Giant alien killer insects are the last acceptable villainous race — and, man, does John Steakley kill a lot of them in “Armor!”
I first read Armor on a road trip across the country with my friend T.J. back in the Summer 1992. I have kept that same paperback copy for 18 years now and have re-read the book dozens of times. Now, I’ve kept a lot of books over the years and have a very extensive library — but very few have been read as often as Steakley’s Armor.
The story centers around a man named Felix, known to most of the men as “The Scout” due to the fact that wears a Scout model of combat armor. Felix is a very haunted man who entered the war hoping to die, but a part of this broken soldier, the part he calls “The Engine” to clings to life with a powerful desperation, forcing him to fight on despite overwhelming odds. Felix’ first foray on the battleground planet of Banshee is a disaster — thousands killed instantly, the rest dying slowly over a few days. All but Felix, who manages to survive by throwing a wounded soldier in nuclear powered battle armor into a hive right before it detonated. Yeah, I know. Felix can be a stone cold bastard, some times.
Due to a snafu in the computer records, as the last survivor of his unit Felix is repeatedly called to “drop” on Banshee. A normal tour is only a couple of drops into combat. Felix makes 20 before the error is corrected. This scenario gives Steakly a chance to tell the stories he loves best — men on the edge who just keep going. Steakley’s only other book, Vampire$, has a similar theme: never giving up. After the computer error is identified is where the story really hits its stride and the book becomes a powerful roller coaster of combat and deep, personal introspective. While always aware of Felix’s personal complexity, Steakley has a way of delving in and showing the reader the price of heroism.
In interviews, Steakley has said that “Armor” was his tribute to Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers”, and the reader will see many recurring references to the forces Heinleins “apes” fought. Steakley noted that while Heinlein’s book focused a great deal on politics and leadership, he wrote “Armor” to cut loose and show the depth and desperation of combat that his inspiration left out. And, I’m here to tell you, Steakley excels at writing action! The only rival I’ve seen to his skills in this arena is Matthew Woodring Stover.
“Armor” is one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. I highly recommend it. If you want to buy a copy of your own, you can get it here: Armor (Daw science fiction)