Author Connie Willis outdoes herself with humor and heart in The Road to Roswell, where a stealthy, desperate first contact happens right outside a particularly large and conspiracy-laden UFO festival.
I don’t want to spoil the fun by revealing any more about the plot, but this is excellent, light-hearted fare.
Recommendation: Read it!
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.
These novels were all published in the 21st century.
When a Joint Task Force of elite Rangers are transported to a strange and fantastic future where science and evolution have incarnated the evils of myth and legend, they find themselves surrounded, pinned down, and in a desperate fight for their very survival—against nightmares of flesh and blood made real. Which means only one thing.
It’s time to Ranger Up and stack bodies.
The forces of evil have no idea how dangerous a Ranger has been trained to be, and once the action starts, it won’t let up in this no-holds-barred, full-auto, epic battle for survival in the Forgotten Ruin.
For Josette Dupre, the Corps’ first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.
On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.
So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?
“Bennis writes a pleasing mix of banter and gritty battle scenes, combining both the adrenaline rush of combat and its horrifying results, and never indulging in too-sudden social victories that might cheapen the long struggle against embedded prejudice.”
Naval officer Mila Blackwood is determined to keep her country’s most powerful secret—shrouding, the ability to traverse their planet in seconds through an alternate realm—out of enemy hands.
But spies are everywhere: her submarine has been infiltrated by a Dhavnak agent, and her teenage brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier. When Blackwood’s submarine is attacked by a monster, she and fellow sailor, Holland, are marked with special abilities, whose manifestations could end the war. But in whose favor?
Forced to submit to military scientists in her paranoid and war-torn home, Blackwood soon learns that the only people she can trust might also be the enemy.
“Hogan writes with tangible energy, capturing the trials of divided loyalties in the midst of global war… Fans of military SF will enjoy Hogan’s fresh take on the genre.”
Ten thousand years ago, a single alien super-ship survived a desperate battle. The vessel’s dying crew set the AI on automatic to defend the smashed rubble of their planet. Legend has it the faithful ship continues to patrol the empty battlefield, obeying its last order throughout the lonely centuries.
In the here and now, Earth needs a miracle. Out of the Beyond invade the New Men, stronger, faster and smarter than the old. Their superior warships and advanced technology destroy every fleet sent to stop them. Their spies have infiltrated the government and traitors plague Earth’s military.
Captain Maddox of Star Watch Intelligence wonders if the ancient legend could be true. Would such an old starship be able to face the technology of the New Men? On the run from killers, Maddox searches for a group of talented misfits. He seeks Keith Maker, a drunken ex-strikefighter ace, Doctor Dana Rich the clone thief stuck on a prison planet, and Lieutenant Valerie Noonan, the only person to have faced the New Men in battle and survived to tell about it.
Maddox has to find a place hidden in the Beyond and bring back a ship no one can enter. If he fails, the New Men will replace the old. If he succeeds, humanity might just have a fighting chance…
Quick-witted Tanner Malone has bombed the Test, an all-important exam that establishes how much he owes for his corporate-funded education. With his future plans crushed under a mountain of debt, Tanner enlists in the navy of his home star system of Archangel. But he hasn’t factored in the bullying shipmates, the civil war brewing on the border, or the space pirates.
As Tanner begins basic training, the government ramps up its forces to confront the vicious raiders wreaking havoc throughout human space. Led by the complex and charismatic Captain Casey, the outlaws never let their egalitarian and democratic ideals get in the way of a little murder or mayhem.
Assigned to the front lines, Tanner learns there’s only one way to deal with his ruthless foes, cruel comrades, and the unforgiving void of space: he’ll have to get up close and personal.
The Krakau came to Earth to invite humanity into a growing alliance of sentient species. However, they happened to arrive after a mutated plague wiped out half the planet, turned the rest into shambling, near-unstoppable animals, and basically destroyed human civilization. You know—your standard apocalypse.
The Krakau’s first impulse was to turn around and go home. (After all, it’s hard to have diplomatic relations with mindless savages who eat your diplomats.) Their second impulse was to try to fix us. Now, a century later, human beings might not be what they once were, but at least they’re no longer trying to eat everyone. Mostly.
Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is surprisingly bright (for a human). As a Lieutenant on the Earth Mercenary Corps Ship Pufferfish, she’s in charge of the Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation team. When a bioweapon attack wipes out the Krakau command crew and reverts the rest of the humans to their feral state, only Mops and her team are left with their minds intact.
Escaping the attacking aliens—not to mention her shambling crewmates—is only the beginning. Sure, Mops and her team of space janitors and plumbers can clean the ship as well as anyone, but flying the damn thing is another matter.
As they struggle to keep the Pufferfish functioning and find a cure for their crew, they stumble onto a conspiracy that could threaten the entire alliance… a conspiracy born from the truth of what happened on Earth all those years ago.
“[Terminal Alliance] is also good science fiction: a solid premise, an expansive universe, a compelling history, a strong and varied cast of characters, pulse-pounding action, and a galactic crisis with high stakes. The fact that it’s funny is icing on a rich and delicious cake. Clever, and should appeal to fans of Douglas Adams and John Scalzi.”
When Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for her unconventional tactics, Kel Command gives her a chance to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake: if the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.
Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.
As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao—because she might be his next victim.
“Beautiful, brutal and full of the kind of off-hand inventiveness that the best SF trades in, Ninefox Gambit is an effortlessly accomplished SF novel. Yoon Ha Lee has arrived in spectacular fashion.”
—Alastair Reynolds, author of Revelation Space
Ky Vatta is a highly promising military cadet with a great future ahead of her, until an insignificant act of kindness makes her the focus of the Academy’s wrath. She is forced to resign, her dreams shattered.
For the child of a rich trading family, this should mean disgrace on a grand scale. And yet, to her surprise, Ky is offered the captaincy of a ship headed for scrap with its final cargo.
Her orders are absolutely clear, but Ky quickly sees potential profit in altering the journey. Because, whatever the risks, it’s in her blood to trade—even if the currency is extreme danger.
Legion General Bill Booly knows that peace is just a pause between wars. He’s just crushed one uprising, and now a new rebellion is already brewing on a remote world light years away—spawning a web of terrorism that is close enough to catch the vulnerable Confederacy in its grasp.
“Dietz has created an intricate tapestry of local and star-faring culture with topnotch action sequences.”
Sergeant Gastovsky—Gas to everyone but his superior officers—never wanted to be a soldier. Far from it. But when a con goes wrong and he needs a place to lay low for a while, he finds himself wearing the power armor of the augmented infantry.
After three years on a six-year contract, Gas has found his groove running low-level cons and various illegal activities that make him good money on the side. He’s the guy who can get you what you need. But he’s always had his eye out for a big score—the one that might set him up for life after the military.
When one of his soldiers is left behind after a seemingly pointless battle, Gas sees his chance. He assembles a team of misfit soldiers that would push the term “ragtag” to its limits for a big con that leads them on a daring behind-the-lines mission, pitting him not only against enemy soldiers but against the top brass of his own organization.
If he pulls this off, not only will he save his squadmate, he might just become the legend he’s always considered himself. He might also change the way the entire galaxy looks at this war. But for any of that to happen, he has to live through this insane plan.
And charm rarely stops bullets.
—Library Journal, starred review
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.
“Westerfeld’s exceptionally smart and empathetic novel…confirms the buzz that space opera is one of the most exciting branches of current SF.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
For millennia, the Shaa have subjugated the universe, forcing the myriad sentient races to bow to their joyless tyranny. But the Shaa will soon be no more. The dread empire is in its rapidly fading twilight, and with its impending fall comes the promise of a new galactic order… and bloody chaos.
A young Terran naval officer marked by his lowly birth, Lt. Gareth Martinez is the first to recognize the insidious plot of the Naxid—the powerful, warlike insectoid society that was enslaved before all others—to replace the masters’ despotic rule with their own. Barely escaping a swarming surprise attack, Martinez and Caroline Sula, a pilot whose beautiful face conceals a deadly secret, are now the last hope for freedom for every being who ever languished in Shaa chains—as the interstellar battle begins against a merciless foe whose only perfect truth is annihilation.
“Space opera the way it ought to be […] Bujold and Weber, bend the knee; interstellar adventure has a new king, and his name is Walter Jon Williams.”
—George R.R. Martin
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: 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.
Book 4 of the Freehold series.
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. 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. The man who made him.
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce―and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. 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, 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.
John Perry is taking that deal. 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.
“This virtuoso debut pays tribute to SF’s past while showing that well-worn tropes still can have real zip when they’re approached with ingenuity.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
In the Chaos-infested Sabbat System, the massed ranks of the Astra Militarum—more commonly known as the Imperial Guard—stand shoulder to shoulder as they counter an invasion by heretical forces. Among the defenders of the Imperium are the troops of the Tanith First-and-Only, a displaced regiment forced to flee their home planet before it succumbed to the unrelenting assault of Chaos. Nicknamed “the Ghosts,” their specialist scouting role sees them thrown into the thickest of the fighting. Led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, they must evade the treacherous scheming of rival regiments and the lethal firepower of the enemy if they are to have any hope of achieving victory over the forces of Chaos.
First Contact sucked. Now they own us.
Earth has been conquered by a massive galactic empire, and its war machine needs soldiers. In a cruel twist of fate, fourteen-year-old Joe Dobbs accidentally ends up on a ship carrying Earth’s children to an alien training planet. To make it out alive, he must survive an apathetic bureaucracy that sees humans as little more than spare rations. Meat with guns. Or, if they’re really unlucky, slaves.
The oldest of the children drafted from humanity’s devastated planet, Joe unwittingly becomes the centerpiece in a millennia-long alien struggle for independence. Once his training begins, one of the elusive and prophetic Trith gives 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 boot camp.
At the top of the galactic pecking order is the United Free, a civilization of awe-inspiring technological prowess so far in advance of other space-faring powers as to seem untouchable gods. Most of the known universe has fallen under their inscrutable sway. The rest is squabbled over by two empires: one ruled with an iron fist by OctoV, a tyrant who appears to his followers as a teenage boy but is in reality something very different, the other administered by the Uplifted, bizarre machinelike intelligences, and their no-longer-quite-human servants, cyborgs known as the Enlightened.
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.
“The finest military science-fiction debut in years.”
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?
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.”
First book of the Lost Fleet series.
The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century—and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who’s emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized beyond belief….
Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s 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 and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance Fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.
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….
“The Lost Fleet is some of the best military science fiction on the shelves today.”
The least human character in All Systems Red is also the most human. A half-robotic creature (or maybe more than half) privately calls itself Murderbot, and it’s got a good reason to. All the humans around it consider it just another security android, which is fine by Murderbot; it’d rather watch bad TV than have to interact with humans.
But when things start to go seriously wrong with the planetary exploration team that Murderbot is supposed to protect, more truths are revealed than it would prefer.
“We are all a little bit Murderbot… we see ourselves in its skin. And that reading about this sulky, soap-opera-loving cyborg killing machine might be one of the most human experiences you can have in sci-fi right now.”
Despite its title, Truth of the Divine is not a religious text, but a fun, fast-paced, clever science fiction adventure. It’s the second book in the Noumena (also not a great title) series. The first is Axiom’s End, and you should read it first.
In this alternate-history first-contact yarn, the government continues to be run by jerks, and the one person the aliens are talking to is a snarky, blue-haired young woman, and all the guys in charge HATE that. Of course, the aliens have their own Alien Issues to deal with, but those are now spilling over to affect the rest of humanity, and all indications are that everything is going to get worse.
Recommendation: Read it, if you’ve already read the first one. Author Lindsay Ellis rose from the ashes of being cancelled to become a bestselling writer. Kudos and a huzzah!
Most artificial intelligence in books is very similar to human intelligence, but with perfect memory and incredibly fast speed of thought. My guess is that, in reality, true artificial intelligence will feel completely alien to us. If that happens, then the first contact with an alien intelligence will happen with an alien we’ve created ourselves.
The Gone World is brilliant: part noir murder mystery, part alternate history, part here-comes-the-apocalypse, and part thriller. It’s unique, mind-bending fun.
A time-traveling investigator jumps to the future to find out who committed an especially brutal murder, but she finds far more questions than answers. The longer she stays, the more complicated things become.
Also, the end of the world is coming, and it’s coming sooner all the time.
Recommendation: Read it. This is good, hearty, occasionally brutal stuff.
Dr. No reads like the author does not care whether anyone reads this book or not; he had fun writing it, and that’s all that needed to happen. It’s good, absurdist fun with entertaining characters and clever social satire (but didn’t get preachy).
A mathematician who studies the concept of nothing to the point of becoming a world expert on the subject is approached by a billionaire determined to become a Bond villain. The billionaire needs help with nothing, and our mathematician needs the money. Inventive madness ensues.
Recommendation: Read it if you’re in the mood for something a little more literary, inventive, and don’t need aliens or spaceships. I’m definitely planning to read more by this author.
The Brief History of the Dead is a fascinating, odd (in the best sense of the word), and deeply inventive book. Some parts are heartbreaking, some hilarious, some disturbing as hell. I loved every part of it.
The City is populated by people who have died but are still remembered by the living. People stay in this Earthlike afterlife until they are completely forgotten. The City usually grows to accommodate its increasing population, but some strange things are happening.
In the living world, a young woman is stuck in an Antarctic research station and cannot get help from the outside world.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s excellent. The part with the young woman takes place in the near future, but that’s as science fiction-y as it gets. No spaceships.
I’m a fan of Stephen King, and 11/22/63 is one of his best. There’s more humor than horror, and a fantastic, convoluted run-up to one of the most infamous moments in American history.
An English teacher is shown a hole in time that leads to a bright, sunny day in 1958. The teacher decides the best thing to do is travel back in time and prevent the Kennedy assassination, five years hence.
However, spending five years in the past isn’t easy, and there are complications he never could have predicted.
Recommendation: Read it. It’s a massive tome (850 pages), but King knows how to spin a story, and he’s in top form here.
Author Jeff VanderMeer is known for his surreal sci-fi Southern Reach trilogy (the first book was Annihilation, which was made into a movie).
There are plenty of old masters of science fiction, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Le Guin, and so on. But let’s give some of the more recent writers some props.