Military Science Fiction is a subgenre that has always been around. Maybe it’s the fact that getting all those rockets, robots, and blasters would obviously require immense amounts of governmental funding to make a reality, and only the military can provide that sort of cash!
Military Science Fiction grows out of military tales told by returning warriors of their travels. These stories are probably as old as the idea of war itself. The power of these stories is often held within the idea that the work itself is the story of when real people put themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
These stories eventually began to morph, and the arena of military fiction, actually got its start in the classical period as epic poems. These stories, like the Illiad, or the Aeneid, told the tales of military encounters, often fantastical in nature. It’s not that they were trying to tell magical stories, but turning an army into a single gigantic one-eyed monster was certainly more recogniseable to the audience of the time.
While there has always been a presence of military themes in science fiction, dating all the way back to Verne and Wells, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that we began to see something that could be codified as Military Science Fiction. Stories dealing with the military in space, or dealing with alien races, began to appear more frequently, often from authors who had served in World War II, or slightly later, those who returned from Vietnam.
These authors, including the legendary Robert Heinlein, Frederick Browne, and H. Beam Piper, created stories that were not only using military themes and characters, but were placing their stories as the basis for the entire plot, and often extrapolating the ideas of modern warcraft into future scenarios.
These early Military Science Fiction worlds quickly picked up a large following, not only with readers in the US, but with soldiers actually in the fighting in Vietnam. Many works like Starship Troopers were read by active duty participants in the conflict zone, and several would go on to write some of the most important Military Science Fiction of the 1970s and 80s.
Like any subgenre of science fiction, there grew several sub-subgenres. There have been alternate history stories, such as the Destroyermen novels by Taylor Anderson, Military Space Opera, such as the Vorkosigan cycle, and even Military Steampunk like the Peshawar Lacers. And, whenever you’ve got a new sub-genre, you also get publishers who spring up to publish them, and BAEN books quickly became one of the leading publishers of Military SF, bringing out novel sby leading lights like Elizabeth Moon, John Ringo, David Drake, and many more.
The newest generation of Military Science Fiction authors, many of whom served in Afghanistan or Iraq, such as Steve Mix, Marko Kloos, and Brad Torgerson, have led to an explosion in the number of Military SF novels and novellas on the market, establishing it as one of the most viable markets in science fiction.