It is the 25th century, and mankind has spread across the stars. Combining into The Confederation of Human Worlds, it has already developed FTL travel, is able to have lost organs regrown, and can terraform almost any world, given a few thousand years.
The only problem is that the FTL travel works like Pony Express, so rebellion and strife are quite common in the Confederation. To combat this, the Confederation Marines were formed, along with the Army and Navy, to combat these threats. Formed into Fleet Initial Strike Teams, they guard the Confederation from bitter rebellions and world-destroying wars.
Following the 34th F.I.S.T., the first book introduces us to PFC Joseph Finucane Dean, PFC Claypoole, Lance Cpl. Chan, Cpl. Doyle, Captain Conorado, Brigader Sturgeon, and Gunnery Sgt. Bass, as they travel to the desert world of Elneal to defuse a very Sudanese incident.
Since both authors have served in the Army and Marine Corps., the action is as realistic as it can be, with down time shown as boring, tedious work that is hardly ever exciting. Projectile weapons are not as useless as one might think, though laser and plasma are the preferred choice for battle.
This Series contains examples of:
- A Father to His Men: Conorado is this way to his men.
- Almighty Janitor: Dave "Hammer" Schultz, he's never risen above Lance Corporal, but he's feared and respected by all who know him. He actually goes "on point" because he knows he's the best and that he'll be able to protect his fellow Marines by taking point.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Intelligent Amphibian Alien Race with lethal acid guns called "Skinks". Their overarching goal seems to be the extermination of humanity and are depicted as violent fanatics.
- Anyone Can Die: You know the guy Dean makes good friends with in Boot? He's not getting out of the first book alive. Recurring characters die with surprising frequency, and Bass is apparently KIA for an entire book, while Dean, who is as close to The Protagonist as the books get, disappears for most of Wings of Hell with serious injuries.
- Anti-Vehicle: The existence of the "Straight Arrow" (an advanced anti-tank missile launcher that essentially extinguished mechanised warfare In-Universe) is an important plot point in the backstory and on the book Steel Gauntlet (where a warlord develops several tanks and raises enough hell to force the Marines to Break Out the Museum Piece (the knowledge to mass-develop Straight Arrows).)
- Armor Is Useless: Played straight, subverted, and averted to varying degrees. The force field armor protects against plasma blasts, but do nothing against projectiles. Body armor is superb against projectiles, but loses to lasers. Headshots are instant death, helmet or no. Armor on vehicles was rendered useless by the "Straight Arrow" (a super-powered man-portable missile that can one-hit-kill anything that can move under its own power). In later books, the Skinks' railguns are easily able to One-Hit Polykill whole fireteams of armored Marines, to say nothing of their vehicles.
- The Atoner: Baccacio in the fourth book, culminating in a Redemption Equals Death scenario.
- Badass Army: The Confederation Marines.
- Black Dude Dies First: Dean's boot-camp buddy McNeal, who like Dean himself is unusual for not being mixed-race, is one of the first named Marines to die on Elneal.
- Bling of War: The men of 34th FIST make fun of the local "Feldpolizei" on Wanderjahr for their blaze orange and sky blue field uniform, which combined with their insistence on marching in square formation through areas infested with rebel guerrillas, is getting their asses kicked by said guerrillas. Then again, Marine "dress reds" are pretty blingy too...
- Boot Camp Episode: The start of First to Fight was pretty much Dean's training at boot camp.
- The Brigadier: Sturgeon, commander of 34th FIST.
- Cold Sniper: Schultz, at least personality wise. Actually averted in later books; Schultz has feelings, rather strong ones, but they're nearly impossible to detect unless he decides to express them through violence.
- Completely and utterly busted up in Double Jeopardy. Schultz cracks under fire, although as it's Schultz, his symptoms don't present as anything the psychologist can identify.
- Contemptible Cover: Pretty much all of them.
- Custom Uniform: Chameleons are exclusive to Confederation Marines (and a select few well-equipped rebel groups).
- Deadpan Snarker: PFC McNeal in First To Fight.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Some of the covers are highly...suspect.
- Ensign Newbie: Subverted in theory, played with in practice. All Marine officers have been commissioned after an enlisted term of service. Baccacio from the first book is still considered an Ensign Newbie because his enlisted term works out to under three years even before you subtract transit time aboard spacecraft. van den Hoyt, from the third and fourth books, is said to have been in for ten years before he takes command of Third Platoon, Company L.
- Fantastic Caste System: The Skinks are genetically separated into different castes, ranging from generic Fighters to Leaders and rising degrees of Master.
- Four-Star Badass: General Anders Alguinado, Marine force commander for Diamunde, Commandant of the Confederation Marine Corps, and commander Task Force Alguinado...which is tasked with repelling Skink hostile contacts and eventually invading the Skink homeworld.
- General Alistar Cazombi, Joint Chiefs of Staff personnel officer, winner of the secession war on Ravenette, head of the Joint Chiefs, nicknamed Cazombi the Zombie for his muted expressions for most of his life following an incident that earned him the highest decoration the Confederation gives out.
- Hollywood Tactics: Everywhere, but especially with the complete lack of any kind of combined arms force in any army. Armored vehicles beyond the "Light" category are not used. (To be fair, the universe's equivalent of the RPG-7 will one-hit-kill any tank able to move under the weight of its own armor.) The FIST fights basically as an enormous light infantry unit with a few vehicle-mounted weapons (the crew-served blasters on the Dragons), some artillery depending on how close they're deployed to their bases (often not close considering one FIST is usually deployed to deal with a whole planet's problems), some CAS, and access to orbital artillery.
- Insert Grenade Here: Without the grenades. The Marines use their blasters on tanks in this manner on Diamunde and Ravenette.
- Invisibility: The Confederation Marines BDU's and even their weapons are made with light reflective fabric that gives all the Marines Predator-style invisibility. You can see their outline, but only someone who knows what to look for will spot it easily. This makes shooting them a bit difficult.
- The Men First: For their initial deployment on Elneal, Conorado orders his platoon commanders to "distribute armor by reverse order of rank; if there isn't enough to go around, you're going as bare as I am." Later on when acid-neutralizing chameleons for fighting the Skinks are distributed, it's strongly implied the same thing happens.
- The Neidermeyer: Ensign Bacaccio in First To Fight. His massive lack of experience, refusal to consider his NCOs' advice, and absolute panic when confronted with a non-textbook scenario, gets a fairly major chunk of Company L killed in a tribal raid.
- New Meat: Dean and McNeal are this upon reaching 34th FIST. Dean survives it; McNeal isn't so lucky...
- Officer and a Gentleman: Ensign van den Hoyt was chosen in Steel Gauntlet to be a body guard for a diplomat for precisely this reason. Most Marine officers fit the trope too, the better to contrast them with the frequently incompetent, selfish or vindictive officers of other forces.
- Planet of Hats: Thorsfinni's World, where 34th FIST is based, is an entire planet of Nordic mashup culture. Mostly averted with the other worlds described in the series, though.
- Putting on the Reich: Dominic de Tomas's fascist government on Kingdom.
- Sergeant Rock:
- Any NCO is guaranteed to be this, whether he's an E-5 or not, even whether he's a Marine or not. The Confederation Army's NCOs are also painted favorably when we encounter them.
- Hammer Schultz. He's the marine the other marines look up to. He is also the marine most other marines are scared of.
- It's played straight so often the appearance of a Sergeant Nton who isn't a Sergeant Rock near the end of Kingdom's Fury comes as a complete surprise.
- Semper Fi: Really, you think?
- Smug Snake: The Skink commanders shown so far typically view themselves as Magnificent Bastards, but they're trying to play elaborate psychological games with someone whose psychology they don't understand, leaving them at the Smug Snake level at best.
- Stay in the Kitchen: There are no mixed-sex Marine units at all, and very few female Marines in general. (So far we've only seen one, Bella Dwan from Force Recon, and even the other Force Recon snipers regard her as psychotic.) Word of God indicates that we won't be seeing a change in this policy anytime soon.
- Forces of Confederation member worlds, and possibly the Confederation Army, avert and subvert the trope as they please, but women in the service remain thinner on the ground then you'd expect.
- Tank Goodness: Averted, thanks to highly effective man-portable anti-armor weapons. The novel Steel Gauntlet is pretty much one large lampshade hung on this.
- Token Minority: Played with. In the 25th century, not being mixed race makes you a minority. The series "Main" character is distinctive for having pale skin, freckles and red hair; the guy he makes friends with in boot camp is just as unusual for being black.
- The Alleged Computer: Gunny Bass and his ongoing travails with a new piece of equipment in the Marine kit, the "Universal Positionator Up-Downlink" or "U-PUD." It's supposed to be a super-GPS, motion sensor and radio all in one. However, it never once performs as advertised in the entire series. Gunny's displays of profanity-laced Angrish every time he's forced to deal with the thing become a Running Gag by Book Two.
- Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The second half of First To Fight.
- True Companions: The Marines.
- Warfare Regression: On the backstory, the creation of the "Straight Arrow" Anti-Vehicle missile completely annihilated the concept of tank warfare, making combat a business done purely by infantry with pretty minor support by other types of combined arms (such as artillery, close air support, orbital bombardment and APCs).
- War Is Hell: Steel Gauntlet had this with soldiers still having nightmares about it even after a few years.