American SF writer, best known for his two novels, Armor and Vampire$.
Armor is science fiction: it's the distant future, and humanity is embroiled in a Bug War with the implacable, incomprehensible Ants. There's an epic Space Opera backdrop, but the story takes place among the little people at ground level, for whom their own high command also seem distant and incomprehensible.
The story alternates between two plot strands. The first follows new recruit Felix, who joins up in the hope of finding a meaningful death and an escape from his traumatic past, but discovers himself to be constitutionally incapable of giving up and letting himself get killed, no matter how hopeless the situation appears to be. He not only survives more battles than any soldier in history, but winds up collecting a whole bunch of new traumas as well. The second, set some years later, follows mercenary Jack Crow as he infiltrates a remote space colony to help steal something from the research base there. Shortly before arriving, he encounters a derelict spaceship containing a suit of Powered Armor, and takes the armor with him as a memento; the research base's head historian, Hollis Ware, finds the suit's recorder pod and becomes obsessed with the armor's former owner (Felix, of course), trying to find out who he was, and what ended up happening to him.
Vampire$ is contemporary Urban Fantasy: Vampire$, Inc. is a small group of hardy individuals who will solve your vampire problem for you in return for a
small quite large monetary consideration. (They generally make a point of capturing at least one vampire alive intact and not finishing it off until the cash arrives, in case anybody gets the bright idea that it's no longer necessary to pay them now the vampires are gone.) Early in the novel, the hunters destroy a nest of vampires who, unknown to them, are minions of a vampire mastermind, and shortly thereafter they find themselves going from vampire hunters to vampire hunted.
The character focus is initially on the leader of Vampire$, Inc., but later shifts to an old acquaintance of his who joins the group partway through the novel, finding in vampire hunting a use for a gift that has plagued him his entire life: he has perfect gunfighter's instincts, and is incapable of firing a gun at anything and not scoring a direct hit -- which sounds good, except that he's not a homicidal maniac and his perfect gunfighter's instincts have no grasp of the concept of "shoot to wound". These two characters are named, respectively, Jack Crow and Felix.
Vampire$ inspired the film John Carpenter's Vampires, which takes the basic concept of a group of professional vampire hunters attracting the attention of a big bad vampire and runs with it in a completely different direction.
John Steakley's works provide examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor: Hollis Ware in Armor
- Armchair Military: Fleet high command in Armor
- Blessed with Suck: Felix (both of them)
- Bug War: the Antwar in Armor
- Cannon Fodder: a large proportion of the characters in Armor
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Lewis in Armor
- Dark and Troubled Past: Felix in Armor
- Death Seeker: Felix in Armor
- Despair Event Horizon: Jack Crow in Vampire$
- Determinator: Felix in Armor
- Drowning My Sorrows: Lewis in Armor
- During the War: Armor
- Fantastic Catholicism: In Vampire$, the Catholic Church is directly involved in vampire-smiting.
- Feudal Future: Some of the planets in the backdrop of Armor have absolute monarchies with feudal trappings; it's explicitly mentioned, though, that rather than being a natural social development they were each deliberately founded by somebody with a large ego and too much money.
- Heel Face Turn: Jack Crow in Armor, after he discovers what Borglyn is really planning to steal.
- Hurting Hero: Felix in Armor
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Justified and deconstructed with Felix in Vampire$
- Insectoid Aliens: The Ants in Armor
- In Name Only: John Carpenter's Vampires is very much John Carpenter's, and very little John Steakley's.
- King Incognito: Felix in Armor
- Lucky Charms Title: Vampire$
- Noble Fugitive: see King Incognito
- Powered Armor: Armor
- Serial Numbers Filed Off: Steakley has admitted straight out that Armor is his Alternate Universe take on Starship Troopers. Having said that, the plots and themes are very different; all they share is a setting.
- Shrouded in Myth: Jack Crow in Armor
- Space Pirates: Borglyn's crew in Armor
- ~So Beautiful, It's A Curse~: Karen in Armor
- Space Opera: Armor
- The Unfettered: The Engine, what Armor!Felix calls his drive to survive, will not let Felix die. Ever.
- Who You Gonna Call?: Vampire$, Inc.