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Literature / Rex Nihilo

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A sane person is always at a disadvantage when negotiating with a lunatic.


He's a Lovable Rogue with a sassy sidekick who traverses the stars in search of treasure. Rough around the edges, he is nonetheless a hero at heart who can always be counted on to do the right thing and perhaps even save the universe with righteousness he claims not to possess. Rex Nihilo is... not that man.

Rex is a crass, manipulative, incorrigible rube who is so obsessed with self-enrichment, that he puts a bigger premium on it than self-preservation. He is a "legendary space merchant", more infamous than mythical, and he's quite possibly one of the most dangerous men in any galaxy unlucky enough to have him in its general vicinity.

An arms deal gone bad on a planet suffering from rampant inflation (earning him quintillions of moneys that would, at best, buy him a funnel cake), has him and his robotic sidekick Sasha stow away on an opulent interstellar gambling ship where the typically conceited and erratically callow Rex manages to win not only millions of actual valuable currency and a new (banged-up) star clipper, but an entire planet as well.


The planet has its share of dark, if rote, secrets however, and someone has to pay for them. And Rex is going to use every last one of his wits, embroiling himself in an intergalactic war that will put him in conflict with falsetto fascistic enforcers, big-boned princesses, space missionaries, and world-ending technologies to ensure... that he isn't that someone.

Rex Nihilo Adventures:

  • Book 0: Out of the Soylent Planet
  • Book 1: Starship Grifters
  • Book 2: Aye, Robot
  • Book 3: The Wrath of Cons
Supplementary materials:
  • The Chicolini Incident: A Rex Nihilo Adventure
  • The Yanthus Prime Job: A Pepper Melange Novella


This series provides examples of:

  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Rex seems to invoke this in a straightforward fashion, but he's just one of hundreds of unwitting "programmed" merchants, mercenaries, and con men whose funds are regularly embezzled by the Space Apostles to maintain Schufnaasik Six City and expand their reach across the stars.
  • Action Girl: Sasha manages to be one in spite of the fact that she cannot really attack others or really defend herself.
  • Aerith and Bob: What finally causes Rex to cut his losses on Chicolini is the discovery that most of its population falls squarely in the "Bob" category of this trope.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Some cataclysmic incident in the past caused sentient robots to be outlawed and heavy restrictions on artificial intelligence programming to prevent the chance of a Robot War.
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Not all of them, but an incredibly high percentage given the sheer size of the universe (around 4.6% of the 24,168 known planets, about 1,112). Each one is designated the classification of APPLE, that is, Alien Planet Perplexingly Like Earth.
  • Always Night: Combined with Endless Daytime, an observational facility was positioned on a planet that revolved around a cooling supernova. The supernova was not an issue, but the planet's rotation and its revolution around the star caused days and nights on the planet to last 44 seconds each. The research facility was unfortunate to be built under a translucent dome that gave them uninterrupted exposure to this cycle and it eventually drove its inhabitants murderously insane.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: By the time the story starts, Rex has been thrown into mental institutions thrice and examined by six of the best psychiatrists in the galaxy who have determined that he suffers from no less than fourteen moderate-to-severe personality disorders as a "delusional narcissist who demonstrates dangerous, irrational, and compulsive risk-seeking behaviour." Physically, there is nothing wrong with his brain as no congenital defects have been found when scanning it, but Sasha theorises that he has somehow developed a delicately counter-balanced syndrome of mental illnesses that conspire to keep him alive.
  • Androids Are People, Too: Deconstructed. Rex treats synthetic entities like Sasha, BILL, and Donny as if they were ordinary people, which is a big reason why Sasha likes him so much. Unfortunately for them, he treats ordinary people terribly a lot of the time due to the nature of his vocation as a grifter.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Faster-than-light travel is indeed conventionally infeasible, but the narrative conceit that allows spacecrafts to travel great distances in short periods of time is that Euclidean geometry is just one possible way of describing the relations of objects in space. As there are, as this logic posits, a theoretically infinite number of other geometries that employ their own sets of rules, all you'd need to do to get to a world on the other side of the galaxy is to find a geometry wherein the distance needed to be traversed is significantly shorter than it would be in Euclidean geometry; reverse-engineering an entirely new set of geometric rules based on the desired journey and then imputing that rationalisation into a spaceship's navigational system.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: REX. NIHILO. It also happens to be an alias.
  • Berserk Button: The word "free" can send Rex into a moaning, horrified seizure that can last minutes.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Princess Willie's weight and size are noted, but so are her good looks.
  • Big Damn Villains: The Galactic Malarchy wind up assisting Rex and Sasha no less than three times in Aye, Robot and begrudgingly have to absolve them of all their past crimes against their government for helping defeat the Space Apostles. This trope is firmly subverted by Hookbeard in the same book.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Rex Nihilo is Latin for "King Nothing" or "King of Nothing." It's a rather Meaningful Name in the first book as Rex wins Schufnaasik Six in a card game which winds up being a barren, brown, windtorn, Single-Biome Planet wasteland incapable of supporting life. Translated into English, the name of his ship, the Flagrante Delicto, is also Latin for "blazing offences", an illegal act where the perpetrator is caught redhanded.
  • Book Dumb: Rex doesn't have a good head for numbers, letters, or basic physics, but he has a surprisingly robust vocabulary.
  • Brown Note: Heinous Vlaak's unfiltered voice is so sharp that it can outright kill people.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Sasha is incapable of deceiving the person she is talking to. She could still trick those around her by telling Rex a lie that he knows to be a lie (therefore, unlike those surrounding them, he is not personally deceived) and has other ways of getting around the basic "truth" parts of her programming such as uttering false statements out loud to no one in particular to be interpreted as they would see fit or by uttering two factual, but unrelated sentences to foster a false association between the two. Most characters of modest to high intelligence in the setting are aware that her kind of robot is capable of such obfuscation and take her word as seriously as they do Rex's (as in, not very). This reputation comes with its own pros and cons. People prefer to confer with Rex when asking Sasha directly would oust her master's current schemes and they pointedly don't believe her when she does get in the mood to be straightforward with the facts.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Flagrante Delicto's oxygen leak from the beginning of Aye, Robot winds up killing Rubric Malgastar and his remaining pirate crew (except Steve the robot parrot) after they steal the ship from Rex and Sasha to escape the Malarchy.
  • Church of Happyology: The Space Apostles (or "spostles") are a massive organisation of missionaries that try to unite the universe in a shared appreciation They are also not above lobotomising or brainwashing potential converts to better suit their cause of total peace and happiness.
  • Companion Cube: Forced to live and work in the cargo hold of space pirates who unambiguously didn't like him, Ensign Boggs of Aye, Robot was forced to "befriend" any piece of scavenged flotsam or loot put in his home. He grows out of this habit when he makes companions who can actually talk back.
  • Darth Vader Clone: Heinous Vlaak is a parody of one of these. Even with his feathered headdress and tacky cape that is made out of Ewok fur, he's an imposing and cruel Malevolent Masked Man. That said, he has an incredibly shrill voice in place of Vader's typical Badass Baritone and the ominous heavy breathing of the Dark Lord of the Sith is substituted to Vlaak having outright asthma.
  • Defector from Decadence: While he was the one who founded the Space Apostles, decades of self-reflection caused Ort Felsich to denounce his original plan to forcibly make everyone in the galaxy happy with a mind control array as he came to believe that happiness as an end goal is meaningless and that it's only worth something if it's a side effect of working towards a goal or purpose.
  • Don't Think, Feel: While he prides himself as a diabolical schemer, Rex lives much of his life by the seat of his pants. Sasha can briefly circumvent her restrictive mental programming by emulating his compulsive behaviour of acting more and thinking less.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Pepper was just fine paying off her debts to the Ursa Minor Mafia by stealing, but went on the run when they tried to coerce her into being an assassin as well. She also doesn't like hurting regular security guards during her heists if she can help it.
  • Evil Old Folks: The Malarchian Primate, the leader of the Galactic Malarchy, is a short, grey-skinned, ancient, three-toothed old-man who can make even Vlaak cower in fear.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Rex's Crew vs. Space Pirates vs. the Galactic Malarchy vs. the Society of Space Apostles in the second book.
  • Expy: Rex is a more manic and depraved Han Solo with Sasha acting as a gender bent and much more useful C-3PO (BP-26, her R2-D2 equivalent is killed in the opening chapters of Out of the Soylent Planet). The two even met on Gobarrah, a pastiche of Tatooine that had its own versions of Luke Skywalker, Owen Lars, Lando Calrissian, and Jabba the Hut.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Much of the Galactic Malarchy's actions involve trying to give the veneer that they are a competent, necessary component for interstellar peace and order. But outside of the Rebel Frente and outside criminal elements they haven't put down yet, many of their problems are of their own making or as Rex adequately puts it, "It takes a massive, well-funded bureaucracy to solve problems caused by a massive, well-funded bureaucracy."
  • Fun with Acronyms: Loads of them. All inexplicably in English. Sasha's name actually stands for Self-Arresting near-Sentient Heuristic Android.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: The Space Apostles plan to do this on a galactic scale using a massive satellite array powered by an entire planet made of zontonium, leaving the people of the universe in a state of perpetual, but sedentary bliss where they're too happy and contented to even go to the bathroom or eat or sleep or do anything to prevent themselves from gradually, if joyously, wasting away.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Sasha introduces Out of the Soylent Planet as one of Rex Nihilo's lesser known adventures and the definitive (in her mind) version of how she met him while alluding to how he'll once again save the galaxy in a future book albeit in a manner less intentional than he did in the second.
  • Greed: Rex's avarice is so enormous that his fondest wish is to put the entire universe into a giant martini glass so he can drink the whole cosmic concoction all by himself.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: While the Ursa Minor Mafia appear to be the major villains of The Yanthus Prime Job, the emerald being on such a Wretched Hive as Yanthus Prime in the first place is revealed to be due to Heinous Vlaak's influence as he was trying to put it in a position where he could have someone steal it so he could give the gem to the Malarchian Primate as a gift.
  • Hook Hand: In his newfound mania to be a space pirate, Rex has one of these installed on Sasha after she loses one of her limbs early in the second book.
  • Human Resources: Ubiqorp used to make SLOP with grounded-up enslaved people, but stopped when it became universally outlawed. Nowadays, if they use people for anything, it's just as a fertilizer supplement for crops.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: How BILL the MASHER (Mostly-Autonomous Societal Harmony Enhancement Robots) gets people close enough for him to crush their skulls, claiming that he is unarmed and is willing to come quietly should his pursuers approach him.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Galactic Malarchy Marines wear large suits of armor that prevent them from raising their arms beyond a 45 degree angle. They actually have to tilt their bodies back to aim straight and even then, their helmets are difficult to see out of.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Firmly subverted with Rex.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Ensign Boggs is a large, eager, and friendly sailor. Years as an imprisoned freight worker/impromptu engineer/amateur medic slave for space pirates failed to make him any less nice although he is desperate for friends who aren't abusive buccaneers.
  • Knight Templar: The Knights of the Chaotic Equilibrium fight and scheme to enforce the cycle of Order Versus Chaos. That is, not a balance, but the shifting fortunes of either side and just as they helped put the Galactic Malarchy into power, they have also ensured that they would fall to ruin once they achieved total victory so that bedlam can once again grip the universe.
  • Licked by the Dog: Despite taking pains to constantly take note of Rex's recklessness, greed, and villainy, Sasha believes him to be competent, clever, and pleasant enough to have around that he vouches for his continued freedom to act as a Space Apostle agent after getting her memories back at the end of the first book; when she could have easily recommended he be "retired" (read: lobotomised) and replaced with a new partner for her to gather funds of Schufnaasik Six City. She is also offered to leave him and work for the much more sane and cautious Pepper like the rest of her would-be crewmates at the denouement of Aye, Robot, but stays on with him by her own volition so they can enjoy (and exploit) their newfound freedom from the Space Apostles together.
  • Logic Bomb: The self-arresters on robots enact a variant of this as they cause their systems to crash and reboot whenever they have an original thought; taking them offline for 30 seconds. A more straightforward version of this trope in action was how CALTRANS (Calibrated Turing-Recursive Analog Neuralnet System), a supercomputer designed to solve the issue of needing human observers to monitor robots who were in danger of becoming sentient so said humans could do something more productive with their time, came to the conclusion that what was needed was an infinite series of observer robots who would observe each other until they would culminate into itself. When it recognised the absurdity of its own solution and how impossible the dilemma was, CALTRANS deliberately overloaded its own circuits and melted itself into slag. This act of reflexive self-harm gave engineers the idea for the previously mentioned self-arresters.
  • Master of Disguise: Parodied with Rex. Every three weeks, he has his fingerprints altered and his DNA recoded to help him stay one step ahead of the law and his various enemies. This is a fairly common service in the setting, but Rex stands out because of how often he uses it and the extreme alterations he sometimes inflicts on himself for laughs, having once spent an entire month as an albino lesbian.
  • Memory Gambit: In spite of how much technology has advanced over the centuries, the best mechanism to make sure that someone does not talk under duress (torture) is denial. That is, associating the information to an experience so excruciating, that the human mind will reject dredging up the memory for fear of simulating the trauma.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Galactic Malarchy Totally Reliable Terrain Liberator (TRTLE) vehicles are covered in impenetrable armor, but only have a max speed of half a kilometre per hour.
  • Mysterious Past: Not even the Space Apostles who conscripted him into their surface know the finer details of Rex's past.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Rex's scams net him millions of credits, but he can't seem to keep a good hold on his money. Reality Ensues when Sasha begins to become suspicious of how this is possible as even someone as hedonistic as Rex can't possibly spend away so much wealth in such short amounts of time. It soon transpires that the Space Apostles have been stealing from them for years, forcing the duo to take insane risks to get themselves out of debt only to have them embezzled over and over again by their.
  • Pet the Dog: After managing to talk a space pirate into lending him rocket fuel to escape a soon-to-be exploding planet, the usually selfish and greedy Rex has the option to save himself and himself alone by agreeing to leave his companions behind as collateral. Instead, he takes the extra effort and time (a humongous risk as he has mere minutes until the world is blown up) to make sure his crew can come with him.
  • Planet Looters: The Galactic Malarchy does not disallow corporations or private individuals from claiming ownership of planets, even those within their domain, but the bureaucratic process to do so is so perilous that one little misplaced or improperly filled-out form will put the planet into escrow whereupon the Malarchy will take possession of the world and mine it for resources until the would-be claimant is able to untangle themselves from a web of technicalities and intrigue.
  • Pop-Culture Pun Episode Title: Each major book references a famous sci-fi work. Starship Grifters, Aye, Robot, and Out of the Soylent Planet.
  • The Quisling: Wick, Fingers, and General Issimo all join the Galactic Malarchy after deciding that working for them is a much better gig than fighting for the Frente Repugnante.
  • Restraining Bolt: Sasha's type of "Self-Arresting" robots are programmed to catastrophically reboot when they are in danger of having original or complex thoughts as a way to prevent them from attaining true sentience. This prevents Sasha from rebelling against her deranged boss, but it also means she's nowhere near as helpful as she could be with such hobbled mental faculties. Rex helps her overcome it to an extent at the end of the second book.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Having been immensely traumatised by all the insane cosmic violence they were shanghaied into over the course of a few days, Boggs, Donny, and Squawky/Steve gain an immense fear of space travel and opt to retire from Rex's "crew" to work for Pepper as bouncers on Sargasso Seven at the end of Aye, Robot.
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: Subverted with Ubiqorp's original SLOP (Semi-Liquid Organic Provisions) which tasted absolutely disgusting and it's implied that their new plant-based SLOP tastes similarly bad precisely because it tries to mimic the original's flavour.
  • Ship Tease: Whether it's A Match Made in Stockholm or out of benign admiration for his gonzo strengths, Sasha is very loyal to and fond of Rex; foregoing several opportunities that would allow her to easily ditch him with no consequence, violently protesting against the idea of being sold to more reasonable owners, and expressing jealousy whenever he takes a liking to robotic beings who aren't her. Many of the abuses and insults Rex tends to throw her way are implied to be side effects of his Acquisition Agent conditioning and he is otherwise friendly and kind to her most of the time.
  • Shipper on Deck: BILL eventually becomes this for Sasha and Rex by the end of Out of the Soylent Planet, comparing them to Ingrid Bergman and her husband Victor Laszlo from Casablanca respectively.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Enforced by Rex himself as he loads the various data networks with false information about his appearance, character, and history to make himself harder to gather intel against (one of the most prominent results of looking up his name is a subpar drink order).
  • Supporting Protagonist: All the stories in the series barring Pepper's novella are told from Sasha's point of view and while the larger inciting incidents, master plans, and major conflicts are mostly Rex's doing, Sasha is the one who has to keep the story going in between them.
  • Technical Pacifist: Sasha cannot physically attack people nor can she use handheld weapons or tools against them. However, there's a huge loophole in her programming that prevents these restrictions from applying to ship-based armaments.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: After discovering they are Acquisition Agents, Sasha is frequently wrought with paranoia and self-doubt, believing that everything she is and much of what she does are all part of the Space Apostles' plans. Rex takes the revelation on the chin and in addition to unwittingly distracting her from her woes with his antics, manages to talk her out of worrying by telling her that they can choose to be the people they were made to be or not and either option is fine because it'll be their choice from then on.
  • Torture Technician: One of the main sources of Black Comedy in the series. Rex has Sasha torture him multiple times to repress vital (or even non-existent) information, Heinous Vlaak of the Galactic Malarchy is infamous for his prowess as one of these, and Gulagatraz has a power plant that runs on the agony of its prisoners.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: As her Spy Catsuit lacks much in the way of pockets, bounty hunter Pepper Melange keeps a number of small odds and ends in her cleavage. Said items are understandably quite warm to the touch when she hands them to other people.
  • Villain Protagonist: Rex is not a good guy. Not in the slightest. And Sasha, for as much as she likes to think of herself as a reasonable synthetic being, enjoys torturing people just a little too much to escape this label.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Discussed between Sasha and fellow robot BILL during Out of the Soylent Planet whereupon they debate whether it is a compulsive force (like programming) or borne from a conscious decision.
  • When Trees Attack: SHAMBLR (Self-Harvesting Ambulatory Lagoon Resource) entities are large, tree-like, semi-sentient beings designed by Ubiqorp to pluck their own fruit to create SLOP. This was done by giving them tentacled branches and by wiring their biology to elicit spikes of pleasure whenever their fruit is harvested. They came to prefer having their fruits plucked by "Soylent Wranglers", believing the experience to be even more riveting when someone else (except a fellow SHAMBLR) relieved them of their ripe, juicy loads, and while usually docile, will become violent if not allowed regular release.
  • Your Head A-Splode: Fully sentient and free from the mental and moral restrictions usually placed on robots, BILL is a little too eager to crush the heads of anyone who crosses him.

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