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Literature / Rats, Bats and Vats

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Rats, Bats, and Vats and The Rats, The Bats, and The Ugly are military Science-Fiction books by Eric Flint and Dave Freer set on a human colony planet called Harmony And Reason with a Bug War going on. But wait, it gets better: the colony was put there by a slow ship so a good deal of the passengers were of the genetic material variety ... instant conscripts! Hu, What not so instant? Well, crud. But wait, there are friendly aliens who are willing to sell us their advanced technology, too bad their ship's FTL broke down on the way to warn us about the bugs. This technology mostly consists of the implant slowshield/hardshield chip and the Soft-Cyber chip, see below.

The first book deals with Chip Connolly, a vat-brat conscript, and a number of rats and bats getting Trapped Behind Enemy Lines, facing insurmountable odds. At the same time, Virginia "Ginny" Shaw, a young and innocent heiress, her cyber-uplifted galago Fluff, and her Korozhet tutor get captured by the Magh. Against all odds, Chip, the rats and the bats manage to save the girl and win the day.

The second book deals with Chip's court martial over the aforementioned events and Ginny and the others' attempts to save him from the firing squad.

The books can be read online here and here.

Contains examples of:

  • Aliens Speaking English: Though not all of them, and fairly justified when they do.
  • Angry Chef: Chip's former employer. In the second book, he even tries to shoot Chip in the face with a shotgun for the "crime" of coming into his restaurant as a customer.
  • Arrested for Heroism: A recurring theme in the second book. The heroism made the incompetent military look bad. This leads to whole hosts of legal tropes, listed in their own section below.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Korozhet are, among other things, mind-controlling slavers who eat other species' babies alive.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The charges Chip is accused of include rape, desertion... and stealing a kitchen knife and driving without a license.
  • Bad Boss:
    • Korozhets routinely kill any slave that fails them, for any reason, and "slave" is also synonymous with "food". They even kill their own people rather casually.
    • The owner of the restaurant when Chip used to work is a petty tyrant who displays blatant favoritism, even keeping his toadies on the staff from being drafted into the war.
  • Big Eater: The uplifted Rats; due to being primarily shrews by genetics, they have extremely demanding metabolisms, to the point where it is mentioned repeatedly that they eat their enemies after every fight if it all possible, and if hungry enough they are compelled to turn on their allies. In the prequel, Fitzhugh pioneers a unit organization where humans carrying sizable loads of sugar and rations are attached to squads of rats; the Rats exhaust themselves after a few frenzied minutes of killing, and so these supply troopers dole out the high-energy boosting food to restore the Rats and get them straight back into the fight.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Bat and Rat moralities are quite different to human morality. For example, Bats are highly sociable towards each other, but also very politically fractious and quite withdrawn towards humans, whilst Rats are unrepentantly promiscuous and coarse, not to mention casually amoral towards killing and eating anything and anyone.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: See Thanatos Gambit. Sanjay Devi had the murderer (and far worse) convinced she was on his side, then reveals she tricked him in order to be stabbed to death just before the people who could have rescued her arrived, because he was too good at manipulating the system not to pull a Karma Houdini otherwise.
  • Brain Uploading: It is eventually revealed that because Bat and Rat brains are derived from their Soft-Cyber implants, it's possible to resurrect a dead Bat or Rat by removing the Soft-Cyber and installing it in a new brain. Ariel, a rattess, has this done to her towards the end of the second novel, granting her a human body that she has mixed feelings about; on the one hand, she laments its limitations compared to her old rat body, and finds it rather ugly — on the other, she is very much appreciative of being able to have an intimate relationship with her human with it.
  • Bring Help Back: When an Armchair Military officer tries to drag Fitzhugh out of the hospital and arrest him as quickly as possible, another patient (who, like most of the men on the line, is likely only still alive due to Fitzhugh's actions) asks to use the restroom and leaves. He quickly returns with several armed, uninjured, and stone-faced soldiers who put the fear of God into Fitzhugh's would-be persecutor and force him to flee the camp in disguise and empty-handed, due to how mad they are.
    Corporal: He walked into out platoon a few minutes ago, sir. Said it was an emergency, sir. Said some jackass was here trying to pull a field court-martial and execute Major Fitz, sir. Is it true, sir?
    It was said loudly and clearly. It was also said in a tone that suggested that if it was true, the aforementioned "jackass" was a dead man walking.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: In the second book, Van Klomp uses Reverse Psychology to get some Armchair Military officers to demand the fastest way down a cliff, which turns out to be bungee jumping with a cargo net. Van Klamp insincerely apologizes to a general who screamed in terror on the drop down and then orders an aide to get the man a new pair of trousers, right as a news crew reveal they're getting all of this. And the clean trousers aren't even the right size.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Ginny fears this will happen to her if a head wound damages the Soft-Cyber chip that repaired the brain damage she suffered as a child. Fortunately, those chips can survive blows that would reduce the brains they're installed in to goo.
  • Bug War: Literally, due to the insectile nature of the Magh.
  • Cassandra Truth: Fitzhugh spends the entire first book trying to get his superiors to act on the information he's providing them in his briefings, or even to just read them. Eventually he gives up, commandeers a regiment, and exploits the opening in the enemy's defenses himself.
  • Chainsaw Good: Ginny comes to love hers. The people in her way, not so much.
  • Corrupt Cop: The entire "Special Branch", to the point of murder. Repeatedly.
  • Court-martialed: The Rats, The Bats, and The Ugly is about Chip's court-martial by their planet's insanely corrupt and incompetent military for what happened in the previous book, and his friends' attempts to help him avoid the firing squad. Fitzhugh also faces a trial for similar reasons.
  • Crapsack World: The idea behind the colony was a Socialist Utopia. Shareholders have all the money, Vats (the underclass) have to pay not just for their education, but the mandatory fieldtrips Shareholders might force them to be sent on, and the cost of cloning them. There's an alien invasion creating War Is Hell, and, in the second book, it's revealed that the "Special Branch" of the police is regularly getting away with murder to intimidate the Vats into compliance. What Measure Is a Non-Human? means the newly-created intelligent species are used as Cannon Fodder, and the prequel mention is made of repeatedly executing the Rats because they refuse to follow human conventions for military organization. One of the major plots of the second book is a Xanatos Gambit to break the system enough that it can't be fixed without a complete overhaul, and to make the public angry enough to demand one.
  • Deadly Upgrade: The shield implants. If not used correctly they will kill their users and/or explode. Subverted in that this is exactly what they are designed to do; not only are the evil alien masterminds' natural weapons not covered by the two types of shield provided, the implants also don't even have a on/off switch.
    • Slow-Shields are energy absorbers that protect the user from kinetic energy weapons and power themselves by the body heat of the user, not that the latter comes up in story.
    • Hard-Shields are Deflector Shields set up to not allow anything to travel past a certain speed in a certain perimeter, which conveniently means that if a firearm is set off inside that perimeter, the bullet BLENDS the user.
    • Phlebotinum Overload is what happens when two Hard-Shields meet.
      • Both Shield types come in installation sizes.
  • Demoted to Extra: Corporal Johnny Simms, The Scrounger, and satellite technician Henry M'Batha are both prominent supporting characters in the first book and appear in many chapters, helping Fitzhugh in his efforts to monitor Chip's exploits and seize victory from defeat. In the sequel, Henry only makes a cameo appearance as a witness during a courtroom scene and Simms is only mentioned in a single chapter.
  • Eats Babies: The adorably puppy-like infants of the Nerba are the favored food of the alien bad guys.
  • Engineered Public Confession: At the end of an ill-fated attempt to intimidate Intrepid Reporter Lynne Stark: "Thank you for appearing live on our program, Talbot Cartup. And the answer is 'No.'"
  • Everyone Calls Him/Her The Professor: The Professor's name is Sratit, and it gets a grand total of one mention.
  • Exact Words: How the Doc resists the Restraining Bolt; sure, he'll follow the good, wonderful Korozhet's instructions. Crotchet might as well order a wall around, though.
    • Later on, Dr. Thom learns the hard way that using his Korozhet mind control device to order Ginny to come to him was a bad idea. At least without first ordering her to put down the chainsaw...
  • "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome: Something else the Soft-Cybers can do; repair neural or nervous system injuries, allowing mentally disabled people to live normal lives.
  • General Failure: Part of the reason humanity is doing so poorly against the Magh is that all of their military higher-ups are incompetents who wouldn't be too out of place amongst the more useless specimens of First World War leadership. It's noted in-universe this is because until the Magh arrived, there was no need for a military on the colony, so it turned into a convenient place to give cushy jobs to well-connected idiots.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: The rats, with their Shakespearean download.
  • Gilligan Cut: Chip refuses categorically to go rescue Ginny. Cut to him going into the Magh nest with rest of the team.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Where to begin?
    • The social system the humans brought with them to HAR, intended to be a form of social communism, has instead evolved into an oppressive plutocratic structure.
    • Genetically engineered and uplifted rodents turned out to be natural rogues who made horrible soldiers (in the sense of being disciplined, obedient and loyal). Plus, the shrew genes used made them so hyper-metabolic that there is always a chance of a hungry Rat turning on its human comrades for food.
    • Attempting the same process with bats, but using Irish revolutionary songs and the 1970s-ish worker's union political/support songs known as "Wobbly music" in an attempt to increase their loyalty created a mock-Irish race who fight the Magh' but are all secretly plotting against humanity, due to having imprinted upon them as "the oppressors".
  • Haute Cuisine Is Weird: Chip was an indentured servant at a fancy French restaurant before the war broke out. He notes several times how the patrons would come in and pay outrageous prices for tiny dishes. It's his dream, if he ever wins his freedom, to open a steakhouse right next door to the restaurant so the rich people who previously scorned him will have to go next to it and watch his patrons eat huge portions of meat served at a fraction of the price of their fancy, unfilling meals.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: Seemingly the Magh, with their insect-like creation of hives as they overrun human territory.
  • High Heel Hurt: After Fitzhugh strands a General Failure and his mistress/secretary at a vacation home by tampering with the car, the mistress doesn't take long to complain about how walking home in her heels hurts her feet.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: In the first book, General Cartup-Kreutzler downs a large serving of alcohol after he's subjected to lots of physical pain and humiliation, has his adulterous exploits exposed to his wife, get chewed out for missing the first victory of the war, and finds out that his enemy Fitzhugh is now a revered hero. The drink fails to make him feel better, as it turns out that Ariel swapped the whiskey with rat pee.
  • Ignored Expert: Fitzhugh the intelligence officer is constantly observing unprecedented movement and chaos behind the enemy lines which, if taken advantage of, could lead to a major victory. He spends most of his scenes in the first book practically begging his superiors (besides Von Klomp) not just to believe his reports, but to read them, and eventually has to launch an Anti-Mutiny just to get something done before it's too late.
  • Indentured Servitude: Vats have to start their adult life with paying off the debts accrued from being "[g]rown in a Company Vat, raised in a Company Nursery, and educated in a Company School".
  • Interspecies Romance: Ariel the rattess has a fierce affection for her human partner, Major Fitzhugh, and he reciprocates despite the fact she, for example, has to ride around in his pocket. When she ends up being transplanted into a human body by the end of the second book, she wastes very little time, even by Rat standards, in jumping him, and is openly willing to stay monogamously mated to him despite the fact casual promiscuity is her natural instinct.
  • Irish Explosives Expert: The BombardierBats, cybernetically uplifted and gengineered giant bats that mostly fight by emplacing and using high explosives. Part of their soft-cyber implants was "Irish revolutionary songs and old 'Wobbly' tunes", causing them to all speak with broad Irish accents and adopt Irish names.
  • J'accuse!: In the second book, Sanjay Devi has read about Dreyfus.
  • Language Equals Thought: Not only is this part of the reason behind the Blue-and-Orange Morality of the Uplifted Animals, it's an important plot point. Because their soft-cybers use English, which is "very twisty", Bats and Rats are able to think around their implanted commands to obey Korozhets, whose language only has one word for any given concept expressed by it, and only has one possible definition for every word.
  • Large Ham: Van Klomp is a booming-voiced man with plenty of Bling of War and a willingness to insult the incompetent General's Staff.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When Talbot Castrup is told that his brother-in-law, the General Failure was under arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct during Fitzhugh's charge rather than overseeing it himself like the official report claims, Talbot has this to say.
    Talbot: "That's a blatant lie! Those charges have been squa . . . dropped!"
  • Lilliputians: 2/3rd's of Harmony And Reason's elite soldiers are the size of a small housecat, due to being genetically engineered and uplifted small mammals.
  • Latin Lover: Fluff is one of these, at least as far as any female Rat he meets is concerned.
  • Literal-Minded: The uplifted animals suffer from this, resulting in many a case of I Thought It Meant.
  • Majorly Awesome: Both Fitzhugh and Van Klomp are both majors who actually have an understanding of the military's situation and are willing to buck the chain of command to achieve results.
  • Make an Example of Them: Besides the trumped-up charges against Chip and Fitz in the second book, it's revealed in the prequel that the suicidal incompetence of the military command stretches to killing off uplifted rats for acting like the not-humans they are when it comes to obeying orders.
  • The Medic: An oddly philosophical rat with a good deal of Heroic Willpower.
  • Men of Sherwood: Van Klomp and his parachute troops (barely any of whom are named) are described as being well-trained but untested soldiers, and there is a lot of trepidation about how successful they'll be in their first battle. They prove to be highly effective troops who succeed at their mission without losing many, if any, people.
  • Miles Gloriosus: The HAR military brass minus Fitzhugh and Van Klomp.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: When Fitzhugh strands General Cartup-Kruetzler and his secretary/mistress Daisy outside of the command center as they engage in some horse-themed sexual exploits, Daisy is mistaken for a prostitute and propositioned by the military police when they try to get back in.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The Shareholders do everything they can to ensure that Vats cannot pay off the debts they accrue by being born and raised. This is because all votes on HAR are shareholder's votes, and you cannot purchase shares while in debt to the colony. The last thing the Shareholders want is for the Vats to get enfranchised. Then the Vat-sympathetic Ginny ends up inheriting enough shares to make herself a major voting bloc all by herself...
  • No More for Me: A fisherman tosses his bottle overboard upon seeing Ginny and her non-human rescuers drifting down the local river in a striped golfcart on a pontoon barge.
  • Oireland: The uplifted Bats, to the point of asking why were they given high explosives again?
  • Pimped-Out Car: Nym's candy-striped golf cart.
  • Portal Cut: The slow-shield provides a variant, where triggering the slow-shield will cause it to cut off anything stuck through it at the time.
  • The Power of Love: One of the things that can overcome the soft-cyber Restraining Bolt.
  • Prequel: Genie Out of the Vat is a short story taking place shortly before the main plot, detailing the backstory of Fitz, among other things. Available here.
  • Prison Episode: Subverted when Chip gets thrown in the brig in The Rats, The Bats, and The Ugly: he wants to stay in the brig where he gets a mattress and three meals a day. At the front, he doesn't get that.
  • Privately Owned Society: Although technically, it's commonly owned and the vat-grown citizens or their heirs can buy a share after they're done paying the bill for growing and educating them. That, and interest.
  • Rat Men: The Rats are an odd variant; they have human level intelligence, and are capable tool users, but aren't quite the Rodents of Unusual Size usually seen here; they average about the size of a Siamese Cat. There's also the fact that they are actually genetically engineered chimeras; the base animal is an elephant shrew, with implanted genes from common shrews and rats.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Fitzhugh - for being competent and successfully holding the line when all the other sector commanders had retreated. Normally being promoted to head of Military Intelligence wouldn't qualify for this, but his department consists of four people including him, one of whom is never around, and the people he briefs never pay any attention to the information he's providing, much less act on it.
  • Restraining Bolt: A feature of the soft-cyber.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Inverted. Chip has no interest in Ginny whatsoever...until she gets nice and dirty, thus proving herself to not be the arrogant, mindlessly self-entitled Shareholder he assumes her to be.
  • Split Personality: what happens when you overload a soft-cyber. Poo-Bah the Rat has several of these that he cycles through; he even wears multiple pouches on a belt so each personality can separately store any bribe money.
  • Starfish Alien: At least two varieties; vaguely bug-ish Magh, and vaguely land-dwelling sea-urchin-ish Korozhet
    • Debatable about the Jampad, which are implied to be human-like, despite having lots of fur, four grasping appendages, and similar adaptations for a world with extreme tidal conditions (so they spend half their time in trees and half their time in water), and the Nerba, which are multi-limbed minotaur/bull-creatures... that grow from very puppy-like infants.
  • Sticky Situation: In the sequel, the protagonist Rats discover the joys of using Krazy Glue against their opponents.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Sanjay Devi does so masterfully in the second book.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Chip and his comrades for most of the first book.
  • Uplifted Animals: The Rats and Bats are genetically engineered (the Rats are actually elephant shrew/garden shrew/rat chimeras) bipedal cyborgs that require Soft-Cyber and vocal implants to soldier and talk.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Korozhets, the "friendly aliens" who warned humanity about the Magh and gave them their alien technologies, are actually the true masters of the Magh and are seeking to slowly reduce humanity into slavery or extinction and claim their world. They use their status to subtly manipulate the human military to ensure they fail, and the soft-cyber implants include a compulsion to obey them.
  • Widget Series: Take a swig every time you laugh out loud ... we dare you.
  • Write What You Know: Dave Freer's knowledge of conscription apparently comes first hand
  • Your Makeup Is Running: A female general's attempt to condescendingly sneer at Van Klomp becomes unintentionally comical due to how her makeup is running in the rain.
  • You Have Failed Me: The Korozhet casually kill subordinates who fail in their duties.
  • Zombie Advocate: The rats and the bats are considered non-persons, and the bats have several pro-bat parties.

Legal tropes:

The second book (and parts of the prequel) involve the bureaucracy striking back against the heroes that made them look bad by succeeding. This brings in a whole host of Lawyer Tropes (and loads of major spoilers)

  • Accuse the Witness: Done to great affect, as most of the witnesses are in fact lying scumbags and the cross-examination tends to bring this out.
  • Amoral Attorney: Lots of them, but especially Tana Gainor (Not only an Amoral Attorney, but also an outright Criminal Ringleader) and Tesco. Tesco is so smarmy and Obviously Evil that one of the court-martial board members at Chip's trial mistakes him for the defendant and asks to be excused because she's already prejudiced against his character. He, Gainor, and a man they try to foist on Chip as his attorney (he requests Capra instead) are interested in nothing but making money by protecting Castrup and his cronies from the consequences of their General Failure and Corrupt Politician actions.
  • Clear Their Name: Of course. First Chip has to clear his name for desertion. Then he has to clear his name for supposedly raping Ginny. And throughout this Fitzhugh has to deal with charges of mutiny (while in the prequel he had to deal with false assault charges).
  • Crusading Lawyer: Mike Capra is described as a legal beagle in the appendix and is a younger, more idealistic guy who nonetheless is capable of absolutely hammering witnesses against his clients and invested in tearing down the corrupt prosection. The same is also true of his older and more calculating colleague Ogata.
  • Exact Words: At one point, a corrupt Special Branch officer spying on Fitzhugh is asked by Ogata why his duty log lists him as far away from Fitzhugh when he was supposedly spying on him taking bribes. The man replies his log was doctored for security reasons. Ogata asks that "If I was to say" that Fitzhugh had been in a certain place at a certain time, then would the special branch officer have been there as well, watching. The detective smugly states that he was there and Ogata gives an insincere sigh and says it's a shame that he wasn't going to say that Fitzhugh had ben in that place at that time, and he can prove it. The detective is left flustered, having just said on record that he'd been spying on Fitzhugh at a place where they can prove Fitzhugh wasn't even at.
  • Faking and Entering (prequel): Inverted Trope: Fitzhugh is accused of having attacked Talbot Cartup by having broken into his girlfriend's apartment after she had revealed she was marrying Talbot instead. He had a key, and owned the apartment. She had forgotten in her panic of almost having killed him as part of a sex game.
  • False Rape Accusation: The Doctor holding her hostage knows Ginny had (consensual) sex with Chip. She would never make a false accusation. He would on her behalf, though, and then keep her from contradicting it.
  • Kangaroo Court: Part of a Xanatos Gambit to let the evil conspirators get exactly what they want, because a fair trial without trumped-up charges would actually have worked. Fitzhugh was all too willing to make a Heroic Sacrifice out of sense of honor. Instead, the kangaroo court is so blatantly rigged that it causes a public outcry and the authorities are forced to overturn the verdict and try Fitzhugh again, while the first trial has hardened Fitzhugh and his lawyers enough to drag the witnesses through the mud and try to convince the judge that his actions were justified.
  • Make the Dog Testify: Defied. The rats and bats count as mechanical recording devices, not actual witnesses.
  • Off on a Technicality: Used to deal with technically true, but ridiculously trumped up charges in the second book. Of particular note is Capra getting Chip off the hook for going absent without leave by successfully arguing that he should be charged with desertion under fire instead.
  • Surprise Witness: Ginny busting through the door with a chainsaw.
  • That Was Objectionable: Used on a question that was so obtusely phrased that one has parse it several times to figure out what it means.
    Prosecuting Attorney: You claim that the accused attempted to persuade Ms. Shaw not to accompany you. When he went, had you not gone and had she, if she had wanted to and were able, and if there were no restraints on her to go, would Ms. Shaw not have been brought forcibly, meaning along with the Korozhet that you state was carried, netted to the tractor?
    Defense Attorney: Objection! That question should be taken out and shot, Your Honor. It's a traitor to the English language.
    Judge: Indeed. Rephrase it please, Captain Tesco.