Posts Tagged ‘John Steakley’

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I’ve come across numerous recommendations for Armor, many of them stating that it was underrated, perhaps even a little obscure. Yet, all offering up praise for its bold and unique take on military science fiction ideas and great story. I’m going to wholeheartedly agree with the latter of those statements. To me, John Steakley’s novel is a must read if you enjoy science fiction with a military emphasis. Who doesn’t like their fiction filled with power armour, space aliens and brutal warfare?

Published in 1984, the book, however retains a poignant and very modern message regarding the futility and horror of battle. Rather than glorifying combat, Steakley reveals the terror and desperation, the adrenaline and addiction, and the all consuming cost that war can have on the human psyche. It is also a gripping and brilliantly conceived book that hooked me from the outset.

Told from two perspectives, the first quarter of the book follows Felix, a new Fleet recruit in the Antwar, who is suddenly thrust into battle. Unprepared and against all odds he survives – again and again as he fights massive, mindless ‘ant’ monsters on the planet Banshee. The dislocating fear, coupled with his need to survive brings into being ‘the engine’; his coping mechanism and his other self. A self that is cold and murderous. We are then introduced to Jack Crow, a space pirate fleeing prison. His story takes him to the planet Sanction, where he becomes embroiled in the politics and machinations of a pirate intent on taking the planet for his own, destroying the Fleet science base and removing the owner, a drunk named Lewis. The ruse Crow employs to get himself into the science base is an old set of power armour that he offers to the director of the base.

That armour turns out to have been owned by Felix and the rest of his story is then told through the eyes of Crow and the scientist as they watch his battles, his injuries, his descent into the hell that is Banshee as ‘the engine’ takes over. It’s a powerful tool to explain the horror that is war but also the mindlessness of the bureaucracy that runs it. They literally watch the craziness unfold and we see how it affects them, even at such a remove. Eventually, we are returned to the perspective of Felix and certain motives are explained though I’m not going to say more for fear of spoiling the novel.

The writing style reminded me of Jack Kerouac or JD Salinger at times with it’s flowing inner dialogue. But it is the driving, relentlessness of both the main characters that forces the book along at a a staggering pace. Each protagonist exudes toughness but also an internal brokenness about them. Steakley captures it so well, forcing the characters to be both leaders and warriors whilst simultaneously questioning and reflecting on their situations.

In short, it’s a furious story about war, insectile aliens and pirates. In truth, it’s about the human psyche, motivations and morality. It came highly recommended and now I can pay it forward.

My copy
Published by DAW

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I am one of those people who find it very hard to walk past a charity shop and not have a quick look to see what books might be hidden away inside. With a young son who needs his fresh air, my wife and I now have a daily early morning walk come rain or shine. I have also, during those necessary ‘he needs to sleep’ moments, devised a route that takes me past a few of my favourite secondhand book shops whilst hoping that my boy will be lulled into a nap. Cunning, I know. But also very straining on the already loaded bookshelves in the house.

However, of late, I haven’t been able to find much that’s peaked my interest. Sure, there’s piles of Fifty Shades of Grey but not much in the way of the kind of hidden gems I used to so regularly find. Though I did mange to pick up two interesting looking zombie novels on my recent travels. Firstly, Outpost by Adam Baker and, secondly, Monster Island by David Wellington. I know, I know, I have a zombie problem lately…

Bemoaning the change in the charity shop’s inventory is pointless though. Instead I took the chance to go hunting on the internet for a few titles I’ve been eager to read. Today the mad and muttering postie delivered, with a rousing chorus of expletives and quite probably a swift kick to the letter box, Armor by John Steakley.

I’ve heard so many good things about this book that I dived straight in and I’m enjoying it so far. Very different from my last read and I’ll get a review up soon. In the meantime, check out the blurb below.

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The planet is called Banshee. The air is unbreathable, the water poisonous. It is the home of the most implacable enemies that humanity, in all its interstellar expansion, has ever encountered.

Felix is a scout in A-team Two. Highly competent, he is the sole survivor of mission after mission. Yet he is a man consumed by fear and hatred. And he is protected not only by his custom-fitted body armor, the culmination of ten thousand years of the armorers’ craft, but also by an odd being which seems to live with him, a cold killing machine he calls “the Engine.”

This best-selling science-fiction classic is a story of the horror, the courage, and the aftermath of combat and also of how strength of spirit can be the greatest armor of all.

Either way, whether it’s a stumbled upon jewel amidst the piles of Jeffery Archer in your local charity shop or a tracked down novel you’ve been wanting to read for a while found on the interweaves, secondhand bookshops are a godsend.