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Literature / The ColSec Trilogy

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The ColSec Trilogy (Exiles of ColSec, The Caves of Klydor, and ColSec Rebellion) is a young-adult s-f series by Douglas Hill (of Last Legionary fame), first published in the 1980s.

After the End, an authoritarian regime has seized control of what's left of civilization. Criminals and dissenters are shipped offworld by the Colonization Section of the world government. If they can build a colony, the world is ripe for exploitation; if they don't live that long, they're no great loss.

One particular group of deportees crash-lands. The survivors decide that they're going to do things their own way, the world government be damned.

These novels provide exam

  • Action Girl: Heleth, unequivocally. Samella Connel also has her moments.
  • Aerith and Bob: Names are either singular and fantastical or at least unusual (Jeko, Heleth, Rontal), or consist of a slightly unusual or fairly ordinary given name paired with a fairly ordinary (if sometimes idiosyncratically spelled) surname (Cord MaKiy, Samella Connel, Bren Lathan). Being as it's After the End, this may be the result of language drift.
  • After the End: Set a century and change after human die-back over much of Europe, Asia, and eastern North America. References to the "Virus Decades" imply that this was caused by some sort of plague.
  • At Arm's Length: At one point in Exiles, Jeko and Heleth get into a heated argument that threatens to turn into an actual fight. Cord breaks it up by straight-arming Jeko. (Although Cord isn't stated to be taller than Jeko—both boys are kind of shorties—he's stockier and a lot stronger.)
  • Author Tract: Not obnoxiously so, but you can kind of tell that Hill's views were fairly anti-authoritarian. There's also a faint undercurrent of anti-corporatism and/or environmentalism—Cord's simple life in the idyll of the Highlands before his exile, the unspoiled new worlds of the Colonies being exploited by the grasping Organization.
  • Bear Hug: In Rebellion, right after the final battle, Cord runs into the control room and all but glomps Samella.
  • The Berserker: When Cord's blood gets up he throws himself into battle with relish and a Highland war cry, sometimes falling into a sort of battle trance where he just fights and fights until there's no enemies left to fight.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Bren tries to pull this several times. He survives to the end of the series nonetheless. There's also Samella's ploy in the asteroid mine.
  • BFG: Sun-guns, a powerful new prototype weapon that the Crushers sent to Klydor were armed with, that fires a ravening blast of pure energy. Not a huge weapon, but by far the most powerful one seen in the series. In the final battle on the asteroid, ColSec have mass-produced enough to arm their entire battle force with them.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Heleth and Rontal play this role towards the end of Exiles by intervening in the fight with the giant worm. And in Rebellion, Jeko, Rontal, and Stele play this role when they break Cord, Bren, and the girls out of the prison transport.
  • Blinded by the Light: Heleth gets a face full of high-beams in Rebellion and actually faints from pain. Justified as her eyes are specifically adapted to see in the dark, and they were in near-pitch-blackness right before the lights flared in her face; to her it would have been like being shot in the eyes with a laserifle.
  • Brave Scot: Cord is the descendant of back-to-the-land types who retreated to the Scottish Highlands so as to not be bothered by The Organization. He pretty much plays the trope straight.
  • Crapsack World: The Organization's Earth (aside from a few tiny pockets of territory that they don't deem worthwhile) makes the colony worlds—no matter how rough and dangerous—look positively idyllic by contrast.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Samella is a surprisingly dirty fighter. Sometimes literally, no less.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Cord may be a physical powerhouse, but he's no match for someone with extensive combat training. Good thing Samella was able to find the spare batteries for the laserifle.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Seems to be one of Rontal's main personality traits.
  • Death by Origin Story/Mentor Occupational Hazard: Cord's uncle/father figure dies of untreated injuries from an accident before the story begins, leading to Cord's Roaring Rampage of Revenge and subsequent exile.
  • Determinator: Cord, full-stop. Apparently also the source of Lamprey's Nom de Guerre. At the end of Caves, the government killer Warreck turns out to be one as well.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The team get the Streeters off Earth by loading them into captured prison vehicles, dressing themselves up in Ceedee uniforms, and driving them straight into the airport and onto a freighter.
  • Dumb Blonde: Samella inverts this by being The Smart Guy of the group.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Heleth—a Stealth Expert with Super-Senses who's lived underground most of her life—has black hair and a complexion that's compared in Exiles to "mushrooms grown in darkness." (By the beginning of Caves, she's rather badly sunburnt.) And she's got facial tattoos.
  • Egopolis: Inverted at the end of Rebellion. It's the rest of the kids—at Cord's suggestion—who want to name the newly-discovered world after Samella.
  • Elite Mooks: The Organization's equivalent of a police force, the Civil Defenders, have an elite branch who're better armed and (supposedly) better trained. They're called Crushers, and are frequent antagonists in the second and third novels. Elite paramilitary police, outfought by street gang members. Money well invested.
  • The Empath: Samella, again, although this only factors into the plot at all in Exiles.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: In the next-to-last chapter of Rebellion, everyone just loses it at some tension-breaking silliness after the asteroid battle.
    Bren: "Nothing funnier than victory?"
    Cord: "Nothing sweeter, anyway."
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Every Crusher we meet is a sadistic brute...and Lamprey was still too violent and unstable even for that band of merciless butchers.
  • Fiery Redhead: Cord has anger issues—especially if Samella is endangered—although they're somewhat mitigated by his introversion and relentless decency. He also has messy dark auburn hair.
  • Five-Man Band: More or less, although most of the central cast overlap archetypes. (Samella, for example, is mostly The Smart Guy, but occasionally also plays the role of The Lancer—level-headed and extroverted where Cord is introverted and occasionally quick-tempered—and The Heart.)
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Cord is Leukine with Choleric tendencies, Samella is Phlegmatic, Heleth is straight-up Choleric, Jeko is Sanguine, and Rontal is Melancholic.
  • Frameup: What got Samella exiled. Some other indentured workers at the computer firm got jealous of her skills and falsely accused her of theft.
  • The Gadfly: Jeko. Heleth is his preferred target, but he's also gone after Cord a couple of times.
  • Genki Boy: Jeko again.
  • Giggling Villain: Lamprey has the disturbing habit of cackling like Baby Firefly at inappropriate moments. This is an early hint that he is not stable, trustworthy, or predictable.
  • Gonk: Lamprey is described as pallid, cadaverous-looking, prematurely white-haired, and sharp-toothed, with Creepy Shadowed Undereyes and a nose so smashed as to barely be there. All-in-all: evocative of a skinnier version of Tombstone.
  • Got Volunteered: Samella's family sold her into indenture out of desperation.
  • Groin Attack: In the third book, Samella first flings dust in a thug's face, then kicks him in the nuts while he's distracted. The thug, understandably, squeals and curls up "as if his backbone had been removed."
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Samella is a downplayed example; she's the least aggressive member of the original central cast, occasionally serves as The Heart, and has dirty-blonde hair.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Again: that's what Samella does to a thug right before kicking him in the rocks.
    Samella: "Now who needs looking after?"
  • Healing Herb: The planet Itharac's primary export is a yellow herb with antibiotic properties.
  • Hot-Blooded: Cord (who verges on Berserker status), Heleth (who occasionally hauls off and belts people who needle her), Jeko (whom Rontal calls an "action junkie" at one point).
  • Humans Are White: Averted. Cord, a redheaded, freckle-faced Scot, is the only central character who seems to be explicitly white. Samella is a gray-eyed blonde with an Irish surname, but apparently still looks tanned after three years indentured to an electronics firm; Heleth, although pale from living underground for the first seventeen years of her life, is ambiguous. Jeko and Rontal are explicitly not white; Rontal is black, Jeko is Japanese-American.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Played straight more than once.
  • If We Survive This: Heleth threatens to make Jeko regret insinuating that she used to be chubby in Rebellion.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: Samella gets migraines in Exiles. It's because the sapient trees are freaking out.
  • Implied Love Interest: Cord clearly has strong feelings for Samella by the end of the trilogy, and she possibly reciprocates, but they never make anything official.
  • Innate Night Vision: Heleth has this, with the drawback of light sensitivity. Exactly how she got that way is left ambiguous; however, Samella speculates in Caves that Heleth and the rest of the inhabitants of the tunnels under London may be some sort of mutants.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Caves begins with the five central characters rafting down a river. The first line of dialogue in the book?
    Samella: "I think the current's speeding up."
  • Karmic Death: Lamprey meets a quite literal Death of a Thousand Cuts at the hands of Klydor-native humanoids towards the end of Exiles. In Rebellion, Tuller meets a similar fate at the hands of his own gang after selling everyone out.
  • Kill Him Already!: Heleth pretty much outright yells this in Exiles when Samella has Lamprey at gunpoint.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Lamprey is only ever called by his Nom de Guerre. If he has a legal name, we never learn it.
  • Meaningful Name: Lamprey boasts that he earned his Nom de Guerre for his tenacity. "When I grab a fella he stays grabbed." He could just have easily have earned it by virtue of being as mean as an eel, or by virtue of being an emotional parasite on the central cast.
  • Lady Swears-a-Lot: Heleth, by euphemistic implication.
  • My Nayme Is: Cord's surname is an obvious phoneticization of "McKay." Heleth's name may or may not be a phoneticization of the Welsh "Heledd."
  • Nephewism: Cord was raised by his uncle, whose death in an accident led to Cord's exile.
  • Nature Hero: Cord is a downplayed example. He grew up in an isolated corner of Scotland, has extensive wilderness survival skills, and is introverted and socially naïve; also, his hair is described as somehow unruly in every book.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Not universal, but explicitly stated to be true of Klydor specifically: It's more-or-less safe to forage in the woods, but watch out for predators. Justified as the characters were put there to try and start a colony, and there's no point in sending people to a planet where they can't eat anything.
  • No, You: When ColSec Commandant Mirvandel demands the rebels' surrender in the asteroid mine in Rebellion, Jeko's response is a catcall:
    Jeko: "You throw your guns down and come out!"
  • One-Handed Zweihänder: Cord's improvised bludgeon in Exiles is stated to be heavy enough that "many people" would need both hands to wield it effectively. And Cord uses it one-handed, apparently just because he can.
  • Only One Name: Tends to be true of people living, shall we say, outside the law (Jeko, Heleth, and Rontal included).
  • Penal Colony: Every habitable planet is treated as one. There may or may not also be one in Antarctica.
  • Police State: What's left of civilization in North America, Europe, and most of Asia has essentially become one big one, although it's more "corporate oligarchy" than the usual "military dictatorship" take.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The central cast. Can also be applied, all things considered, to the rebel army as a whole.
  • Reluctant Warrior/Technical Pacifist: Samella is the least physical of the central cast, and seems to have a moral opposition to killing. That said, in a pinch, she's not afraid to threaten to put holes in someone's kneecaps, throw dust in faces, kick crotches, or rig an asteroid mining operation to self-destruct and kill everyone present at her next keystroke..
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: What got Cord exiled. His critically injured uncle/father figure was turned away from a hospital and left to die; Cord tried to trash the place in retaliation. (And that was only the first of several.)
  • Robinsonade: Of sorts.
  • Running Gag: Samella calling Cord a "barbarian."
  • Sand Worm: A recurring threat in Exiles. They range from about three feet long to about seven feet in diameter (that seemingly uniquely exceptional specimen—which the kids eventually make peace with the forest natives by killing—was stated to be taller than Rontal, who is implied to be at least 6'4", at its back) and have barbed tentacles which secrete what seems to be a potent neurotoxin. Justified in that they have tough exoskeletons and don't dig themselves in that deeply.
  • Screaming Warrior: Cord likes his highland battle cries.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Samella rigs the entire asteroid to detonate at her next keystroke in the final battle in Rebellion. Samella's and Bren's acts of Vehicular Sabotage, in Exiles and Caves respectively, may also count, although the former was only such by virtue of the freighter's lack of re-entry shielding.
  • Ship Tease: A clearly deliberate one for Cord and Samella; although it's never outright stated, it's fairly clear that he's in love with her by Rebellion, and she seems to reciprocate. Jeko and Heleth have an implied but much more subtle (for a certain value of "subtle," that is) one.
  • Sixth Ranger: Bren, by the end of Caves.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Tuller is a "Betrayer Barry" of the "just a jerkass" variety. He gets his comeuppance in the end.
  • Stout Strength: Cord plays with the trope. He's very strong (bordering on Charles Atlas Superpower territory) and looks pudgy when fully clothed (partly on account of being a little fireplug of a guy, partly on account of being baby-faced). However, when he loses his shirt during a fight in the first book, he's revealed to actually be quite trim.
  • Super-Senses: Along with her Innate Night Vision, Heleth has incredibly keen hearing.
  • Taking You with Me: Invoked several times. The most epic example, however, is Samella winning the day in the asteroid.
  • Team Dad: Although he does his best to treat the (much younger) five central characters like equals, Bren seems to somewhat fall into this role after the end of the second book.
  • True Companions: The five main characters by the end of Exiles. By the end of Caves, Bren has become a Sixth Ranger.
  • Tsundere: Heleth is a four-plus Spicy. She's always bickering with Jeko (and, to a lesser degree, almost everyone else), but there's the occasional implication that she doesn't outright hate him.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Cord is not a trained martial artist, but anything he can actually land a punch on is usually out for the count.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When Heleth says "yeck," it's occasionally the obvious expression of disgust equivalent to "ew." Far more often (and it is, in fact often), she's calling something that she dislikes "yecky" or someone who annoys her a "yeck-head," creating the impression that it's a euphemism for "shit."
  • Vehicular Sabotage: The series all but starts out with Samella sabotaging a spacecraft, thus allowing the central cast to survive in the first place. In Caves, Bren does away with Warreck by rigging his escape ship's engine to overload.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Samella's empathic ability never comes into play again after Exiles.
  • When She Smiles: Samella is described as otherwise "unremarkable" in appearance, but her smile lights up her face.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Cord sets out to rescue Bren from the clutches of the Crusher team in Caves. His plan involves feigning a broken leg until he can sucker-punch Warreck. Things don't go entirely according to plan...but luckily, Bren wasn't actually unconscious, just playing possum.
  • Wrench Wench: Samella, although computer hardware is more her forte.
  • You Are Fat: Cord is on the receiving end of quite a bit of this in Exiles (and it's lampshaded at the beginning of Caves). This is mostly due to Lamprey trying to stir the shit. And in Rebellion, Jeko inverts this at Heleth, stating that she "doesn't look as fat as she used to." (Neither character is fat, although both are solidly built.)
  • You Have No Chance to Survive: The Organization's prime flunkies seem fond of this. It never works.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Invoked by Lamprey as an attempt to psych out Samella when she has him at gunpoint, on the grounds that she's too much of a wimp to kill him. Her reply is that even if she wouldn't kill him outright, she wouldn't think twice before neutralizing him as a threat by Knee-capping him.

Alternative Title(s): Col Sec Trilogy