Saturday, April 21, 2012

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 he was not quite the father of the concept, Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers is generally considered the defining example of the space marine trope in science fiction. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Heinlein envisioned a "Mobile Infantry" unit that combined the shipborne deployment of the marines with the mission profile of army paratroopers.

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.

Recommended Reading:
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
The Lensman Series by E. E. Smith
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Recommended Viewing:
Starship Troopers

Recommended Gaming:
Halo series
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine


  1. Replies
    1. It is! It's made keeping ahead of the A to Z schedule a little less wearisome.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Just like salt in a meal---space marines are a must if humanity is to venture into the void and not end up as alien snacks.

    I can't even imagine good futuristic fiction without some form of military component, and nothing fits as well as the navy. Except maybe some space SWAT teams here and there... like pepper.

    Oh how I've loved Starship Troopers! "An enemy can't push the button if you disable his hand." (Colonel Zim)
    Aaaah, good fights with big guns and screaming troops always warm my heart. *grin*

    So your protag used to be an elite member of the military. And then? What happened next?

    1. I'm afraid that's classified! ;)

      Starship Troopers had a huge role in my love for sci-fi. Some fans of the book hated the film because of the aesthetic direction Paul Verhoeven took it in, but I loved both. Zim is one of the coolest characters of all time!

  3. This is a great topic since I'm an avid fan of the Marines and appreciate what they have to go through to keep us all protected. And definite props for the Starship Troopers reference. That's a great one. Very interesting tip about it, too! Thanks much for a lovely Saturday morning read. :)


    1. It takes a special kind of brave to be a Marine, that's for sure! Thanks so much for the continued encouragement, Randi!

  4. The book influenced my writing, as CassaStar's Cosbolt fighters are always the first into battle, thus making them the 'Marines.' (Although the first book is light military and the second one pulls away from that concept altogether.)

    1. Sounds awesome, Alex. I need to get around to reading your stuff! They're on my obscenely long "to read" list, but I should probably bump them up a few places.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I've never been a huge fan of the space marine trope, especially the Warhammer and Starcraft versions. Something too artificial about it.

    1. Those franchises definitely take the trope into silly, if not cliched, territory. But I'm still a sucker for it when it's done right.

      Thanks for reading!


Thanks for reading!