Speculative Fiction Tropes: Space Marines
Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Space Marines.
One of the most important expeditionary forces used in modern military operations is a marine corps. The ability to rapidly deploy a fighting force anywhere at any time is key to winning wars, making naval infantry an absolute necessity for the military powers of the world.
If armed conflict ever reaches an interstellar or interplanetary stage, it's only natural to assume that many of the strategies and tactics used for terrestrial warfare would be adapted to suit this new field of engagement. As such, the space marine archetype has seen a wide range of use in fiction, particularly military sci-fi and video games.
Historically, the concept of naval infantry was born out of a need to establish a fighting unit whose primary responsibility was protecting vessels at sea from hostile boarding parties during military operations, as well as protecting the officers of the ship from mutinous action by members of the crew. Ancient Greece may have been the first naval power to make the distinction between sailor and soldier, deploying hoplites aboard their ships for the sole purpose of boarding enemy vessels.
The largest modern naval infantry unit in the world is the United States Marine Corps, which evolved from the traditional role of shipboard security as part of the Navy to become its own branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, it's responsible for a wide range of military operations, from the seizure or defense of naval bases to extensive ground operations ashore in conjunction with the Army and Air Force. Its amphibious expeditionary role makes it a key part of the United States military's rapid response ability.
Though it was not without controversy, Starship Troopers was widely influential, and not just for authors of military science fiction. James Cameron required the principle cast of Aliens to read the book before filming, and it's also on the reading list of the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy.
The science fiction novel I was working on last year, while not quite military sci-fi, definitely showed some influence from Heinlein and his ilk. My protagonist starts out as an elite member of his government's military, and there are a few scenes featuring soldiers and combat that most certainly call the space marine trope to mind.
I don't know what it is about space marines, but I just can't seem to get enough of this trope. I'm not usually a fan of military literature, but put that same type of story in a sci-fi setting and you've got me. And I can't tell you how many times I've booted up a video game on the promise that it was about to let me strap on a set of power armor of my own and take the reigns of a bad ass space marine. Maybe it's cliche at this point (especially in games), but I'm not complaining. Shooting aliens makes me feel like a kid again.
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
The Lensman Series by E. E. Smith
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine