The War Against the Chtorr

The War Against the Chtorr is a series of novels written by David Gerrold. Although critically acclaimed as a superior example of science fiction literature, the Chtorr story is currently incomplete and is intended to be continued beyond its present cliffhanger ending.

Books in the series

The Chtorr series was originally planned as a trilogy, but as the story became more intricate, Gerrold realized that three books wouldn't be enough for him to tell the entire story. For a time, he was uncertain how many books there would be in the end, but finally settled on a heptology. Currently, four books have been completed:

  1. A Matter for Men (1983)
  2. A Day for Damnation (1985)
  3. A Rage for Revenge (1989)
  4. A Season for Slaughter (1993)

In 2004, Gerrold announced the titles of the remaining three books:

5. A Method For Madness
6. A Time for Treason
7. A Case for Courage
As of 2008, Gerrold is nearing completion on book five, A Method For Madness, announced date of delivery to publisher in October. The last few chapters of A Case for Courage have already been written.

Setting and story line

Set primarily in a devastated early 21st Century America with logical expected advances in current technology such as a fledgling Moonbase, this series of science-fiction novels describe the invasion of Earth by an alien ecology. The story is unusual in that the tactics used by the aliens eschew the usual direct attack by advanced and powerful pyrotechnics in favor of applying terraforming techniques to the Earth's ecosystem.

One of the early sections of the first book features a series of devastating plagues which sweep around the world, resulting in the death of some 80% of humanity. As the survivors struggle to rebuild civilization, they discover that a large variety of new plant and animal lifeforms are establishing themselves on Earth — hundreds of species in all. These species are extraterrestrial and almost universally far superior to the Earth organisms which occupy the same ecological niches. As a result, Earth's entire ecology is being rapidly supplanted.

Throughout the storyline thus far, there is no sign of sentient aliens. However, humans presume the invasion to be deliberate and that undetected spacecraft must have brought the plant and animal invaders to Earth. The presumed goal of these off-stage aliens is nothing less than the complete replacement of Earth's entire ecology and the resultant extinction of all native life, at which time they will arrive and claim the planet without a single shot needing to be fired.

The books largely follow the adventures of Jim McCarthy, a scientist and soldier in the U.S. Army, who attempts to understand the Chtorran ecology even as he engages in combat to destroy it. His early efforts primarily focus on the "Worms", a particularly large and dangerous Chtorran carnivorous species whose prey includes humans. Much of the text is akin to a detective story in which McCarthy and others investigate the rapidly expanding Chtorran ecosystem and attempt to unravel the ecological relationships between the various species. Gerrold has created very detailed and extensive notes on how the Chtorran ecology functions as a background to the books.

In addition to descriptions of alien ecology, the Chtorr series is also noteworthy for its contrasting lengthy discussions and deep emphasis on various aspects of human psychology, particularly under wartime and survival conditions.

Chtorran ecology

Chtorran ecology was designed in large part by British reproductive biologist Jack Cohen. It is quite complete and consistent, making it hard science fiction.

If there are two things that all Chtorran life forms have in common, it is that they are hungry, and are normally a bright shade of red. Some of the most notable plants/animals that are encountered are:

  • Chtorran Gastropedes (commonly known as "Worms"): Range in size from as small as a horse, to as large as a bus. Normally bright red, but have been seen in other colors ranging from white to green. They have two "arms" with claws, and are very dexterous. Their bodies are covered with symbiotic "fur", each strand of which is a distinct lifeform acts as a sensory input. Though capable of remarkable acts of problem solving and interaction, both their intelligence and their communication abilities have yet to be fully understood.
  • Bunnydogs/Bunnymen: Bipedal herbivores about a meter in height possessing roughly the same intelligence as chimps. Bunnydogs are covered in the same "fur" as the worms and resemble pink or red rabbit-eared teddybears. Some Bunnydogs eventually become Bunnymen - a variant of bunnydogs that lack that fur and are about half again as tall, making them resemble bipedal rats - with a disposition to match. All bunnydogs/bunnymen are male.
  • Libbits: These quadrupeds resemble pigs. Short and squat, they are covered with red fur and are very docile. All Libbits are female. It was later discovered that Libbits and Bunnydogs/Bunnymen are actually male and female of the same species. Their reproductive process is strange - if a single Bunnyman mates with a Libbit she will give birth to a litter of Libbits, but if multiple Bunnymen mate with a Libbit, she will produce a litter of Bunnydogs.
  • Gorps: These large creatures resemble sloths, but stand 10-15 feet tall. They emit a horrible smell(capable of destroying non-Chtorran life), and are mostly carrion eaters, though they do not always wait for their meals to die before they eat them.
  • Finger Babies: These small creatures are from one to two inches in length, and closely resemble humans. Their ecological niche appears to be that of an insect.
  • Enterprise Fish: These are the largest Chtorran creatures known. These creatures go through the oceans, eating anything in their path. The upper size is unknown, but they have been blamed in the sinking of the USS Nimitz. The largest one killed massed over one million tons, and far larger ones have been sighted.
  • Millipedes: These bear no relation to terrestrial millipedes. Though similar in appearance, they tend to have hard black shells and bellies of varied colors. Their bite is very powerful, and they are capable of devouring and digesting wood, leather, rubber, plastic - anything even remotely organic save their own (or worm) waste. Their bite is also toxic, introducing various diseases and micro-organisms into the bloodstream. The worms keep them in "corrals" near their huts like chicken farms - and eat them like popcorn.
  • Shambler Trees: Chtorran trees that act as hosts to countless separate species of predatory creatures identified as "tenants". The trees are mobile, able to cover up to a half mile a day and leaving a root network of "tickler nerves" in their path. The "tickler nerves" alert a tree to approaching prey, which triggers the tenants to swarm and feed. Once the tenants eat their fill, the prey's remains will fertilize the root network. Ultimately , the trees become a Clonal colony or "Shambler Grove". They are a complex and key element of Chtorran ecology on Earth.
  • Red Kudzu: Similar to the terrestrial plant, but red in color. This plant ranges from jet black to pink, red, violet, and orange. It grows extremely quickly and can cover an entire town in weeks. Its greatest danger is in its ability to shelter Chtorran predatory life - attempts to control its spread through napalm strikes are negated in days by further growth, but massive amounts of human remains have been found before it reclaims the scorched ground. All attempts to destroy it have failed, and it appears to be resistant to all known poisons.
  • Meeps: These are red furballs, ranging in size from tennis ball to bowling ball in diameter. Like another alien fuzzball envisioned by Gerrold, they reproduce very quickly, and possess many traits which induce adoration in other species. In the wild, mother animals of many species will actually abandon their young in order to take care of meeps — a potent adaptation indeed.

First and second editions

There are two distinctly different editions of the first two books in this series. The first edition was released in 1983 by Timescape Books. This edition was edited by the publisher and removed several items which they objected to. All of the chapter introductions (the "Solomon Short" quotations) and several pages of homosexual content were removed. The same thing was done to the 1984 release of A Day for Damnation.

In 1989, David Gerrold made a new publishing contract with Bantam Books. This time, both A Matter for Men and A Day for Damnation were released with all redacted content restored.

Writing style

The feel of the novels is very "Heinleinesque", and one perception of the books is to look at them as an entire life-cycle of a Heinlein Character, a unique sort of character usually central in all of Heinlein's novels, with a recognizable set of key personality characteristics (common sense, intelligence, fiercely independent, and highly competent), albeit at differing ages, sexes, and experience levels. Sometimes the character plays different parts, as both central character and older, wiser mentor. One possible reason that Gerrold is holding off on the later books is that he intends to write them from McCarthy's central perspective of the oldest Heinlein character, older than Gerrold has been prior to around 2005.

Another Heinleinesque characteristic of the series is that, in the first book, the main characters' Jewish heritage is relegated to one throwaway sentence, similar to Heinlein's tendency to throw in a similar comment about the race or national origin of his central character. This heritage is more openly discussed in the later books of the series.

The series also shares a number of stylistic similarities to Heinlein's Starship Troopers, with substantial didactic portions akin to Starship Troopers' "History and Moral Philosophy" coursework discussions between the central character and a school mentor. The various aphorisms which open the chapters of the second editions also resemble the aphorisms in some of Heinlein's later books, such as Time Enough for Love.

Connections to other Gerrold works

Many characters and ideas from previous works by David Gerrold have made appearances in this series. Amongst them are H.A.R.L.I.E. (from the book When HARLIE Was One), tribbles (from Star Trek, disguised as Meeps), and the Space Elevator (from the book Bouncing Off the Moon).

The reverse is also true - there are references to the series in other Gerrold novels. In Bouncing Off the Moon, there is a mention of a woman in Oregon claiming that a giant worm ate her horse, along with numerous passages about plagues spreading across the Earth, also suggesting that the two stories take place in the same story universe. A Covenant of Justice is an unrelated story, in which the Chtorran Gastropede makes a cameo. References to the series also appear in the Star Wolf novels, such as Chtorrans proper and a self-help guru named Daniel Jeffrey Foreman, suggesting the two series exist in the same universe. In Gerrold's 1977 novel, Moonstar Odyssey, there is a reference to "Chtorr-plants" "...named for the legendary place of child-eating demons from which they were supposed to have come" and having an alternate form of photosynthesis.

Naming of characters

For Season for Slaughter, Gerrold named several characters after actual people, who donated handsomely to Gerrold's favorite charities for the privilege. Gerrold had not thought to repeat the effort, but as work on Method for Madness progressed, he received so many fan inquiries about "buying a character" that he decided to do it again. Prior to that, In A Rage For Revenge, Gerrold included several characters, particularly children who were fated to be eaten by worms, named after friends he had made when attending his first UK Star Trek conventions.

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