Literature: Armor

"That's the problem with armor. It can't protect you from who you are."

Armor is a science fiction novel by John Steakley. It's the distant future, and humanity is embroiled in a Bug War with the implacable, incomprehensible Ants. There's an epic Space Opera backdrop, but the story takes place among the little people at ground level, for whom their own high command also seem distant and incomprehensible.

The story alternates between two plot strands.

The first follows new recruit Felix, who joins up in the hope of finding a meaningful death and an escape from his traumatic past, but discovers himself to be constitutionally incapable of giving up and letting himself get killed, no matter how hopeless the situation appears to be. He not only survives more battles than any soldier in history, but winds up collecting a whole bunch of new traumas as well.

The second, set some years later, follows mercenary Jack Crow as he infiltrates a remote space colony to help steal something from the research base there. Shortly before arriving, he encounters a derelict spaceship containing a suit of Powered Armor, and takes the armor with him as a memento; the research base's head historian, Hollis Ware, finds the suit's blackbox/recorder pod and becomes obsessed with finding out about the armor's former owner.

Armor provides examples of:

  • Absentminded Professor: Hollis Ware
  • Armchair Military: Fleet high command
  • Blessed with Suck: Felix
  • Bug War: The Antwar
  • Cannon Fodder: A large proportion of the characters
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Lewis, the founder of the space colony, appears to be a harmless drunk. He's actually ex-military, using alcohol to deal with all the trauma Felix had and then some, and once he's decided he has no other option than to come out of retirement and take on the space pirates it's pretty much all over but the shouting.
    • He has another secret as well, but that would be the spoiler of all spoilers. Read the book.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Felix
  • Death Seeker: Felix
  • Death World: Banshee, the planet Felix is posted to, would be lethally unpleasant even without the Ants.
  • Defiled Forever: This is what Karen believes about herself, leading her to seek a Destructive Romance with Jack. She also verges on Too Kinky to Torture.
  • Determinator: Felix
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Lewis
  • During the War
  • Feudal Future: Some of the planets in the backdrop have absolute monarchies with feudal trappings; it's explicitly mentioned, though, that rather than being a natural social development they were each deliberately founded by somebody with a large ego and too much money.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Jack Crow, after he discovers what Borglyn is really planning to steal.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: "The Engine", the altered mindset that keeps Felix alive in battle. As Felix puts it, the Engine "is a remarkable creature. It was a wartime creature and a surviving creature. A killing creature. The Engine is not me. It will work when I cannot. It will examine and determine and choose and, at last, act. It will do all this while I cower inside".
  • Hurting Hero: Felix
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Ants
  • Ironic Name: Felix ("happy, fortunate")
  • King Incognito: Felix is the hereditary ruler of his home planet. As far as he's concerned, he's done with all that, but his people haven't given up on finding him and persuading him to come back.
  • Noble Fugitive: see King Incognito
  • Oh Crap!: Felix's first step onto the planet Banshee. Into twelve marching rows of ants. Then too many more to recount. So much so that the Antwar is a running stream of Oh Crap!.
  • Loyal Phlebotinum: Powered armor kills anyone except its designated user. Even then, if their user is out-of-shape, it still makes them miserable.
  • Powered Armor: Standard issue for the soldiers in a few varieties. This may be a minor Shout-Out to Heinlein's Starship Troopers as well.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to the above, Felix is asked at one point if he joined the army because bugs blew up his home in South America... which means that Starship Troopers is apparently a work of fiction within the universe of Armor.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Jack Crow
  • Space Pirates: Borglyn's crew
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Karen
  • Space Opera
  • Taking You with Me: Flipping every switch on an armor's control panel to "on" overloads its safety features, triggering its power core to go Prompt Supercritical. It's used when a nuke is called for, but they can't get one.
  • Time Skip: To after the war, and Felix is drowning his sorrows on a backwater feudal world.
  • The Unfettered: The Engine, what Felix calls his drive to survive, will not let Felix die. Ever.