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Literature / Grand Theft Astro

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Grand Theft Astro is a 2021 sci-fi novel by Scott Meyer. It's described on the author's website as an "outer space caper".

Brangelina Baird is a Classy Cat-Burglar living in the Colonized Solar System sometime in the future. She's renowned across the system as a thief but no one has ever been able to make any charges stick (and any attempts at falsifying evidence invariably led to the case being dismissed due to her lawyers). She's recruited by a clandestine agency known as the Toolbox (whose agents and handlers use tool-related codenames). Her trial mission seems to go successfully, but she finds out that a rival agent managed to infect her with a deadly virus that will kill her in seven days unless a cure is found. The Toolbox has her placed in cryogenic suspension to slow down the disease's progression. However, as the efforts to find the cure keep stalling, they have to keep bringing her out in order to steal more items for them with the hope that they will help the research.


The novel has examples of the following tropes:

  • Alliterative Name: Brangelina Baird.
  • Artificial Gravity: Achieved by spinning on space stations.
  • Big Bad: Eventually Baird learns that her real enemy is the General Contractor of the Toolbox. When she finally gets to their office, she's shocked to see her brother in the chair. However, Izzy wasn't the one who originally infected her, but he continued the ruse after becoming GC and learning the truth. Izzy's clones end up taking over, keeping the original Izzy in stasis while running the Toolbox as him.
  • Classy Cat-Burglar: Baird is the classiest, known throughout the system as the most successful thief of all time, who has never been actually charged with a crime. She does admit, however, that she is successful despite being notorious, not because of it, and would really prefer to fly under the radar.
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  • Cloning Blues: Baird eventually learns that her brother Izzy, with whom she's been talking to remotely, is actually a clone. It seems the Toolbox has cloned her brother and keeps sending the clones on dangerous assignments. The clones didn't immediately realize they were clones, as they are fairly short-lived. Those that did usually leave a message for the others on a hidden server where they can exchange experiences. When asked where the original Izzy was, one of the clones said he doesn't know but probably dead.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: Baird has engineered her clothes to allow her to do the job without any outward tools or gear. Her sweater can unspin itself to form a string that can shape itself and do what Baird can mentally command it to.
  • Colonized Solar System: Breakthroughs in propulsion technology have allowed humanity to settle the Solar System, either on planetary bodies or by building space stations. Much of the population has left Earth, and now only the incredibly wealthy can afford to live there. The abandoned suburbs have been given away to nature, while the remaining cities have grown in height. At the same time, Earth is the only place where people can breathe outside without assistance.
  • Covert Group: The Toolbox is a clandestine agency that engages in illegal activities. All their agents and handlers are given tool-related code names, with the head of the Toolbox called "General Contractor". Baird's code name is "Saber Saw".
  • Death's Hourglass: From the moment she's first brought out of stasis, Baird has seven days to live. Granted, the disease progression is frozen in stasis, but any time she spends out in the world brings her closer to the end.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Baird really doesn't like to be called Brangelina. Her brother calls her Bran, which she doesn't mind. Apparently "Brangelina" has become a common name for girls at some point in the future but was already considered to be old-fashioned by the time Baird was born.
  • Embarrassing Nickname:
    • Baird and Izzy are a little embarrassed that their code names of "Saber Saw" and "Speed Square" are matching alliteration.
    • One of Baird's contacts is Studfinder.
      Baird: You poor man.
    • When Baird needs a fake codename quickly, Izzy hacks her into the system as "Butt Chisel" (which is a real tool). She grimly notes that she shouldn't have let her little brother choose the codename.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Cops have tried to frame Baird for crimes before. But being a successful thief means being able to hire powerful lawyers and private investigators, who are easily able to pick apart any framejob. Apparently some cops have actually faced prosecution for such tactics themselves.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: Baird wears Gargoyles glasses that have a built-in Heads-Up Display and also act as Comm Links. It's essentially a futuristic version of Google Glass. However, it's actually considered to be obsolete technology, as everyone else has long ago switched to the less obtrusive Brows, which are strips of metal that are attached above an eye that then project an image to the wearer. When asked why she doesn't get a Brow, Baird explains that she likes the retro look and also can upgrade the Gargoyles with new technology, whereas a Brow is designed to be replaced with a newer model every few years. She also has a secret means of contacting her brother built into the Gargoyles software. In addition, she uses an interface with her pacemaker to somehow be able to type on a virtual keyboard without using her hands.
  • He Knows Too Much: The Toolbox apparently puts people in stasis when they have dangerous knowledge. Baird is horrified that they're just kept on ice forever, but Izzy clarifies that they're just held until their knowledge is so outdated that it's harmless.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The original Izzy blames Baird for disappearing on him for over a year without a word, but he eventually got over it. Then he finds out that she had been put into stasis against her will and been forced to go on missions under false pretenses. He glosses over this by rationalizing that she "was always going to leave." And when she says that she's planning to leave shortly, he says this proves his point, that she would leave him just because he kept her in stasis for almost ten years.
  • Insistent Terminology: Baird will always insist that she's an alleged thief, as nothing has ever been proven in any court of law.
  • Instant Sedation: Baird has a dart launcher she usually conceals in her sleeve. She can adjust the power of the shot. She typically has tranquilizer and paralysis darts. The former instantly knock someone out, even if they hit a limb. The latter keep the target conscious but largely unable to move
  • Mind-Control Device: The novel opens with Baird stealing a prototype mind control device that the scientist swears he's close to finishing. Everyone else, Baird included, laughs at this; every scientist who has ever tried to build a mind control device has said the exact same thing. No one ever manages it, and once it becomes public that you're trying, the rest of the system will come down on you like a ton of bricks. This turns out to be the real reason why Baird was put in stasis. She brought the scientist and his device in, and the General Contractor decided that his device had merit—but Baird knew too much to be allowed free. The scientist has spent the last nine years insisting he's only a year away from success.
  • Nanomachines: The true secret to Baird's success is the fact that her "sweater" is actually a massive strand of smart carbon nanofiber, which she can extend and weave into any shape, complete with sensors and sensor-blocking. And she controls it with the cheap pacemaker she was given as a child due to a congenital heart condition.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Baird and her father both had a similar way of expressing affection: Don't bother your loved ones with your problems unless you really need them. Izzy, being a much more open person, never understood that, and thought that if he just showed his love enough eventually they'd let him in. As Baird puts it, he was chasing a reward that he simply was never going to get. The original Izzy eventually came to the conclusion that Baird never cared about him and didn't see a problem keeping her in stasis.
  • Red Planet: Mars was the location one of the first extraterrestrial colonies. In the novel, Baird travels to New Bordeaux, which claims to produce wine superior to that of Earth, in order to steal Richard Feynman's notebook from an auction.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Baird is somehow able to hold live conversations with people on Earth while at different locations in the Solar System, including Mars and Venus. For reference, the lightspeed lag to Mars is between 5 and 20 minutes, depending on the positions of the planets, and it's about the same for Venus. While's it's possible there's some sort of Subspace Ansible at work, there's no mention of it in the novel.
  • The Sheriff: Sheriff Calhoun has recently been elected to that post on the Pendulum station. Baird keeps seeing ads made by Calhoun about him sticking to the letter of the law (but not the spirit) as far as caring for anyone he imprisons. He has cracked down on petty crime, whereas his predecessor was more about high-profile crimes. He even sends a semi-threatening letter to Baird in her hotel room. He always sports a cowboy hat and speaks in a menacing way. He's actually well-educated, hates the hat, and wears glasses when others can't see him. He wants to remove petty crime because it harms more people than high-profile crime. He even makes a deal with Baird, so that she can put him in contact with someone who can attract high-profile criminals to the station. And the prisoner abuse is just for show; his prisons do obey both the letter and the spirit of the law, and whenever anyone gets uppity he threatens to send them to "Site B," where he films his ads. No one has called his bluff yet.
  • A Simple Plan: Baird is delighted that the mission on Titan is simple; mug someone for a disguise, get in, grab the item, get out. Easy. It... goes bad. First, the guy she mugged for a suit turns out to be the most popular person on the base, so everyone knows him. She mugs someone else for a disguise, and she turns out to be the second most popular person on the base. When she finally gets into the restricted area, a scientist doesn't recognize her and tries to sound the alarm, so Baird sedates him. Then another scientist catches her disposing of the body. Then another scientist catches her disposing of that body. Then another. Then a guard accidentally blows up the lab while trying to apprehend her. Then, when she finally gets an escape vehicle and flies away, the winds have changed and it's going to take her twice as long to get back. Hilariously, her handler thinks the whole thing was a planned distraction and congratulates her on leaving them with no way to verify what's even missing.
  • Space Elevator: Baird visits the Pendulum, the counterweight station to Earth's space elevator. It's one of the few space stations to have a standard Earth gravity due to the centripetal inertia of the counterweight. As a side effect, anything dropped from the station will achieve escape velocity and shoot off into space.
  • Space Station: Most stations are donut-shaped and provide Artificial Gravity by spinning. However, the station built by the Mormons is more like an O'Neill cylinder, a long tube that spins around its axis.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Due to its dense atmosphere and low gravity, Titan is uniquely suited to ornithopters. Pretty much all air vehicles on the moon are thopters of some kind, from small ridable ones to large buses. The wings are also least likely to cause sparks or ignite the methane-based atmosphere (although you still need oxygen to get it to burn).