Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Deathworld

Go To
Not to be confused with the trope Death World, though this series is named for the concept.

Deathworld (first novel published in 1960) is a series of three novels and a short story by the American science fiction author Harry Harrison. The novels are set in the distant future. The hero, Jason dinAlt, is a Professional Gambler who possesses erratic Psychic Powers which he uses to cheat at casinos (he justifies that the casinos stack the odds in their favor, he's just making it fair). While on a gambling trip to the casino on the planet Cassylia, he is approached by a man named Kerk Pyrrus, the ambassador and de-facto leader of colonists on planet Pyrrus. Kerk wants Jason to turn a large sum of money (27 million credits) into an immense sum by gambling at the government-run casino. Using his Mind over Matter abilities, he is able to win over 3 billion credits. Kerk and Jason manage to get off the planet just in time, despite the officials' efforts to take back the money. Intrigued by Kerk's description of his home planet as the deadliest world ever colonized, Jason decides to follow Kerk.

Pyrrus's gravity is double that of Earth, and its extreme axial tilt results in severe weather. It's very tectonically active, with frequent volcanic erruptions and earthquakes. Two large moons create enormous tides (sometimes even flooding active volcanoes, which makes the weather even worse). Many stars in the vicinity have gone supernova, making most of the local planets too radioactive to settle. Pyrrus is only mildly radioactive, and the Pyrrans' main export is radioactive ore.

All native life is predatory, capable of killing any human without warning. Large animals can crush vehicles, while small ones are invariably venomous. All plants are carnivorous. Even microorganisms act like acid on insufficiently-protected tissue. Natural selection is so rapid that the speed of evolution is taken up to eleven, so much that all Pyrrans returning home (even after a few days) have to be re-trained to survive.

The settlers are engaged in a constant fight for survival. Despite generations of acclimation and The Spartan Way (the Pyrran training is even harsher), humans are losing. The population is in a steady decline, although mentioning the fact triggers a Berserk Button and usually results in the person being shot by the trigger-happy Pyrrans. There is only one city on the planet, called the Perimeter, as it is surrounded by high walls with flamethrowers constantly keeping the flora and fauna away. Any victory is a literal Pyrrhic Victory.

Jason finds out that there are two groups of people living on the planet: the "junkmen", or city-folk, and the "grubbers", who live on a farm far from the city in harmony with nature. While the junkmen are under constant attack by the wildlife, the grubbers are able to live in relative peace thanks to their "talkers", people who can telepathically communicate with animals and domesticate them. He finds out that, a long time ago, native life wasn't hostile to humans, but a natural disaster forced the animals to run straight into the path of the city-dwellers, who shot at them with guns. Since all life on the planet is psychic, humans in the city were immediately classified as a natural threat, with the overriding directive for all animals and plants being "KILL THE ENEMY!". Since the junkmen's thoughts are focused on killing, this only feeds the flora and fauna's desire to kill them. The grubbers only kill in self-defense or for food, just like animals, and are thus treated the same as other animals.

Jason proposes that the two groups take steps to coexist, such as allowing grubbers access to other worlds and having junkmen learn and teach each other grubbers' methods. Eventually, the city will be overrun, but the children of junkmen and grubbers will be one people again, living in harmony with nature. Those junkmen who cannot adapt can instead become "professional pioneers", colonizing other worlds too harsh to settle by humans on less hostile worlds.

Deathworld 2 (AKA The Ethical Engineer, 1964) has Jason, who has become a full-fledged Pyrran, abducted by a self-righteous man named Mikah Samon who wants to bring him to justice for his various crimes. Jason forces a crash-landing on a Lost Colony, where humans have regressed to barbarism in some areas and Medieval city-states in others. What remains of technology has been split up among the various clans, each one guarding its knowledge from the others, resulting in Medieval Stasis. Jason uses his knowledge to trade for protection from one of the clans. He finds another clan that has rudimentary knowledge of electricity and convinces its rulers to start a campaign to conquer the others in order to bring all technology together, hopefully re-starting progress. He also creates a primitive radio-transmitter in order to signal any passing ship. By the end of the novel, Jason is stabbed by a sword and is dying from infection. Meta arrives on the Pyrran ship after tracking Mikah's flight path and detecting Jason's signal. She uses advanced medicine to save him. Jason, his captor, and the local woman Jason gets close to (much to Meta's chagrin) leave aboard Meta's ship. Mikah once again attempts to force Jason to come with him, but Meta intervenes.

Deathworld 3 (AKA The Horse Barbarians, 1968) has Jason inviting Pyrrans on their first "professional pioneer" adventure. The planet Felicity is rich in mineral ores but attempts at re-settling it (it's also a Lost Colony) are foiled by the local nomadic clans, who despise any permanent structure with religious fervor. The nomads are heavily reminiscent of the Mongols before their invasion of China. The clans are led by a charismatic and powerful warrior named Temujin. Jason and the Pyrrans pretend to be yet another clan with Kerk as the chief of the clan and Jason as a Wandering Minstrel who married into it (Jason, try as he might, doesn't look like a Pyrran). Temujin unmasks Jason and throws him into a pit. Jason survives the fall and finds a passageway through cliffs to the coastal lowlands (which are normally inaccessible to the nomads living on the plateau). There he finds a whole other culture of farmers with primitive firearms. Jason comes back to Temujin, pretending to be a demon, and offers him the chance to conquer the rest of the continent. Meanwhile, the Pyrrans receive a distress call from Pyrrus and rush back home, leaving Jason. Unfortunately, they're too late, and the city is overrun by the animals and plants with few survivors beyond those living among the grubbers. After helping with relief efforts, they rush back to Felicity. Jason leads the horde through the cliffs onto the unsuspecting farmers, whom Temujin conquers with ease. However, the chief is smart enough to realize that this conquest has done to his people what the conquest of China has done to the Mongols: The nomads have tasted the comfortable life of the farmers and have settled down, ending their nomadic way of life. For this, Temujin puts Jason into a prison, believing that the demon can't be killed by any weapon. Kerk arrives, frees Jason, and kills Temujin in a duel.

"The Mothballed Spaceship" (1973) is a short story set in the same 'verse. A hostile armada is threatening Earth. The Earth government contacts the Pyrrans and asks them to reactivate an ancient Imperial battleship that was mothballed after the First Galactic War, which is cheaper than building a fleet from scratch. Unfortunately, the ship's defense systems are programmed to destroy any object approaching it. Since no one knows the code to deactivate the defenses, Jason and Kerk must use other means of getting aboard before the armada arrives at Earth. Jason and Kerk direct a swarm of meteors past the ship in order to trigger its defenses, while approaching on small rocks in order to get past the cannons' firing arcs. Once aboard, Kerk dispatches the onboard defense systems, which try to fight off the intruders. When they get to the control center, the ship initiates a self-destruct sequence to keep it out of enemy hands. Jason and Kerk are unable to stop the countdown. Meta saves the day by figuring out the correct code just in time, as Jason has told her that it would have to be something simple and straightforward (just like the mind of an Imperial soldier). Meta realizes that the word is "haltu" (Esperanto for "stop").

There are also four follow-up novels which may or may not have been authorized by Harrison. While the author's name is prominently featured on the covers, it's likely that the co-authors did the lion's share of the writing (possibly, all of it). None of the follow-up novels were published in English.

Co-authored by Ant Skalandis:
Return to Deathworld Russian cover
Return to Deathworld (1998). The novel is split into two parts. The first part has a strange rogue planetoid being detected on the way to a densely-populated star cluster. People looking at the planetoid or even a recording of it experience intense unnatural fear. The collective governing body of the cluster asks the Pyrrans to investigate the planetoid and, if necessary, destroy it with their Cool Ship (they kept the battleship from the short story, renaming it Argo). As it turns out, the cluster's representative knows exactly who the planetoid belongs to - a Mad Scientist who fled to another universe with different physical laws (e.g. the value of π is exactly 2) and has come back with dangerous knowledge and hell-bent on revenge. While investigating, the scientist captures Jason and Meta and tries to get them to join him in exchange for immortality. They manage to escape with help from Kerk and the others and destroy the planetoid, but Jason doesn't think they've seen the last of the villain.

The second part (called In the Path of the Gods) involves Jason being called to his father's deathbed on him homeworld of Porgorstorsaand and being told that he was adopted. He is actually the prince of a planet deep in the Galactic Core, whose father was overthrown by his own brother. Trying to keep the infant prince alive, Jason's real father gave him up to a traveler who used strange interdimentional tunnels to go from world to world. That man was Jason's adopted father. Jason uses one of the tunnels to go to his real homeworld and finds his father alive and well. His uncle sends Jason on a quest to deliver him the golden skin of a strange ship from another planet in the Core before he releases Jason's father (Does This Remind You of Anything?). Jason and the Pyrrans then embark on a journey mirroring the myth of the Argonauts (even the names of the hero and the ship match), which Jason soon realizes (and suspects that the Mad Scientist is responsible) and tries to change the outcome. They succeed and manage to rescue Jason's father. Putting Jason's father and uncle on the golden ship (which shields them and allows them to leave the planet), they take off, but the uncle then impales his head on a spike aboard the ship almost on command. Shortly after, another ship approaches, and the pilot introduces herself as Jason's real mother.

Deathworld vs. Filibusters (1998) involves the remains of the armada from the short story turn to piracy under the leadership of Captain Henry Morgan. The Cassylian casino is robbed by the pirates for a sum even larger than Jason won from them. They ask Jason to help them get their money back. Morgan is onto him, however, and captures Jason and Meta, taking them to a cloaked planet, which is home to the pirates. Jason realizes that the only way to defeat and capture Morgan is to lead him to Pyrrus for an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny with the fearcest warriors in the galaxy. Naturally, the Pyrrans win and claim Morgan's flagship the Conquistador (after killing him) as their prize.

The Creatures from Hell (1999) has strange eruptions occur on a semi-backwater planet with strange creatures appearing out of the lava. The authorities call the Pyrrans for help. However, it turns out that the creatures are not the only threat on that planet to the heroes, with the authorities harboring a deadly secret.

Co-authored by Mikhail Akhmanov:

Enemies in Reason (AKA Deathworld 7, 2001) has the Roog civilization set their sights on Pyrrus, intending to conquer it. In order to study the Pyrrans, they kidnap one of them. By sheer chance, they capture Jason instead of Kerk, who tries to convince the captors that they're much better off trading instead of making war.

The novels feature the following tropes:

    open/close all folders 

    Original Novels and Short Story 
  • Absent Aliens: While Jason suspects the native life on Pyrrus is following psychic commands from intelligent beings, this turns out to be not the case. No actual aliens are mentioned in the original series. Averted in the unofficial sequels.
  • Action Girl: Meta, being a native-born Pyrran, is definitely no housewife. She's as deadly a shot as any Pyrran and can easily kill any non-Pyrran in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: In the second book, Jason gets a sword stab in the belly while stranded on a primitive planet. Luckily, his beloved hears his emergency signal in time, because the technological level of the locals makes the wound completely untreatable.
  • Anti-Advice: At the end of Deathworld 2, Jason tells former barbarian/slave Ijale that her life in civilization will go reasonably well as long as she sticks with Mikah, listens carefully to what he tells her and then does the exact opposite. Although Mikah then immediately gets himself killed by Meta.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: All native lifeforms on Pyrrus are dedicated to destroying humans (specifically, those living in the city), throwing themselves at them without regard for personal safety.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Kerk Pyrrus, the leader of the city-dwelling Pyrrans is definitely the biggest and strongest of them. Having been offworld, he also serves as the ambassador of Pyrrus and has learned to keep his temper in check (most of the time). At the end of the third novel, he personally challenges Temujin (who himself fits this trope) to a duel and kills him with his bare hands.
    • When stressed, Kerk tends to play with a metal pipe. Said playing involves bending and unbending it with ease.
    • Rhes, Kerk's grubber counterpart, also fits the part.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ever tell a Pyrran that he or she is losing, or mention the declining population of the city, or even say the word "grubber". This is likely to be the last thing you say. Jason makes that mistake and is nearly killed by Kerk, but the leader of the junkmen has been offworld and knows how to keep his temper in check. Before telling the same thing to Meta, Jason asks her to unload her gun. As soon as he speaks the words, he sees her furiously pressing the trigger on her gun in his direction. After calming down a bit, she admits she probably should've just snapped his neck.
  • Black Box: The Lost Colony humans in the second novel have a guild-like clan structure, where each clan jealously guards the secret of a specific technology or science. They barely understand how it all works and only maintain and do things by rote. Jason decides to break the status quo and re-introduce progress. At first, he starts helping the clan responsible for obtaining crude oil and producing petroleum by taking one of the primitive automobiles made by a neighboring clan and carefully taking it apart to learn how it runs. As told by Jason, no one in the galaxy at large actually knows how an internal combustion engine works, as nobody has used them for millennia. After bypassing the traps set by the car-manufacturing clan, he figures out how the engine runs and makes his own copy. He later joins the electricity-making clan and helps them conquer the others, introducing a series of inventions (e.g. an electric stove, a primitive radio-transmitter, a steam catapult).
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: A variation. Since all life on Pyrrus is psychic, anything humans think has an effect on it. Since all junkmen train from childhood to kill native life and develop an intense hatred for it, that life does everything it can to eliminate them. By contrast, the grubbers try to live in harmony with Pyrran nature (as much as it is possible on this planet), only killing for food or in self-defense (with no malice in their thoughts), and are thus treated no differently than animals or plants.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: "Jealous", yes; "clingy", no. Jason is the one who pursues Meta, and she's initially reluctant to resume their romance on Pyrrus. Once she does, though, she warns him that she'll shoot down any woman she catches with Jason.
  • Combat Tentacles: Many plants have become this. Shortly after arriving, the Perimeter is breached by giant tree roots that have burrowed under the walls. Worse, not only are the roots themselves dangerous, following this trope, but they are hollow and serve as tunnels for many other nasties.
  • Deal with the Devil: Temujin thinks this is in play when Jason returns as a 'demon'; he knows that Jason will give him a great gift but at a terrible price. This is exactly how it plays out; Temujin becomes ruler of the world, but realises that his people will become corrupted by the easy life of the civilisations they've just conquered, and become civilised themselves.
  • Death World: The planet Pyrrus has very harsh environmental characteristics: twice Earth gravity, very high tectonic activity, a 42° axial tilt, and the occasional 30-meter tides. Life could only survive by cooperating temporarily during crises, so every single living thing (plant, animal, microbe...) is psychic. Not just that, but the high radioactivity causes them to mutate and evolve very rapidly. When humanity settles on the planet, they accidentally piss off the local wildlife during an earthquake, causing every living thing to treat humanity as a continuous "natural disaster", driven by one mutual psychic mandate: "KILL THE ENEMY!". By the start of the story, the escalating war has remade everything into dedicated living war machines (tree roots are now venom fanged Combat Tentacles, etc.).
  • Distress Call: While on a degraded Lost Colony in the second novel, Jason ends up in the hands of a clan that controls electricity and decides to help them Take Over the World in order to break the guild-like structure and kick-start scientific progress. One of the devices he makes is a small box with a crank. When the crank is turned, the box emits sparks in a certain sequence. Jason convinces the ruler that the box is, in fact, announcing to the world the ruler's glory, when it's actually sending a primitive distress call using a universally-known code. The ruler sets up a special room where his subjects can turn the crank (for a fee, of course) to pay respects to their sovereign. At the end of the novel, Meta, who's out looking for Jason, stumbles on the planet and picks up the signal in orbit.
  • Escape Pod: In Deathworld, Jason runs from Heavyworlder Kerk who, in the grip of irrational rage, is about to literally tear him apart unless he gets off the ship. The escape pod he uses to get away is designed to be idiot proof: initially it declines to do anything but the safest, gentlest maneuvers, making long-term survival against the ship's guns problematical.
  • Esperanto, the Universal Language: Harrison's love for the language is evident in the fact that he puts it into many of his "distant future" sci-fi stories. In-universe, it's the language of the Old Empire and the lingua franca on most worlds.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: And how! If it's not the huge tides, active volcanoes, earthquakes, or radiation, it's all the animals and plants. Humans are not meant to live on this world.
  • Fixing the Game: When Jason starts winning a lot at the Cassylian casino, the dealer insists on changing the dice. The new dice look a little suspicious to Jason, and he manages to reveal them to be loaded by passing a magnetic ashtray over them, causing the dice to stick to it. At that point, a guard tries to grab Jason, but Kerk reaches out and snaps the guard's hand without so much as an effort. To be fair, though, Jason is himself cheating by using his weak Mind over Matter ability to have the dice land the way he wants. He justifies it by stating that the casinos rig the games in their favor anyway, so he's just evening the odds.
  • Garden of Evil: In Deathworld, due to a misunderstanding, the very peculiar wildlife on the planet has altered itself to wage war against humanity, changing to the point where even every blade of grass has a venomous claw dangling from it.
  • Genius Loci: In the novel Deathworld, the planet Pyrrus has very harsh environmental characteristics; life could only survive by cooperating temporarily during crises, so every single living thing (plant, animal, microbe...) is psychic and part of a planet-wide group mind.
  • Heavy Worlder: Since the gravity on Pyrrus is twice that of normal, all Pyrrans are big, strong, and fast. Jason, being an offworlder has become more muscular over the years of living there, but he's still a wimp compared to native-born Pyrrans.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Shortly after Jason's arrival to Pyrrus, the Perimeter is breached by an attack from underground. Ignoring advice, Jason decides to try and help, only to be nearly killed by a tree root. He is pushed out of the way by Kerk's son, who himself is crushed by the root.
  • Holier Than Thou: Mikah Samon in the second novel abducts Jason from Pyrrus in order to bring him back to Cassylia to stand trial for his crimes and be executed (even though nothing Jason has done warrants capital punishment, at least on Cassylia). It's not that the guy wants to punish Jason. It's just that the casino that Jason has won 3 billion credits from has decided to make him a poster boy to show people that anyone can win at their casino. Samon hopes that by having a public trial and execution, the casino (and the government that supports it) will not be able to get away with such behavior. Even after Jason saves his life numerous times, the guy keeps spouting moral rules and how fallen Jason is. In the end, this gets Mikah killed.
    • Interestingly, the legality and morality of some of the charges against Jason doesn't bother Mikah. It also bothers him little that Jason was tried and sentenced (to death, in some cases) in absentia. Mikah's main goal is to further the political agenda of the Truth Party.
  • Honor Before Reason: Samon again, who clings to his beliefs no matter what.
  • The Horde: The Mongol-inspired barbarians on Felicity fear permanent structures and destroy them on sight (as they do with the mining rig set up by the first re-settlers). In fact, the leader who gathers the clans together is named after Genghis Khan (born Temujin). After being tricked into conquering the lowland farmers, the nomads settle down, just like the Mongols eventually settled down after conquering China and forming the Yuan Dynasty (although it was Genghis Khan's grandson). Temujin is smart enough to realize that their nomadic way of life is over, but he's powerless to stop it.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Jason has low-level psi-powers and is able to sense and, to a degree, communicate with the Pyrran lifeforms. The grubbers have the "talkers", who communicate and tame animals, and "quakemen" who can predict natural disasters. All native life on Pyrrus is also psychic to a degree.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Pyrrans (junkmen and grubbers alike) are very good at shooting things. The junkmen train from childhood with their Hand Cannons, while the low-tech grubbers use wrist-mounted crossbows.
  • I "Uh" You, Too: "You fight well." is how a Pyrrhan says "I love you." This gives Meta problems as her love interest Jason does not in fact fight particularly well and she admits that that isn't at all what she wants to say to him.
  • The Load: Samon does nothing but cause Jason (easily avoidable) problems.
  • Lost Colony: Tens of thousands of worlds were settled during the days of the Old Empire. After its collapse, many were forgotten and have degraded to barbarism. Some were re-discovered since then. Two such worlds are the settings of the second and the third novels.
  • Mind over Matter: Jason is a good gambler because he can slightly move the dice (and even a roulette wheel) with his mind. It's a fairly weak and fickle ability, though.
  • Medieval Stasis: In the second novel, Jason sets out to smash the local example of this. He is rescued before he can achieve this, but he's at least shaken up the status quo.
  • More Predators Than Prey: The planet in Deathworld seems to have this problem of more predators than prey, and the predators are super-adaptive, adjusting to everything the humans throw at them. Than Jason goes exploring and finds that it's only that bad near the one city; there's a more even balance out where the forest-based humans live, where the humans are willing to live and let live. Turns out, all those predators aren't an ecosystem; they're the planet's immune system, doing exactly what such systems try to do to invaders.
  • Neck Snap: Being Heavy Worlders, the Pyrrans are strong enough to easily snap an off-worlder's neck, not to mention other bones. In the first book, a security guard at the casino is about to grab Jason for having a lucky streak (although Jason is using Mind over Matter to load the dice). Kerk calmly walks up through the crowd and snaps the guard's gun hand like a twig.
  • Obstructionist Pacifist: Mikah Samon is a "pacifist" who opposes Jason's plan to foment revolution (and later a war of consolidation) on the planet they've crashlanded, even though in the existing political system most people are slaves, and all the factions are too busy keeping a tight grip on their own technological monopolies for anyone to actually make any progress. His "principled resistance" led him to betray Jason twice (once to the gang he was undermining and again later to his chosen victors' enemies), the second time causing Jason to take a wound he wouldn't have survived if rescuers from his homeworld hadn't found them.
  • Papa Wolf: After Kerk's only surviving son makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save Jason (who was told to stay inside) during a breach of the Perimeter, Kerk nearly kills Jason then and there, giving him one chance to get off the planet before strangling him. Naturally, Jason stays.
  • Paranormal Gambling Advantage: The plot starts because the Pyrrans don't have enough money for a weapons shipment, so they make a deal with the protagonist, Jason, who uses his weak telekinetic abilities to cheat in casinos.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The code to deactivate the mothballed battleship's defense systems in the short story turns out to be "haltu" (Esperanto for "stop").
  • Professional Gambler: Jason is this at the start of the first novel but stops after moving to Pyrrus. He is extremely successful due to his weak Mind over Matter powers, allowing him to adjust the path of thrown dice and, occasionally, even affect the roulette wheel. He also knows to quit while he's ahead, as most casinos don't look too kindly at a player who is on a big winning streak. This is why he is approached by Kerk Pyrrus in the first place.
  • Pyrrhic Victory:
    • The life on the aptly-named planet Pyrrus is such that, no matter what the Pyrrans do, they're just delaying the inevitable. And in the third novel, their city is finally overrun, and the survivors relocate to a new world.
    • The trope is lampshaded in the third novel, when Temujin wants to know how he could conquer the world yet lose everything.
  • Quick Draw: The junkmen use powerful handguns kept in a holster on the upper arm with a chip inserted in the gun hand that senses when certain muscles tense. The gun then jumps out into the hand and immediately fires (the gun has no trigger guard), then returns to the holster. All this can take less than a second.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: In "The Mothballed Spaceship", the protagonists are trying to reactivate a derelict battleship that has been set to self-destruct to prevent it falling into the hands of anyone who doesn't have the correct codeword. Just in time they discover the codeword is a simple five-letter word in Esperanto — "Haltu" or, "Stop".
  • The Smurfette Principle: The only female characters who are given names or dialogue are Meta and Ijale; they share a single scene at the end of the second novel.
  • Space Cold War: Cassylia and Darkhan are planets in the same star system. Being at the same level of development, they're bitter rivals. After a destructive war between them 200 years before the events of the first novel, they're maintaining a Cold War-like state. Each ship visiting the other world is equipped with a Self-Destruct Mechanism with buttons all over the ship. A single press of the button overloads the ship's reactor and blows it to kingdom come, along with half of whatever city happens to be nearby. This prevents local authorities from violating the neutrality by illegally searching and seizing ships. Nothing is revealed about Darkhan in the official novels. In Deathworld vs. Filibusters, the planet is portrayed as a Middle East-like place with religion playing the primary role and the planet's economy maintained by easily-accessible resources. Hence their hatred of the Cassylians and their sinful ways. Naturally, when Kerk and Jason are running away from Cassylian authorities, who want to take their casino winnings from them, the best ship to flee the planet is on a Darkhan ship. A Cassylian cop tries to force his way aboard only to be smugly reminded by a ship's officer of the Self-Destruct Mechanism.
  • Trigger-Happy: All junkmen are this out of necessity. They train for a very young age to shoot without thinking, as their very survival depends on this. They're deadly accurate, able to hit an insect from many yards away. They also carry special guns that jump into their hands when the shooter thinks of shooting.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Jason pretends to be one on Felicity in order to infiltrate the nomads. This also allows him to study the local customs and the reasons for their hatred for permanent settlements.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future
  • World Of Bad Ass: Pyrrus
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: In the second novel, Jason crashlands on a regressed Lost Colony and is enslaved by a barbarian named Ch'aka who literally keeps all his slaves on a leash. He kills Ch'aka and tells all the slaves they're free. The slaves calmly look at him and tell him something like "We serve you now, Ch'aka". So not only does he inherit Ch'aka's slaves and territory but also his name.
  • You No Take Candle: The barbarian slavers and slaves in the second novel talk in degraded Esperanto, which gets translated for the readers in this manner. After killing Ch'aka and taking his place, he meets a more educated man but tries to maintain the ruse. The man quickly tells him to drop the act and just talk normally.

    Co-Authored Sequels 
  • Came Back Wrong: Dr. Theodore Solvitz after his trip in another universe. Also, Trow.
  • Combat Sadomasochist: Madam Zin, one of Henry Morgan's crew, absolutely loves combat. When Meta sees how Zin gets off on killing people, she vows to kill her. She does.
  • Cool Ship: Argo, the recovered ancient Imperial battleship from the short story. After using it to defeat the armada, the Pyrrans get to keep it. Jason decides that the ship's original name Nedetruebla ("indestructible" in Esperanto) is too ridiculous. Others are obtained later, mostly as prizes after defeating Henry Morgan's pirates. Even a few alien ships are obtained at several points. Most of them, even the Argo, are destroyed by the treacherous rulers in the sixth novel.
  • Covers Always Lie: Well, mischaracterize at the least. The cover for "Return to Deathworld" seen above shows two armed men and a woman (unarmed) walking through a Hungry Jungle - presumably Jason, Meta and Kerk. While Kerk is definitely the most impressive of the pack, Jason is clearly number two, taking point, looking all determined, while the clearly disquieted Meta is more or less hiding behind him like a Damsel in Distress. Which is patently ridiculous, with Meta being a native-born Pyrran warrior, Amazonian Beauty and gold-standard Action Girl who's saved Jason's hide a couple of times instead of the reverse. It's not even explained by a possible audience-oriented Values Dissonance in the Russian novel note, since Meta's just as sharp and capable as always in the story itself (saving Jason's butt repeatedly once again, even), so it's a case of complete dissociation.
  • Crossover: With Harrison's own The Stainless Steel Rat series, although the connection is shaky. Both 'verses share a similar background: a vast Empire collapses, leaving many Lost Colonies and a single unifying language. Also, the Special Corps is present in both 'verses with Inskipp at the helm. However, a key difference involves the existence of Earth as a major power in the Deathworld 'verse and the fact that Earth has been destroyed millennia before the events of The Stainless Steel Rat. While some fans try to reconcile that by claiming that Deathworld takes place earlier than The Stainless Steel Rat, one novel in the latter series clearly states that Earth was destroyed by He long before the Martian colonists started spreading to the stars (to the point where most can't even recall the name of the planet, thinking it was called "Dirt" or something).
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Present in "In the Path of the Gods", the second part of "Return to Deathworld", unsurprisingly, as the whole thing is a somewhat wacky science-fiction retelling of the Argonaut myth, both as a story premise and in-universe (the events being subtly steered by -presumably- the not-quite-dead Dr. Solvitz, or so Jason suspects). The Pyrrans come across several planets consisting of more or less thinly veined Space Opera versions of the mythological tribes the original Argonauts visit. However, the crown goes to the planet of Egrisi, which is the Georgian name of the Antiquity-era states that was located in contemporary Georgia, the country, that is (the real-life historic state corresponding to Colchis in the Argonaut myth). However, Egrisi is populated not so much by merely a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to ancient Georgians, but more or less by contemporary Georgians IN SPACE - specifically, the planet is a blatant Expy of the popular late twentieth century Soviet/Russian tourist perception of Georgia. Granted, it's implied in the story that the original colonists on Egrisi were Georgians, but that kind of continuity in this 'verse suggests some serious cultural stasis.
  • Flock of Wolves: It turns out that pretty much the entire leadership of the pirates are secretly working for one agency or another. Henry Morgan is a Deep Cover Agent for the Special Corps. Of course, they're also all murderers and rapists, so the Pyrrans have no problem killing Morgan and Madam Zin, Special Corps be damned.
  • Honor Before Reason: Surprisingly, Kerk can be like this when necessary. During the final confrontation with Henry Morgan, Morgan pulls out a sword. Meta pulls out her gun, only for Kerk to tell her that it's not fair. One of Morgan's crew throws Kerk a sword, and they start to fight. Morgan is more experienced, but Kerk is tougher, stronger, and faster. Also, when fighting Temujin in the third novel, Kerk throws away his sword after disarming Temujin and fights him hand-to-hand.
  • Immortality Inducer: Dr. Theodore Solvitz has developed a serum that makes a person immortal. This is what has allowed him to survive for thousands of years. Riverd Bervick and the Special Corps have managed to obtain the formula and synthesize the serum. Those who choose to work for them are given the serum as an incentive. Kerk becomes one of them, and Rhes has been one for a while now. Solvitz has also synthesized an airborne version and uses it to make Jason and Meta immortal, although, as it turns out, Jason was already immortal by way of his real parents. Immortal Procreation Clause is not in effect, although the serum's effects are not transmitted to the offspring.
  • Mad Scientist: Doctor Theodore Solvitz was a well-known scientist on Old Earth thousands of years before the events of the series. After obtaining some sort of secret knowledge, he used it to leave the galaxy (and, as it turned out, the universe). Now he's back, but it appears he Came Back Wrong.
  • Meaningful Name: After Jason is sent on a quest to recover the golden ship, he gets into his library and discovers clear parallels between this and the myth of the Argonauts. He immediately recognizes that his own name and the name of their ship come straight from the story. It becomes clear that someone is manipulating events to match the myth.
  • Naming Your Colony World: Jason's long-abandoned home world of Porgorstorsaand. In one novel, Jason is reading the encyclopedic entry on the planet, which appears to have been settled by Russian-speaking colonists, which proposes four theories on the strange name of the planet, three of them based on wordplays in Russian:
    • If going by English, then it could be a strange joining of "Pore Gore Store Sand", except the phrase is meaningless in the current word order.
    • The second version is the most likely, but also the most boring. At the early settlement stage, the planet was centered around a military base/warehouse. Hence, the name is a shortening of "Port-gorod-stor strategicheskoy aviatsii i artillerii nazemnogo dislotsirovaniya" (roughly translated, "Port-city-storage of strategic aviation and ground-based artillery").
    • The third version has to do with a later stage of the planet's development, when it became a brothel known throughout the galaxy. The brief period ended when a man named Saand, the owner of the planet-wide entertainment complex was overthrown and either exiled or crucified. His followers resisted for awhile, first openly, and then in secret. Supposedly, they were the ones, who gave the planet its eventual name: "Pornograficheskaya gordost' storonnikov Saanda" (translation, "Pornographic pride of Saand's followers"). By Jason's own admission, he likes this version the most.
    • The fourth version is Played for Laughs as in it the colony is named by mistake. According to it, a Russian explorer vessel is the first one to come across the planet. One of the crew members on that vessel accidentally cuts himself with a "thermal knife", which appears to be some sort of heated Vibro Weapon. After getting first aid he stores the event in the ship's log as Por. gor. stor. - S. A. And., shorthand for Porezalsya goryachey storonoy - Sergey Andreevich Andreev, or "Cut [myself] with hot side - S. A. Andreev" in English. However, being in pain and angry about his accident, he logs the incident in the navigation log by mistake, instead of the general event log. When the ship then comes across the previously unknown planet, it parses the navigation log, discovers that there's a recent entry and assigns that "name" to the newly-discovered world. Jason finds this theory somewhat mundane, but remarks that it'd be cool if said Sergey A. Andreev had, in fact, become the abovementioned porn magnate Saand later.
  • Psychic Powers: Several other characters are introduced who possess even greater powers than Jason. One of them is Jason's own cousin from the Core worlds. The other is a girl whose family is killed by Henry Morgan's pirates. There's also the daughter of one of the "talkers", who was born blind and deaf (the aliens from the sixth novel heal her) but possesses great psi-powers.
    • Also, psi-transmitters and psi-receivers are used for instantaneous communication over any distance. Only a few things are known to block psi-signals.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Solvitz's androids are remarkably lifelike, to the point where most can't even tell the difference. One of them tries to rape Meta, and she immediately tears it apart with her bare hands. Jason also nearly sleeps with a gynoid, but Meta shows up and blasts its head off.
  • Some Kind Of Forcefield: Some Pyrran animals have started to evolve abilities mimicking technology. A survivor of the destruction of the Perimeter remembers how a friend of his shot a creature, only for the bullet to stop near the animal and shoot back, killing the shooter. This is a clear indicator that some other force other than nature has taken over the evolution of the Pyrran creatures.
  • Starfish Aliens: The aliens from the sixth novel are very different from humans and feel right at home in the molten core of a planet.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Jason thinks that when Madam Zin bursts in on them, Guns Akimbo and screams for them to drop their weapons, that a true warrior doesn't pose but comes in firing. He's proven right a moment later, when Zin's head disintegrates from Meta's exploding bullet with Meta only talking after killing Zin.