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Literature / Sister Alice

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Sister Alice is a Space Opera / Science Fantasy novel by Robert Reed, published in 2003. The novel is broken up into five "books" in chronological order, contained in the paperback or hardback book.
  • Sister Alice
  • Brother Perfect
  • Mother Death
  • Baby's Fire
  • Father to the Man

After millions of years of constant warfare that destroyed entire solar systems and killed untold billions of lives, the battered nations convene, and reach a decision to build a lasting peace; One thousand Great Families are to be made, to enforce the peace and build a better future; the Great Peace. The Families serve the peace by exploring, creating diplomatic ties, trading, engineering enormous habitats, and terraforming worlds for the masses. The older the member of a Family is, the faster they think and the more powerful they become.

The novel follows the story of Ord Chamberlain, the 24,411th and youngest Chamberlain - a Great Family renowned for its terraforming and greatness - ten million years into the Great Peace.

     Sister Alice 
When Ord is a mere 50 years old, Sister Alice, the 12th Chamberlain, suddenly arrives on the Chamberlain estate on Earth in total secrecy, after working in the galactic core for thousands of years. Alice befriends Ord and aids him in his Snowars, as she prepares herself for her trial as the galactic core explodes from opening a portal into another universe.

The following tropes are contained in Sister Alice and in the universe:

  • Aerith and Bob: Older Family members have more common names, such as the first Chamberlain, Ian, or the 12th Chamberlain, Alice. Younger Family members have more odd names, such as Ord, Xo, Ravleen, or Lyman.
  • Apocalypse How: Galactic Class 5; The Core explosion, from Sister Alice's attempt to create a bridge to another universe. The explosion is still growing thousands of years later.
  • Big Dumb Object: Dyson objects are built around otherwise uninhabitable star systems, such as brown dwarfs, to house billions of citizens.
  • Boldly Coming: Lyman, Ord's older brother, really gets around with the Human Subspecies. In one embarrassing incident, Ord finds him trying to get it on with a dolphin-like human adapted for deep-sea life.
  • The Clan: The Great Families.
  • Cool Pet: Ord has about a dozen intelligent bears as pets. The Chamberlain estate previously had goat-like animals, which clung to sheer walls, though they are no longer around because the children kept temporarily dying from falling to their death while trying to ride them.
  • Creative Sterility: The self-perpetrating hat of the Nuyen Great Family; they pride themselves on being very un-creative.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Elder Brothers and Sisters of the Great Families posses god-like powers, capable of causing stars to go nova, creating new elements, and erasing planets from existence.
  • Dyson Sphere: One of the varieties of Big Dumb Objects built by the Families.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Because the Families hold large estates on Earth, it's effectively the most important planet in the galaxy.
  • Heavy Worlder: One of the many subspecies of humanity.
  • Human Subspecies: While the Families remain baseline, there are a huge variety of genetically modified humans; cold-blooded lizard folk, cetacean-esque, et cetera.
  • The Milky Way Is the Only Way: Averted. While there are no colonies in the other galaxies due to the massive travel time needed to reach them, Families have sent diplomatic and scientific missions composed of high-ranking Brothers and Sisters to Andromeda to discover new forms of life.
  • Physical God: Old Family Brothers and Sisters are given god-like powers and minds, based on manipulation of standard baryonic matter and the nearly intangible dark matter. They are vast entities with the mass of small moons, who use a physical human body for the sake of others. Sister Alice has the power to rip apart stars with the same effort a regular person needs to snap their fingers.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Sanchex Family; during the Great Wars, they were the great commanders. In the Great Peace, being a mighty warrior is obviously not a reliable profession, so they turn their talents to exploration.
  • Really Gets Around: Lyman
  • Really 700 Years Old: Family members look anywhere from 20 to 50 years old, despite being effectively immortal.
  • SciFi Writers Have No Sense of Distance: Averted. Even with the godlike powers of high ranking Great Family members, they still are limited to traveling below the speed of light; one character laments that it would take tens of thousands of years to gather all the members of a Family at one point due to travel time.
  • SciFi Writers Have No Sense of Time: Averted. When Ord looks at an ancient, million year old picture of the mountains surrounding the Chamberlain estate, he notes how the mountains have become much smoother and smaller since then.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Elder Family members are often quite rude and commanding when dealing with younger Brothers and Sisters.
  • Sapient Ship: Elder Family members are essential enormous star ships; their talents are built up until they weigh more than a moon, which forms the basis of their body and mind. Their fleshy bodies are mostly for tradition.
  • Snowball Fight: Ritualized, Serious Business Snowball wars, call Snowars, are set up between two teams composed of a smattering of very young Great Family members, intended to make it easier for different Family members to cooperate at a young age. Two teams alternate between defending and attacking a fort made of ice, using microchines fired from cannons to heat up the fort walls and break though. Snow is compacted and shoved into pneumatic, double-barreled rifles which can cause grievous damage, and snow is fired from pneumatic cannons capable of killing the contestants. However, because of the Healing Factor and general hard-to-killness of humanity, it's rare for anyone to be more than annoyed or out of action for more than a few days when their skull is crushed or spine broken.
  • Society of Immortals: Almost all sentient beings united under the Great Families are effectively immortal.
  • Subspace Ansible: FTL communication is present and relatively easy, but FTL travel itself is completely impossible.
  • Super Intelligence: Elder Family members augment their intelligence with quantum computers built into their talents - The more talents a character possesses, the faster they think.
  • Starfish Alien
  • Terra Form: The Chamberlain's specialty. Gas giants have their core mined out to build lighter-than-air continents which drift inside the atmosphere, dyson spheres are built around brown dwarfs, and asteroids are cored out to make private estates for the wealth.
  • Time Abyss: The Great Families. The oldest living Chamberlain is the Fifth, who is millions of years old.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future:

     Brother Perfect 
Brother Perfect takes place several hundred years later, after Sister Alice's trial and imprisonment, and after her talents are stripped. The Great Peace is hanging together by a thread as the coreward worlds flee their impending doom. Ord is visited by a hidden aspect of Alice, who tells him to search for Brother Perfect, Upon finding Perfect, Perfect augments Ord with Alice's stripped talents, to hold together what Alice swore to protect - The Great Peace.

The following tropes are contained in Brother Perfect:

  • Apocalypse How: Coreward systems have broken out in apocalyptic wars over starships and resources as the Core explosion races towards them.
  • Big Dumb Object: Sister Alice's Dyson cylinder, which is several thousand times larger than the regular Dyson objects. Because it's made mostly with dark matter with a sprinkling of baryonic matter, it appears simply as a slightly thicker Oort cloud unless one knows exactly what to look for.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Brother Perfect was married to Sister Alice, several times in secret - despite its illegality under the first Chamberlain's laws. Ord is thoroughly Squicked out by this.
  • The Mentor: Brother Perfect. He sets up Ord for his quest to save the peace, is extremely powerful, and departs for Andromeda once he believes Ord is ready.
  • Space Amish: Brother Perfect. Despite his godlike powers, he lives like an hunter-gatherer from the Ice Age. He doesn't repair his wounds, or use his abilities to kill his food or warm himself - he simply uses a spear and a handmade fur jacket. He considers the Ice Age to be humanity's golden age
    A few million apes, modified by natural selection and armed with stone and wood implements, and armed with our cunning, and our mobile little cultures…and we came to rule the entire green world…!” “And you know what the world was then, don’t you?” Thomas flashed a quick, disarming smile. “It was the universe. It was everything . A vast globe encompassing every imaginable beauty, and it was set inside a sea of ink and tiny, unimaginable stars. And it was ours.”
  • Starfish Alien: The Brongg. They have fantastically fast, superconduct minds - paired to a glacially slow body. When the Brongg perform an action, they consider and reconsider it thousands of times before they even begin to move. Brother Perfect surmises that it's one of the many reasons why the Brongg avoided the apocalyptic wars that ravage most sentient life at some point in their development. Later, on Alice's dyson sphere, a truly alien (but non-sentient) lifeform is found; a plankton-like form of life that combines baryonic matter with dark matter; the creatures live at a temperature barely higher than that of liquid helium.
  • Time Abyss: Brother Perfect; he is at least ten million years old.
  • Time Dilation: During Perfect and Ord's flight to Alice's dyson object, at least 10,000 years go by in the rest of the Milky Way, as Ord was traveling so fast that time slowed down - and by this point, thousands of worlds are dying from war and the Galactic Core explosion

     Mother Death 
After the revelation that Ord has escaped from the Chamberlain Estate, stolen Alice's talents from a secure holding facility, then attacked a Nuyen Family member, the Nuyen Family brands Ord as a traitor, and begins to systematically disband and hunt down all Chamberlains and the other families who participated in the Core experiments, then assumes control of Council. The Galactic Core explosion continues to radiate out, and a steady stream of the wealthiest beings in the galaxy are pouring towards Earth, as refugees. Outright war is consuming the Coreward worlds, with billions upon billions of citizens dying and hundreds of planets being destroyed in fanatical wars over ideology and resources. Fanatical paranoia on Earth has citizens being tracked by A.I.s and informants, all to determine if Ord is infiltrating Earth to rescue Alice.

Meanwhile, Ord is using his stolen talents to stave of war as much as he possibly can, using light touches of power to cause alliances to collapse on themselves.

  • Anti Matter: The Nuyens have millions of magnetic containment jars of anti-iron buried under the Earth, as a way to force to Ord to surrender.
  • Big Bad: The Nuyen Great Family.
  • Dirty Coward: Xo Nuyen
  • Face–Heel Turn: Avrem Chamberlain betrays Ord to try and force Ord to surrender by threatening to activate the anti-matter bombs under the Earth
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Ord is demonized by the "untainted" Families.
  • Kick the Dog: Ravleen activates the anti-matter traps under the Earth's crust out of sheer hatred for Ord, killing all life on the planet.
  • Physical God: By this point, Ord has become one of the most powerful entities in the galaxy, after acquiring Sister Alice's talents. He uses his talents to stave off galactic war.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Nuyens. When Ravleen kills the Earth and chases after Ord in Baby's Fire, they publish it as both Ravleen and Ord killing the Earth, and fleeing together as they are lovers.

     Baby's Fire 
After Earth's destruction from the Nuyen booby-trap, Ord flees to the Galactic Core, with Ravleen hunting him down.

  • Big Bad: Ravleen Sanchex
  • Big Dumb Object: The Core is surrounded by uncountable billions of herded asteroids and dust, to form a protective cloak around the Core, shielding the rimward worlds from the radiation pouring out.
  • Enemy Mine: Ravleen attempts to kill both Ord and the Nuyens, because the Nuyens are attempting to kill Ord themselves; Ravleen is desperate to torture Ord on her lonesome.
  • Heel–Face Turn: After realizing that the Earth's death was the fault of his family, Xo begins assisting Ord.
  • Star Killing: Ravleen blows up a binary star to use it as a boost for her Solar Sail - the stars going nova purges life within a hundred light years.

    Father to the Man 
Ord uses Alice's hidden wormhole linking back the past, to attempt to prevent the original universe creation experiment from ever happening, by attempting to use his massive supply of memories and figures to sway the ancient Family members tending to the universe creation machinery.

  • Came Back Wrong: Ian Chamberlain; while it was originally believed that he died long ago saving a civilian ship, his talents survived, and began the universe umbilical experiment on their own. When the other family members found the talents, they gave Ian's memories to the talents. However, it's shown that he isn't a very moral person after that.
  • The Chessmaster: Sister Alice. When Ord enters the universe's umbilical to attempt to shut down the machinery, he theorizes that Alice uses the wormhole linked to the past to send an infinite amount of young Chamberlains into their own, private universes where they build a new reality.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Even after Ord presents all his evidence that the universe experiment will result in catastrophe, the elders almost unanimously decide to continue with altered parameters.