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Literature / Grunts!

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"Pass me another elf Sergeant, this one's split!"

Grunts! is a a fantasy novel by British author Mary Gentle and originally published in 1992. It is told from the point of view of a band of Orcs (the titular "grunts"). It riffs on the ideas explored by Gentle and others in the anthology, Villains: Who Needs Heroes Anyway? published in the same year, writing High Fantasy from the perspective of the villain. At the time, this was a new idea in fantasy writing and Villains and Grunts! were considered pretty innovative for it.

Samhain is fast approaching and the Last Battle between the forces of Light and Darkness with it. Mighty armies and noble heroes gather. The Dark Lord's forces are legion and the wings of his dragons and wyverns shall blot out the sky. The forces of Light are outnumbered and full of reckless, headstrong heroes whose idea of tactical thought is discussing which way they're going to charge. They'll win, of course. And orcs, the poor dumb sword fodder on the frontline for the Dark Lord will die in droves. This is the way of things. So it has been and so it shall be.

Ashnak, a War Captain of the Agaku, is ordered by the Nameless Necromancer to steal powerful artifacts from a dragon's hoard. It turns out that said dragon is dead, and that the dragon with her dying breath cursed the hoard, to turn every thief into that which was stolen. The dragon was also the multiverse's keenest collector of weapons and militaria. Guess which US Military branch's equipment the orcs steal.

The novel involves a lot of Black Comedy, Refuge in Audacity, and generally reveling in subverting a bunch of fantasy and Hollywood war and action movie stereotypes. Gentle wrote the novel while recovering from injuries she suffered in a car crash, which caused chronic pain.

Tropes seen in this work include:

  • Abnormal Ammo: Tech-Captain Ugarit comes up with a lot of this in his attempt to get around the vulnerability of the orcs' modern firearms to simple magic; ceramic swords, teflon-coated arrowheads. Later, during a Shout-Out to Aliens a sentry gun is loaded with smart bullets.
    Smart bullet: "Sir! Ready for action, sir! Shoot me at the bastards now sir!"
  • Alien Blood: The orcs have green blood.
  • Alien Catnip: The bugs really love tea. When they discover it, a few of them seem to get sleepy and forget what they were fighting about.
  • Alternate Universe: Dagurashibanipal's cave also contained several stable portals to other worlds / universes, which is where the dragon collected her militaria from.
  • Anti-Magic: Talismans which create a field of this are how the orcs get around the problem of their guns being vulnerable to simple spells to stop them working. The orcs wear them as dog-tags.
  • Armed Farces: Military joking aplenty, oddly enough. From the hapless recruits under Gunnery Sergeant Ashnak early in the evolution of the Orc Marines to the equally hapless elf recruits and their orc trainer Sgt. Dakashnit later on. Dakashnit's advice for her recruits on what to do if their parachute fails, in particular.
  • Barbarian Hero: Lord Blond Wolf, is a northern barbarian; complete with wolf-fur boots and cloak, huge blond braids and a really big axe. However, he's only 2' 7".
  • Bathe Him And Bring Him To Me: Poor Sgt. Stryker.
  • Black Comedy:
    • As anthracite. War crimes trials, rape, torture and eating your own wounded played for laughs.
    • Pretty much the whole book, to the point where, if you don't like that kind of humor, you won't like it.
    • It's not a case of getting past the cannibalistic rapist burglar hobbits and orcs with machine guns riffing off Full Metal Jacket; these sorts of things are the the point of the book.
  • Black Comedy Rape: "Pass me another elf, this one's split" also qualifies as Harmful to Minors.
  • Blood Sport: Orcball a game strongly resembling American Football and/or Rugby and played with the severed head of a fallen enemy. Or sometimes, when you want a game and there's a paucity of fallen enemies...
    Sgt.Major Guzrak: The good news is, you made the Orcball team! The bad news the ball.
  • Bug War: Near the end, when a race of insectoid aliens appear.
  • Butch Lesbian: Sgt. Varimnak and her unit of Badgurlz. Non-feminine job or attire? Well, soldiering is generally considered less than feminine and guns, fatigues, tattoos, mohawks and belts covered in spikes aren't either.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Will and Ned Brandiman, halfling thieves. Backstabbed Ashnak and his small band who were escorting them to start with and promptly sold the Nameless Necromancer's plans to the Named shortly after. Moved on to double-crossing the forces of Light. They were trying to double-cross the orcs again when they brought the nullity talismans to Nin-Edin, but hadn't banked on Ashnak still being alive and recognising them.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Most of the major characters invoke this to some degree - Ashnak and the orcs savagery, rape, cannibalism and cheerful commission of war crimes and election rigging are definitely being played for laughs.
  • Crapsack World:
  • Curse: Dagurashibanipal's horde of weapons came equipped with a powerful curse, "You Will Become What You Steal," causing the orcs to take on the mannerisms of the original owners of the stolen arms. It was also flavoured with a geas encouraging them to teach others their ways and thus, spread the curse further.
  • Dark Is Evil: Exaggerated with the Dark Lord, whose footsteps kill flowers and cause flagstones to crack from age and conversed early on:
    "Sir! Permission to call this squad Black Squad, sir!"
    "Denied. We already have fifteen Black Squads, twelve Dark Squads, four Raven Sqauds, three Midnight Squads, one Sable Squad, one Ebony Squad and one," she glanced at a sheet of paper, "Pink Squad. Yes...we're all a little worried about Pink Squad."
  • Dartboard of Hate: In this case, the orcs don't use a picture; they nail one of their own to the wall and paint a target on her belly.
  • Death of a Child: A Newt Expy gets eaten. And the Brandiman brothers kill a human toddler within the first two chapters.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Played for laughs. The Dark Lord decides that since he always loses the epic battle of Good vs. Evil, that it's more fashionable to conquer the world through democratic elections. A halfling noble is horrified when told about the concept, aghast at the idea that a noble could lose power through the will of peasants! Of course, the Dark Lord didn't say anything about holding fair elections, so the orcs immediately get to work on rigging the process.
  • Demonic Possession: It's what the Dark Lord does to The Named.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: During the Siege of Nin-Edin Amarynth's closest battle companion Kazra is killed by an orc sniper. Amarynth cradles the dead dwarf and emits a Skyward Scream of grief.
  • Distinction Without a Difference:
    Lt. Gilmuriel: I don't care if it is orders, Sergeant! Marines never retreat!
    Sgt. Dakashnit: Not, L.t., course not. Just think of it as advancing to the rear.
  • Dragon Hoard: Parodied — it's not a deposit of treasure, but a collection of weapons.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Immediately after falling victim to Dagurashibanipal's curse, self-appointed Gunnery Sergeant Ashnak turns into a classic case of this.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    "They aren't history, they're field rations."
    Major Ashnak
  • Evil Twin: The Named and the Nameless Necromancer are twins. The former is female and on the side of Light, in case the Necromancer part hadn't given away which side the Nameless was on.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Light is a bunch of monumental jerks, the orcs are at best Faux Affably Evil. Played for laughs.
  • Fantastic Racism: Where to start? Well, let's see...everyone?
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Greenies" (for orcs) and "squeakies" (for elves) are what immediately springs to mind.
    "Hordes of spear-chuckin' greenies from Bongo-Bongo land."
    High-King Celtos Magorian
  • Fantasy Aliens: The second half has a race of scorpion-like aliens with Organic Technology touch down in the otherwise rather Standard Fantasy Setting.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted, since the book explores what would happen if a band of orcs stumbled upon a dragon hoard filled with modern firearms.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Orcs, humans, wizards, halflings, elves, dwarves, trolls and horrible aliens from space.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The orcs.
  • Fish out of Water: Sgt. Stryker, USMC, was fending off some hooligans outside an English pub when he was ripped from his world and deposited on a battlefield in a magical fantasy land. After a brief Heroic BSoD, he craps his pants and runs away screaming in panic.
  • Half-Identical Twins: The nameless necromancer and The Named. The first time Ashnak meets The Named, he is certain that she is her brother.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: General Ashnak (leader of the Fighting Agaku orc tribe) and Magda Brandiman (hobbit dominatrix).
  • Light Is Not Good: Light is, on the contrary, incredibly jerkass-ish.
  • Living Weapon: the aforementioned Aliens grow chitin machine guns from special organs on their stomachs.
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: It starts after the Orcs get their hands on a cache of modern weaponry from our world, which is cursed so that they become Marines.
  • Medals for Everyone: Barashkukor really, really wants this to happen.
  • Mordor: A glance at the maps in the frontispieces of Grunts! quickly tell you where the Dark Lord lives. Yep, over there, in the East. Where it says "The Dark Lands"; separated from the rest of the world by a huge mountain range littered with orc forts and a Necromancer's Tower.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The wounded are gathered to be field rations for the march-capable.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In one scene, Ashnak and an elven wizard have a conversation, sharing that they both have to deal with superiors who are very difficult to deal with on a good day. Later, during a truce with some alien bug invaders, the bugs' one officer, who is speaking as a representative, tells him that the bugs just like to kill things - Ashank doesn't fault him for that, as he too likes to kill things.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Because we've fitted them with a cloaking device and turned them into a stealth bomber.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Not so much Warhammer orcs, per se, as an odd blend of the Tolkien and Warhammer varieties with modern military influences. Big, burly, sharp-toothed, vulgar, and aggressive, with skin that varies from black through shades of green and gray to pure white. Prone to Comedic Sociopathy. And they have green blood.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Will and Ned Brandiman and Barashkukor turns into one after the bugs turn him into a Cyborg Orc.
  • The Political Officer: Having spent a lot of time reading over the political philosophy texts in Dagurashibanipal's hoard, Marine Razitshakra turns into Marine Commissar Razitshakra, complete with Commissar Cap and Russian Army greatcoat, monitoring her fellow orcs for "ideological instability".
  • Science Fantasy
  • Semper Fi: As soon as they start taking the cursed weapons from Dagurashibanipal's hoard, the orcs begin aping marine manarisms, and almost instantly become true believes in the myth of the marine as a blood-thirsty powerhouse of a warrior.
  • Severed Head Sports: Orcball until it's gentrified.
  • Shout-Out. So. Many.
    • To give a few examples, no 80's sci-fi/action movie is left unscathed. Alien and Terminator references figure prominently.
    • The "man-smart, fighting Agaku" are an Expy for Tolkien's "fighting Uruk-hai!," i.e a breed of Orc smarter, larger and nastier than the common greenskin.
    • Orcball, a violent version of American Football played by orcs, halflings, elves and other fantasy races. Sounds familiar... .
  • Sound Off:
    "I don't know but I've been told"
    "Orcs is[sic] vicious, mean and bold!"
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: It's how a United States Marine finds himself transported to the Orcs world.
  • The Trope without a Title: The nameless necromancer, and his sister, The Named.
  • Unconventional Courtroom Tactics: When Ashnak is placed on trial for war crimes and election rigging, his supporters try so many tricks, it's difficult to even list half of them — false witnesses, lying under oath, threatening the jury, bringing in weapons, causing damage to the courtroom. Ultimately, the judge decides to find Ashnak innocent of the crimes he's been accused of, has ever been accused of, or will ever to be accused of, if only to make sure that there's still a courtroom.
  • The Undead: Unsurprisingly, given they work for the Nameless Necromancer (at least initially) there are some Undead Orcs. They, being magical, can't use the nullity talismans and decide to devote themselves to covert commando operations, forming the Special Undead Services, Motto: "Death Then Glory."
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: Upon his return, the Dark Lord declares that war is passe and he wishes to conquer the world via politics instead. Eager to please their Evil Overlord, and ensure his victory and their own continued success, Ashnak and the orcs get down to some serious ballot box stuffing.
  • Your Mom:
    "You called?"
    "Your mother wears combat boots, and pisses standing up!"
    "Doesn't everyone's?"