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".


  1. The Royal Manticore Marine Corps use powered armor in the Honor Harrington series. Also, the Dendarii Free Mercenary Comapny in the Vorkosigan saga uses it.althouh I have not read it (it's in my pile of shame) there is Armor by John Steakley. While the first two aren't going against bugs, I do believe the Steakly book is against bugs. John Ringo has the Looking Glass series where the USMC on space duty end up being issued armored power suits called Wyervns.

  2. Excellent! Thanks for the information Angry Bell! I shall add these to the upcoming Armored Power Suit blogpost. Yeah, Armor has these giant ants that use a laser-blaster, not a bad read, confused though. What is funny, is that I nearly named the British APS! dd how we writers think...
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Nice compilation, really hitting the main influences of our culture. I would like to throw in my 2 cents; Zerg and the Tyranids both have a reptile feel equal to their bug qualities. The tyranid in the earlier editions of the game seem more so insect, now with the release of a new model line in 5th edition we see lots of snake like monsters (trygon, ravener, ripper ect). everyone should hate snakes, damn shapeshifting people lol

  4. Thanks and glad you enjoyed this blogpost! Whywn I read your comment, I went back and really examined the Zerg and Tyranids, and your are correct. I always thought the Tyranids were bad as hell. Snake...why did it have to be sankes?

  5. Just wondered, in your book your gonna explains how the hive insects were able to travel,to those colonies. Because unless they'res some other intelligent species out there, how do they get there. Most movies don't explain that (couph couph. starship troopers, couph couph). Also,in the future si,ce cod aw is adding exoskeletons like ghost recon was supposed to add.(there's always next time.) can u do a segment on exoskeletons. I'm adding them in my sci fi videogame so i need all info possible. Please & thank you. P.s. Pacific rim sucks in words i can't say on television 😈

  6. With Elysium and COD:AW, I decided it was time to explain and explore the exoskeleton, and I happy to report that the powered exoskeleton blogpost is nearly finished! Been working on it and should be up very soon. It original going to be posted next week...but, I am waiting on an author to answer some interview questions. Going to be very cool!
    Yes, the method of space travel of insect aliens in ENDANGERED SPECIES is shown via a hard-science space combat scene. That fucking scene took three months of research. Three months.
    I just posted my review of Pacific Rim...yeah, I was disappointed as well.

  7. You seem unfamiliar with Section 8. No spacebugs there, since an advanced force of supersoldiers wearing powered armor wiped out all "potential threats of expansion". Seeing your tops in supersoldiers and power armors, you could give it a look

  8. I originally was going to do a blogpost on "Section 8", and loved the art and concept...then I read that it was online only, like Titanfall, and that tempered my desire to write a blogpost.

    1. Actually there's a single player campaign that, as far as I know, doesn't require an internet connection to play. Granted, it's been a while since I last played the game and I have yet to complete the Prejutice game.