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Literature / Matador Series

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Because "The Man Who Only Missed a Few Times" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
"I'm the leader of the Shamba Freedom Forces. In fact, I'm the entire army."
Emile Antoon Khadaji, The Man Who Never Missed

The Matador Series is a sequence of Science Fiction novels by Steve Perry, generally following the life of former soldier Emile Khadaji, as he initiates a revolution against the corrupt Galactic Confederation ('The Confed').

The books have been published out of chronological order, and over a number of years, but in chronological order they are:

  • The Musashi Flex (2005): The story of professional fighter Lazlo Mourn, as he develops a new martial art called 'The 97 Steps'. Prequel to the entire series.
  • The Omega Cage (1988): Dain Maro has been convicted of a murder he didn't commit, and sent to The Omega Cage. Nobody's ever managed to escape, but he's determined to be the first.
  • The 97th Step (1989): The story of Khadaji's teacher, Pen. A thief who loses everything, including himself, and then is inducted into a mysterious priesthood called the Siblings of the Shroud. Prequel to the Khadaji trilogy.
  • The Man Who Never Missed (1985): The debut for the series. Picks up where The 97th Step ended, following Khadaji as he learns what he needs to to know to start the fall of The Confed.
  • Matadora (1986): The story of The Matadors, trained as bodyguards, but destined to be leaders of the revolution.
  • The Machiavelli Interface (1986): The revolution finally starts in earnest, but The Confed isn't going to give up without a fight.
  • The Albino Knife (1991): The Confed has fallen, but mysterious accidents keep happening. Who's behind them, and why?
  • Black Steel (1992): Sleel used to be a Matador, but he's left the order, considering himself disgraced, and The House of Black Steel wants him dead. His best hope of survival is Kildee Wu, a master of the sword looking for a worthy student.
  • Brother Death (1992): People are being killed inside locked and guarded rooms, and nobody can figure out how. Tazzimi Bork gets stuck with solving the murders, and their links to a twisted cult lead by a man named Brother Death.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: The Zonn, who have been gone for millions of years, but left some interesting ruins scattered around various planets. As Dain Maro discovers in The Omega Cage, their walls are actually stable energy fields, and one can pass through them with the right equipment. There's also a very strange alternate dimension inside the walls. They also form a major part of the plot of Brother Death.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Sleel's parents. The robot that delivers their meals has an annoying alarm that has to be manually deactivated, to make sure they stop working and eat.
  • The Alcatraz: The Omega Cage. It's on a deathworld, and hundreds of kilometers from any way to get off-planet.
  • Arc Words: Every novel opens with 'Death came for <character name> from <somewhere>'. The named character is the focal character of the book.
  • Arm Cannon: The spetsdöd ("point-death"), which is the primary weapon of the Matadors. It's a small pneumatic dart gun that adheres to the back of the hand, the barrel extending along and in line with the index finger. It's fired by touching the fingernail of the index finger to the barrel. Because there's no safety, people who use them develop a habit of keeping their index finger slightly curled. It's considered a nonlethal weapon due to the tiny size of the darts, though they can be loaded with a wide variety of chemicals for different purposes (most commonly "shock-tox", a tranquilizer, though in his one-man war on Greaves Khadaji favors Spasm).
  • Bilingual Bonus: In Swedish "spets" means tip or point, and "död" means "death". In the series, a "spetsdöd" is a weapon that shoots tiny pointy darts. You aim by pointing your index finger at what you want to hit.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Dirisha Zuri, who believes that love makes you weak, is sent to be a bodyguard for Rajeem Carlos. She falls hard for for him, and eventually ends up in a relationship with him and his wife. Pen or rather, Khadaji as Pen set her up with him intentionally, because she needed to learn what love is in order to be the best possible bodyguard.
  • Bouncer: Dirisha, Sleel, and Bork are all introduced in The Man Who Never Missed as the bouncers at Khadaji's Jade Flower pub. Khadaji and Pen also both worked as bouncers at various times in their lives.
  • Brain Uploading: Marcus Jefferson Wall has this done at the end of The Machiavelli Interface. The Albino Knife deals with his attempts to reverse the process, and put himself back into a human body.
  • Can't Bathe Without a Weapon: At Matador Villa the rules instruct you to be armed at all times, even in the shower (because other trainees can and will attack you there). The obvious problem with washing the backs of your hands is noted: Dirisha is instructed to do them one at a time and keep a spetsdöd on the other hand.
  • Challenging the Chief: How the leader of the Musashi Flex is determined. Anyone ranked in the top ten can challenge the current number one, and if they win, they take that position, regardless of their previous rank.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Third Rule of Matador Villa: "There are no rules in a fight involving death."
  • Covers Always Lie: The blurb on the back cover of The Albino Knife has nothing whatsoever to do with the book. It describes the titular character as "the secret weapon of the Matadors", even though she's not a Matador, and not particularly a weapon (though she's a competent fighter), secret or not.
  • Digitized Hacker: Marcus Wall becomes this in The Albino Knife. His extra power just makes him more sadistic and unhinged, wreaking havoc across the galaxy as well as drawing his enemies into a trap.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Earth is the Confederation capital, and a majority of their bureaucracy is headquartered there.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Or at least Pen, Dirisha, Geneva, and Beel Carlos are. Group relationships/marriages seem to be rather common, as well.
  • Extinct Animal Park: In The Albino Knife, Marcus Jefferson Wall has a private zoo that includes several cloned extinct animals. In order to test his scientists' efforts at reversing the Brain Uploading he did to escape his own assassination in The Machiavelli Interface, he has himself downloaded into an elderly male mastodon.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Readily available via 'bender' ships, though depending on the distance involved, trips can still take weeks or months.
  • Fantastic Fighting Style:
    • The 97 Steps, or Sumito, are the style that the Siblings of the Shroud practice, and which is taught to the characters of the series. It's less fantastic than most examples of the trope, being a modified version of Pencak Silat. The Musashi Flex shows us its origins.
    • Also oppugnate, a military-derived mixed martial art fusing elements of boxing with the best bits of several other arts.
  • Flying Car: Quite common. Hoppers and flitters are ground/low altitude vehicles, used for shorter distances. Boxcars are sub-orbital, used for longer distances.
  • Grand Theft Me: Part of Wall's plan in The Albino Knife. He's going to reverse the Brain Uploading, and put himself into Khadaji's body.
  • Fantastic Firearms: Spetsdöds are self-defense weapons that adhere to the back of the hand and fire chemical darts with compressed air, triggered by touching a sensor at the end of the barrel with a fingernail. In The Man Who Never Missed, Emile Khadaji uses spetsdöd darts tipped with Spasm (a chemical that causes every skeletal muscle in the human body to contract simultaneously and get stuck that way for roughly six months) in a one-man guerrilla campaign against the Confederation on Graves. They later become standard weapons of the Matadors, an order of bodyguards founded by Pen in Matadora to protect political dissidents.
  • Heavy Worlder: Saval Bork, and his sister Tazzimi.
  • Hidden Depths: Bad-ass revolutionary Sleel is caught browsing the philosophy section of a bookstore, quotes poetry, and spots a deception that nobody else had ever seen through. Later he's revealed to have a doctorate in poetry, has written several award-winning and best-selling novels, and funded the creation of an orphanage.
  • Human Knot: Khadaji's weapon is spetsdöd darts loaded with Spasm, a drug that causes the skeletal (striated) muscles in the body to contract at once and stay that way for about six months. This tends to make the victim look like a contortionist. Oh, and it's non-lethal, so they're alive the whole time.
  • Human Subspecies: Mues are humans genetically modified to be more suitable for certain tasks, such as working on worlds with higher than Earth-normal gravity. There are also the Albino Exotics, created as sexual playthings for the wealthy. They're absurdly beautiful, as well as having control over their pheromones, but most of them tend to die young, usually by being in the middle of a fight over who gets to sleep with them or control them.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Played with. The Matadors are all very good shots, but Emile Khadaji's legend as "the Man Who Never Missed" had a little help from Khadaji himself. He kept a hidden box of spetsdöd darts from which he replenished the few misses he did make, so that when the shit eventually hit the fan he'd become a legend. The caption on the page image is a paraphrase of something he said to a Confed officer in The Machiavelli Interface when queried on this.
  • In Vino Veritas: Pen teaches Khadaji Pubtending alongside his Sumito lessons, both for its practicality (A good pubtender is always in demand across the galaxy) and this trope:
    Pen: Ah, but it is a perfect job for a priest, even one so un-priestly as I. Consider: who has a better opportunity to see people with their masks lowered than a pubtender? Men will confide things to you drunk they wouldn’t tell a brother when sober; stoned women will reveal secrets they’d never speak as pillow talk while straight. More than one pubtender has come from the ranks of practicing psychologists-or gone there from some bar.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Hand-held energy weapons are rare, and most people are armed with various projectile weapons, often with explosive or chemically-treated ammunition.
  • Last Stand: In the backstory, Lord Thomas Reserve Shamba responded to a demand for surrender with "To the Commander, Confederation Jumptroopers. Sir: Fuck you. We stand until the last man falls."
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Veate's introduction to Khadaji.
  • Martial Pacifist: The Siblings of the Shroud are a largely pacifist order. However, they're all taught Sumito, and are very very good at it. They're also pragmatic about killing when the order itself is in danger. Threaten to destroy the order because they won't give you what you want? Your flitter is likely to have a mysterious engine failure and crash in the middle of the ocean.
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay: The stories are set somewhere around 2295, but things are still measured in meters.
  • Mini-Mecha: The warden of The Omega Cage has a powered exoskeleton that's designed for combat. Luckily for the good guys, he's not very skilled at using it.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Marcus Jefferson Wall is the most powerful man in the Confed political establishment, the power behind the throne. He doesn't need to have any fighting skill himself when he can simply order the Confed military to do it.
  • Numbered Homeworld: #313-C, usually referred to as 'OhShit', after what most people say when seeing it for the first time.
  • One-Man Army: Khadaji, quite literally. He spent six months hitting Confed troops on the planet Greaves with spetsdöd darts loaded with Spasm, a muscle-contorting chemical that ties them in knots for months, and claiming responsibility in the name of the Shamba Freedom Forces. Only when the first of his victims comes out of the coma does he reveal himself to the local garrison commander. And then darts him with Spasm for good measure.
  • Organic Technology: Powerful computers are some sort of artificial brain, and custom-tailored viruses are used to teach people things quickly.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Entirely averted. Most of the main characters follow some variant of Zen, and Christianity is still very common.
  • Pædo Hunt: Zig-Zagged. Marcus Wall, the Big Bad of the Khadaji trilogy and The Albino Knife, likes to sleep with pubescent girls in addition to his other endearing qualities, so much so that Confed politicians have been known to offer their female relatives in return for his favor. He gets very cross when he discovers one such favor to be an adult courtesan who has chosen to specialize in servicing pedophiles and has herself on anti-aging treatments, and gets his revenge by sentencing her to death by accelerated aging. Khadaji uses her to assassinate him with poison gas. On the other hand, The Albino Knife mentions that Juete arranged for her and Khadaji's daughter Veate (the deuteragonist of the book) to lose her virginity to an older man at age twelve (which is probably supposed to be Deliberate Values Dissonance on the part of Albino Exotics, who were originally bred as Sex Slaves).
  • Polyamory: One of the themes of the Khadaji trilogy in particular is that love doesn't have to be limited to man-woman or even between just two people. Dirisha Zuri ends up in a relationship with her first client Rajeem Carlos and his wife, plus her female lover from the Matador academy, Geneva.
  • Shaving Is Science: Depilatory cream ('depil') is the primary method of shaving.
  • Son of a Whore/Daughter of a Whore:
    • Dirisha. Realizing that she didn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps is what inspired her to learn martial arts, and take up bodyguarding as a way to get off the planet.
    • Veate, the daughter of Khadaji and Juete, an Albino Exotic. The Albinos were genetically created to be preternaturally sexually attractive. Very few escape working in the sex trade. Khadaji gave Juete the resources to live her life independently, and she raised her daughter accordingly.
    • Marcus Jefferson Wall: Like Veate, his mother was an Albino Exotic. Unlike Juete, Wall's mother was a prostitute.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Deadly accurate, and deadly for Albino Exotics, as noted in Human Subspecies: they were created to be sexual playthings for the very wealthy, and most die as a result of violence by someone who wants to control or have them. Those who survive generally do so by finding a powerful "protector".
  • Space Station: Eighty-seven of them, generally referred to as 'wheelworlds', regardless of the actual station design.
  • Sword Fight: All over the place in Black Steel. Kildee Wu and Cierto are masters of the sword, and Sleel learns to use one quite effectively as well.
  • Trilogy Creep: The Man Who Never Missed, Matadora, and The Machiavelli Interface are a solid three-act trilogy, published in the mid-'80s. The other volumes were written later, out of order.
  • Victor Steals Insignia: Participants in the Musashi Flex, an underground galaxy-wide street-fighting circuit, are required to keep an identification tag somewhere on their persons, to be handed over to or taken by a fight's winner as proof. Lazlo Mourn, protagonist of the prequel novel The Musashi Flex, keeps his clipped to his pubic hair just to piss off anybody who beats him.
  • Virtual Training Simulation: The Matador school has a room with a holographic projection system, used for practicing various bodyguarding scenarios. Khadaji also uses a similar system to train for his attacks against the Confed.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: In Black Steel, it's revealed that Sleel's parents (especially his father) have been incredibly dismissive of everything he's accomplished, largely because none of it involves botany or genetic engineering. He still tries to get their approval when he visits them during the course of the book. (He always was persistent.)
  • World's Strongest Man: Saval Bork is presented as the strongest recorded man in the known universe. Until Brother Death, where we meet brother Mkono, an assassin even bigger and stronger than Bork. And considering that Bork can bench press upwards of 700 pounds, that's really saying something.