John Steakley, RIP

Oh, hell. John Steakley, the author of Armor and other excellent science fiction, has just passed away.

He and I never met, but I was a fan of his through Armor, which was given to me as a Christmas present by a friend of mine back when I was a teenager. The friend knew I liked science fiction but not being a science fiction reader himself sort of just grabbed the first book whose cover caught his eye. At the time, if I recall correctly, the cover of Armor featured a man in a mechanized battle suit about to bludgeon an alien with a hefty-looking rifle. A lurid cover, to be sure, but what was inside the cover was in fact right up my alley at the time.

Then a couple of years ago I picked up the phone and it was Steakley on the other end; he had just read Old Man’s War and he just felt like calling to talk to me about it. I was pleasantly surprised and befuddled, the way you get when someone whose work you’ve admired and whom you don’t expect to know you even exist suddenly pops up and does indeed knows you exist, and likes your stuff. We had a pleasant conversation, and he mentioned he’d try to get over to ArmadilloCon, which I was was going to be at later in that year. I told him I looked forward to meeting him there.

As it turns out he didn’t go to that con, and now I’m left wishing he had managed to make it out, so I could have shaken his hand and told him in person how much I enjoyed his work. One phone call seems too little all of a sudden.

57 Comments on “John Steakley, RIP”

  1. All of us here are giving you an uncomfortable on-line hug. OK, maybe not my hubby, he gives the manly nod or pat on the back at the most…but you still get the point.

  2. Thanks, although I’m not sure this rates a hug. I didn’t know him save for the one phone call, although I admired his work. It’s more another reminder that we don’t in fact have all the time in the world.

  3. I loved Armor. I liked it so much that I hung out on a forum dedicated to Steakley several years ago. I recall that he was working on a sequel to Armor and had even shared a few pages of the manuscript with the forum moderator and a few other Steakley fanatics.

    I hope he left an outline so someone can finish, and publish, that sequel.

  4. Oh, man….

    Yet more evidence of how much entropy sucks.

    I enjoyed his work. I keep hoping there is some kind of afterlife where we can meet and thank all those who changed our lives for the better, in big ways and small, even if it was just entertaining us and making us forget the troubles of the world for a while.

  5. John;

    Yes it is very sad. He was still very young (hell, not much older than me!). Armor was/is a major work of military Scifi. He’ll be missed.

  6. Armor is definitely a five star work and his Vampires book is very good also. John Steakley will be missed.

  7. Man, I loved not only Armor but Vampire$. Any man with the cojones to put a dollar sign in the title of his debut novel back in the 80’s was alright in my book. Steakely had an incredible way of writing these massively strong and capable manly men who were still able to hug each other and cry when things got really awful. Which in his books, they always did. For sheer testosterone, pacing, action and pathos, you can’t beat Steakely. It’s why he’s continued to sell like hot cakes ever since his novels came out. Fire and sweat and gun cartridges and explosions and vampires hissing and aliens coming over the wall and people moaning and crying and fainting while the lone hero stands his ground, gone pale in the face and terrified within but willing to die before he shows it.

  8. What a sad week for science fiction: first Irvin Kershner of Empire Strikes Back and now John Steakley. Rest in peace, guys.

  9. I was always amazed that Steakley was not better known. Even among sci-fi fans I often met folks who had never heard of him. I loved ‘Armor’, and always thought someone with academic credentials should have done a critical comparison/contrast of ‘Armor’ with ‘Starship Troopers’ in the context of the Vietnam War vs. WWII. ‘Vampire$’ had some great characters, scenes, and lines, and I was appalled at the low quality of the movie that came out of it. Requiescat In Pace sir, you will be missed.

  10. A pair of great stories, you are missed, Mr. Steakley. I kept hoping that there would be another book from your delightful mind, and am sorry there wasn’t. Rest in Peace.

    Life is short. Pay attention. (Still recovering from an auto crash three weeks ago.) Hugs are one of the world’s best medicines. You never know when you’ll need one, or when you won’t be able to give one.

    :gives Scalzi a giant man-hug:

  11. John, for me, that reminds me that I’m still waiting for the day you call me and tell me how much you enjoyed my novel… that is, if I ever finish it and get it published… until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with what I imagine it would be like…

    waiting patiently by the phone…

  12. Sad news indeed. Armor is one of the novels that I re-read every few years when it’s had enough time to grow unfocused in my memory. I enjoy it every time.

  13. I guess this is a reminder for all of us to go make those phone calls or send those letters to say thanks.

    Pardon me, I need to go write a letter to Tom McEvilly, thanking him for those two semesters of History of Film at Rice.

  14. This stinks; I didn’t realize he was even sick. The man wrote two books and they’re both on my personal top-10 list. While I wish he had lived to entertain me more, that certainly greatly pales in comparison to the loss that those who actually knew him must be feeling. 59 is just too young to go.

  15. I encountered Armor the first time when I worked in a bookstore, and part of my gig was shelving and maintaining the SF section. I hadn’t heard of it, but I was amazed that here was one book, the only title by that author on the shelf, buried in the “S’s,” years old by that time, and it *just kept selling.* It’s the book that proved to me that it’s not about having a big series, it’s not about being a big name, it’s not about having a big marketing push or a gimmick or anything. *It’s about writing a good book that people keep wanting to read over and over, year after year.*


  16. I still have my original copy in the garage. I spotted it a few months ago when looking for another book. I am going to have to pull it out and read it again. Fantastic book.

  17. I never knew a lot of people I admired, I never knew a lot of people that inspired me or that I found interesting. It doesn’t stop me from feeling comforted by a simple bit of understanding from others that share the feeling of loss, or bit of sadness at the passing of the chance to meet them.

    Have a good day John, someday I hope to meet you, even just for a signature. If something were to happen before then, even though I don’t personally know you, I would indeed cry.

  18. I’d heard the news this weekend (about five minutes after learning about Leslie Nielsen), and am still kind of shocked. Vampire$ remains one of my favorite fun reads.

  19. Oh no. I love Vampire$. It’s one of the best vampire novels out there. i haven’t read Armor yet. I’ve got a copy on my to read pile though.

  20. I know a lot of people that loved Armor… I hated it. It was the only sci-fi book I brought with me on a trip to China, and it was just suicidally depressing reading about a man psychologically cracking under the stresses of war while sitting in one of the most beautiful places on earth (the lily pond beneath the Summer Palace in Beijing).

  21. John, what this really means is that you need to find someone other author whose work you admire a lot but have never told so and give them a call and etc. It’s too late to do so for Mr. Steakley, but I’m sure you can think of someone else…

  22. I just got back from the bookstore on my lunch break, picked up Armor. I used the fact that I mistakenly left the book I am currently reading, at home this morning, hence I had nothing to read during my normal mid-day literary interlude.

  23. I was still hoping for that sequel to Armor. This is the worst news I’ve heard since David R. Palmer said he couldn’t make it on a writer’s pay.

  24. Felix, are you out there?

    This is horribly sad. I wish he’d had more time. More time to write. More life to live. More stories to tell. I don’t know why he went quiet, but I wish he’d been in the world longer.

    Armor and Vampire$ were great books. I wish more people had known his works, and read them.

    A sorrowful silence for today….

  25. Wow. Yeah, Armor was a book that got passed around my Sci-Fi circle in high school like I imagine the Little Red Book might have gotten passed around in Poli-Sci courses in the 60s.

    As in:

    “Dude, you gotta check this out. It will BLOW YOUR MIND!”

    And, uh,…it really did. I think it would also make an awesome film, on the scale of Avatar (except with a great story)

  26. When I read Old Man’s war, I thought of Armor. That is great praise as Armor is one of my all time favorite books.

  27. *sigh*

    I’d always hoped there would be a sequel to Armor one day. Or a movie of the book Vampire$. I know there was something with a similar name a few years ago but it couldn’t have been based on the same book I read.

    Its rare that an author gets a book on my top ten list, its rarer still that an author gets two spots there.

  28. A very nice little tribute. This is unfortunately the first time I’ve even heard of the man, but I’m now inspired to check out some of his work. It is too bad you never got to meet him in person, but I am sure it is great to know that someone you enjoyed also admired your work.

  29. I had that same edition of Armor, got it in jr high and read it at least 6 times before it literally fell apart. Damn, what a fine writer.

  30. Armor was really good but Vampires was great. I was always shocked with how great those books were he never came out with more.

  31. Damn. It is tragic that he wasn’t able to complete his sequel to Armor, and passed away at an age before most people do nowadays.

    I am also surprised Steakley isn’t as well known. Everyone talks about how great Starship Troopers and The Forever War are (they are great indeed) without acknowledging Armor. I feel that all three books sort of make up a loose trilogy, even though they are all by different authors and don’t share the same fictional universe.

  32. Picked up my first copy of Vampire$ the week it came out. Was with my best friend in a comic book shop in Southeast Missouri. I was weary of buying it, due to the fact I was very, very poor. From the moment I read the first page, I never regretted that money being spent. My best friend and I spent many hours talking about that book, and Armor.. He has since passed away. Would give a lot to spend a evening talking about which was the better Armor or Vampire$. Rest in Peace.

  33. Armor and Vampire$ and many great stories by John as he happily talked with fans and guests at Texas conventions.
    Over 20 years that man would bring a smile to my face after a long con shift with his jovial wit. Of course he also introduced to fine Scotch Whiskey, an Old Man’s Drink.

    / Armor rocked, and Haldeman and Heinlein and all the others who made SF powered armor stories too.

  34. Way way back in the mid-80’s I took a second semester freshman comp class at the University of Oklahoma that focused on Science Fiction and the highlight of the semester was when John Steakley came and spoke to us. He answered our questions about his books, writing, getting published, and a host of other things. May he rest in peace.

  35. I picked up Vampire$ years ago at an airport not long after it was first published. I immediately loved the book, despite the inflated airport price, and it became a huge staple of my ‘re-reading’ library. Late one drunken evening I picked it up again and figured out that I had probably re-read the book more than I had Anne McCaffrey’s ‘The White Dragon’, previously the leader in that category. With alcohol fueled ingenuity I tracked down his email address and sent him a message. To my surprise he responded immediately and, being in the same booze soaked condition as me at that time, we started several hours of lively and highly enjoyable back and forth. Wish gmail had been around back then or that I’d been bright enough to archive my old emails.
    R.I.P. John Steakley, you wrote some damn fine novels.

  36. BTW, John Steakley was the son of a Chevrolet dealer from Cleburne, TX just to the southwest of us here in Dallas/Fort Worth, and I understand that a lot of Vampire$ takes place here in the Lone Star State.

    Rest in peace, John.

  37. the way you get when someone whose work you’ve admired and whom you don’t expect to know you even exist suddenly pops up and does indeed knows you exist, and likes your stuff.

    I hope someday to know how this feels.

  38. John,

    Just thought I’d let you know that a year or so ago John passed his copy of Old Man’s War on to me to read. He said he thought I’d really enjoy it – and he was right. You did fine work.

    I’ll miss him.


  39. I had the pleasure of meeting John in November of 1984 at a Dallas Fantasy Fair Convention. At the time I managed a book store in OKC, and on the way out of the door to the convention, a box of new SF releases from DAW arrived with copies of Armor in it. I picked a copy because I knew he would be at the convention. The next day he was sitting at a table with (if I remember correctly) Howard Waldrop. He was less than pleased because he did not have anything to sign since the book was only just shipping. Up until this point he had only seen the gallies and cover proof. I handed him the first copy he had ever seen or held of his first published novel. He beamed. He just looked at the book and held if for almost twenty mins as various other authors shook his hand. It was a pretty amazing experience.

    His inscription reads ” This is the first public autograph of this book, for Barry Burris, John Steakley”.

    It was a pretty amazing experience. Certainly as close as I will ever get to living that feeling.

    Thankfully reading the book later more than lived up to the experience.


  40. I just today found out Steakley died 2 months ago. Coincidently, I started rereading Armor a couple of days ago. I reread Vampires in December. I am saddened he’s gone.

    Armor started with the quote “You are what you do when it counts,” and I remembered that when I was a soldier in Iraq, a couple of times when it counted. I wanted to tell him how he helped provide some leavening, so to speak.

    Vaya con Dios, John.

  41. Armor was he book that moved my 14 year old spirit from the brink of suicide to the one step in front of the other never say die wake the machine man I am today at 40….

    I will read it every year, like always…

    Mr. Seakley will be missed..

  42. I teach, and sometimes make great connections with students using books. I just gave this book to a student and told him it was my favorite Sci-fi work from my youth. We have been talking about it for a week now, what chapter, what’s happening. Knew he was working on a sequel and wanted to check the status…

    If we all share it, he will never be forgotten.

  43. Armor has remained my favorite novel for years….The clash of characters and personalities that climaxed into a harmony was always very touching and unique to me….I will miss his works, most especially Armor II

    “You are. What you do. When it counts” The Masao

  44. I just finished listening to the Audio book of Armor. I recommend this experience of the book and then read the excerpt of Armor 2. He was on a roll…. Ive seen some here talk about an outline for Armor 2. I hope it is never found or does not exist. John was brilliant and I feel only his wisdom could really deliver what we all will long for. I can only hope that someone will make this book a movie. It would be amazing if done correctly. I just purchased another original printing of Armor off ebay as mine is pretty beat up after 11 readings and it is 20 some years old. This will always be my favorite book and in another year or so…I will relive the battles that Felix unknowingly shared. Are you there Felix? Are you there?

  45. Sadly it appears I am again, too late. First I discover Robert Asprin is gone, then Chris Bunch. I just finished Armor again, perhaps my 6th or 7th reading. I bought it in 84 and keep it on my shelf with Heinlein, James Hogan, RM Meluch, Anne McCaffery, Jack McDermitt. MK Wren, David Weber (ok, so he lives locally and I can get the hard copies signed…) and others I have found timeless. Now here in 2013 I discover John Steakly is gone also. It literally reminds me of why I didn’t go to ‘The Who’ concert performed recently in 2012 in my tiny burg here in SC for the first time ever… I guess I simply could not because I wanted to remember them from the 70’s and not as, like myself, someone who is ‘well over the hill’.
    To this end, I’m glad for John here in addition to Robert Sawyer and the new wave of SF. I still love having my mind bent and spirits torn and uplifted. Keep up the good work.

  46. omg that book is my life i live like felix in a way my life is like him and John Steakely made that book seemingly mirroring my life…keep being pushed and pushed my body just made to go on and on my ENGINE keeps telling me to run like jack crow i had to use my wits and i’m still struggling to make money to keep myself up then in the end of the book felix is still alive ready to just be free he didnt want to go back and rule as a king some people never got that but i did after reading this book more then ten times i have just pages of it i wish that John was able to write a part two would felix be in there and how were would the next war be if there was one banshee is like this earth to me at times its my hell and i want to leave it and then its pleasant why did he John have to die without fighting like felix did you fight it john to the bitter end i hope you did may you rest till judgement hope you make it i hope i make it…your crazed fan…..m,j…..your on my f.b page as a book to read!!!!!!

  47. Like so many others, Steakley’s book Armor really captivated me when it debuted. In a rush of youthful enthusiasm I did a series of drawings of how I envisioned his different classes of battle armor to look (I’m an illustrator/author), and mailed a set of slides to Mr. Steakley. He sent me an extremely gracious and enthusiastic letter of encouragement, which kept me going through some tough times for years. He was a class act. I wish I had met him in person.

  48. Who better to write a second book in the series and carry on the characters then John Scalzi?

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