Alastair Reynolds is a Welsh author of a number of sci-fi novels, which have the tendency to be about as far up Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness as it's possible to get while still remaining recognizably Space Opera. Of particular note is the almost total lack of Faster-than-Light Travel in most of his books, despite their interstellar settings, and the extreme cultural and technological divergences shown.Most of his books take place in the ''Revelation Space'' universe, where by the 26th century humans have achieved advanced nanotechnology and slower-than-light interstellar travel, and find themselves needing to discover why all the other intelligent species they find evidence of seem to have gone mysteriously extinct. He has also written numerous stand-alone space opera novels, which – although they have enormously different settings and characters – all deal with a central theme of human fragility in the enormity of space and time.
Aerith and Bob: Names range from common (Ilia, Boris, Nevil, Dan, Tom, John, Pascale, Nils, Martin) to less common (Ana, Xavier, Antoinette, Carine, Renzo, Lyle), to downright rare (Schuyler, Galiana, Tanner) or odd (particularly among Conjoiners: Skade, Remontoire, Felka, Aura etc.). And then there are the Awesome Mc Cool Name examples (Scorpio, Lasher, Blood, Beast), used mostly by the hyperpigs or self-aware AIs with a sense of humour.
While the Inhibitors never actually stray from their mission of containing spacefaring life, depending on whose narration you trust they may have either started to question themselves near the end or started to become even more traditionally evil, drifting from using minimal force to simply killing for the sake of it.
Also the insane hospital ship in Nightingale and the galaxy-eating Greenfly robots from Absolution Gap and Galactic North.
Alien Arts Are Appreciated: A major plot point in Absolution Gap is the mysterious bridge above the eponymous chasm on Hela, considered to be an artefact of the extinct Scuttlers. This gets subverted at the end of the novel, when we learn that the bridge actually is a human-built structure, created by a maniac Skyjack artist a few centuries ago.
The Melding Plague. It's totally harmless if you're a baseline human, but if you have any replicating nanotech in you, it will infect it and cause it to rapidly fail and go out of control. In Chasm City, a character mentions that if you have those implants in your head, your head will explode. And it can infect advanced buildings and vehicles as well. In Chasm City, inhabitants of high-tech buildings were trapped in the walls, visibly screaming in terror. The survivors of the disaster don't know if it's possible to revive them.
Don't let H catch you in the act of police brutality, especially if you're already a Brain in a Jar.
Whenever the Inhibitors detect a starfaring species, they trigger an apocalypse of Species Extinction severity on all its planets. If that fails, they can step up as far as a Physical Annihilation one. At the end of the series, we know the greenfly infestation will eventually take over the whole universe, ergo a Universal scope.
Also, attempting superluminary travel has been known, according to the Inhibitors, to delete entire civilizations from the timeline.
BFG: The Breitenbach cannon, a portable particle beam weapon similar to a light machine gun. But since the series deliberately isn't built around gun fights and actiony scenes, it makes only brief appearances.
And the eventual fate of Colonel Jax and the protagonists in the short story Nightingale.
Boring, but Practical: Spaceflight and space warfare in the series in general. Although the weapons and spacecraft involved are immensely powerful, they still have to deal with the immense distances and timeframes of sub-lightspeed interstellar travel, taking years (at the very least) to travel between stars.
Blast Out: Averted most of the time. The only bigger shoot outs occur at the end of Revelation Space and Absolution Gap and in some parts of Chasm City. Most of the action scenes avoid gunfights altogether.
The author himself has claimed that the ending to Galactic North, with the remnants of humanity fleeing the galaxy from the Greenfly that will eventually overcome the universe is "quite optimistic, in my book" because there's some time left before the inevitable annihilation of the universe. He must have a different standard than, oh, all of us carbon-based life forms.
Specifically, he compares that ending to past crises humanity has faced in real life. :His perspective on the looming annihilation of the universe is optimistic because there's still some time "...before things reach a crisis point again. And humanity will survive that, as well...". Don't worry, guys, the Horde of Alien Locusts will only be here in a few thousand years! I think we can take them! That goes beyond optimism.
The Inhibitors, at least initially, mainly owing to their thinking on a timescale insanely longer than most sentient races. They routinely wipe out whole spacefaring civilisations for the greater good - the greater good in this case being 'to make the crisis easier to navigate when the Milky Way collides with Andromeda'. Which it will do in approximately three billion years.
Brain Uploading: In the Revelation Space universe, behavioral simulations of people are common and full neural simulations also exist; there's also a neutron star that acts as a giant computer and uploads the neural patterns of anyone who gets close enough to it that its gravitational stresses will kill them.
Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted. It takes decades to get between stars, and even getting a ride on a Lighthugger is rare outside of the core planets like Yellowstone. Border worlds may have a Lighthugger drop by only after a couple decades.
Colony Drop: In Absolution Gap, Ararat is devastated when its moon gets blown up during a battle against the Inhibitors. Earlier, they destroyed Resurgam by turning its sun into a giant flamethrower.
Cool Star Ship: The Nostalgia For Infinity, Zodiacal Light and Nightshade in the Revelation Space trilogy. Heck, any starship◊ in the series, given how rare and hard to produce they are. The picture behind the link is Reynold's official lighthugger schematics.
A lot of the future factions of humanity have transhumanist trappings and are usualy cyborg-lite, with various brain implants. The Conjoiners are a whole society of these, while the Ultras and Demarchists often have some simpler body implants as well.
A more straightforward example of this trope would be captain Brannigan from Revelation Spacebefore he became consumed by the Melding Plague. Also, Skade from Redemption Ark, who has herself willingly tranformed into one after a near-fatal accident.
Doctor Trintignant from Diamond Dogs is absolutely obsessed with cyborgifying anyone he can get his hands on, including himself. Badly injured people are a great opportunity for him. Reynolds highlights this with this some snarky Black Comedy quips from the "good doctor" himself.
Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Averted in most of Reynolds' novels, but played with in Diamond Dogs. Although in fairness, in that novella it's more along the lines of "Modifying the fundamental structure that underlies your cognitive processes may have deleterious effects on your personality"; a similar thought is explored in another book with Skade, who temporarily disables her vomit reflex while working in space to prevent the disparity between her visual and inner-ear sensory inputs from convincing her brain that she's been poisoned and triggering emesis, i.e., making her puke her guts up. She notes to herself that becasue the brain is messy and holographic, even small changes like this have decidedly peculiar knock-on effects on perception and cognition.
A given, with humanity being quite a cosmopolitan mix during the events of the trilogy, especially on old and densely inhabited colony worlds like Yellowstone. Nationalities play a far lesser role than back on Earth and the main new political and social divisions are purely idelogical factions (such as the Conjoiners, the Demarchists, the Ultranauts, etc.). Some characters' names give obvious hints about a great mixing of nationalities (e.g. Pauline Sukhoi, Xavier Liu, Gillian Sluka). The Demarchist language is said to be "Canasian", a fusion of Chinese and Quebecois French.
Yellowstone is a cosmopolitan mix of a planet, settled mostly by American, European and East Asian colonists. Sky's Edge was settled by Latin American, Middle Eastern and Central Asian nationalities. The most interesting inhabitants are those of Turquoise, descended from people with Inuit and Thai ancestry.
Death World: The All Planets Are Earth-Like trope gets a major kick in the shins in this series. The most Earth-like planet mentioned is Sky's Edge, which is full of hostile life that is biologically incompatible with Earth life. Eating it will kill you (and vice versa) or do nothing. Then there are the Pattern Jugglers - algae-like Starfish Aliens inhabiting planets with global oceans - that usually act benign, but once in a while someone who swims with them doesn't come back, comes back wrong, or worse. Also, Yellowstone, the most important and most populated interstellar colony of humanity, has an atmosphere and surface very similar to Saturn's moon Titan, so only the giant domed settlements (like Chasm City or Loreanville) and orbital habitats are actualy populated. Pretty much all planets in the series are either uninhabitable, barely habitable (without advanced tech) or habitable, but full of Everything Trying to Kill You.
Death from Above: Threatened by Volyova in Revelation Space, who uses one of her ship's smallest weapons to devastating effect as a warning to the inhabitants of Resurgam. She also has access to teratonne-yield nukes and "hell class" weapons that could conceivably shatter worlds (and indeed do, on one occasion).
Deconstruction: A hard sci-fi decon of the Space Opera subgenre, with some liberal applying of Reconstruction here and there. For a start, there's noCasual Interstellar Travelat all and the author goes to great lenghts to examine the ramifications of this simple fact on the setting and personal fates of the characters (Khouri's tale being a prime example). The classic scifi trope of faster-than-light travel is only actually attempted once in the series, and it destroys the ship trying to use it.
Defector from Decadence: Nevil Clavain. He defected twice in his life: First in The Great Wall of Mars, when he joined the Conjoiners after he had learned the Coalition for Neural Purityhad lied about their nature and only wanted to destroy them. Then, centuries later (during the events of Redemption Ark), he defected from the Conjoiners once a younger and far more radical inner faction (led by Skade) had taken over and wanted to leave the rest of humanity defenceless against the Inhibitors, instead of offering help.
The ending of Revelation Space does this in the case of the fate of three of the main characters. Though it's at least explained thouroughly.
At the end of Absolution Gap, when it is revealed that the Inhibitors were defeated with the assistance of a mysterious alien race which had been hiding behind the scenes all along.
Distant Finale: The last chapter in Absolution Gap ends with the Greenfly terraformers eating up entire solar systems and surrounding them with jungle habitats, slowly converting the entire universe into uninhabitable, green stars. Humanity ultimately evolves into godlike machines, but still can't defeat the Greenfly.
Electronic Eyes: Dan Sylveste. They're made using local parts on Resurgam, which means they're really terrible. His eyes break from a flashbang like device, and then can only see greens.
Emergency Transformation: In the short story The Great Wall of Mars, a life-or-death situation is what finally forces the protagonist to join the Conjoiners. He later pays it forward by giving a comatose Volyova a medichine infusion despite her phobia of them in Redemption Ark.
Averted. Though the stories are all in English via Translation Convention, it is clearly stated that human languages 500 years in the future have continued to further evolve. Notable examples are the two main lingua francas: Norte and Can-asian. In a throwaway comment, Volyova refers to her native language as "Russish", not "Russian".
Even lampshaded: During Galactic North, there is a request for a burial at C (shooting the casket forward while just before decelerating), "An old joke that only worked in a long forgotten language."
Exact Words: In "Nightingale," the hospital ship Nightingale tells the narrator that she and her compatriots can leave "in one piece" after they've seen and retrieved Colonel Jax. Unfortunately, what the ship means is that the entire group will be surgically melded together into a single, monstrous whole.
Also, as seen in Chasm City the various religious cults that sprang up on Sky's Edge after the life, deeds and supposed death of the colony's controversial founder, Sky Hausmann, passed into legend. Some of the more avid cults even went so far as to engineer special biomechanic nanoviruses to forcefully indoctrinate unsuspecting people or opponents into new followers of their faith. This becomes a major Chekhov's Gun in the backstory of Horris Quaiche from Absolution Gap(who founds his own bizzaro religion, based on a mishmash of old Earth faiths and his own traumatic experiences enhanced by the virus). Absolution Gap generally goes far deeper into this trope, often to the point of Deconstructionand subsequent Reconstruction.
Yellowstonian Demarchists call Conjoiners "spiders" and rogue Demarchists, Skyjacks and Ultras "zombies". The "spider" nickname was also used by the Coalition for Neural Purity seen in the chronologically earliest installments of the series. Conjoiners refer to baseline humans as "the retarded".
In-Series Nickname: The Yellowstonians (and apparently people from other terrestrial planets as well) often refer to themselves as "Stoners".
A lesser example in the first Revelation Space novel, which features Powered Armor suits that are never mentioned in later books, though there are several stituations in which they would make a huge difference. Then again, they would likely have been destroyed/corrupted when the Melding Plague / The Captain took over the ship; this is plausible, since they also appear in Diamond Dogs, which is mostly set in the pre-Plague era.
For the Evulz: Averted by most villainous characters, but played straight by the infamous dictator of the planet Haven, mentioned in Turquoise Days.
Future Imperfect: Antoinette Bax mentions that the first astronaut was named Neil Gagarin. Also, various throwaway snippets about Earth history by several other characters.
Genius Loci: The Nostalgia for Infinity from the main trilogy, after the Captain's intelligence is spread throughout its systems by the Melding Plague. Also, many enviroments overtaken by the Melding Plague in general. A more unrelated example of this trope is Blood Spire in Diamond Dogs.
Go Mad from the Revelation: Horris Quaiche's backstory in Absolution Gap concerns his firm slip into depression and insanity after the woman he loved died by accident while he managed to survive and get rescued. This is not helped at all by the fact that he's got a special nano virus implanted into his body. It serves to pacify him via indoctrination by presenting hallucinations showing random religious imagery from Earth's history. And it always goes off in situations where he becomes overloaded by grief, anger or other negative emotions. So take a wild guess what happens to himonce he finds out aboutthe death of his significant other.
A Good Name for a Rock Band: The names of the various spacecraft. Seriously: The Pelican in Impiety, Storm Bird, Faint Memory of Hokusai, etc.
What the Captain did to Sajaki prior to the events of Revelation Space.
Also played straight and subverted by Calvin Sylveste, who had originally engineered Dan Sylveste as a clone of himself to make it easier to possibly imprint a copy of himself into Dan's brain. While he does do this near the end of the book (and already did it once), it's more of a two people/one body relationship.
In Chasm City this is inverted. Cahuella overwrites himself with Tanner's personality in order to dodge his enemies, though this may qualify as more of a Memory Gambit gone wrong, as he gets better, more or less.
Gratuitous Russian: Volyova, but only when she gets particularly frustrated or angry (so it's mostly limited to swear words or snarky comments), and with fairly bad Russian grammar at that (she doesn't seem to differentiate between singular and plural forms of her favourite cussword). It is mentioned, however, that her language, "Russish", is not the same as modern Russian.
Great Offscreen War: The first war between the Conjoiners and baseline humanity, on Mars, is this for most of the series. We do see a small bit of it in Galactic North though.
Human Popsicle: Most starship passengers, as it's either cryo or spend years or decades awake between stars.
Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Shadowplay, in which the bored, virtually immortal residents of Chasm City are hunted by professional assassins according to pre-agreed rules. The game is set up so most of the clients survive, in order that people will keep paying for the thrill-seeking experience.
"Servitors" for robots (non-sentient worker ones, but still).
What is this "cryogenics" you speak of? It's called "reefersleep", dammit! And flying cars are "volantors", get it?
Intelligent Gerbil: Some of the less out-there alien species. A subversion, since they're few and far between and by the time starfaring humans discover them, they're usualy already extinct.
The Amarantin were an advanced humanoid avian species from the planet later known as Resurgam, a formerly Earth-like world orbiting Delta Pavonis. The reasons behind their disapperance and the planet turning to a barely habitable rocky wasteland drive the central mystery in Revelation Space.
Implied to be the original biological form of individual Inhibitors, before they transformed themselves into a completely artificial species. Their former outward appearance was seemingly canine-like, gaining them the nickname "wolves" among humans.
Interfaith Smoothie: Horris Quaiche from Absolution Gap and the religions founded by him after he goes mad from grief and the influence of the indoctrination virus.
Little Hero, Big War: To the point that in Absolution Gap, humanity largely isn't saved by their own efforts at all, but by the abovementioned Invisible Aliens deciding that the Inhibitors have finally become weak enough for them to reveal themselves and fight them. This is revealed in passing in the epilogue - not so much part of the story as just an incidental fact of how history played out—but see the note after Deus ex Machina above for an alternate view on that point.
My Master, Right or Wrong: Grelier is surprisingly loyal to Quaiche, even after he learns about what he had planned and done.
Mysterious Antarctica / Grim Up North: Resurgam from Revelation Space and the moon Hela from Absolution Gap are a sci-fi variation of this. Diadem from the short story Glacial starts out with a characterization like this, but it gets subverted at the end.
What Dan Sylveste and the Nostalgia's crew unwillingly put into motion at the end of Revelation Space.
In the third book of the Revelation Space trilogy, the Inhibitors are finally wiped out; however, it is implied that their absence is what allows a swarm of von Neumann machines to eventually consume literally the entire universe. As such this also counts as an Inferred Holocaust.
Non-Action Guy: Dan Sylveste in Revelation Space and most of the cast in Diamond Dogs.
No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Hell class weapons aboard Nostalgia for Infinity. Justified, as the weapons were built to plans received through Exordium; the Conjoiners were so scared by both what they'd created, and how they had created them, that they deliberately destroyed the plans and made no attempt to build more of them.
Any planet inhabited by the Pattern Jugglers, particularly the ones with established human colonies, e.g. Turquoise (deliberate colonization), Ararat (colonization by necessesity). The Jugglers favour wide open oceanic enviroments, so this is pretty much a given.
The Subaru Commonwealth colonies in the Pleaides star cluster, glimpsed in the short story Galactic North. They're a Juggler-less example.
An experimental short story called Pandora's Box. He ceremoniously destroyed every single copy of it printed in the English language during his visit at Finn Con 2009. There is a Finnish translation though, so it still exists in Finnish.
Our Mermaids Are Different: The "Denizens", who were created by genetic engineering and are thorough fusions of human and fish DNA, along with sequences to secrete antifreeze and let them breathe hydrogen sulfide instead of oxygen. They look thoroughly monstrous.
Pig Man: Hyperpigs, most notably Scorpio and Sparver.
Earth All Along: Looks like the "Shadows" are humanity in the far future, after the Diabolus ex Machina of the epilogue curbstomps the universe with nanotech. The brane allowed them to contact their past, yet they didn't think to warn us about the greenfly, did they? Where's the Melding Plague when you really need it? Alternatively, why didn't Exordium warn anyone? [[spoiler: Though they did try the Melding Plague. It didn't work...
Projected Man: Many of the entoptic simulations and personal avatars.
Psycho for Hire: Grelier in Absolution Gap and pretty much any less than sympathetic Ultranaut or bounty hunter in the series.
Ragnarok Proofing: The aversion is a major plot point of Revelation Space. In Absolution Gap, it's played straight with the Scuttlers' gravity radio (millions of years old), but averted with the Inhibitors devolving and ultimately being defeated after only a quarter of their four-billion-year mission.
Reality Ensues: Pretty much the reason why Applied Phlebotinum is not always an instant solution to everything. The series is generally very down to earth in what humans can achieve even with highly advanced or reverse-engineered alien tech. For instance, Khouri's entire previous life gets wrecked because of a bureaucratic mistake that puts her and her husband on two different lighthuggers. Since Casual Interstellar Travel is non-existant in the series and crossing from one system to the other can take decades (even in reefersleep), her chances of meeting him again during her lifetime have dropped to nearly zero.
The Captain is very old. He is implied to have been a member of NASA, or the near-future equivalent. His middle name is Armstrong, actually.
Also, Nevil Clavain (born in the 22. century) is one of the oldest still living Conjoiners during the events of the main trilogy (which takes place in the 26.-28. century). When he dies in Absolution Gap and the news about his demise appears on the local TV news, Vasko Malinin notes that it's strange to see a birth and death date separated by five centuries.
The Ultranaut crews (and pretty much anyone who takes a lighthugger from one planetary system to the other) can live very long lives thanks to the relativistic travel speeds of interstellar spacecraft.
Ret Gone: This is a danger of trying to build inertia-dampening fields and similar technology. A bad enough malfunction doesn't merely vaporize you but retroactively erases you, or your entire civilization, from existence.
Rocks Fall Everybody Dies: In Absolution Gap, the Greenfly appears, the universe ends and the reader feels like their soul has been removed with pliers.
Schizo Tech: A corollary of the Used Future setting, and often a result of the Melding Plague's effect on Nano Machines. In Chasm City, the well-off inhabitants of the lower city use steam powered vehicles, despite there being laser rifles and interstellar travel. The Melding Plague apparently affects everything beyond 20th century technology. And the inhabitants of the Canopy ride around in cars that grip onto cables in the air, have laser pistols, and live in the remains of the horribly mutated buildings of Chasm City.
Steam Never Dies: * Lampshaded, justified and visually subverted in Chasm City, where the titular metropolis on the planet Yellowstone is connected with its outlying spaceport via a train powered by a steam locomotive. While the protagonist is a bit shocked by this fact at first, he discovers that the train's appearance and furnishings are decidedly aerodynamic, hi-tech and modern. The bullet-shaped steam locomotives only came into service because a nanotech plague devastated the city years ago, rendering a lot of sensitive electronics and electric-based equipment aboard the original types too risky to use. The steam itself is not produced by burning fuel, but is mined from the titular chasm of the planet, which wents it in large quantities, along with organic gases.
Diamond Dogs has two of them in a sequence where the protagonist's party, about to enter a lethal maze, are dream-fed similar scenarios in case they help:
'I had the same dream,' I said, wonderingly. 'And there was another dream in which I was inside somekind- of I halted, waiting for the words to assemble in my head. 'Some kind of underground tomb. I remember being chased down a corridor by an enormous stone ball which was going to roll over me.'
The name of Roland Childe and his feverish attempts to decipher the secret of Blood Spire in Diamond Dogs is a reference to a verse from King Lear: "Child Rowland to the dark tower came, His word was still 'Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man."
Chasm City refers to Ultra-supplied built-in eye night vision as "eyeshine".
Space Brasilia: Averted, particularly by the shantytown-like cities on Sky's Edge. The "historical" buildings were actually often built from cargo containers and prefabricated materials and the newer ones are more natural. Most town squares in the oldest cities of Sky's Edge have a triangular shape, since they were built around the triangular atmospheric shuttles that brought the colonists to the planet's surface from the orbiting Generation Ship. Also, Chasm City on the planet Yellowstone has enough variability in its architectural history, even though it's a typical high-tech metropolis.
Bizarrely, even though the setting looks generally un-westernly, there are some elements of this trope thrown in - particularly in places like the Rust Belt and the Mulch on Yellowstone (lawlesness, smugglers, organized crime), or on Resurgam and Hela in general (pioneer settlements, backwater planets, unexplored wastelands, fairly low-tech infrastructure and econonomy, trucker-like travelers and workers). In the case of Resurgam and Hela, it's a crossover between Space Western and Mysterious Antarctica: Polar Explorer WesternIN SPACE !
Chasm City is probably the best example of this, since it's mostly set on the habitable, but commercially backwater planet of Sky's Edge, torn by politicking and territorial wars between the colonists. Though it's kinda a mixed bag there: Space Western, but crossed with a Banana Republic slash Darkest Africa kind of enviroment.... IN SPACE !
Stealth In Space: Humans discover a loophole in thermodynamics that they use for this. Before that, they sometimes can fake it for short periods of time by using ships with very tightly collimated thrust.
The Atoner: Captain John Brannigan. The only crime mentioned is that he overwrote the brain patterns of his first mate, and replaced them with his own brain patterns, effectively 'killing' the person as he was. It's implied he's done worse.
The last words of the fourth chapter of Revelation Space.
Redemption Ark also has a less straightforward one in one of the end chapters. It's also a general motif for what's going on in that novel captain Brannigan slowly becoming an atoner and the Nostalgia evacuating Resurgam.
At the end of a chapter in Absolution Gap, when Grelier mentions the alternate name of "Ginnungagap Rift" in his internal monologue.
The middle of the tenth (or so) chapter of Diamond Dogs.
Ana Khouri is the most ordinary of the trilogy's main cast. Unsurprisingly, she's also technically The Hero. And she's the only major character who survives throughout the entire trilogy. If you don't count the good old Nostalgia for Infinity and captain Brannigan, that is...
What a Piece of Junk: The Nostalgia For Infinity in the Revelation Space series. It's falling to pieces, with some sections entirely exposed to vacuum or overran by corrupted or broken machines, but it's by far the most powerful and deadly ship in known space - before it gets the alien technology. The hell-class weapons it carries could presumably raze the surface of a planet.
Zeppelins from Another World: Airships of the blimp variety (so not actual zeppelins) are used for transport and research purposes on Turquoise and for military scouting and gunship support on Sky's Edge.
Reynolds' stand-alone works feature the following tropes:
Alternate History: A pseudo-version of this is is used in the novel Century Rain, with Earth-Two, an exact copy of planet Earth in a different part of the Galaxy, on which the only difference is a 1940s-50s level of society and technology and the non-existance of World War II. It is later revealed to be one of many 'quantum snapshots' of Earth at different time periods, all done by a mysterious missing alien race.
Dreadful Musician: Averted in Century Rain: in an early scene the protagonist is walking into a superior's office while he plays a violin, with her Internal Monologue noting how grating and painful the music is. It is then revealed that she, along with a large portion of the rest of the human race, were infected with a designer-disease called 'amusica', which prevented people from enjoying music, to ruin their side's morale. After all, someone who can't appreciate music can't get patriotic fervor from their anthems, now can they?
Eldritch Abomination: Doubtless whatever it is that exists outside the megastructure in Pushing Ice.
Emergency Transformation: In Pushing Ice, near the end, Bella is killed and her brain damaged to the point that it can no longer be reconstructed, until Svetlana tells the alien doctors to fill in the gaps with her own brain patterns. This brings her back, but as a confused amalgam of two people.
Grey Goo: Caused the abandonment of Earth in Century Rain; one type of nanobots in the air to affect weather patterns went rogue, so they made nanobots to combat those, which went rogue, and so on and so forth. The Grey Goo is then weaponized decades later by the descendants of the survivors and used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Mechanical Evolution: Played with in Zima Blue. Zima was originally a pool cleaning robot, who was upgraded over decades by the descendants of his creator. Eventually, he does the upgrades on his own.
Neo Africa: One of the primary settings of Blue Remembered Earth.
Our Wormholes Are Different: In the short story Beyond the Aquila Rift, ships travel between worlds using an abandoned FTL network. The ships need to carry millions of tiny screens which project "runes" onto the ship's exterior, which the alien portal network interprets as where the ship wants to go.