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Literature / The Red Tape War

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The Red Tape War is the story of Millard Fillmore Pierce, a human arbiter in a galactic bureaucracy, who inadvertently gets dragged into an interdimensional invasion. It is also the story of Millard Fillmore Pierce, anthropomorphic lizard General in an invasion force that accidentally finds itself in an Alternate Universe. It is also the story of Millard Fillmore Pierce, sapient floating gasbag reconnaissance commander for an invasion force attacking an Alternate Universe. Naturally, these are all Alternate Universe versions of the same person, with remarkably similar lives and outlooks despite their vastly different biologies.

All three versions of Pierce come from universes with a Vast Bureaucracy full of Obstructive Bureaucrats, hence the title of the book.

In 1980, Jack L Chalker, Mike Resnick, and an unnamed third party got the idea to write a round-robin novel, in which each writer would write a chapter, putting Millard into a certain death situation, then hand the book over to the next writer, who would extract the character(s) from that situation, then contrive to put him in a worse one, then hand it off to the third writer, and so on.

After six months, the book was half finished, but the unnamed third writer's work "didn't quite fit the bill," according to Resnick, and both Chalker and Resnick had become a great deal more busy. They paid off the third author, and put the novel on the back burner.

For nine years.

When they got back together (at the same convention) in 1989, they decided the time was right to continue the story, but they needed a third author who was good enough to rewrite all of the chapters by their prior collaborator, well-known enough not to be intimidated by working with the two of them, and naive enough not to realize what a bad idea it was to join with them on the project.

Enter George Alec Effinger.

This novel contains examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Pierce's navigational computer, passive-aggressive, often wangsty, and generally prissy. Also cheats at chess and card games.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted within the Milky Way galaxy, as not only does every race have their own language, but only seven of the twenty-thousand races in the galaxy have planetary languages. Earth, with 67 languages, 1200 dialects, and an additional 27 languages supplied by human colonies, is listed as a "less extreme example."
    • However, as all of the invaders are alternate-dimension equivalents of humans, including the main character, it still crops up.
      "What a crazy universe! The invading aliens speak English and our friends and allies can't be reached or understood."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A side-effect of the Vast Bureaucracy. As the Battleship Mahatma Ghandi's commander says, they're perfectly happy to risk their lives going around the galaxy rescuing people, but not if it means going through six months of paperwork.
  • Artificial Human: Frank Poole, designed to "be Pierce's pal." It's explicitly stated he's neither a good android nor a good pal, and thus has been in storage for the first half of the novel instead of keeping Pierce company.
  • Artistic License Biology: Lampshaded. "It should be noted for the likes of Mrs. Sutton that on their home world, the Proteans actually did have vegetables that gibbered. Even after they were cooked." Pretty much anything to do with the Proteans, in fact.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: One of the scenarios put forward for the Protean invasion. "In the event that the enemy is insignificantly small, the first officer shall stomp around and crush as many as possible."
  • Author Appeal: One reader "complains" that the "Freaky Friday" Flip is something Chalker's done to death, and wonders why the other two authors, both Hugo award winners, indulge him.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: When Resnick's attempt to get out of writing the last chapter by claiming that Tor books could be sued by someone named Millard Fillmore Pierce who might be offended doesn't work:
    Yes! It's going to happen! —he's finally sitting down to finish me.
    But first, he wants me to tell any and all readers named Millard Fillmore Pierce that Tor's offices are at 49 West 24th Street in Manhattan, and they're loaded.
  • Blatant Lies: According to "the book," Resnick attempted to tell the editor that he'd died over the weekend in order to get out of writing the last chapter. It didn't work. So he got more creative with his excuses. The recounting of these excuses and Meacham's reactions fills a page.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: When a classified ad is run through multiple relays, each in a different language (or just accent in some cases) and comes out at its intended destination, it changes from a simple (albeit shady) job offer to complete gibberish:
    • This continues for multiple exchanges
  • Butt-Monkey: Everyone in the book, but particularly Brad "Broken" Arro, Protean!Pierce's Number One. Explicitly mentioned in orders from Protean!Pierce's commander:
    "Under no circumstances are you to jeopardize your life or your ship. The life of your companion, however, is absolutely and thoroughly expendable."
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Human!Pierce implies that this is an Arbiter's job description. Whereas in the lizard universe, being able to solve problems gets you committed. Of course, having to deal with the bureaucracy too long gets you committed, too, but to a different ward.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Anything ever brought up by one of the authors, ever, no matter how ridiculous, will come into play later. Lampshaded at one point:
    Yet keep the truth about the planet's atmosphere in mind: It will become important in a couple of thousand words.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The very first bit of dialogue in the novel, Pierce's navigational computer (XB-223) cheats at chess.
    "If I didn't move my bishop, you would have announced mat in six more moves. I had to move it." "Trying to beat you was a higher imperative," said the computer. "It was simply a value judgement."
    • Later used as a plot point when XB-223 challenges Lizard!Pierce (and later, Ailey) to "a game of chance"
  • Continuity Snarl: Though it actually doesn't occur despite the authors' efforts to undo each others' efforts, the final chapter contains this:
    This evening [Resnick] called [Editor Meacham] again to say that his house had burned down and the first eleven chapters had been consumed in the blaze, and he couldn't remember anything about the plot. Editor Meacham said that this was probably for the best, given the fact that no one else had paid any attention to it up to this point, and at least I would have a consistent tone.
  • Deus ex Machina: After the Executive Meddling (see entry below), a new android, Sal, is brought out to resolve a problem, begins causing other problems, then vanishes from existence as one of the authors declares her to be such.
    • Also subverted, as one minor character turns out to be God, but he's retired now, so he doesn't do anything other than tell everyone this and then vanish - right when it appears that he was going to either save the day or kill everyone.
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Honeylou Emmyjane "Marshmallow" Goldberg wears a cowboy-themed outfit, complete with hat, speaks in an exaggerated drawl (until the book decides to just translate her dialogue in place), and lives this trope in every way she can from her first appearance.
  • Executive Meddling: Used to rush the story to a conclusion towards the end. It doesn't work.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Each author is challenged by the others to get the characters out of a horrible situation during the course of their chapter, only to end that chapter on a cliffhanger that's even worse.
    • According to a friend of the Chalker family, this is due, at least in part, to all three authors having become heartily sick of the story by about half-way through.
  • The Federation: By name, even: The Spiral Fed, a "loose economic federation of wolrds on one of the Milky Way's spiral arms."
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: As a result of XB-223's Indy Ploy. Everyone on the ship gets flipped. Leads to Grand Theft Me. Four times.
  • From Bad to Worse: One of the rules set down by the authors before writing the story was that each chapter should end this way.
  • Funetik Aksent: Marshmallow
  • Fun with Acronyms: A meta-example: Secondary Nautical Auxiliary Ferry Oscillation Operation.
  • Grand Theft Me: After the "Freaky Friday" Flip, this is attempted as an Indy Ploy. By four different people. One against his will.
  • Hand Wave: Attempted by the fusion of Protean!Pierce and Arro: "They did it by subspace radio. Don't ask me how." Surprisingly, it works.
  • Here We Go Again!: In a book this heavily laden with comedy tropes, could it end any other way?
  • His Name Is...: The book itself appears to be Killed Mid-Sentence revealing who's writing the current chapter at one point. It gets better.
    Wait a minute, Effinger! This is the book again. You weren't supposed to leave them like this at the end of Chapter Ten. They were supposed to get back in their own bodies again!
    Why... What...? You're not Effinger!! You're—
  • Indy Ploy: All three Pierces' modus operandi.
  • Insistent Terminology: Pierce's briefing, in which his supervisor officially designates names for various planets in standard legalese but doesn't actually use those names. Because even the bureaucrats seem to be sick of the bureaucracy. Pierce sure is.
  • Spoiling Shout-Out: invoked XB-223's failed attempt to explain what a rosebud is to Ailey references Citizen Kane and involves Cowboy BeBop at His Computer.
  • Klingon Promotion: "It also happens to be the only way to advance in this lizard's army."
  • Lampshade Hanging: If a trope isn't subverted, it's either lampshaded or averted while the aversion itself is lampshaded. Rule of Funny mandates this more than Better than a Bare Bulb.
  • Living Gasbag: Millard Fillmore Pierce (the floating alien gasbag one, of course).
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted, repeatedly, by almost everything or anybody with a name.
  • Medium Awareness: At one point, the characters hear the authors arguing. At another, the book begins to berate Effinger for something not happening before apparently getting KilledMidSentence. The book itself dies. Before it's over. It comes back to life. Obviously.]
    Lizard!Pierce: Wish they hadn't written Goodtime Sal out of the story. I could use some commiseration 'long about now.
  • Mind Screw: Done in-universe to XB-223 and Pierce during the "Freaky Friday" Flip in order to finesse a Grand Theft Me. Done to the readers at the same time. Try keeping track of who's who after they're hypnotized to believe they are who they appear to be and not only does it work, but the authors simply refer to them by the names of their bodies.
    • The authors actually clarify who's who, but then immediately request that anyone who actually understands the plot so far send them a summary, because they're lost.
    • Later, one of the authors appears to kill the book - or at least the apparently sapient part of the narrative that addresses the readers and refers to itself as "the book." The story continues, however.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Towards the end, when a reader complains about the "Freaky Friday" Flip, the book replies that while Resnick and Effinger are award winning authors, Chalker is simply rolling in green, and they want a piece of that action, too.
  • Mushroom Samba: One of the characters gets completely high by overcharging the android his mind is in. The others are given something to drink to keep them from dying of dehydration, only to learn it's a synthesized 180-proof grain alcohol.
  • No Fourth Wall: Beginning in Chapter Three, the book itself responds to its readers by name. Pretty funny, unless you happen to be "fourteen-year-old V. Chavez of Staunton, Virginia," and "don't care 'bout no gasbags."
  • No Name Given: While we know that Marshmallow's father's last name is Goldberg, he is only ever referred to as "Daddy." By everyone. Even the Proteans, who are worried he might actually be God, refer to him as such. The one time he begins to introduce himself, he is interrupted.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: During a reflective moment, the authors confess that, amidst all the ridiculous things that have occurred during the course of the novel, "even we were brought up short by the concept of a sheep fondue in the last chapter." Said sheep fondue did not exist at all, and was the result of the "Blind Idiot" Translation caused by the S.N.A.F.O.O. communications, but still.
    We could easily imagine an immense fondue pot big enough to contain a ton and a half of melted cheese; it was the whole sheep on pointed sticks that gave us trouble.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Lampshaded aversion: Lizard!Pierce refers to Marshmallow as "that creature with the extra pair of lungs."
  • Not So Stoic: Despite many, many, many exhibitions of frustration beforehand, Lizard!Pierce has the following bit of dialogue in chapter three:
    "Our navigational computer was programmed to think just like us, with all our lack of useless emotion. Something is wrong here. I think it's time to question our computer closely about her - I mean its, damn it - true feelings. I mean, responses. Logical, cybernetic electronic responses. Not feelings. Feelings are impossible in our nav comp. Feelings are almost impossible in us, for that matter."
  • Overly-Long Gag: Subverted. The novel is about to relay Protean!Pierce's countdown from 2,971 to 0 (to fill most of the chapter) when Mr. Isaac Hodgkinson of Austin, Texas objects.
  • Pirate: Paddy de Faux Grais wears two eyepatches because he can never remember which eye he is supposed to wear his pirate-school mandated eyepatch over.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Though not for lack of trying. Paddy and his crew are unable to do anything that doesn't result in the death of the characters they were sent to rescue, so they end up just sitting there and watching.
  • Punny Name: Paddy de Faux Grais, among others.
  • Purple Prose: XB-223 attempting to romance the Lizard invaders' own navigational computer, while they're eloping, and her responses. Lampshaded, as both are using the a style of speech derived from a "pink-spined shelf of smut." (Or "lizardica".)
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Lizard!Pierce's race "are a very warlike race, bent on empire, rape, carnage, and looting. Especially rape."
    • It's something some of their soldiers specialize (or cross-specialize) in. And due to the nature of the world they come from, no one is allowed to do anything outside their specialties.
  • Rule of Funny: All three authors used this and From Bad to Worse as their guideline for every event in the book.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: While travelling at more than two hundred times the speed of light, they leave Marshmallow's ship "quite a few light-years" behind them in a matter of minutes.
  • Sequel Hook: See Here We Go Again!. Also, a fourth Millard Fillmore Pierce is mentioned in Chapter 7 as a throw-away gag, but Human!Pierce says he's being saved for the sequel.
  • Shout-Out: So, so many.
  • Stripperiffic: Marshmallow.
    Lizard!Pierce: Outfit? You mean that's not your skin?
    Marshmallow: Certainly not.
    Lizard!Pierce: You could have fooled me.
  • There Are No Therapists: In the lizard universe, most actual therapists either quit, sell out, or go crazy from guilt.
  • The Unreveal: See No Name Given.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Protean!Pierce, who is a Commodore because of the village he was born in.
  • Vast Bureaucracy / Obstructive Bureaucrat: Everywhere. In all four referenced universes (five if you count Tor books' relationship with the authors). Fortunately, it obstructs the invaders as much as Pierce.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: XB-223 asks Pierce for clarification of page 187 of Fanny Hill a.k.a. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.