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Literature / Zachary Nixon Johnson

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The Zachary Nixon Johnson series is a humorous retro sci-fi / noir detective series written by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem (the later books exclusively by John Zakour).

The series follows the exploits of Zachary Nixon Johnson, who works as the last private detective on Earth. Each novel has the world being endangered by a Femme Fatale, and Zach being called on to save the day with the assistance of gadgets provided by his Gadgeteer Genius friend Dr. Randy Pool, his psychic secretary Carol, and and his AI assistant HARV.

Novels in the series include The Plutonium Blonde, The Doomsday Brunette, The Radioactive Redhead, The Frost-Haired Vixen, The Blue Haired Bombshell, The Flaxen Femme Fatale, and The Sapphire Sirens. The series also includes a novella (The Raven-Haired Rogue, released in 2015), a graphic novel (The Case of the Bionic Dancer), and an audio drama (The Peach Blonde Bomber, released in 2020).

This series contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All Part of the Show: When kabuki assassin droids attack Zach at a restaurant, the patrons think its all part of the show, despite his repeated attempts to get them to evacuate.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: The Thompson Quads have slightly purple-tinged skin.
  • Beast Man: Fera from The Flaxen Femme Fatale, who is a woman spliced with tiger DNA.
  • Antagonist Title: Each novel is named after what is presumably the Femme Fatale that Zachary Nixon Johnson is facing for that novel.
  • Colony Drop: The Gladians are generally considered to be a peaceful race, as they have no weapons. They do, however, have some very large ships, which they can fly into planets at very fast speeds...
  • Designer Babies: The Thompson Quads, four girls created by Dr. Thompson to be superhumanly beautiful, intelligent, and powerful.
  • Doppleganger Spin: When fighting in his apartment, Zachary is able to do this by having HARV project hologram copies of him to confuse the enemy.
  • Dying Clue: In The Doomsday Brunette, Foraa Thompson writes a cryptic message before dying. The trope is lampshaded several times.
    Zach: Foraa's dying clue. She drew these symbols in the wine puddle just before she died. Maybe as some sort of veiled reference to her killer's identity.
    Electra: Why didn't she just write down the killer's name?
    Zach: Because that would have been too easy.
    Electra: So she spent her last nanos of life devising some arcane symbolic code?
    Zach: Well, apparently, lots of murder victims do it.
  • Evil Twin: In The Flaxen Femme Fatale, the antagonist Natasha is an evil clone of Zach's secretary, Carol. Though she ultimately turns out to be not so much evil as unable to control her psi powers.
  • Eye Beams: The Flaxen Femme Fatale includes a psi named Liz Lazor who specializes in firing lasers from her eyes.
  • Fantastic Noir: Classic detective story plots with hard Sci-Fi trappings? Check and check.
  • Faking the Dead: Features in a couple of novels.
    • In The Doomsday Brunette, none of the multiple simultaneous attempts on Foraa's life were successful; she chose to play dead in order to let some of the heat die down.
    • In The Flaxen Femme Fatale, Natasha ultimately fakes her death so that the government will stop trying to use her psi powers for nefarious purposes.
  • Flying Car: Most cars are flying cars. Zach is frequently mocked for having an antique non-flying car.
  • For Science!: Dr. Randy Pool justifies some of his more morally ambiguous work to Zach by saying he "had to do it for the good of science".
  • Friend on the Force: Captain Tony Rickey of the New Frisco police is a close friend of Zach's, and sometimes helps him with his cases.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Dr. Randy Pool, who creates the many useful gadgets used by Zach — and, occasionally, by his enemies.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: The evil plan in The Frost-Haired Vixen is a virus that would make everyone happy all the time.
  • Giver of Lame Names: Dr. Thompson. He named his four daughters Ona, Twoa, Threa, and Foraa.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The first six books have titles that relate to female hair colors:
    • The Plutonium Blonde
    • The Doomsday Brunette
    • The Radioactive Redhead
    • The Frost-Haired Vixen
    • The Blue Haired Bombshell
    • The Flaxen Femme Fatale
    • The trend picks back up in the novella The Raven-Haired Rogue.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The first sentence of The Doomsday Brunette.
  • Killer Robot: Many of them feature; usually as Mooks, but the Big Bad of The Plutonium Blonde is one as well.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Sexy Sprocket's manager, Sammy Smiles, has a hideously wide mouth with at least sixty teeth visible when he smiles.
  • My Skull Runneth Over: Maggie Chill, a powerful psychic, tries to read Zach's mind; but since Zach is mentally connected to HARV, she ends up getting his entire computer database downloaded into her head. Zach compares it to trying to drink a glass of water and getting the entire Atlantic Ocean. The information overload knocks Maggie catatonic; HARV says that she'll survive, but will likely have a headache for weeks.
  • The Nicknamer: Zach says that when fighting hired goons, it's important to give them demeaning nicknames.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: The Thompson Quads are all explicitly described as "nigh-invulnerable".
  • Overly Long Name: The Thompsons' butler, Wintercrescenhavenshivershamshawjamison.
  • Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: The Gladians wiped out the dinosaurs for "getting uppity", and threaten to do the same to humanity in The Doomsday Brunette.
  • Pointless Doomsday Device: The D-Cubed, which Dr. Thompson made just to see if he could.
    That's the problem with scientists; the thrill of invention often stops them from thinking through the consequences of their actions. They never stop to think: "Hey, there might be some potential to misuse this doomsday device so maybe it's not such a hot idea to invent it."
  • Power Incontinence: Natasha from The Flaxen Femme Fatale is a powerful psi who is unable to fully control her abilities; whenever she gets upset, she inadvertently activates her Walking Wasteland powers.
  • Private Detective: Zach is the last private detective on Earth, all the others having been bought out by large corporations.
  • Protagonist Title: The series is named after it's protagonist, "Zachary Nixon Johnson".
  • Psychic Static: In The Plutonium Blonde, Zachary says best way to block a psi is to hum an Ear Worm.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Ona Thompson believes her wealth means she shouldn't be subject to laws.
    Ona: I still have to obey these silly New Frisco laws?
    Zach: Well, yes.
    Ona: But I'm really, really rich!
  • Servile Snarker: HARV, Zach's AI assistant.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: BS Star decided to replace his wife with a robot. The gynoid he created to fill this role had hundreds of times the strength and speed of a human and the power to psionically dominate minds. Everyone agreed it was a tad excessive.
  • Superpower Meltdown: Carol nearly suffers one in The Radioactive Redhead.
  • Talking Weapon: Dr. Randy Pool makes Zach a talking gun called GUS.
  • Tele-Frag: In The Frost-Haired Vixen, Zach defeats the villain by causing her to teleport into a wall.
  • There Was a Door: Part of Twoa's superhero act is that she doesn't feel the need to use doors.
    Zach: Twoa, you do realize I have a perfectly good door?
    Twoa: I'm a mega-human superhero! I need no door!
  • Virtual Ghost: In The Doomsday Brunette, the Thompson Quads' computer is revealed at the end to be their father, who uploaded his mind to escape court-ordered lobotomization.
  • Walking Wasteland: Natasha, the titular antagonist of The Flaxen Femme Fatale, is a psi capable of emitting an anti-life field that instantly kills every living thing in her vicinity.