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Armor - John Steakley

Well I've been wondering what to say about Armor. Its a scifi novel its true, but its a novel that could have been just as easily set during Vietnam or World War II, or the American Civil War or any great and momentous conflict of our time or of history. Indeed other books have been written along the same lines, but the setting on this one is on other planets and instead of Vietcong or Germans the enemy is a race of giant insectoids called 'Ants'.


John Steakley (the author) mostly seems to have used the book's genre and setting as a backdrop for larger studies on the nature of human psychological resistance under horrifying and traumatic circumstances. This is all well and good, I love it when a book can get me thinking about deep philosophical or psychological subjects like this. However, most of the rest of the book does suffer as a result of his focus on it.


Steakley's writing and focus doesn't leave much room for description. The planet Banshee, for example, gets probably the best description in the book and its still not that great. Its mentioned that the air is unbreathable, the water is toxic, the terrain is mostly sand, and it constantly shifts around making navigation by landmarks impossible. There are also apparently oceans, or large bodies of water. Thats it. Thats all we get. I wanted to know some details! Is the sky blue? Is it yellow? Is it bright neon green? I wanna know!?!


The books other prime location, a planet named Sanction, gets even less. Its mentioned that it has tree's, and rivers and such, and that it is an 'earth-like planet', but thats all we get. The physical attributes of the characters are similarly treated, we're given little or no indication what any of them look. One of them, a somewhat minor character, named Karen, is mentioned to be an attractive blond. Even this however, comes to serve that deeper plot in a slight way.


Characters backgrounds are handled a little different, however. Several of the characters do have their background and histories lined out. The aforementioned Karen, for example, has her life story summed up and skimmed over in about a page and a half to two pages, and several other characters get the same treatment.


Finally, close to the end of the book, the author unveils several interesting twists which I liked and which helped me to like this book a bit more.


The TL;DR version: The author tended to focus to much on emotional issues making them the fore point of the book, instead of side issues to be examined. The writings descriptiveness definitely leaves something to be desired, however, I did eventually bond with some of the characters and even identify with a couple of them.


The book also does a terrible job explaining things that it makes up.

For example, what exactly The Engine is is never really explained. Its a key concept of the book, and a total mystery from front to back. Maybe Steakley intended to do that in a sequel before he died, but I don't see anyone else finishing it for him.

(show spoiler)


Wikipedia says there's an excerpt of the unfinished sequel online somewhere.


A couple good twists near the end make for a fairly satisfying ending, however, it might not be worth it to slog through the rest of the book just to get to them. Somewhat boring overall.