26 July 2020

The Weapons of Science Fiction: The M590 Exo-Assault Rifle from SPACE: Above and Beyond

Packed in seemingly every military science fiction work are futuristic firearms and some, like the Colonial Marines M41A1 Pulse Rifle has become an icon of sci-fi weaponry...then there are others that never get their day in the limelight. One of those military sci-fi weapons is the United States standard issue endo/exo assault rifle of the 2060's: the M590. Featured in the legendary 1990's FOX one-season TV show Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB), the M590 was never given the fandom of Decker's blaster or the Macleod's Katana, but it made an impression on me and on others in the Military SF community. In this installment of The Weapons of Science Fiction, we shall be diving into the SAAB M590 exo-assault rifle and finally giving its due.

What is the M590?

As depicted in the show, the M590 exo-assault rifle is the primary rifle of the US Marine Corps and the US Army for use in all exo-planetary environments and conditions that the US Armed Forces find themselves during off-world combat and peacekeeping operations. This magazine-fed, air-cooled kinetic energy weapon fires a cased 5mm to 7mm projectile of various ammunition types depending on the conditions and enemy target types. Designed by AeroTech Corporation, the M590 has been the official standard assault rifle for off-world operations with the increased off-planet colonization expansion after the A.I. Rebellion.
Due to the design specification by the Defense Department for soldiers and marines needing to use their M590s will in combat environmental suit that feature padded gloves, the trigger is rather unique and not similar to any combat rifle before. The "trigger bar" is often depressed by four fingers instead of the traditional single due to the gloves worn with the rifle stabilized by the thumb loop grip and the forward grip. Given issues with safety and the bulkiness of the current issue gloves, the trigger was set with more force to fire the weapon. In some models, the forward assembly grip has been replaced by a single shot, slide-opening 40mm grenade launcher for increased offensive capability.
At the beginning of the Chig War in 2063, the M590s were issued with a flush box magazine containing 10 rounds. This was believed effective due to the nature of infantry combat in off-world conditions where one round could inflict critical damaged to the environmental combat suit, causing death via lack of ability to maintain the suit's integrity. However, it was proven that the small magazine was not effective against the armored alien infantry units causing the issuing of 30 round magazine in early 2064. With the use of environmental helmets, the traditional scope and sight systems was abandoned for a larger flip-up HUD display that could be easily seen by the user even when wearing a helmet.
Using the forward sensor tube, the data was feed into the flip-up HUD screen and the user could select night vision, IR, motion tracking, thermal inputs to acquire targets or scan for threats. However, with extended usage in the field, the battery powering the system was only good for 12 hours and in-field users were strongly encouraged to pack extra batteries. Another feature of the M590 was the arm brace system rather than the traditional rifle stock. This was also due to the conditions unique to fielding an infantry weapon for units that would be operating in all manner of exo-environments. Some units have requested special modifications to the standard issue M590 for Special Operations missions. At the time of writing, AeroTech has proudly produced over two million M590s for use in the Chig War.

The M590: By the Numbers (based on the art by Georg Joergens)
Overall Length: 33.82 inches
Width: 1.77 inches
Weight (unloaded): 9.26 lbs
Height: 10.67
Height w/ IR Scanner: 12.72
Action: semi-automatic, gas-operated rotating bolt. reinforce for exo-environments 
Caliber (according to Georg Joergens): 5.56x45mm/7.62x51mm
Range: 200-400 meters
The Special Trigger: Variable pressure adjustable (up to 1.7 lbs) designed for the exo-environment ranked standard issue gloves. 

The Fictional History of the M590
The nations of Earth were in a delicate position after the AI War and the public was tired of armed conflict due the bloody terrifying nature of the AI rebellion. But, the threat reminded out there among the stars. Towards the end of the war, the Silicates were losing and they commandeered military heavy launch vehicles to fling themselves into space, away from their former masters. This gave the nations of Earth the public support and will to expand extraterrestrial military capability to prevent their return to pose a threat to Earth and her colonial holdings. One of the symbols of this was the construction of the US Navy John F. Kennedy space carrier class, with the Saratoga (SCVN-2812) being commissioned in August of 2059. It was during this time that most nations of the Earth expanded their space naval capabilities alongside the effort to establish colonies beyond the Sol System. It was during this time that military outposts and bases were established, like in the Groombridge 34 system.
This created the need for a specialized rifle for use in all exo-environments that infantry units would be operate within. With so much of the  modernization of the spacefaring military being handled by AeroTech, they provide a prototype of what is now the M590 exo-assault rifle in 2059. After trials on Mars, Luna, and several asteroids in the Kuiper Belt, the M590 was adopted as the standard exo-environmental assault rifle of the US Marine Corps, the US Navy, US AeroForce, and the US Army. While the weapon had been used in some wargames on Demois and Groombridge Lanstrom, its first combat usage is against some Silicate pirates at the ore mines of Blackheart's Rock in the Luyten 726-8 system.
Then came the attacks on Vista and Tellus, the first major colonial ventures outside the solar system. With days of those cowardly attacks by the now-christened "Chigs", the M590 was engaged in all manner of combat across the cosmos. With these battles against the armored aliens came new data about the combat effectiveness of the new rifle. While the bullet fired by the M590 did indeed kill Chigs, it needed more rounds in the magazine for the intense combat engagements that were occurring in the war. The new 30 round magazines were used to the frontline units in the winter of 2064 with great improvement to the combat effectiveness of the M590. With the failure of the peace talks and the continuation of hostilities, AeroTech is set to roll-out the newly improved M590A2 to frontline units after the successful real-world combat testing and evaluations.

What Do Those M590s Fire?
Officially, there is no canon information what the M590 fired in the series. This as lead to debate among fans, on what the M590 fired, if it was cased or caseless. This is similar to the discussions surrounding Decker's M2019 blaster. What is not in any debate is what the blank-firing weapon was and what it fired. Buried under the sci-fi plastic covering is the familiar Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle in 5.56mm. Much like the SST Morita rifle, the M590 uses the reliable Ruger Mini-14 semi-auto rifle that fired blank  5.56x45mm round. However, unlike the SST film, which mixed the semi-auto Mini-14 and the full-auto AC556 blank-firing weapons, SAAB's M590 were only fire semi-auto, making them Mini-14s, not AC556s. This is reversed when the M590 is featured in an episode of The X-Files. This could mean that the fictional M590 fired the same round as the Colt M16, meaning that the 5.56mm cartridge has been in service with the US Armed Services for 100 years! Some information presented on fan sites have stated that the M590 fires the larger, heavier 7.62x51mm
round that is one of the best military bullets ever developed. Added to this confusion, we rarely see the M590s eject cartridges and some sites have stated that the M590 is an caseless assault rifle, Again, there is no official information and we just have to guess or imagine what these kinetic energy weapons fire. It could be as simple as good old NATO 7.62mm or even 5.56mm or maybe some sort of exotic cartridge developed during the AI Rebellion.

What Does the M590 Say about the USMC of 2063?
Weapons of war speak volumes about the cultures that created them and we can learn about the civilizations that forged them for combat by their warriors. So, what does the M590 exo-assault rifle say about the US Marines of 2063/2064 during the Chig War? When the Chigs made their presence widely known to the governments and peoples of Earth was during their wiping out of the Vesta and Tellus colonies some 10.5 Lightyears from the Sol System (the evil AeroTech company knew about the Chigs before 2063 along with the exiled Silicates). At the time of the Vesta and Tellus massacres, the nations of Earth were at relative peace and were still rebuilding from the AI Rebellion.
At this time, the nations of Earth, via the AeroTech company, were establishing exo-colonies. To protect these colonies, the US government had the US Marine Corps establish the “Colonial Sentry” program, where Marine units would serve rotations on off-world colonies and bases as protection against AI pirates, any hostile lifeforms, and possible hostile little green men. This was a new concept and the nations of the Earth were just starting to really establish their interstellar military presence, tactics, and technology when the Chigs made a hostile visit to the colonial sites of the Epsilon Erdani star system. This is great represented in the M590, the first assault rifle developed by AeroTech for the use by US Army and US Marine units assigned to off-world duty.
Being the first weapon designed for such an operational environment, it has flaws that would be worked out for future variants and even new small arms based on the experiences of using the M590. During the Chig War, the forces of Earth using the M590, mostly the armed forces of the United States of America, saw improves to the weapon because of hard earned experience. This can be noticed with the inclusion of large magazines issued to Fleet Marine units on the frontlines. The M590 also tells us that AeroTech and the US military envisioned the M590 being used in mostly hostile alien environments due to the trigger assembly being developed for us by soldiers, marines, and sailors using padded gloves rated for hostile off-world alien environments.

Under the Plastic: The Mini-14 and the M590
Like most props, the M590 has both a fictional world it lives in and the real-world. In the real-world, the M590 rifle is a bit of a mystery and little attention has been paid to it over the years outside the propmaking fans of SAAB. What is well know is that under the plastic futuristic shell is a Ruger Mini-14 5.56mm semi-auto rifle (the full-auto is the AC556). This is one of the most commonly used blank-firing weapon used for props for films due to its reliability. After that, little is actually known about the M590 prop...until now. According to some interviews (and some big help from Yoel) with propmasters and production designers involved with show, here is what we know about the M590 prop.
Some of the M590s used on-screen where built in Australia by , due to Land Down Under being the site of the filming of the pilot. These are somewhat different in color and construction. Once SAAB was pocked up, the production moved to the States and more M590s were made with differences in construction, like in the barrel, Philips-headed screws, and being made out of black resin. We know that some of the Australian-made M590 space rifles were used in the US during filming the series due to the M590 used by actress Kristen Cloke in "Ray Butts" being tracked by fan that owns the prop.
According to one source involved with the US production, the production designer in Australia was Bernard Hides and he did not know if Mr. Hides was involved in the designing of the M590. He did tell me that the reason for the massive trigger that was guard-less, was due to the heavy gloves worn by the actors. After getting in touch with Ian Scheibel, the propmaster for SAAB, he provided me with the source of the creators of the M590: Independent Studio Services (ISS), based in Sunland, California. When I asked about the design, he said this: I believe I took some ideas from the producers, had ISS make some prelim designs that we made changes to, etc.  Hate to be so vague but it was the usual design process... everyone wants to do something "new" and put their thumbprint on it and I want to keep it simple so that it's practical... doesn't weigh a ton and is an easy weapon to throw into a mold to make non-working replicas and rubber doubles.
During a Facebook conversion with Yoel, he brought up the issue of the magazines with the M590s. Up until the episode "Toy Soldiers" from February 18th of 1996, no magazine had been seen sticking out from the bottom of the M590, then a larger magazine was featured throughout the ending of the show, but not all M590s had the larger magazines. I asked Ian about this, and here was his response: we used five-round magazines (maybe 10-round, too) unless higher capacity was needed for a scene with gunfire.  So, in other words, the "default look" was maybe pretending that it didn't even have a magazine or that the magazine was flush with the bottom of the housing... that way we did not need to start designing new elements for the magazines.  For example, on Space Rangers (see pic below) we couldn't leave well enough alone and added that element on the end of the mag to make it less-recognizable.  
We did the same thing for the sidearm on SAAB... added an extra piece so that it did not look as much like a current day Glock magazine. I'm wondering if we actually switched to larger mags or if you were just seeing it in a scene where we needed actual gunfire.  If that was the case, we probably would not go into a scene with only a five- or ten-round mag unless there were only 1 to 5 shots being fired.  (If we switched to higher capacity mags just for actual firing, we might have just cheated them in, thinking that in all the excitement, who's gonna keep track?) I'm remembering now, too... The new housing we created  made things a little tight.  Because you have to kind of angle in the magazine (kind of engage it then rock it forward) the housing was really making that difficult. To answer your question, we had real weapons (blank-firing), replica weapons (poured resin/plastic) and rubber weapons.  
All of them had the little, light-up, fold down screens.  The replicas all had working, light-up screens.  We would not have a real (blank-firing weapon) in a shot unless there was actually gunfire called for (or if a character wanted to "rack a round" as the replicas did not have a functioning charger handle/slide... and actors like to do that). On the other hand... we never counted on Post or roto or CG for gunfire... they may have added it at times but if there was gunfire in a scene, we were firing live blanks. And the alien planets were super dirty... whatever they were using for soil on other planets really did not work well with oiled guns. So, where are the prop M590s now? Given the amount of stunt and replica copies made for the production, these are the one that have that fans have been able to buy over the years. I assume that the few blank-firing M590s were return to ISS and possibly broken down and sold without the Mini-14 and/or AC556 internals.

What is that HUD Flip-Up Screen on the M590?
One of the more noticeable features of the M590 was the massive flip-up HUD LCD screen and "scope" mounted on the forward assembly of the rifle. From this, we can guess that it seems that the way the M590 was to be operated was via the aiming HUD screen and not iron-sights or other more conventional aiming techniques. This could be due to the Marines being in hostile environmental suits and the helmets preventing the conventional shoulder-aiming ergonomics. This would be similar to my experiences using a paintball gun modeled after the Colt CAR-15 Commando and wearing a paintball mask. In the series, it was only used a few times in the early episodes and appears to be a targeting sensor and tracking system that relays data from the sensor tube located on the front of the weapon.
We have a scan of the readout screen and the data it displays, and this seems to make sense. In the show, the HUD screens are seen in both the flipped-up and flipped-down positions. When discussing the HUD sight with Edward Franklin, who was the Department Coordinator for Electronic Effects, he said this in an Facebook exchange: Only one of them had an actual back lit LCD screen for targeting. The others just had a slide that could be placed in there with a light in the back to illuminate it. Then there were others that had no electronics at all. This confirms two things. One, that the HUD LCD screen was indeed designed for targeting and two, that there was only one "hero" rigged up to illuminate the targeting screen as seen above. I like this was only seen on-screen during the pilot episode when Nathan is tracking the Chig recon vehicle pilot on Mars. Some sources online have claimed that this flip-up screen is used for a grenade launcher that we never see. 

The Impact and Legacy of the M590
When FOX was promoting their upcoming military science fiction show, Space: Above and Beyond, the promotional teasers mostly focused on the aspect of space fighter combat with the Chigs. Some planet-side battles were shown during the expedition to Mars. This was the central concept that the network felt could sell the show and hook audiences. At the time, fans of sci-fi and military SF were excited by the show and much attention was paid to the SA-43 “Hammerhead” Endo/Exo attack jets of the USMC in 2063. However, the expensive in SFX of showing space dogfights with the Chigs forced the show to steer the show’s storylines and battlescenes to more infantry combat with the Chigs and Silicates…which might more screentime for the M590. Even the show made a reference and joke to this when fans became flooding the online message boards for SAAB with requests for more sweet space dodgefights. In one episode, Colonel McQueen states that he has been getting earfill of pilots bitching about being deployed as groundpounders and he says they are Marines first and they will fight “when needed, how needed!”.
This put the M590 more in the spotlight, but despite this, the M590 never gained much traction among the SAAB community along with sci-fi fans. Some fans at the time that SAAB was airing (like me) and later fans, were interested in the M590 and its design. Me, being me, I thought about the M590 and how it was used by the US Marines and US Army personnel in the series while the show was running. Due to the cancellation of the show in 1996, the state of the internet, and the lack of mercdice produced for the show (even now) as lead to the M590 exo-assault rifle being one of the most forgotten and ignored KE rifles of a military sci-fi work of all time.
Overall, the M590 is known about to fans of the show and some within the cosplay and collecting circles of SAAB fandom, but its impact is light and its legacy is nearly nonexistent. Adding to this fact is that there is very little written on the weapon and most SAAB fans are more interested in the SA-43, the Chigs, and Lt. Vansen (meow!).  For me, I was always intrigued by the M590, its design, and its history, and that propelled me to finally give the M590 an article here on FWS. For us fans of the show, we would notice on impact and legacy of the M590 after the end of the show, the M590 being used as a prop weapon for some video games and by other FOX sci-fi TV shows like Sliders and The X-Files.

Why does the M590 have so little in the why of Impact and/or Legacy?
Some sci-fi weapons are icons and known/worshiped by fans and wider culture alike. This includes the Mortia Rifle, the Lightsaber, the PK-D of the LAPD Rep-Det unit, and the Phaser. That does not apply to the Space: Above and Beyond standard issue exo assault rifle of the US Marine Corps and US Army off-world forces. The reason for this is mainly that SAAB was cancelled by FOX after just one season (you bastards!) and it came at a time when internet geek culture was just becoming established, but limited to the expense of being online and the hardware associated with dialing into the matrix. SAAB never had the online fandom that Firefly had or has, for example. In addition, while the rifle is named in the pilot two-hour episode, nearly nothing was ever discussed about the weapon’s technical data or even what it fired, unlike the USCM pulse rifles of ALIENS.
Then there was the overall design that was unique, but it lacked the starpower that makes some sci-fi weapons icons, which is a subjective value, but it holds true. There is very little in the way of fan reproductions of the weapon or an active SAAB cosplay community to support the creation of M590s beyond the level that exist today. While I liked elements of the M590 exo-assault rifle, it is not as well thought out or design to the degree of the somewhat similar M41a1 Pulse Rifle or the MA5B. It is highly likely that if SAAB had been allowed to live and run for a few seasons more, the M590 would have gained traction in the fan community along with alternated by the production staff or even replaced by something else as we witnessed with the Colonial small arms of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica.  Overall, the M590 was condiment to being  just beyond the surface of iconic military science fiction weapons due to it being a single season show that aired in the mid-1990’s and that was also an odd design to boot. 

Where Else Have We Seen the M590?

As the "M190" in the TOPPS 1996 SAAB Comicbook Series
From January to July of 1996, TOPPS would publish a Space: Above and Beyond tie-in comicbook series. The first three issues were a bad comic retelling of the 2-hour pilot and then what followed was a two issues storyline that were an original plot called "The Gauntlet". From my research, this was not based on any lost scripts or possible storyline not undertaken. Overall, these comics are terrible and I have read them...so, feel some pity for me. At one time, I was thinking of an FWS article on them, but they are complete shit and it would be a waste of time discussing them due to their lack of polish and lack of attention to detail when it comes to the world of SAAB. In the series, the artist and writers at TOPPS called the rifle an "M190" in issue number #2 that covered the 58th mission to Mars, where we learn of the rifle's name.  It looks barely like the M590 we know in the TV series, but it was closer than the oddball rifle we witness in the two-issue "The Gauntlet" story. There, the rifle looks more like an M16 with all manner of sci-fi looking attachments. After the two issues of "The Gauntet", TOPPS cancelled their comicbook venture into the Chig War due to the cancellation of the TV series.

In the Hands of Mulder and Scully in The X-Files "First Person Shooter (7x13)"
During one of the last good season of the original X-Files, season 7, we get a mixed bag episode called "First Person Shooter". Mixed bag due to its lazy dumb-dumb plot and terrible writing, but good to see Scully kicking digital ass with a familiar rifle: the M590. With creators of Space: Above and Beyond, Glen Morgan and James Wong being involved in The X-Files, the M590 appearing in the 2000 episode likely due to that. In the episode, a near life-like VR game allows players to directly interact in a very Matrix/Holodeck way that so beyond any technology then and even now that it destroys the hull integrity of the entire framework of the story.
When the VR soldiers enter into the game to deal with a female avatar (played by Krista Allen) is murdering real players in the VR realm, the Lone Gunmen and the dynamic duo enter into the game and use the M590, fired on full-auto with ejecting shells. According to some research, the 5.56mm Mini-14 semi-auto in SAAB was replaced by the full-auto AC556 for the "First Person Shooter" episode and several black-painted M590s were used in the show with likely only one being full-auto blank firing. When this episode premiered, I immediately noticed the inclusion of the M590 and thought it was odd, but cool to see it again.

As the GDI/NOD "M16 Mk. II Pulse Rifle" from Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
In the 2007, the 3rd Command & Conquer game was titled "Tiberium Wars". and depicts the further conflicts over the Tiberium crystals between NOD and GDI. In the hands of some of the infantry is the very familiar profile of an M590 with the flush magazine and even the barrel. This is called the M16 Mk. II Pulse Rifle that fired a .22 KE projectile and the one that looks like the M590 is the variant one. I have no solid answer why the M590 appears in a 2007 video game or how.

In the Hands of a Duke Nukem Impersonator from 2001 E3
One of the most tortorius video game developments of all time was the epic struggle to release Duke Nukem Forever. While the game was originally slated for 1998/1999 release, it was delayed. To sooth the fans and inverters, some 19 years ago,  3D Realms reveal one of the many trailers for the upcoming Duke Nukem Forever at E3 2001. Like many companies then and now, they hired models and actors to cosplay/impersonate Duke with beautiful babes, called the "Duke Girls".
In his hands was nothing less than one of the M590 props, painted black(?) and lacking the barrel (for safety?). It is likely that this is one of the many resin copies made for the production for stunt work and arming tons of Marines for "Sugar Dirt". How the hell that an Duke Nukem impersonator hired to promote the upcoming game (insert laughing or crying here) is wielding an M590 is a mystery. My only guess is that the same prop house that armed the two ladies had one of these and when they asked for a big sci-fi gun for Duke, they gave them the M590 stunt copy.

In the Hands of Cyborgs from alternate Earth in Sliders "Rules of the Game (3x01)"

Sliders was not a show that I watched with much frequency due to being in college, working, and being heavily involved in Jeet Kune Do. I was surprised when Yoel reached out to me and inform me that the M590 appears in the 3rd season opener called "Rules of the Game" that aired on FOX on September 20th, 1996. On alternate Earth, there is a game of survival where cash is awarded for living through the playing field. The team crashes into the playing field and battles for their lives against biker gangs and armed androids...sounds like The Running Man. Within the hands of these androids is the M590 painted in black and this episode was filmed just shortly after the cancellation of Space: Above and Beyond. It makes sense that the Sliders production raided the prop-house for futuristic weaponry that did not add to the cost of production.

The HALO UNSC Marine MA5B Rifle?
The first time I saw the standard issue assault rifle for the UNSC Marines, the MA5B, I've always thought it was inspirited by the SAAB M590. Some have thought it was taken from the real-steel FN F2000 futuristic assault rifle. However, according to Bungie's Robert McLees, he did not even see the FN F2000 until after HALO: Combat Evolved was finished and he worried that everyone would think that the rifle's design came from the Belgium future gun. That leads me to reinforce my original theory that the people at Bungie based the MA5B on the M590 and that Space: Above and Beyond was an inspiration for one of the most iconic military science fiction video games of all time.

Next Time on FWS...
Some 18 years. Blizzard Entertainment announced that a unique take on their beloved StarCraft  universe would come to the 6th generation of home video game consoles in the form of GHOST. However, it never came to be and GHOST is regarded by the gaming community as one of the great broken promises of modern video games. In the next installment of Broken Promises, FWS will be taking a look at StarCraft GHOST

16 July 2020

Our Enemies: Tripod Aliens (by Yoel & William)

When they came from the red planet to take what is ours, they came in war machines that walked on legs of three and vaporized with rays of heat. In the founding work of military science fiction, War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, the tradition of alien invaders was established along with the use of robotic war machines used in future war fiction. One of the many features that made these alien war machines was their form of locomotion: three legs. In this installment of Our Enemies, FWS will be exploring and explaining one of the oldest types of enemies of mankind: the Tripod!

The Sci-Fi Alien Tripod Mecha and/or Lifeform
These sci-fi Tripod war machines are vehicles of conquest in their original form laid down by HG Wells, and often these tripod terrors fit within two major categories: biologic or mechanical tripods. Often, biologic referrers to a lifeform that use three-legs for locomotion. In the mechanical terms, we are mostly referring to a “mecha” style vehicle. As seen in the 2005 War of the Worlds, there was examples of both types of Tripods. The alien invaders had tripod bodies and their war machines were also tripods. When it comes to the body layout of these tripod lifeforms and machines, Yoel has laid out 4 types of Tripods:

Type One
The most common layout is bilateral symmetry with two legs in front and one at the rear; sort of bipedal creature with the tail being used as third leg.

Type Two
the 2nd body layout is bilateral symmetry with one in front and two at the rear. There are not as common, with some of the prime examples are the alien “Teddy Bears”  from the Forever War novel, comics and TV adaption that were encountered on the first combat mission of the main characters on a planet orbiting the star Epsilon Aurigae. Another example is the three deployable roller leg on the R2 astromech seen in Star Wars. When we see R2D2 rolling hard, he rolls on three legs.

Type Three
The 3rd body layout is what we can call an “true tripod”. They possess a radial symmetry layout, more like starfish, with these tripod will have usually have other body features equally distribute at 120 degree at each other. One of the best examples is the Xron monster from D&D.

Type Four
The 4th layout that isn't possible for biological creatures and is the realm of the mechanical. In the fourth type of Tripod, the body of the mechanized creation is place on a turret that sits on top of the 3 legged chassis.  With mechanical Tripods, we could see the feet being used to stabilize the design more successful, like a chicken foot.

Several Forms of Three-Legged Locomotion


Why Did H.G. Wells Use a 3-Legged Design for the Martian War Machines?

When it came time for HG Wells to craft the war machines of the Martians, he did something interested in having the octopus-like Martians piloting tripod war machines that established the trope of three-legged mecha. This makes one ask the question: "why did HG Wells select three legs for the mechanical menaces from Mars?" After all, using three legs for something that walks is a bad design the narrator of War of the Worlds calls the alien machines “an problematical object”. One answer may have come when FWS Chief Contributor Yoel had found a link between Homer's Iliad and the design of the Martian war machines. In the Iliad Book 18, the mother of Achilles, Thetis, goes to the forger of the gods, Hephaestus, to ask for armor to be forged. When she visits him in his workshop, she finds him laboring on something like a three-legged robot? Here is the text from the Iliad: but silver-footed Thetis came unto the house of Hephaestus, [370] imperishable, decked with stars, preeminent among the houses of immortals, wrought all of bronze, that the crook-foot god himself had built him. 
Him she found sweating with toil as he moved to and fro about his bellows in eager haste; for he was fashioning tripods, twenty in all, to stand around the wall of his well-builded hall, [375] and golden wheels had he set beneath the base of each that of themselves they might enter the gathering of the gods at his wish and again return to his house, a wonder to behold. Thus much were they fully wrought, that not yet were the cunningly fashioned ears set thereon; these was he making ready, and was forging the rivets." According to some sources, tripods were a feature in Hellenistic culture and the “tripous” design was good for uneven surfaces. The ancient Greek tripods were used as stands for vases and other items. One of the most famous tripods was used by the Oracle of Delphi as a golden seat. Given this, Greek homes were decorated with tripods as a homage to Pythia and the powers of the Temple of Apollo and some were regarded as treasure as in the case with the “Plataean Tripod”. 
How does these Greek mythological and historic tripods give rise to the war machines of Mars? Wells was an education man and he did know the use of tripods in Greek culture. The inclusion of three-legged items was not limited to the Greek mythological tales. During research, Yoel uncovered tripod creatures from Chinese folk tales and in the form of a toad along with the Triskelion  symbol for the Isle of Man. In Danish myth, there is a hell-horse of three legs called “Helhest”. All of these tales, coupled with Wells knowledge of and enjoyment of Darwinism and attending lectures by noted supported of Darwin’s theories, Thomas Henry Huxley. 
We know that Wells liberally mined these ideas for his writings, both fiction and nonfiction, along with being ideas that he held passionately. With these elements in mind, he designed the three-legged Martian war machines to be some beyond nature, evolution, and beyond the human understanding of biology and engineering at the time of writing. This made the Tripod mecha even more bizarre and more alien to the reader…it was something that move on legs not bound to the Terran science or ideals. This was also true of its weaponry. The Tripods did not use bullets or bombs, but an directed-energy “heat ray” and a chemical weapon, known as “black smoke” that was fired at the human enemies via rockets in the book. While chemical weapons would becoming to all-too-real battlefields of World War One, they were still somewhat science fiction. This applies more to the Martian heat-ray that was unlike any human weapon and even more than a hundred years later after the book’s publication, laser DE weapons are only now being added to the inventory of modern warfare.   

Why are Tripods Popular as Sci-Fi Enemies?
When we examine the array of alien enemy Tripods in science fiction and even alien Tripod animals as seen in Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s excellent Expedition book, we can see they are popular, to a certain extent…but why? As we have seen with the examples from mythology and from the pages of War of the Worlds, the very nature of Tripods makes them automatic “alien” and “not of this world” due to the lack of tripods in nature that are not due to sickness or injury. This alieness of the three-legged design is coupled with the use of tripods in one of foundation classes of science fiction: War of the Worlds. It established the trope of tripod aliens and nearly every sci-fi writer, creator, or fan has watched or read this book. This is what forged the trope of three-legged aliens in sci-fi, especially when viewed as enemies. However, it is not used as liberally as one might think and it seems that it goes in trends or as specific references to the original 1898 Martian war machines.

Why were the Tripod Design Abandoned by the 1953 War of the Worlds Film?
For many of us, it was not the tripods of the original book or the 1938 radio drama that we were familiar with, it was the gold-and-green flying saucer war machines of the 1953 American sci-fi film.  When the War of the Worlds TV show was aired in the 1990’s, the alien design and flying saucers were also used instead of the tripod design for the war machines. It was not really until the 2005 film that the Tripods were back and took back the tripod crown from The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher. So, why did the 1953 production team use a flying saucer rather than the familiar and classic tripod design. This was explained by producer George Pal in a review that was published in the October 1953 issue of Astounding Science Fiction
Gordon Jennings was the head of the special effects team on the film and there was an attempt to marry the global “flying saucer” fever and the classic tripods of the 1898 book. According to the 1953 interview, the classic story needed to be updated for the then modern audience which entailed moving the setting to America rather than Britain and capitalizing on the national obsession on the emergence of flying saucers cross the United States after the Summer of 1947 sighting by Kenneth Arnold in Washington state. However, there was a bold attempt to “modernize” the concept of the tripods. In the 1953 article that the idea of making “electric” legs was considered by the special effect crew to take the tripods from a mechanical walker to a walker on electric legs generated by a one-million-volt to generate sparks down “legs” making the alien craft appear to walk on these dazzling legs. While the original test were extremely successful and an amazing effect, it was highly dangerous and abandoned in the pre-production stage due to risk of fire and death. The final design for the alien saucer was designed by Albert Nozaki, after hundreds of different designs, and the models were sculpted by Charles Geniora.   

Will We Fight Tripods in the Future?
Due to the design and stabilization issues associated with a tripod design for locomotion along with biological evolution not selecting tripods designs, it is extremely unlike that any alien tripods will be invade Earth anytime soon. I think from the research this was the point that HG Wells was trying to make…that tripod war machines were not going to happen due to their lack of design in nature, increasing the alieness of the invaders.

Tripods and UFO Alien Culture
For this series, I often check UFO culture to see what they are saying about the possible to these alien enemies being present in the real world. This also tells us also how we humans project onto possible alien species. While tripods have been present in mythology and in one of the founding classics of science fiction, alien tripods are not present at all. This tells us three things. It could be that the evolutionary processes present on Terra that ruled out natural tripod design also weeded them out on other worlds, or these alien tripod species are not yet spacefaring or given Terra’s low interstellar Zagat score, they avoid us. For those that do not believe in UFOs and aliens, it could be that the people making up these stories of alien contact understand the limitations of three-legged designs and decided not to include that into their fantastic tale. Given that information, I think we are safe from alien tripod invasion.

Science Fiction and the Tripod
Due to the heavy connection between the establishment of the entire genre of science fiction and HG Wells’ War of the Worlds 1898 book, it makes sense for other creators in the field to rift off the concepts posed by Wells and his famous book. This was true within months of the release of War of the Worlds, with the unofficial sequel of Edison's Conquest of Mars. Often Tripods are used by creators when showing superior alien invaders and to tie their tripod to the famous tripods of Wells and Valve. In addition, with the "alieness" of a three-legged war machine, it also is a popular method for creators to use the concept of Tripod Terrors from Outer Space to show the audience that in fact, these are aliens. For over a hundred years, this has proven successful and could see HG Wells concepts and ideas continued to be explored for the next hundred.


The Progenitor: The Martian Tripods from H.G. Wells' War of the World (1898)
When HG Wells published his novel about an interplanetary war between Victorian England and the desperate planet of Mars, science fiction was barely coming into existence and this novel sparked a revolution in thought, even leading to a non-official sequel called “Edison’s Conquest of Mars” that laid down many elements of science fiction warfare…more on that later. In the novel, the squid-like Martians assembled their three-legged war machines after landing on the green and blue world. The narrator of the novel described the war machine as “a monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal…Can you image a milking stool tiled and bowled violently along the ground?" That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.” This tripods of the Red Planet were armed with three weapons and crew of several squids. The primary weapon of the fighting machines was a camera-like device that was an directed energy “heat-ray” that wrecked havoc upon any target. There was also a chemical “black smoke” weapon and could use its metallic tentacles as a weapon as well. Unlike the fighting machines of the 1953 and 2005 movies, these fighting machines were not equipped with energy shielding and could be defeated by the weapons of the time. While the design is still strangle to this day, it was even more shocking at the time.

The Combine Striders from the Half-Life Universe
One of the finest Tripods in all of science fiction is easily the Combine Strider synth creator/war machine from the Half-Life universe and was first introduced in the epic HL2. First designed in concept art form in 2001, the Strider became one of the symbols of the Combine in both the game and in the real-world. Towering in at 43 feet high, this biomechanical servant of the Combine is designed to be the major offensive ground and urban combat vehicle in the Combine military.
It also can serve in pacification of resistance forces in urban conditions along with being used in several geographic terrain types. It can simply be deployed to strike fear and terror in the hearts of the conquered peoples of the worlds of the Combine. Striders were, at one time, a lifeform that was conquered and subjected to biological and cybernetic alternations to serve the needs of the Combine in expanding and holding their empire. Resistance scientists have found a brain like structure in the “head” assembly of the Striders seen on Earth and when hurt, there is a yellow fluid that might be blood leaking out of the tripod.
The movement of the Strider is indicative of a biological creature with the Strider’s vocal emissions being similar to an Terran marine mammal. Some Resistance scientists have theorized that the Strider was a marine organism prior to alternation by the Combine. In combat, the Strider is fearsome foe and not be taken on lightly. With its razor-sharp leg claws, rapid-pulse dorsal cannon, and the mega-damage warp cannon. When we experience the Striders in the game, we are seeing the terror and  that beauty in the concept that HG Wells laid down more than hundred years before. We know that the team behind one of the greatest sequels in video games used the War of the Worlds Martian Tripod war-machine as direct inspiration for the Strider and the smaller, nastier tripod Hunters. 

The Tripod War Machines from Steven Spielberg's 2005 War of the Worlds
In 2005, Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg would team up again for another sci-fi film after the massive success of 2002’s Minority Report. This time, Spielberg would be giving the 1898 book a proper film starring the iconic tripod war machines of the original novel. This is a terrifying good film that is a nervous roller coaster when watched for the first time. However, it is not as good upon repeat viewings and some thought devoted to the aliens and their invasion plans. The modern take on the iconic Tripod war machine design was more organic, nearly aquatic and designed by  noted ILM  concept artist Doug Chiang, who was at Ice Blink Studios at the time of development.
Unlike the original book, the alien invaders were also three-legged and resembled their war machines. In the film, the Tripods use a heat-ray like DE weapon that transformed people into ash and clothing. This directed-energy weapon also used against all manner of vehicles and structures. In addition, it seems that every tripod mech can capture humans via a number of tentacles, and capture them harvesting their blood for the red terraforming weed. Terrifying. The movement of the 2005 Tripod was amazing, creepy, and more organic than any version up until then. However, it is not all praise. The dumbest element of the 2005 tripods is how they got to Terra.
In original book and the 1953 movie, the alien invaders used a transport vehicle to get their ground vehicles planetside. However, in the 2005 film, the tripod mecha have been buried deep underground for thousands of years and the aliens used teleportation beam to occupy their war machines in the 2005 invasion. Yeah…okay….and so in the hundreds of years of construction on Earth since the industrial revolution along with mineral mining, no one found an alien three-legged mech? In addition, these aliens did not make any technological advancements in thousands of years while they planning on invading the Earth? Why would these three-legged aliens not invade Earth thousands of years ago? They were fine with using these beyond ancient vehicles and they still worked? Even after a few thousand years, even a Toyota Land Cruiser would fail…maybe. Still, I have much respect for this film and its take on the Tripod machines. 

The Masters Tripods from John Christopher's Tripod Books
In 1967, British author John Christopher began writing a series of young adult novels about a race of aliens called "the Masters" who used a slow-boil invasion to subjection of the human race via “capping”. This capping is a metal mesh placed on the head of people after 14 years old to control the population and greatly limit their threat to the Masters and there domed cities. One of the key features of the Masters technology, besides the capping, was their tripod mecha. The human society of the post-invasion era is pre-industrial and there is a human resistance movement attempting to avoid being capped. 
The Tripods of the Masters were developed on their homeworld for use in the invasion of Earth and as ground transport after conquest. These Tripods do not seem to be the titans of combat as the ones seen in Half-Life 2 and War of the Worlds, and some were defeated by human forces. When television was used to transform humans into Tripod-worshipers, more Tripods showed up on Earth to dominate the planet. There were two forms of the Tripods seen on Earth during the Masters 100 year control: the regular silver Tripods used for transport and capping along with the red Battle-Tripod used for combat that was equipped with a laser DE cannon. The red tripods were not part of the books, but used in the 1984 BBC TV series that covered two of the three books prior to the series cancellation. Oddly, the author claims that he did not remember the H.G. Wells War of the Worlds Tripod war machines and would not have used the tripod-design for his alien machines if he had remembered the source to avoid comparisons.     

The “Teddy Bears” of Epsilon Aurigae from The Forever War
In the best military science fiction book of the genre, we see the United Nation response to assumed alien aggressive threat by forging the UN Exploratory Force that was compared of highly educated individuals that had to have an IQ over 150 and hold advanced degrees. After brutal training on a planetoid at the edge of the Sol system, the first UNEF  expedition is launched at an alien base on a planet near a collapser in the Epsilon Aurigae system. Once this world, the first lifeforms the UNEF troopers encounter is these tripod animals later known as “Teddy Bears”. While not the enemy, known as “Taurans”, these appear to be native to the planet (due to native grass being found in their stomachs) and are more intelligent that first appeared. In the book, they are described as not being as taller as the soldier, but wider with their bodies being cloaked in dark green fur that appeared nearly black. Their mouths were filled with “flat black teeth” and they had three legs and one arm with their body configuration being a Type 2. Given that the Forever War has been transformed in comic form, stage play, and an attempted TV special, there are designs for other visions of the Tripod Teddy Bear of Epsilon Aurgiae. The 1983 stage play did not involve the Teddy Bears, but the attempted PBS miniseries by Chicago public television in the 1980’s would have. The four-part miniseries was abandoned after federal budget cuts. The concept art there for the Teddy Bears look more like a Bigfoot-like creature before the laser fingers worked them over! For the Forever War graphic novels by Belgian publisher Dupuris with art by Marvano that were printed in the United States by NBM. These were recently reprinted by Titan Comics in a limited series format. Much like the book, the UNEF encounters native animals on Epsilon Aurgiae and used their laser weaponry to kill some of them before noticing that these animals are not the alien enemy they have been hunting for. These were not the Teddy Bears of the book and appear to be more of a four-legged dinosaur. 

The 2011 LEGO Tripod Invader (Set 7051)

In May of 2011, the best toyline ever, Lego, also had their take on the iconic Tripods of sci-fi culture and released the “Alien Invasion” line that was a hybrid between City and Space genres. Due to it being an alien invasion themed with all of the tropes in play line, they released a Tripod war machine called “the Tripod Invader” for Set # 7051 and sold it for $19.99 back in the day. This was one of the major vehicle for the line and was a very cool alien tripod design with even a people holder on the back. This set has increased in value since its release in May of 2011. This one of those Lego sets I never saw in the stores and only came across the set during the research phase for this article.   

The Ceph Pinger from the Crysis Universe
One of the best military science fiction video game series was Crysis..well, if your computer could run it. I played the second game on my Xbox 360 and loved it and I am currently playing the 3rd game as of the writing on this article…yeah, a little behind on this one. The aliens in the series, the Ceph, use a tripod mecha called a “pinger” for heavy firepower and it appears in the 2nd and 3rd game. The reason behind the three-legged design was War of the Worlds and likely the Strider from Half-Life 2. Coming in at 18 feet, the Pinger has two repeater directed-energy cannons along with EMP grenades, and heavy armor. This is again another alien invasion series that mined the War of the Worlds trope.

Dark Nebula Tripod Tank from Be Forever Yamato
In the classic Space Cruiser Yamato films that most of us western audiences did not see until their release on VHS in the 1990’s, the stories get a little…stupid. After the invasion of the White Comet Empire, it seems that the minds in charge of Yamato could not break out of the humanoid aliens with funny colored skin invade Earth theme and continued this over and over. In the 3rd Yamato film, we see the good crew of the space battleship Yamato going to the home of the Dark Nebula Empire, the double galaxy(!), to save Earth from a successful invasion that wiped out the Earth defense fleet (again). The funny thing is that Be Forever Yamato has a great title, some of the most iconic promotional art, and funky designs. One of the war machines used by the Dark Nebula Empire is a tripod walker tank and it would appear in the film, in art promo pieces, and even as a model kit that came out in October of 1980. The design for the Dark Nebula Tripod walker tank is very insect-like and reminds me of a black ant and it is a pity for it not to be in a better story.  

The Tripod Species of Darwin IV from Alien Planet and Expedition by Wayne Douglas Barlowe
One of the most gifted science fiction artist is Wayne Douglas Barlowe and I was very pleased to have bought his excellent Expedition book back in 1991. I was completely taken back by the book, the story, and the very alien lifeforms of Darwin IV. I've owned my copy since 1995 and I bought it with Man After Man by Dogual Dixon The book details an alien/human manned expedition to a nearby world of Darwin IV in 2358. In the book and the TV movie, the expedition finds several alien creatures of Darwin IV being the Sac Back, Beach Loper, and the massive Grovebacks. This book was transformed into a Discovery Channel movie called "Alien Planet" in 2005 that is worth watching. 

The Tripods from DC Comics'  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II
In the 2002-2003 graphic novel follow-up to the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the setting is during the invasion of Earth by the Martians and we do get to see the familiar tripods from War of the Worlds. There is no doubting the amazing art for the Tripods and so is Dr. Hyde comment on the three-legged layout of the Martian war machine being a bad design and completely unnatural. This text was inserted due to critics pointing out that this was a bad design and that no interstellar species would actually build three-legged mechs for the purpose of conquest. One wonders if the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film had been a success, it is possible we could have gotten a film centered on the League during the Martian Invasion?!

The Xorn from D&D
These odd and three-legged symmetrical creatures from the Forgotten Realms of D&D are not the man-eaters that they appear in the excellent art. These creatures are consumers of rocks, minerals, and gems. Those claws and mouth are used only when they have to engage in combat for defensive purposes. One of the oddest features of the Xorn creatures is their ability to "swim" through the underground without leaving an tunnel. These creatures will live in a nomadic fashion and in peace, if they are threatened. You count out setting them on fire or using electricity to kill them...they are immune to both. However, some hunt the Xorn for sport or use them as slaves.

Species 8472 from Star Trek: Voyager
Let it be said that when Star Trek Voyager series was hitting on all cylinders, it could be damn compelling sci-fi tv...but when it was not...it was a bore. In two of the best episodes (Scorpion) of the entire series, we get to witness the power of a species more powerful than the almighty Borg: Species 8472. This three-legged aggressive xenophobic race was from a dimension called "fluidic space" and they were introduced to our reality by the egoistical Borg needing to take on and assimilate the apex of biological evolution. Species 8472 used organic technology and genetic engineering to dominate their realm, where nothing else lived but them and they were handing the Borg their ass at every encounter, and defeat was near. With help from Voyager, 8472 was able to be pushed back to their realm, but the series would run into them a few more times. Unlike most of the aliens seen on Trek, it was decided to use CGI to make Species 8472 something different and very alien that was not a guy in a suit. According to Memory Alpha, Dan Curry was the one who suggested that 8472 be tripedia and it was Foundation Image that forged the three-legged beast into digital reality. The end product was a creature very different than what had been see on Trek before. Some have leveled that the design of Species 8472 was influenced directly from the Shadows from Babylon 5. Species 8472 became a fan favorite with Kate Mulgrew even stating that these were her favorite villain in the entire series. 

The Puppeteers tripodal race from Larry Niven's Known Space universe
One of the largest fictional universes in print is Larry Niven's Known Space universe, and within those pages is a tripod species that dominated the Known Space world: the Puppeteers. This tripod alien lifeforms controls a vast interstellar commerce empire and while most think that the brain controlling this strange alien are in the twin "heads", it is actually in the chest cavity. The Pupperteers are often at the center of plots and schemes within the Known Space universe and alieness makes them a compelling, but madding species to deal with. Given that the Puppeteers have been exploring space before the rise of modern humans on Earth, they are treated with some respect and suspension by Terrans after their first encounter in the 26th century by Olaf Pierson. Often, Puppeteers, who are a herd species, prefer to remain with their own kind. They do not display courage in the face of danger and can be considered "cruel" by human standards due to their lack of caring about the other species when the survival of their species is in question.  

The Houndeye (Sonic-Dogs) aliens from Half-Life
Unlike everyone else in the world, I did not play the original Half-Life until it was ported to the PlayStation 2 and then it was a few after that. I very much more enjoyed Half-Life 2 when I played on the original Xbox and then later via the Orange Box. In the original adventures of Dr. Gordon Freeman, we meet a three-legged creature from the another dimension of Xen, the Houndeye or the Sonic-Dog in fan circles. This tripod creatures was inspired by a three-legged cat by one of the designers and this alien creature is a pack hunting animal that used sonic blasts. This was one of the first invaders from Xen that you run into as Black Mesa is under attack Many original fans of Half-Life were surprised when the Houndeye was cut from the sequel. Oddly, I forgot about the Sonic-Dogs until I was writing this article and listening to the old "Civil Protection" Machinima series.

The Tripod Spiders from Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama

One of the greatest sci-fi novels of the 20th century was Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and with the pages of that novel that tell of an expedition to survey the massive cylinder is a tripod robot in similar function to the Keepers from Mass Effect.
There was an intruder in the camp.
Laura Ernst noticed it first. She froze in sudden shock, then said: 'Don't move, Bill. Now look slowly to the right.'
Norton turned his head. Ten metres away was a slender-legged tripod surmounted by a spherical body no larger than a football. Set around the body were three large, expressionless eyes, apparently giving 360 degrees of vision, and trailing beneath it were three whiplike tendrils. The creature was not quite as tall as a man, and looked far too fragile to be dangerous, but that did not excuse their carelessness in letting it sneak up on them unawares. It reminded Norton of nothing so much as a three-legged spider, or daddy-long-legs, and he wondered how it had solved the problem - never challenged by any creature on Earth - of tripedal locomotion.

The Various Buff Clan Tripod Mecha from Space Runaway Ideon (1981) 
One of the forgotten military science fiction/giant robot mecha animes is Space Runaway Ideon. Developed by Sunrise and Yoshiyuki Tomino of Mobile Suit Gundam fame. The basic plot is center on the discovery of ancient alien mecha found on an archeological dig off-world on a colonized world. During a discussion between the civilian government and the colonial military, the alien enemy known as "Buff Clan" come to the colony site of "Solo". The first encounter between the two powers ends badly with bloodshed and the rise of the iconic mecha "Ideon", which the Buff Clan identifies as an ancient machine of lore. Several of the war mech used by the aliens use a 3-legged design to more identify themselves as aliens. One of the most iconic in the series is the "Dogu Makku" and along with many other mecha of Space Runaway Ideon, it was made into plastic models. 
Check out the complete list here:   
Next Time on FWS...
It should be reasoned that the best military science fiction show should have one of the best military science fiction weapons right? Wrong. In the 1995-1996 FOX TV show, Space: Above and Beyond, the USMC of the 2060's is armed with an KE rifle designed for the range of exo-environments that the devil dos will encounter as a spacegoing force-in-readiness. This weapon was called the "M590 exo-assault rifle" and it was seen in the hands of the Marines during the Chig War. In the next installment of Weapons of Sci-Fi, we will looking at a rarely discussed weapon of military sci-fi.