The Spacesuit Commando ‘Genre’ of Books

I’ve mentioned what I call the “spacesuit commando” genre on Fuldapocalypse before. It’s an arbitrary, slightly snide term I’ve made and used for this type of lowbrow military sci-fi I’ve read far too much of. If I had to give a definition, it’d consist of…

 

  • The background is dystopian, often excessively and pointlessly so.
  • The characters only use power armor that doesn’t seem to actually do anything.
  • The main character is either explicitly placed in a SUPER SPECIAL SPACESUIT COMMANDO unit, or whatever unit he ends up in is treated like a SUPER SPECIAL SPACESUIT COMMANDO unit, even undeservedly.
  • There’s excessive training sequences, checking the “I read Heinlein” box.
  • The main character gets promoted ridiculously high ridiculously fast.
  • A lot of the dynamics (for lack of a better word) feel weird, like the author didn’t do the most basic research.
  • The antagonists have absolutely no development whatsoever, even by the low standards of cheap thrillers. The generic “eat everything bugs” are actually slightly better in that it’s at least justified in-universe. Human/sentient opponents are painted with the same brush.

 

And yet, “spacesuit commando” stories are the ones I do read en masse. Part of it is just accessibility (most of them are on Kindle Unlimited, and there’s a “feedback loop” of getting more spacesuit commando books in my recommendations once I’ve gotten several). Part of it is that a story can have many elements of it and still be good (or at least better than some of the others). But the most ridiculous side of me likes them because of the formulaic cheese if I want an absolutely mindless read.

My Book Backlog is Done!

So, every book on my big backlog I’ve read or at least sampled and then put aside to read later. Some of them made it to Fuldapocalypse or are in the review ‘stack’, others did not and will not.

Perhaps the most famous entry is Heinlein’s original Starship Troopers. The most charitable things I can say about it are that it probably aged poorly and that I understand how it can scratch a “he gets it” itch for veterans because of its realistic depiction of boot camp drudgery. Otherwise, I didn’t like it. It has this overly “bouncy” and somewhat rambling writing style that I found to knock down both the boot-camp-coming-of-age main plot and the modest amount of actual action.

My military sci-fi itch is pretty much subsided-of the four remaining books, three were military sci-fi. I did find Jonathan Brazee’s works good for my current ‘cheap thriller’ tastes and will be checking out more of them, but I think it best to put the remaining “guy in armored space suit” books on the back burner until the genre fatigue wears off. Those made up the bulk of my holiday purchases, so returning to the delightfully technothrillery Thunder of Erebus was a good ‘grand finale’.

Going forward, I have two general priorities. One is slightly more highbrow works of fiction-I love cheap thrillers, but think going a little higher would be helpful. I definitely plan on reading and reviewing the classic Forever War, for one example. The other priority is tanks, because while some of the books had tanks in them, none were really in a starring role. So I’m planning on reading more tank books (and yes, that includes sci-fi tank books).

This whole experience was fun, and I hope to encounter more literary gems.

A Military Sci-Fi Craving

So, I’ve been having a military sci-fi craving, with most of the books I’ve recently started being those. Maybe it’s just a fad of mine. Maybe it’s just that a lot of them fall into the niche of being both cheap thrillers and involving something different than the usual ones, so I can have my cake and eat it too.

I’m not thinking any worse of the “normal” cheap thrillers, and I’m still reading lots of them, but it never hurts to try these new ones. I’ve had times when I like military sci-fi before, and this is another, I suppose.

A few further genre fiction thoughts

So, a while ago, I mentioned Tanya Huff’s Valor series as an example of someone who could work around a writing weakness. Basically, an author whose background and resume would be, on paper, the last person to write effective military fiction managed by setting up the plots so that the characters were in small groups and situations she was comfortable with. It was a sign of working around weakness.

Now, a part of me thinks that its success might not have been in spite of her lack of experience, but in some ways because of it. That is, she had less of the genre’s baggage because she didn’t know you were “supposed” to do something. Granted, all this could just be me viewing the Valor books with rose-tinted goggles as I count the cliches in my latest binge of technothrillers, but still.

(Besides Team Yankee, I’m reading another piece of “Tank Fiction”, Michael Farmer’s Tin Soldiers. The latter hits a lot of the technothriller cliches but is still a good “cheap thriller”)

Heat Signature

So, I got and beat the game Heat Signature. It’s a fantastic game. Quite possibly the greatest “Hit people with wrenches” simulator I’ve ever played.

To be more serious, I was actually a little skeptical of it, given its nominal relationship to super-twitch reflex-why-do-you-hate-yourself hard Hotline Miami. But it’s pausable, and when I actually played it, I saw right away the influence of its predecessor by the same creator, Gunpoint.

The two games make it so that your character is vulnerable but not weak, and trying weird gimmicks and self-imposed challenges is part of the fun. Hit people with wrenches, then nonchalantly get sucked into space after breaking a window on purpose to make your getaway.

If I had to give some criticisms of the game, I’d single out two. The first is that the environments can get kind of samey, being procedurally generated on certain templates. The other is that the in-game difficulty doesn’t scale very well, on “Audacious” and “Mistake”-level missions, I found myself either skipping them as cost-ineffective or munchkining my way through with special builds-they didn’t feel as satisfying as the “Hard” mode.

But Heat Signature is a really, really good game nonetheless.