31 March 2012

FWS Armory: The Submachine Gun

If you grew up in the 1980's, like I did, the submachine gun seemed to the coolest gun on the planet, and it was linked to Special Forces due to media sateration. This created the general public's prepection of  counterterrorism operations or hostage rescue, or even the local metropolitan  SWAT team being kitted out in black gear and in their hands was sound suppressed submachine gun, most likely, the MP5. In reality,up until recently, the submachine gun. especially the MP5, was the cornerstone weapon-of-choice for counterterrorism operations, SWAT teams, and action movie star, but that is beginning to change with the assault commando-length carbine taking their place. In this blogpost, FWS will explore the submachine gun, from its history, to the MP5, and the dim future for the SMG, along with the subs of sci-fi.   

The Defination of an SMG

Submachine guns are compact, fully automatic weapons smaller than a typical assault/battle rifle that chambers a pistol cartridge. The best examples are the H&K MP5 that fires the 9x19mm round and the WWII era Thompson M1A1 SMG that fired the powerful .45 ACP also found in the Colt 1911 pistol. Some works label the FN P90 and H&K MP7 as SMGs, however, these new breed of weapons are actually personal defense weapons, which chamber a specially designed high-velocity round that defeats body armor. SMGs also differ from the assault carbine or the even shorter 'commando 'carbines, like the AKS-74U. These weapons chamber an a typical assault rifle .30 caliber round over a lower-power pistol cartridge.

The History of the SMG

The original of the concept behind the submachine gun began during the Spanish-American War, when John T. Thompson witnessed the awsome power of the Galting Gun. His goal from then on, was to develop an auto-rife for the infantryman. While Thompson was still in the Army, he led the R&D on the auto-rifle until 1914, when he left the Army over their unwillness to see the fire of such a weapon. One of the primary technical hurels was solved in 1915 from the a patent by Bill Blish on reloading heavy naval guns via blowback gases. 
Prototypes of the auto-rifle, called the Annihilator One  were taken to Chicago to test cartridge on live cattle and dead bodies, leading to the useage of the .45 ACP due to extremely short-range effective, especially when fired at 110 RPM. The idea was to use the compact weapon as a 'trench broom' that would sweep it clean of enemy targets. The few hundred prototypes of the Annihilator One were readied to be shipped on November 11th, 1918, the day the war ended. So, the Thompson that were to go to the front, instead sat on a Pier in New York.  
Instead, the first submachine gun used in combat during the Great War, was the 9mm  Maschinenpistole 18/I  (MP-18).
The German Army saw a need for a special weapon that could be used in the close quarters combat conditions of trench warfare, and around 1915, they attempted to retrofit their Mauser C96 pistol for fully automatic fire, however, this did not work as well as they hoped. Instead, they turned to Theodor Bergmann's company to develop an entire new type of compact fully-automatic fire weapon, and one of the key engineers on the project was Hugo Schmeisser, the father of the STG44 and its shortened cartridge.
Between WWI and WWII, most of the major militarises explored fielding their own SMGs, while the Mp18 was updated and the Thompson SMG was shopping around the USA for law enforcement sales, but instead was it was bought the Irish Republic Army and the Chicago gangs. During these dark days of SMGs, some were used in combat by the US Marines in their operations in Nicaragua in the 1920's and 1930's.
World War II became the high water mark for the submachine gun, being that there more SMGs were used in that war than any other since. It seemed that every major power field their own SMG to the frontlines, the basic Sten of the British Empire, the superior MP40 of the 3rd Reich, the Italian Army Beretta Model 38, the PPsH-41 of the USSR. But, it was gun that the US Army didn't original want that was shipped around the global to friendly forces, the Thompson M1 military grade SMG. While the Thompson earned an iconic status in the minds of most people, it was officially replaced by the much simpler (and cheaper) M3 Grease Gun by the time of the Korean War, and saw its last war in 1991during Desert Storm operation. The Colt M4 assault carbine would replace the M3 officially in the mid-90's. 
The postwar decades of the1950's and 1960's were not the best of times for SMGs, given that most militarise were adopting assault rifles. However, one of the best subs and most iconic ever to be developed was field in 1954: the UZI. The UZI was designed by Major Uziel Gal in the late 1940's and officially adopted by the IDF in 1954 as their standard submachine gun, and primarily used by artillery, armored, and SOF units. A number of variants were manufactured over the decades that UZIs served in military units along with various calibers, and was only officially replaced by the IDF in 2003 by the IMI Micro-TAR assault commando carbine. The UZI gained international attention during the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, when the US Secret Service agents pulled out UZIs (the Secret Service uses FN P90s today).  While the UZI was the SMG that sold the most copies in the 1960's through the 1980's, it was a German sub that dominated the remaining era of the submachine gun: the Heckler & Koch MP5 (There is a complete history of the H&K MP5 below this section). 
While the MP5 was rapidly becoming the global choice for SMG, it was during the 1980's that several firearms companies, Colt and Steyr specifically, attempted to counter the viral spread of the H&K MP5 by retrofitting some of their more popular weapons to fire 9mm. Colt took their shortened 10inch barrel M16 'Commando' and transformed it into the Colt 635 SMG that was used by the USMC and the DEA for a time. The Austrian firearms company, Steyr, took their 5.56mm AUG assault bullpup rifle and created a 9x19mm  SMG version in 1988, called the AUG Para, which is still being produced. The thought was, that operators that normally used the M16/AUG could use a SMG variant without any need of extra training or loss of muscle memory. Oddly, this is one of the reason that the shortened 'commando' variants of assault rifles have been replaced the MP5 SMG since the the 2000's. Sadly, the glory days of World War II and the 1980's for the submachine gun came to a close. Today, few nations or special police units field the aging SMG, they have turned to either assault carbines or the even shorter, 'commando' length weapons. The weapon that really took their place was the cousin to the SMG: the Personal Defense Weapon.  

Why is the SMG dying out?

1. Competition-If we take the example of the MP5, it's own company, H&K, has developed two weapons that directly competed with their own product: the MP7 and the UMP. In addition, the FN submachine gun, the P90, also competed with the aging MP5. H&K felt that the MP5 had achieved all it could, and that it was time for the MP7 and the UMP to take its place.

2. The Spread of Body Armor-The 9x19mm round is effective against targets without body-armor, especially when delivered by the MP5. However, in recent years, the effectiveness of the 9mm round has lessened, to the point that the US military is adopting a .45 H&K pistol to replace the M9 pistol, and boxing their stock of MP5s.
One of the issues that lead H&K to develop the .45 UMP and 4.6mm MP7 was the spread of body-armor. Now, cheaper body-armor can defeat the 9mm round, allowing for the target to return fire, however the 5.7mm, 4.6mm, and the .45 found in the MP5’s competitors, do defeat body-armor. When an operator or SWAT officer assault in CQC, the moment between life and death is a heartbeat away, and often, all the shot placement in the world cannot do you any good if you cannot make the target bleed. This was demonstrated in this Future Weapons video:

3. The rise of the Assault Carbine/Commando-With these new wars and new combat environments, soldiers cannot switch their rifle for an MP5 most of the time, when the soldier must engage a target in CQC, they cannot be fighting with the length of their weapon along with the enemy. The MP5 is deadly in CQC, but on the street, the 9mm round lacks the punch and range to be an effective an open combat.
At times, a soldier must engage targets in an open urban environment, and then purse the target into a building in a moment’s notice, where there is no time or no ability to switch from their rifle to an SMG. To answer this, most army’s are switching from an assault rifle to an assault carbine with barrels that are about 14 inches in length. In addition, the assault carbine uses a full-sized rifle round that can defeat body armor. When SWAT teams and CQC operators, like DELTA and the DEVGRU, began to replace their MP5 for weapons like the Colt M4 and the M4-CQBR models, it was major nail in the coffin of the SMG/MP5. At times, the assault carbine is not the best tactical choice, due to close quarters, vehicle operations, or close protection duty, these SPECOPS soldiers turn to SMG-sized variants of their familiar assault carbine that feature 10 to 11 inch barrels, like the H&K 416 CQC variant and the M4 CQBR. Some sources have labeled this SMG sized carbines, 'commando'length carbines.

4. The Decrease in the market share-The MP5 was vastly popular in the 1980’s and 90’s, with sales to many organizations, and about 80 nations, and most of the world’s SWAT, CQC Operator, and close-protection service. However, due to the quality of the MP5 and its specific mission usage, the weapon is often bought once and not again. Plus, the weapon does not tend to be used to a high degree or often, making an MP5 a long-term item. With the spread of body-armor, assault carbines, and new caliber SMGs, the MP5 dropped in sales, and H&K is a business that most focus on making a profit, and the MP5 was not.

The Best there was: the H&K MP5

The Maschinenpistole 5 was developed in 1964 from basically cutting down the G3 rifle into chamber the 9x19mm pistol round. At the time, SMG were not a big part of any military planning, and the UZI dominated the market that there was for one. The West German Border Police was the first to accept the weapon, in 1966, and then the counter-terrorism GSG9 adopted it around 1972, after the terrible events at Munich. This was just in time for the GSG9 use it in the daring 1977 rescue of all 86 hostages from the Flight 181 Lufthansa in Mogadishu. This gave the MP5 a mad street cred, and caused the British SAS operators to adopt the weapon, due to the close working relationship that the SAS and GSG9 shared.
On May 5, 1980, the SAS was called to end the hostage crisis at the Iranian Embassy, and the SAS teams used their MP5 SMG to kill five of the six terrorists. This event was partly seen on TV, and caused every major CT unit and Police force to ring up H&K about that little 9mm wonder. I have read that during the mid-1980's, H&K could not keep up with the orders that floored in.
During the 1980’s and 90’s, the MP5 was king, in both CQC and movies, you could not be cool without an MP5 spraying out 9mm! This even caused toy companies to build toy-guns, I even had battery-powered water gun version, and one that fired caps! (Remember those days?)The MP5 was developed in over 23 forms, with the MP5A3 (collapsible stock), MP5A3SD (collapsible stock built-in suppressor),MP5K (PDW version), and MP5N (the US Navy version.) are the four most popular. In 1992, H&K re-chambered the MP5 for .40 S&W and 10mm for the FBI HRT teams, and special agents, the FBI bought 1400 MP5s for their armories. Tom Clancy had his CT unit, Rainbow Six, use the MP5/10, but called it the MP10. This version was really a limited production for the FBI and few other US CT groups used the MP5/10/40, but fewer than 2000 were sold, and in 2000, H&K cancelled production, but not support of the 10mm and .40 S&W versions.
The MP5 was retooled for the civilian gun market has the H&K94 to compel with US gun laws. The MP5 is still being used by personal security companies, SWAT teams, and some counterterrorism all over the world, but it is slowly being phased out in favor of PDWs, carbines, and commando-length carbines.
Why was the Heckler & Koch MP5 the most popular sub-machinegun in the world? I'm glad you asked! Here are four answers:

1. Easy of Use-On fully-automatic, the MP5 allows for the user to make good hit placement, due to its delayed blowback recoil operated roller-locked bolt that fires from a closed position coupled with a relativity small round. It has proved over and over in combat to be very accurate and reliable, even under the worse conditions and situations, and requires little maintenance. Another element, is the feel of the weapon in the hand, I firmly believe that the MP5 has the best feel and natural placement of items on the sub. Like the controls for HALO, it is a natural organic feeling of the MP5 over things like the M16 and AK47, which make the weapon user-friendly. In addition, there 23 versions of the MP5, allowing for customizing the weapon for a specific role and/or client.

2. Effectiveness-The MP5 is able to be fired on full-auto, and not suffer from spray the wall, and this ability to aim and unload allows the MP5 to be deadly in CQC. Shot placement in the certain ends the hostile encounter quickly, and allows the mission to move forward, speed is a key factor in CQC.

3. The “Cool Factor”-During the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s, it seemed that every SWAT team, CT unit, SEAL, and over-muscled movie star used the little Sub that could. In my opinion that was in large part, due to the weapon being trendy. If you did not wielded a MP5, as a SWAT officer, than you were just not has cool. Helped by more movies than you name, and later by video games like RAINBOW 6, the MP5 gained worldwide acceptance.

4. Battle Tested-Two events pushed the MP5 into the world stage, the 1977 GSG9 rescue of hostages in Mogadishu and the 1980 SAS hostage rescue from the Iranian Embassy in London, Operation Nimrod. These events showed how the MP5 could be used with deadly effectiveness to terminate terrorists and rescue hostages in the role of Counter-terrorism. This pushed every major CT unit and SWAT team in the world to buy the MP5.

The Future of SMGs

For the most part, the glory days of the sub is over, the PDW and commando-length carbine are taking over. However, one of the bright spots in the dying world of SMGs is the KRISS Vector .45 ACP submachine gun, which was featured in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 causing the global awareness of the SMG. 
This little compact weapon features a 5.5 inch barrel, and unique recoil dambing system called Super-V,  that allows the .45 ACP to be used like the 9mm MP5, allowing the shooter to knock down targets with the powerful round at 1100 RPM. Recently, the KRISS Super V SMG won as the best CQC weapon on the Military Channel due to its controllable and cartridge.

SMGs in Science Fiction

During my research into the use of SMGs in sci-fi, I discovered that the vast majority of submachine guns used in science fiction works are either redressed current real-steel SMGs (like the MP5), are badly misplaced in the fictional world or they are actually Personal Defense Weapons. given that SMGs were uber cool in the 1980's and a symbol of Special Operations Forces, Sci-Fi creators attempted to tap into that common cultural stereotype, even when these short-range, limited firepower weapons are tactically unsound, like in the 1994 film Stargate and 1987's Predator. Also, there is another common mistake that science fiction makes when showing futuristic SMGs, they are actually personal defense weapons, like when Bungie mislabel their own caseless M7 as an SMG in the HALO 2 game manual, when it is clearly a PDW.
Another interesting item I found while researching this topic was the limited number of SMGs in science fiction as a whole. My theory is that some creators of sci-fi works,  Also, most sci-fi creators are not thinking along military lines when they develop the weapons of their characters (Both Nigel and I do), and I don't even think it crosses their minds.  A question that popped up when I was writing about SMGs, could there be directed energy weapon submachine gun? Could a particle, plasma, or even laser weapon be designed to fire less powerful, but fully automatic fire bolts or beams that were equal to the output of an DEW pistol?


Crysis 2

In the video game Crysis 2, on of the more interesting gun, and my personal favorite, is the Crynet built K-Volt. This little weapon fires 4mm electrostatic pellets, jolting its target with doses of electricity to either stun or kill (much like the TASER from Syphon Filter). In the game, the K-Volt is one of the best gun to kill alien squid with.
Several sources cited that the K-Volt is being a submachine gun, but I trouble believing that. If anything, the K-Volt is a PDW.

In the ROBOTECH RPG, the Steyr M-36 "Badger" was introducted in 2020, chambering the 9x21mm "Largo" round, and was the standard SMG of the REF and Southern Cross Global Military Police. However, during the M-36 was phased out by the surviving Southern Cross units as well as the REF, due to the lack of effectiveness against their armored exoskeleton battle armor. However, the remains of human civilization did still use the Badger to defend themselves against their own kind.  


There are no less than three seperate SMGs in the Killzone games universe. The first is the M66-SD that chambers an 7.62x33mm subsonic round and seems to be the weapon-of-choice for the ISA's elite intelligence gathering agents, the Shadow Marshals. One of the interesting elements of the M-66SD in the original game, was that the player could have the option of selecting either a single-shot sound suppressed fire mode, or a full-automatic, full noise mode. This could be an advance in 23rd century weapon technology that saves the sound suppressor from thermal damage. The only issue about the M-66SD is that it does not fire the same caliber as the M4 semi-automatic pistol (from the original game), which is a 9x19mm round. (Which I doubt, given the effect of the powerful cartridge), making the M-66SD a PDW.
The other SMGs used by the ISA is the LS57 SMG that fires the 9mm round, making it a true submachine gun, but is only used in multiplayer and seems based on the H&K MP5.
The Helghast primary SMG is the Stahl Arms StA-11 that fires the same pistol round as the StA-18, the 9.2x20mm in the ammo cylinder drum. The StA-11, like all weapons in the Killzone games takes design elements from the Russian AKS-74U and the PP-19 Bizon.

Mass Effect

Submachine guns are featured in the far future universe of Mass Effect in the second and third game. I never used the SMG in Mass Effect because I was a 'soldier' class player. Once again, there is a sci-fi creator that does not understand the basic definition of the term submachine gun, because the shaved nano-block projectile is not, mostly likely, reduced in size to be akin to a pistol nano-round. It is more likely that the SMGs in Mass Effect are actually PDWs, due to their design usage, and the fact, that the soldier class cannot use them.

Stargate SG1 and Stargate (1994) and Stargate Universe

For the first four seasons of Stargate SG1, the team carried the H&K MP5A3, until it was replaced by the FN P90 PDW. In the 1994 film, a majority of the Air Force team that first crossed the stargate was armed with variants of the MP5 SMG. This would make sense for the time, everyone that was anyone simply had to carry an MP5. Not to mention that the MP5 was the choice for counterterrorism missions and missions needing sound suppression. But the use of an SMG for off-world exploration, especially when the threat of hostile alien showed up, is frankly a bad move, an assault carbine would have a better, more logical choice. After the fourth season, SG-1 teams begin to carry the more powerful FN P90. In the latest Stargate series, Universe, the humans seen in the series use the H&K UMP .45 ACP in several episodes.    

Turok (2008)

In the failed attempt to reboot the aging Turok video game series, there is an rather cool SMG, the ORO FP9 submachine gun. This SMG strongly resembles the Seburo 5mm C25, from the from the original manga, that fires the Seburo M5 5mm pistol round.   

Ghost in the Shell

The original Manga by Masamune Shirow,Section-9 uses a number of weapons from Seburo, including their standard pistol, the Seburo M5 5.45x18mm and the SMG that chambers the same round, the C25. In the Manga, Shirow himself states that the C25 was based on the FN P90, save for a bass catcher and magazine placement. Now, here is the question, is the C25 a SMG or PDW? The real-steel 5.45x18mm Russian round was developed in the 1970's and intended to be used by KGB, Soviet officers and Police as a pocket short-range pistol, and is close in size to a .25 ACP. Which makes the bullet in the realm of an PDW, but since the Seburo M5 and C25 share a common round, like an traditional SMG, does that make the C25 an SMG? Would that, then make the FN P90 an SMG since the FN FiveSeven pistol uses the same round?
Then there is the oddball Japanese SWAT bullpup SMG from Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex and Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. This gun is stated to fire an 9x19mm round, but burrows elements from the British L85 bullpup assault rifle, the iron sights of an H&K firearm, and fires a traditional bullet, and does not seemed linked to the standard arms manuflactor of Japanese security forces, Seburo.


In both the Anime and Manga verisons of Masamune Shirow post-WWIII (non-nuclear) world, the ESWAT of New Olympus favors the Seburo J9 SMG that chambering high-velocity 9x19mm rounds. In the databook for Appleseed it states that the Seburo J9 is a "assault machine gun"...that fires 9mm...odd. Much like the Seburo C-25 PDW or SMG (depends on how you look at it), the J9 takes its appearance from the H&K MP5.

Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall is a fine example of what I was talking about above, where sci-fi works take an existing SMG and put some plastic pieces on it to make appear that is futuristic. Here, the special agents from the Federal Martian Colonies operating on Earth use an MAC-10 9mm SMG, but to make appear that it is a weapon from 2084, the prop master took the MAC-10 and fitted handguard mounted on the front, and appears to serve no purpose save for being cool.

Escape from New York

When Snake is sent into the New York Prison, his primary armament (most likely be used as a PDW) is a 9mm MAC-10 outfitted with a rifle scope that extends down to mounts on top of the sound suppressor. The MAC-10 is an interesting, but oddball choice for a primary armament. While the suppressor would be a mission critical element for this weapon, and the MAC-10 was a proven compact weapon, the MP5SD would a better choice. But the its not the weapon, which SMGs were so cool in 1981, but the rifle scope that brothers me today when watching this epic film. Why? Most SMGs at the time (1981), were used with iron sights, and the rifle scope would nearly completely useless for the type of weapon, not to mention if fired, the scope would be bounced around and it's mounted too far down the weapon to be of any use. There should be a flashlight in its place. However, far be it from me to question Snake...

The Running Man

Before there was the Hungry Game...there was Arnold running for his life in a futuristic TV show where convicts run from specially outfitted hunters, similar to the old American Gladiators TV show (you had to be there), expect with blood and cheesy one-liners. One of the interesting elements of the film is that at the end of the film, Arnold takes it to the bad guys with the civilian market variant of the MP5, the HK94, but this one fires fully automatic, and Arnold doesn't use the factory mounted foregrip.  

Red Faction

For the most part, this is a plain-Jane SMG in the Mars-based sci-fi shooter is nothing new. However, when I took a closer look at the Red Faction SMG, I wondered if it is the gamer designers making a visually nod to the 2001 shitty Ghosts of Mars? In that 'film', several actors use the Franchi LF-57 SMG, and it as a close approximation to the SMG in Red Faction.

I, Robot

In this cinema raping of the brillant original work by Isaac Asimov, Dr. Susan Calvin and Detective Spooner are seen using a sci-fi plastic casing mocked up an 9mm Sites Spectre M4 SMG. This yet another example of a film prop master taking an interesting real-steel gun and overlaying some plastic to make it futuristic.   


Andy McNabb on the MP5 and shooting it (watch a real SAS use it!)

The Navy SEALs use MP5s in CQC

The World Guns Article

The H&K Pro fan-site on the MP5: the best there is

The IMFDB page: this one is fun!

Here is a great video on the history of the Thompson SMG:

27 March 2012

FWS News Feed: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn

In the 1990's, console games were mostly side-scrolls, and people like me, who were of the Atari Generation, jumped ship to the power of a computer. My high school years (the mid-1990's) were filled with excellent flight simulation games like X-Wing, TIE Fighter, the Battle of Britain and Wing Commander.  For years, I was forced to upgrade by Packer-Bell (don't laugh) desktop to load the latest incarnation of the Wing Commander series. Then by the late 1990's, the meteoric rise of Wing Commander came to an end, and it seems that the series was dead, but not before making the single worst MSF movie. For nearly a decade, the Wing Commander was dead, there were rumors of a remake or new release, or even a fan-made project. I thought that Wing Commander was gone forever until this month.
It seems for those ten years of limbo, fans of the series, pooled their resources and talent, and created Wing Commander Saga: the Darkest Dawn. This game, due out sometime this year, before the Mayan Calendar runs out, uses the Freespace 2 engine. The game is going for both PC and MAC, moddable, with cut-sides, voice-acting, 55 missions, and an AI wing man, and best of all, new ships. Personally, I'm hopping for someone to mod this for a Space: Above and Beyond flight simulator.
How much is the game you say? How about free? Yep. FREE! Gotta love the frakking internet.
FWS will be devoted several blogposts on the Wing Commander Universe and the it's 1999 Satan Spawn of a film in the near future. Until then, there is the trailer:

21 March 2012

FWS News Feed: BLOOD AND CHROME Trailer! Holy FRAK!

It is time, ladies and gentleman! The SyFy Channel has finally put on their big girl panties and are going to drop Blood and Chrome! The trailer is amazing, and has Led-Zeppelin pumping throughout, but it seems the Cylons are different looking that the original models used in the Cylon War...hmmm...
But, whatever...it is more BSG, properly good military science fiction. It's been too long.
youtube.com has taken down all the uploaded trailers, so watch here at io9.com:

FWS Topics: The Voices of a Distant Star

Does military science fiction have a heart? Is it all war, blood, and mud, with cool battle suits? My wife recently told me that MSF seems rather lacking in the emotions department: "it's all boys with their guns playing war." To counter her belief, I recalled one of the more emotion-filled military science-fiction works: the Japanese OVA and Manga The Voices of a Distant Star (Hoshi No Koe). This little MSF work was created in 2002 by Makoto Shinkai and artist Miz Shara. It was original release has a manga graphic novel in 2002, then an 25 minute OVA the same year, then later in 20004 as magazine serial. Both the Manga and OVA are available in English in the US. Makoto Shinkai has gone on to pen other Anime projects, like the beautiful The Place Promised in Our Early Days. It is my personally belief that the creators of the Voices of a Distant Star read or was familiar with Joe Haldeman's the Forever War, there seem to be a number of connections and theme running through both.

The Story (Contains Spoilers!)
Like many Japanese military sci-fi stories, there is mecha being crewed by underaged pilots, however the Voices of a Distant Star puts a good spin on this overused plot element to forge a tight story told mostly in big art panels and small sections of text. In the story, humans found alien ruins on Mars in the fictional Tarsis Plateau, (which mostly likely is a misspelling of the real Tharsis region) in 2039. During the multi-national space mission to explore the ruins, an alien race shows up and kills the investigation teams, sparking humanity first interstellar war. The mecha, called Tracers, that were original remote tele-presence driven robot used by the Martian extraterrestrial archaeological teams, were repurposed for the newrly formed United Nations Space Force (seen in the OVA as 'UN SPACEY', the same as in the Macross/ ROBOTECH universe).
The story opens eight years later, when the UN Spacey is readying a strikefleet to rid the alien threat in our system, as 15 year old  middle school friends Mikako and Noboru, receive their government test scores to determine if they can join the military expeditionary force. Only Mikako gets a high enough grade to join the mecha pilot program, leaving Noboru behind to face high school alone. For the bulk of both version, Mikako fights across our solar system against the Tarsians,while the two exchange text messages. Mikako and Noboru, once good friends, drift apart as the two have different experiences,and her ship goes deeper into space, causing the text messages to take more time to reach Earth. 
Once the operation moves to the Sirius system for an offensive against the Tarsis home system, eight years have passed on Earth due to the faster-than-light travel, while she is still sixteen, Noboru is twenty five. It was during the climax battle, that Mikako sends Noboru the message that she loves him. The manga ends with Noboru signing on to the UN Spacey mission to rescue her damaged FTL carrier, the Lysithea, in the Sirius system, all so that they can be together.

Of Tracers, the War, and the Tarsis

The soul of the story in both the Manga and the OVA, is not the hardware, but two lovers seperated by lightyears. The Terran giant "Tracers"mecha warriors are the primary offensive weapon systems used against the alien Tarsis. These Tracers are not that remarkable in the realm of giant robot anime, but what is, this the way they are controlled. Makoto and the other "Special Agents" pilots control their Tracers via a remote low-gravity tele-presence booths onboard the Terran FTL carriers (about 72 Tracers per Carrier).
Some of the combat scenes in the manga and OVA indicate that there is some sort of feedback from the mech to the pilots, but it never says for sure. Either work explains why the UN is recruiting middle schoolers for mecha pilots, but the best guess is it as something to do with time dilation and/or the Japanese trends of very young pilots and soldiers that typically runs through most military sci-fi anime/manga works.
The war itself is told in only a few pages of the manga, once again, the focus is not on the war, it's only a backdrop for the slow-boiling love story, and it shows. 
That is one my only issues with the Voices of a Distant Star, the war portion is weak along with the completely un-military portrayal of the UN Space Force organization.  There is even a lack of a basic uniform, and many of the characters seem to wear their school uniforms! This weakness is also applied to the expeditionary force's alien menace, little or nothing is shown or told about them, aside of a few war vehicles. 

Why I love the Voices of a Distant Star

Sometimes, simple is better, like the iconic shape of a Porsche 911, plain black t-shirts, white dress shirts, leather jackets, and the action of an AK-47. All of these are simple, but pure, and proper...and that is the way I feel about the Voices of a Distant Star. While Mr.Makoto Shinkai underdeveloped the war between Earth and the Tarsis, he nails the long distance relationship emotions with heartstopping reality, and not just in words, but in the art and environment. This forms a work is honest, real, and compelling. 
More over, it takes current cultural elements, like texting and showing it living in the next generations, but still retaining elements of everyday society (like going to school, sports, uncertain about your future) that anyone can relate to. This extends to the middle school friendship/love that exists between Makoto and Numboro. It is not a desperate adult love affair, but more realistic given their ages, something that starts off in one way then morphs into a burning love affair. I've experienced this during my middle school years myself, not the-fighting-in-mech-suits-in-space thing, of course. It also helps that this Japanese work reminds me strongly of the Forever War, and how to take some of the concepts behind that 1974 novel and places them in a different setting by a different culture.

Here is a music video that takes elements from the OVA and manga:   

On a personal note

For me, this simply sci-fi story of a long distance relationship hit home, speaking to an older version of myself, because I lived part of this story, and from the same points-of-view as Makoto and Numboro.
In 1996, I seriously dated a girl named Becky Rhodd during my first year of college, and our relationship was borrowed time from the beginning. She had enlisting in the Army, and was leaving in late summer, making the relationship desperate, passionate, and terribly romantic. When she left for basic, our relationship altered in similar ways to Mikako and Noboru, confined to written words, while she was learning to be a soldier, I was in college, hanging out, and longing for what was and what would be. While I did experience distance, it was nothing compared to the the horrors of time dilation. Unlike, the love story in the Voices of a Distant Star, mine was a sad final ending, we broke up and saw each only twice in fifteen years, however, both of us are happily married with children.

What should be done with the Voices of a Distant Star

This work has great bones, that could be expanded without destroy the original favor or concept, if it was done correctly. While this little simply story is amazing, I would love to see more from it, along with a proper ending, like the Forever War did with Marygay and William Mandella. Due to the works being from Japan, there are elements that simply do not translate well to American audiences, even ones, like me, that understand Japanese culture. Altering the work slightly and increasing the depth, I could see the Voices of the Distant Star being the solid foundation of a great sci-fi film, that could draw from some of the elements of the excellent 2002 Steven Soderbergh adaptation of Solaris.


Read the Manga:

Here is a rather good fan-fiction:


18 March 2012

FWS News Feed: The best Prometheus trailer yet! And more Lockout!

The new PROMETHEUS Trailer

This. Is. Epic! Watch and be amazed.

The new Weyland Android Advert

"More human than human..."

Five mintues of LOCKOUT!

Looks better than I original thought!

17 March 2012

FWS Topics: Powered Armor vs. Bug Aliens

 Just last week, FWS discussed the failure of the concepts and adaptations of the founding classic of military sci-fi, Starship Troopers. One of my theories about the novel's impact on the wider scope of sci-fi is that it lead to the trend of pitting armored power suited infantry against hostile insect aliens. This concept seems to be a popular one within MSF, but why? Why does most works that features powered exoskeleton wearing soldiers battling bug-like aliens? My best guess is that it has to do with some works tying themselves to Starship Troopers, or possible the cultural influence of  the classic 1950's 'big bugs invading the Earth' B-movies. But then we have the easier answer, and let's be honest, most people have a little Entomophobia in them, bug-like aliens are a good way to creep the audience out. Also, bug aliens are a good way to communicate the 'alieness' of a species that is complete foreign to us in a familiar way, unlike cats, dogs, rabbits, and most other fuzzy pets that we keep in our homes, insects are very different from us mammals, and it is easy for the mind to fashion them as hostile invading species from the stars.
When it comes to the armored power suits (APS), that again hearkens back to the 1959 Starship Troopers novel, and I think that most sci-fi creators see that is this one cool piece of tech that they would want in a futuristic battlefield, even if it doesn't makes sense. Of course, when you're fighting killer bugs from outer space, it would be nice to have some layers of protection between you and them.
This is blogpost, FWS will examine the works that contain the APS vs. bug aliens. If any work was missed, please let us know.   


ALIENS is not fully a work within our theme, however, the power loader that Ripley uses to square off with the xenomorph queen is a powered exoskeleton, and the xenomorphs could be called a insect-like alien species. But one of the best connections is that during the production of ALIENS, James Cameron had the actors playing Colonial Marines read Starship Troopers, and that many sci-fi creators, like myself, use ALIENS as a vehicle to forge other works, like Starcraft. It should be noted that in the 1990 ALIENS: Earth War from Dark Horse Comics had Ripley and company speed off to the xenomorph homeworld to steal the supreme queen mother to force the xenomorphs from their occupation of Earth. And the method that they used? Retrofitted Power-Loaders. While this element maybe cool, the Earth War is complete dog-shit when it came to the art and story, one of the lowest points in the history of the Dark Horse ALIENS comics.

 Starship Troopers

Interestingly, only a few works within the SST universe feature powered suits vs. bugs concept, which was a hallmark of the original work. The power suits mentioned in the book were available in three types, and seemed to be the standard offensive tool of the entire Mobile Infantry. Unlike the films, the M.I was not a massive organization, and the wearers of the APS had to go through several layers of training before they gained access to a powered suit, much Special Forces selection. The CGI animated Roughnecks: SST Chronicles every MI trooper gets a powered armor space suit, called the M1A4 Power Suit, while the mecha-like Marauder was more of a heavy support suit, and there was even a drop suit that fitted over the standard APS like a heat-shield. In the Verhoeven films, the Marauder powered armor makes an appearance in the third film, and is more mecha-like, but it seems that the troopers stand inside the armor, rather than sit an operate the machine like a vehicle. The insect aliens themselves in the SST vary greatly over the adaptations, the books featured Pseudo-Arachnids has intelligent caste system species that used DEWs and spaceship to colonize, while in the Verhoevenian SST universe, the Arachinds are more insect-like with brain-bugs in charge and the other hive-minded castes fighting mindlessly against the Federation. These Arachnids populate the Milky Way via meteors that house starter colonies. The CGI 'cartoon' series featured bugs that where a hybrid of the two.


Much like my own powered armor vs. bugs book, Starcraft liberally borrows form the previous works of MSF to forge a unique and higjly developed real-time strategy MSG game. However, unlike most bugs vs. APS stories, there is a third alien power, divided human species, and the powered armor troopers are one element in a grander planetary military force (combined arms). The Zerg are one of best developed insect-like aliens in this this sub genre of MSF, they are a parasitic hive-minded race that uses their host species to further their own expanse. On the powered armor side of the genre, Starcraft is unique in having the various Terran factions, along with the humanoid Protoss also using their own powered armor suits. The Confederation Marine Corps uses the powered combat suit for all of their infantry in multiple models, and to counter the Zerg's fearsome close quarters abilities. This series is now the premier ambassador of the this genre of military science fiction.


John Stealey wrote this 1984 MSF classic novel in response to the 1959 Starship Troopers lack of combat scenes and the psychological effects of the war on the MI troopers. This book featured Terran warriors (the term used in the book) outfitted in black 'scout' level armor, armed with a DEW-like weapon called a Blazer  fighting giant intelligent killer ants on a hostile planet called Banshee. Unlike SST, Mr.Steakley talks in glorious detail about the up close combat against the ants, the damaging psychological effect on the main character, Felix, and the limitations of the Terrans technology against the ants. Armor goes into detail about the battle powered armor that these warriors wear, and in a very good plot element, how heavy combat use on the planet Banshee, drains the batteries, which means death for the warriors.  

Endangered Species

This is my contribution to the world of powered suits vs. bug-like aliens, and the genesis of this story came when I was rereading Armor and Starship Troopers when FWS was first started up. After reading these works, I realized that neither one of these books was a hard-science realistic military take on the concept of powered armor infantry battling against aggressive intelligent insect aliens.
Endangered Species is yet unfinished hard MSF book (nearly finished though) that takes place in the 27th century and is told from the POV of Captain Jorja Leeds, commander of the Union of the Americans Special Force ODA team 229, made up of 32 APS soldiers. The Dragoon APS are close in size to the AMP suits from Avatar, and has suits that are outfitted for different roles within the combat team, like machine gunner, rifleman, E-warfare, and so on. Unlike SST or Armor, this book attempts to show a realistic special operation APS team of the future operating on a nascent colonial world, and how APS might be placed in a hard science military setting. The enemy that they face, the so-called Swarm, have invaded human colonial space during a time when the nations of a dying Earth are battling for atmospheric standard worlds. This allows the invading species to be highly successful in nearly wiping out Earth's colonies in less than two years. The book takes elements from all over the MSF world, including ALIENS, SST, Armor, and some of the Dark Horse ALIENS comic book.
It is my hope to have this novel finished with the initial writing phase before summer, then send to an editor, then off to publishers. If the book doesn't find a publisher than it is off to Amazon e-book market.   


Bounty Hunter Samus Aran powered armor is nearly as famous has Tony Stark's iron man suits, or even Boba Fett's Mandalorian armor. According to the wiki article on the power suit, it was a gift to Samus during a warrior training from the ancient Chozo race that adopted her after her parents were killed on the space pirate attack on Earth Colony K-2L. It was revealed in the later games and lore that her powered armor is not a static piece of hardware, and Samus has to devote considerable mental energy to maintain the suit's presence, and during moments of stress or injury, the power suit can actually disappear.  However, the power suit from the bird-like aliens is highly adaptability to new tech, similar to the nano-suit from Crysis and ability to be summoned on/off like  power armor from Captain Power. Her foe since the original 1986 game is the dreaded Metoids, who are  alien race that is a cross between jellyfish (not jelly+fish) and an insect's exoskeletons.   

District 9

The Prawn battle suit was an unexpected, but fun additional to this jarring film, and it rare to see a realistic powered armor developed by the aliens, not the humans. During the climax of the film, the Prawn battle suit is pitted against the human MUN soldiers that are wielding heavy current weapons, while the alien APS is outfitted with a Tesla Arch DEW, some sort of rapid fire KEW, and missiles all fitted into a highly maneuverable biped walker platform. The twist on the typical powered armor vs. bug aliens theme is that the insect Prawn aliens constructed the APS for humans for cat food, and typical human weaponry is able to damage, and even destroy the more advanced alien tech powered suit.  

Earth Defense Force Games

This line of Japanese 3rd person shooters was brought over for the current console games and features armored power suit wearing human soldiers from the 22nd century defending Earth from waves of alien races bend on destroying humanity. I got a kick out of this shooter, especially when I got to kill giant ants, reminding me of THEM! and Armor.

Warhammber 40K

Within the terrifying Warhammer 40,000 universe, there is the most pee-your-pants enemy, the Tyranids. Even if you don't play WH40K, the mere lore and Codex on these xenos is enough to freeze your soul. My introduction, like most WH40K fans, to the Tyranids was in the excellent Space Hulk game, and from there these aliens get much worse. The power armor is a mainstay of the Imperium of Man's ubermench Space Marines, however, for me, the specialized Terminator units that wield ancient Tactical Dreadnought Armor is best example of an APS in the WH40K universe.  
The Tyranids, along with the Zerg, are easily one of the best byproducts of the xenomorph from the ALIENS universe.

Lost Planet: Extreme Conditions

In the distant future, when Earth as been made a wasteland due to global warming, humanity moves out to colonize the galaxy, and one of the possible colony site for a new Earth, EDN III, there is the indigenous insect species called the Akrid. The magacoporation NEVEC is determined to root out the Akrid off of the ice-ball that is EDN-III. The game had some original plot point, especially having snow-pirates killing and harvesting the thermal energy from the Akrids to survive crossing the ice wastes of EDN-III. To combat the insects on this freezer world, they use a powered armor called Vital Suits which offer some protection against the extreme conditions of the planet.  

Robotech: the New Generation

In the third Robotech War, the Invid invade Earth to seize control of the last supply of the Flower of Life, and fighting to liberate Earth is the Robotech Expeditionary Force. The basic REF soldier wears a light powered armor that integrates with the Cyclone mecha-bike to form a more true APS machine. While it is a stretch to call the REF Cyclone system an APS, it is even more of a stretch to call the Invid insect-like, but if we look at the mecha that these Jellyfish-like aliens use, they are crab-like. But it seems, to me, that the third generation of ROBOTECH warriors is in the vain of the powered suit vs. insect aliens theme.   

All You Need Is Kill

This Japanese light sci-fi novel (a mix of text and manga) where Earth is under a seaborne invasion by an aggressive insect-like aliens called the mimic. To counter them, the United Defense Force uses exo-jackets; basic APS fair, in bloody combat where death comes quick. Most of the book is about the main APS soldier character being stuck in an time loop where he relives this first day of combat (think Groundhog day). ALL You Need Is Kill is now under film development by actor Tom Cruise and Doug Liman under the  (terrible) re-title of We Mortals Are.
I do not own the light novel, and have only read the Google Books preview, but it is on my Amazon list, hopefully soon FWS will bring a full review.  

Blue Gender

Blue Gender is a 26 part Japanese Anime series from the creators of the great MSF mech series, Armored Trooper VOTOM, and takes place in the 2030's on a very different Earth than the one we know. Here, the Blue, a race of mutant insects roams Earth for humans to eat, however most of humanity have fled to Second Earth, a massive space station. The series is filled with powered suit mecha battling all manner of mutant insects in all types of environments, all there are several nods to Verhoeven's SST and some reviewers thing The War against the Chtorr by David Gerrold. Sounds like a winner, huh? Well, the series begins to slide quickly away from the original concept, and the ending is basically an Gaia's Revenge WTF insult to us fans of anime and the war that the humans were waging on the ruined Earth.

Battlelords of the 23rd Century

This is yet another nearly forgotten pen&paper RPG from the 1990's and takes place in 2279, where several galaxies are united under the Galactic Alliance. Portions of the center around an invasion by the Arachnids, and the GA using very powerful power armored infantry against this insect-alien threat. 

The Crysis video game series
Once again, I'm stretching the genre little here, because most of the aliens that you fight in Crysis 2 are more Jellyfish (not Jelly+Fish) like than insect, but the Nano-Suit is so frakking cool that I had to mention here. While most APS are more akin to Japanese mecha, the Crysis Nano-suit is like a second skin that allows the operator to switch between modes of heavy assault to stalker to run, yet being less bulky and noticeable than more traditional APS. FWS will explore more about the Nano-suit for an upcoming post about Armored Power Suits.


According to Baen publishing, their upcoming new anthology book Armored due out on April 1st,  is: "Armor up for a metal-pounding explosion of action, adventure and amazing speculation by topnotch writers—including Nebula-award winner Jack McDevitt, Sean Williams, Dan Abnett, Simon Green, and Jack Campbell—on a future warrior that might very well be just around the corner. Science fiction readers and gamers have long been fascinated by the idea of going to battle in suits of powered combat armor or at the interior controls of giant mechs.
It's an armor-plated clip of hard-hitting tales featuring exoskeleton adventure with fascinating takes on possible future armors ranging from the style of personal power suits seen in Starship Troopers and HALO to the servo-controlled bipedal beast-mech style encountered in Mechwarrior and Battletech".