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Literature / Armor

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"That's the problem with armor. It can't protect you from who you are."
Armor is a 1984 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
  • The Ace:
    • Played with in the case of Nathan Kent, who is awesomely skilled with a suit of powered armor, not to mention handsome and extremely charismatic — and has never been anywhere near actual combat, except for brief and carefully stage-managed publicity exercises, because he's far too useful as a propaganda icon to let him go and get killed. For a while it seems like he's a Fake Ultimate Hero, but it turns out he's really as good as his image suggests, which just makes it worse that the high command have made such poor use of him.
    • Played straight with Forrest, who placed second to Kent in the Armored Olympics, which just means she's the very first one the commanders call on to do every impossible mission. Felix believes she's the best fighter he's ever seen, even better than him. It's just enough to get her killed in the end.
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  • Action Bomb: 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.
  • Alien Blood: Ant blood is black.
  • Arm Cannon: Warrior class Power armor carries an integrated "blazer" rifle in each forearm. They're fired by going limp-wristed at whatever a marine's aiming at. Scout suits have to make do with rifles, however.
  • Armchair Military: Fleet high command
  • Blessed with Suck: Felix is a Death Seeker whose fighting instincts are too good to allow him to die.
  • Bling of War: The Masao wears gold armor.
  • Bug War: The Antwar
  • Cannon Fodder: A large proportion of the characters
  • Covers Always Lie: The novel states that suits have a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher. Covers invariably do not have it.
  • 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 joined the military to get away from his past.
  • Death Seeker: Felix
  • Death World: Banshee, the planet Felix is posted to, would be lethally unpleasant even without the Ants. It's a desert that's so cold that the smallest hole in one's armor would result in rapidly freezing to death.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype:
    • With Felix, the One-Man Army Invincible Hero: War Is Hell and his mind couldn't take it, creating a Split Personality that can kill its way to victory with ease, but cares absolutely nothing about friend nor foe in its quest to survive. Furthermore, the military's Vast Bureaucracy doesn't realize they're sending him back over and over, or even that he's alive (Felix's entire battalion died on its first scramble, he was listed as dead along with the rest, and they never bother to delete the names of the dead from the automated call-up lists), and tosses Felix again and again into deadly scenarios where he becomes more traumatized.
    • Nathan Kent is The Ace almost to the level of Always Someone Better, and even Felix swoons over the guy. The deconstruction is that high command also doesn't believes he can be that good and cannot afford to have him risk his life and die and demoralize the troops, turning him into a Propaganda Hero instead much to Kent's own disgust.
  • Deconstruction: Felix's narrative bears a lot of similarities to Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, namely soldiers fighting a Bug War on a Death World in high-tech Powered Armor. Armor, however, seems to be what happens if you mash that novel up with the Vietnam War: the reasons and goals of the war are unclear, and it's told from the perspective of a single ground-pounder for whom the enemy appears demoralizingly persistent, ruthless, and unstoppable. Meanwhile, Felix gets a series of disjointed missions from upper brass who seem so out of touch with the conditions on the ground that they're as incomprehensible as the Ants themselves. And just like in Vietnam, it's strongly implied the Ants won.
  • 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. Deconstructed because even when he actually wanted to break, his mind absolutely refused, creating a Split Personality that takes over when the shell shock becomes too much for him to be effective in a fight instead.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Allie dies in Felix's arms after his suit is punctured on Banshee.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Lewis's reason for being an alcoholic.
  • During the War
  • Energy Weapons: Standard issue weaponry is the Blazer, a sort of incendiary ray gun. Their grenades use it as well, so it may be a Plasma Cannon.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: The Masao's culture is clearly based on Feudal Japan.
  • 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.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Allie is short for Alejandro. Similarly, Hollis is usually referred to as Holly.
  • 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".
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Felix and Allie have been very close since infancy and shared most of the major events in their lives. Allie came to Banshee to try and bring Felix back to his people.
  • Hurting Hero: Felix
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Ants
    • Also the Lyndrill, who are a different sort of bug.
  • Inspiration Nod: This novel is a response to Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Felix is asked at one point if he joined the army because bugs blew up his home in South America, which is occurred in Heinlein's novel and was the motivation for the main character's father to join the Mobile Infantry.
  • 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.
  • Lap Pillow: During a mental breakdown prompted by Allie reminding him of his past, Felix attempts to commit suicide on Banshee by unsealing his armor, and Allie pins him down to stop him. Felix then eventually falls asleep and they end up like this.
  • Loyal Phlebotinum: Because it's custom-designed to fit with incredibly close tolerances, Powered armor kills anyone that tries to put it on except its designated user. Even then, if their user is out-of-shape, it still makes them miserable.
  • Meaningful Name: The dwarf crewman Jack murders while escaping prison is named "Praun." Jack called him "the Shrimp" due to his short stature.
  • Melting-Pot Nomenclature: Alejandro Jorges Umemoto.
  • Neck Lift: Borglyn does this to Crow to let him know what will happen if Jack double-crosses him.
  • Nice Guy: Nathan Kent is one.
  • 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!.
  • Only One Name: "Just Felix."
  • Planet Baron: Several planets, including Masao and Golden, are ruled as absolute monarchies. The Masao of Masao and the Golden Archon, the respective autocrats of those two planets, both appears as characters in the novel.
  • Powered Armor: Standard issue for the soldiers in a few varieties.
  • Shoulder Cannon: Power suits have a grenade launcher on one shoulder.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Jack Crow is a legendary space pirate, although it becomes clear that most of his exploits are greatly exaggerated.
  • 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.