Felix took the blaze-rifle, the blazer, from the slot in the long row which had a number to match the one pulsing inside his helmet. He checked it for charge, attached it to his back. Scout suits, much smaller than standard issue, had no blazer capacity built in. Scouts carried rifles used by open-air troops for thirty years. Also, they had fewer blaze-bombs-only nine as opposed to the two dozen the warriors carried. Scouts must be fleet, must be able to realize their much greater potential for speed and agility. And, where warrior suits bore different colors for rank and group, all scouts were black. Flat black. Dull, non-shiny, space black.
The book by John Steakley is a classic military sci-fi, written in 1984. Unlike many other military sci-fis enjoying success, it is a stand alone book, not part of a series. Steakley was working on a second book, when he died in 2010.
The story is divided into three parts. In the first part, we find Felix, a scout in the Earth’s military, orbiting Banshee, a hostile planet infested by giants aliens called Ants, very similar in behavior with the Earth’s ones. Against all odds, he survives twenty or so drops on the planet, invasions aimed at eradicating the alien infestation. Felix manages to survive, by allowing a kind of a second personality, the Engine, to take his place during the battle.
The second storyline follows a space pirate called Jack Crow. He strikes a deal with a mutineer captain to infiltrate and subvert a research colony, where he finds Felix’s armour, many years after Felix’s storyline.
The third part, the ending, is moving. It is intensely emotional, when Jack Crow finds the story of Felix, his loneliness, desperation and hopelessness during the Antwar and his motivations. The closing scenes are heart-wrenching.
The book takes some elements from Starship Troopers, but remains a beautiful narrative, at times melancholic, at times bursting with action. I finished it in the early hours of a morning, but it left me empty and sad. I think a story is good if it touches the reader and this book touched me.