In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war…

Ever since Robert A. Heinlein published his famous novel, Starship Troopers in 1959, science fiction – and specifically, military science fiction – has had a concern with the ‘future soldier’, and the impact of technology on the process of war fighting and body of the soldier. This is reflected perhaps none better than in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe, and its many paradigms of military conflict and servitude, including the conscript, the servitor and the Space Marine.

In this paper, I will explore early science fiction depictions of the ‘future soldier’ and their influence on the GW universes and the interesting links to be found between fictional universes and the modern-day world. In particular, I will look at the ethical dilemmas posed by the soldier, and the problematic relationship between the soldier, the citizen and the state.

While Space Marines may be instrumentalised soldiers from birth, their transformation leaves them no scope to return to their former lives. In this way, they are more like Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus (1976) than they are like Heinlein’s super-soldier concept depicted in Starship Troopers, as for the Space Marines, there can be no end to the eternal war.

But then, whose war is it anyway? If the Space Marines aren’t human, and can’t know a life beyond war, then what is it they’re really fighting for? Is there any room for the Space Marine in the post-war universe? All these questions and more will be explored in a wide-ranging interdisciplinary paper spanning the worlds of literature, culture, philosophy and ethics. As I will demonstrate, there’s far more to the world(s) of Games Workshop than first meets the eye!

About the speaker

Mike Ryder (M.J. Ryder), is an interdisciplinary researcher at Lancaster University, and co-organiser of the Embodying Fantastika conference. His recent publications include chapters in Blade Runner 2049 and Philosophy, and a forthcoming book on 1960s sci-fi. His research interests include war, sovereignty, biopolitics and ethics. His website is You can also listen to his podcast,


  1. […] Mike Ryder is an interdisciplinary researcher at Lancaster University and co-organiser of the Embodying Fantastika conference. Away from his academic interests, Mike has over 10 years’ experience in marketing across sectors as diverse as healthcare, video games and higher education, where he spent several years providing digital marketing consultancy to academics seeking to raise their profile online. […]

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