The War Against the Chtorr
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Cover of the first book in the series, A Matter For Men Second Edition.
|Genre||Science fiction, book series|
|Publisher||Timescape Books, et al.|
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 would not 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 heptalogy. Currently, four books have been completed:
- A Matter for Men (1983)
- A Day for Damnation (1985)
- A Rage for Revenge (1989)
- A Season for Slaughter (1993)
The fifth book, A Method For Madness, has yet to be published, over two decades after the last book came out.
Set in a devastated early 21st century United States with logical expected advances in current technology such as a fledgling moon base, 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 in favor of terraforming the ecosystem.
The United States has just lost a harsh war in Pakistan, after which they were required to neuter their armed forces. The U.S. decided to increase weapon exports in order to make other countries reliant on them. Secretly, they continued researching and developing weapons, which is illegal according to the treaty.
Soon afterwards, a series of devastating plagues sweeps the world, killing 60% of humanity. As the survivors struggle to rebuild civilization, they discover that hundreds of alien plant and animal species have begun establishing themselves. They are almost universally far superior to the native organisms which occupy the same ecological niches. As a result, Earth's entire ecology is being rapidly supplanted (or "chtorraformed"). The invaders are called Chtorrans after the sound made by the most deadly predator encountered so far.
There is no sign of sentient aliens, but humans presume the invasion to be deliberate, either "seeded" from space or brought by undetected spacecraft. Many of the Chtorran organisms (see below) exhibit behaviors that are quasi-sentient (building structures, creating and using tools, farming/herding, setting traps, singing), yet the central question of whether they are doing so out of sentience or collective and programmed behavior is unanswered. With each new layer of organisms, a bit more hierarchy to the Chtorran "societal" structure is revealed, allowing the possibility that all these organisms will transform the Earth in support of some worse, higher form of Chtorran life. The presumed goal of these off-stage aliens appears to be nothing less than the complete replacement of Earth's entire ecology and the resultant extinction of all native life, at which time they can claim the planet without a single shot needing to be fired. Another possibility is that collectively the Chtorr are the alien, the invasion has begun and gained major footholds, and humanity has yet to figure out who the true enemy is (let alone how to successfully fight it).
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 carnivorous Chtorran species whose prey includes humans. McCarthy and other scientists investigate the rapidly expanding Chtorran ecosystem and attempt to unravel the ecological relationships between the various species.
In addition to descriptions of alien ecology, the Chtorr series includes lengthy expositions on various aspects of human psychology, particularly under wartime and survival conditions.
- Jim McCarthy: The series protagonist, the books are written from his point of view. Jim is a military scientist who was drafted into the secret "Uncle Ira" group as a way of fighting the Chtorran infection without political oversight. He is bisexual, and retains a loving relationship with Lizard Tirelli. Jim is often characterized as being very brash, abrasive and impulsive. He cannot stand when bigger issues get swallowed up in politics, and is often bailed out by Lizard or the Uncle Ira group after taking certain actions, such as goading a Québécois Major to resign his commission out of cowardice.
- Duke Anderson: Jim's commanding officer.
- Elizabeth "Lizard" Tirelli: An officer in the US army. She starts off as a captain who pilots helicopters, but by the fourth book she has been promoted to general and is one of the leaders in the US military in their war against the Chtorr. She is in a complicated relationship with McCarthy.
- Ted: Jim's military partner and sometimes lover. Ted joins the Telepathy Corps early on in the series and has a chip implanted in his brain which allows other Telepathy Corps members to access his body. He talks about how he no longer feels a connection with his body; as part of the Corps mass mind, he can occupy and use any other Corps body.
- General "Uncle Ira" Wallachstein: The leader of a top-secret military group with authorization only from the President. Officially, it doesn't even exist. The purpose of the "Uncle Ira" group is to do whatever it takes to fight the Chtorran invasion, and ignore the politics that inevitably get in the way.
- Daniel Foreman: An enigmatic and harsh man who leads the Mode training courses. He teaches people how to reach their potential required to fight the Chtorr by changing in and out of "modes" and how to accept the limitations and concepts of ones own psychology. He writes articles under the name "Solomon Short" and is quoted as such at the heading of the chapters in books 3 and 4.
- General Wainwright: The highest-ranking member of the military shown in the books. The General is more of a politician than a fighter, and is usually characterized as putting his own troops at risk rather than risk a political bungle. He has told McCarthy numerous times that he has a personal hatred for him, something that only seems to amuse McCarthy. Wainwright has an assistant, Dannenfelser, who has an open personal dislike for McCarthy and often seeks to make him miserable.
- Jason Delandro: Jason is the spiritual leader of a group of renegades living nomadically in unpopulated territory in the United States. He is very convincing and has an extremely loyal, almost religious, following. He believes in living as hosts and treating the Chtorrans as guests, with the understanding that the Chtorrans could take whatever they need, including innocent human life. Three of the members of his group are actually worms, one, Orrie, raised from birth, and the other two trained by Orrie to understand humans. The human-Chtorran relationship amongst the renegades is complex, but ultimately results in a loss of humanity for those involved (characterized by people giving their newborn babies as food to the worms) and complete acceptance and subservience to the Chtorrans.
Groups, technology and other concepts
- Telepathy Corps: The Teep Corps (as they are often referred to) is a group of people with microchips implanted in their brains to allow each member full access to every other members memories, senses and thoughts. Although originally initiated as a government program, many characters mention a fear that the Teep Corps has become a massmind, and is free from any oversight. Members are stripped of their personal identity and lose their personal connection to their own bodies. Often, a new initiate will become "lost" by losing sentience and simply becoming a body and collection of memories for the Corps. Although it has been shown that members can show individuality, they have a different concept of what it means to be an individual. Since any member can potentially fully control any body of any other member, bodies are conceptually separate from individual minds. Many Corps members are actually not aware that they are members, as they have had the microchip implanted in them without their knowledge. This was originally done to allow the Corps to spy on renegade groups within Chtorran mandalas, but it is hinted that the process has become out of control and the Corps may have used it as a way of controlling political entities.
- Zombie Herds: In some metropolitan areas, humans have been observed losing their sentience and shambling around in mindless herds. It is uncertain what is the cause of it. Zombies have been observed having almost no desires, or inhibitions, acting like simple animals. Some government agencies have taken it upon themselves to feed the herds, as they seem not to possess the ability to forage for food. People who follow, or spend enough time with a herd will eventually find themselves drawn in. Sometimes a herd will start up a strange sort of singing that can attract more humans to join them. Occasionally, like in moments of extreme pain or stress, a zombie will snap back to being a human, although they'll retain few to no memories of time spent in the herd.
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"): The main antagonists of the series. Range in size from as small as a dog 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 and acts as a sensory input. Worms are capable of remarkable acts of problem solving and interaction and some have been observed to understand a rudimentary form of English, but both their intelligence and their communication abilities have yet to be fully understood. As long as they eat meat, they can continue to grow, but their growth slows when their diet is only on vegetation, but their appetite is much larger. It is understood that a worm "family" consists of four, though their roles are unclear. When a group of worms form a family, they build a large, domed structure referred to as a hut. The worms live in a series of tunnels within and beneath the huts. When many huts are built close together, they start to merge into larger huts, and so on. This process repeats recursively, forming Chtorran cities which the military calls mandalas due to their spiraling shapes. When a worm reaches a mass that makes it unable to move, it will crawl into a dead end corner and eventually die.
- 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.
- Neural Symbionts: The most ubiquitous creature in the ecology. The neural symbiont is a small, hair-like creature that attaches itself to the nervous system of a larger creature. The host will then achieve heightened senses, reflexes and some form of communication with other hosts. Many Chtorrans such as the gastropedes and bunnydogs are completely covered in symbionts. It is theorized that the symbionts actually do most of the thinking and communication for their host creatures, thus accounting for the small brain yet high functionality in many Chtorrans. Humans that bond with symbionts soon lose the ability, or will, to communicate with uninfected humans, but can live in harmony inside a Chtorran mandala. Outside of a mandala, symbiosis is usually fatal to Earth creatures.
- Stingflies: One of the most common Chtorran creatures, stingflies resemble large mosquitoes. Although their bite is not very harmful to humans or animals, they can attack in swarms and do a large amount of damage. They lay their eggs on a Chtorran plant called a "wormberry" and hatch once in the stomach of whatever ate the berry. Gastropedes and other Chtorrans do not seem to be harmed by stingfly larva living in their bodies, but humans can die of painful ulcers and infections if they accidentally eat stingfly eggs.
- Jellypigs: Small, blob like creatures that live off of nutrients found in dirt. Their part of the ecology seems to be to dig out the tunnels and underground areas necessary for many creatures to survive. They are only found in "clumps" of several dozen or more. Reproduction happens when jellypigs rub against one another in a clump, cross fertilizing small eggs contained just beneath the skin. When a jellypig stops moving for a certain amount of time, the babies eat their way out of the mother.
- 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 limit is unknown, but the largest one killed massed over one million tons, and far larger ones have been reported. An individual blamed for the near-sinking of the USS Nimitz was said to be at least twice the length of the aircraft carrier, making the fish over 2,000 feet long.
- 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". At an undetermined point in their growth, a shambler grove may permanently stop in one area and grow a sort of womb beneath their roots where all the different Chtorran species will emerge. McCarthy theorized that the Chtorrans came to Earth by shambler seeds, which contains the DNA of every Chtorran lifeform. 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 numbers 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.
- Manna plants: Small pink fungi that can rapidly blanket an area. During some seasons, the plant dries out and becomes brittle and powdery. It will dissipate when touched into powdery strands. The strands of many plants clump together into puffballs which can grow to enormous sized. Eventually, the puffballs explode into a fine powder compared to cotton candy. This creates a storm of powder that lasts about a week, during which the lower Chtorran fauna come out to feed and reproduce, which is then echoed all the way up the food chain. Most Earth animals and plants will die in a puffball storm, and humans will easily get lost and overwhelmed. They are perhaps the most subtly dangerous lifeform in the Chtorran ecosystem; the powder destroys machinery, as it is not only flammable, but(like grain dust) fine enough to act as a thermobaric weapon. The powder is every bit as hazardous to terrestrial animals as is filled with Chtorran bacteria; exposure to it quickly results in an equivalent of Legionellosis known as "pink lung" that is 100% fatal within days of exposure without state-of-the-art treatment.
- Revelation flowers: Blue and red flowers that, when ingested, put a person into a state of intense euphoria. People undergoing "Revelations" view Chtorran flora and fauna as beautiful, and seek to become part of it. They are often used by the renegade humans to somehow understand Chtorrans.
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.
Connections to other Gerrold works
Many characters and ideas from other 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. 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. Reference to the Chtorr or Chtorr-like species and situations also pop-up in Gerrold's 1993 book Under the Eye of God and its 1994 sequel A Covenant of Justice.
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 ("tuckerization"). 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.
- David Gerrold home page
- Chtorr Homepage
- Chtorr Wars homepage at archive.org
- GURPS roleplaying game supplement GURPS War Against the Chtorr 
- "The War Against the Chtorr". www.gerrold.com. Retrieved April 8, 2014.