Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The War Against the Chtorr

Go To

"Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens ...In That Order."
Solomon Short, "A Matter for Men"

The War Against the Chtorr is an incomplete sci-fi series by David Gerrold about an invasion of Earth by an entire alien ecosystem, set 20 Minutes into the Future. Just about everyone in The Government has become an Obstructive Bureaucrat, save the odd Magnificent Bastard. The rest of the world has forced the United States to accept crippling economic treaties to keep it from engaging in War for Fun and Profit. Then The End of the World as We Know It begins. First a series of alien plagues wipes out most of humanity, and then aliens (much) bigger than microbes begin popping up. The invaders consist mainly of giant worms, insects, plants and other, extremely unpleasant stuff. They eat everything, resulting in massive environmental damage, but they really like to eat people. Then it gets worse.

So far there are four books out, with the fifth completed, after 30 years, but awaiting publication; there are supposed to be seven altogether.

The known titles are:

  1. A Matter for Men (1983)
  2. A Day for Damnation (1985)
  3. A Rage for Revenge (1989)
  4. A Season for Slaughter (1993)
  5. A Nest for Nightmares
  6. A Method for Madness

Tropes featured include:

  • Ace Pilot: Colonel "Lizard" Tirelli is an expert chopper pilot.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The GURPS sourcebook was actually well-received, and even included a few things from Gerrold's notes that still haven't made it into the series yet.
  • Alien Invasion: In this case, it's not alien armies invading — an entire alien ecosystem made landfall and is trying to displace Earth's entire biosphere.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: By the third book, depraved biker gangs are a problem in areas where neither the US government or the Chtorrans have too much presence. Especially when they have rocket launchers on their bikes.
  • Alliterative Title: Part of the Idiosyncratic Episode Naming, of "A [X] for [Y]", where X and Y alliterate:
    • A Matter for Men (1983)
    • A Day for Damnation (1985)
    • A Rage for Revenge (1989)
    • A Season for Slaughter (1993)
    • A Nest for Nightmares
    • A Method for Madness
  • America Saves the Day: Zig-Zagged. The United States was forced to abandon all of its foreign assets after a nuclear incident in the Middle East, and later decommission much of its military after losing a war in Pakistan. Ironically this now makes the USA the most powerful nation on Earth, as its armed forces were not mobilized to deal with the plagues and so survived mostly intact, making them the best option for a military and/or industrial solution against the Chtorr. The catch is that many nations have openly declared they would rather be eaten by the Chtorr than be "saved" by the United States; their first attempt post-invasion to sabotage American resurgence was interrupted by a worm eating most of the delegates who were observing it, the second by their invasion force crashing and burning due to American-made Trojan Horse chips.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Most people don't believe in the Chtorrans until the worms start moving into towns and eating people. Even then the Fourth World Alliance insists on downplaying the invasion, until a captive worm escapes is let loose and starts chomping its way through their delegates.
  • Armies Are Evil: Averted in that the protagonist is both soldier and scientist and can therefore see both arguments (the scientists want to study the alien invaders, but that means allowing their ecology to gain enough of a foothold to understand how it works. The military want to burn the Chtorr before they can get a foothold, but this approach is inherently flawed, as without better knowledge of the Chtorr the war is hopeless anyway). He's not alone in this viewpoint, but it just tends to make the shouting matches even more confusing.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Just because one ecology is older than another doesn't mean it's more developed and deadly. In fairness, everything in the books to date about the Chtorr homeworld is total speculation on the part of the humans; it's possible the invaders were deliberately bred or engineered to be so deadly.
  • Artistic License – Space: There are no red giant suns within 30 light years of Earth's solar system. (The nearest is about 88 light years away.) Again, beyond the evidence that the Chtorrans prefer red light, the idea that the Chtorr come from such a system remains total in-universe speculation.
  • Back from the Dead: Uncle Ira. Being dead is a great way to keep people from spying on you.
  • Batman Gambit: The Uncle Ira Group is fond of tricking their enemies (and sometimes even their own people) into doing what Uncle Ira wanted done in the first place.
  • Berserk Button: Another character comments at one point that McCarthy is metaphorically covered with a collection of these, and goes off like a missile whenever one of them is pushed. (Being seen as gay is a major one.)
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: Bunnydogs/bunnymen and libbits are the males and females, respectively, of the same species, despite the former looking like upright rabbits and the latter like quadrupedal, blobby pigs. There are also clues that there are no individual species per se in the Chtorran ecosystem — just the ecosystem itself — with a vast web of what we would consider "different species" that are genetically compatible for breeding.
  • Body Horror: The Chtorrans are deadly to humans in all sorts of horrible ways - in the first novel, a character gets bitten by a millipede and his red blood cells all explode. Anyone caught in a cotton-candy storm has their lungs destroyed. Spend enough time alive in a Chtorran mandala and you become covered with nerve-parasite quills, with the end result of becoming something like a bunnydog or libbit.
  • Body Surf: The Telepathy Corps, a Hive Mind organisation able to share their experiences via electronic implants. Not everyone implanted with such a device is aware of it, however. Including very possibly McCarthy.
  • Brainwashed: In "A Rage for Revenge" McCarthy is captured by renegades (humans who worship and help the Chtorr) and is converted to their cause by charismatic cult leader Jason Delandro. This story is intermingled with flash-forward chapters detailing McCarthy's participation in the Mode Training, which some critics believe to be a form of government brainwashing. Gerrold based Mode Training on est a.k.a. Landmark Education.
  • Bug War: Most of the deadliest Chtorran life forms, including the gastropedes, are distinctly insect-like, though it's noted in-universe that none of them actually are insects.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: McCarthy is deeply impulsive, self-destructive, and hair-triggered. He's also the front-line expert on the Chtorran ecology, and so Lizard and/or Uncle Ira clean up his messes and keep him propped up and functioning.
  • Camp Gay: Randy Dannenfelser is every overt negative gay stereotype turned up to eleven.
  • The Casanova: Ted notches up a long string of conquests, including McCarthy. Despite that he's kinda likeable. Sometimes.
  • Chew Toy: McCarthy cannot catch a break. So he really doesn't give anyone else much of one, either.
  • Child Soldiers: With over six million "most urgent" jobs waiting to be filled, anyone old enough to work does so.
  • Children Are Innocent: A cult of renegades uses this trope to capture McCarthy, by sending in a cute little girl.
  • Colonel Badass: Lizard, who flies jet-assisted helicopter gunships on lone combat missions in her spare time. Though as the series progresses, she gets promoted, and it's hinted nearly from the start that she's a lot more important in the military and government power-structure than her nominal rank would indicate.
  • Coming of Age Story: As might be expected, given Robert Heinlein's influence on Gerrold.
  • Covers Always Lie: Many versions of the series do a lousy job of accurately depicting the worms, often giving them legs that are way too long. (Ironically one of the better attempts is the cover of the GURPS sourcebook.)
  • Deadly Dust Storm: The so-called 'cotton candy plant' creates huge duststorms that knock helicopters out of the sky, explode like grain silos, cause thousands of deaths by clogging up people's lungs, and fuel the next stage in Hostile Terraforming by providing food for Chtorran lifeforms while smothering Earth plants and animals.
  • Death from Above: Lizard dishes this out on several occasions. And in an interesting twist, a group of renegades setting up a night ambush are exposed to a counter-ambush when an orbiting solar mirror is suddenly turned on the area.
  • Death World: The original planet of the invaders is assumed to be like this, and they're eager to make Earth just like it.
  • Depopulation Bomb: A Discussed Trope, as Gerrold often does. Long List;
    1. The plagues killed more than four and a half billion people before the alien locusts showed up.
    2. Experts expect to lose another half-billion before the plagues are completely neutralized. The plagues they know about.
    3. Everyone who can't survive without medical care — even from something as easily controllable as diabetes — is going to die due to lack of medical personnel and supplies.
    4. All the children whose parents died, were crippled, or just reduced to stuttering wrecks are either going to die or go feral.
    5. On top of all that, another ten percent will die of Survivor Guilt.
    • By the second book, the body count has risen to five and a half billion. There are less than three and a half billion left, all of whom are mentally damaged by all that death. People may be unable to maintain technological civilization, which is the only thing that could potentially keep the big monsters from destroying what's left. All in all, the human race may already be extinct.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Lizard. She is very stern and cold to McCarthy (and everyone else) at first, but eventually becomes his lover (and then wife).
  • Disappeared Dad: McCarthy's father was (almost certainly) killed before the story starts, caught in a firestorm that destroyed San Francisco.
  • Disposing of a Body: A rarely-seen Surprisingly Realistic Outcome result. See the Depopulation Bomb entry? Well, when that many people die, there aren't enough people to bury them. Especially as lots of the corpses — and there are still hundreds of thousands of mummified bodies waiting to be discovered — are plague hazards. Solution? Ovens. Just stumbling upon one such "mass crematorium" unaware has been known to send people off the deep end.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Justified. The immense loss of life following the worldwide plagues and the ongoing genocide campaign by the Chtorrians has rendered almost every surviving human traumatized to some degree.
  • Earth Is a Battlefield: A free-for-all one. If the worms, the renegades and the foreign spies don't kill you, your own superiors probably will just because they don't know what else to do with you.
  • Eat Me: A gastropode tries to eat a robot prowler, and its remote operator just chews and claws right through the worm's body and out the other end.
  • The End of the World as We Know It. Implicit. If the war is won, it won't be in the lifetime of any of the characters. Best case scenario? If everybody got a clue all at once during the first book, the Chtorr would be beaten in fifty years. Every day that passes without a program of unified resistance to the Chtorran invasion pushes the window of possible victory two weeks farther away. Worst case scenario? Everyone's dead inside of ten years.
  • Epigraph. Ranging from newspaper articles and quotes by Solomon Short (a newspaper columnist) in the first two books, limericks in the third book, and long quotes from The Red Book in the fourth.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The number of Chtorran species that won't easily give you a horrible death can be counted on one hand. And even those will probably still kill you anyway, it just won't be a horrible death. Relatively speaking.
  • Evolutionary Levels: It's stated that since Chtorran lifeforms have a billion-year evolutionary headstart they have a massive advantage over Earth lifeforms. (Though as noted, this is not a biological certainty in real life.)
  • Expo Speak: Lectures, newspaper articles, interviews, psychoanalytic sessions, even jokes and limericks (justified because every single freaking one is funny as all hell).
  • Failed Future Forecast: Early printings of the books contained references to the Soviet Union still existing in the future. Later ones avoid this.
  • Falling into the Cockpit. The protagonist is (accidentally) assigned to Special Forces because he has two years of college-level biology (they need a 'scientist'), and is gradually promoted because over the course of the novels he survives long enough to gain the required military skills while everyone around him keeps dying.
  • Feathered Fiend: Shambler trees are host to an entire ecology of carnivorous tenants that swarm in their thousands when they sense the vibrations of nearby prey.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: A flamethrower is McCarthy's weapon of choice against the Chtorr, despite having to burn alive the man who first taught him how to use one.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: Duke is horribly burned after using a flamethrower in a cotton candy storm.
  • Flechette Storm: The AM-280 rifle with Laser Sight, which only the user can see because the Goggles Do Something Unusual.
  • Foreshadowing: The very first scene in the series includes a young girl taken alive by the worms instead of being instantly devoured as is the norm; much later we learn what horrible fate was destined for her instead of being shot dead by Duke.
  • Formerly Sapient Species: This appears to be the place that humans will eventually fill once the Earth is transformed to a completely Chtorran ecology. There are herds of humans in some of the ruined cities that are no longer sapient, and being around them too much can somehow draw other humans into joining them. Its uncertain whether an infectious agent is involved or something else. There are hints that some of the Chtorran lifeforms were also once more sapient than they are now — the bunnymen and libbits are explicitly identified as being descended from human children transformed into non-sapient cattle for the Chtorrians.
  • For Want of a Nail: McCarthy only ended up in the ultra-secret Special Forces fighting and studying the worms because the plagues caused problems with the assignment paperwork.
  • Freeze Ray: There's a gun that shoots liquid nitrogen.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: As there are so few people who actually grow food for a living, real food is a luxury. This is actually the basis of the primary currency of the series; "Caseys" or "Kilo-Calories", which are backed by one-thousand-calorie blocks of "soya".
  • Got Volunteered: Zig-Zagged with the Uriah Gambit — it's made clear that there are legal precedents involving the use of soldiers on dangerous missions, and in the first novel Duke Anderson tells McCarthy he does have the option of refusing to go on a dangerous mission, but then he'll be on the first chopper out of here because a soldier who won't take risks is useless to him. In the second, one of his superiors notes he has an asterisk (Jim: Yeah, I'm sitting on it.) — meaning those legal precedents have been waived. This means he's either part of the Telepathy Corps, pissed someone off enough that they want him KIA'd, or he's gained a reputation for surviving dangerous missions. Specifically, he was once set to guard a worm with a weapon experts had concluded wouldn't work on worms and killed it anyway. By book four he pisses off the wrong General and gets abandoned in a pink storm — along with several other soldiers. He only gets out that time by finding intel too valuable to sacrifice and spending his last remaining political favor. (Though he and the reader never learn who exactly rescues him) There are also indications that he's been given a telepathic implant without his knowledge when he was last in surgery.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Uncle Ira Group AKA United Intelligence. Given that the United States is treated like post-WW1 Germany, the mere fact that it has an intelligence agency is top secret. Likewise with the Special Forces Warrant Agency, a black ops unit whose use of weapons such as napalm is illegal. The Teamwork Army (an unemployment program) actually serves as a cover for training potential soldiers in this ostensibly demilitarized country.
  • Government Conspiracy: Every move by the United States government to fight the Chtorrans is viewed by the rest of the world as an attempt to reassert American supremacy. Ironically these suspicions would be all-too-accurate under different circumstances. The best example would be that every single freaking computer chip the US has built since their deposition as a global superpower is in fact a Trojan Horse; each one has a Tracking Device and a Self-Destruct Mechanism — they know where all the weapons on earth are, and can destroy them at any time. As one character put it: "There's enough history between us to fuel a major war, and if it weren't for the convenient intervention of the worms, that's probably what we'd be doing right now."

    The Uncle Ira conspiracy must be stated in full to be believed. It begins when a periodic Gulf War escalates into a reverse Cuban Missile Crisis. The Third World then gets its act together for five seconds and demands that the US stand down or get nuked. The President at the time submits rather than start World War III, and the US is forced to disband its military and make multibillion-dollar reparations. This is when the conspiracy is hatched; accede to their demands in ways that benefit the US secretly. The military was disbanded, but reformed as a Peace Corps-like "Teamwork Army" which specializes in public works; the physical labor conditions them every bit as well as boot camp, and people who build stuff for a living tend to be very territorial — once the invasions start, it only takes one month of combat training to transform into a quality army. Weapons platforms like tanks and gunships were sank in the sea — but secretly preserved with acrylic beforehand. Instead of sending money, they send food and machines, forcing US industries to be redesigned to meet those demands. The US suffers a short depression, but loads of super-technology is developed in the process, causing an economic boom despite the treaties, and making the world even more dependent on US technology (complete with the aforementioned Trojan Horse chips). Space technology is developed, to supply the Third World with energy from solar-power satellites — requiring US expertise to maintain, and enabling them to develop space; thanks to a lunar colony, they have mass drivers. And half a million teachers are sent into the Third World to bring them up to speed; and teach them American values. If Tvtropes had been created by an older generation of nerds, the Xanatos Gambit may well have been called the Uncle Ira Gambit; "What if we only pretended to lose?"
  • Gunship Rescue: At one stage McCarthy decides to drive into a Chtorran-infested zone until something eats him, only to have Lizard turn up in a massively-armed jetcopter and blow up the road in front of his vehicle.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: You push one of McCarthy's many Berserk Buttons, he will blow up.
  • Half-Human Hybrid:
    • Jason Delandro is probably on the verge of becoming this before he is executed by McCarthy.
    • Even more so the former scientist the protagonists extract from the Brazilian mandala near the end of "Slaughter".
    • It is implied that the bunnydogs/bunnymen and libbits are the Half-Alien Hybrids of some other species that the Chtorr previously conquered and reduced to their equivalent of cattle, and that this too will be the fate of humanity if the war is lost.
    • The short story Enterprise Fish implies that McCarthy has become this after falling into a Chtorran mandala.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: The redheaded "Lizard" Tirelli is certainly the apple of McCarthy's eye.
  • High Times Future: A textbook example which goes to some trouble to portray a society that's changed both technology-wise and socially. Legal marijuana farms are mentioned and over-the-counter recreational drugs are used. Entire industries have sprung up around drug use, to the point where medicine cabinets contain drugs which rapidly neutralize the effects of other drugs right between the painkillers and the antibiotic ointment.
  • Hive Mind:
    • The Telepathy Corps use implanted technological uplinks to share all memories and experiences with one another.
    • The Chtorran ecology itself is speculated to be kept in some sort of constant neural contact by means of their symbiotic "hair", which makes fighting them a serious issue — the entire ecology is army and leadership at the same time, robbing humanity of any actual target to eliminate to hurt or disorganize the invaders.
  • Hopeless War: Things are not going well, and everybody knows it and acts accordingly.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: "Cotton candy" duststorms attract swarms of ever-bigger Chtorran critters that devour everything in sight, be it native species or their fellow Chtorrans.
  • Hostile Terraforming: The Chtorran ecology operates by completely replacing those of the planets it invades, utilizing a variety of invasive weed species and plagues tailored to prey on, infect, parasitize and/or poison everything outside of itself. In fully infested areas, Earth life is entirely gone outside of a few species that have been assimilated into the Chtorran ecology.
  • Humans Are Bastards: If you want to see an Alien Invasion scenario with mankind at its most noble... this isn't the series for you.
  • Humans Are Special: Then again, the books make it clear that Earth's native ecosystem is all but helpless against the Chtorran invaders, leaving human sapience and technology as the only thing that could possibly overcome them.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: The second time McCarthy is airlifted from a pink storm, his rescuers are sent by an unknown party. He inquires about their identity, only for the pilot to reply that he could tell, but then he'd have to drop McCarthy and his team right back into the storm. Understandably, McCarthy quickly drops the issue.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each novel has a name of the form "A [X] for [Y]" where the words X and Y are alliterative. "A Matter for Men", "A Day for Damnation", "A Season for Slaughter", "A Rage for Revenge", "A Nest for Nightmares", and "A Method for Madness". According to Word of God, forthcoming books were thought to be named "A Time for Treason" (sixth) and "A Case for Courage" (seventh), but "A Method for Madness" was thought to be the fifth book but became the title for the sixth, and now no title has surety.
  • Insufferable Genius: McCarthy is an interesting example, in that he has major self-loathing issues, but also knows he's the best there is when it comes to understanding the Chtorrans. It isn't until the fourth novel that he's finally explicitly told how respected and wide-read his reports actually are, because as Uncle Ira says, he's already, yes, insufferable to deal with.
  • ...In That Order: One particular quote — "Life is short. Then you die. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order."
  • Introduced Species Calamity: The crux of the series - an unknown alien race infests the Earth with off-planet life forms to wipe out most of humanity and replace Earth's entire ecosystem with their own.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: At one point during their tumultuous courtship, Jim reels off a list of insults at Lizard, including denigrating her piloting ability. The one she takes objection to is his claim that she has a fat ass.
  • It Can Think: Inverted, as all the evidence of the Alien Invasion is that there must be an intelligence behind it, yet there's no sign of spaceships or any other means of crossing interstellar distances. The Chtorran gastropedes are assumed to be behind things, yet their intelligence is that of the idiot savant — they're very good at opening locks and can somehow communicate over vast distances, yet little else. The series appears to be implying that the entire Chtorran ecology is some form of group mind.
  • Jerkass: McCarthy according to everyone he meets. IRL, most asocial geeks really like him, however. Also his friend Ted, and Randy Dannenfelser, aide-de-camp to General Wainright.
    • Though some would judge McCarthy a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. As abrasive as he is to others, he is incredibly self-destructive because he hates seeing anyone get hurt. Then again, he also executes a renegade who is pregnant with his child because she fed his adoptive children to worms. (McCarthy is a complicated man.)
    • Justified in that after the initial plagues and population crash, everyone on Earth has a screw or two loose and may exhibit ... unpredictable behavior. See above re: Dysfunction Junction.
    • In the short story Enterprise Fish, someone accuses McCarthy of being Not Himself, but changes his mind when McCarthy delivers a Bond One-Liner after watching another Jerkass get swallowed whole.
  • Karmic Death: The first novel begins with a newspaper article on how a sheriff had fired two volunteers searching for a missing girl, because they claimed to have seen "Chtorrans". The novel ends with an article stating the same sheriff had gone missing during the evacuation of her town due to the Chtorran threat.
  • Killer Rabbit: Technically everything. No matter how harmless, or relatively harmless, it looks, it can probably kill you. Early in the first book, one of the soldiers gets his finger bitten off by a Chtorran millipede. Losing the finger didn't kill him, it was the multiple infections caused by the alien microorganisms that were transferred by the bite that did. Most notable is the "Cotton Candy" plant, which looks like Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and is the one of the few things in the invading ecosystem that seems non-threatening. It's not until they go through a massive "bloom" and throw clouds of pink dust all over everything that it proves the only thing deadlier than the worms themselves: first, the dust is as fine and flammable as grain dust — it floats clear up to the cloud layer, and knocks aircraft right out of the sky. Then it falls to the ground, acting as the terrestrial equivalent of an upwelling, particularly for Chtorran life — most notably, it's full of Chtorran micro-organisms, so anyone who inhales it get multiple strains of Legionnaires' disease, coughing their lungs out in bloody chunks. After it rains, it becomes a sea of sticky goo that dries into a solid shell, killing all Terrestrial life beneath it. Then everything else in the ecology sweeps in to eat the candy-coated refuse, then the critters that eat those, and the worms to eat them. Areas the size of New England states transformed from pastoral green to screaming red jungle in a manner of days.
  • Killer Robot. Four-meter high robot spiders which are (not always reliable). Replaced by AI-controlled cyber-beasts in the fourth book.
  • Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers are the only reliable way of stopping a charging worm, as their alien physiology makes them all but Immune to Bullets. The protagonist has also used cold-gas weapons when necessary, but doesn't prefer them, as their range is much shorter.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The Enterprise fish, which dwarfs aircraft carriers.
  • Lamprey Mouth: The teeth of Chtorran worms encircle their mouth, curving inwards to draw the prey into their body. Once they've taken a bite, they can't stop or they'll choke to death.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: After the events of the second book, Duke is hospitalized and has permanently lost the use of both legs and an arm. As he was formerly a badass spec ops soldier, he considers this a Fate Worse than Death, and asks McCarthy for a grenade to commit suicide with. McCarthy obliges.
  • Left Hanging: The published books end on a major cliffhanger, and the next volume has been decades in coming.
  • Les Collaborateurs: 'Renegades' worship and help the Chtorran invaders. Their numbers increase as the infestation grows in strength, but it's unclear whether this is the result of an unknown form of brainwashing or simply a psychological/practical response to the overwhelming Alien Invasion.
  • Man, I Feel Like a Woman: The Telepathy Corps do this to all their agents, and it not only allows them to masquerade as women, but pull off a Beautiful All Along by sheer force of personality.
  • The Masochism Tango: By the fourth book, McCarthy's relationship with Lizard approaches this level of dysfunction. They get better, though.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family. Chtorran worms and millipedes. Rows upon rows of sharp, nasty, pointy teeth. This series should win some kind of an award for "most teeth anywhere, ever".
  • Mrs. Robinson: Lizard is old enough to have married and lost her own family, and her relationship with the younger protagonist leads to quite a few "mommy's boy" snipes from her military colleagues.
  • Mysterious Backer: McCarthy never does learn who it was who extracted him from the Mexican mission; even Uncle Ira claims he doesn't know.
  • Mysterious Past: Most people don't really like to even think about what the invasion has cost them, let alone talk about it.
  • The Neidermeyer: Major Bellus. Averted in McCarthy's case — as a newly-minted officer he starts throwing his weight around, only to have it pointed out that his job is to inspire people, not act like a jerk.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Averted. Though McCarthy goes to incredible extents to do it anyway and often gets even more people killed.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: The fact that Chtorrans are so well adapted to Earth conditions is one sign that this is a deliberate invasion.
  • Nuke 'em. For historical and political reasons the government is reluctant to use nuclear weapons, and can only do so after the Uncle Ira Group pulls another Batman Gambit.
  • No Kill like Overkill: Averted; scorched earth tactics only end up helping the Chtorran ecology spread, as it's more aggressive than the terrestrial ecology.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: Ted's done this to McCarthy twice.
    • In the first book, he seduces the poor boy while he's still smarting from the whole "man-eating alien caterpillars are real" thing, then treated it as a mindless fling the next morning. Worst part is that Ted's highly libertine upbringing means he never really understands what McCarthy's so pissed about.
    • A sci-fi version when Ted body-surfs into the body of a beautiful woman so he can have sex with McCarthy. The morning after McCarthy gets abruptly thrown out of bed by the woman concerned, as Ted has moved on to another body and left her to deal with the morning-after hangover and cleanup. McCarthy kicks himself for falling for Ted's bullshit again, but ends up justifying it as the result of Ted's new training; the Telepathy Corps' training enables them to pull a Beautiful All Along by sheer force of personality, proven the next morning because without Ted in the driver's seat she's just another traumatized human going through the motions.
  • Oh, Crap!: Everybody on board the Hieronymus Bosch when they belatedly realize that stingfly swarms have been chewing the ship's gasbags to tatters.
  • Pedestrian Crushes Car: Don't expect you or your car to survive ramming a Chtorran gastropede.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Jim McCarthy does this when begging Randy Dannenfelser for access to a prowler robot so he can look for "Lizard" Tirelli.
  • Pretty Boy: Lizard and Ted regard the teenage protagonist Jim McCarthy this way, though he doesn't believe them. But definitely the case with Shaun — a sixteen year-old, bisexual attendant on the luxury airship Hieronymus Bosch.
  • Punny Name: Theodore Andrew Nathaniel Jackson. A shout out to Larry Niven's commonly-used phrase "There Ain't No Justice", often abbreviated "TANJ" used as a curse word.
  • Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Robots not programmed to kill on sight command this. Whether they work properly or not.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica. McCarthy begins "A Rage for Revenge" working on a plague reclamation unit, thanks to the disastrous end of the previous novel. His assigned aide is there for similar reasons.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: When Jason Delandro's cult kills McCarthy's adopted children during an attack, he raises a scratch force from a unit of rear echelon personnel, tracks down their hideout and wipes them out except for a few prisoners whom he tries before a Kangaroo Court and then personally executes. One of the women turns out to be bearing his unborn child. McCarthy shoots her anyway. "My kids are dead; why should I give a fuck about yours?"
  • Resignations Not Accepted: McCarthy ends up in the Uncle Ira Group by accident, and after surviving their initial attempt to dispose of this potential liability is offered a position instead. After McCarthy reluctantly agrees he's warned: "Don't drink your orange juice".
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: A major gripe of McCarthy's, especially in "A Season for Slaughter", vis-a-vis his covert employers the Uncle Ira Group. The Uncle Ira Group on the other hand are constantly annoyed by his habit of going off half-cocked at Obstructive Bureaucrats instead of trusting them to handle things behind the scenes. He is constantly annoyed because for the past three-and-a-half books, they never bothered to correct his assumption that he was The Only One focused on the enemy instead of gaming the system. Very justifiably, too, as the literal previous time he met the actual leader of the group — the first time they metthe UIG tried to feed him to a giant alien worm. And the only reason he survived was because he, on his own initiative, actually learned how to use the weapon they gave him beforehand — which was chosen specifically because it was nearly useless against giant alien worms. The only reason he survived was because he is a Crazy-Prepared badass who practiced on the weapon the night before. He nearly dies fighting it, would have been killed on the operating table if a strongheaded nurse hadn't assaulted the officer that ordered it, and afterwards they infer that they'll kill him if he takes it personally instead of heading back to work. "Don't drink your orange juice."
  • Rock Beats Laser. The invading ecology uses no weapons (though the Chtorr-worshipping renegades do) but even its most innocuous forms can be deadly, as seen when the 'cotton candy plant' creates huge duststorms that knock helicopters out of the sky, explode like grain silos, and cause thousands of deaths by clogging up people's lungs.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Shorty instructs McCarthy in the use of a flamethrower and tells him to burn a Chtorran worm even if someone else is in the way. Guess what happens to Shorty on the next mission...
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend:
    • Or is that He Is Not My Boyfriend? Yes, Ted's a jerk.
    • Averted when Liz is finally able to respond that McCarthy is not her boyfriend, he's her husband.
  • Shoot the Dog: The very first chapter has Duke Anderson shoot dead a little girl so she won't be eaten alive (or worse) by Chtorrans. Things go downhill from there. In fact the entire war consists of Shoot The Dog moments, considering that the survival of the human race is at stake.
  • Short-Range Long-Range Weapon: An important part of McCarthy's training is to learn that a flamethrower jet can easily cross a football field.
  • Shout-Out: Solomon Short's name is a reference to Robert A. Heinlein's Lazarus Long. As mentioned above, Jack Cohen helped design the Chtorran aliens, and "Cohen models" are mentioned off-handedly in one passage.
  • Shower of Angst: McCarthy gets a short one in "A Rage For Revenge", right after the renegades have captured him and it becomes clear they're going to try to brainwash him.
  • The Shrink: Dr. Davidson is an Awesome example, he's able to help mass-of-issues McCarthy with some of his problems.
  • The Sociopath: The GURPS sourcebook notes that while Ted likes Jim, at the end of the day, Ted only really cares about Ted; in the novels, the reader sees a taste of this with his "carpetbagger" status as a member of the Telepathy Corps, using both Jim and a host-body for a one-night stand and leaving the body's host to deal with the cleanup and fallout.
  • Something Only They Would Say: McCarthy realizes that the Telepathy Corps is watching him because an "implanted" character refers to him as "Jimbo", which is/was Ted's nickname for him. (Though Gerrold evidently screwed up and had the wrong character actually say the name.)
  • Spider Tank: Technically self-controlling robots rather than a traditional tank, but the same idea. McCarthy uses two of them at the end of the first novel.
  • The Squadette. Averted by the second book; due to universal conscription, unisex combat teams are completely normal.
  • Starfish Aliens: The main point is that the aliens are very alien and one ongoing plot point is trying to discover whether or not there is a guiding intelligence behind the invasion at all. So far the jury is out.
  • The Swarm: The Chtorran ecology regularly spews these out in various forms to attack humans.
  • The Symbiote: Just about every Chtorran critter is actually a composite of several Chtorran critters. Many can infest humans. There are hints throughout the books that the entire Chtorran ecosystem may be nothing but one huge symbiote of all the different Chtorran life forms.
  • Tank Goodness: In A Matter For Men a "Patton charger" is mentioned as being a laser-equipped tank.
  • Terraform. Inverted in that it's Earth being converted into a Chtorran world.
  • There Are No Therapists. More like There Are Not Enough Therapists. Mental illness is a major problem after the death of 60% of the world population. Both individual therapy and the Mode Training is used, though with debatable effectiveness on the protagonist. And lots of people think of the Mode Training as an Omniscient Council of Vagueness.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Subverted in that whatever overwhelming force is used against the Chtorran ecology only helps it bounce back stronger because the local Earth ecology has now been sterilized.
  • Too Clever by Half: McCarthy is one of the smartest people in the world. Unfortunately, that just means he gets into trouble that no-one — including him — has any idea how to get out of. He's been doing it his whole life, too; when he was fourteen, his mother caught him making nitroglycerine in the bathtub. Ouch.
    It isn't that hard to make nitroglycerin. The hard part is getting rid of it quietly.
  • Too Dumb to Live: At the start of the third novel, McCarthy gets saddled with a disobedient troublemaker as an aide (they are both on punishment detail), and he quickly dies.
  • To Serve Man: Most Chtorran beasts will happily eat anything the encounter, but they seem to prefer eating people; it's hypothesized in-universe that humanity is intended to be the worms' main foodsource.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: McCarthy regularly brings down a lot of trouble on himself because he acts without thinking. A typical example: he stages a very public stunt humiliating a Jerkass fellow officer that pisses off large chunks of the military bureaucracy, and learns first-hand that he's thus made at least one vindictive and powerful enemy. He then immediately takes his team out on an unscheduled Chtorran-research expedition. It does not go well.
  • Trilogy Creep: Gerrold specifically calls it "the longest trilogy I've ever written."
  • Uriah Gambit: McCarthy has had this happen to him twice.
    • The first time, he had stumbled on an ongoing high-clearance intelligence operation, and they didn't know what to do with him save assign him to guard a worm with a weapon repeatedly demonstrated to be useless against them — without any training in using it. He takes it down anyway. He went out, Read the Freaking Manual, and carved up a few haystacks with it until he was vaguely competent in its use. He's badly wounded in the process and they try to kill him on the table, but luckily a dedicated nurse attacked the officer sent to pull the plug and sat with him until he was conscious again.
    • The second time, after publicly humiliating an idiot officer assigned to him, he charges off on a mission to investigate some Man Eating Plants, only to find he's being denied technical support, his security team has been ordered to withdraw without telling him, and there's a massive duststorm coming up that no-one's warned them about. He manages to find some critical intel during the mission and uses his last connection to beg for help, whereupon he's rescued by unknown persons — but loses several members of his team in the process.
  • Ultimate Job Security: The Uncle Ira Group protects McCarthy despite him committing several acts liable for court martial; partly because he's good at his job, but also because McCarthy's habit of causing disruption can be turned to their political advantage. He still has to deal with the occasional Obstructive Bureaucrat attempting to kill him — to the point that they really don't care if they kill other soldiers in the process.
  • Vichy Earth: Opinions differ (in the case of renegades, often violently) over whether humanity should follow a policy of resistance or co-existence with the Chtorr. The official GURPS campaign setting suggests that the bunnymen and libbits may be what's left of a previously invaded race that opted for the latter. Given that they're essentially at the bottom of the "natural" Chtorran food chain and absolutely thrilled about it, it isn't considered to bode well for the fate of humanity if it also takes this route.
  • Walk This Way: McCarthy is saddled with Major Bellus who accidentally walks near a grove of shambler trees: Man Eating Plants hosting an entire ecology of carnivorous symbiotes that swarm when they sense the vibrations of nearby prey. McCarthy points out that these vibrations are relayed by the creeper vines lying all around them, and the only way not to trigger them is to walk out of range at five meters per hour. Cue a Silly Walk that (as McCarthy enjoys pointing out to Bellus) is being relayed via cameras to an extensive internet audience hoping they'll die in an interesting and horrible fashion. Eventually Bellus breaks down under the strain and begs for his life, publicly resigning from the military at McCarthy's request. Then to conclude this Humiliation Conga McCarthy walks out normally, saying they were never in any danger as the shambler grove was uninhabited. This stunt destroys Bellus' career; unfortunately it also earns McCarthy the ire of a powerful general and his loathsome aide, who try to get rid of McCarthy with a Uriah Gambit.
  • We ARE Struggling Together. Any and all efforts to co-ordinate the worldwide struggle against the Chtorrans are constantly hampered by political infighting; the series takes place after a successful fait accompli forcing the end of hyperdominance, and every nation sees all of America's efforts to fight the Chtorr as an attempt to restore the 20th-century status quo. They have something of a point in that 21st-century American policy included a couple of Vietnam re-enactments and a nuclear strike, but without efforts focused by and on the industrial superpowers all of humanity will be dead within ten years. As a result, the few successes in international cooperation are increasingly backfiring, as rival nations treat every acquiescence to American plans as a personal insult. In book 4 they would have blown a one-of-a-kind multi-billion-casey airship out of the sky. In that case the people setting off the charges would have done so while over a screaming red jungle, literally a thousand miles from anywhere.
    Lizard: By the way, you'll find that certain items are missing from your cabins. Specifically, your toothpaste, your shaving cream, the batteries from your portables... and the detonator buttons.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: Caseys e.g. "kilo-calories”. Also a case of Practical Currency; they're backed by food — one casey can be exchanged anywhere in the civilized world for a one-thousand-calorie block of "soya". However the laws of supply and demand are still in effect — it takes a lot of caseys to purchase, say, a pound of caviar. Add in that the book begins at the Class One stage of an anticipated Class Three apocalypse, nine-tenths of the world's population died before the first page and those same laws mean the casey is depreciating at an exponential rate because there's a surplus of food compared to the amount of manpower left in the world AKA humans left alive. Notably, the casey has inspired similar currencies based on gold, oil, coffee, and chocolate since Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap.
    Foreman: The physical universe uses heat to keep score. Actually, it's motion, but on the molecular level we experience it as heat. Just know that it's the only way one object ever affects another, so it's the only way to measure how big a difference an object really makes. We measure heat in BTUs. British Thermal Units. Calories. We want our money to be an accurate measure, so we use the same system as the physical universe: ergo, we have the KC standard, the kilo-calorie.
  • When Trees Attack: Shambler Groves house all sorts of nasties that spew out and attack anyone who gets close ...the only way to survive is somehow walk out of range at five meters an hour.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: During Rage For Revenge, McCarthy gets suicidally stoned and wanders into a Chtorran nest where he has a weird dream in which Ted helps him back to his vehicle where he'll be safe(-ish). When he looks at the cameras the next day to find out what happened, all he sees is himself doing a Silly Walk like someone else is controlling his body. McCarthy just puts this down to the drugs and doesn't consider the possibility that he's been secretly implanted by the Telepathy Corp.
  • Zeerust: Averted mainly because the author shows not only technological changes but social changes as well. There is a noticable emphasis on internet/cyber-related technology in "A Season for Slaughter" (1993), but as similar devices were used in previous books it doesn't seem unusual.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Blimps are used for military and rescue operations, but nothing beats the Hieronymus Bosch, a giant luxury airship converted for the scientific expedition in "A Season for Slaughter".