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Literature / Tour of the Merrimack

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Tour of the Merrimack is a Military Science Fiction series by R. M. Meluch.

In the future, America is at war with Palatine, a rebellious interstellar colony that models itself after ancient Rome and in fact claims to be its successor. The new Roman Empire seeks to reclaim their ancestral home of Earth; the military forces of America seek to return Palatine to its status as a subserviant colony world. However, both sides are taken by surprise when they are attacked by the Hive: an alien lifeform of boundless hunger which consumes world after world.

John Farragut is the captain of the Merrimack, the first ship to ever survive an attack by the Hive. He and his crew are charged with hunting down the Hive's homeworld and finding a way to destroy the voracious alien horde. Reluctantly assisting them is Augustus, a Roman who has been cybernetically altered to possess computer-like information processing ability.

The Merrimack heads into the Deep, further from colonized space than anyone before it. The Hive is out there... and it's hungry.

The Tour of the Merrimack series currently consists of six books:

  • The Myriad
  • Wolf Star
  • The Sagittarius Command
  • Strength and Honor
  • The Ninth Circle
  • The Twice and Future Caesar

This series provides examples of:

  • Batman Gambit: Augustus's Patterner abilities allow him to pull this off against Romulus
  • The Battlestar: The Merrimack
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Most of the aliens humanity meets has, at least, opposite chirality. There is one planet in The Ninth Circle that has native DNA-based life, which is a nasty problem for all the scientists in the novel.
  • Bloody Murder: Hive blood is corrosive
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Inflicted by Roman spooks on prisoners, including Napoleon Bright
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: the Hive can neutralize advanced technologies, forcing Roman and United States Navy ships to carry both the high tech stuff to fight each other, and low-tech mechanical weapons, like basic cannons and CIWS turrets on ships, and goddamned swords to fight the Hive.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Romulus and Claudia
  • Creative Sterility: The Hive can adapt in reaction to tactics used against it, but it cannot innovate on its own.
  • Cyborg: Augustus, though he expresses dislike for the term.
  • Deadly Hazing: The Ninth Circle, kicks off with a cohort of Palantinian recruits initiating a newbie by having him jump off a cliff. The trick is that a net will deploy to catch him halfway down, but the sensor that's supposed to trigger it was blocked by a pebble. Predictably, the poor kid lands on the rocks at near-terminal velocity. The cohort runs and tries to cover it up, rather than trying to get help/fess up. They're drummed out of not just the army, but society at large, because Palentine takes No One Gets Left Behind very seriously. This leads to the disgraced cohort stealing a starship and becoming Space Pirates. The dead recruit returns at the end as a Patterner, a Cyborg built (or, rather, rebuilt) to perform complex math very quickly for combat reasons, and takes them on as his command staff. It's implied that the device was deliberately sabotaged to provide a corpse to make a new Patterner out of, which can only be made from a soldier's body.
  • Deadly Prank: The Ninth Circle begins with Cinna dying in a hazing ritual gone wrong.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: One Marine motto is "Redundancy is good. Redundancy is good. Redundancy is good."
  • Designer Babies: Popular amongst the Romans; used to boost their population faster than it would grow naturally. It's also used as a method of instilling loyalty-these children have no parents but Rome itself.
  • Enemy Exchange Program: in Wolf Star, the Romans figure out how to hack the Merrimack's command-and-control computers.
  • Enemy Mine: America and Rome vs the Hive
  • Extreme Omnivore: The Hive will eat pretty much anything organic
  • Evil Is Sterile: The Hive is said only to learn and adapt, and unable to conceive new ideas.
  • Evil Is Visceral: The Hive is a quasi-sentient, galactic-scale plague made up of giant bacterial cells that exist only to eat.
  • Eye Scream: The death of Caesar Magnus
  • Faking the Dead: Augustus in The Sagittarius Command.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: with the unique caveat that if the machine breaks, you keep going FTL, and the faster one goes the less energy it needs-it requires energy to slow down because of the Theory of Relativity, which is interpreted to mean you can go faster or slower, but never exactly lightspeed. The closer one gets to C, the higher the power draw.
  • Fox Folk: In The Ninth Circle, there are aliens that look like humanoid foxes (although they turn out to be marsupials) that the scientists make friends with.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Category 2. After a military disaster, Napoleon Bright organizes a Kangaroo Court to find someone, anyone, other than himself responsible. His attempt to cover his own ass results in the scapegoating and execution of the person actually responsible for the fiasco, entirely by accident and on completely unrelated charges.
  • The Gadfly: Tactical officer Marcande Vincent is described as having "a talent for inappropriateness".
  • Girls with Moustaches: The otherwise very attractive Amadea sports a small beard.
  • Gladiator Games: Popular entertainment for the Romans
  • Got Me Doing It: Captain Farragut unconsciously imitates Mo Shah's idiosyncratic speech pattern at one point, then quickly corrects himself.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Even Reluctant Warrior Jose Maria believes that the total extermination of the Hive is not only moral but necessary.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Captain Farragut was the first to adopt fencing as a viable tactic, both against Roman boarders and Hive organisms.
  • Hivemind: The Hive.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Hive
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: A sport available to wealthy Romans; Constantine Siculus was reportedly fond of it
  • In Spite of a Nail: The timeline change at the end of the first book doesn't actually affect that much. The biggest change is that first contact with the Hive is pushed back by a few months — presumably that's how long it took them to chew through the civilization of Xi.
  • Insistent Terminology: Augustus objects to being called a cyborg.
  • Ironic Echo: "Sic semper malefidelibus." in The Sagittarius Command
  • It Has Been an Honor: Said by Kit Kittering in The Myriad (she survives) and by Herius Asinius in The Sagittarius Command (he doesn't).
  • Kill It with Fire: Fire is generally effective against the Hive, and is the only thing effective agaist Gluies. However, since space ships have limited oxygen supplies, it is very dangerous to the crews and only used as a weapon of last resort. Still, flame weapons are a major part of US Navy/USMC anti-Hive doctrine; the Merrimack is armed with battleship-grade flamethrowers (technically, hydrogen jets, giving them a range of about a mile). And in atmosphere they cut loose with it like all the hydrogen in the universe is about to disappear.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The Hive has learned to interfere with most fancy electronics; the most effective weapon against them is actually a good old-fashioned sword.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Vice President Sampson "The Chin" Reed
  • The Man Behind the Monsters: Constantine uses the Hive as a weapon against his enemies... at least, until they eat him.
  • May–December Romance: Kerry Blue and TR Steele
  • Mirror Chemistry: The crew aren't worried about picking up any diseases in the Myriad because life on those worlds uses opposite-handed proteins, which are are incompatible with human biology-It's likened to attempting to attach a four-post wheel to a five-post axle with opposite-thread bolts. It is also mentioned that the Hive is unique among all known species in that it is able to digest proteins of either chirality.
  • Moon Logic Puzzle: In-universe example. One of the VR training programs for swordplay pops up friendly and hostile targets in rapid sequence, testing the Marines' reaction times and ability to hit only the hostile targets. One of the targets is a cow, and none of the Marines can figure out whether its supposed to count as "friendly" or "hostile".
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Augustus
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The Myriad is a populated globular cluster-which is, on the face of it, impossible due to the huge amounts of radiation the stars throw out. it turns out to have a Portal to the Past that goes back before the Big Bang, which gets destabilized with each use.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Steele, particularly to Kerry Blue in the first book
  • Older Than They Look: Anyone who's had rejuv treatments, but the most plot-relevant are Gaius and Amadea.
  • Phrase Catcher: Dak.
    Dak: [Anything, although usually a bad joke]
    Anyone: "Shut up, Dak."
  • Plant Aliens: The Sargassons. Also, the pet plant-lizard Kerry Blue acquires in the Myriad.
  • Playing Both Sides: Amadea. Worked for both Romulus and Constantine, trying to always be in the good graces of whoever looked to be in the most advantageous position at the time.
  • Put Off Their Food: In The Myriad, Captain Farragut describes over dinner how gorgons melt into caustic brown slime when they die, then tells his chef to skip the French onion soup.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Averted. When Donner changes the past, no-one notices that most, if not all the details have changed-Discovering the Hive takes far longer than it originally did, for example.
  • Running Gag: Something terrible happens to Cowboy. He's been killed three times-mined, stabbed, and lasered to death-and doused with liquefied gorgon.
    • Dak makes a comment. Someone says "Shut up, Dak".
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Employed on unmanned Roman drones, to prevent them from being captured. The Hive uses this against them.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Romulus
  • Set a Mook to Kill a Mook: The Romans try to pull this in Wolf Star, attempting to get Merrimack and the Marine Swifts to shoot each other by foxing their IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) signals. Captain Farragut sees through it in time, though.
  • Someone Has to Die: Two instances: one where they have one less ship than people so someone has to be left behind; another time when someone has to decompress an airlock from the inside. Both situations are averted by the sheer awesomeness of TR Steele.
  • Space Pirates: The titular Ninth Circle of The Ninth Circle.
  • Space Romans: The core premise of the series.
  • Starfish Aliens: Hive cells (The Hive is a super-organism made up of macro-scale bacteria) only have a definite shape when in a gravity well. When they're not, they're amorphous blobs of legs, armor plates, and maw-tipped tentacles. When they are in an atmosphere and gravity well, they re-arrange themselves with their legs underneath themselves and their maw-tentacles in an optimum feeding orientation. They also get smaller, faster, and tougher the longer they're under atmospheric pressure. There's also three different subtypes; the other two are Soldiers, which have pincers in addition to their tentacles, and the larval Gluies, which have adhesive skin.
  • Team Mom and Team Dad: Egypt "Gypsy" Dent and Captain Farragut. They even recognize they're in these roles, and tell Calli "We don't want you seeing that boy anymore" and "You know we only want what's best for you", in regards to Romulus.
  • Tele-Frag: Occurs if you try to displace without following the proper procedures.
  • Teleport Interdiction: Jammers can be used to stop displacement.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Displacement discs. Most are only large enough for individual people, but the Eisenhower-Roosevelt Shotgun is large enough to transport entire ships.
  • Title Drop: Occurs in every book except The Sagittarius Command.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Cowboy
  • Uncanny Valley Girl: Amadea
  • Unusual Euphemism: Certain commanders don't like their marine's swearing, so the marines replace cusswords with ones that sound similar.
  • Vagina Dentata: Geneva Rhine is equipped with a device called a dragon, also known as a sausage peeler.
  • Video Will: Augustus leaves one for Farragut.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: How Patterners are created.
  • Worthy Opponent: For all his trash-talk, it's clear Augustus views Captain Farragut this way
  • You Already Changed the Past/Stable Time Loop: Discussed. Augustus rejects the idea of a paradox, stating that if Donner had changed the past, the consequences would have caught up with the universe at large by now. it boils down to "things happened this way because there's no other way they could possibly happen."
  • You Are Number 6: Patterners are officially numbered- Primus through to Nonus, Augustus.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Augustus. Patterners don't live for very long, and his warranty has already expired.