Ark Royal is the title of a 2014 military sci-fi novel by Christopher Nuttall and the trilogy that also includes The Nelson Touch and The Trafalgar Gambit.
Seventy years ago the Ark Royal was the pride of Great Britain's Royal Space Navy. But now, her weapons are outdated and her armor considered to be nothing more than a burden on her colossal hull. She floats in permanent orbit near Earth, a dumping ground for the officers and crew the Royal Navy wishes to keep out of the public eye.
But when a deadly alien threat appears, the modern starships built by humanity are no match for the powerful alien weapons. Ark Royal and her mismatched crew must go on the offensive, buying time with their lives. And yet, with a drunkard for a Captain, an over-ambitious first officer and a crew composed of reservists and the dregs of the service, do they have even the faintest hope of surviving...
...And returning to an Earth which may no longer be there?
Eight more books have since been published,
Warspite, A Savage War of Peace, and A Small Colonial War are about the adventures of the HMS Warspite under the command of Captain John Naiser during a first contact situation with another alien race and the ensuing political fallout.
Vangaurd, Fear God and Dread Naught, and We Lead are about the exploits of HMS Vanguard duirng a third first contact and the resulting Second Interstellar War.
Two standalone books set during the Ark Royal trilogy, The Longest Day and The Cruel Stars, are about the Tadpole attack on Earth during The Nelson Touch and an escort carrier crewed with convicts, respectively.
Arc Royal arc
- The Alcoholic: Theodore "Ted" Smith at the start of the series. When the war starts he swears not to drink another drop, but has several close calls.
- Anyone Can Die: At the end of the series, only a handful of named characters are still alive.
- Asteroid Miners: There are several small colonies on asteroids, and the Ark Royal can mine asteroids to reload its mass drivers.
- Artifact Title: Becomes this after book 3 as said ship is destroyed at the end of book 3.
- The Battlestar: The Ark Royal is a supercarrier from an era when the predominant battle doctrine was that carriers should be able to hold their own on the front line. Thus, it's heavily armored and armed with powerful mass drivers and nuclear missiles in addition to launching fighters. Modern carriers are more specialized.
- Biological Weapons Solve Everything: In The Trafalgar Gambit a bioweapon is developed as a "Plan B" in case negotiation attempts fail. Ted is horrified by the idea. The Russians attempt to use it during the talks. Which causes some diplomatic issues.
- Blue Blood: Ambitious officer James Fitzwilliam was born into nobility, while Ark Royal's captain, Sir Ted Smith, was knighted.
- Boarding Party: The Ark's complement of marines get the chance to board an alien vessel in the climax of the first book.
- Borrowed Biometric Bypass: A Russian commando removes the ID chip in Fitzwilliam's hand to try and take control of the ship.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: The Ark Royal was originally put back into action simply because they needed all the hulls they could get. Then it turns out it may be the only ship they have that can stand a chance against the aliens.
- The Cavalry: During the final battle of the trilogy, Fitzwilliam and the relief fleet he was sent to get from Earth arrives just in time to see the last of Ark Royal's escort ships explode and the old lady plot a ramming course for the alien superdreadnaught, and they can't be told to stop because their communications were destroyed.
- Curbstomp Battle: In the First Battle of New Russia the human ships get torn to pieces. But in the Ark Royal's first fight they and a couple missile frigates take out half a fleet of seven alien carriers and force the rest to retreat. The following battles are a bit less one-sided as both species have a better idea of each other's capabilities.
- EMP: The aliens' plasma weapons turn out to be extremely vulnerable to EMP, they actually explode if hit while charging. So, Earth's scientists develop a new type of nuke that emphasizes the EMP part, they're almost as effective as the mass drivers.
- Energy Weapons: Humans only use "pulse cannons" on the starship scale, fighters and smaller have to use kinetics. But the aliens mount Plasma Cannons of various sizes on all their ships and even infantry use them.
- Starting in The Nelson Touch humanity manages to reverse engineer plasma weapons, and makes them small enough to mount on fighters. However, they're prone to overheating and exploding.
- A Father to His Men: Both Admiral Smith and Commander Kurt Schneider, helped by how many of their subordinates are young enough to be their children.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Ted and Fitzwilliam don't really get along at first, but have become firm friends by the end of their first combat campaign.
- First Contact Faux Pas: In the third book it turns out that the war with the Tadpoles started because some teenagers from Heinlein colony mistook a Tadpole for a dangerous wild animal and shot it.
- Fish People: The aliens appear to be humanoid but are capable of living both on the surface and underwater. This also means they feel right at home in a zero-g environment, since they have evolved to orient themselves in three dimensions.
- Humans Are Divided: There is no small amount of strife between nations participating in the war against the aliens, while the aliens have a single government but they have many ideological factions, some of which are willing to kill each other.
- Inscrutable Aliens: The aliens make no attempts at communication, they simply show up out of nowhere and start taking colonies. In The Nelson Touch a ship from a faction that wants peace attempts to communicate with humanity, but is destroyed by the war faction. The Trafalgar Gambit is about attempts to contact the peace faction and negotiate.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The Ark Royal's mass drivers are pretty much one-hit instant kills.
- Hyperspace Lanes: "Puller drive" relies on gravimetric tramlines between certain stars. Most lines that human ships can traverse are five light-years or less, alien ships can handle longer ones, much longer.
- Military Moonshiner: The chief engineer has a still, which provided most of the booze Smith drank while the ship was stuck in orbit. Fitzwilliam is momentarily surprised to see unlabeled rotgut served openly at his first briefing with the senior crew, then remembers that he hadn't seen a ship yet where the crew wasn't fermenting something.
- Named After Somebody Famous: Justified with Prince Henry, as he's supposed to be a relative of a certain other media-dogged English Prince who joined the military to get away from them. And in-universe, the first new carrier based on the Ark Royal is named The Theodore Smith.
- Naming Your Colony World: The first exosolar colony was named Terra Nova, and an international effort that is considered a big mess. Single-state colonies include Brittania (UK), Vera Cruz (Mexico), and New Russia (guess).
- Orbital Bombardment: Said to be the standard response to saber-rattling tinpot dictatorships. Ted considers it several times against alien worlds, but decides not to hit civilian targets. In The Nelson Touch the aliens perform a Colony Drop on Earth that causes a massive tidal wave along the North Atlantic, flooding Britain and many other countries. And in The Trafalgar Gambit the last fanatical members of the War Faction attempt to nuke Earth until it's uninhabitable.
- Outside-Context Problem: The prologue to Warspite outright refers to the Tadpoles as such.
- Plasma Cannon: The aliens' primary weapon. Comes in every shape and size, from handheld rifles to starfighter weapons to ship-mounted One-Hit Kill versions. Later, humans manage to reverse-engineer them, although with mixed results. Luckily, the alien ones are very susceptible to EMP.
- Ramming Always Works: When it turns out that Ark Royal's armor protects it from plasma fire more than one alien fighter attempts kamikaze attacks, which do more damage but the old lady can still weather them. Kurt rams his fighter into a fighter stolen by Russian agents and carrying a bioweapon, vaporizing both of them. And Ted rams the Ark Royal into an alien superdreadnought in the final battle.
- Rank Up: After the first book, Smith is promoted to Admiral and knighted; Fitzwilliam is promoted to Captain. The surviving members of her crew likewise receive promotions.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Most of the Ark Royal's crew before the war started before she became invaluable.
- Recursive Ammo: One of the weapons employed by humans are missiles with bomb-pumped laser warheads. Basically, it's a nuke, whose detonation charges a powerful X-ray laser for a shot.
- Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: Multiple remakes of "Kung Fu Panda" are mentioned, as is a "Star Wars XXII" and a well-received remake of "Return of the Jedi" that replaced the Ewoks with scantily-clad humans.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The first book was published shortly after the real Ark Royal had been sold for scrap.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Henry, the 2nd in line to the British throne, joins up as fighter pilot, and eventually chooses to make the Navy his career
- Aside from the Running Gag about Explosive Instrumentation, the long archived First Contact procedures are known as the Vulcan protocols.
- Ted muses that if they lost Earth humanity might as well head out for deep space in a rag-tag fleet of ships.
- In The Nelson Touch a Chinese commander suggests that maybe the war was started by a rogue human captain firing on the aliens, which Ted recognizes as Babylon 5. And the USMC general quotes both The War of the Worlds and The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.
- The utility tunnels aboard Royal Navy ships are called Jefferies tubes.
- A random crewman killed by a Russian commando is called Buckley, a reference to Joe Buckley who serves as a Designated Victim in a number of other Sci Fi novels (mostly ones published by Baen Books).
- Space Fighter: Fighters are spherical rather than streamlined like atmospheric craft.
- Space Marine: The Royal Marines.
- Space Navy
- ISO Standard Human Spaceship: The Ark Royal is noted for being rather blocky and ugly, compared to what one assumes are more streamlined modern ships.
- Stealth in Space: The aliens are very good at keeping their ships from being detected, in the first few battles their fighters sneak right past the human fighters and go straight for the carriers. A few times the Ark Royal runs silent, on minimal power, to minimize threat of detection.
- Supersoldier: The Russian commandos are extensively-modified cyborgs with their emotions damped and utterly loyal to the government.
- Tagalong Reporter: Ark Royal gets an annoying bunch of them on their mission to New Russia.
- Veteran Instructor: After the first book, Ark Royal's CAG serves a tour at the Academy, instructing new pilots.
The Warspite arc
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: Pre-war the spacefaring powers had outlined rules to minimize the chances of aliens taking notice of humans. The Russian renegades blatantly ignored them.
- A Match Made in Stockholm: Stockholm syndrome sets in among a few of the women taken from the Vesper, kind of a problem given most of them were married before.
- Colony Ship: The Vesper was taking a second wave of colonists, largely wives and children of the first wave, to Cromwell when it was attacked. Warspite's first mission is to escort a colony fleet to a star system with several tram lines to establish a British base there.
- Dangerous Deserter: During the first battle of New Russia two frigates and an assault carrier fled. Thinking themselves possibly the last humans left they went to an isolated sector and colonized a life-bearing world that happened to host intelligent life. When they found out later that humanity had survived they realized that they'd be executed for desertion if found out. So they started attacking freighters that came too close.
- Flawed Prototype: The HMS Warspite is an experimental cruiser with a blend of human and Tadpole technologies. The marriage has some teething troubles, such as half the crew developing splitting headaches on their first jump and the whole ship losing power after the drive was recalibrated on their next jump.
- Lizard Folk: The Vesy are described as being like humanoid reptiles with scales and a small crest of feathers.
- Mars Needs Women: Mentioned by name when discussing a terrorist group that tried to establish a new society on Mars in the early days of space travel, and tried to kidnap several women for breeding stock (keyword "tried"). And when the Russian renegades come across a colony ship loaded with women and children, well their secret colony was kind of lacking in the fairer sex.
- Overranked Soldier: Commander Watson is a brilliant engineer, but for political reasons unspecified patrons arranged for her to become the XO of the experimental Warspite despite her having no command experience whatsoever and not even wanting the job at all. She doesn't mind when Naiser suggests she step down.
- Space Pirates: Considered to be just trashy science-fiction, until the Vesper is taken by Russian deserters.
- Technology Uplift: The Russian renegades' original plan was to uplift the Vesy as Janissaries to liberate Earth from its alien oppressors. When the Interstellar war ended in a truce they changed plans to make the Vesy into an ally of Russia to persuade Moscow not to hang them for desertion.
- Wave-Motion Gun: The Warspite is equipped with a spinal-mount plasma cannon based on the large scale weapons used by the Tadpoles. The problems with it requiring the entire ship to move to aim and the minute-long charge time are discussed rather early on.