Armor by John Steakley, the best Sci-Fi book you’ve never read.

Posted: January 16, 2011 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

Yeah, this cover sucks, that’s why it took me so long to read this book.

So when I saw the first Starship Troopers movie in theaters, I think I was the only person that was confused as to where the plot came from in regards to the source novel.  Granted that movie was a trainwreck, but it had an entirely original plot that had nothing to do with Starship Troopers the novel by Robert A. Heinlein.  Just to refresh your memory (if you even saw the flick), bugs attack South America with long distance space projectiles, humans hastily assemble a force of raw recruits, most of these recruits get slaughtered while a sole survivor (who is mistakenly recorded as dead by military records) makes it out barely alive.  This is the exact same story as the first part of John Steakley’s Armor.  The movie then departs from the book and goes to total crapdom.  The book however, develops into one of the best Sci-Fi yarns I’ve ever read.  After the intro I just described, the story changes gears and switches to the perspective of Jack Crow, famous space pirate, several years later.  This is where it gets weirder.

Jack Crow is Captain Jack Sparrow.  Besides the similarity in the name alone, Captain Jack Crow is famous for stealing an experimental ship, has a reputation as a ladies man and even tells a story about primitive people proclaiming him a god that is copied word for word in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Like most of the ideas that have been ‘borrowed’ from this story, the original version is superior.  This Captain Jack limits his buffoonery to a clever act that conceals a deep and tormented soul and when he has his heroic change of heart, it actually makes sense and moves the reader.  In fact every character in this book is like the shining paragon of what you always wanted all of these character archetypes to be.  It’s like this one author perfected the formula and everyone silently stole from it, making inferior copies, never referencing the original.

Even if it’s just some strange coincidence, this book is a must read.  Have you ever felt like you had experienced a plot a dozen times, but still hadn’t seen the perfect version?  Like the movie versions of Hamlet.  They each have their charms (even the Mel Gibson one), but none of them are quite right.  Armor is the perfect version of many stories combined.  It’s one of those stories where the author understood the human heart and soul so much that there could never be a complete adaptation in any other medium.  Track it down for pennies and get ready for a hell of a tale.

  1. Thomas Brock says:

    I have read this book multiple times, very enjoyable read. Is there a sequel of what happens to Felix, or a prequel giving more detail of his life up to this book? Would very much like to read them if they exist and are of the same quality of writing.

    Thanks, Tom Brock

    • ryanlecocq says:

      I hate to break your heart as many fan’s have already broken, but John Steakley died last year before completing the long awaited sequel. There was one chapter published on his webpage that you can still find if you google “Armor 2 John Steakley.”

      The saddest part is it does look just as good as the first, even from a few short pages. Also a shame is that Steakley was in discussion with the Sci Fi channel for an Armor miniseries, that will also likely never come.

      • fred says:

        I don’t know that I would be sad about not having an Armor series on Syfy. I doubt they would give it the funding to actually do it right.

      • ryanlecocq says:

        Agreed. I’m actually hoping that a premium network like FX or Showtime takes an interest in space shows. It would be great to see properties like Armor made in proper TV-MA, big-budget format. That would be a great place for Star Trek to go too. The reboot movie series wouldn’t work on cable, but a miniseries on a premium network would totally work. Also, there needs to be a highly violent Wolverine cartoon with really high-budget animation on a premium channel. I would watch it. Yeah, off topic a bit there, but Armor is definitely a series that would be a trainwreck on Syfy.

  2. I love this book. One of my all time favorites.

  3. Dan-0 says:

    This is a shame to learn. Armor is my favorite book of all times. A true classic, a requirered reading at West Point a friend of mine that graduated tells me. i always waited the next book. Sorry to hear that will never be….

  4. Daniel Stephens says:

    While I agree that the book was awesome, in no way is the movie starship troopers from that. If anything you might say steakley took the basic premise of the aliens in starship troupers and expanded on it, and made it about the people. Where as the Heinlein story was a social.political.etc commentary.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      While I welcome any differing opinions, there is a lot of evidence I listed in the above post. Several key plot points in the movie were changed from the original novel and instead followed Armor’s plot. It’s not just one or two things, the entire drive of the plot is changed. Not only is the idea of Johnny Rico being incorrectly reported deceased borrowed, but the entire structure of the MI in the movie is taken from Armor. Also the conflict has been changed from resource-based to just a plot device to drive character development.

  5. Chris J says:

    Armor is one of those books/stories that was WAY ahead of its time. I first read this book in 1985 after I rummaged through my fathers books. I found a reprinted copy at a Books A Million 23 years later and still couldn’t wait to read it again! I agree FX, SHOWTIME or even HBO would extend the budget to allow any SMART producer the means to make this novel to life. I would be interested to see what Peter Jackson could do with a story like this? Especially if he partnered up the visual effects team from Transformers. Sound like a winner to you? JR R Tolkein has been gone a long time and his masterpieces made it to ” live action ” .

    • ryanlecocq says:

      Sorry it took me so long to approve and reply to your post Chris. I’ve been really busy and haven’t had time for my hobbies. While I really enjoyed the LOTR films (despite and often because of the changes from the books), I don’t know about Peter Jackson for Armor. Since he was at one time connected with the Halo movie and Halo borrows so much from Armor, I think people would call it a Halo ripoff. Which would be ironic and sad.

      I don’t actually know who I would want to direct. I would want it to be someone who was a fan. Maybe I should just pitch it to HBO myself. Brice and I are both huge fans and halfway decent writers, at least compared to television standards.

  6. Saint 93 says:

    What they should do is have someone finish the book for him like Orson Scott Card who has experience writing similar stories. That way his final story could be read for all his fans.

    • Carlo says:

      I agree Card has great experience and would be one of the best people to finish the book for him.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      It’s possible that authors may be interested in finishing the sequel, but the family or whoever owns rights is reluctant. Although Armor is somewhat of a cult classic, It’s known enough in some circles that there must be interest.

    • Jeff Parker says:

      Steakley and Card had a bit of a tiff, so I doubt that would happen. Steakley claimed that during the voting for whichever Sci-Fi of the Year award they were up for (Armor and Ender’s Game), Card had the committee briefly disqualify Armor from the running because it seemed to be ahead, thereby causing voters to forget about the novel when it got reinstated days before the award was granted. He was fairly public about his dislike for Card, and I am sure Card was aware of it.

  7. Bryce says:

    If Card would to finish it i think it would be amazing. Flat out amazing.

  8. Ryan says:

    Armor and Ender’s Game are my two favorite books of all-time. I would be ecstatic if Orson Scott Card would finish the sequel for John Steakley.

    Also, from browsing through the Official Unofficial John Steakley site, I saw somewhere that he had sent 20+ pages to the site owner at one point. That’s quite a bit more than the excerpt on the site, so I think there may be a ‘significant’ amount of work down on paper for the sequel. I hope the family allows someone to complete John’s work.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      I hate to keep playing devil’s advocate, but I still think that Card is reaching. The bigger the name involved, the harder it will be to ever see the project realized. Also, although I’m a huge fan of Orson Scott Card, his writing style is different from Steakley’s by a fair bit. I ask myself if what I really want is more of the same characters, or more of the same writing and I have to say it’s the latter.

      The best case scenario I can see is if there are any writers in the Steakley family already. This was the solution that neatly solved rights issues for both the Dune and Middle Earth franchises when the families of the deceased authors collaborated with well known genre authors to publish the unfinished work. In that scenario I could see a partnership with Card being possible.

  9. Leseyk says:

    Jack Sparrow was a total rip-off of Jack Crow. Jack Crow > Jack Sparrow
    Steakley family isn’t going to sue for copyright infringement?

    I found Armor in some bookstore for under a dollar, and thought it looked good (newer cover looks way better). Knowing how good the book is now, I still would have gotten a great deal if I had paid 20x the price.

  10. Mark says:

    I have read this book 3x and I want my son to read it too. I was choked up reading the end of Felix’ story. It is interesting how the armor in this story is slowly being constructed in the real world. Will we be alive to see it come alive? This is a great book and i wish there was more of Felix in it. Maybe the Steakley family will release Armor 2.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      I’m actually starting to wonder if I should start a site dedicated to a petition for this purpose. This article has been so popular and I’ve received so many comments and messages that it’s starting to outgrow this blog. When you search for “Armor John Steakley” on google, this site comes up in the top results. I didn’t set out to be the president of the Armor fan club, but if there is really this much outcry for it, maybe we should start one.

  11. Mark says:

    I am in agreement. The families of great writers like John Steakley and David Feintuch hold the last works these writers ever made and for some reason they don’t want anyone to publish them. I’d be happy with 50% of a book written by the dead author and the rest done by a ghost writer so long as we can get some closure. Am I being selfish?

  12. Kevin says:

    I just read the book again after I finally convinced my gf to read it. I’ve only read it once back in 84/85. I was only 12 or 13. Pretty young to absorb it all and I realized just how much I didn’t remember after the second read.
    However it has never been far from my mind. The Antwar mostly and Felix. The Jack Crow part, which is the meat of the book, didn’t really stick in my young mind.
    I have to say it was emotionally moving for me then, and was the second time I read it. And that’s why it hung with me so long.
    I can’t describe how incredibly sad I feel to just now find out that John Steakly passed away 3 years ago. A man I never met. It has had the same profound effect on me emotionally as the book has.

    I too am in full support of reading anything of a sequel he has written. I found 8 pages, quite the teaser. I think there shouldn’t be much trouble finding a talented writer who is also a fan that could finish the project respectfully and adequately. Trouble would be convincing the writer and more importantly, the family.

    I am not sure a movie would do it justice in 2 hrs. It would be better served as a mini series on HBO or some such like Game of Thrones. As long as they didn’t alter it much. It’s dramatic enough as it is. Violently graphic too. Maybe a graphic writer would be a good addition to any future ‘team’ of writers strictly for the Antwar.

    I do have to disagree, and say that the first cover was superior to the second. I spent a lot of time spacing off looking at the cover art wrapped around the spine and across the back. A decent interpretation of the Ants and the armor itself. And Banshee even. Wasn’t there a line of an endless horde of Ants on the back too?

    The second cover looks too much like Starship Troopers and as far as I understand it, the helmet does not come off by itself. Just looks like an artists interpretation of a book they didn’t read. But, its a moot point, and a dead end discussion.

    Sorry for the long post, I just wanted to express sorrow for the loss of John Steakly and my support as this being one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read many.

  13. M Crowe says:

    Hands down my favorite book of all time. I love the story on the surface, but it also resonates with me in a way that no other story ever has. I would love to read or watch more of Felix, but part of me is hesitant. Many times these great stories can be tarnished by a bad movie interpretation or even a sequel that doesn’t quite carry the same weight. I want to know the truth behind the Ant War and what happens to Felix, but part of the fun is not knowing and leaving it to my imagination.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      It looks like you may not have to worry. You may notice on the main page that I’ve started a second blog devoted to a petition for an Armor 2 or Armor movie because so many people were messaging me from this article. So far it’s stalled in the works. I tried to contact the late Mr. Steakley’s publishing agent and the email was dead. I tried several of the companies who had published his work, trying to locate his agent and got no replies. Besides harassing his family, I may be out of options.

      • Chris Jones says:

        Here’s a suggestion…why not solicit the same folks that dd the Starship Troopers CGI movies to create either a CGI movie or mini- series based on the book OR approach the company that produced the HALO: Forward Unto Dawn live action movie? You never know especially with all of the movies appearing that are based on books.

  14. ryanlecocq says:

    I am not in any way affiliated with John Steakley’s family or publisher. I would like to know who has the original manuscript for Armor 2, the rumored Armor movie script or the rights to make them reality. I really would do this for all the fans. The problem is that John Steakley was like Jack Reacher or something and lived a life of adventure and mystery. Hell, for all I know, he’s still alive somewhere and hiding out like Robert Duvall and Michael Caine in Secondhand Lions, gripping the movie rights in one hand and his shotgun in the other.

  15. R.P. says:

    The… cover… sucks? Are you out of your mind? I hope you’re being sarcastic because that’s one of the best novel covers of all time. Oh well, at least you recognize the book for what it is — a damned good read.

  16. ryanlecocq says:

    I guess we have a lot of fans of the original Armor cover coming out of the woodwork. I approve of your disagreement. People shouldn’t agree about everything, that’s why I’m not religious.

    I just wanted to update since people still read this article and send emails to the sister blog I created for news about reviving Armor 2 or the movie rights. There is an impassable wall of “nobody knows what happened to them” around all of Steakley’s Armor materials. If you attempt to contact anyone connected to Steakley, you will most likely get no response or find that the phone number or email was long ago disabled. One time I managed to get a really generic response from the law firm that handled his affairs at one point, from someone who used to know his lawyer. It was pretty much useless, told me the family probably had it and it was the only response I got. I like to believe he was buried gripping the manuscripts in his hands.

    Sorry folks, I think there isn’t anywhere else to take this quest. The man wanted it to die with him and I have to respect that.

  17. Jeff Diseker says:

    Just wish they would make a movie with today’s technology. Would be great.

    • ryanlecocq says:

      Agreed Jeff. I may make another attempt to contact his estate and see if they’re more interested in replying with all the other old scifi books being made into movies. Money is very motivating.

      I didn’t realize when I wrote this article that trying to find the inheritors of John Steakley’s book and movie rights was going to be one of my life goals. I want it just as bad as you do, just thought it would have happened by now.

      • Mark Stryker says:

        It would be great if you could. If they are not motivated by the money they may be interested in sending the money to a charitable organization or a cat sanctuary or something.

        With today’s technology and the trend of Hollywood to go for planetary invasion this book would make an amazing movie.

      • ryanlecocq says:

        I actually made a new attempt immediately after replying to Jeff’s comment a few minutes ago. This time I tried contacting DAR, the subsidiary of Penguin books that actually publishes reprints of Armor. Previously I contacted Penguin and Syfy (after first trying to contact Steakley’s past lawyer and his family), neither of whom replied. Actually, I lie, Syfy sent me a useless canned response. Fingers crossed.

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