There are some military units that are known the world over and just the mention of their name evokes respect and fear, and the US Marine Corps is one of these. So iconic is the USMC that they have captured the name "marine" itself and dominated its definition since the First World War despite not being the oldest Marine corps in the world. That honor goes to the Spanish Navy Marines, founded in 1537. With the nexus of ideas, history, iconography surrounding these marine units, they have become a popular source for inspiration for science fiction space infantry units with the name marine itself being used countless times with varying degrees of accuracy. I thought it was high time to discuss Marine units and cover the relationship between science fiction and the Marines. There will be some bleed over with the previous FWS blogpost on Space Marines.
The Meaning of the name "marine"
The classical definition of the name “marine” is: from the sea and it perfectly sums up the native environment of Marine units. The English word comes from Latin word “marinus” and was used by the English and the Dutch to define and separate these naval soldiers from the infantry. While the word marine perfectly sums up the nature of these units in a single word, other languages are not as lucky as seen in other global marine units like the French Troupes de marine and Argentina Infantería de Marina. Some of these international Marine units are historically named and have had a role into the creation of the US Marines. Many other international Marine units have taken inspiration from the US Marines, further the name. Science fiction has borrowed the term “marine” since 1932 and continues to be the standard issued term for starship-based troops that secure and hold exo-planetary real estate and it makes some sense due to the relationship between wet navies and space fleets. On the unequalled Atomic Rockets website, it has been suggested by creator Tyge Sjostrand that the term space marine should be retired in favor of “Espatiers”.
The Roles and Responsibilities of Modern Marine Units
Within their warfighting roles, we can see a more offensive mindset born out of assault beaches and boarding ships with less combined arms support than the big army. This forges the more aggressive mindset and creating unique unit attitude and culture. During wartime, Marine units classically assault and secure beachheads and inland objects up to around 50 miles via various landing crafts and aircraft. One of the more unique roles of the US Marine Corps has been as embassy security staff for all US embassies the world over.
What Makes Marines Unique over the Infantry?
Are Marines classified as Special Operations?
Some Examples of Global Marine Corps
The Royal Marine Commandos of the United Kingdom
The Royal Bahamian Special Marine Commandos
The Spanish Navy Marines
While many believe that the US Marine Corps is the oldest in the world, that title actually belongs to the Marines of the Spanish Navy which was established in 1537 and continues onward to this day. Given its long history and the vast changes in Spain over the course of four hundred years, the Spanish Marines have changed and were nearly disbanded in 1931 and only saved by the Spanish Civil War. This elite amphibious infantry force of 4600 is designed for mission along the lines of the US Marines, in being a force-in-readiness for quick deployment to global hotspots. Given its long history, the most former member of the Spanish Navy Marines was Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes. While many of the global marine forces are just a highly trained infantry force, the Spanish Marines are a combined arms unit with specialized artillery, vehicles, and other equipment.
The French Marines
There Were Confederate Marines during the Civil War?
The Real-World "Colonial Marines" of the 19th Century
And the Award for the Best Name Marine unit is the Finnish Coastal Jaegers!
My Opinion on the Sci-Fi Usage of the term “Marine”
The majority of science fiction creators heavily borrow from the United States Marine Corps to frame their own fictional space marine corps along with also borrowing from other sci-fi space marine corps, like James Cameron’s Colonial Marine Corps from ALIENS. This forms a foundation of most space marines, but not all. Often these space marine of sci-fi are tough ship-based warfighter that uses rough language, head-on assault tactics, elements of USMC culture/terminology.
From a Creator's POV: Sean-Michael Argo
During the extensive writing period for this blogpost, I reached out to a fellow creator in the genre of military science fiction: author Sean-Michael Argo, who pens the excellent Necrosapce series of books that feature an far-future space marine organization.
-Why did you chose the term "marines" for your space-based naval infantry force?
To me the 'space marine' is such a classic genre fixture, something integral to military science fiction, like smugglers, bounty hunters, alien invaders, and galactic empires. There is something special about, as your question put it, a naval infantry force. The idea of armor-clad warriors who are hurled into battle on a man-to-man level set to the backdrop of these vast conflicts between titanic spaceships and mega-civilizations, it is rather engaging, and speaks to me artistically. I want to tell stories about individuals doing their part, which is small in the grand scale, but on a personal level it is their greatest moment. From a plot perspective, having a naval based infantry force be the protagonist group allows me to change the setting at will, giving me much more flexibility in telling the story.
-Did you borrow any real-world Marine element for your space marines?
My work in military science fiction, which thus far has focused on 'space marines' in both my Necrospace and Extinction Fleet series, is intentionally based on what I'll call a "Vietnam Era" style of conflict. That war was such an interesting and tragic tapestry of military technology, politics, and tactics. My parents and uncle were deeply affected by that war, and I was born only a couple of years after it ended, so I grew up on stories of that conflict. The war's insane blend of high end military technology, like machine guns and helicopters, being placed into what amounts to close quarters battle scenarios (in the confines of thick jungle) is a rich resource for the fiction writer. This was a war fought at the squad and platoon level, unlike the more large scale (though equally bitter) conflicts like WWI and WWII, and that also lends itself to the fiction writer's ability to paint characters as individuals instead of paper targets surrounding a single protagonist. I am heavily influenced by films like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon for this very reason. While those aren't always about marines, they capture the vibe, and to me there is nothing more iconic and influential in my own work than a United States Marine serving in Vietnam.
However, as a civilian there is only so much I can do as far as capturing the real-life sentiments and experiences of combat veterans in general, and US Marine culture in general. I work often as a defense contractor, and based on my interactions with veterans of wars in the Middle East I do my best to balance the dynamic fun of science fiction with the grit and hardship that will resonate with the men and women who have served. Many of my fans are veterans, and so I take care to strike that balance between realism and fun, though there are plenty of times where I either 'get it wrong' or have to sacrifice realism for the narrative. As such, I try not to make any claims as an author about the authenticity of my work, and so intentionally avoid drawing any specific correlations in my stories to real-life US Marines.
-What does the term "marine" mean to you?
I tend to go with the standard definition of the marine as a naval soldier, and I intentionally differentiate within my stories between marines and other kinds of warriors. In Necrospace I have the 'salvage marines' who are a naval infantry force that moves through the universe as scrap hunters. They often face soldiers from other rival corporations, like the Helion battle troopers, who are specifically not marines, and not referred to as such. I do the same in Extinction Fleet, where I have the Einherjar space marines who fight the hungry alien swarms, though they are aided at times by planetary defense troopers. Generally I use the word trooper, soldier, and security staffer to differentiate. A marine serves out of a ship, and is a member of a fundamentally mobile force.
-Why do you think there are so many space marines in sci-fi?
I think that is a combination of culture and commerce. On the culture side, the United States Marine is our epitome of 'badass soldier' and so referring to a group of characters as 'marines' instead of 'soldiers' confers some extra weight to the kind of military exploits we can expect from those characters. It is a way to make it clear to the reader, from the outset, that these characters are above average. Calling a character a marine establishes credibility for that character's level of badass. On the commercial side, perhaps as a result of the cultural side, the term 'space marine' is more effective when it comes to marketing and metadata. Amazon has a category of Military Science Fiction called "Space Marine" instead of "Space Soldiers" and that is a pretty clear indicator of how powerful those two words (space and marine) really are. That is a big part of why for my Extinction Fleet series I incorporated those words into the titles of all 3 books in the trilogy. When a potential reader sees the titles "Space Marine Ajax" and "Space Marine Loki" and "Space Marine Apocalypse" they know right away that these stories are going to be about a highly badass naval infantry force of the future. I would like to add, however, that using 'space marine' as a metadata keyword or even as part of your book or series title, locks you into a bargain with your readers, so you had better deliver!
Why the Adeptus Astartes from Warhammer 40,000 are NOT "Space Marines"!
The Curious Case of the Stafleet Marines from Star Trek
FWS discusses the universe of Star Trek in nearly every article presented here and it is often both the canonized and uncanonized sources due to my extensive history with the franchise. I was a Trekkie during the heyday of the Trek RPG and tabletop game published under license by Chicago-based FASA and this colored by view of the Trek universe and Starfleet ships. Mentioned throughout the FASA technical manuals and gaming books is the “Starfleet Marines”, and it would make logical sense to most of us that an organization like Starfleet would possess a planetary combat unit. While there have been hints of Starfleet combat personnel, as seen in Star Trek V, VI, and DS9; it is was firmly rejected by creator Gene Roddenberry. He believed that Starfleet would use their security personnel for any kind of duty that fall to the Marines. This prevented any canon Starfleet Marine Corps from being developed and this “militarization” of Trek led to the removal of the license by Paramount from FASA in 1989 suddenly. Thus, ruling the FASA Star Trek games complete ruled uncanon and DOA. Paramount was concerned about confusion of the FASA TNG gaming materials to the TV series, the upcoming publication of an ground based Trek combat game (similar in concept to the later Babylon 5 GROPOS), and Operation: ARMAGGEDON; which had the Federation invade the Klingons and Romulans.
Where does this leave the concept of Federation Marines? Dead in the water and it is real shame for us old school fans of classic Trek gaming. One of the rumored sources of a possible canon Starfleet Marine Corps came from the “Operation RETRIEVE” briefing given by Colonel West to the Federation President in Star Trek VI. It was believed that when the briefing documents seen on-screen was mention of Marines being used to recover Kirk and McCoy. However, this is simply not true based on close inspection of the screen used props.
There is another gaming company that is currently producing licensed Star Trek games right here in Texas…Amarillo, Texas to be specific. Originally Task Force Games, Amarillo Designs Bureau has contracts with Franz Joseph Designs and Paramount to published Trek centered tabletop war simulation games that began in 1979 with Starfleet Battles and continues on to this very day. With their license only covering the original series and could not involve known characters or anything currently being creating after first Trek film, this game company forged their own Trek reality, called "Star Trek Universe". The Captain’s Module Starfleet Marines rulebook was added for the Starfleet Battles gaming system in 1995 and revised in 2007. In 2011, Amarillo Designs Bureau would create a ground combat game set in the Star Trek Universe reality called Starfleet Marines that currently includes two modules with all manner of familiar ground combat weapons, vehicles, and items that seem to waging combat in the 26th century.
Science Fiction and the Marines
Examples of Marines in Sci-Fi
The Marines from Battle:Los Angeles (2011)
FanTac Space Marines Wargame (1977) and FGU Space Marines (1980)
1.The Space Marines Wargame was an early user of the much-used and much-love sci-fi term, but much of the actual game setting has been lost to time. Who were the Space Marines of the game, who were their enemies, who did they work for?
The term "Space Marines" was not a much-loved term when we did these rules. The term is used to refer to military units transported by StarShip to reach combat zones beyond their original planetary bases, either invading enemy held planets or supporting the defense of planets from invasion. By definition, the term "marine" refers to "naval infantry" who serve aboard ships or on land and trained in landing operations. Each StarNation or interplanetary civilization has its own version of these types of military units and, like modern marines, each has its own armored and air-capable components.
2. How successful was the game during those heady early days of the RPG/wargaming market?
Space Marines was extremely successful when compared to other miniatures rules, though sales did not rival the best selling role-playing games. The rules were the rules chosen for national tournaments in the UK, where such tournaments were very popular. In the USA, it should be noted, that miniatures games were more for social gatherings and tournaments were less popular. This is also reflected in one of the major differences between sets of American and British rules as British rules were a bit more vague and assumed that a referee would be present for miniatures battles, while American rules assumed that players would look up a specific rule and not rely on a referee as all club members present would want to be participating in the miniatures battle.
3. Why do you think the creator of the game, A. Mark Ratner, decided to name the game "space marines"?
I believe that this question in answered by the reply to question number one, especially as no other game had used this term and it seemed to make the subject/topic of the game self-explanatory.
4. How did Space Marines influence Space Opera?
Space Marines provided the major human StarNations and alien races for Space Opera. The Space Opera universe is seen as several centuries after the setting of Space Marines and the Space Opera sourcebook "Ground & Air Equipment" updates the military equipment of Space Marines to the tech level of the Space Opera universe, plus allowing players to create combat situations between military forces of differing technological levels.
5. What is the Current Status of Space Marines?
We are currently working on re-typesetting Space Marines to be re-released in our current book format (8" x 10" thicker books as opposed to our original 8 1/2" x 11" books).
The United States Colonial Marine Corps from the ALIENS Universe
The UNSC Marine Corps from the HALO Universe
The Colonial Marine Corps from the Battlestar Galactica Universe
After the Fall of the 12 Colonies, the Galactica had about 30 Marines onboard with none sniper trained. To fill in the gaps of the onboard Marine force, Colonial pilots and other military personnel were pulled to help the Colonial Marines out. Their numbers increases greatly after the Pegasus joined the fleet, the Marines numbered around 300. Over the course of the show, that number dropped due to Cylon activity, the events on New Caprica, accidents, and internal fleet conflicts. During Gaeta Mutiny, the Marines were divided among themselves due to conflicting loyalties to the various factions. Many died during this, reducing the number of trained Marines in the entire universe by nearly half. By the time of the Battle of the Colony and the discovery of the second Earth, it is likely that the number of Colonial Marines was no more than a few dozen if that. These Marines were armed with mostly real-world weapons, like the 5.7mm FN FiveSeven pistol, the PDW FN P90, and the Beretta CX4 9mm pistol carbine. Now, let us discuss what kinda of pisses me off about the Marines of the rebooted BSG. They are more less paper tigers and pawns of the various factions fighting in the fleet during the journey to Earth and beyond.
The ISA Marines from the Killzone Universe
The bloody invasion of Halghan and the use of the Red Dust nuclear device caused heavy losses among the ISA Marines, but the Marines achieved their objective of creating a beachhead on the homeworld. When it comes to equipment, the ISA Marines use the standard M82 assault rifle (with and without the grenade launcher), a number of spacelift armored vehicles, tactical transports, heavy anti-armor weapons. Their personal gear is based on current issue gear and a Pro-Tec like Skater helmet. Much of the ISA Marine gear and equipment was used by the on-planet Rapid Reaction Force, which were seen in great number in the original 2004 PS2 game, who often confused for regular ISA Marines due to their role as colonial defense. This confusion between the Marines and the RRF included one of the main characters of the 2004 game Cpt. Jan Templar was not a marine, but a RRF trooper, as many falsely believed. Like many Military SF Marine units, the ISA Marines are heavily based on the US Marine Corps with the ranking system based on the US Army.
The EarthForce Marines from the Babylon 5 Universe
One of the lesser known fictional space marine units is from the Babylon 5 universe, specifically the EarthForce Marines (EFM). Why is it unknown despite the popularity of B5? The EarthForce Marines were better known as the GROPOS, which is a general term from the EarthForce ground forces. This generalized term can refer to the EarthForce Army, their armored units, tac-air, and even the Marines. This muddied the waters despite the EF Marines appearing onscreen on two amazing B5 “combat” episodes: “GROPOS” (2x10) and “Severed Dreams (3x10)”. Given the budget limitations of the show, these Marines were given a very basic military uniform that consisted of a plastic trainer PASGT (Kevlar) helmet in OD along with tactical rigging and OD uniform that could be an often used flight jumpsuit.
The USMC of 2063 from Space: Above and Beyond
The show liberally mined common USMC tropes, adding doses of popular Marine Corps films, like Full Metal Jacket, to favor these space marines. Overall, the cast and crew attempt to pay respect and love to the Marine Corps despite the errors and using highly trained space attack pilots as gorundpounders (a common MSF trope). There was nothing like SAAB then or even now, and represents one of the best Military Sci-Fi shows of all time. Since its release, SAAB as become a resource and inspiration for Military SF creators (including myself), along with the Marine Corps of 2063/2064 being a prototype for other space marines, like HALO’s UNSC Marine Corps. This show as been a huge influence on me personally and I think it is the best Military SF show ever despite its flaws.
The Various Space Marine Corps from the Space Cruiser Yamato/Starblazers Universe
During the original series of Space Cruiser Yamato and its American redub, Starblazers, the good crew of the Yamato were without a space-based infantry force. But, in episode six of the second Space Cruiser Yamato TV series, The White Comet Empire, were is introduced to the EDF space infantry force based on the 11th planet (Brumus) that goes by five names throughout the various incarnations of Yamato: The Space Marines, the Space Calvary, Space Commandos, the Cosmo Marines, and Space Cavaliers. What mainly unites the various planetary ground force units seen in the Yamato works is that they are light, high trained infantry force that is reliant on the Starforce to provide close-air support, transportation, and even provide armed ground vehicle. They are also led by Sgt. Hajime Saito or Sgt. Know in the American dub.
When the VHS tapes were being released, they retailed for $14 per tape which included two episodes. This made it extremely expensive for fans of Starblazers/Yamato to rewatch their beloved series. To replace these tapes, we fans either rented them or bought the various Yamato books that were released by various sources and in various languages. My first knowledge that the Argo/Yamato carried space marines came from the Comico Comic Company Starblazers mini-series in 1987, when the history of Yamato was summed up. It also did not help that the older Starblazers was eclipsed by works like ROBOTECH in the 1980’s. It wasn’t until I bought the Farewell OVA VHS tape that I learned about Sgt. Knox and most of the hard data I have on these space marines from the Starblazers Fleet Battle System technical manual.
The Various Space Marines of the DOOM Universe
One of the most famous video games of all time is DOOM and it is a touchstone for generations of gamers, a symbol of computer and video game history…and it did this without much of a central character or backstory. In the original 1993 game, you are a Space Marine (Doomguy) that is there to kick demon ass and chew bubblegum with barely a backstory delivered in text. This green-armor wearing shotgun-welding leatherneck is barely seen in the game itself and the cover art is our best visual of our embodied hero until DOOM 3 in 2005…well sort of. The popularity of DOOM spawned a giveaway convention comic book by Marvel in 1996 and four novels released from 1995-1996. While comic is batshit insane, the books expanded Doomguy and his limited backstory. These books are often panned and I could never get through them. According to official sources, the Doomguy is a member of the USMC during an Earthside war. Due to actions he committed on Earth, Doomguy was shipped to Mars to be security for the UAC operations there. When the transmission signal goes down on Phobos, Doomguy and his USMC buddies are sent in. This story and the involvement of Marines was inspirited by the USCMC from ALIENS.
Many of the original Bond films were based on the novels by Ian Fleming and 1979’s Moonraker was not immune to that trend. However, only a few elements were mined from the 1955 novel of the same name, and this movie was designed to capitalize on the popularity of science fiction laid down by Star Wars. The central plot revolved around the evil attempts by a man made Drax who was bent on wiping out humanity via orbital bio-weapons and then repopulating the Earth with his new chosen people.
The Coastal Defender Stormtroopers from Star Wars: Rogue One
Next Time on FWS...