Steven Wu's Book Reviews
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Armor
by John Steakley

A book review by Steven Wu
http://www.scwu.com/bookreviews/
September 06, 2001

Rating: 6 (of 10)

My opinion of this book, like the book itself, is divided. About half of this book recounts the battle experiences of a man named Felix, who attacks enormous killer bugs (similar to the bugs in Heinlein's Starship Troopers) while encased in an incredibly powerful full-body suit (the eponymous "armor"). Felix's story is not by any stretch of the imagination a character-driven one: Felix's character barely changes through most of it, and instead Steakley spends most of his time describing battle after battle in which Felix takes part. However, Steakley's battle descriptions are excellent. Felix doesn't have the most stunning variety of attack moves, but Steakley rarely descends to the ridiculous synonyms for "hit," "dodge," and "shoot" that lesser authors often use. And the final battle scene is a virtuoso set piece in prose. Even more impressively, Steakley is able to evoke a believable sense of weariness and detachment in Felix despite describing, often in visceral detail, the skirmishes Felix engages in. And Steakley doesn't shy away from death, either--I don't think a single character that Steakley introduces in the first chapter survives, except for Felix himself.

Unfortunately, the other part of Armor--which deals with a final mission by a legendary space pirate named Jack Crow--is tiresome. All of the characters, including Crow, act in inexplicable ways. Despite Steakley's best attempts, none of them ever seemed real enough to me. Part of the problem was that, although all of the characters were cliches, their inner motivations were always obscure. The action in this part of the book is also badly explained--I got lost a couple of times trying to reason out what exactly one of the characters was doing. And the final revelation--a "surprise" that links the two parts of the book more closely than one would have thought--is both completely predictable and utterly implausible.

Armor is not a bad book, but it's hardly a great one. Felix's story almost, but not quite, overcomes the tedium of Jack Crow's.

Copyright © 2001 Steven Wu

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