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Literature / Into the Looking Glass

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Officially known as the Voyage of the Space Bubble series, this story — tending more towards hard science fiction (which softens somewhat as the series continues) and building off of currently known particle physics — is written by John Ringo and (joining after the first book) Travis Taylor. 20 Minutes into the Future, an accident at a Florida university's high energy particle physics laboratory results in multiple gates opening to other parts of the galaxy, through which a Horde of Alien Locusts with Organic Technology launch an attack on Earth.

The series consists of the following books:

  • Into the Looking Glass
  • Vorpal Blade
  • Manxome Foe
  • Claws That Catch

This series contains the following tropes:

  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: After the first book, which followed Doc Weaver and Chief Miller as protagonists, later books focus on New Meat Eric Bergstresser, with Weaver and Miller being relegated to secondary protagonists.
  • Apocalypse How: Multiple levels of Apocalypse:
    • Class X-2: At the end of the first book, Weaver is given a device of unknown functionality. Using the "Looking Glass" portals the device is taken to an uninhabited star system for testing. After the testers return to see the results of the test, they find the entire star system just plain gone. As noted elsewhere, turns out they were using it wrong.
    • Class X-3: Later books include the Dreen wanting to devour the entire galaxy.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The first book had an error in the description of one of the subatomic particles discussed. Lampshaded in the second book, where Taylor's physics knowledge firms up the scientific side of the story, and of course, handwaved a bit by Ringo in the first book, who notes that he deliberately made some errors to not reveal classified information and mucked up on others.
  • Author Tract: Arguably, parts of the fourth book could be described as "America FTW and every country who isn't America sucks ass". The first book considered the fact an Islamic holy site and large parts of the Middle East being covered in Dreen mass, and America not sending aid, a good thing.
  • Badass Bookworm: William Weaver, Ph.D., is a theoretical physicist who does most of his work in his head... while mountain biking, rock climbing, participating in kung fu tournaments, and fighting off an alien invasion.
  • BFG:
    • One of the rednecks who show up to help the SWAT and National Guard fight off the original contact with the Dreen wields a .577 T-Rex, the same rifle that knocks down people if held slightly wrong. Also included in the loadout were two Barretts, M-82A1 and M-95, semi-automatic and bolt respectively.
    • Later, when the first line of Wyverns are deployed against a Dreen gestator, Miller has a miniature BSOD when the armorer presents a cut down South African artillery piece, specifically a 130-milimeter recoilless rifle.
    • "Two-Gun" uses a pair of cut down .50 caliber sniper rifles while in his Wyvern, and dual .455s in ground mount gear.
  • Bioweapon Beast: The space spiders were created to serve as a weapon against the Dreen.
  • Black Box: A device, about the size of a pack of cards, does "interesting" things with spacetime. It was given to them by the friendly aliens at the end of the first book, who had found it on some other planet and had no idea what it was for. Although they did warn that one should NOT apply a "significant voltage" to it.
    Hooking up a double-A battery leaves a 10-mile crater. A car battery almost destroys the (deliberately uninhabited and unimportant) planet. Three-phase current erases the solar system. They eventually figure out how to turn it into a warp drive and use it to power the ASS Vorpal Blade. Turns out hooking it up to a car battery was using it wrong.
  • Brown Note: One of the results of the creation of the Chen Anomaly is a bubble covering Boca Raton, Florida. Any attempt at recording what's inside the bubble fails, and anyone who sees it goes incurably insane. A select few who aren't just screaming incoherently scream something about big, shambling mountains of madness. A technician assisting Weaver's investigation of the anomalies caused by the explosion at the University of Florida suggests the result is like that from a human in the Lovecraft mythos looking up on one of the Old Ones, by seeing something that's completely beyond human comprehension.
  • The Cameo: Quite a few of them, particularly after the first book.
  • Captain Ersatz: Let's face it, the Dreen are Zerg in just about all but name, right down to the Meat Moss that spreads around so they can grow organic buildings from it. They even use some of the same units. "Dog Demons" (zerglings), "Thorn Throwers" (hydralisks), "Rhino Tanks" (ultralisks) and "Caterpillar Tanks" (Nydus Worms).
  • Cat Folk - The Mreee (pronounced the way a cat yowls when you stomp its tail) who look like three-foot tall anthropomorphic housecats whose native language sounds like "cats stuck in a barrel." They are the first non-Dreen race humanity comes in contact with. They're one of the races the Dreen have enslaved and were using to harvest biomass from. The Dreen Gestators tried duping humanity... somehow... but said Gestators still unaware of the full extent of the human nuisance, pretty much try to get the cats to calm humans down a bit and underestimate the Dreen.
  • Combat Stilettos: Miriam Moon does not wear flats. It's to the point she has 3-inch heels built into her space suits.
  • Cool Gate: The titular Looking Glass bosons. See also Portal Network.
  • Demoted to Extra: While Mimi and Tuffy are main characters in the second book, they aren't mentioned at all in the third and the fourth seems to only brings them up to set up a Chekhov's Gun for later in the series.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: "Spacetape" is used by the Marines and Navy aboard the Vorpal Blade. It is superior to Duct tape in that it is usable in a vacuum and won't dry out under temperature extremes of deep space. The drawback? It costs upwards of $100,000 dollars a roll!
  • Energy Weapon: The lasers on the Vorpal Blade are presented realistically, being invisible within an atmosphere, hitting the target instantly and having to keep focused on it for several seconds to heat it up rather than just exploding it. When the ship first enters the Drive Builders' mysterious structure, though, and everything turns into anime tropes, Ltd. Bergstresser is turned into a hero with two "laser guns" on his hips. He finds himself aware of the fact that they shoot slower than light green energy blasts that cause the target to disappear in a flash, and is somewhat disturbed by the fact that this is absolutely not how laser pistols should behave. It's all played for laughs.
  • Expy:
    • Portana, of the Prince Roger-era Poertena. Both are filthy-mouthed Filipinos (or equivalents) with thick accents.
    • The Dreen are really Zerg by any other name, being a Horde of Alien Locusts bent on galactic conquest, run by malevolent hive minds that utilize Organic Technology. They even have very close equivalents of zerglings and hydralisks. And Creep.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Vorpal Blade's COB — or Chief of Boat — is never named; this is even lampshaded when Weaver and the newly-minted Chief of Aeronautical Operations are considering who to send to a media presentation in Claws that Catch.
    "Just imagining the COB being interviewed, sir. 'So you are the chief of boat? What's your name?' 'C-O-B.' 'How do you spell that?' 'C-O-B. Chief. Of. Boat.' Sir, in all honesty, no, I can't think of any others unless the CO wants to go."
  • Fastball Special: In Into the Looking Glass, Lake County SWAT agent Knapp, just over five feet tall, is mentioned in the third chapter as being thrown through a second floor window by his fellow team members in competitions, for the purpose of performing entries on buildings targeted by SWAT teams.
  • Fauxreigner: Religious example: one of the Marines (nicknamed "Gunga Din") claimed, when recruited, to be Hindu, simply because he didn't want to be an atheist like the parents he hated. Doubly subverted in that a) he is Indian, and b) once he'd made the decision, he decided to be serious about it, and has been slowly learning about the religion ever since. In fact, the not-Religious Marines know more about the Hindu religion than he did.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • Alliance Space Ship Vorpal Blade. First met with uncomfortable silence and implied facepalms from the ceremony before the launch (exception of one laughing man from the Presidential crew), and subjected to really bad puns made by Two-Gun. Let's just say the Adar still don't have a grip on human language.
    • One cleaner is called "ID-10-T Decontaminant", and is used to clean up radioactive spills. When the two get into proxemity, the cleaner goes from highly toxic and acidic to being safe to drink, so you look like a tool for being so careful about it.
  • Genius Bruiser: The Marines selected to serve aboard the Vorpal Blade are required to have a grasp of advanced particle physics.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Many characters in the series are perfectly aware they've been thrown into a science fiction situation. In the second novel, being science fiction fans is seen as a useful characteristic for the new Space Marines and officers flying the first human starship, the captain of which takes a giddy delight in being able to give orders like "Ahead Warp 1" and "Engage warp drive".
    • In Claws That Catch this is taken to a slightly surreal extreme when some conflicts between various alien technologies cause them to become anime characters, or at least believe they did so. Capt. Weaver laments the fact that he is clearly a secondary character since as anime characters the hero is clearly identifiable - Eric Bergstresser essentially turns into an expy of Cloud Strife.
    • When the SWAT, Rednecks, National Guard, and SEALs are holed up in a house near the first boson battle, a News helicopter comes in. The characters dryly comment on the fact that going near the big flapping mosquito nearby probably isn't a good idea. It promptly suicide bombs the helicopter.
  • Guns Akimbo: The specialty of Eric "Two-Gun" Bergstresser, of the "shoot one at a time" variety. Interestingly, he got this moniker against his will - he earned the name of it when he said he could do it a bit during his inprocessing and Sgt. Jaen asked him to try it.
  • Hand Cannon - Two-Gun gains his nickname after being goaded to dual-wield .455 pistols during his familiarization with the VR training system, and he can't live it down.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Dreen. The cat people describe them as pests that come with the bosons, but they're much worse.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: Command Master Chief Miller, in the first book, took advantage of an opportunity to use a phrase he had waited "most of his adult life" to say, when kept from entering Disney World to investigate a possible gate by local security. The phrase? "We're in no mood for Mickey Mouse."note 
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the book titles are Literary Allusion Titles to Lewis Carroll.
  • It's Raining Men: Mixed with Drop Pod and Ruleof Cool and mixed well. The Marines, in their Power Armor, ride alien "golden surfboards" (Golden hoverboards controlled by thought and with orbital capability.) to drop from near-orbit on an enemy position.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The literal Black Box given to humans by the Adar as a last-ditch WMD. Attaching any sort of power supply to it makes it give off a very explosive energy reaction - enough to annihilate a Dreen invasion force and shatter an entire solar system. The humans eventually figure it out and it later forms the basis of the Vorpal Blade's FTL drive.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Despite the lasers, plasma guns, and chaos guns, the most powerful weapon the humans get is mounted on a captured Dreen dreadnaught, a stupidly HUGE mass driver shows up at the end of Maxome Foe and obliterates a Hexosehr warship. Captured and re-named the Thermoplae, the ship's mass driver throws a round weighing as much as a WW2 destroyer-2,100 tons, give or take, at 0.3c.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Toward the end of the first book, the Mree general that lead the invasion forces trying to stop the protagonists from taking the Looking Glass is trapped on Earth after the Glass is sealed by Dr. Weaver's deploying the Ardune device on the other side, and neither he nor his men can process Earth food, leaving them to ultimately starve to death. Command Master Chief Miller leaves behind his pistol for the general to use after a brief discussion about honor, and outside the holding room the general is heard using it to take his own life once Miller and Weaver leave.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Ringo apparently reads a lot of Lewis Carroll, judging from the novel names. It was worse before some of the book names were changed. Claws That Catch was once The Tum-Tum Tree.
  • Made of Explodium - Do not get the Rhino tanks' attention, you won't like it. Also, don't shoot them with anything meant to take down tanks: they really hate it. Using smaller calibers is fine.
  • Makes Just as Much Sense in Context: When Weaver and Miller assault the first Dreen gestator in the first novel, it tries to send something that looks like a walking pile of dung, with tentacles on it. Miller shoots it, and it turns out to be a quark bomb that completely obliterates everything. Miller was knocked back into the boson due to recoil before it exploded, whereas Weaver is still teleporting when the bullets hit the piece of dung. "Tuffy" explains the nature of his race (cryptically described as being made of the stuff between universes) to Weaver as he languidly drives a Pinto as a state trooper pulls him over, who promptly turns into a demon. And is then rammed into a cliff by a truck, and finds himself rearranged. Weaver takes it all in stride, describing it as successfully making a SAN roll.
  • The Mentor: Captain Zanella ends up serving as this to newly-promoted 2nd Lt. Eric Bergstresser, since he's only graduated from OCS, and hasn't gone to the Basic School.
  • Mini-Mecha: The WYVERN system is vaguely humanoid-shaped, but even later models with more advanced technology are still piloted from a cockpit more than worn like a suit of Powered Armor.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: One book describes an Energy Being getting stuck in a neural implant used as a universal remote and being upset that the microprossessor wasn't being put to better use. It's likened to a mouse using a computer fan to provide motive power for a "little mouse car".
    • The FTL engine makes a huge explosion when electrified. The military was trying to turn it into a bomb when someone zapped it with a particle beam...
  • No Biochemical Barriers:
    • Averted. The first example is the Mreee, who will starve if they stay on Earth.
    • The alien food is used as a diet plan, because, while filling, has no nutritional value, including energy in a form human biochemistry can use.
    • Used in that anyone from one of the four biological patterns (called chloro A, chloro B, red, and blue based on the version of chlorophyll found) can eat anything of that pattern. However, even same-pattern foods may or may not be nutritious, or even safe- there's just a better chance of it being digestible.
  • No OSHA Compliance - Averted (and lampshaded) with the ASS Vorpal Blade. Half the stuff is usually up to safety standards, but the rest... there are no safety standards when the only way to test said standard would be vaporize the ship and possibly the entire planet. Averted for laughs in the first book, when a soldier being sent into the first known Looking Glass gets a safety lecture that amounts to admitting that they have no idea if any of their safety precautions will do any good on the other side of the portal.
  • Nom de Guerre: Alliance Space Marines (and, later, those who work directly with them on ops) are assigned team names based on a trait, their name, or some event/activity they were involved in at some point (usually an embarrassing one).
  • Nuclear Option:
    • In the first book, the invading Dreen were initially repulsed with conventional weapons, but the invaders eventually deployed much more potent units that completely overwhelmed conventional forces. The US president wisely decided to order nuclear attacks on alien forces that broke past the defenders. This was highly effective as a stalling tactic until a way was discovered to close the portals the aliens were using. Several dozen such attacks were carried out over the course of the book.
    • In books after the first one, nukes are standard issue for destabilizing active Looking Glasses by detonating them on the far side when there's a threat of a Dreen incursion, to buy time for moving the Earth LG to a secure facility in Antarctica, away from any other human civilization.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: A bunch of awesome moments were probably had during the Dreen Wars after the first book, but never mentioned beyond indirect, mostly undetailed references to "Dreen Wars" by characters later in the series.
  • Omni Disciplinary Scientist: Weaver, modeled after series co-author Travis S. Taylor (who's done everything that Weaver has, save battling alien invaders). However, he has co-written a book on how to fight an alien invasion.
  • Organic Technology: The Dreen technology is based completely on biological entities grown to perform specific tasks.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: In Vorpal Blade, Lt. Commander Weaver mentions, in a discussion of impromptu refilling of oxygen reserves for the titular spacecraft, that they have the finest jury-riggers in the star system that they're exploring. The Executive Officer points out that they're the only intelligent life in the system, which Weaver then says is his point.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Miriam and Blade's doctor share a bag in Maxome Foe while watching the Hexosherr in the medical bay.
  • The Power of Rock:
    • In Claws That Catch, the crew of the Vorpal Blade II discover a giant artifact in a very strange star system that turns out to be a giant concert venue, they then proceed to defeat an attacking alien fleet by using songs such as Freebird and Black Unicorn to control the star system scale laser lightshow.
    • The Final Countdown is used to taunt and annoy the Russians tracking the first Vorpal Blade. It also serves as a warning to get the hell out of the way, because the wake of the Vorpal Blade will sink their subs.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Several Middle Eastern countries and militant groups get a hold of Dreen biomass and start experimenting on it to make biological weapons (this being a highly advanced Grey Goo that is programmed to mutate and do whatever it can to grow and spread). Once the escaped containment becomes obvious from satellite photos, all of the world superpowers violate every treaty on record to go clean up the mess with napalm.
  • Rank Up: Eric Bergstresser goes from being a Private First Class, to a Sergeant, to a 2nd Lieutenant as the series progresses. A significant part of '"Claws That Catch'' is devoted to his professional development as an officer.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: In the beginning of Vorpal Blade, former Command Master Chief Miller is working as a florist after leaving the US Navy, at least in part chosen because it's a job where he's not going to wind up meeting people that wind up dead. Later, he's seen or mentions doing arrangements outside of the job.
  • Redshirt Army: The Vorpal Blade goes out with a company of Marines, and generally comes back with less than a platoon. It's an in-universe joke that the ship won't turn back until they run out of food or Marines.
  • Semper Fi: The US Marine Corps provides almost all of the fighters for the Vorpal Blade and Vorpal Blade II. Justified in that the military branch in charge of the Vorpal Blade is the Navy with the Marine fulfilling their traditional role, albeit in space.
  • Shout-Out: Plenty, including not only the Alice in Wonderland references, but also to Ringo's Literature/Prince Roger series, which contributes one of the characters and some of the "colorful" language euphemisms.
    • The end of Claws that Catch features something very much like the end of Macross 7...
    • There's several Aliens references, including the "Nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" line (said as the Marines are preparing to do essentially just that). Also, one of the sergeants yells "On the bounce"- the Starship Troopers equivalent of "move your ass!" just before launching a combat drop from orbit .
    • In Manxome Foe the ship's mission (rush to an attacked colony and investigate) is straight out of Aliens. The entire crew, to their credit, realize this.
    • Weaver compares the Dreen-eating space spiders to tribbles when describing their reproductive potential.
    • Tuffy and his race are reminiscent of tribbles as well. In the first book, there's a scene where they completely engulf Weaver, mirroring the scene where a load of tribbles land on Kirk.
    • Shiny is a replacement for "cool". It's even used when a Marine finds Firefly in the entertainment section of the bunks.
    • A Monty Python one in the first book:
      Miller: Time to do the Mogadishu Mile.
      Weaver: And that is?
      Miller: Run away, run away!
    • From Manxome Foe, while investigating a research camp in the HD 36951 system that was attacked by the Dreen: "Very dangerous. You go first."
  • Snipe Hunt: Vorpal Blade has a hapless crewman being told to pick up a flask of "ID-10-T" decontaminant from a storage locker and take it to the site of a radiation leak. He's told that it's radioactive enough to crispy-fry him and corrosive enough to eat through the hull. However, once he gets there, the radiation fields cancel each other out through heterodyne interference and transmute the respective substances into harmless isotopes-in the case of the decontaminant, into something suspiciously like a cold drink, making you look like an "id10t" for being so careful with it on the way there. This is based on a classic prank of giving someone a glass of juice, telling them it's battery acid, and watching the look on their face when the recipient drinks it in front of them after they've gone through hell to avoid spilling it.
  • Space Fighter: The "dragonflies" in Vorpal Blade. Living Ships, with retractable wings, shields, and Frickin' Laser Beams from their eyes. Locals can ride on top and control them, or the queen can control all of them via a control couch.
  • Space Is Cold: Averted. The Vorpal Blade comes complete with a very long extendable heat exchanger, specifically due to how the lack of convection will eventually overheat the ship. Combat is often limited by the heat. The ship also has to stop every so often while just traveling around in order to "chill out" (as the procedure becomes known on the ship).
  • Space Marines: Complete with a modified version of The Marines Hymn.
  • Space Sailing: The Human-Adar Alliance's first warp ship is a converted Ohio class ballistic missile submarine, the USS Nebraska (SSBN-739), and is mostly crewed by US Navy personnel who primarily use naval terminology except where the third dimension gets involved.
  • Spy Catsuit: How "Two Gun" describes the skintight suit worn by Wyvern users.
  • Starfish Aliens - The T!ch!r (as named by the N!T!Ch!, who also qualify, as they're giant spiderish folk), later turned into the easier-to-pronounce Dreen (from the Adar onomatopoeia transliteration of the demon dogs' howl).
  • Starship Luxurious: Averted. The first Vorpal Blade was a converted Ohio-class SSBN, so space is at a premium - though the bunks are awesome. They're filled with nearly every TV series, video game, film, and music ever (and can survive in space, if the ship explodes). Basically the ultimate in entertainment.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Tuffy, unless, as hinted, he's something even stranger.
    • The race that created the brick-like warp drives. To make a point, they were advanced enough that they could afford to essentially create Dyson spheres for the sole purpose of entertainment.
  • Squee:
    • Miller's reaction to the first-generation Wyvern armaments; first, the 130 millimeter recoilless rifle, second, to the GAU-11 - the cut-down 4-barrel carbine equivalent to the GAU-8 Avenger.
    • One of the SEALs, despite proclaiming not to be a weeaboo, is absolutely giddy in the improved Wyvern mechs during the final assault on the Dreen in the first book.
  • This Is Not a Drill: In Vorpal Blade, there are several "intruder alert" announcements for the Marines aboard the titular spacecraft, but when the Demons attack the trope phrase is added, though for some the "not a drill" announcement doesn't sink in immediately.
  • Unusual Euphemism - "Maulk", "Grapp", "Behanchod" (which isn't even Adar - it means "sister fucker" in Hindi), all in place for various curse words. Ass has no replacement... if only so the Adar can screw up ship initials.
  • World of Ham: The Space Marines are all full of patriotic "Oo-rah!" spirit.