Armor

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You're a Heinlein fan, and you've read Starship Troopers a million times, but maybe you didn't even bother to see the movie because it didn't have the armor. Your favorite vehicle in Macross is the Cyclone and you cheered every time bullets ricocheted off Robocop. You are a powered armor freak, and you need to read this book.

Now, there are reasons to read this book other than the simple involvement of powered armor. People who need more should continue reading; some people have already clicked over to buy the thing. They're making the right move, but they may not yet understand why. But why? Because this is one of the best science-fiction books ever written. I know that if more of you were less jaded by statements like that, I'd be getting boatloads of hatemail already, but I'm prepared to back up my statement.

Armor is actually two books, although neither one is particularly long. Together, they form a fairly fat novel, 432 pages in paperback form, that will take a little while to chew through. Given that new paperbacks will run you eight bucks or so, that should be a warmly appreciated characteristic of this text, while the primary complaint is the fact that it ends.

Armor is first the story of Felix, who finds himself enlisted in the army as a Scout. Warriors are all suited, but there's two different kinds of suit used in combat. One is the basic warrior suit, which carries a few more grenades and more power than the other, the scout suit; scout suits only carry a couple of grenades (or in this story, "blaze-bombs") and have a great deal less energy than warrior suits, making up for it in speed and manouverability. Scouts are chosen to be scouts simply because they are the best.

The current enemy of mankind, as in Starship Troopers, is a bug reminiscent of a giant ant. These ants walk on two legs, and not only attack with their four forearms, but also with a directed energy weapon that projects heat. In spite of the armor being made of an amazingly strong substance ("plasteel") the ants' pincers are capable of severing the suits at joints, and are actually more effective than their heat weapon, which must be brought to bear in large numbers or for long periods of time in order to harm a suited individual. The ants (as they are called) live on Banshee, a horrendous world whose very air, soil, and water are all poisonous to man, and the humans have taken the fight to their very homeworld.

We spend half of the book with Felix, who makes his first "drop" (actually, they are teleported from the ship to the area of operations, unlike the literal drops in Starship Troopers) on Banshee as a Scout; statistically, almost no scout whose first stop is "a major" comes out alive, but Felix continually beats the odds; he is the only survivor of his first drop. At one point we switch gears rather abruptly, and we are introduced to a man named Jack Crow, who promptly breaks out of some salt mines and manages to gain refuge on an honest-to-god pirate (space) ship without giving up his identity.

It turns out that this ship is the property of one Borglyn, a massive mutant of a man who has ambitions of, among other things, keeping his ship away from the military. Borglyn and his crew deserted a battle some ways back and have since been involved primarily in two things: piracy, and running away from the fleet. Borglyn that he knows who Jack is - Jack himself is something of a pirate, with a big name and a long history. To make a short story shorter, Jack is "given the opportunity" to assist Borglyn in taking over a facility staffed with war researchers in order to refuel his craft, or take a quick trip out of an airlock.

But very significantly, his reward besides his life includes a sort of runabout-level spaceship that Borglyn found deserted on an asteroid nearby to the planet which holds his target. It holds one other thing as well; one of the pieces of powered armor, a scout suit. Jack takes this down to the planet with him as an offering to the scientists there, a sort of foot in the door; it turns out to change the course of events on the planet and shape the entire story.

Armor is perhaps one of the best-paced books I have ever read. Events never feel like they have been inserted to fill a hole, or like they should have been. Each character is well-realized and very human, with their own individual faults and personalities, and acts consistently with what we know of them. Just as importantly, both of our main protagonists are very well-written, and their actions, thoughts and dialogue are all interesting and provoking.

If you like science-fiction, read this book. If you like powered armor, read this book at least twice. I've read it probably at least ten times by now, and it doesn't appear that I'm particularly done with it.

Comments

I read this book shortly after graduating from high school and have never forgotten it. I rarely read books more than once but this one might be one of the exceptions.

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