Book Review: Armor – John Steakley

This book took me forever to finish.  Doesn’t mean it’s bad…just that it took me a long time.

I usually pound through a book in a couple of days.  If I’m really dragged down with work or whatever, it may take a week.  ARMOR took me almost a month.

I think it was the dual storyline that bugged me.  The backbone story is the story of Felix the military scout that wears the titular Armor.  He’s nothing special, just another grunt in the Antwar.  The ants are fearsome aliens that the humans fight on the planet Banshee.  There’s no real backstory as to why the conflict started, where the Ants came from.  Instead, the reader is thrown, with Felix, directly into the battle and it never seems to let up again.  The action scenes are extremely well done and it doesn’t take long to realize there’s something really psychologically broken in Felix.

He becomes the only survivor of several battles.  He’s torn, he’s broken, and due to a computer glitch, he’s thrown back into battle again and again.  Against all odds, and with the help of a second personality he calls the Engine, he survives.

There’s a second story that starts quite abruptly partway through the novel.  This involves and wholly different character, the infamous Jack Crow as he infiltrates a scientific team on the planet Sanction.  He takes an old Armor suit (guess who’s?) with him to get him on the inside and it works like a charm.  Ultimately, he and another scientist, Hollis, manage to relive many of Felix’s experience through the unspooling of information in the suit itself.

It all wraps up nicely in the end.

Looking back now, I think the blocked out sections of the plot…a large chunk of Felix, then a large chunk of Jack Crow, back to Felix, back to Jack, was initially offputting.  The sections were large enough that I tended to forget the other plotline altogether (though that may also have been the drawn out reading time too).  I also couldn’t help comparing it to Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS.  I mean, come on, armoured military up against buglike aliens?

The strengths of this novel are the two main protagonists.  Both are possessed of traits that are bothersome but also help them survive.  Felix has the Engine.  Jack Crow has his reputation as a stone-cold killer and pirate.  And it’s the internal monologues I found the most fascinating.

Steakley published ARMOR in 1984.  He only wrote only one other novel, the absolutely phenomenal VAMPIRE$, published in 1990.  I’d read VAMPIRE$ years ago and absolutely loved the novel, the layers, the concept.  Not so much the John Carpenter movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (yes, he dropped the dollar sign at the end, the very thing that caught my eye in the first place) with the (in my opinion) horribly miscast James Woods.  The sequel was even worse.

Anyway, my point is, Steakley wasn’t prolific, and it was obvious that ARMOR, while often brilliant, still had its flaws.  He perfected his game with his second and final novel, VAMPIRE$.  Still, in the end, I enjoyed the novel.  Nowhere near the level of VAMPIRE$, but enjoyable.

And then, sadly, we lost Steakley last November.

Really would have liked to have seen what he came up with next.  Wouldn’t mind knowing what else he did with his spare time!  20 years since the last novel?

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Armor – John Steakley

  1. This is not my genre interest, but stories are stories. I liked how you broke it down here:

    The strengths of this novel are the two main protagonists. Both are possessed of traits that are bothersome but also help them survive. Felix has the Engine. Jack Crow has his reputation as a stone-cold killer and pirate. And it’s the internal monologues I found the most fascinating.

    Just reading something yesterday about character-driven stories.

  2. Sounds like a very boring read; a very boring GUY’S read! Anyway, I am writing to let you know that you have been given a blog Award over at The Garden Gate for making me laugh many times in the last couple of weeks (no mean feat). Perhaps you missed your calling as a stand up comedian…

  3. This is probably my favorite sci fi book ever. I pitch it to all my friends and have reread it 3 times to far and it’s been heard of by just about every person I’ve met that knows sci fi and though many haven’t read it, they all have been told they NEED to. So pay no attention to the self acclaimed critics claiming it’s bad cause it’s not their genre or not their ‘gender’ of a book or it’s boring when they haven’t even read it. I’m a screen writer, and film actor and I love this book on many different levels in many different ways and so do many of my friends.

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