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  • Armor
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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 17 July 2017
Loved it. Deep dark violent mini other planet opera. Everyone is messed up and you can't take the story arc for granted. It's sort of Starship Trooper meets Hamburger Hill with a bit of Mash and Iron Man. Well not really, but close enough.
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on 27 February 2015
One of the greatest military Sifi ever written. Keep being drawn back to reread over the years.
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on 9 December 1997
After reading all these reviews, I have to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised! I had no idea that "Armor" was such a cult novel with such a huge following.
It's revealing how many veterans gave the book positive reviews. It seems to confirm something that I've felt for a long time: Steakley himself may be a veteran, and this book was a way for him to put his experiences of war (whichever one it was) down on paper. Why sci-fi? Why not?
I have to agree with those who say that the book slows down during the Jack Crow sections. It's sad but true. At least J.C. seems to undergo some sort of character development (more than one could say for many SF novels) but the dialogue especially was only so-so. I would have to say, nonetheless, that the scenes with Felix more than make up for those sections.
Comparing "Armor" with "Starship Troopers" does neither book justice. Heinlein seems more concerned with the military mind than he is with the actual experience of combat. We are never told what Earth society is like in "Armor," or at least it's only broadly described. "Troopers" was about why we need a military (and, IMHO, is much more ambiguous concerning warfare than some unsophisticated readers would think); "Armor" is about the deleterious effects of warfare on the mind and spirit. (Except for the JAck Crow stuff.)
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and I would recommend it in turn, not as a great work of literature, or even great SF on the level of Poe, Wells, Clarke, Heinlein's best, Dick, Zelazny, Lem, etc. But it is a powerful book, with a lot to say, if we're willing to listen.
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on 28 April 2017
First reviewed at tbirdstudios.com:

If there was ever a case study in how two books can topically sound similar but prove so vastly different, it would have to be between Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and John Steakley’s lesser known but in some ways superior Armor.

Both titles are classified as military science fiction, although the former had a large hand in popularizing the genre. They also involve power armored infantry fighting insect-like alien races for domination of a distant planet. But the similarities end there. Starship Troopers turned the conversation towards how militarism impacted all aspects of life, from the concept of rights to hold public office and vote, the administrative needs of the military and upholding its traditions. Thus, Heinlein’s work was a much more complete, fleshed out world that once understood can write itself.

Armor however was a much more psychological story.

Just before the invasion of planet Banshee, Scout Felix proves himself an exhausted burn out, a possible headcase venturing into the everlasting Antwar. But once deployed, a mental mindset he calls the Engine keeps him alive through a higher state of consciousness, even after his entire company dies and his ammo is expended. Once he reconnects with other survivors and fellow Scout Forest, we discover a little more about the nature of the military and campaign in general. With their escape cut off by the Ants and ammunition running low, they make a desperate plan to survive the next Ant assault.

The other half of the story takes place on planet Sanction. Jack Crow, an infamous pirate, manages a prison escape thanks to Antwar deserter Borglyn. The two strike a deal where Jack will infiltrate and weaken the defenses of planet Sanction, allowing Borglyn to raid it for a valuable power source. But during his mission Jack finds himself taken in by the research of Director Hollis, who uses Jack as a volunteer to review recordings from an aging suit of scout armor.

Through these recordings, more truths are uncovered of the Antwar, including Felix’s fate and destiny. The military’s eventual success in establishing a base on Banshee, their real reason for doing so and the disturbing impact of war on Felix, who comes to fear removing his armor. That the man shuns disarmament from facing the whetstone so often is… telling, of his nature. Of who he becomes.

While Starship Troopers was more tactical and re-envisioning of culture as a whole, Armor was more brutal, personal and didn’t open the door to politics until the very end. Fight scenes quickly devolved from gunfights to hand-to-hand battles, the story wrought with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. While Felix’s parts are told from the third person perspective, Jack Crow’s are delivered in the first, further reminding us that the plot thread is ultimately the present-telling-us-the-past type tale and leaving no promises as to Felix’s survival.

Themes of fate and destiny sprout from Steakley’s tale, such that with its conclusion, something stays with you. A cloying sense of truth that supersedes the science fiction theoretical. A grimness that that doesn’t stick to one’s soul but rather emerges from it. While most science fictions hold knowledge and reason in high esteem to appeal to the mind, Armor tugs at the brain’s base, at the roots of who we are. There may never again be a story quite like it.
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on 8 April 1999
There are people who complain about Armor being a cheap rip-off of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. They are partially correct. Steakley himself has admitted that he stole Troopers outright and has commented that if Heinlein could write action, a quality which he regrettably lacked as a writer, Armor never would have been written.
But this is incorrect and here is why: Whereas Troopers shows how political intrigue and maneuvering can affect a war and the warrior participating in it, Armor shows how the brutal combat of close-up futuristic warfare with Aliens we can know nothing about affects a warrior experiencing it.
The third book of power armor, Haldeman's The Forever War, shows a third aspect: how society views a war and the changing veiws of that society as time passes, governments change and social norms slowly develop new trends and how this affects a warrior fighting in that war.
Bashing Armor for its lack of an aspect is not a reasonable thing to do. If Steakley wished to include the sociological and political aspects of the book, he would have, but that would have detracted from the book's focus: the people involved and nothing else. Not on the technology, not on the society, not on the politics. On the people. Two of them: Felix and Jack Crow. The back even reads, "...and how the strength of spirit can be the greatest armor of all."
This novel is about two viewpoints: How war affects a warrior participating in it and How war affects a civilian aware of it.
Bashing a novel is completely unacceptable in my eyes because by insulting a novel, it implies that one feels they could have written it better. Well, if that is the case, go ahead and write it better. If you can do it, kudos for you. If not, quit your whining and don't read it if you don't like it.
The Gunman
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The field of military science fiction is a very limited one, with only a very few excellent examples, mainly Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Haldeman's Forever War, and Dickson's Soldier, Ask Not. Armor attempts to meld some of the great characteristics of these works, from Heinlein's powered armor to Haldeman's anti-war message, but it is only partially successful.
The first section of this book deals with Felix, a new recruit on his first battle drop. We are not given any background to this man, but is rather a blank slate that we watch as he and his powered armor scout suit turn into an impossibly efficient killing machine, becoming the sole survivor of his battle group after being faced with an opposition of literally thousands of human-sized Ants. We see a man of action and few words, whose interior mental state is oddly split between the fighting, survive at all costs, totally unemotional 'Engine' and a terrified, confused, and very fatalistic 'other'. When the 'Engine' is not in command, we see Felix have some interaction with other soldiers on the drop, from finding out what the survival percentage is for scouts on their first, second, etc major drop from some experienced veterans, to who their military idol is, a man named Kent, supposedly impossible to defeat in hand-to-hand suit combat, and a quickly burgeoning love interest in a extremely capable scout from another battle group. This is the best section of the book, as we see by their actions what molds a military group together, what values soldiers must have if they are to survive as a group, how emotions become a riotous tangle under the demands of battle.
Abruptly, the book leaves Felix and picks up a new character, Jack Crow, cynical, worldly, known for impossible (and marginally illegal) exploits, fighting his way out of a prison and onto a mutineer space ship run by master pirate Borglyn. When Borglyn presents a plan to refuel his ship at a Fleet science base on the planet Sanctity, owned by the eccentric alcoholic Lewis, and offers as prize to Crow a beautiful little ship and a de-activated scout suit for defeating the science base defenses from the inside, all the pieces are in place. From this point on (about page 130) I found the book to be totally predictable, from just who Felix and Lewis really are, to what actions each character would take leading to the final battle.
The characterization of Crow is not very well done, as we are only given hints of his past, a rather murky inside look at his emotional triggers and defenses, and a constant mannerism of lighting a cigarette at every available opportunity, mention of which I found quite irritating after the thirteenth repetition. Unlike Felix, whose past must remain a blank for several reasons, Crow's past should have had far greater explication to make us really believe in him as a person, to where his final actions would be more believable and not just a predictable stereotype. Roger Zelazny was known for building characters like Crow in works like This Immortal, but Zelazny's were believable, three dimensional people. Crow is not. This is unfortunate, as the characters of Crow, Felix, Kent, and Holly (the scientist in charge of the Sanctity base, and also very much a stereotype) form a group of different looks at just what it is that makes a hero, which is really Steakley's theme.
As a theme, it is distinct from the earlier cited works, and could have made this work into something excellent. But it is marred by several additional factors:
1. The shown high level military strategy/personnel are absurd. Any military consistently run in this fashion would quickly lose all respect by the lower level soldiers. The 'grunts' are famous for always bitching about just how screwed up the 'brass' are, but if they truly believed that, you would see Russia in 1917 all over again.
2. The Ants are equally impossible, seeming to have only one strategy, overwhelm through sheer mindless force of numbers, though they are supposedly a technologically advanced, star travelling culture. This attribute could have been worked into a strong sub-theme, but it wasn't.
3. The human society outside of the military is never really shown, nor is there really any reason given for the Ant War itself.
Thus the hero theme is forced to exist in an almost total vacuum from the normal societal factors that help define just what a hero is. And without strong character definition, it just didn't carry the emotional freighting that would have made this an excellent work.
Read this one for the opening highly action oriented first section, which is excellent. Then close the book.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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on 23 April 2017
A very poor read.
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on 21 March 1999
I've spent the past 30 minutes reading all 159 reviews and decided to write one out too.Armor is,quite simply, the most in-depth and thought provoking book that I've ever read(and that is not just sci-fi either.)I admit that the transition from Felix to Crow is confusing at first because there is no warning but it isn't really a big deal.Also, the charecters aren't rally given a back story and you do not find out the reason everyones where they are until the middle of the book. I'm 15 and bought this book when I was 11.Since then I've read it 8 times and am enthralled by it every single time. I always discover or figure something out that I missed. Also, to all the reviewers that said that Jack had no personality, think about the personal battles that he faces betraying his friends and the fact that he actually hates Felix because he is better than him.I love how everything ties toghether at the end but I must admit that the ending was depressing and open.In fact, the whole book was depressing in the fact that Felix's non-stop missions were the cause of a mishap and also the fact that Felix could have had a MUCH better life but he cuts all ties and joins the military. PLEASE, the book is very cheap and worth every penny.Buy it! P.S:Sorry this review is thrown toghether as I was just adressing the points brought up in other reviews.Also, to any fans please email Mr. Steakly and request a sequel since his adress is above.
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on 10 September 1998
This is a fairly good read. The only reason why I didn't give it five stars was because it had too much filler about some space pirate's interactions with boring people and on a boring planet, leaving no room for a satisfying ending. Also some of the paragraphs were nearly unintelligible, as the author tried, unsuccessfully I might add, to show off how much he can write slick stream-of-consciousness prose. (More like stream of incoherent unconsciousness.) And I think every reader out there wanted to know the fate of the Machine guy. Did he survive the blast; anf, if so, did he turn into an emotionless combat commando? If the author is trying to interest us in a sequel, this cheap-ass ending is NOT the way to do it. The author would find it worth his while to read William C. Dietz's McCade series, so he can learn how to make a really satisfying ending, yet leave ample room to begin a wham-o sequel. Hell, even the Harlequin's men's adventure series, like The Destroyer, Deathlands and Outlanders series, have much better more solid endings than Armor's ending!
The author needs to do more homework on his story -- but it shouldn't be that difficult a task, given that most of the story is in excellent form. Or perhaps the author needs a new agent/editor, because what ever guidance he had on this, in terms of cutting out stuff and adding other stuff, was not made by someone that intelligent.
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on 8 May 2014
Firstly, as a long-time Science fiction reader/fan/aficionado. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting and compelling read.

However, the real reason I have troubled to submit a review is to warn others to be wary of another review posted here which practically divulges the "climax" or central plot device of the whole story and thus ruins it for all others. The review is titled:

"A fantastic and yet, depressing read"

Be wary of this review if you plan on reading armour for the first time.

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