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Powered Armour

Entry updated 28 January 2016. Tagged: Theme.

A now familiar device in (especially) Military SF, the most famous example being the Mobile Infantry armour described in great and plausible detail by Robert A Heinlein in Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959); this includes a jet pack for Flying. Heinlein's influence helped shape the Japanese sf trope of Mecha (which see), which often expands the machinery to gigantic scale in the form of piloted Robots. The sensors, servo-mechanisms and feedback loops by which powered armour responds transparently to a wearer's movements, thus effectively amplifying strength, were prefigured in Heinlein's own 1942 story "Waldo" (August 1942 Astounding; with 1 other story as Waldo & Magic, Inc., coll 1950; vt Waldo: Genius in Orbit, coll 1958); see Waldo. Space armour in E E Smith's Galactic Patrol (September 1937-February 1938 Astounding; 1950) and later Lensman books is sometimes cited as early powered armour; however, despite energy screens and Space Flight capability via inertialess drive, the key feature of augmenting the wearer's strength is never explicitly ascribed to Smith's armour.

After Starship Troopers the concept soon became part of the standard sf repertoire, relieving later authors of the need for descriptive detail: thus Roger Zelazny merely indicates in Lord of Light (1967) that a character's "armor fought for him with the strength of many." Variations on the theme include the powered exoskeletons worn in Fritz Leiber's A Specter is Haunting Texas (July-September 1968 Galaxy; 1969) to support a Space Habitat-dweller in Earth's harsher Gravity, and in Iain M Banks's The Player of Games (1988) as a mobile prison whose wearer is subjected to an austere penal regime.

The best known example of this trope in Comics is the super-armour worn by the popular Marvel Comics character Iron Man, translated to Cinema in Iron Man (2008) and its sequels in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Similar though generally less potent Television equivalents are the armoured exoskeletons worn by the title characters of Exo-Man (1977), Super Force (1990-1992), M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-1995) and Night Man (1997-1999; vt NightMan). Though strangely omitted from the first film version of Starship Troopers (1997), powered armour appears in various forms in other films such as Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Its use in games is widespread, early examples being the Wargames Starforce: Alpha Centauri (1974) and Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1976); some others are noted below. [DRL]

see also: Bionics; Crysis; Gamma World; Halo: Combat Evolved; Naoyuki Katō; Metroid; Olympica; Starquest; Warhammer 40,000.

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