aliens: The main point is that the aliens are very alien and one ongoing plot point is trying to discover whether or not there is a guiding intelligence behind the invasion at all. So far the jury is out.
- Stock Shticks: What does a Chtorran call a liberal? Politically Correct lunch. What does a Chtorran call a conservative? Gunpowder-seasoned lunch. Create your own Chtorran Joke: What does a Chtorran call _______? Lunch!
- Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: Cyberbeasts.
- The Swarm: Again, where. To. Start. They all rush you!
- The Symbiote: Just about every Chtorran critter is actually a composite of several Chtorran critters. Many can infest humans.
- There are hints throughout the books that the entire Chtorran ecosystem may be nothing but one huge symbiote of all the different Chtorran life forms.
- Tank Goodness: In A Matter For Men a "Patton charger" is mentioned as being a laser-equipped tank.
- Terraform. Inverted in that it's Earth being converted into a Chtorran world.
- There Are No Therapists. More like There Are Not Enough Therapists. Mental illness is a major problem after the death of 60% of the world population. Both individual therapy and the Mode Training is used, though with debatable effectiveness on the protagonist. And lots of people think of the Mode Training as an Omniscient Council of Vagueness.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Subverted in that whatever overwhelming force is used against the Chtorran ecology only helps it bounce back stronger because the local Earth ecology has now been sterilized.
- To Serve Man: What does a Chtorran call Earth? Lunch!
- Trilogy Creep: Gerrold specifically calls it "The longest trilogy I've ever written."
- The Neidermeyer: Major Bellus. Averted in McCarthy's case — as a newly-minted officer he starts throwing his weight around, only to have it pointed out that his job is to inspire people, not act like a jerk.
- Uriah Gambit: After humiliating an idiot officer assigned to him, Captain McCarthy goes on a mission to investigate some Man Eating Plants, only to find he's being denied technical support, his security team has been ordered to withdraw without telling him, and there's a massive duststorm coming up that no-one's warned them about. He's finally extracted by a mysterious benefactor, but loses several members of his team in the process.
- Ultimate Job Security: The Uncle Ira Group protects McCarthy despite him committing several acts liable for court martial; partly because he's good at his job, but also because McCarthy's habit of causing disruption can be turned to their political advantage. He still has to deal with the occasional Obstructive Bureaucrat attempting to kill him - to the point that they really don't care if they kill other soldiers in the process.
- Vaporware: Book 5, so far. A particularly tragic example of vaporware, as the last book ended on a cliffhanger.
- Vichy Earth: Opinions differ (in the case of renegades, often violently) over whether humanity should follow a policy of resistance or co-existence with the Chtorr.
- The official GURPS campaign setting suggests that the bunnymen and libbits may be what's left of a previously invaded race that opted for the latter. Given that they're essentially at the bottom of the "natural" Chtorran food chain and absolutely thrilled about it, it isn't considered to bode well for the fate of humanity if it also takes this route.
- Walk This Way: McCarthy is saddled with Major Bellus who accidentally walks near a grove of shambler trees: Man Eating Plants hosting an entire ecology of carnivorous symbiotes that swarm when they sense the vibrations of nearby prey. McCarthy points out that these vibrations are relayed by the creeper vines lying all around them, and the only way not to trigger them is to walk out of range at five meters per hour. Cue a Silly Walk that (as McCarthy enjoys pointing out to Bellus) is being relayed via cameras to an extensive internet audience hoping they'll die in an interesting and horrible fashion. Eventually Bellus breaks down under the strain and begs for his life, so to conclude this Humiliation Conga McCarthy walks out normally, saying they were never in any danger as the shambler grove was uninhabited. This stunt destroys Bellus career; unfortunately it also earns McCarthy the ire of his superiors who try to get rid of him with an Uriah Gambit.
- When Trees Attack: ...the only way to survive is somehow walk out of range at five meters an hour.
- Yanks with Tanks: Subverted in that the United States was made to decommission much of its military after losing a war in Pakistan. Ironically this now makes the USA the most powerful nation on Earth, as its armed forces were not mobilized to deal with the plagues and so survived mostly intact.
- Zeerust: Averted mainly because the author shows not only technological changes but social changes as well. There is a noticable emphasis on internet/cyber-related technology in "A Season for Slaughter" (1993), but as similar devices were used in previous books it doesn't seem unusual.
- Zeppelins from Another World: Blimps are used for military and rescue operations, but nothing beats the Hieronymus Bosch, a giant luxury airship converted for the scientific expedition in "A Season for Slaughter".