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Literature / Hoka

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Humorous science-fiction series by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson.

The Hoka are an alien race who are notable for two reasons: First, they look remarkably like living teddy bears. Second, they are entranced by fiction. Give them a story and they will start to live it out, believing (or at least acting) as if they are in it. They have whole cities based on various periods of human history, with Ancient Rome, Victorian England, American Wild West and other places. One of them believes he is Napoleon and has an entire city of Hokas willing to follow him as leader of "France". Actually, a better way of saying it is that their hat is following tropes, as they tend to act out the trope more than reality. Luckily, they are non-violent, so they tend to just fake the wars and other violent parts (except hangings, which they do with gusto because Hokan neck muscles are much too strong relative to body weight for it to do anything but tingle).

Each of the stories features a different story or genre being re-enacted, from The Western to Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. One of the most well-known stories, "The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound", features the Hoka Sherlock Holmes.

In most of the stories, the point-of-view character is Alexander Braithwaite Jones, the human ambassador to the Hoka planet, who generally finds himself being the Only Sane Man. His outsider viewpoint, and the fact that unlike his furry charges he's capable of distancing himself from the various roles he's been given, grant him a measure of Genre Savvy, but it doesn't always do him much good.

This series provides examples of:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: After a few years with the Hokas and their preferred tipple (see Gargle Blaster), Alex has a massively increased tolerance for alcohol. In one case, he finishes off an entire pitcher of martinis under the mistaken impression that it's mineral water.
  • Always Lawful Good: The Hoka. Although they really don't worry about any law but the Law of Drama. Some Hoka will "act" out the parts of historically evil humans, but they never actually do anything evil.
  • Blackmail:
    • In "Don Jones", Alex tries to blackmail Terwillinger to agree that both of their irresponsible behaviors should be swept under the rug. Terwillinger says, "Publish and be damned!" Fortunately this inspires Doralene to decide that he's not after all a stuffed shirt and she's in love with him. This inspires him to let Alex off after all.
    • In "The Napoleon Crime", Alex, finding himself cast as the Duke of Wellington, can remember only that he responded with "Publish and be damned!" to a blackmailer. At the end, when a reporter tells him that he can make him look ridiculous, Alex decides not to resist temptation: "Publish and be damned!"
  • Captain Colorbeard: In one of the stories, one of the humans must become a convincing pirate, so he glues on a synthetic green beard and becomes Greenbeard.
  • Coin-Targeting Trickshot: Alex may not know how to ride a horse (let alone the reptiloid creatures the Hokas insist on calling "ponies") but he is "the best raythrower marksman in the Fleet" and he promptly offers to "plug it through the middle" if one of the Hokas will throw a coin in the air. Unfortunately for Alex, "raythrowers don't have recoil", and this last attempt at impressing the Hokas with his human superiority falls quit flat (as does Alex, who is literally knocked flat by the recoil of a black-powder six shooter).
  • Continuity Nod: From time to time, references are made in passing to previous stories. One story mentions in passing that the pirates sacking Kingston became an annual tradition (complete with a parade) after Alex "killed" Greenbeard.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In "Full Pack (Hokas Wild)", three aliens who resemble a tiger, a snake, and a monkey make an unscheduled stop on the Hoka planet right near a bunch of Hokas who are re-enacting The Jungle Book (with humans playing Mowgli and Messua).
  • Could Say It, But...: Alex once explains a story by saying he can't explain because he's unwilling to accuse officials of having swallowed the story of a drunk or possibly deranged individual.
  • Cute Critters Act Childlike: The Hoka, with their adorable teddy bear like appearance, innocent good nature, and active imaginations.
  • Deathbringer the Adorable: The Hoka are known as the "Demon Teddy Bears" to some. But they are really very kind and nice. It's just that when they are roleplaying, you can't stop them.
  • Duel to the Death: Once Alex Jones challenged the Pirate Greenbeard to a duel — when Greenbeard was the persona he adopted to infiltrate the pirates. Staging it behind a wall, he convinced the Hoka pirates that he had actually fought it.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first Hoka story features the Hokas' ancient enemies, the reptilian Slissii. They are never seen again; Alex later explains that they fled the planet.
  • Feudal Future: On some parts of the Hoka planet.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: The Hokas appropriate the courier on this ground
  • Gargle Blaster: Old Panther Sweat. Made in Montana by Panthers. Hokas drink an extremely potent alcoholic beverage that has nowhere near as much impact on them as it does on members of other species, who are more than once taken completely off guard, since they tend to believe that what's in the glass is the beverage they're told it is. With Hokas, not a safe bet.
  • The Good Guys Always Win: It's a comedy series, so naturally this happens. This may be due to Obfuscating Insanity as seen in the alter entry.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: All the villains played by the Hoka actually never hurt anyone. See Always Lawful Good (above).
  • The Infiltration: Alex Jones infiltrates the Hoka Pirates to prevent actual fighting from breaking out.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: In The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch, Alexander Jones gets in trouble when he assumes that his skill with a laser pistol will translate into skill with a six-shooter. He's never experienced recoil before.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: The Hoka version of the French Foreign Legion includes not only Hokas that want to be Legionnaires, but those who are inspired by certain works of fiction but are unable to get other Hokas to join in.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: At one point, Alex half-jokingly speculates about being in an actual fictional narrative written by money-desperate hacks.
    Alex: I've really begun to wonder if some evil masterminds aren't at work behind the scenes. It's either believe that or believe we're only characters in a series of stories that are being written by a couple of hacks who need the money.
  • Magic Antidote: A "soberpill" removes all intoxication the moment it's swallowed.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: You can hang a Hoka, but it won't hurt him (they have unusually strong neck muscles), and he'll consider it all part of whatever fiction is currently being lived out.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Various female characters from time to time, but in particular Doralene Rawlins. Per the narrative:
    A foreboding chill twined about his vertebrae. This was an unusual phenomenon, for the Canadian lass, Doralene Rawlings, was generally believed to raise the temperature three degrees C. in any room where men were present. She was tall, strong, supple, red-haired, green-eyed, unmistakably mammalian, and addicted to skin-tight tunics and half-kneelength skirts.
  • Multiboobage: Female Hokas have two rows of breasts, so in roles such as Pirate Girl, they have to tailor their costumes appropriately, to show off all their cleavage.
  • Napoleon Delusion: One Hoka calls himself Napoleon. For once, Alex feels bound to explain that a sane Hoka can call himself Napoleon. Sane by Hoka standards, anyway.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: In one story, one character describes another as the offspring of a union that the compilers of Leviticus would not have approved of. At another point, Alex swears by apparently saying "Blankety-blanks!"
  • Noble Savage: Once the defeated Slissii realize the associations that come with being labeled "injuns" by Wild West-acting Hokas, they milk this trope for all it's worth, to such spectacular effect that they manage to afford being able to hire a bus big enough to fit their whole species.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: You get little hints here and there that the Hoka sometimes understand exactly who is the bad guy and how to stop them regardless of the current book plot they are acting out. Of course you could see it as...
  • Obligatory Joke: More than once, circumstances will lead some character or another to throw out a famous quote associated with whichever work the Hokas are enacting, usually as a punchline at a story's climax. In "The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound", Alex realizes that the Hoka Sherlock Holmes is maneuvering his human companion blindly into setting him up to deliver Sherlock's famous line. Rather than try to warn the other human off, he just sits down for a drink.
  • One-Steve Limit: Not in the Western setting. For the males, anyway, as they have about twenty names between them. The females keep traditional Hoka names, as otherwise they'd all be named "Jane".
  • Only Sane Man: Alex. In at least one story, his wife gets to play the role when Alex is away. Her sanity is tested, though.
  • Planet of Hats: The Hokas have the hat of living out fiction. Some of the other alien races that appear in the stories also have hats.
  • Pirates: But not thieves, mind you. They do take stuff, but they give it all back afterwards.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Played straight in "The Sheriff of Canyon Gulch" (with the other natives of Toka, no less) and "Joy in Mudville" (although that lot are not entirely reptilian); subverted in "Full Pack (Hokas Wild)" with the snakelike Slissii, who turns out to be an innocent hostage — and since the Hokas are acting out The Jungle Book at that point, he's seen as Kaa, the wise old python.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • What was Hoka society like before they learned about human stories? There is no way of knowing — one anthropologist found an isolated Hoka tribe and started studying them, but had to abandon the project when they all started acting like anthropologists.
    • Do Hoka really believe to be the fictional characters they imitate, or are they just into acting and very committed to the bit? There are hints that the latter may be true, but we never get a definitive answer.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Hokas stick to their old navigational tricks — captains use the newfangled human ones for veneer.
  • Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: In a sense, the Hokas can be considered to be doing this all the time, except that when a Hoka adopts a role, that becomes their real identity for the duration. There's a more clear-cut example in "The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound", where the Hoka Holmes persists in addressing Alex as "Watson", because he needs somebody to be Watson and the real Watson (that is, the Hoka who usually enacts the role) is unavailable.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Alex's problem in "Don Jones".
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Several humans run afoul of the extremely potent Hoka liquor, not helped by the Hoka tendency to call what's in the bottle/decanter by whatever name best fits the current fiction.
  • War Refugees: Fleeing the Slissii in the first story.
  • White Man's Burden: Referenced, as humanity has re-embraced the trope as spaceman's burden, trying to uplift every tribal society they come across and make that species as much like humanity as they can — the collective series is sometimes referred to as The Earthman's Burden series. Experience with the Hokas teaches Alex that this might not always be a good idea. Or possible.
    But I have been increasingly nagged by a very basic doubt — a doubt of the value, even the rightness, of the Service's very raison d'ĂȘtre. Is it possible that our problem of "civilizing backward planets" is only a subtler form of the old, discredited imperialism of Earth's brutal past? Have I merely been turning my wards into second-rate humans, instead of first-rate Hokas? I don't know. In spite of all our pretentious psychocultural tests, I doubt if anyone really knows.