Armor (novel)

Armor (novel)

Infobox Book |
name = Armor
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover art by James Gurney
author = John Steakley
cover_artist = James Gurney
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = DAW
release_date = December 4, 1984
media_type = Print (Paperback)
pages = 432 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-88677-368-7
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Armor" is a military science fiction novel by John Steakley. It has some superficial similarities with Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (such as the military use of exoskeletons and insect-like alien enemies) but concentrates more on the psychological effects of violence on human beings rather than on the political aspects of the military, which was the focus of Heinlein's novel.

It was first published in December 1984.

Plot Summary

"Armor" is the story of humanity's war against an alien race whose foot soldiers are three-meter-tall insects. It is also the story of a research colony on the fringes of human territory who are threatened by pirates. The two sub-plots intersect at the end, with each providing answers and insight into events of the other.

The title most obviously refers to the nuclear-powered exoskeletons worn by the soldiers, but also references the emotional armor the protagonists maintain to survive.

The Plot On Banshee

The protagonist is Felix, the former Guardian Archon of Golden, fighting anonymously as a scout on the alien planet A9, normally referred to as Banshee. Banshee represents a place in his mind, a supremely hostile environment where death and failure lurk at every corner. Felix suffers from psychological burnout. He joined the military in a suicidal gesture after the death of his wife. The reader discovers that he was the heir to the monarchy of humanity's richest planet before joining up.

Like "Starship Troopers", the infantry is deployed to alien planets in a war of extermination; a large portion of the narrative covers the multiple 'drops' the protagonist makes and ensuing battles. Armored infantry are positioned above the planet surface in starships, and teleported individually to the planet surface as a swarm of independent fighting units. They fight against an alien race which are huge bipedal insects and are simply referred to as the Ants they resemble. The war is fought by inexperienced and uninformed troops on the ground, while the higher ranks sit in orbit and make decisions.

Felix soon becomes the sole survivor from his first drop group who are dropped right on top of a mass of the enemy, and finds, to his horror, that he's very good at fighting. Each battle is a haze of insects, who swarm from the ground in an apparently unending stream.

During his first drop a macabre dialogue occurs on the mortality rates of soldiers depending upon how many drops they've had, with the protagonist being told that first-droppers have the highest rate, which decreases as each soldier survives successful attacks; however, he's informed, the mortality rate increases around the fifth drop as the soldier becomes over-confident. As a scout, however, his odds for survival are even lower. No one has survived more than ten drops.

Later in that same drop, Felix takes a terminally-wounded soldier and activates his self-destruct mechanism in order to save the entire human drop force. Over the cursing of the immobilized soldier, Felix tosses the human suicide nuke down an ant-hole, incinerating an insect colony.

Due to an error in the computer because of being the sole survivor of his unit, Felix continues to be called up to fight in every drop, an inhuman pace that seems destined to kill him. Due to a bumbling bureaucracy, this fact is not discovered. Felix's self-contempt grows as he realizes that he is driven to survive, and after each battle he is the sole survivor, at whatever the cost.

Notable Characters


A fellow scout trooper that commands Felix before eventually dying next to Felix. She came in second in the Armored Olympics, losing to Kent, and is an excellent soldier, always doing her duty despite the personal sacrifice. She is arguably a better fighter than Felix, but lacks the same combination of luck and internal strength that he possesses. She appears to hold a high rank, as she influences the Colonel in command of the operation. Right before dying in Felix's arms, she tells him that she was in love with Kent, and confesses that she selfishly ordered Felix to fight at one point in the Battle of the Knuckle.

Nathan Kent

A master athlete and three-time winner of the Armored Olympics. A hopelessly shy fellow who tries his best to cope with his duties as a celebrity. He is described glowingly by the other soldiers on Banshee, and is frequently referred to as "Everyone's' Hero". Despite this he is no soldier, and his initial reaction to combat is to freeze up then flee. During the Bunker expedition, Felix confides in Kent that Forest had been in love with Kent, provoking Kent into beating up Felix, before apologizing profusely later. After the death of Allie, he intervenes in Felix's life by physically dragging Felix into a small spaceship and sending him away, from Banshee and the war. As Felix's small vessel is being launched, Felix sees the guards onboard the "Terra" kill Kent.


A veteran trooper, a sergeant, that serves Felix uses as a human atom bomb. When Bailey - the original suicide bomber - is prematurely killed, and Bolov is wounded, Felix substitutes Bolov for Bailey in carrying out the suicidal task.


A brave soldier, who did not hesitate to follow Felix. Nevertheless, Michalk is ripped to shreds by the ants.

Canada Shoen

A commanding officer, a colonel, and one of the brains behind the construction of a fort on Banshee. She has never seen combat, and doesn't really understand it. She flirts slightly with Felix, and tries to get to know him, but can't quite get past his emotional barriers. She survived the attack on the bunker, and nothing more is said as to her fate. Shoen is arguably one of the more "normal" people caught up in the Ant War, and as such has a hard time adapting to it.

Fleet Psychtech

A man who is assigned to mentally evaluate Felix after he refuses to make a drop. The man, after seeing Felix's file and the 19 drops (12 major), recommends him for a "light duty" at the bunker project. He later feels responsible for the injuries Felix sustains there and commits suicide.

The Plot On Sanction

The 'protagonist' anti-hero is Jack Crow, a notorious celebrity, famous for the stealing of a prototype of an early FTL Drive. A morally questionable character with views and opinions that are just as questionable, he has been branded a pirate for that action, but has somehow gotten off the hook. This does not mean that he is not still wanted. He is a tough man who does not hesitate to kill, but he is constantly at odds with his own morality. He understands the difference between his celebrity reputation and his real personality. At times, his reputation is more of a burden than a blessing.

Jack Crow starts out in a prison on an alien planet, and after breaking out of said prison finds himself on the ship, and at the mercy, of a mutineer on the run named Borglyn. Jack and Borglyn strike a deal, and Jack is allowed to live. Jack will infiltrate a fleet research project and allow Borglyn to reach its power source, in order to refuel his ship. In return, Borglyn will provide Jack with money and a smaller ship, with which Jack can use to go his own way.

Jack is then transported to the planet of Sanction. He takes with him an old suit of battle armor which he found when inspecting the ship that he'll be awarded with. There Jack ingratiates himself with the fleet research project, and disables the shields as promised. While doing so Jack is asked by Holly, the head of the research project, to help with an experiment devised to retrieve the contents of the armored suit's battle recorder.

Jack does so, and Jack, Holly and Lya (a psychologist and Holly's girl) are sharing the experience that Felix went through on Banshee, by tapping into his suit's recorder. Much of the plot on Banshee and important commentary on it are revealed through this device. Also, the characters spend a lot of time dealing with the issues involved with reliving combat through Felix's eyes.

Jack comes to regret his betrayal of Holly due to the camaraderie that develops from witnessing the playback, and eventually helps Holly mount an almost certainly suicidal defense against Borglyn's troops.

Notable Characters:


A beautiful and mysterious girl, who is part of the citizenry who oppose Wice, and later, Borglyn. She is convinced that she and her fellows will win because of the rightness of their cause. Jack urges her to surrender. Her fate is unknown, but those citizens who opposed Wice and Borglyn were brutally beaten.


A mutineer fleeing the Ant War. He is a desperate and brutal man - physically very powerful and with an intimidating presence. The main antagonist.


A pristine beauty who has suffered and benefited her whole life because of that beauty. She falls in love with Jack. Also the second in command of the fleet project, who sees to all the day-to-day details of the project.


Borglyn's man on the ground. A mobster who is at odds with much of the local citizenry. He nevertheless heads a mafia-like faction. Responsible for fostering rebellion and dissent between the local citizens and the fleet project.

Hollis Ware

Also known simply as Holly, he is a "genuine genius", and his research is the reason behind the fleet research project, though what that research actually entails is not spelled out clearly. As head scientist, he is the head of the project and ultimately the one in charge of it. He is 31 but is viewed as young, idealistic, and a bit foolish by the world-weary Jack.


Holly's girl and is something called a psychtech, which seems to be a sort of future diagnostic psychologist. She is an excellent people person, and in many ways the power behind Holly's throne.


The drunk who owns the planet Sanction. He spends his days either passed out from a type of booze (known as synth) or partying with the locals. He has a running joke about his drunk induced love-hate relationship with fishing and fish. Also known at an earlier time as Felix.

Other Characters


The former wife of Felix; Angel was an Earthwoman who was not popular with the people of Golden, and as a result tried to run away. During the process, there was a freighter accident and she was killed. Felix was the first to find her in the ensuing search. The emotional trauma of the event was what caused him to abscond from the throne and enlist in the Fleet.

Alejandro "Allie" Jorges Umemoto

Felix's best and closest friend since infancy, and holder of the title of Masao. Alejandro is the sovereign ruler of a wealthy planet of fifteen million people. When Felix disappeared from Golden, Allie spent two years tracking him down - eventually finding him on Banshee. In order to gauge Felix's condition, the Masao used his extreme political influence to have the captain of the "Terra" give him his own drop on Banshee. His royal guard consisted of eighteen samurai in red armored suits, commanded by the head guard Suki. After making landfall, Allie confronted Felix and forced Felix to accept Angel's death. The ensuing emotional stress caused Felix's psychological desire to annihilate himself through battle to evaporate, and brought him back to a healthy emotional state. Shortly thereafter, while attempting to return to the ship, the Ants launched an artillery strike that critically damaged Allie's suit. As Felix tried to drag him to the pickup beacon, Allie died in his arms.


The central theme of the novel is violence and its psychological effect on people. However, unlike some pieces that pursue this theme, "Armor" is not overtly anti-war. Felix and his development of "The Engine" (his alternate mentality whom he uses to fight and react in extreme situations; greater explanation given below) is the most obvious example of this, but most of the other major characters are or were deeply affected by violent occurrences, including Jack Crow, Hollis Ware, and Lya.

One of the more common criticisms of "Armor" has been about its portrayal of the military bureaucracy, namely that no command structure could be so overwhelmingly incompetent and yet continue to function without revolt. However, real-world historical examples do exist of poorly planned or overly-protracted military campaigns (whether out of arrogance or desperation). It is important to note that since the primary theme of "Armor" is the nature of emotional strength, the organizational failures shown by Fleet exist primarily to accentuate the primary theme. Likewise, during the Felix portions of the novel, we never are given a clear picture of the background of the war or even of human society, save for a handful of references strewn about the book. All of this serves to eliminate unnecessary distractions from the central theme.

The Engine

A mindset of Felix, referred to as a separate entity. It is quite like the possession effect of a Norwegian Berserker, only much more mild. While Felix is frightened and anxious on the inside, the Engine takes complete control and handles the situation. When the Engine has taken over, Felix cannot respond as he normally would, and will seem to ignore insignificant events.


A sequel is currently in the works. An excerpt can be found at a fan web-page, posted with the author's consent. []

ee also

* Starship Troopers
* Old Man's War

* Robert A. Heinlein
* John Scalzi

External links

* The Official Unofficial John Steakley Site

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