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"I won't waste my breath telling you you're crazy. Do I get to know anything about this one in advance?"—Allen Caine, The Blackcollar
In the early 25th century, the Terran Democratic Empire is drawn into a war with an alien race known as the Ryqril. Among the weapons they develop in hopes of defending themselves are the Blackcollars, ultimate guerilla fighters with enhanced speed and reflexes, equipped with ancient but undetectable weapons such as slingshots and nunchaku.
Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late. Humanity lost the war thoroughly, and the Ryqril took over government of the TDE's worlds by means of loyalty-conditioned administrators and security personnel, backed up by heavily-armed Ryqril soldiers. Twenty-nine years later, an underground member named Allen Caine is equipped with carefully forged identification papers and sent on a mission that could change the balance of power once again.
Unfortunately, his resistance cell is destroyed before they can provide him with the papers he needs to complete his mission, so when he arrives on the unfamiliar planet of Plinry he is forced to seek help from the local Blackcollars, led by the enigmatic Damon Lathe.
So begins The Blackcollar, a sci-fi novel by Timothy Zahn. It is the first in a trilogy which also includes The Backlash Mission and The Judas Solution.
- Affably Evil: Galway, though he's not really evil.
- Armor Is Useless: Averted; flexarmor doesn't render the wearer invincible, but it will absorb one shot from almost anything. As Lathe puts it, against Blackcollars most shooters only get one shot.
- Badass Abnormal: The Blackcollars.
- Badass Normal: Several of the Blackcollar-trained characters in The Backlash Mission, most notably Woody Pittman.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Many of the human administrators and security personnel are loyalty conditioned, a process involving drugs which renders people unable to betray the Ryqril, no matter how much they'd like to. One security guard, assigned to protect a bigshot he has reason to personally hate, daydreams about allowing an assassin to slip by him -- but he knows the conditioning won't let him. And then he gets dosed with a drug that erases loyalty conditioning.
- Bulletproof Vest: Blackcollar basic equipment includes flexarmor, which is light and flexible but hardens when it receives an impact or laser blast. It even includes gloves and a hood.
- Common Ranks: The standard Terran military (and its remnants among the resistance) appears to use them, but the Blackcollars have their own separate rank structure. The two most commonly seen ranks are those of commando and commando commander, or "comsquare".
- Fighting with Chucks: Nunchaku are among the basic blackcollar weapons.
- Fountain of Youth: A drug called Idunine can remove many of the effects of aging, and cause people's appearances to regress until they appear significantly younger. On one occasion this is used to disguise several members of the team.
- Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Ryqril are described as technological imbeciles: they can copy their captured races' technology just fine, but are actually incapable of producing new technology of their own. Fortunately for them, they have quite a few captured races.
- Keystone Army: Subverted. In The Backlash Mission the blackcollars acquire the result of a secret research project, the drug Whiplash, which breaks the loyalty-conditioning of Les Collaborateurs and allows them to rebel. However, they find that the majority of people they try it on are still loyal to the Ryqril out of sheer inertia and the fact they've been serving the Ryqril all their lives.
- La Résistance: Most every TDE planet has its own underground resistance group, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
- Les Collaborateurs: The Ryqril's loyalty-conditioned human servants, who make up the bulk of the enemy La Résistance is fighting--the Ryqril themselves only occasionally appear.
- The Mole: At least one per book.
- Ninja: Blackcollars certainly have a lot of Ninja elements; they could probably be described as Ninjas In Space.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Actually closer to Obfuscating Senility.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: "Once again, Mordecai had beaten heavy odds... and once again Caine had missed the show."
- Rings of Death: Not exactly this trope, but the rings Blackcollars use to identify themselves are used as holdout throwing weapons on several occasions.
- Rock Beats Laser / Break Out the Museum Piece: The Blackcollars' use of technologically simplistic weapons is due to the Ryqril having technology that tracks and counters more advanced weapons such as laser rifles.
- Schizo-Tech: This doesn't mean the Blackcollars can't combine more advanced weapons with their standard loadout, such as using simple slingshots to hit enemy sensors...hit them with sticky clay pellets containing lumps of radioactive plutonium that will degrade the sensors and render them blind for a coming attack.
- Suffer the Slings: One of the basic weapons the Blackcollars use is the "Sniper's Slingshot".
- Super Serum: Backlash, the drug administered to the Blackcollars which grants them enhanced reflexes.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Prefect Galway. He's the only one on the Ryqril collaborators' side who has a decent shot at being able to predict what Lathe will do, and his superiors and colleagues always ignore him. Even Lathe comments in the third book that they'd be in a lot of trouble if anyone ever listened to Galway.
- Theme Naming: Caine and Judas.
- Took a Level In Badass: Caine, between The Blackcollar and The Backlash Mission.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Lathe loves this, and it's usually justified, especially once the Xanatos Gambit plays out.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Galway is this way; loyalty-conditioning notwithstanding, he always wants what's best for Plinry.
- Worthy Opponent: Prefect Galway and Damon Lathe's opinions of each other.
- Xanatos Gambit: A whole lot of them. Usually more than one per book, and that's just from Lathe.
- Zeerust: The series is set in the 25th century, but it's clearly the 25th century as foreseen from The Eighties, such as the use of "tapes" as a means of data storage, and the way words like "shuriken" and "nunchaku" are still considered exotic enough to put in italics (contrast with Zahn's later Quadrail Series which also feature such weapons, but not in italics). The more recent book in the series, The Judas Solution, keeps these artefacts consistent rather than trying to retcon the setting.