The best military science fiction isn’t just a bunch of space battles and cigar-chomping armed combat (although those are fun). The most interesting books also examine what life in the military actually involves, and what combat can do to a person’s mind.
Earth is introduced to extraterrestrial life by the Galactics, who tell world leaders that an invasion by another alien race, the Posleen, is coming, and they are bringing with them a terrible book cover.
A Hymn Before Battle is the first book in Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata series, which already has twelve books, and at least two more planned.
“An exceedingly impressive first novel… executed with skill, verve, and wit.”
As Alex Benedict investigates a mysterious project his uncle had been working on at the time of his death, he’s drawn deep into the history of a war between human civilization and a neighboring alien civilization. He uncovers secrets that challenge the foundation of the current human government.
A Talent for War is a good example of science fiction mystery. In fact, it’s probably best described as a mystery in a far-future setting. If you’re looking for a wild, spaceship-exploding adventure, this isn’t it. However, if you’re intrigued by what mysteries may occur in the military in ten thousand years and enjoy getting into character’s heads, give this book a try.
Some critics claim this is not McDevitt’s best novel. It is, however, arguably his most famous, and sets the stage for several well-regarded sequels.
Original title: Ōru Yū Nīdo Izu Kiru
All You Need Is Kill has been adapted into manga, a graphic novel, and the film Edge of Tomorrow.
When the alien Mimics invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many recruits shoved into a suit of battle armor called a Jacket and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again. On his 158th iteration, he gets a message from a mysterious ally—the female soldier known as the Full Metal Bitch. Is she the key to Keiji’s escape or his final death?
Armor has some similarities with Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (such as the military use of exoskeletons and insect-like alien enemies) but concentrates more on the psychological effects of violence on human beings rather than on the political aspects of the military, which is the focus of Heinlein’s novel.
Felix is an Earth soldier, encased in special body armor designed to withstand Earth’s most implacable enemy—a bioengineered, insectoid alien horde. But Felix is also equipped with internal mechanisms that enable him, and his fellow soldiers, to survive battle situations that would destroy a man’s mind.
Dauntless is the first book of the six-volume series The Lost Fleet (there’s also seven spin-off novels).
Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s legendary exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic “last stand” in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns from survival hibernation and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance Fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndic.
Appalled by the hero worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance’s one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic “Black Jack” legend…
“Jack Campbell” is the pseudonym for John G. Hemry, a retired Naval officer.
Sven Tveskoeg, an ex-sergeant demoted for insubordination and sentenced to death, is a vicious killer with a stubborn streak of loyalty. Sven possesses a fierce if untutored intelligence and a genetic makeup that is 98.2 percent human and 1.8 percent . . . something else. Perhaps that “something else” explains how quickly he heals from even the worst injuries or how he can communicate telepathically with the ferox, fearsome alien savages whose natural fighting abilities regularly outperform the advanced technology of their human enemies. Perhaps it is these unique abilities that bring Sven to the attention of OctoV.
Drafted into the Death’s Head, the elite enforcers of OctoV’s imperial will, Sven is given a new lease on life. Armed with a SIG diabolo–an intelligent gun–and an illegal symbiont called a kyp, Sven is sent to a faraway planet, the latest battleground between the Uplifted and OctoV. There he finds himself in the midst of a military disaster, one that will take all his courage–and all his firepower–to survive.
But an even deadlier struggle is taking place, a struggle that will draw the attention of the United Free. Sven knows he is a pawn, and pawns have a bad habit of being sacrificed.
But Sven is nobody’s sacrifice. And even a pawn can checkmate a king.
It’s interesting to note that the multiple attempts to contact David Gunn, his publisher, his agent, or any of the number of companies he’s associated with have all failed (attempts by others, not by me). There are internet rumors that there is no real David Gunn: instead, his real name is possibly John Courtnay Grimwood and he’s never served in any military capacity. All of the preceding came from a forum on the internet, so it must be true.
First-time novelist Gunn, a Brit who’s served his country by undertaking mysterious military or espionage “assignments,” delivers a hilarious far-future shoot-’em-up featuring a flawless antihero… Those looking for hard-bitten military SF will be disappointed. Those who love schlock that stops just short of parody will be delighted.
The amazon.com description of this book starts with the sophisticated subtlety of a weasel that just burrowed though a grain silo of cocaine:
“THE OVERWHELMINGLY POPULAR #1 BESTSELLER!!! ****ONE OF THE HIGHEST-RATED MILITARY SCI-FI NOVELS ON AMAZON!!***”
Despite this overly enthusiastic hard sell, Forging Zero is a good, fast-paced “you are the chosen one” adventure with well-drawn characters.
14-year-old Joe Dobbs is in a post-apocalyptic universe following a massive alien invasion of Earth. The oldest of the children drafted from humanity’s devastated planet, Joe is pressed into service by the alien Congressional Ground Force—and becomes the unwitting centerpiece in a millennia-long alien struggle for independence. Once his training begins, one of the elusive and prophetic Trith appears to give Joe a spine-chilling prophecy that the universe has been anticipating for millions of years: Joe will be the one to finally shatter the vast alien government known as Congress. And the Trith cannot lie… But first Joe has to make it through bootcamp.
Apparently, there is a tabletop game out there called Warhammer 40,000 with a serious cult following. The game involves armies of humans, aliens, and robots spread across the galaxy. There are multiple spin-offs from the Warhammer 40k universe, including over 350 books.
Reportedly, the best book of all of these is Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding, which one reviewer called “a great airplane read. The heroes are always in peril, violent action erupts every few pages, and the characters are drawn with enough complexity and humanity that you actually care what happens to them.”
Playing the Warhammer game is not a requirement for enjoying the book, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. And if you like it, there are fourteen more books in the series.
Gaunt’s Ghosts: The Founding is actually an omnibus edition of the first three Gaunt’s Ghosts novels that follows the story of the Tanith First-and-Only regiment (nicknamed the Ghosts) and their charismatic commissar, Ibram Gaunt. As they travel from warzone to warzone in the Chaos-infested Sabbat Worlds system, the Ghosts must not only carry out the most dangerous of missions but also survive the deadly politics of the Imperial Guard.
Hammer’s Slammers is a short story collection that follows the career of a mercenary tank regiment called Hammer’s Slammers, after their leader, Colonel Alois Hammer.
“Drake, a Vietnam vet who served in the Blackhorse Regiment, uses prose as cold and hard as the metal alloy of a tank to portray the men and women of Hammer’s Regiment.”
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets that are fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So we fight, both to defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, and unyielding.
Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
On his 75th birthday John Perry did two things: First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the CDF. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect, because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.
Having made a superior look foolish, recent graduate Honor Harrington is exiled to Basilisk Station in disgrace, and her demoralized crew blames her for their ship’s humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station.
Parliament isn’t sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want her head; the star-conquering, so-called “Republic” of Haven is Up To Something; the aborigines of the system’s only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with woefully inadequate armament.
But the people out to get her have made one mistake. They’ve made her mad.
Kenneth Chinran commanded the elite unit assigned to take out an entire planet in a terrible war. Millions died; billions more perished in the aftermath. One doesn’t send a sociopath on such a mission, because a sociopath might not stop. Chinran did stop—but in the process nearly lost his sanity and his soul.
But one of Chinran’s men was a sociopath going in. Now he’s a trained sociopath with the knowledge and firepower to take out entire tactical teams, evaporate through security cordons, and change identity at will. Who do you send after a killer like that? There’s only one answer: the man who trained him.
Satirical, surreal, and darkly funny, Slaughterhouse-Five is Vonnegut’s most important (i.e., influential) and popular work. One can argue that no time travel actually occurs since the main character (in addition to the narrator) are unreliable witnesses to their own lives. One can also argue “Who cares?” It’s a great story.
“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters…”
Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers while taking a break on Stranger in a Strange Land. Robert and his wife Virginia Heinlein created the small “Patrick Henry League” in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. Heinlein found himself under attack both from within and outside the science fiction community for his views, so he wrote Starship Troopers to clarify and defend his military and political views at the time.
The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements, where you’re restricted to two thousand calories of badly flavored soy every day:
You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world, or you can join the service.
With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price…and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.
“Military science fiction is tricky because it either intends to lampoon the military industrial complex or paints it in such a way that you must really have to love guns to enjoy the work. Terms of Enlistment walks that fine line by showing a world where the military is one of the few viable options off a shattered Earth and intermixes it with a knowledge of military tactics and weapons that doesn’t turn off the casual reader.”
The Forever War is a science fiction allegory for the Vietnam War, written from the perspective of a reluctant participant in the middle of a seemingly endless war while the world back home changes beyond recognition.
“To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise. It is, for all its techno-extrapolative brilliance, as fine and woundingly genuine a war story as any I’ve read.”
—William Gibson, author of Neuromancer
The Forge of God features a character, Lawrence Van Cott, that is modeled on science fiction author Larry Niven, whose full name is “Laurence van Cott Niven”.
On July 26, Arthur Gordon learns that Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter, has disappeared. Not hiding, not turned black, but gone.
On September 28, Edward Shaw finds an error in the geological records of Death Valley. A cinder cone was left off the map. Could it be new? Or, stranger yet, could it be artificial? The answer may be lying beside it—a dying guest who brings devastating news for Edward and for Planet Earth.
As more unexplained phenomena spring up around the globe—a granite mountain appearing in Australia, sounds emanating from the Earth’s core, flashes of light among the asteroids—it becomes clear to some that the end is approaching, and there is nothing we can do.
In the year 3016, the Second Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to the faster-than-light Alderson Drive. No other intelligent beings have ever been encountered, not until a light sail probe enters a human system carrying a dead alien. The probe is traced to the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud, and an expedition is dispatched.
Robert A. Heinlein, who gave the authors extensive advice on the novel, described the story as “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read.”
The Praxis is the first novel in the Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy.
The empire of the Shaa had lasted 10 millennia. 10,000 years of terror, infinite violence and oppressive, brutal order, legitimized by The Praxis, the harsh code of ethics that they imposed on the races they conquered. But the Shaa began to commit ritual suicide when it became clear that their near immortality came at a price they were unwilling to pay.
The death of the last of the Shaa leaves the galaxy-wide empire leaderless, and into this power vacuum flow the pretenders to the throne: the Naxids, oldest client race of the Shaa, who believe themselves inheritors of the empire; and a frail alliance of the remaining races, including humanity. And so, the story of a dread empire’s fall begins…
“Williams is a skillfully literate addition to the stylish new generation of science fiction writers.”
The undead Emperor has ruled his mighty interstellar empire of eighty human worlds for sixteen hundred years. Because he can grant a form of eternal life-after-death, creating an elite known as the Risen, his power is absolute. He and his sister, the Child Empress, who is eternally a little girl, are worshipped as living gods.
The Rix are machine-augmented humans who worship very different gods: AI compound minds of planetary size. Cool, relentless fanatics, their only goal is to propagate such AIs. They seek to end the Emperor’s prolonged rule, and supplant it with an eternal cybernetic dynasty. They begin by taking the Child Empress hostage. Captain Laurent Zai of the Imperial Frigate Lynx is tasked with her rescue.
Separated by light years, bound by an unlikely love, Zai and pacifist Senator Nara Oxham must both face the challenge of the Rix, and both will hold the fate of the empire in their hands.
“…exceptionally smart and empathetic novel…Keeping the reader constantly off-balance, Westerfeld skillfully integrates extreme technologies with human characters.”
The granddaddy of alien invasion stories, The War of the Worlds was classified as “scientific romance,” as was Wells’s earlier book, The Time Machine.
Wells appears to have enjoyed the idea of obliterating his neighborhood. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I’m doing the dearest little serial for Pearson’s new magazine, in which I completely wreck and sack Woking — killing my neighbors in painful and eccentric ways — then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity.”
The Warrior’s Apprentice is book #2 in the 16-novel-long (and counting) Vorkosigan Series.
Discharged from the Barrarayan academy after flunking the physical, a discouraged Miles Vorkosigan takes possession of a jumpship and becomes the leader of a mercenary force that expands to a fleet of treasonous proportions.
Staff Sergeant Tobin Kerr was a battle-hardened professional, so when she was yanked from a well-deserved leave for what was supposed to be “easy” duty as the honor guard for a diplomatic mission to the non-Confederation world of the Silsviss, she was ready for anything.
At first, it seemed that all she’d have to contend with was bored troops getting into mischief, and breaking in the new second lieutenant who had been given command of her men.
Sure, there had been rumors of the Others—the sworn enemies of the Confederation—being spotted in this sector of space. But there were always rumors. The key thing was to recruit the Silsviss into the Confederation before the Others either attacked or claimed this lizard-like race of warriors for their own side. And everything seemed to be going perfectly. Maybe too perfectly.
“Huff delivers the goods. Valor’s Choice…is incredibly fun.”
-Science Fiction Weekly