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Literature / Joe's World

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Joe's World is the overall title for two comic-fantasy novels written by Eric Flint and Richard Roach.

Long ago, a caveman named Joe created food to keep the humans going. Then, he invented sex to keep the humans occupied. Then, he invented work to keep the population in check. To help organize work, Joe then invented bosses. To help the bosses keep the worse workers in line, Joe invented the police. To help keep the worst ones in line Joe invented priests, and to help priests put the finishing touches on keeping everyone in line, Joe invented God. God, in his turn decided that Joe was a liability to him, and froze Joe in a flash ice age.

Since then, the bosses, police, priests and God himself have fallen short of Joe's expectations. Even mentioning Joe is considered heresy (even though just about every feature of geography on the sub-continent of Grotum is named after him) and the common man is downtrodden. Luckily, there is a resistance movement going on, led from the libertarian/anarchist nation of Mutt. And now, Joe's about to come back.

The first book, The Philosophical Strangler (officially) written by Flint alone, tells the tale of Greyboar, the greatest professional strangler around, and his agent/foster brother Ignace, who live in New Sphinctr, the capital of Sphinctria, one of the kingdoms of Grotum. The book opens with an account of what was supposed to be a routine royal strangulation; the crown prince of Sundjhab wants his uncle, the king, dead. The job goes smoothly until Greyboar declares the king his guru, but still strangles him as a matter of professional ethics. Naturally, Greyboar then has to strangle the prince for hiring him to strangle his own guru. The fallout from this forces the duo to flee the city for a time.

After a Time Skip and a Noodle Incident in nearby Prygg, the story picks up with Ignace and Greyboar back in New Sphinctr. What follows is a number of separate vignettes centered around the duo's professional exploits and love lives, culminating in a visit to the local underworld, and a momentous decision in regards to their ongoing career.

The second book, Forward the Mage, written by Flint and Roach, and (mostly) focusing on supporting characters from the first tale, has two separate storylines. One details the meeting, travels and romance of the Ozarine artist/mercenary/adventurer Benvenuti Sfondrati-Piccolomini and Greyboar's sister Gwendolyn, and the other on the wizard Zulkeh and his dwarven apprentice/slave Shelyid. The book is largely set during the Time Skip of the first book, providing more background on the general situation and shedding light on the Noodle Incident.

The two books were published in 2001 and 2002. Flint and/or Roach spent portions of the next twenty years working on a third book in the series, to be titled A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf. Sadly, the former passed away in 2022 with the book only partially finished. He allowed some of the work-in-progress material to be posted in a Baen Books archive. A bibliography on Mr. Flint's website also lists two more titles that might have been: Sword On Canvas and Thumbs of Eternity.

The series subverts, lampshades or just generally plays for laughs most of the tropes it uses.

Provides examples of

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Wolfgang Laebmauntsforscynneweëld
  • All for Nothing: Etienne Avare's decades-long attempt at finding a worthy heir who will preserve his vast fortune; when he finally thinks he's found one and dies, the money is almost immediately lost to vicious infighting and lawyer fees.
  • A God Am I: God himself, according to Hildegard.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Gwendolyn
  • And Show It to You: The only weapons, outside of garrottes, Greyboar uses are ones extracted from hapless bodyguards.
  • Artifact of Doom: All of Joe's creations: The Pink Slips, The Rap Sheets, The Switches, The Boots, and whatever family-unfriendly artifact God was given. Though the only one the reader actually sees being used is a Rap Sheet.
  • Asshole Victim: A (fallen) angel comments in passing that pretty much all the people that Greyboar has strangled have gone to hell.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: While fighting The Great Ogre of Grotum, Zulkah unleashes a spell which does indeed blow the Ogre to pieces, but takes so long to cast that the creature is already expired, having been slowly chopped, bitten, poisoned and strangled to death by the rest of the party.
  • Bad Guy Bar: The Sign Of The Trough.
  • Bag of Holding: The sack that Shelyid lugs around is huge and bulky, but still holds a whole lot more than a nonmagical one could; we witness its construction from the skin of a certain species of fish.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Shelyid.
    Greyboar:..we finally know what happened to the Great Wall of Grotum — it pulled a knife on a dwarf!
    • When Shelyid finally loses his temper, it is described, before Hilarity Ensues, with an Overly-Long Gag that ends with Shelyid losing his temper like Dispater, the archduke of hell, losing the keys to paradise and the hope of eternal salvation.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Possibly inverted; Schrodinger's Cat is apparently blind with her Coke-bottle glasses.
  • Blood Brothers: This is essentially Ignace's relationship with Greyboar and Gwendoline, though they never swore a formal oath or anything.
  • Bloody Hilarious: The freed Snarl's rampage through the Ozarine outpost in Forward, with disassembled body-parts flying in all directions.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Greyboar, in the sense that he's the greatest professional strangler in the world, but is lazy to the point of developing a, yes, personal philosophy out of it. Ignace has to constantly pester and nag him to agree to take on clients. (Ignace comments that it's hard to say how intelligent Greyboar actually is, since most of the time, he doesn't have to think too hard to do his job.)
  • The Caper: Magrit assembles some of the protagonists to help her steal the Rap Sheet that the Ozerines have brought to Groutch.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Schrodinger's Cat. Wolfgang Laebmauntsforscynneweëld. Zulkeh when he goes into theorylalaland.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Ignace has shades of this relationship with Greyboar, who would just loaf around and, yes, practice philosophy if Ignace wasn't there to constantly pester and nag him to keep earning a living.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Benvenuti's weapons-training under his various uncles is firmly centered around this trope. If you can, stab 'em at night, In the Back and/or while they are asleep. If you can't, go straight to the Groin Attack!
  • Confusion Fu: The Cat, of whom you can only tell for sure where she is or which way she is moving, but not both at the same time.
  • Corrupt Church: The entire religious structure of Grotum, from The Old Geister on down, is viciously repressive and corrupt. The individual ministers who appear are either sanctimonious idiots or utterly vile sex perverts.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Consortium
  • Covers Always Lie: Strangler has a roughly accurate depiction of Greyboar and Ignace meeting an underworld denizen. Forward shows much more inaccurate versions of Zulkeh and Shelyid, meeting a woman and a gang of bipedal bat-like monsters. This is probably intended to depict the duo's brief encounter with a mysterious unnamed women who appears out some woods with a large pack of Snarls, who are described more as enormous cat-like quadrupeds.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Zulkeh, in spite of the fact that his relationship with actual logic fleeting at best, is probably the most powerful wizard on the planet when he puts his blustering and pedantry aside and actually focuses on his work.
  • Death Glare: Greyboar has the Stare. Other names for it include "The Mirror of Mortality", "The Mirror of Imminent Mortality", "Basilisk" or "Time to Reconsider".
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: It's very easy to forget that Greyboar is a mass-murderer and Ignace his more-than-willing accomplice.
  • Dire Beast: Snarls are giant vaguely cat-like creatures that are extremely dangerous, unless you're lucky enough to be a Snarl-friend.
  • Dirty Business: Unlike Ignace's gleefully amoral attitude, it's indicated a couple of times that this is how Greyboar feels about being a professional strangler, but he puts up with it because apart from any moral quandary it's easy work that pays the bills.
  • Distressed Dude: The final adventure in Strangler is all about Gwendolyn dragging Greyboar and Ignace into rescuing her lover Benvenuti from literally The Place Worse Than Hell.
  • Dirty Old Monk: The Goatmonk is a massive pile of corrupted lust. Until he makes the mistake of targeting The Cat with his "affections."
  • The Dividual: Angela and Jenny. They always appear together, and their personalities are identical. (Though physically they look different from each other.) Les Six are an even more perfect example, almost to the point of being a Hive Mind.
  • The Dreaded: Greyboar, who possesses both his thumbs and The Stare.
  • Doorstep Baby: Shelyid was left in front of Zulkeh's abode in this manner.
  • Easy Come, Easy Go: The Queen of Sphinctr's favor and disfavor.
  • Extreme Doormat: Greyboar is a figure of invincible terror to most of society, but (as Ignace bitterly comments more than once) if either Gwendolyn or The Cat so much as hint they want something from him, he obeys.
  • Fictional Document: Numerous books are referred to by the characters, invariably written by some member of the Laebmauntsforscynneweëld or Sfondrati-Piccolomini clan.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Shelyid evidently goes on to lead or inspire some sort of mass societal upheaval, acquiring a huge collection of nicknames in the process, most prominently "The Rebel."
  • Genius Bruiser:
    • Greyboar has a taste for philosophy. He is also regarded as the most technically adept strangler in history, but not the strongest.
    • And even more so Hrundig the barbarian swordmaster, who is a shrewd veteran of many military campaigns and is probably the second most dangerous man in the kingdom.
  • Giant Hands of Doom: One of the denizens of the underworld whom the protagonists must battle is a disembodied pair of these.
  • Girl with Psycho Weapon: The Cat learns to use a vicious pole-weapon called a lajatang.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: At no point in the narrative does anyone have anything good to say about Queen Belladonna. Though we never meet her in person.
  • Groin Attack: Using "the Low Blow" in a swordfight is an officially recognized technique. The Cat inflicts it on the Goatmonk during their epic brawl in The Trough, entirely by accident.
  • Hanging Judge: The resident magistrate actually thinks that a quick-n-easy hanging is too good for criminal scum.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Greyboar and Ignace officially engage in this at the end of the first novel, changing from Professional Strangling to Professional Heroing.
  • Heroism Won't Pay the Bills: Ignace bemoans this fact as he and Greyboar become Professional Heroes. As Strangler ends, he hopes they can at least cook and eat the dragon they are going off to kill.
  • Hidden Depths: Shelyid is constantly described as just being an ugly stupid dwarf, but he's a Snarl-friend, possesses a near-photographic memory, is immensely strong and a terrifying fighter if you manage to actually make him mad, breaks a magical seal just by touching it and even knocks the normally-invincible Greyboar off his feet. (The books never reveal what's going on, but one possibility is he's an avatar of Joe.)
  • Human Knot: Greyboar the strangler is renowned for tying enemies into knots, especially their necks, and takes a professional pride in making each knot a different one. He also sometimes non-fatally ties his foster brother and agent, Ignace. (Both his arms and his tongue if sufficiently annoyed.)
  • Hurricane of Puns: All of the kingdoms in Grotum are named after unpleasant bodily afflictions or parts.
  • I Can Change My Beloved: Ignace realizes at the end of Strangler that he and Greyboar are in the process of being subjected to this. He accepts his fate. It should be noted it's Gwendolyn who is doing this to Greyboar, The Cat doesn't appear to give a squat about his being a strangler, if she's even bothered to find out what he does for a living.
  • If It's You, It's OK: Jenny and Angela are lesbians, but happily take Ignace into their relationship, explicitly saying this at one point.
  • I Have Many Names:
    • While Greyboar himself only goes by that name, his grip, like his glare, has plenty of names.
    • The Godferrets have also acquired a lot of names over the centuries, both official and derogatory.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Etienne Avare has provided Greyboar with steady business throttling these.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Ignace and Gwendolyn end up weeping in each other's arms over how messed up their relationship and lives turned out.
  • Insistent Terminology: No matter who is narrating a scene, Shelyid's legs are described as "twinkling" as he lugs Zulkeh's giant sack around.
  • Insufferable Genius: Zulkeh drives all the other characters crazy with his endless pedantic discourses, but everyone also admits he's very likely the most powerful and knowledgeable magician alive.
  • Insurrectionist Inheritor: Merchant Prince Etienne Avare in The Philosophical Strangler leaves his entire fortune to the first great-grandchild to assassinate him.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: the chapter titles of Forward the Mage take this up to eleven.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Zulkeh, extremely heavy on the jerk, but in spite of his behavior, when he learns that his bumbling about in the Joe business has gotten him on the Rap Sheet for the Cruds, the Inquisition, the Black Hand of Goimr, and just about every law enforcement agency on the planet, his primary concern is not with his own safety, but with Shelyid's.
  • Knight Templar: The Godferrets ruthlessly hunt down any hint of "Joesy" on behalf of the Old Geister.
  • La Résistance: One of the many things going on in Joe's World is a socialist revolution.
  • Left Hanging: Neither book ends on an overt cliffhanger, but all sorts of plotlines are left dangling: Newly anointed Heroes Greyboar and Ignace are going off to fight a dragon (and owe Magrit the witch an official favor), Ozarine armies are overrunning the continent, the Dwarves are all being herded into some sort of death-camp "experiment" evidently related to poop-gold, and most momentous of all, Joe is reportedly coming back in some form. As noted above, Mr. Flint spent the next twenty years working intermittently on a third book which would have detailed more of Zulkeh and Shelyid's adventures during the time-skip, and shown the events of the first book from Bevenuti's perspective.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Grayboar is always dangerous, and generally engages in Curb Stomp Battles, but nevertheless, on the rare occasion when an actual challenge presents itself, he goes into The Stance.
  • Loophole Abuse: The artist Benvenuti is forced to hand over his portrait of a now-dead nobleman to the man's family without getting paid... so he re-does it so it gruesomely depicts the man's moment of death, with Greyboar's infamous thumbs around his neck.
    The Great Hunter. Sans Beaters. Sans Bearers. Sans Guides. Sans Tout But the Beast.
  • Mega-Corp: The Consortium again.
  • Money Fetish: After getting a big payout from Hildegard, Ignace spends a couple of blissful days counting and re-counting all the coins, and then stacking them in various artistic ways.
  • Murder, Inc.: Professional Stranglers' Guild.
  • Narration Echo: Happens a few times in Strangler.
    She started off by peering at Jefferies through her bottle-bottom spectacles, inspecting him like he was a side of wormy meat.
    "Boy, you look like a side of wormy meat," she said...
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: For a certain definition of "hero"; Zulkeh and Shelyid are the ones who reveal to the world that dwarf poop can be turned into gold.
  • Noodle Incident: Along with the big one mentioned above, events and people are often alluded to by Ignace and not discussed, a typical example being how a section of the bar in The Trough came to be cursed and thus is never ever used. Also, Zulkeh and Shelyid have further adventures during the time-skip which don't get detailed in the prequel, and would have been the focus of the third book.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: The owner of The Trough engages in this; a veteran Troughman can instantly determine his mood and intent by how exactly he performs these actions.
  • Offing the Offspring: Etienne Avare, for several generations
    • And once he dies, all of the remaining offspring off each other, wiping out the family fortune in the process.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • All the other characters when Greyboar sees the nude paintings of Gwendolyn that Benvenuti has done. Fortunately the strangler remains calm about the whole thing.
    • The entire population of The Trough after Greyboar officially announces his displeasure at their failing to properly protect The Cat from the police sent to arrest her. Goes down in history as The One Day The Trough Emptied Out.
    • Rupert Inkman upon being confronted by the Snarl he previously kept chained up and tortured.
    • Ignace all through getting shanghaied into joining Gwendolyn's underworld rescue expedition, but especially as he belatedly realizes that Magrit the witch is only along because Gwendolyn now owes her a favor... which Ignace and Greyboar will have fulfill by invading "Project Nibelung".
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: All we learn about dwarves is that they are short and good at mining. Shelyid is constantly described as being hairy and ugly, but it's never made clear if he (or any of the other dwarves) have actual beards.
  • Overly-Long Gag: This is Les Six's whole schtick. They repeat, toast and/or expound on everything six times.
  • Overly Long Name: The Laebmauntsforscynneweëld clan, and the Sfondrati-Piccolomini clan.
  • Parody Sue: Benvenuti is handsome, charming, athletic, clever, expertly trained in multiple fields of combat and art.. and still has to be rescued by the other characters on more than one occasion.
  • Pet the Dog: Zulkeh is a harsh taskmaster, but reveals at one point that he knew about Shelyid's befriending a spider, and allowed the relationship to continue since it did no harm and seemed to bring Shelyid some comfort.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Pretty much everything to do with The Cat. Who or what Schrodinger is/was, why she's always looking for him, how she got herself out of a sealed stone chamber at the very bottom of a dungeon...
  • Robbing the Dead: When we meet Zulkeh and Shelyid, they are living in an abandoned death-house, and pay their expenses by stealing gold from the ancient corpses.
  • Running Gag:
    • Again, mentions of the countless members of the Laebmauntsforscynneweëld and Sfondrati-Piccolomini clans and their various claims to fame.
    • "It's a matter of professional ethics."
  • Schrödinger's Cat: As noted, the Cat is one big extended riff on this concept. She even gets sealed up in a metaphorical box at one point.
  • The Scrooge: Ignace's main motivation apart from drinking ale in The Trough is collecting as much money as possible and storing it under Greyboar's bed (much safer than any bank!), though somewhat to his own bafflement, he develops other interests as Strangler progresses.
  • Self-Made Man: Grayboar and Ignace climb out of abject poverty and are quite wealthy by the end of the first novel. (Though as Ignace notes, staying rich is another matter entirely.)
  • Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle: Forward The Mage does this, to the point that several chapters consist solely of the title.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Every time a famous Laebmauntsforscynneweëld or Sfondrati-Piccolomini gets cited, their first name is a reference to someone (real or fictional) related to the subject under discussion.
    • The Lajatang weapon originally appeared (at least under that name) in Ultima and Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Solid Gold Poop: Dwarves' already-miserable lives get significantly less pleasant when word leaks out that it is trivially easy to transform dwarf excrement into pure gold. (This is another Noodle Incident in the first novel, Ignace mentions that things really suck for the dwarves without ever going into detail.)
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Benvenuti and Gwendolyn insist they are doomed to be this as long as they have their self-assigned duties to complete; narrator Ignace thinks they are both being idiots about the whole thing. The second novel shows how they fell in love and came to their heart-wrenching decision.
  • Straw Man Political: Ozarine politics, in particular.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Hildegard displays this attitude when talking to Greyboar and Ignace about why she is hiring them.
  • Take That!:
  • Tagalong Chronicler:
    • Lampshaded and Played for Laughs. Forward the Mage is ostensibly put together by the Alfredae, chronicling lice who live in the voluminous body-hair of the protagonist Shelyid. They are frequently disdainful of everyone else and extremely snobbish, die quite frequently causing shifts in how they narrate, and complement their own narrative with other sources (which they often think are untrustworthy and biased). They are very much an Unreliable Narrator, but so is everyone else.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Strangler and Mage climax with some of the protagonists assembling to (respectively) rescue Benvenuti from The Place Worse Than Hell and steal the Rap Sheet, and they spend a great deal of time bickering, snarking at and insulting each other.
  • Three-Way Sex: Ignace falls into this kind of relationship with Jenny and Angela.
  • Underground Railroad: A literal one exists for the dwarves as they attempt to escape their ongoing persecution. The protagonists of Strangler end up running a major "station" in the basement of their home.
  • Unreliable Narrator: None of the narrators can be expected to tell the truth without embellishments, omissions, wishful thinking, self-aggrandizement, creative editing, or adjustments of facts to theory. It gets Lampshade Hangings when the same scene is told by two different narrators, in entirely different ways.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: The Alfreadae go on about how the human protagonists will cause some sort of apocalypse, but never offer any details. And as noted, they are such Unreliable Narrators with Blue-and-Orange Morality, their definition of "apocalypse" is very much open to question.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Gwendolyn grudgingly lets her brother Greyboar become a Professional Strangler on the condition that he never accepts a contract with a woman as his target. He rigorously abides by this, except for one instance where Gwendolyn gives him explicit written permission. (And the target is the one hiring him to do the job.)
  • Wretched Hive: Pretty much every city in Grotum, except for The Mutt. New Sphinctr in particular is described as "the armpit of the world."

The Secret of the Universe: Things Change.