SF CORE Best Lists
SF ERA Best Lists
SF GENRE Best Lists
OTHER Best Lists

Top 25 Military SciFi Books

Best Military SciFi Books

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.

You can not deny the power of Kurt Vonnegut’s pointed satire. Slaughterhouse 5 is not a story of military might, or tactics, or even battles. It’s about what happens to a soldier who is exposed to war in much the same way that legendary author Vonnegut was exposed to the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. Billy Pilgrim is exactly the kind of hero a novel detailing the horrors of war needs. He is unstuck in time, but he never loses his humanity. While it slims down the actual war content, it forces the matter of the fallout. Through Billy Pilgrim, we come to understand what the impact of war is on soldiers, and how even the marvels of time and space are not enough to make that impact non-evident. Slaughterhouse 5 was one of the first science fiction novels of the second half of the twentieth century to become adopted by academics, as well as by a mass audience of non-genre fans. Its powerful prose, and satire based on the idea that humanity is far more foreign to the idea of kindness than aliens are to our species, makes it one of the most important science fiction novels ever written, and the most important of all military science fiction pieces. Why it’s number one There is no more human view of war than Slaughterhouse 5
The films of Sam Fuller were seen as so visceral, they were banned from many municipalities. Haldeman’s novel The Forever War is the science fictional equivalent of Fuller’s films, and carries so much more weight. The violence is frank, clear, unambiguous. The story of William Mandella and his travel through time ad battlefields is brutal at times, and the use of concepts like post-hypnotic suggestion leading to massacres, makes the book a strong commentary against war. Haldeman’s own Vietnam experience is evident throughout, as William Mandella is nearly as autobiographical a character as Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim. The way Haldeman writes of the thousand year-long war is much like he would write of the Vietnam, and he pulls no punches.  He questions not only the reasoning and effect of war, but the very stresses that humanity carries within it that we believe leads to warfare. In The Forever War, there is brutality, but in the end, it is brutality that is screaming at the reader that we must never look away, and never accept as reasonable. Why it’s on the list Many vets consider this to be the most direct and honest portrayal of war ever, genre or not.

Books in The Forever War Series (2)

Similar Recommendations

Some years later, Haldeman wrote two other novels linked to The Forever War, though only one is a direct sequel.

The sequel is Forever Free, in which Mandella, with his wife and children, is now a colonist on the icy world of Middle Finger. When they try to use time dilation effects to escape the post-human hive mind known as Man, things go wrong, and they end up returning to a depopulated planet, meet an alien shapeshifter that has coexisted on Earth throughout history, and end up in a face to face meeting with God. It is nowhere near as good as the original, but it is interesting as a sequel.

Much better, but only tangentially connected to the original, is Forever Peace, which also won the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. This is another novel which argues that war is an aberration, but in this case it is a war here on Earth fought by armies of robotic "soldier boys" who are controlled by plugged in operators. However, it is discovered that being plugged in like this cures all warlike impulses, so that the very act of fighting the war ends war.

If you love the military action (and suit to suit combat) of Forever War, read the classic Starship Troopers by Heinlein. While Forever War is an argument against war (and specifically, the Vietnam War), Starship Troopers is the celebration of all things war. Both have a shit load of action. And if you want a novel that straddles the middle between Starship Troopers and Forever War, then give John Steakley's Armor a good read.

For a somewhat different take on future wars, you should also check out Old Man's War by John Scalzi in which it is old people who have already lived productive lives who are recruited to fight and are then given enhanced bodies. But this is still an anti-war novel, the characters are psychologically damaged by their experiences and it is far from clear that the humans are fighting on the right side.

Robert Heinlein’s most important military science fiction work deserves all the praise people heap upon it. It’s not just a book about Earth’s military trying to defeat giant alien bugs; it’s a look at the moral, ethical, and philosophical implications of war, life, duty, and perhaps most of all, how young people should progress. It’s a complicated series of concepts, and a rather intense novel as well, and one which is by-far the most readable of all Heinlein’s work. Of course, it is not just the story, but the way that it ties in with the Cold War, which was just a about as hot as it would get in 1959. Heinlein is taking shots at a post-World War II America that he argues is losing its way by forgetting what discipline is required to serve the American moral identity, and that the ‘softening’ of America, as demonstrated by the beginnings of the abandonment of corporal and capital punishment. This is an incredibly political novel, one which you will never mistake for anything other than what it is, but also one that is thrilling and incredibly intelligent. Why it’s on the list It’s the prototype for modern military science fiction.
OK, maybe it’s not fair to put a collection of short stories on this list, but it’s a single idea collection, and it’s also one of the most incredible you’ll ever find. David Drake’s greatest creation, Colonel Alois Hammer, is exactly the kind of character you want to follow through adventures. His entire regiment is full of characters, but not in that annoying ‘one-of-every-type’ cliché, but exactly what I’d expect to find in an actual regiment. Everyone has a reason for being there, from sense of honor and duty, to plain old-fashioned revenge. There are some troubling character tropes, and it wasn’t exactly the most progressive work of fiction. Hammer’s Slammers is another work that rise up from the experience of the author. Drake had been in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, which shows in the details. The literary influences range from the Odyssey, to Dashiell Hammett’s classic Red Harvest. The stories are each beautifully executed, and never fall into the trap of being too far removed from one another, or simply a novel told through short form Instead, they each live and breathe on their own, but still move you towards a common goal. Like a good tank regiment should. Why it’s on the list The story Standing Down alone is worth a place on the list, and that it’s one of many masterfully constructed tales. 

Books in Hammer’s Slammers Series (9)

Two World War I destroyers are still in use during World War II, and being chased by the Japanese warship Amagi. This is bad news, made worse by the squall they enter. Oh yeah, and they end up traveling into an alternate universe where there are two warring races, one descended from dinosaurs and the other from Lemurs, and no humans. The war between them is a beautiful parallel to the war between Japan and the US, and the characters know it. The first book in the Destroyermen series, Into The Storm is a phenomenal book that combines world-building with excellent characterization, political and military intrigue, and a sense of wonder that you’re not likely to find elsewhere. The interactions between the people of the different streams  is impressive, and the way that Anderson constructs the plot makes every bit more appealing. The entire series is well-worth reading, but the first book hits every note dead-center. Why it’s on the list A super series of novels, but taken on its own, Into the Storm is just as powerful, serving up an incredible world with smart characters and a blazing plot!

Books in Destroyermen Series (12)

You step into Semper Mars, the first book in the Heritage Trilogy, and are pulled deeper and deeper with every page. Earth is mired in a struggle between the US and the United Nations, which spills over to Mars, where US scientists have discovered the ruins of an ancient civilization. This leads the US to do what the US always seems to do – send the Marines! As a story of an expeditionary force, a subgenre that has roots in tales of the Greeks and Romans wandering the Aegen Sea, it’s a marvelous story of maneuvers, of politics, of a dark future, and of Americanism in SPACE!!! The sites of the story, like Mars and the International Space Station, are fantastic, but the story hinges on the recogniseable elements of conflict between the US and the UN, between the forces of internationalism and nationalist groups, between us and them. It’s a remarkable story, and the Heritage Trilogy is a phenomenal read taken as a group, and the first novel in the series is a miracle that draws you along without stopping. Why it’s on the list Because when in doubt, send the Marines!       

Books in Heritage Series (2)

The Campany Wars. Never forget. Space has been colonized not by governments, but by warring corporations who realize the economic possibilities. On top of that, there is an inhabited planet with a station orbiting it. That is the basis for the very fine novel Downbelow Station, and when you add in alien races, and political and interpersonal conflicts, it’s a phenomenal combination. Like most great science fiction novels, Downbelow Station manages to work within a set of concepts that deal with the effects of colonization and commercialization on both those being attacked, and those doing the attacking. These are a series of incredibly intricate conflicts that deal with many different kinds of power dynamics, which allows the exploration of individual character motivations and how they attach to so many parts of the world we live in. This is not a novel of foreign concepts, even though we encounter great grand ideas all along the way. Cherryh manages to create great big stories and ideas while never losing the idea that every space battle, every attack is effecting the lives of individuals, and in that lies both the triumph and heartbreak. Why it’s on the list A marvelous story, beautifully written, that won the Hugo, and quite deservedly so!

Books in The Company Wars Series (10)

Commander Honor Harrington. It’s one of the most significant names in the history of military science fiction. Harrington’s first appearance in the series featuring more than a dozen novels is incredibly entrancing and it’s easy to see why this is one of the most beloved of all the military science fiction series. Honor Harrington of the Royal Manticore Navy is on her first mission here on Her Majesty’s Ship Fearless, only to discover that it’s been basically neutered with a new, largely useless weapon. She’s been sent there by Lord Pavel Young, whose own career was damaged by a court martial for attempting to rape Honor, who has diabolical plan to take Honor down! The absolute joy of David Weber’s writing is the amount of detail he managed to bring to play. Here, he has built an incredible series of worlds, all within an amazing universe, that Honor and the Royal Manticore Navy operates in. The plot, which brings us to drug smuggling, grand conspiracies, and incredible space battles, is all set within Weber’s always impact-heavy prose. That combination alone makes On Basilisk Station into a phenomenal introduction to an amazing character. Why it’s on the list The beginning is a difficult thing, but here, the beginning of the Honorverse is endlessly entertaining. Also, there’s an empathic cat.

Books in Honor Harrington Series (16)

This title alone should draw you in, doesn’t it? Especially if you remember that this was a novel written in the 1970s, Jake Saunders and Howard Waldrop’s story of an Earth that is devastated by nuclear weapon launches (initiated by the British!) and a post-apocalyptic social-political wasteland, is exactly the kind of story you wanna read when thinking about the modern political situation. In a world where an independent Texas has kidnapped the President of the United States, and Coke is only available from Israel! The world that Saunders and Waldrop developed here is remarkable. It is not only a world of political and geographical wonders, but it is a world that is inhabited by new levels of social intrigue, sex, and commercial elements. There is no lack of humorous, and more than a little cheeky, concepts exist in this book. A heavy cruiser battleship named the Judge Roy Bean, and Pittsburgh being the capital of the US, are just the best of ‘em, but there are many more. Of course, it’s incredibly fun reading, and the plot roars all along the way. Following a battalion of super-powered tanks led by Sol Ingelstein and Myra Kalan, we encounter a version of Texas that is not just strange and fantastic, but so thoroughly realized you may find yourself checking the histry books to make sure this didn’t actually happen! Why it’s on the list Because it’s freaking brilliant!
John Scalzi is one of the shining lights of today’s science fiction landscape. His first novel, Old Man’s War, was an incredible introduction, bringing Scalzi to international attention, as well as a Hugo nomination for Best Novel. The story of a fighting force comprised of genetically enhanced senior citizens fighting a war in space is an exceptionally fun bit of work, and takes so many classic science fiction methods. There’s incredible technologies, like a fun faster-than-light travel method, and neural implants, and excellent use of run of the mill genetic engineering and thought consciousness transfers. When you look at Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, Zoe’s Tale, The Lost Colony, and other shorter works, they’re all a combination of 1960s and 70s science fiction ideas, the kind you’d get from Heinlein or Bester, along with seriously funny prose you’d find  from Vonnegut or Sturgeon. That marvelous combination, and the power of his plotting, is a major part of why Scalzi is seen as one of today’s most beloved, and highly awarded,  of all scifi practitioners! Why it’s on the list Old Man’s War is the best of both worlds, old time science fiction fun with contemporary prose styling!

Books in Old Man's War Series (7)

Similar Recommendations

Old Man's War was the first volume in an ongoing series consisting, to date, of The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe's Tale and The Human Division, with further novels promised. These follow the continuing adventures of John Perry and Jane Sagan, who was created from the DNA of Perry's dead wife. As conflict with varied alien races continues, the pair become increasingly disillusioned with the war, eventually learning that Earth has been kept in ignorance of what is going on, leading eventually to a new alliance with the aliens.

Just as Old Man's War contains echoes of Heinlein, Scalzi has played with ideas from other works of science fiction. Fuzzy Nation, for instance, reboots ideas from the Little Fuzzy stories of H. Beam Piper; while Redshirts, which won the Hugo and Locus Awards, is a comedy built around the idea that it is always the redshirts on Star Trek who die.

David Drake and John Ringo are two of the most beloved authors you’ll find in the world of military science fiction. In Empire of Man, they’re working with some wonderful classic concepts, but giving them a spit-polish that turns them into something new, exciting, and just plain old-fashioned fun. Like many of the military science fiction novel series of the early 2000s, we’re given a spoiled-rotten royal being forced to interact with the rank and file of the military, in this case, Prince Roger Ramius Sergei Alexander Chiang McClintock finds himself in an adventure following an attempted saboteur attack.  That leads to more starfarring action than you can shake a stick at! The collaboration between Ringo and Drake, two of the most beloved authors of science fiction and fantasy you’ll find today, brings out the best in the both them. Incredibly smart and bright prose, mingling with to the point action plotting and characterization. The resulting series of stories manages to keep the energy up all the way through, but never fall into the pat sequel trap. Why it’s on the list Two fantastic authors writing super-fun prose that just goes and goes!
Jack Campbell is a fine author whose work calls back to his time in the US Navy. The Lost Fleet series is a long-running series of books that never fails to impress, but it is in the open salvo in the series that made a gigantic splash. Black Jack, John Geary, is one of those heroes who legend is so much greater than the reality of his situation called for, and once he’s rescued from suspended animation and brought in for what’s supposed to be a decisive battle, things get really interesting. With Black Jack in charge, leading through a world he really doesn’t understand, it’s one of those MilSciFi works that is unputdownable. Not too long into the work you’ll come across stuff that will call many other science fiction legends to mind, from Firefly to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but not too many pages after that, you’ll find yourself in uncharted waters, with everything feeling fresh and new. It takes a great writer to make the familiar seem brand new, and that’s what Campbell has managed. By the end of the novel, you’re already salivating for more! Why it’s on the list Black Jack is one of those amazing and unforgettable characters!

Books in The Lost Fleet Series (5)

It is easy to love a hero who is not 100% they’re anything better than fairly lucky. That is the kind of character that Esmay Suiza represents. She’s not the overly-confident hero that many of the super-heroic captains; she’s had it rough, and she’s not entirely confident in her own choices. The way Elizabeth Moon works with the character, both through back story and in the plot in the Familias Regnant series, makes her that much more impressive. The big thing with the books of Elizabeth Moon is always the attention to the existence of the bigger picture. She bounces between events of other books, Moon’s series are all a part of the same fairly dense family tree, but they also exist as individual entities. This novel has deep connections, but then fights within itself to draw readers into new avenues, and eventually into a new character set that draws readers in far deeper in a single novel than any of the other entire series. Why it’s on the list Elizabeth Moon is the first lady of Military Science Fiction, and this is the best of her books.

Books in The Serrano Legacy Series (6)

Perhaps the second most famous unfinished series in the history of science fiction (after Dangerous Visions), and one of the absolute foundation stones upon with military science fiction is built, Dorsai is the first novel set in one of the most incredible universes ever imagined, where every planet has a variant of the human race, typically developed to fit a single need or purpose. The inhabitants of Dorsai are warriors, the best of the best, and Donal Graeme is the ultimate in intuitive supermen, and he’s also our main character. While 1950s and early 1960s science fiction can lack perspective when viewed through the lens of contemporary writing, Dickson was a master of nuance, and especially juxtaposition. He had the amazing ability to have one thing, often a character at a crossroads, stand for two opposing  concepts, and it never occurs to the reader that this should be strange. While Dickson is one of the less-remembered authors of the Golden Age, he is usually pegged as the key figure in the development of military science fiction, and Dorsai 100% demonstrates why! Why it’s on the list In many ways, Dorsai is the blueprint for generations of military science fiction.

Books in Childe Cycle Series (24)

Red Rising is the kind of story that takes traditional science fiction ideas, mixing them with allegory and metaphor, and then puts it all together in a form that emphasizes strong character development and tight plotting. Here, we are given a strictly-enforced division between people of different ‘colors’. The elite are the golds, while the reds toil as workers beneath the surface of Mars, mining helium-3 so that the golds can terraform the Red Planet. Class tensions burn, and Darrow, a Red whose wife was hanged for treason, is disguised as a Gold to infiltrate and bring them down from within. The shades of The Hunger Games are obvious, but Brown manages to infuse a lot more roman mythology, and an impressive amount of tactical detail in the warring fortresses maintained by the Houses. The battle between the Houses is incredible, especially when viewed in light of classic science fiction works like Dune, only put into a context that appeals to newer readers of the genre. Those battles and intrigue show that Red Rising is steeped in the military science fiction tradition. Why it’s on the list One of the most popular novels of the last few years, and one that will appeal to lovers of science fiction of all forms.

Books in Red Rising Trilogy Series (5)

Similar Recommendations

For more action-packed dystopian science fiction that's going to captivate YA readers, the obvious choice is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In a post-apocalyptic America ruled by tyranny, 12 boys and 12 girls are chosen by lot each year to take part in a televised fight to the death. Over the course of the two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the victory of our heroine Katniss in the Hunger Games turns into a rebellion to overturn the oppressive government.

You can't help but compare Red Rising to Ender's Game -- a group of talented youngsters forced into military games of life and death to prove their competence. Absolutely read Ender's Game if you like Red Rising.

Haldeman’s second masterpiece, Forever Peace is not a direct sequel, but instead fits like a puzzle piece to form a more complete view of what Haldeman sees as war’s legacy. Here, it is the story of Julian Class, a physicist who is operating  super-powered robot, called a soldierboy, in various wars driven by economic concerns in the Third World. Soldierboys are nearly invincible, but require users to be ‘jacked in’ through cranial implants, which ends up being one of the key elements of the entire story. Forever Peace is an incredibly ambitious book, made even more miraculous that it pulls off everything it attempts, and then goes beyond itself. It plays out as a commentary on the Gulf War, as well as South American conflicts, on the asymmetrical wars of the late 20th century, and on the politics behind them. It manages to look at the intersection of technology, military conflict, and religion. While less of a visceral experience than Forever War, Haldeman manages to look into the ideas behind global conflict, and the power imbalances that arise from the first world’s development of technologies of war. It’s an impressive novel, and even more impressive when see twenty years later, when many of the ideas, including a research system potentially opening up a hole in the universe, have come to pass! Why it’s on the list A truly magnificent novel!

Books in The Forever War Series (2)

H. Beam Piper was one of the most important authors of the 1940s and 50s. Before his suicide in 1964, he had published many important novels, especially in the Paratime series that helped to launch Alternative History as its own subgenre. One that sometimes gets overlooked is his classic Uller Uprising, a fantastic novel that helped set-up what military science fiction would become over the following decades. Like many of the 1950s science fiction pieces you’ll find, this isn’t exactly enlighten thinking, but the story Piper creates is an allegory for the Bengal Uprising of the 1850s, and one that is told with an amazing economy of language. The planet of Uller, and the Uller Corporation that maintains control of it, are so fully realized, and the way Piper works with both the central concepts, and the characters caught up in it, make it even more impressive. While it might not be the level of impact that Dorsai leveled on the burgeoning field of military science fiction, it is certainly a novel that brought the idea of taking actual military conflicts and applying a science fiction overlay to achieve an incredible effect. Why it’s on the list A fine example of taking reality and managing to make it feel more real by putting it in a science fiction universe.
Fred Saberhagen was a brilliant writer whose works of the 1970s and 80s are sometimes forgotten. Berserker,  an  1967 anthology of 11 stories set in the Berserker universe that were originally published between 1963 and 1966, established Saberhagen as a master of the military science fiction tale, and moreover, managed to set the foundation for an amazing series of novels and stories that followed. Berserkers are self-replicating spaceships of unimaginable power, and they are waging war on humanity. Their goal is pretty simple: destroy all humans! The war of Earthers against the berserkers is incredible, and the individual stories, which all fit together tighter than most novels manage, all have a particular bent, each giving a view of an idea or concept that doesn’t overwhelm the overall story, but makes it possible to explore more niche ideas. Opening with an impressive puzzle story, and including a marvelous, and more than a bit nihilistic, story called Patron of the Arts, makes this collection worthy of reading and re-reading. Why it’s on the list The entire cause of the berserkers can be boiled down to “To serve the cause of what men call death is good. To destroy life is good.” That alone makes the reading of the story all that more powerful.
John Ringo again! This is his debut novel in the Legacy of the Aldentata series, and one of the finest examples of the ‘who’s the real bad guy?’ idea that science fiction authors have been mining for decades. Here, theGalactic Federation, or Galactics, tell Earth leaders that there’s another, dangerous alien race, the Posleen, who are about to come a-callin’ and they aren’t going to be nice about it. This, coupled with the questionable intentions of the Galactics, makes for a book full of paranoia, and good old battle readiness. Ringo is in top form here, creating a universe that mirrors our own in the level of political intrigue, as well as giving an incredibly smart look at the military concepts that come along with those very machinations of the political forces. The writing is crisp, and the plot rolls along drawing the reader in further and further by developing strong, intelligent characters. The real joy comes when we begin to understand the alien races we’ve been introduced to, and the deeper we go in them, their ways, and their possible motivations, the more fascinating this book becomes. Why it’s on the list One of the best works by one of Military Science Fiction’s leading authors!

Books in Posleen War Series (4)

S.M. Sterling’s Steampunk/Alternate History/Post-Apocalyptic novel The Peshawar Lancers has a lot of work to do! It tells a story of an Earth devastated by a massive meteor shower during the reign of Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The Earth begins to recover, with the Industrial Revolution stalled out following the damage, and by 2025 there’s been a serious return with the world now technologically about the level of 1900 in our timeline. The Angrezi Raj, under King John II, is the most powerful in the world, and Aethelstane King leads the Peshawar Lancers who defend the norther border areas. Sterling’s writing is so crisp and fluid in The Peshawar Lancers, folding in influences as far-ranging as H. Beam Piper and Robert E. Howard to Wells and Vonnegut. It’s impressive, action-packed storytelling, but it’s the world that he builds that is so incredible. Playing with the history, as well as extrapolating on the path of human society after a massive geologic event, coupled with the character of Aethelstane King and the adventures he leads his men on, makes this a novel that is one of the finest examples of whatever sub-genre you decide to put it in! Why it’s on the list A wonderful bit of world-building and an incredibly fun story!
Yoon Ha Lee is a name that science fiction fans will want to keep in mind for decades to come. Lee’s debut novel, Ninefox Gambit, is exactly the kind of military science fiction that will be defining the sub-genre through the future. Part of the power of Lee’s writing is the view of war as not only a costly endeavor, but as one that defines the troubles of any group of people. In Ninefox Gambit, we get a main character, Kel Cheris, who is neck-deep in a multi-sided war between half-a-dozen factions of varying levels of life. Insanely detailed, Ninefox Gambit is a novel that never shies away from the darker side of war, politics, and interpersonal relationships in general. The blood-and-guts of the plot mixes up with worldbuilding that never flinches away from all areas of political, social, and technology. In fact, this is a tech-heavy story, Hard SF of the type you might have read from Larry Niven in the 70s, but with a prose styling that feels of the 21st century. It’s an impressive mash-up of tradition and innovation, which somehow makes it feel even more innovative! Why it’s on the list The next generation of Military Science Fiction authors comes roaring onto the scene with this debut!

Books in Machineries Of Empire Series (2)

Jack McDevitt’s wonderful science fiction mystery rides the line that defines Military Science Fiction very tight. The story, about Alex Benedict’s search for the nature of his uncle’s secret, takes place nearly 10,000 years in the future, and while Alex unravels his life’s mystery, we are shown a world where there’s a great war waging that is a part of a deep history of humanity and alien cultures. McDevitt, an absolute master of the genre, pulls the threads of mystery, both grand and personal, and the wide-ranging history of the universe and its inhabitants. He deftly moves between the present day activities of Benedict’s searching and the long history of the world as it had evolved up to that point. The entire novel is a masterpiece of interactions between the present and past, between the personal and the grand scheme. It’s a big picture novel that manages to never lose the personal aspect.  That’s not easy, and to make it as incredibly engaging is even more difficult! Why it’s on the list McDevitt is a master storyteller, and A Talent for War might be the most ambitious of all his works.

Books in Alex Benedict Series (9)

Similar Recommendations

Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Ann Leckle

Jerry Pournelle was one of the best-known writers of Military Science Fiction of the 1970s. His stories, both solo and with co-authors like Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, almost all deal with he application of technology to the battles waged between people, tribes, and even civilizations. In King David’s Spaceship, it’s perhaps not as decidedly Military as some, but the story of Colonel Nathan "Iron" MacKinnie certainly qualifies. Where Pournelle was an absolute master of the craft was within the area of plotting. There is never a moment when Jerry wasn’t placing copious detail and deep thoughts within the interactions of his characters while not losing the train of the plot to rumination. To power a story like King David’s Spaceship and never lose the thread while still being completely engaged with the larger world he has created is no mean feat. Concepts like the Imperial Traders Association, the examination of how trade in this militarized universe, add depth that you might not find in many other Military Science Fiction novels. Why it’s on the list King David’s Spaceship demonstrates everything you need to make a great work of Military Science Fiction.
Canada’s finest practitioner of Military Science Fiction must be Tanya Huff. In Valor’s Choice, she presents us with Staff Sgt. Torin Kerr. She’s somewhere between a No-Nonsense Sargeant type and a far-seeing war leader. In fact, she’s nearly indefinable in simple terms because Huff has imbued her with such a deep sense of personality and strategic reasoning. She’s an able leader, but not able in the Heinlein sense, where everything is the line of a sacrifice waiting to happen, but rather viewing every encounter as a problem to be solved. Huff’s writing is clear, and the humor she manages to give to each character and situation within the story makes it a delight to keep reading. There are elements of 1970s disaster movies, of military adventure tales, of Titanic, and the kind of humor favored by the likes of Robert Sheckley and Connie Willis. She mages to turn these elements into a combine that speaks far louder than the story itself, drawing us into the series, and into identifying with Kerr as the kind of character we love… sometimes even despite ourselves. Why it’s on the list A wonderful series and a strong contender for the most fun thing ever to come out of the Great White North!

Books in Confederation Series (6)

Keith Laumer was one of the absolute masters of the 1960s and 70s, and one of his most important series was the BOLO family of novels and stories. In The Stars Must Wait, Laumer has crafted a modernist version of Rip Van Winkle that melts into the kind of scifi you would not have been shocked to find in a 1978 issue of Analog. Following Lt. Torrence Jackson, we discover a universe that is no longer able to live technologically as we were in 1990, but a patchy state of remnants and cast-offs that are manipulated by the inhabitants. The most fascinating aspect of Laumer’s novel isn’t the extrapolation of what the world might be like after a fall, but the power of what remains, and how incredible those who retain the knowledge and methods of the past are. With Jackson, and the other sleeper who has awakened, we are presented with the idea that it is only through the knowledge and techniques of the past that we able to move forward. This simple idea makes The Stars Must Wait into a true masterpiece of early 1990s Military Science Fiction. Why It’s on the list Laumer is a genius, and this reworking of his short story manages to play in an incredibly deep sea o thoughts.

Books in Bolo Series (13)