After more than a month of nothing but Special Operations Forces here on FWS, it is finally time to wrap up the party with the fourth and final blogpost about SOF. Here we are going to discuss science fiction's relationship with these shadow warriors of elite mission units. The missions, deeds, and members of Special Operations units are popular subjects of mass media, and that also includes science fiction. From the early days of E.E. "Doc" Smith, to current authors like me, John Scalzi, and Timothy Zahn, the combination of Special Forces and sci-fi has proven a powerful elixir. The trend is even more entrenched in popular culture and media due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the last installment of the lengthy series on Special Operations Forces, we will be looking at Special Forces and its relationship with science fiction...with examples...lots of examples.
The Near Future of SOF
SOF in the Far Future
Technology will also play a major part of the evolution of future Special Operations units. We could see Class-I powered armor or exo-skeletons becoming standard for SOF operators, allowing for greater abilities and weaponry. Some of this weaponry and personal equipment will be based around nanotechnology, creating something akin to the Omni-Gel from Mass Effect and the MP-35 from Old Man's War. It is also certain that Special Forces warriors will also no longer mostly be comprised primarily of infantry. Much like my novel Endangered Species, Starship Troopers, Pacific Rim, and Armor, the ideal Special Forces unit could also including armored power suits and mecha, as seen Battletech, ROBOTECH, and Gundam.
Of course, technological progression could outpace the abilities of human SOF operators, and lead to the creation of cybernetic enhanced SOF operators and/or completely robotic soldiers. Combat-bots like those seen in Dr. Who, Terminator, or Elysium could be the far future of Special Operations or even human warfare as a whole. Some of the likelihood of robotic soldiers greatly depends on the advancement of robotics, the public's support of robotic soldiers and if there is indeed faster-than-light space travel.
Science Fiction and Special Operations Forces
The idea of Special Forces units and the soldiers within, is confused mess within the realm science fiction. The majority of the sci-fi works that feature SOF, understand that Special Forces units are composed of elite members of the military, trained and outfitted befitting their elite status and tasked on difficult mission with little or no support. The terms "best-of-the-best" and "commando" are often to describe these fictionalized unit, but it seemed that sci-fi creators do not construction graduated SF groups within a military organization. Either they are regular infantry or they are elite space ninjas with powered armor. Also, it seems that sci-fi creators are neither knowable about the roles of SPECOPS nor the proper use of the names associated with Special Forces units. Despite the name of these future troopers being "special forces", a great number the fictionalized SOF units have a secondary level of sci-fi coating. Often this is the familiar label of "super-soldier" via genetic or cybernetic augmentations, much like the Space Marines from WH40K and the famed SPARTANS from HALO.
Before we get into the examples from science fiction, I need to explain how I choose what was included on the list and what was not. Basically, FWS has already talked about two sub-sections of Special Forces in science fiction: Super Soldiers and TIER-One groups. I've tried really hard to only include explains of "normal" SOF units, and not groups like the SPARTANS, or the Royal Guard from Star Wars, or the Space Marines from WH40K that can be classified either TIER-One or Super Soldier or even both. Per reason explained above, the list is actually smaller than you might think. Some explains will be characters and other will be the entire SPECOPS unit.
The Imperial Stormtroopers from the Star Wars Universe
It is well known that George Lucas used healthy does of Nazi imaginary to forge the feel of the Galactic Empire and their feared shocktroopers. The original Imperial Stormtrooper look was created by sci-fi art icon, Ralph McQuarrie, with Andrew Ainsworth creating the final helmet design and model maker Nick Pemberton mocking the full white armor. In the original SW concept art, the Imperial Stormtroopers had shields and energy swords, and it strikes me that they were suppose to be some form of interstellar Knights like Camelot 3000 or something.
The Fremen Fedaykin Death Commandos from the DUNE Universe
Freman Death Commandos; historically: a group formed to give their lives to right a wrong.". These are Paul's most loyal guards and are seemingly always near him in the first DUNE novel. They were seen in the second DUNE novel, and after Paul was blinded in the 3rd novel Children of Dune, the praetorian style Fedaykin were disbanded by Saint Alia of the Knife Atreides. According to the DUNE wiki, Frank Herbert got the name "Fedaykin" from the Arab word "Fedayeen", which means "one who scarifies himself".
Lt. Colonel Ray "Kicks" Butts from Space: Above and Beyond
The SpecForce of the Rebel Alliance from the Star Wars Universe
Then there is the Urban and Wilderness Commandos. Both units were tasked with clandestine operations in either cities and the various wilderness environments. It is believed by fans that the strike team seen in ROTJ are from the Wilderness Commandos. The Wookieepedia states that the Strike Team is comprised of Pathfinders. Serving on the frontlines is the Technicians. These Techs repair and service the various Rebel Alliance equipment all while under fire. They are some of the most respected members of SpecForces. Manning the heavy weaponry and servicing them is the Heavy Weapon Specialists, and these SpecForce operators have the highest causality rates in the Rebel Alliance SpecForce. They are often the last to leave the field of battle, while performing covering fire to protect the tails of their comrades. The last unit is the Infiltrators. This is the TIER-One Special Forces unit of the Rebel Alliance SpecForces. They pulled from veteran SpecForces operators and trained to be the shadows and assassins of the Rebel Alliance. This is the only unit in SpecForce that is feared by the Imperial Stormtroopers. One fan I knew in SW TF.net circles called the Infiltrators the Rebel Alliance's "space ninja".
"Red Tails" from Busy Company, 2nd Squad R/R from the Time Beavers Graphic Novel
The Wolfe Pack Special Planetary Operations Mecha Unit from ROBOTECH II: The Sentients
The idea of Special Forces is rare within the ROBOTECH universe; however, the Wolfe Pack of the Sentients was mentioned as being a “special forces unit” in most canon sources. Within the universe of ROBOTECH, there are two military units of the RDF/REF named for the Wolf. The Wolf Veritech Squadron existed just before the 1st Robotech War an was assigned to the carrier Prometheus and was similar to the Skull Squadron onboard the SDF-1. During the REF mission to Tirol, the homeworld of the Masters, the name of “the Wolf Squadron” was relived, and worked alongside the Skull Squadron. While this units were normal veritech air squadrons, the Wolfe Pack was an ground-based mecha special operations unit that operated in the Malcontent Uprising in the Southlands from 2012 to 2015. The hero (or war criminal depending on your POV) of the uprising was Colonel Wolfe, a vet of the 1st Robotech War. He constructed a specialized mobile unit around the Hover Tanks of the day, the processor to the Spartan veritech hover tank of the 2nd Robotech War.
In 2018, Colonel Wolfe was involved in the development of the Spartan Hover Tank, and drove the first prototype. Once again, he envisioned an rapid-attack, highly mobile strike force composed of hover tanks and MILSPEC hover bikes with the new Alpha veritech fighters as CAS. Colonel Wolfe designed a new Wolfe Pack for the REF, and was selected as the command of the Special Operation planet-side mecha unit. When the SDF-3 arrived at Tirol, the Wolfe Pack was the first ground unit to encounter the Invid and the Masters. This unit would become one of the most famous combat units in the entire REF, making Colonel Wolfe a hero to the REF population, including a very young Scott Bernard (who he styled himself and his hair after). After the 2nd Robotech War, Colonel Wolfe was deployed to Earth with some elements of the Wolfe Pack to help the shattered Southern Cross defenses against the Invid, an enemy he knew. This was one of the few examples of a classic American Special Forces mission in science fiction. The bulk of the Wolfe Pack remained on Tirol, allowing Scott Bernard to join. This unit would be on the frontlines of the mission to retake the Earth from the Invid, and the vast majority of the Wolfe Pack died during the Reflex Point assault.Force Nomad from The Alien Legion
Marvel Comics in the 1980's had a more "independent" arm that took risks and published more daring comics outside of Marvel's wheelhouse; it was called Epic Comics. One of the more well known and celebrated comics printed by Epic was The Alien Legion. The Legion serves a three-galaxy government called the TOPHAN Galactic Union, and every sentient race can be a member of the Legion. Their reasons for joining vary from being mercenaries, criminals, thrill seekers, patriots, or wanting a fresh start. Much like the real-world French Foreign Legion, you can join and wiped out your past. This gives the Legion in the comic books a tainted name and a perception of being nothing but thugs and murders. Within the Legion is Force Nomad, who are the toughest of the tough, and the worse of the worst. This unit is populated with the troublemakers of the Legion, along with the crazy and the crazy brave. Back in the first 1984-1987 series, squadron Nomad was just another unit of the Legion with a cool name. That all changed after the squad was thought to be wiped out on a the desert world of Quaal during a local suppression operation. When Alien Legion was reformed and restarted in 1987 by Epic, the survivors of the original Nomad where folded into a newly created crack infantry first strike penal expendable unit called Force Nomad. They would draw the dirtiest duties in the Union and honor was earned in blood. Nomad was the best-of-the best and the -worst-of-the-worst. By August of 1990, the regular monthly Alien Legion was canceled by Epic and moved into a limited series in book shelf format. Force Nomad is unique in sci-fi SOF units. While it is patterned after the French Foreign Legion, the unit is populated with all manner of alien beings and weaponry. This idea of a mixed SPECOPS unit of vastly different alien races is rare and overall, Alien Legion is a great forgotten classic.
The Gallifreyan Chancellery Guard from the Classic Doctor Who Universe
The UA MCAG ODA-229 Special Powered Armor Unit from my novel Endangered Species
The BETA Galaxy Rangers from The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
The Power-Suit Team from Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
The "Ghosts" from the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series of video Games
The Horus Guard from the Stargate Universe
In the first Stargate movie in 1994, one of the most striking elements was the Horus Guard that protected the Ra and their family and cats. The ranks of the elite Horus Guard were made up of Jaffa slaves. Leading the Horus Guard was the Jackal Guard. In the film, the skills of the Horus guardsmen were might, and they used the Death Gilder aero-fighter and a DEW staff-like weapon called the Ma'Tok. The mark of these elite Praetorian guard was their specialized helmet that were never explained in the film, and may have given the wearer greater abilities. Certainly, the local Jaffa population on Abydos was terrified of the guard and their abilities. This guard is seen in several times in the series, but never with the gravity or fear of the original film.
Cerberus Assault Troops from the Mass Effect Universe
The Citadel SPECTRES from the Mass Effect Universe
Green Berets and Marine RECON from Space: Above and Beyond
For much of the series, the show is firmly focused on the exploits of the 58th squadron of the USMC. However, we do see examples of SOF units in the Chig War of 2063-2064. Unlike many other sci-fi works, all of SPECOPS units are are real-world units uplifted into the mid-21st century. The first being the US Army Green Berets. In the second episode of SAAB, we see a unit of US Army Special Forces, also referred to in the episode as "Green Berets", mounting an rescue operation on the planet of Tellus. Tellus was to be a corporate colony of the massive Aerotech corporation about sixteen LYs away from the Sol System. There is very little here, but it was oddly realistic and very genuine.
U.N.I.T. from the Classic Doctor Who Universe
The SG Teams from Stargate: SG1
When the film Stargate came out in 1994, it showed a very 90's USAF Special Forces unit using the stargate for the first in an RECON and threat assignment mission. By the time of TV series in 1997, the team and its mission had been altered. For much of the Stagate: SG1 series, the focus was on the four main characters of the SG-1 team: Carter, Jackson, O'Neil, and Teal'c. By the end of the series, Stargate Command had about 25 these off-world SOF teams that were involved in all manner of Special Operations duties. These teams, depending on their mission, were comprised of USAF, international military organizations, aliens, US Marines, and even civilians, like Daniel Jackson. Most of the 25 SG teams were devoted to exploration and recon, while others were direct actions and search-and-rescue. Given the massive popularity of Stargate: SG-1, the SOF team portrayal in the various series are some of the recognized SOF units in science fiction.
The USMC 127th 'Angry Angels' from Space: Above and Beyond
The Starfleet Rescue Party from Star Trek V: The Final Insult
That was replaced by Starfleet security officers in cool "commando" style sweaters and the new Assault Phaser that was more weapon-like than previous phaser seen. Of course, it typical Star Trek fashion, the captain of the ship, the XO/Science Officer, with the Helmsmen, comms officer, and the chief of surgery all are on an armed away party to rescue hostages. I call Bullshit on that, especially when you examine the rescue team and the member on the mission. You soon realize that the writers of ST:V were clueless on Special Operations. After all, they left the head of security for the Enterprise-A in command of ship, but included the comms officer and the chief of surgery on the mission? What the frak? On the other hand, I always loved the "commando" style sweaters, the shields, and the rad sci-fi combat boots that remind me of my Merrel Chameleon 3 stretch boots! In the end, the rescue team from Star Trek V: The Final Insult is a rare example of Starfleet's on-planet capability.
The "Anla-Shok" or "Rangers" from the Babylon 5 Universe
Lt. Colonel T.C. McQueen of the USMC from Space: Above and Beyond
The nature of his injuries grounded him from flight status, and he took over command of the 58th fighter Squadron, and was a close adviser to the commander of the American space carrier, the Saratoga. McQueen was a complex character with acknowledgement of his role as a warrior and an In-Vitro.He bore the pain of divorce, isolation, guilt. He channeled these emotions into serve, poetry, historical research, and grim determination. Throughout the war, McQueen was key figure, and was there when the Chig envoy made the offer of peace, and when that peace offer died. If there had been a second season for SAAB, McQueen would have been shipped back to Earth, due to his injuries suffered when the Chig envoy was killed. While back on Earth, McQueen would have experienced the homefront of the Chig War, and he would have been fitted with a robotic leg. The skill of actor James Morrison is without a doubt one of the reasons that Lt. Colonel McQueen was such a dynamic hero.
The Titanians from The Five by Forrest Parham and H.A.L. Wagner
Snake Plissken from Escape From New York
The Celtris III Covert-Operations Team from Star Trek: TNG: "Chain of Command"
Starfleet "Section 31" from the Star Trek Universe
The original Starfleet charter in Article 14 Section 31, it gives Starfleet wide powers during time of war or threat. Forged out of these section, is the Section 31 Starfleet intelligence clandestine organization that has been in operation since before the founding of the Federation in 2161. The goal of Section 31 is to be shadow of the Federation, and investigate threats and counter the threats. Given their black operations and illegal actions, Section 31 as no central location nor any official record. In the ST universe, Section 31 is similar to the Romulan's Tal Shiar and the Cardassian Odsidan Order.
The United Ranger Corps from After Earth
RAINBOW SIX from Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Book and Video Game Series
The Sangheili Zealots from the HALO Universe
The Mobile Infantry of the Starship Troopers novel
The UNSC Orbital Drop Shock-Trooper (ODST) from the HALO Universe
While the SPARTAN-IIs get all of the attention realm of the human Special Forces, the workhorses of the UNSC NAVSPECWAR units is the ODSTs. Drawn from the UNSC Marine Corps, the ODSTs are specially trained in spaceborne drop operations that force the ODSTs to operate lean and mean. While much of the duties of ODSTs seen on-screen are related to dropping in on a battle in their SOEIV, but since Bungie patterned the ODSTs after the SAS and MARSOC, they also perform counter-terrorism, RECON, and hostage rescue.
Korben Dallas from The Fifth Element
In the amazing 1997 sci-fi film by Luc Besson, Bruce Willis plays a former Terran Special Forces Major, who is recruited to perform one last mission to save the world. Okay. on the surface that is all of the connection to Special Forces...about one line of spoken dialog. However, with this information given, it allows the audience to accept the heroic actions of Korben Dallas, including the repealing of the attack by the Mangalores on Fhloston Paradise. A great deal of Korben Dallas' skill-set are not borrowed from some sci-fi SPECOPS unit, but Luc Besson's own ideas of gun-fu and movie fight-fu...of course, it is all forgiven in the mind of the audience by the blank check that the filmmakers wrote by saying the mythical words of "special forces".
The Jaeger Ranger-Pilots from Pacific Rim
In the conn-pod of the mightly Jaegers that attempted to save the world from the Kaiju, are the pilots...always two there are; no more, no less. To combat these extra-dimensional beasts, Earth bans together, builds the massive mecha called "Jaegers" and seeks the best to pilot them. Only when member of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps achieves the rank of "Ranger" can they pilot a mecha into battle. The Rangers of Pacific Rim are an interesting type of futuristic SPECOPS members, and this time of Special Forces soldier, mecha pilots, is a common one in science fiction. I do think the mental-link "drift" between the two Ranger rank pilots is pure bullshit and an unneeded element in the operation of the mecha. They should have had a crew of two, like Dynamo Joe and divided the duties up like that giant-mecha military sci-fi comic did. Dynamo Joe for the win!
The MegaForce from Megaforce
The Best Video Game/Movie/Book for Special Operations...Keeping it Real
Video Game: Medal of Honor (2010 Danger Close/EA)
One of the first video game reviews on FWS was about EA's 2010 modern war reboot of the old World War II shooter franchise, Medal of Honor. Already being well-read on SECOPS units and their operations in A-stan, caused me to buy MOH for the campaign storyline, and allowed me to also understand the herculean effort that Danger Close Games had undertaken with this game. Danger Close interview real TIER-One operators and had Sean Naylor pen the script, all adding to the realistic answer to the COD games. MOH rewards the player with a deeply layered campaign based on historical events from Operation: ANACONDA in March of 2002. There is no game that has ever transmitted the types of missions that TIER-One and other SPECOPS units had waged in the unforgivable terrain of Afghanistan. I love this game, and it really walks the walk, and talks the talk. Play. It. Now. Oh, and be warned, man-tears at the end.
Movie: Black Hawk Down (2001 Scott Free and Sony Pictures)
Book: Not a Good Day to Die by Sean Naylor (2005 Penguin Books)
This was a tough call. There are many great military history books that fill my shelves in the FWS offices, but for me, one of the best texts on Special Operations in Afghanistan was the 2005 book about the March of 2002 Operation: ANACONDA, Not a Good Day to Die. At the time of the actually events, most Americans were overwhelmed with reports and news stories comes out of Afghanistan. Most know one event of Operation: ANACONDA, the fall of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts during the Battle of Takur Ghar. This book is one of the best text on the operation, the people, and the background. And this book was not written by someone doing interview while typing out the pages on their Mac at home. Sean Naylor was there as a journalist for The Army Times, and was one of the few journalist embedded into combat units during the shit. This is a must read for those interested in Special Forces and/or the mission in Afghanistan.
TV Series: The Unit (2006-2009 20th Century Fox and CBS)
With the popularity of Special Operations Forces raising after September 11th, there was a rush to capitalize on the popularity. CBS and Fox would some of the few American networks to have successful military-themed shows. While most everyone knows 24 and badass Jack Bauer, there was CBS' more realistic The Unit. From 2006-2009 over the course of four season, we would a fictionalized account of DELTA Force and their families back home. While created by David Mamet, the show was based on the book by former DELTA operator Eric L.Haney, who was there at the start of DELTA. One of the stand out elements of the show would be the direct involvement of Eric L. Haney as an technical consultant, adding layers of realism to the stories, actions, and missions. While The Unit starred off compelling and complex, the lack of budget began to hurt the realism along with overdone homefront storylines. I stopped watching after season 3. Over all, The Unit may be one of the few in-depth fictional works on the inner works of an SPECOPS unit and their families.
Next Time on FWS...