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Literature / Theirs Not to Reason Why

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Theirs Not to Reason Why, named for a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade", is a Military Science Fiction series by Jean Johnson, consisting of A Soldier's Duty, An Officer's Duty, Hellfire, Hardship, and Damnation, which came out November 25, 2014.

Ia is a precognitive, who foresees a galaxy-wide cataclysm three centuries in the future. In all the possible futures, only one comes out differently, and Ia must give up every possibility for her own life to make sure that it happens.

She must abandon her dreams of a career as a singer and musician, and join the Space Force, first as a Marine, then into other branches. She disobeys orders and conceals vital information from her own superiors. She literally wades through the blood of friend and foe alike, fighting through a genocidal war that she could have prevented. She leaves her family and homeworld in the centuries-long grip of an oppressive theocracy, all in the service of iron necessity, because if she allows anything else to happen, everything in the galaxy will die, eradicated as though they'd never been. She will sacrifice all that she would or could have been to become the Prophet of a Thousand Years, ensuring that the galaxy and all the sentients in it will have a future of more than three centuries.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Ia's chrysium bladed sword, which she uses to cut steel and harder materials.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Ia can see all of Time. Naturally this is somewhat confusing to a (half-)human mind, but fortunately she's powerful enough to force it into a form she can understand. The most common setting being the Timeplains, a grassy prairie filled with streams where each stream represents the life of a single sentient being. She's also been known to turn it into a star-filled sky for poetic reasons, a woven tapestry in order to better track specific lives, and a line graph when defending her actions and the consequences thereof to a psychic ethics committee.
  • Alternate Self: Because Ia can see all potential pasts and futures she can also see all alternate universes. She regularly spends time with alternate versions of herself who have skills she hasn’t the time to learn in her own universe. The President of the Terran nations and Meyun Harper also get the opportunity to see alternates of themselves through Ia’s abilities.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Chrysium. The hardest known substance in the galaxy, can only be reshaped by psychics, and when modified by a psychic can actually induce visions in non-psychic individuals.
  • Cat Folk: The Solaricans.
  • Children Are Innocent: Not if they're Salik. Generations of actively breeding for increased sociopathy and killer instincts have led to the point where all attempts to teach even the youngest tadpoles the basic tenets of empathy have failed miserably.
  • Cool Starship: Both the Hellfire and its successor, the Damnation.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Greys as far as most sapient species are concerned, though this is more due to their technological capabilities than any inherent quality of the species. They would've stomped the galaxy flat centuries ago if it weren't for the Feyoris' interference. Then on a whole other level we have the Zid"ya. They're the galaxy-wide cataclysm Ia spends the entire series trying to stop. In her own words they are "an alien race so advanced the Greys fled from them in terror."
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Together with Other-Than-Light-Travel, this is the primary means of transportation for the galaxy-faring species. Meyun Harper figures out how to merge the two to invent a new and undetectable form of space travel with some assistance from Ia.
  • Good Is Not Nice: A harsh lesson Ia must teach her followers on her homeworld. In order to survive a centuries-long cold war with the religious zealots sharing their planet they will have to do quite a few unpalatable things. That includes essentially torturing murderers and rapists into forced servitude as assassins and spies.
  • Heavyworlder: At 3.2 gravities, Ia's homeworld Sanctuary is the highest-gravity planet ever settled by humans, a place where tripping over a rock can break your neck. Offworlders frequently have to wear antigravity devices full-time, and to maintain the added strength granted by growing up in that gravity, Ia is required by the military to wear a weighted suit when she's on duty, a suit that can only fit enough weights to simulate about 2.8 gravities. There's a mention that heavyworlders in this Verse tend to be short and stocky, but Ia is an exception and her brothers are even bigger than she is.
  • Heroes Act, Villains Hinder: Ia's plans and visions are the primary driver of the plot.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ia's entire life starting at age 15.
    • Nearly her entire crew voluntarily joins her in this. Knowing full well that it wasn't necessary, they sacrifice themselves along with Ia out of loyalty.
  • Humans Are Insects: According to the Greys and the Feyori. Well, humans and all other sapient races who are not Greys or Feyori. Amusingly the Greys also count the Feyori among the non-Grey insects while the Feyori have a healthy fear of the Greys. They kind of have a point. Grey technology is so far beyond anything any other local species has accomplished that it basically looks like magic.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Because of the meddling of the Feyori. They deliberately bred psychic abilities into the matter-based races in order to guard against their ancient enemy, the Greys, for whom psychic energy is poisonous.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Over the course of the series Ia commits genocide and personally murders or knowingly allows hundreds of thousands of people she could have saved to die. All in the name of saving all sentient life hundreds of years in the future. Somewhat subverted in that she is completely aware of the consequences of each of her decisions and therefore can arguably know that they are in fact justified.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
    • Chaplain Benjamin gets one in near the start of Hellfire, when Ia challenges Bennie to prove she can handle battle. Bennie's response:
    You really want me to shoot a gun? Please. I'm a preacher, not a fighter.
    • Doctor Jesselle Mishka uses this later on in the book, complaining that she's a doctor, not a soldier.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Attempted by the Salik when it becomes clear that their species is dying. Some people do fall for it, but Ia knows exactly who they are and stops them before the Saliks’ plan has a chance to work.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To Tennyson's "Charge Of The Light Brigade".
    "Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die.
  • Multiple-Choice Future: Ia, the protagonist, is an impressively powerful precognitive who grew up tormented by visions of the entire galaxy being wiped out by a Horde of Alien Locusts 300 years in the future. She ultimately sets out to wind her way down the only possible combination of events where the Alien Locusts lose, which involves becoming a war hero instead of a musician like she wanted, while leaving messages for thousands upon thousands of people across the galaxy to nudge them onto the correct paths, too.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Quite literally for Ia, who had her name legally changed (and has to correct people that "Ia" is indeed her legal name once a book). Her parents call her by her birth name once when she goes home for a visit in An Officer's Duty.
  • Painful Rhyme: In A Soldier's Duty, Ia improvises a narrative poem about how she got the moniker "Bloody Mary". At one point she really forces a rhyme, then when her audience apparently laughs, interrupts herself to complain, "Hey, that is ''not'' easy to rhyme!"
  • Psychic Powers: Known powers in this Verse include Precognition, Postcognition, Telepathy, Telekinesis, Electrokinesis, Pyrokinesis, Holokinesis, Teleportation, Flight, Biokinesis, Empathy, Xenopathy, and Xenoglossy.
  • Readings Blew Up the Scale: Equipment to test psychic potency tends to burn out when it's used on Ia. When they test her precognition at the end of book two, it burns out the thing through a psi damper.
  • Red Baron: Ia gets the moniker "Bloody Mary" after she ends up covered in Ludicrous Gibs during her first combat action. "Bloody Mary!" was the first thing out of her CO's mouth when she saw the mess. Then she gets covered in blood again, this time wearing her BDUs, when the prisoners they took stage a breakout, and that's that.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: In one extremely funny scene in A Soldier's Duty, Ia improvises a narrative poem telling her fellow soldiers how she got the moniker "Bloody Mary".
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: Easily done from the Timeplains. This is Ia's primary method of information gathering when she needs to know things she hasn't the time to learn any other way.
    • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Unfortunately this often means looking into minds she would really rather steer well clear of. Salik officers tend to spend quality time together while eating their prisoners, which is also when they're most likely to be thinking about valuable war intel.
  • Shoot the Dog: Ia on occasion, such as when she murders a woman in A Soldier's Duty by telekinetically cutting off blood to her brain, on grounds that the children the woman might have would derail Ia's efforts to save the galaxy.
  • Shout-Out: The series is full of these.
  • Space Marines: The Terran United Planets Space Force Marines.
  • Sssssnake Talk: The reptilian Tlassians.
  • Stable Time Loop: The Immortal was born two centuries in Ia's future, then cast back in time 15,000 years by the Feyori. She rescued a group of humans from tectonic upheavals on Earth and transported them to a distant planet, which eventually became the V'Dan Empire, and founded a religion there predicting Ia's coming as the Prophet of a Thousand Years. This also allows Ia to steal designs for future technology from the Immortal's records.
  • Subspace Ansible: A rare scifi world in which these do not function perfectly. Long-distance communication is possible, but it's expensive and suffers time delays. Communication in hyperspace is completely impossible.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Ia starts setting one up when she's barely 15. Her entire life from that point onward is dedicated solely to its success.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The end of the galaxy will happen 300 years after the series' timeline. Ia's life goal is to get everything set up now and in the coming centuries so that by the time Doom rolls around everything will be in place to prevent it.
  • The Fundamentalist: The Church of the One True God on Ia's home planet of Sanctuary is a fairly textbook example. Complete with hardline Fantastic Racism against aliens and humans with psychic abilities, and implied Heteronormative Crusader tendencies (one of Ia's mothers tells her they have been dubbed "man-hating deviants" by the Church).
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Captain Ia gives an epic one in Hellfire, as she explains to a disobedient subordinate how, by continuing to fire after she ordered him to stop, he doomed the entire galaxy. How only through one of his comrades giving up everything he ever could have been to take over a dead man's life was the total annihilation of every sapient who would ever live in the Milky Way averted. And how, because of his actions, despite all she could do to fix the situation, 720,593 people who otherwise could have been saved will die horribly.
    "You will be given a list of these names to contemplate in your spare time. You are free to ignore it if you wish, but understand that I cannot."
  • The Reveal: In-Universe since we know from the beginning what Ia is, but the confirmation that she is in fact the foretold Prophet of a Thousand Years of the Sh’nai faith is a pretty huge deal for V'Dan society. Ironically this crucial information is presented in the form of a tiny slip of paper stating Ia’s birth name.
  • This Is My Story: The Framing Device for the series is a number of interviews Ia gives to explain her actions to the galaxy at large. Each chapter starts with a small interview segment.
  • Third-Person Person: Recruits at boot camp are required to speak this way (this recruit is...), as a means of breaking down their sense of self.
  • Underground City: The Freeworld Colony of Sanctuary will be one. Ia spends the first three books financing and guiding its construction through her brothers and her best friend. It will be home to the population hiding from the Church of the One True God for 200 years, after which they will reclaim the surface.
  • Unusual Euphemism: A variety of "V'Dan" curse words substituting for many four letter words, but also more unusually replaces 'ass' with 'asteroid' in all circumstances.
  • Up Through the Ranks: The 'Verse uses a variant of the "every officer starts as a grunt" style: while you can go straight to the Military Academy after basic training, you'll never command in combat. Ia graduates basic as a lance corporal (her drill instructor recommended full corporal but Ia and her first CO agreed that her would-be underlings would resent her) but earns a field commission at the end of A Soldier's Duty.