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Literature / The League of Peoples 'Verse

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The League of Peoples universe is the setting of a number of novels by James Alan Gardner. A coalition of super-advanced aliens known as the League of Peoples have granted humanity the technology to colonize the stars. In exchange, they enforce a single inviolable rule: Interstellar travel is forbidden to dangerous non-sentient organisms. Any dangerous nonsentient is immediately destroyed when it gets far enough from a star. Deliberately killing a sentient being — or knowingly transporting a dangerous nonsentient — is ironclad proof of being a dangerous nonsentient.note 

Most of the stories focus on the Explorer Corps of the human Technocracy, colloquially known as the Expendables. Because exploring strange new worlds is the last dangerous occupation in Technocracy, it is reserved for the ugly, the flawed, the imperfect; the members of society who are deemed expendable. It is the task of these bitter Red Shirts to travel to unexplored planets, make new contact with alien species, and generally discover that, in spite of the League's rule, the universe is still filled with a thousand painful ways to die.

A couple of the novels are instead set on Old Earth, now inhabited solely by the descendants of those who rejected the League's offer and chose to retain their right to violence and murder. As all of the inhabitants have been officially deemed non-sentient by the League, they are freely available as test subjects or playthings for any passing alien which should desire to use them so. The last bastion of order is the Spark Lords, who use their advanced technology to try to bring peace to the forsaken world.

The League of Peoples 'Verse consists of the following novels:

  • Expendable
  • Commitment Hour
  • Vigilant
  • Hunted
  • Ascending
  • Trapped
  • Radiant

Provides Examples Of:

    The Main Series 
  • Abusive Precursors: The Shaddill
  • The Alcoholic: Phylar Tobit
  • And I Must Scream: While the League finds murder unacceptable, they see nothing wrong with this. A common abuse of the Technocracy and the Shaddill is to jail a person for all eternity in some form of comfort.
  • Apocalyptic Log: All explorers have a voice recorder embedded in their throats that sends recordings back to the corps. One of the duties of Explorers that aren't on a mission is to listen to these recordings and make reports. The most common way for these to end is with the phrase "Oh Shit" and dead air.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Las Fuentes specifically are mentioned to have done this, leaving behind vaguely purple blobs of slime behind.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Human names are "in" in the League verse.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The Cashlings
  • Back from the Dead: Oar
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted in the Explorer Corps books, where the heroes are always in some way deformed and considered absolutely hideous by Technocracy standards.
  • Black Box: The Technocracy doesn't understand the actual workings of most of the technology it relies on, as it was all given to them by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Who are really Abusive Precursors.
  • Brutal Honesty: Oar is not such a one as to understand the ugly human concept of "tact."
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Pollisand claims to be one, elaborating at great length at how evil he is; despite this, both of his appearances have him helping the good guys.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Admiral Chee during his senile moments in Expendable; Tut in Radiant
  • Complete Immortality: Oar's species — they're Made of Diamond and do not age after the mid 20s. It's insinuated that her ancestors are all still alive, comatose in the towers on their homeworld, just too soul crushingly bored to bother moving. Oar even mentions that one time she found herself stuck at the bottom of a river; she didn't die despite drowning, merely falling into a half-awake coma until she washed up on shore. They are, however, weak to sonic damage.
    • The Tahpo are also shown to be effectively immortal in Ascending, having lived for several thousand years. The fact that Oar's race and the Tahpo are both under this trope is not accidental.
  • Cool Old Guy: Admiral Chee
  • Crapsack World: Old Earth
  • Creative Sterility: A number of species. The Fasskisters, for example, are masterful engineers, but can only perform projects comissioned by others; they can't imagine any of their own. The Cashlings have a genetic version of ADHD, they literally cannot concentrate on things for more than a short while. Oar's race never mature mentally, leaving them permanently childlike until their brains burn out. Humanity is gradually becoming dumber and less ethical as time passes.
    • Ascending reveals the Tahpo have been going around inflicting this on any species they perceive as a threat.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: The League takes this view, though we see no actual evidence of it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Pollisand
  • Deal with the Devil: The chapter in Ascending where Oar makes her pact with the Pollisand is titled, "Wherein I Am Offered A Deal With The Devil". Subverted; it works out great for Oar with no apparent negative consequences.
  • Death World: Melaquin, from which no Explorer has ever returned alive. Subverted. It's exactly, perfectly Earthlike down to the same species of animals and plants. The Technocracy uses it as a place to exile anyone they find embarrassing. Most people survive, join a civilization of exiles living on the surface, then try to leave, only to be forced back by the ships in orbit.
  • Footnote Fever: Ascending
  • Freud Was Right: Discussed In-Universe example in Expendable. When explaining why the FTL drive is called a "sperm-tail generator", the narrator comments that, given sufficient time, soldiers will assign sexual references to every damn thing.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: The Pollisand has "Baleful Burning Eyes," effectively two glowing orbs floating in its chest cavity.
  • Happy Birthday to You!: Sung in Expendable, with the lyrics "Happy birthday, lord and master...". Phylar Tobit uses the fact that it's always his birthday on some planet in the universe to justify his drinking.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Nimbus. The Pollisand refuses to revive him because it was a Heroic Sacrifice, and he sees deliberate choices as almost sacred.
  • Human Aliens: Oar's race, also known as the Shaddill. Or rather, a spin-off race designed by the Tahpo to be permanent children and to replace the human colonists on their home world.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Oar and her race. Justified a few ways over — she's Made of Diamond, her whole race are feral children, and they have a genetic predisposition towards stealth. Oar's nudity is mentioned offhand when she's introduced in Expendable (as is the nudity of her countrymen in the towers), but other than the occasional description of the effects of water running down her skin (by Festina, anyway) the nudity is mostly ignored; the only other time it's mentioned is Oar idly asking if wearing clothing would make her appear more civilized. She does wear Festina's old explorer coat in Ascending but only because she feels it would offend Festina if she didn't. It's entirely possible (and likely) to forget by the end of Expendable and Ascending that Oar has been nude the entire time.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Some of Oar's narration.
  • Ironic Name: In Expendable, Festina bitterly notes in her narration that "Festina" means "The Happy One" and her typical state of mind is anything but happy.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: A job requirement for Explorers. It's mentioned in Hunted, after the Explorers Corps starts admitting non-non-cute people, that the traditional ugly, ostracized Explorers are better at their (very dangerous) job, because they are expecting the universe to be out to get them in a way that cute people usually don't. The protagonist is a physically attractive Explorer, but he was also his father's Un Favorite, and Festina says that he makes a good explorer despite being handsome.
  • Last of Their Kind: The Tahpo. For varying definitions of "kind".
  • Lawful Stupid: The Technocracy. Subverted, as this is intentionally being hoist upon them by an outside force.
    • The League in general. Murder? Not ok. Self defense? Maybe ok. Kidnapping someone and locking them in a pit, keeping them alive for the rest of their natural lives? Just fine.
  • Living Ship: The Zaretts are a race of living ships bred by the Divians, provided to them by the Shaddill.
  • Manchild: Oar, due to the neurological quirks of her species: while she's actually 40 and looks about 20, she acts like a little kid, due to her brain never undergoing maturity and neural pruning. Makes for an incredibly intelligent race... that burns out around the age of 50.
  • Meaningful Name: Some alien races introduce themselves using names taken from human culture, including the Balrog and the Lucifer.
  • Medieval Stasis: For varying degrees of Medieval - almost any race given technology by a more advanced race stops growing technologically. This is also a result of Creative Sterility; it befell the Cashlings and Oar's race, among others.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: Oar's race. It's shown she can punch with the force of a sledgehammer without much trouble, and despite her glassy appearance it takes a lot of effort or sonics to even hurt her.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Discussed by the Pollisand and Oar.
    A vastly intelligent being who controlled what I saw and heard might indeed present himself as a silly buffoon as not to be taken too seriously. On the other hand, a silly buffoon might boast of himself as a vastly intelligent beast who was merely playacting. Which was more likely?
  • Oh, Crap!: Explorers call dying in the line of duty "going Oh Shit", based on their most common last words.
  • Organic Technology: Favored by Divians.
  • Plant Aliens: The Balrog, which is a Sufficiently Advanced Fungus.
  • Please Wake Up: Oar's reaction to Chee's death. Though a bit less polite than asking "please". It's implied this is partially due to her race's odd relationship with death.
  • Punny Name: Uclod Unorr. As in, "Get off my foot, you clod!"
  • Rape as Drama: It's unveiled Jelca raped Eel and Oar when he first met them. It's implied that they had the mentality of 8 year olds at the time.
  • Red Shirts: The Explorer Corps. "That's what 'expendable' means."
  • Rousing Speech: Phylar Tobit gives one in Expendable. He cribbed it from Henry V, a Brick Joke about Shakespeare being required reading for the Explorer Corps.
  • Rules Lawyer: Frequently abused by League races. For example, while murdering people (or doing something you or your government knows will cause their death) is flat out not allowed, damaging their minds using genetic engineering, corrupting their governments, or exiling them to a technically safe world but never allowing them to leave are all acceptable. "Something about free will."
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: While the League won't allow ships to go around full of explosives, Technocracy ships do have a protocol which fries all the sensitive technology on board if in danger of capture.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Plentiful in Expendable.
  • Slave to PR: The Pollisand goes to great lengths to maintain his evil reputation:
    Pollisand: I like people thinking I'm an asshole. Being an asshole is my life's vocation; I'm a goddamned asshole professional. When other people act like assholes, they're doing it on their own time, but me, it's my job."
  • Sonic Stunner: The standard armament of Explorers, as lethal weapons are prohibited by the League. Somewhat dangerous to crystal-based life, like Oar's people.
  • Starfish Aliens: The high-ranking League members.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: Oar is such a one as to speak this way.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The higher members of the League Of Peoples. It's implied there are others that are beyond even them.
  • Survivor Guilt: Festina Ramos gets a serious case in Expendable after the landing on Melaquin.
  • Transhuman: Several league races fall under this. There are some that are so far beyond human comprehension that the league races can't be sure they exist. They are literally watching the entire league 24 / 7, enforcing the spirit of the rules.
  • Wild Child: Oar and her race, due to her race having a much longer childhood, along with the "Tired Brain" syndrome that causes people around the age of 50 to enter comas.
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: Justified in Ascending, where it is explained that pictures taken with an Honest Camera are considered acceptable evidence because the camera design was provided by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and lesser races like humans have yet to figure out how to tamper with it.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Explorers, aka "Expendable Crew Members". Specifically, if you're ugly / odd and stupid, you can easily be fixed by readily available medical technology. If you're odd and smart the government will specifically block you from receiving treatment and push you into a suicide squad, based on the idea that ugly people don't count as "people" to the average ship crewmember, and thus letting them go off and die doesn't hurt morale nor does it cause guilt in the management that gives out the orders.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Oar's race gets "Tired Brains" after about 40-50 years, leaving them unable to get motivated to do anything other than lay under heat lamps 24 / 7.

  • Heroic RRoD: Happens a few times:
    • Myoko dies after burning out all of her psychic power in order to hurl the team's jolly-boat to shore while they're under fire.
    • Steel Caryatid literally burns herself out during the battle with the Lucifer, setting her whole body on fire.
  • Taking the Fight Outside: In the first chapter, Philemon and the other Misfits are enjoying a drink when they are accosted by a bunch of drunk sailors who take exception to being told that they smell bad. Mindful of the damage they could do, the Misfits lead the sailors outside for the ensuing fight, telling the barkeep to keep their drinks for them.
  • Terms of Endangerment: Dreamsinger is fond of kissing people and addressing them as "dear friend" (or "dear sister", in the case of Caryatid.) She is also Ax-Crazy, prone to killing people just for mildly inconveniencing her.