25 August 2016

FWS Book Review: Salvage Marine (Nerospace Book 1) by Sean-Michael Argo

For much of the history of military science fiction literature, publishers were more selective of the stories they released. Consequently, military SF literature was more rare and limited than standard space opera in the mainstream literature market. That has altered in the 21st century with military matters being more at the forefront of current events. This fueled a boom in military sci-fi works, especially on the flooded Amazon’s ebook market. The new found popularity of the genre of military sci-fi has forced creators to dig deeper and forge something new that can set them apart from the herd of military sci-fi works. One of the best ways, besides awesome cover art, is world building. This is where we creators can and do set ourselves apart, and that brings us to Sean Michael Argo’s military science fiction novel Salvage Marines (Necrospace volume one) from Severed Press. There are two very unique elements in his overall excellent military SF novel that set his story apart and it grabbed my attention. I was grateful that Mr. Argo reached out to FWS to review his novel, providing FWS with a copy from his publisher the purpose of this review.  

The Setting
Samuel Hyst was born into a very different era than us, and his experiences in the age of the galaxy spanning corporations that rule and control over their “subjects” could only be understood by workers during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. At the age of eighteen, Samuel graduated from the educational academy in debt on the order of 18 years’ worth. The Grotto Corporation designed their worlds to be an debt-based society, where debt can and does pass on to the next generation. The goal is for the company to own you by never allowing you to exit out of the debt runaround...and you are owned. The slim dark hope for Samuel and his friend Ben was to join a section of the Grotto military: The REAPERS. This is a feature of the age of corporations: open warfare between the companies over resources, given the term “hostile takeover” a whole new meaning. It is here that Samuel and Ben embark on a new life and new dangers as his old life sits at home, waiting for him to come home.

The Spoiler-Free Review of Salvage Marines
Within a few pages, it was immediately apparent to me that Mr. Argo had set up the world of Salvage Marines with a solid time-honored sci-fi tradition: taking a current social issue and exploring it via the futuristic setting. Mr. Argo used his far-future setting of Salvage Marines to discuss the current issues of debt, military service stress on families, and corporate role in people’s lives and their militarization. As he lays it out in the first page: “it is the age of corporate” and every single character in the book is affected by that fact. From birth to the sweet release of death, you are in debt before your life starts, and this fact controls how you live your life and dominate society. You are evaluated, processed, and assigned with little care to your wants or needs.This twisted sci-fi reality bears elements of a Dickens' story or share-cropping. I found this spoke to me deeply and it was a refreshing take on how our main character enters into military service over more conventional means. Mr. Argo moves quickly in these open pages to establish the world, our character Samuel, and his link back to his life back on his corporate colony homeworld of Baen 6. When he enlists into the armed force of corporate soldiers that collect resources for Grotto, the REAPERs, it puts a strain on his family, but liberates them from the life-long debt. At first, the connection between Samuel and his family back home is strained, but it is there. However, it drops off as the pages increase. I am not sure if this was a systemic choice or a simple oversight, but either way, it hearkens to the isolation of military service and has the hard lump of reality. 
As events transpire, it only services to further separate Samuel from his family, both physically and emotionally, but it increases his bond with his fellow corporate warriors. This again, was a nice touch of reality and honesty that makes the overall concept of Salvage Marines solid and a firm foundation for the other books in the series. Plus, the author keeps the story moving and that could be considered by some to be a fault. I like that the author did not give us a lengthy boot camp scene that some many books and films have done to death. The action shifts from deployment-to-deployment while Samuel and company are in the Grotto Hive Fleet 822, which is realistic to modern account I’ve read of being deployed during wartime. However, this structure does eliminate some character development via behind-the-wire scenes that often pepper this genre. While there is one major after-action scene, I wished for more. The book, because it is part of a series, does suffer from a lack of completion at the end of the book, but if you are hooked, then you are buying the next one. When it comes to one of the iconic factors of any military science fiction book; the combat scenes, Salvage Marines delivers. These are not over-styled 1980’s action hero battles, but brutal, honest engagements with all of the madness and chaos of the battlefield tossed in. In these scenes, characters die, are horribly wounded, and luck is a roll of the celestial D20 dice. At every engagement that Grotto Hive Fleet 822 was involved in, I wondered if one of the characters I cared about was about to die. While it is serious, there are moments of humor, especially when the author references Warhammer 40,000. Overall, Salvage Marines is a solid military science fiction tale that brings some bold concepts to the table encapsulated within a fast-moving setting of future corporate military services and the terrible price of combat.    

Interview with Author  Sean-Michael Argo (Conducted on 8/15/2016)

1. What was the genesis behind your novel Salvage Marines?

I have had this story, in one form or another, in my head for a long time, though only in recent years has it transformed from a vague collection of interests, notes, and scraps into a novel series. I find it impossible to enjoy video games, war games, comics, novels, and film without also imagining what kind of story I would tell. You could call that part of my process, to inhale deeply of other works, even if just to get inspired to create my own. The series started to take on a solid shape when I transitioned from a modest filmmaking career to the defense industry, working with a company to provide counter-insurgency training to soldiers soon to go overseas into combat. I found that working alongside soldiers in the conditions and hours we did continued to bring out ideas, whether through conversations with soldiers, or particular actions or events during the training scenarios. I started taking notes, and for several years continued to do so, though it was only recently that I realized I had been slowly building the setting and characters of Necrospace, the fictional universe in which the stories take place. 

2. What made you decide to write in the sub-genre of military science fiction?

I've been a fan of military science fiction since a young age, and eventually I decided that I've had so much enrichment and entertainment from the genre that it was time I added my own work to the genre. I've always had 'writer' as one of those 'what do you want to be when you grow up' answers, and I have been tinkering with a corporate merc story for a long time. I want to say it was when I was fourteen I wrote a single issue comic book script about mercs fighting over a giant planetary terraforming machine, and over the course of the story it achieved sentience and began to defend itself with the re-animated bodies of slain enemies. On top of just having a fan boy vibe from childhood onwards, Military SF in specific is a rather versatile literary playground as far as speculating about what the future might look like, as a writer I get to explore the world even as I create it, and so one could say I'm writing as both an author and a fan. Another, perhaps more commercial reason, is that Military SF is a genre that has readers who are open to new writers. You don't have to be a household name to attract readers to Military SF books, because they are an aggressive and savvy sort of consumer who is out there looking for good material. As long as you can deliver, the fans of this genre will reward you with their attention, and so success isn't so much measured in marketing dollars spent, but the work itself. 

3. What are some of your favorite military science fiction works and how did they influence you during the development and writing of Salvage Marines?

Some kids grow up pretending to be Batman, others play at being cowboys or cobs and robbers. My little brother and I were Colonial Space Marines pretty much every time we stepped out of the house to go play, with our pulse rifles in hand (made by taking hacksaws and hot glue guns to our conventional water gun toys). Yes, I was likely a bit too young to be watching James Cameron's 'Aliens', but it happened, and the concept of badass future soldiers seized me early. Looking back on it, I may have been working on my 'mercenary space marines' projects even all those years ago, as I would tell stories aloud (my brother tolerated it but honestly he just wanted to play already!) about how we were highly paid mercs in power armor fighting for mega-corporations in space. As I got older I certainly spent my fair share of time, money, and energy on playing the miniatures games in the Warhammer 40k setting, and in time discovered (a bit late honestly) the novel Starship Troopers. For me it all goes back to the grunts, especially from Aliens, who I see reflected in the real-life faces of the soldiers I work with. 

4. Your fictional universe is tinted through a Gilded Age/Charles Dickens lens that also spoke to the current situation of most of us drowning in college debt. Was this a take on modern society or does it hearken back to the past such as Medieval Europe and Japan?

That is rather perceptive of you about Dickens, I am happy that tone reads clearly in the work. Just as he wrote from a deeply cynical perspective within the post-industrial revolution world, I am certainly coming from a place of cynicism about our globalist corporate dystopia, though like in Dickens' work there is dignity somewhere inside that bleak world of mine, and hope too. Medieval Europe and Japan are keen examples also, as I am certainly presenting a world that is 'corporate feudalism in space' in a no-holds barred sort of way. I am about to reach my 38th birthday, so at least in the USA my own chronological lifespan has been spent living in a decline, with stagnant wages, lost industry, currency inflation, crushing debt, and on and on. All of that finds its way into my work, because so much of it is something real that I can weave into a science fiction tale to make it more authentic. My story is, in a way, what I see in the world, stripped of all the propaganda and nationalism, the grim bits and the hopeful bits all presented with some Military SF flair. I do my best not to get preachy, both because that sort of thing annoys me as a reader, and also because I am attempting to present a story objectively, a great many shades of grey, and so I do my best not to pass on my value judgement as an author, and leave that for the characters. I believe that capitalism can be a force for freedom just as much as it can be a force for oppression, but Samuel Hyst knows better than I do what it's like to live under Grotto's rule, so I let him do the talking, and even he has his worldview shaken up a few times. 

5.One of the things I enjoyed were the little touches, like the recoil dampeners during micro-gravity combat. Why did you decided to develop the world to that level?

When I am deployed for my military work I usually don't have the time or energy to write, and so I think, I take notes, and I make plans. My goal is authenticity, which might sound silly when talking about space marine pulp noir, and I think the little details can aide in that. As I roll ideas over and over, examining them from several angles, those little details find their way into the story. I also try to think about what future soldiers would have as far as equipment, because I don't want it to be so futuristic that the story doesn't have that visceral quality to it, but I also don't want to gloss over things in pursuit of style over substance. I intentionally try to balance the little details with being carefully vague about the exact science behind how things work, because I am not a scientist, and I'd hate to come up with something so ridiculous that it takes my readers out of the story. The same goes for the military jargon, tactics, etc. 

6. I have to admit that the chapter entitled "Space Hulk" made me smile along with the marines discussing their childhood gaming history. Very Clever. Did you play Games Workshop Space Hulk or 40K as a kid?  

Oh hell yes. I liked the Eldar (basically space elves) because they were the cheapest army to buy, since individual warriors were so powerful and I didn't have the cash to get into a miniatures arms race with my friends (it happens). I wanted to give a nod to Warhammer 40k, as it certainly has influenced me as an artist, and I loved the Space Hulk game so much that I thought it would be a cool moment for the characters to bond while giving a high five to my influences. 

7. As with Game of Thrones, no one seems safe in your universe. What lead you to this style? One of my favorite characters in the book died and I was shocked. 

I find that the older I get the more I prefer stories that have a credible threat present in them, and so writing (or reading) novels about invincible heroes overcoming impossible odds time and time again just isn't something I am interested in. I want readers to feel some degree of the intensity of these battle sequences, the raw desperation, the mistakes that can be made, and yes the occasional moments of sheer badassery. So many soldiers I work with talk about losing friends and comrades in the blink of an eye. They are there one moment and gone the next, and there is often no large dramatic moment, they are just dead and the fight goes on. That creates an ever-present threat, a tension, and I wanted that to permeate my story. I want the readers to feel just as unsure as Samuel, to know that safety is not guaranteed. Salvage Marines is a story about desperate people rising to the challenges that life put in front of them, they aren't super-soldiers, they are just regular grunts trying to survive their tour of duty and make a decent paycheck. They aren't the best soldiers in the universe, they have second rate equipment, and they are continuously thrown into the hostile unknown. If we don't know who will make it and who won't, then the fighting starts to matter in a more personal way. 

8. What made you chose kinetic energy projectile weaponry over directed energy?

I didn't want the technology to be so advanced that the soldiers could blast each other over tremendous distances. I wanted their armor technology to be sufficient that they'd have to get in closer to do the deed. I am attempting to write with a more "Vietnam era" style of combat tactics, and such tactics require the weapons that make those tactics make sense, and so I went with projectiles instead of laser beams. 

9. I have always loved cover-art, and the cover-art of Necrospace Book 1 of Salvage Marines is quite arresting. Tell us more about it and the artist

I will get back to you on that, this was an unknown artist from the publisher's side of the desk.

10. Why did you decided to use mega-galactic spanning corporations instead of an oppressive government to set up human space society?

I wanted the setting to feel familiar, despite the fact that it is science fiction. Planet-spanning corporations already cover the world, many ruling corners of it through a thin veneer of politics and nationalism. That's not hyperbole, just the world as it is, all I am doing is changing the scale of humanity's footprint on the face of the universe and pulling away the veneer. In my setting the mega-corporations do not hide their mastery, and warriors wear logos instead of flags. It may be a dystopian setting, but I feel that it is an honest one, and have presented a setting in which characters do not think in terms of patriotism or nation states, human beings (mostly) are valued by what they can do more than who they are (race, gender, age). This is very much a Military SF take on the wars for profit waged in the real world, the struggles between the 99% (peasants) and the 1% (elites), and the human cost of capitalism left unchecked by compassion. Most of the first trilogy deals specifically with Grotto Corporation, which is the most grinding and powerful corporation in the universe, though later in the trilogy and certainly in the expanded universe we are presented with other corporations, some similar and others vastly different, yet each ultimately serving the Bottom Line.

11. Names and how am author chose them always interests me. How and why did you decided on the corporation names, the names of the main characters, and even the locations. For example like Baen 6, Folken, M5597, and Grotto?

Grotto Corporation has been with me since I was a kid, that was the corporation that the characters worked for in the stories I'd tell when my brother and I were playing, and when I wrote my little comic book script. Most all of the rest of it starts out as something akin to 'word salad', and I just write down scraps and notes until a name or title comes out of the chaos. If it sounds legit, then I keep it, if not, it goes back in the mix. I didn't want the names to sound overly 'scifi' so kept most of it blended with more traditional names from various existing Earth cultures. 

12. While the REAPERs are the main focus, the Folken mercenary forces were damned interesting. Tell me about what led to their development and are they featured in another novel? 

The Merchants Militant are the sharks of Necrospace, and in my imagination the Folken are the great whites. Of the elite mercs who wage war across the universe the Folken are the biggest and the baddest. A little backstory is that they were founded by a splinter group of Errolite warriors who broke official ties with Augur Corporation and joined the Merchants Militant. While most of the Merchants Militant are more like modern special forces teams, operating in small and somewhat specialized units, the Folken are able to field a fully functional army, in that they have multiple types of soldiers, tanks, ships, artillery, etc, that while rather small is extremely dynamic. We get more into the Merchants Militant in subsequent books, and the Folken certainly re-appear.  

13. The combat scenes were richly developed, what is your approach to writing and developing combat scenes in Salvage Marines?

I spent some time training in stunts and combat choreography when I started in the film industry, and part of that education is learning how to communicate blocking and movement to actors and camera people, both as a choreographer and a writer. When I started doing the military work I was able to be in the thick of combat training scenarios over and over, in addition to directing and working with officers and civilians to ensure maximum training value. As such I've been able to witness first-hand the chaotic insanity of combat (at least in training scenarios) and watch how soldiers move, how they speak, hold their weapons, and overall how they fight. I want the combat in my stories to have a realistic quality, even if still in keeping with the more cinematic and dramatic elements of Military SF. Generally I do not plan my combat sequences, instead I come up with the mission, pre-establish the available forces, dispositions, and capabilities. Once I am ready I insert my Reapers and let my fingers type out a natural resolution, adding a little dramatic flair along the way. 

14. Given the brutality of your setting and novel, did you ever feel bad about the situation that you put Samuel into? Did you ever want him to just go home to his wife and child? 

War, especially in its modern form, is without narrative. So many of the soldiers I speak with who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan talk about a feeling of emptiness with regards to what they accomplished over there. In WWII our troops were on a mission to defeat Hitler, and while that alone isn't much of a narrative, at least they had that context. Our modern military forces just move from briefing to mission to debriefing to rest & refit and then back to briefing for the next mission. They don't get to see a wider context, and so often do not see much of a point beyond their individual experience. I approach Samuel's life in the same way, where he is thrown from calamity to calamity, and the real story is his human journey through those myriad adversities. At the end of the day this is a story about people at war, not so much the war itself, and if he just stayed home and stayed at work we wouldn't have much of a story to tell, or at least not a Military SF one, which is perhaps where Dickens and I part ways, each tell a different tale of similar folk. 

15. What is next for you and your Salvage Marines series?

As of this interview there have been three books published in the Necrospace series, the first being of course Salvage Marines, followed by Dead Worlds, and then Trade War. The audio books are presently being created. These form the core trilogy (the Reaper Cycle if you will) and from there I am writing stand alone novels in an 'expanded universe' that continues the overall story, dives into subplots, gives supporting characters their own moment to shine, etc. Presently book four, Ghost Faction, is being prepared for publication, and I am in the process of writing book five right now. I am committed to seven novels at this point, to complete the meta-narrative that I have laid out. After that I will assess where I stand creatively, commercially, and either continue with Necrospace or see what other adventures await, maybe both. I do plan on creating at least one comic book venture in this series, even if just a three issue arc, though that will be more of a late 2017 affair. If any of you Hollywood types want to take this to the screen, I'm right here daydreaming about it! www.necrospace.com

Should You Read Salvage Marines?
Yes! This is a fast paced solid military science fiction book that hits hard with some unique world buildings that is topical today and sets the tone for the rest of the Necrospace series. The action is rough with characters falling in the name of corporate service of Grotto, which makes you wonder…who is next?  I can fully recommend Salvage Marines and I expect great things from Mr. Argo in this genre in the near future.
Next Time on FWS...
During my grandfather's' service in World War II, soldiers were issued combat rifles that were basically one-in-the-same to each others. Today, modular platforms like the Colt M4A1 assault carbine allow for soldiers, sailors, and Marines to customize their weaponry to their own needs as well as the tactical situation. In the next installment of the Armory blogpost serial, I will be exploring and explaining the modular weapon systems. 

Like What You Read? Buy it Here! (This Supports FWS)

21 August 2016

Military Organization Profiles: The Imperial Military of the Empire from Star Wars

There is few fictional military organizations as iconic and well-known as the Galactic Empire Military from the Holy Trilogy Star Wars films. Since 1977, the Empire that Lucas laid down by mining 3rd Reich iconography, has been an prime example of the entire Star Wars universe, ranking alongside the Droids, Jedi, Sith, the space fighters, and the Lightsabers. Despite the years that the Imperial Military has existed in popular culture, there are lingering questions about the organization itself, its relationship with the Sith, and its relationship with non-human alien races. In this installment of the Military Organization Profiles, FWS will be putting the Imperial Military under the lens.

What is the Imperial Military?
The Galactic Empire was formed by the Sith Lord Palpatine in 19 BBY during a critical junction in galactic history: the Jedi Order was wiped out by Order 66, the Clone Wars were over, and disorder was running wild has the Old Republic collapsed. Stepping into this storm was the strong hand of the Empire to established law and order. This met with favor by the former citizens of the Old Republic who watched their old government and old ways of life die out. At first, at very first, the Empire was a unifying force...then it turned dark and twisted as the power of the Dark Side of the Force cast its shadow across the galaxy. The true power of the Empire was not in economics or politics, but rather in their impressive massive military machine that could wiped out star systems and inflict much pain and suffering even prior to the construction of the Death Stars . At its heart was the Imperial Navy with its power to project the iron rule of Imperial law and land thousands of white armored Stormtroopers onto the troublesome planet.
Its mission was to project power and Imperial control over 75%-80% of the galaxy in terms of population, star systems, and inhabited worlds. It greatest test would come from a ragtag alliance of rebellious groups and species that would destroy both Death Star space stations and shatter the Imperial military as well as the Empire. The remains of the Imperial Military would reform into the New Order after the Battle of Jakku in 5 ABY. At its apex, the Galactic Empire Military had power over trillions of sentient beings, commanded thousands of warships, controlled 75%-80% of the galaxy, and could bully anyone it wanted due to a lack of an natural competitor or predator until the emerge of the Rebel Alliance.

The Relationship Between the Empire and the Military
As with any authoritarian regime, the power lays in the loyalty of the military to the leader and their cult of personality. Originally, the true power of the Old Republic was the Galactic Senate and the Jedi Order. During Star Wars IV: An New Hope, the Emperor was finally able dissolves the Imperial Senate at 0 BBY using the treason of Senator Leia Organa to justify the extreme act of decapitating of that ancient governmental institution This allowing Sector Governors, known as Moffs, who were more loyal to the Emperor, to control star systems...similar in some ways to the Tokugawa Shotgune of Japan had Daimyo that were loyal to the military government and controlled Hans.
Watching over the loyalty of the Moffs was Lord Vader, the loyal executioner  and enforcer of the Emperor's will. This makes the Imperial Military the real spine behind the government, especially after the 0 BBY dissolving of the Imperial Senate. However, this interconnectiveness was a major weakness. as exemplified when the military were dealt serious blows at the Battles of Yavin, Endor, and Jakku. Once the military lost its power, image, and foundation, so did the Imperial government.

Lord Vader's Relationship to the Military
In the original trilogy time period, Lord Darth Vader is an enigmatic figure that serves his master with a readied Lightsaber, but is also seen on the frontlines of the war against the Rebel Alliance and as well as the representative of the Emperor Palpatine; going as far as instilling fear among the Sector Moffs. Palpatine also used Vader on highly sensitive missions for the Empire, such as the recovery of the Death Star plans, and the hunting down of the escaped Jedi. Lord Vader is also involved in the affairs of the Imperial government and military, But, what is the relationship between Lord Vader and the Imperial Military?
After the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the 1st Death Star, the Emperor gives his student one of the largest warships in the Imperial naval inventory, the Super Star Destroyer class Carrier/Space Control vessel and instructs Lord Vader to hunt down the rebels and Luke Skywalker, empowering him to use the full might of the Empire do so. Given the structure of the Empire and the Sith being the true power behind the office of Emperor, the military role of Lord Vader is hard to classify, but his power is not. With Lord Vader being the right hand of Palpatine, he wields vast power and fear among all, even without the 501st and his Executioner warship. In that way, Lord Vader might be the ultimate "fixer" and "special consultant"in the Imperial Military.

The Composition of the Imperial Military (circa 0 BBY-2 ABY)

Figures wildly vary for the size of the Imperial Navy; ranging from tens of thousands of warships to millions. There is no hard number on the size of their fleet, but it is likely not millions. Unlike Starfleet or the Alliance Navy from Mass Effect, the Empire does not face a mirror image enemy that possess a hostile fleet, like the Klingons or Romulans. For the most part, the Imperial Navy's role is to project fear and power to keep the systems in line, preventing any loss of cohesion in the Empire, as seen during the Clone Wars.  
While the Republic navy engaged in many desperate space battles with the Separatists, the Empire was void of any enemy that could field enough combat starships to offer any major resistance. Still, this did not prevent the Empire from pouring credits into the construction of the Star Destroyer and the Super Star Destroyer classes of power-projection carrier warships. At the apex of the Empire, it is estimated that 25,000 Imperial class Star Destroyer carriers were in service. Even when the Rebel Alliance did form a fleet of ragtag alien warships and converted civilian spaceships, ship-to-ship engagements were rare, due to the Empire being able to rapidly deploy naval reinforcements to outmatch the Rebel ships during a pitched battle.
This lack of natural enemy is why the Star Destroyer class is multi-role warship that best fits under the carrier classification than an standard capital ship and is the backbone of the Imperial Navy. After the Empire was established in 19 BBY, one of the its jobs to present a "unified national front", and the navy was the best way to show the flag and the might of the new government. The older Republic warships were still used, but the Empire embarked on a massive construction boom to field new ships that were unified under the Imperial banner in both design and crew.
The Grand Army of the Republic Venator class Star Destroyer carriers were repainted and remodeled. By the time of the Battle of Yavin, much of the old Republic ships had been scrapped to make way for the new Imperial navy. Contrary to the Imperial Navy's most iconic class of warship, the Imperial Navy was composed of dozens of other classes of warships and non-combat support vessels. After the fall of the Empire, the First Order would rise, taking the bulk of the surviving Imperial warships into their fold that did not pledge loyalty to the New Republic.  

The Old Republic lacked an system of military instillation to the degree that the Empire maintained. In the short history of the Empire, the Imperial Military constructed a number of permit and portable garrison bases to show the flag, project power, and to provide the rebels with targets. Imperial class Star Destroyer carriers were outfitted with materials to construction bases and outposts to allow for long-term operations.
When it comes to formal, large construction bases they vary greatly. Some bases are well-staffed, well-organized, and vital to operations in the system or sector where they were located. Bases in vital systems are a buzz with activity and staff, other bases that are off the beaten path are often less professional and boring assignments. Then there are the bases that are little more than supply depots that are laying in wait for a call to action and usefulness. These are targets of the rebellion to rearm themselves and gather supplies. The ultimate expression of the Imperial base is the Death Stars and later, the Starkiller Base.

Ground Forces
Prior to the Clone Wars, the Old Republic was mainly reliant on local systems' law enforcement and planetary defense organization along with the Jedi Order to solve planetary surface issues. There were few dirt-side battles and issues, all were handled by the Jedi and some specialized police units. When the Separatists withdrew and the galaxy erupted into full-scale war, the Republic was in no way ready to wage a conflict on that scale. The answer was the Grand Army of the Republic, and it was an combined arms fighting force. Those war machines designed for planetary warfare were the template for which the planetary forces of the Imperial Army were based on. Many of the old Republic Grand Army vehicles were reused and modified for the Imperial Army.
The most iconic planetary war machine was the armored walker mechs, the AT-AT and the AT-ST that were the most frequently used due to their mobility and portability. Most Imperial class Star Destroyer carriers carried AT-STs and Stormtoopers for putting out Rebel flare ups, however, the Imperial Army did have a great number of vehicles and mechs to utilize. Repulsor tanks, armored vehicles, CAS modified TIE fighters, even modified endoatompsheric shuttles all make up the Imperial Army. Two elements of the Imperial Army are misunderstood: the Stormtroopers and the Imperial Infantry troopers.
Some wrongly operate under the assumption that the Stormtrooper Corps is the only planetary infantry force of the Empire. When in fact, the Stormtroopers are an elite special mission force designed for psychological effect and hammering assault tactics. There are not enough Stormtroopers to be used in wide scale planetary operations against the Rebel forces and planetary rebellions. The Imperial Infantry Corps is the ground based troopers that are the classical infantry of the Imperial Military and are designed for seizing and hold planetary real estate in most mechanized units.
While they are not as well skilled or outfitted as the Stormtroopers, they do have the numbers to overwhelm any enemy force...temporarily. Given the racial requirements for Imperial service, the Imperial Armed Forces suffered from some manpower issues through its exist, and the Empire shifted recruits into the Navy to man the ships and the TIE fighters undercutting the Imperial Army needs. Helping out the Imperial Army was the "marines" of the Imperial Navy: the Naval Troopers, that can and did operate during planetary operations. With these manpower issues, the amount of territory needing to be covered, and economics, the Imperial military joint chiefs focused their resources on shaping the Imperial Army as an hammer to deliver a killer blow to resistance. It could not or would be the Grand Army of the Republic during the Clone Wars.

The Aero Force
Swarming the skies and stars is the iconic Imperial fighter design: the TIE (Twin Ion Engines) fighter. While the Rebel Alliance and the Grand Army of the Republic invested in larger, more complex starfighters...quality over quantity, while the Imperial Military wanted quantity over quality. The TIE fighter platform was the answer. Modulability was the hallmark of the main aerofighter of the Empire, allowing dozens of configurations to be fashioned and developed.
Another element of the TIE fighter was its easy of use and cheaper price per unit than the Rebel Alliance frontline starfighers. Along with the many variations of the base TIE fighter serving as the primary starfighter, the Empire had shuttles and other smaller vehicles for transport and gunship duties. With the clear and present threat from the Rebel starfighters, the Empire attempted to counter the threat with greater training and more advanced fighters, like the TIE Advanced.

Special Forces
There is some debate about the nature and identity of the Imperial Military Special Forces units; especially when it is considering the role of the iconic Stormtroopers. The foundation of the Stormtroopers is traced back to the Clonetrooper legions of the Grand Republic Army during the Clone Wars. The iconic white armor and fierce loyalty were hallmarks passed from the Clonetroopers to the Stormtroopers. While the Clonetroopers were the standard infantry during the Clone Wars, the Stormtroopers are not. In practice, the Stormtroopers are special direct action assault units that are known for their skill, bravery, brutality, and loyalty. Stormtroopers are the boot of the New Order and arm of the Emperor, allowing them to become a symbol for the Empire and the war against the Rebel Alliance.
During that intergalactic civil war, the Stormtroopers were used more frequently against the rebels due to their loyalty and psychological effect. With the attack-and-fade tactics of the Rebels against the Empire, the Stormtroopers were mobilized in greater numbers onboard Imperial class Star Destroyer taskforces assigned to rapid response to Rebel incursions. Stormtroopers were also assigned to protect and reinforce sensitive bases and installations, as seen with the Stormtrooper units onboard the Death Stars and the Endor Moon installation.
Helping the flexibility of the Stormtrooper corps was the specially trained environmental units and an scout/sniper regiment that allowed for Imperial Military to possess all-strike units with a unit that could recon the battlefield, gathering on-the-ground intel with precision fire support. Another specialized unit drawn from the the ranks of the Stormtrooper corps was the Emperor's Royal Guard. This very elite close protection unit of the Emperor Palpatine and other Imperial inner circle was designed to impress and be a symbol of the office of the Emperor. To keep themselves in top combat shape, Royal Guardsmen were rotated into combat units.    

Intelligence Services
Any authoritarian regime is naturally paranoid and its deepest desire is to maintain power. That being said, gathering intelligence on the goings and comings of your population is critical to controlling and planning. The Empire possessed several intelligence services, both civilian and military, that monitored their citizens for signs of Rebel support, terrorism, and Force abilities. Several intelligence agencies overlapped and even spied on one another. There was nothing private in the Empire, and you had to have friends to watch your back and dig up dirt. During the height of the Empire, there was money to be made turning in people for the bounty and build up your own power and influence. The best real-world comparison for the Imperial Intelligence Hydra is the Soviet Union, Baathist Iraq, and Nazi Germany.

Service Personnel
According to the novelization of the first Star Wars film, the Galactic Empire controlled one million star systems across an estimated diameter of 12,000 LYs of the galaxy, and this seems to be reusing a line about the size of the Empire from Isaac Asimov's Foundation. That being said, the Empire is an imperial power bend on control and conquest, resulting in the need for a large military to dominate. A military projecting itself over thousands of Lightyears and trillions of citizens would need millions in service. Some estimates place the size of the Imperial Fleet at 25,000 capital warships with over 100 million bodies needed to crew these vessels. That is the Imperial Navy along and that is not even estimating the manpower needs for the ground forces, administration, logistics, and the Stormtroopers.
Feeding that machine is several pathways into Imperial military service. One is the classical route of enlisting into Imperial Service as an enlisted personnel with a recruiter for reason of patriotism, vocation, adventure, and aimlessness. Another is through the various Imperial Military academies. Main characters of the SW universe, like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Biggs Darklighter either attended or wanted to attend the Imperial Academy.
The Imperial Academy was seen as receiving one of the best educations in the galaxy as well as granting you access to the inner circle of Imperial society after graduation. Then there is a third method of entering into Imperial military service: forced conscription. With the massive manpower demands of the Empire, every star system was required to fill a quota for Imperial recruits, and local Moffs were heavily lended on by the central Imperial government to fulfill those quotas by any means necessary. It is often said that getting drunk in the central systems of the Empire is a bad idea, because you might wake up inside a shuttle headed to basic Imperial training.    

Race and the Empire (COMPNOR)
The Star Wars galaxy is populated with thousands of intelligent species of every shape, color, and size, however, you would not know but examining the racial makeup of the Empire or their military. For the most part, nonhuman species are blocked from service in the main cogs of the Empire and its military. That racist "humanocentric" policy is based the central ideology of the Empire: the Commission for the Preservation of the New Order (COMPNOR). According to the COMPNOR view of the galaxy, human species are the primary glue and motivators of forwarding the progress of galactic society, culture, and development. As the Empire was forming in 19 BBY, the first COMPNOR rallies were held. Policies shaping the new Empire into a homo sapiens only club strongly affected the makeup of the Imperial Military and its pool of recruitment.
While the homo sapiens species of the galaxy were many and were a strong percentage of the galactic population, they were not in the majority when compared to the "alien" species that were members of the Old Republic. This entire ideology directly affected the military in many ways along with the civil war. When COMPNOR and its policies took full effect into the new government, this not only limited the pool of recruits, causing chronic manpower shortages, but it pushed legions of alien species into the waiting arms of the Rebel Alliance. It created an air of distrust and suspicion between the Empire and its alien subjects. The fairness and level playing field of the Old Republic was brutally replaced by draconian laws and favoritism towards human-owned companies.
Much of the major defense contractors for the military were human owned companies, limiting the influx of innovation and development to the Imperial military-industrial complex. This also fostered a relationship between alien owned defense companies and the Rebel Alliance, allowing for a steady supply of machines to wage the civil war. An prime example being the Mon Calamari shipyards being the primary generator of fresh-of-the-line combat starships. After the civil war and the establishment of the New Republic, historians often cite the policies under the umbra of COMPNOR as one of the key reasons for the Empire being defeated by the Rebel Alliance.
One another help but wonder when watching the original Holy Trilogy that there are alot of humans up in the Empire, and when I read the West End Games Star Wars Empire RPG manual, I learned about COMPNOR. However, there are several behind-the-scenes reasons for the majority of humans seen in the original films. There is utilization for Nazi iconography and policy to form the core of the Empire, allowing the audience to more instantly understand the relationships and structure of this spaceborne Empire in a faraway galaxy. This was a deliberate effort by Lucas and it worked, causing some fans to label the Empire "the Space Nazis".
Then there is the more down-to-earth reason: money. The first 1977 Star Wars film was made on a limited budget and the aliens featured in the film were condensed to several key scenes on Tatooine and the walking carpet. Human actors for the Imperial personnel onboard the Star Destroyer and the Death Star relaxed the overall budget along with conveying the difference between the outer rim territories and the Empire. This is also why Star Trek is packed with bumpy forehead aliens.

Ranking System
One of the more interesting costuming choices for the Imperial Military is the ranking system insignia. These colorful blocks arranged on a sliver plaque inform instantly and clearly the ranks of the Imperial Military. Given that this is fictional military organization mostly seen on-screen, the ranking system is limited, much like Starfleet. Familiar military ranking titles are used to instantly connect to the audience...save for the title of "Moff" and "Grand Moff". There are commissioned officer ranks that run from Lieutenant to Admiral to Moff. Moff is a high rank that is not easily translated into real-world military ranks. It is basically an military governorship over sectors and regions that I guess can command military units on a grand scale...like the Death Star. The word "Moff" is rumored to originate from an Arabic title of "Grand Mufti" that is the highest official of religious law in Sunni nations. There are non-comm ranks as well and it is believed that the Stormtrooper corps maintains a closed-system ranking system. Existing outside the standard Imperial Military ranking system is Lord Vader and other shadowy entries that are only known to a few.    

The History of the Imperial Military
The official date of the founding of the Galactic Empire and its military organization is 19 standard years Before the Battle of Yavin. In less than 20 years, the Empire rose and were at the apex of their power...but how it all start? At some point prior the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo, Darth Sidious developed the master Machiavellian plan to allow the Sith to rise to the position of ultimate authority in the galaxy and achieve their old held goal of revenge against the Jedi. To accomplish this goal, the Old Republic would have to be replaced with Sith-based empire. In mainstream history, the beginning point of the genesis of the Empire and the dissolving of the Old Republic is the Clone Wars.
Seemingly overnight, the Old Republic was beset with issues, conflicts, and serious political division that cracked the foundation of the government. The crisis on Naboo, the formation of the Separatists alliance, the weakness of the Jedi Order to maintain law and order all added to the restlessness in the member worlds. With the election of Naboo Senator Palpatine, the ball was rolling. Using his Sith apprentice, Count Dooku, Palpatine was able to form an enemy force for the Republic and the Jedi to fight, but with the limited military capability of both the Jedi and the Republic at large, there was a need for a true army...and as an happy accident, there was an cloned army waiting in the wings...funny how things work out! For three years, the Grand Army of the Republic with the Jedi, combated the Separatists across the galaxy, tearing at the fabric of Republican society, economy, and government.
In 19 BBY, the Sith plan came to the moment that they had been waiting for thousands of years: the organized slaughter of the Jedi by the Cloned army under Order 66. Palpatine framed the Jedi as a threat to the galaxy, and secured the citizenry's support via "law and order". By the end of the Clone Wars in 19 BBY, the Empire was formed, most of the Jedi were dead, and the shadow of the Dark Side of the Force loomed over the entire galaxy. For nearly 20 years, the Empire constructed a vast Imperial army and navy, began building of the first Death Star, and hunting down the last of the Jedi that had escaped Order 66. In seemed that law and order had finally come to the galaxy after the Clone Wars.
But not all were happy with the Imperial rule and its liberal use of military force via their new Stormtrooper corps and the Imperial class Star Destroyer carrier. The Rebel Alliance soon formed from former Senators, political exiles, aliens, and troublemakers. It was in these moments that the Empire and its military truly came into their iconic conflict: the Galactic Civil War. While the Rebel Alliance was gathering strength and resources, they learned of the massive new battle station that was rumored to have the power to destroy entire planets. Rebel intelligence was able to obtain the plans and attempt to courier them via Senator Leia Organa.
It was during these events that the greatest defeat in Imperial history occurred. On the heels of the destruction of Aldreen, the Death Star moved to attack the hidden Rebel base on Yavin 4, deciding to dismiss its escort ships and boldly attack the base on its own. It was a decision that cost the base and everyone onboard their lives. That rebel victory rocked the Imperial Military not only in the amount of lives and material lost, but also by a loss of honor. For much of the Rebellion, it had hit-and-run before the full might of the Empire could be applied...and now, they had taken out the largest military engineering of all time. Payback was the order of the day, and Imperial forces rushed to Yavin to deliver that revenge and catch the Rebels before they had time to bug out. For years, the full might of the Imperial armed forces was delivered onto the galaxy during their obsessive hunt for the rebels and their supporters.
Three years after the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire was ready with another battle station and a trap to pull in the main Rebel fleet to end the primary threat once and for all. In addition, the Sith Lords were wanting to pull in Luke Skywalker to either convert him to the Dark Side (they have cookies!) or kill him. This climatic battle between portions of the Rebel and Imperial fleet was one of the two end battles of the galactic civil war. This is where the remains of the Imperial armed forces were shattered and overwhelmed by the riots and revolts. In this chaos, the rebels attempted to stabilize by founding the New Republic. By the time of the end battle of Jakku, the Empire forces were now outlaws to the New Republic. After the peace accords were signed, what remained of the Imperial Military withdrew to unknown territories to await the right time and JJ Abrams.  

The Effect of the Destruction of the 1st Death Star
When the first Death Star was designed by a relatively weak rebel force of X-Wings and Y-Wings at Yavin 4, it sent shockwaves through the galaxy and the Imperial government. Their massively expensive engineer project that was seen as the very symbol of their power and ability to terrify and bully was gone so shortly after its launch. There was deep concern throughout all levels of the government that this defeat would see an increase in open support for the rebels and the challenging of Imperial authority.
The Empire responded with Lord Vader being sent on a special mission to hunt down the rebels at their major base of operations after the base on Yavin 4 was crushed with his new flagship. While the Dark Lord of the Sith was hunting down the rebels and the Force user who launched the fatal shot. the rest of the Empire was attempting to regain law and order while mounting a serious PR campaign. Every division of the military and government were involved in reestablishing authority while preventing new recruits to the Rebel Alliance. Not helping matters was the dissolution of the Senate and the destruction of Alderaan. In the inner circles of power, it was decided to create an elaborate trap deny too tempting for the Rebels to ignore. That was the 2nd Death Star in orbit around the Forest Moon of Endor.

The Effect of the Battles of Endor and Jakku
Construction of a second Death Star space station was never intended to fulfill the role of the first Death Star, it was intended to be an trap of unrepeatable magnitude of force. Conceptually, the plan was to suck in the Rebel main fleet, trap them between the 2nd Death Star and a major Imperial Naval taskforce. It did not work according to plan, and the 2nd Death Star was destroyed, Vader and the Emperor were both dead, and the Empire was badly weakened after riots and revolts across the Core Worlds of the galaxy.
The final end of the Empire came one standard year after the Battle of Endor at the Battle of Jakku. Here is where the last bulk of the Empire was about to mount a defense of the desert world. Jakku that housed a key Imperial Weapons R&D site. It was here that the New Republic and the remains of the Imperial Military squared off in one last battle of the galactic civil war. Thus, with the Empire defeated, the peace accords were signed and the shattered bits of the Empire hid themselves to reorganize as the New Order.

The Enemies of the Empire

The Rebel Alliance
During the formation of the Empire during the events of Revenge of the Sith, there was the founding of the Rebel Alliance with Senators unhappy about the new government back on Coruscant. For years, the underground agents of the nascent alliance gathered support and converts to the cause. This eroded the hold the Empire had on the majority of the galaxy, and gave an organization outlet for the disenfranchised, As we all know, the Rebels scored their first major victory against the Empire at Yavin 4, hardened the Empire to find and destroy the major Rebel base. Leading this mission of hunting down the rebel scum was Lord  Vader, the Emperor's right hand, in his massive Super Star Destroyer class carrier/space control vessel.
Only a few years after the critical victory at Yavin, the Rebels would gain further major victories at Endor and the final battle of Jakku, causing the peace treaty, and the formation of the New Republic. Despite its small stature, the Rebel Alliance was the thorn-in-the-side of the Empire with its hit-and-fade tactics, ability to scrap together machines, and wrestle victory in the face of defeat. The Empire could wiped out a major base, like Hoth or Yavin, and the Rebellion would have several other bases in hiding. That was the power of the Rebels, their ability to be cellular and not to be tied down one fixed location. As the Empire cracked down after the destruction of the first Death Star, it drove more into the arms of the Rebellion.

Darth Vader?!
The Dark Side of the Force is at the heart of the Lords of the Sith, but it also a weakness in the very heart of the Empire. The Emperor rules over both the Sith and the galaxy, with this loyal student, Lord Vader at his side, ready enforce the will of his master...or is he? In The Empire Strikes Back, Lord Vader tells Luke to join and depose the Emperor, and they can rule the galaxy as father and son. This shows that there was something rotten in Denmark and that one of the greatest weakness in the Empire was the plotting of the Emperor and Vader. During the key battle of Endor, while the 2nd Death Star was fighting for survival, the senior most Imperial leadership is in the middle of Lightsaber power struggle. Once again, the course of the galaxy comes down to the struggle between the Sith and the Jedi...when is the rest of the galaxy going to learn?

The Hutt Cartel
In between the Empire and the Rebellion was other major galactic force: the Hutts. For the most part, the Hutts were a major player in the wider economic forces in the galaxy, they were part of the economics of both and funded projects for both. The Hutts were playing both sides, while controlling their share of the rim territories. Without the Hutts and their various business, the Death Star would not have been constructed, nor would the Rebellion have access to material and lines of credit. If they so desired, the Hutts could have cut off their financial support (in the clear and in the shadows) of either side or both, and inflected much hardship. If the Empire had been successful in wiping out the Rebellion and gone after the Hutts, the hidden hand of their economic power would reached out. Wisely, the Empire played by the rules and left the Hutts alone.

The Future of the Empire: The First Order
From the ashes of the Empire came the phoenix organization that took over the mantle for the Empire: the First Order. Originally, the First Order was an political party in the New Republic Senate, but was no tolerated for its views being aligned with old doctrine from the Empire and it and its members were booted out. Out in the rim, they located the remains of the Empire, combined with the Dark Side Force user Snoke. This allowed the military junta of the First Order to be formed some 30 years after the Battle of Endor.
The primary goal was simple: destroy the New Republic, crush the Resistance, and become the dominate power in the galaxy. Central to their dark desires for oppression and control was the Starkiller super weapon along with hunting down the last major Light Side Force user: Luke Skywalker. Given the surplus and iconography of the Empire, the First Order borrowed liberally and much like the Empire before it, there was too much investment into an ultimate weapon that was defeated by a collection of starfighters and spunky rebels. After the destruction of the Starkiller Base and the New Republic capitol world, the galaxy is again in flux as the two sides of the Force battle for harmony and control.    

The Final Assessment of the Empire
What kind of grade would the Imperial Military get if it was being ranked to real-world military organizations? Let us consider the case. Holding power of 75%-80% of the galaxy gives Imperial Military an impressive and difficult mission to accomplish, but its racial policy via COMPNOR causing chronic issues with recruitment and driving "aliens" into the hands of the Rebel Alliance, which is the rotten center of the Empire.
In addition, there is serious leadership issues that pull focus from core issues and pours money into vastly expensive planet-killers that are more or less easily killed by space fighters, despite this vast advanced knowledge of engineering and construction. The actual military organization is also weak from heavily investing in an expensive class of warship (The Star Destroyer), a cheap starfighter, and a small core of loyalist shocktroopers that cannot project power in enough places to prevent the Rebellion from spreading like a cancer.  In the final assessment of the Imperial Military, FWS grades them an solid "D" on the cusp of an "C".

Next Time on FWS...
Wanting something new to read during the last month of summer? Join us next time when FWS will review a very fine Military Sci-Fi novel Salvage Marines by Sean-Michael Argo along with an interview with the author.