The Best Space Battle Books

Sometimes you just want big ships with big guns going after each other. And if there are whole fleets of ships doing the same thing, so much the better.

 

23
Dune: The Butlerian Jihad
by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – 2002

Throughout the Dune novels, Frank Herbert frequently referred to the long-ago war in which humans wrested their freedom from “thinking machines.” This book is the story of that war, of how Serena Butler’s passionate grief ignited the war that will liberate humans from their machine masters.

Herein are the foundations of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, the Suk Doctors, the Order of Mentats, and the mysteriously altered Navigators of the Spacing Guild. Here is the tale of the Zensunni Wanderers, who escape bondage to flee to the desert world where they will declare themselves the Free Men of Dune. And here is the backward, nearly forgotten planet of Arrakis, where traders have discovered the remarkable properties of the spice melange.

Ten thousand years before the events of Dune, humans have managed to battle the remorseless Machines to a standstill, but victory may be short-lived. Amid shortsighted squabbling between nobles, new leaders have begun to emerge. Among them are Xavier Harkonnen, military leader of the Planet of Salusa Secundus; Xavier’s fiancée, Serena Butler, an activist who will become the unwilling leader of millions; and Tio Holtzman, the scientist struggling to devise a weapon that will help the human cause. Against the brute efficiency of their adversaries, these leaders and the human race have only imagination, compassion, and the capacity for love. It will have to be enough.

22
The Dragon Never Sleeps
by Glen Cook – 1988

For four thousand years, the Guardships have ruled Canon Space: immortal ships with an immortal crew, dealing swiftly and harshly with any mercantile houses or alien races that threaten the status quo.

But now the House Tregesser has an edge: a force from outside Canon Space offers them the resources to throw off Guardship rule. This precipitates an avalanche of unexpected outcomes, including the emergence of Kez Maefele, one of the few remaining generals of the Ku Warrior race-the only race to ever seriously threaten Guardship hegemony.

Kez Maefele and a motley group of aliens, biological constructs, and scheming aristocrats find themselves at the center of the conflict. Maefele must chose which side he will support: the Guardships, who defeated and destroyed his race, or the unknown forces outside Canon Space that promise more death and destruction.

21
Startide Rising
by David Brin – 1983

Brin’s tales are set in a future universe in which no species can reach sentience without being “uplifted” by a patron race. But the greatest mystery of all remains unsolved: who uplifted humankind?

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker has crashed in the uncharted water world of Kithrup, bearing one of the most important discoveries in galactic history. Below, a handful of her human and dolphin crew battles an armed rebellion and the whole hostile planet to safeguard her secret—the fate of the Progenitors, the fabled First Race who seeded wisdom throughout the stars.

Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Startide Rising is the second book in the Uplift series (there’s a total of six), but popular opinion has it that the first book, Sundiver, can be safely skipped.

20
Earth Strike
by Ian Douglas – 2010

Plenty of vast, intergalactic battles here as humankind attempts to bring down an evil empire and establish itself as the new major power. From the New York Times bestselling author William H. Keith, using one of his many pen names.

19
With the Lightnings
by David Drake – 1998

Daniel Leary is a lieutenant in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy with no money and no prospects since he quarreled with his ruthless, politically powerful father.

Adele Mundy is a scholar with no money and no prospects since her family was massacred for conspiring against the Government of Cinnabar.

Kostroma is a wealthy planet that depends on diplomacy to stay independent in a galaxy whose two great powers, Cinnabar and the Alliance, battle for supremacy.

In a few hours, diplomacy is going to fail Kostroma. Daniel, Adele, and the scratch crew they gather aren’t much to stand in the way of a powerful invasion fleet, but just possibly they’re enough.

They have nothing on their side but each other—and heaven help whatever tries to stand in their way!

“[C]risply delineated space-age equipment, a convincing extraterrestrial setting and formidably battle-hardened female NCOs, Drake gives a familiar plot a full measure of appealing derring-do.”
—Publishers Weekly

18
We All Died at Breakaway Station
by Richard C. Meredith – 1969

Captain Absolom Bracer has already given his life once in mankind’s seemingly endless interstellar war with the alien race known as the “Jillies.”

Resurrected by medical technology and with a body that’s more machine than human, he and the three ships under his command are on their way back to Earth. The ships are two patched-up battle cruisers and a hospital ship, all of them crewed by walking wounded; men and women whose broken bodies have been roughly repaired and given a semblance of life.

Like Bracer, all of the officers and crew are living in the hope that the hospitals of Earth will be able to make them whole again, will give them living skin and muscle and organs where they now have crude mechanical prosthetics.

But the Jillies are a race determined to drive humanity to extinction, and the demands of the relentless war interrupt Bracer’s journey home. With the very future of the human race at stake, Bracer and the crews of his three ships find they may have no choice but to make the ultimate sacrifice… once again.

17
The Warrior's Apprentice
by Lois McMaster Bujold – 1986

Book 2 of the bestselling Vorkosigan Saga.

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.

“[The Warrior’s Apprentice] would work just fine… as the introduction to the series as a whole. I suspect that anybody who reads one will be as charmed as I was and want to pick up the rest.”
—SF Site

16
Duel in the Dark
by Jay Allen – 2016

The Confederation has fought three wars against the forces of the totalitarian Union. Three generations of its warriors have gone off to war, held the line against the larger, more powerful enemy. Now the fourth conflict is imminent, and the Confederation’s navy is on alert, positioned behind the frontier, waiting for the attack it knows is coming.

The battleship Dauntless has spent the past ten months patrolling the border, deployed far forward of the main fleet, a forlorn hope, an advance guard positioned to give the warning of invasion. But no attack has come.

Her crew is exhausted, and the aging battleship needs maintenance. With the fleet mobilized and the forward bases overloaded beyond capacity, she is sent clear across the Confederation, to a planet along the quiet and peaceful far frontier. Her crew is looking forward to a rest, and Dauntless herself is scheduled for a long-overdue maintenance session.

When a distress call is received from one of the mining colonies on the edge of Confederation space, it falls to Captain Tyler Barron to take Dauntless forward, to find out what is happening, and to put a stop to it.

Barron and his crew have their ship—and each other—but they can expect no other help. Suspicion is strong that Union deceit is at play, that the attack is some sort of diversion, intended to draw Confederation forces from the disputed border. The orders are clear. No ships will be transferred from the prospective battle line. Stopping whatever is happening on the rim is Barron’s responsibility, and his alone.

15
Earth Alone
by Daniel Arenson – 2016

They came from deep space. They came to destroy us.

Fifty years ago, bloodthirsty aliens devastated the Earth. Most of humanity perished. We fell into darkness.

But now we rise from the ashes. Now we fight back.

Marco Emery was born into the war. After his mother is killed, he joins the Human Defense Force, Earth’s ragtag army. Emery must survive basic training, become a soldier, and finally face the aliens in battle.

Against the alien onslaught, Earth stands alone. But we will fight.

Earth Alone is full of soul. Set in a horrid dystopia in which Earth has been devastated by alien invaders, the book is about the humanity that shines even in a time of privation and war… Earth Alone is about war, but most of all about friendship and heartbreak.”
—The Huffington Post

14
Live Free or Die
by John Ringo – 2010

When aliens trundled a gate to other worlds into the solar system, the world reacted with awe, hope, and fear. The first aliens to come through, the Glatun, were peaceful traders, and the world breathed a sigh of relief.

But when the Horvath came through, they announced their ownership by dropping rocks on three cities and gutting them. Since then, they’ve held Terra as their own personal fiefdom. With their control of the orbitals, there’s no way to win and Earth’s governments have accepted the status quo.

To free the world from the grip of the Horvath is going to take an unlikely hero. A hero unwilling to back down to alien or human governments, unwilling to live in slavery and enough hubris, if not stature, to think he can win.

Fortunately, there’s Tyler Vernon. And he has bigger plans than just getting rid of Horvath.

“[I]nfused with plenty of old-fashioned two-fisted can-do attitude, a heavy dose of science, and occasional bursts of dry humor.”
—Publishers Weekly

13
Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View
edited by Elizabeth Schaefer – 2017

Each of the forty short stories reimagines a moment from the original Star Wars film, but through the eyes of a supporting character. From a Certain Point of View features contributions by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from the literary history of Star Wars:

  • Gary Whitta bridges the gap from Rogue One to A New Hope through the eyes of Captain Antilles.
  • Aunt Beru finds her voice in an intimate character study by Meg Cabot.
  • Nnedi Okorofor brings dignity and depth to a most unlikely character: the monster in the trash compactor.
  • Pablo Hidalgo provides a chilling glimpse inside the mind of Grand Moff Tarkin.
  • Pierce Brown chronicles Biggs Darklighter’s final flight during the Rebellion’s harrowing attack on the Death Star.
  • Wil Wheaton spins a poignant tale of the rebels left behind on Yavin.

All participating authors have forgone any compensation for their stories. Instead, their proceeds will be donated to First Book—a leading nonprofit that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to educators and organizations serving children in need.

“The biggest joy of this collection is turning the page to a new story and realizing which character they’ll be jumping to next.”
—New York Daily News

12
Singularity Sky
by Charles Stross – 2003

In the twenty-first century, man created the Eschaton, a sentient artificial intelligence.

It pushed Earth through the greatest technological evolution ever known, while warning that time travel is forbidden, and transgressors will be eliminated.

Distant descendants of this ultra high-tech Earth live in parochial simplicity on the far-flung worlds of the New Republic. Their way of life is threatened by the arrival of an alien information plague known as the Festival.

As forbidden technologies are literally dropped from the sky, suppressed political factions descend into revolutionary turmoil. A battle fleet is sent from Earth to destroy the Festival, but spaceship engineer Martin Springfield and U.N. diplomat Rachel Mansour have been assigned rather different tasks. Their orders are to diffuse the crisis or to sabotage the New Republic’s war-fleet, whatever the cost, before the Eschaton takes hostile action on a galactic scale.

11
Excession
by Iain M. Banks – 1996

Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen has been selected by the Culture to undertake a delicate and dangerous mission. The Department of Special Circumstances—the Culture’s espionage and dirty tricks section—has sent him off to investigate a 2,500-year-old mystery: the sudden disappearance of a star fifty times older than the universe itself. But in seeking the secret of the lost sun, Byr risks losing himself.

There is only one way to break the silence of millennia: steal the soul of the long-dead starship captain who first encountered the star, and convince her to be reborn. And in accepting this mission, Byr will be swept into a vast conspiracy that could lead the universe into an age of peace… or to the brink of annihilation.

“Banks is a phenomenon…wildly successful, fearlessly creative.”
—William Gibson, author of Neuromancer

10
Marque and Reprisal
by Elizabeth Moon – 2004

Though the exciting military career she hoped for never materialized, Ky Vatta still sees plenty of combat.

An unknown adversary has launched a full-throttle offensive against Vatta Transport Ltd., Ky’s father’s interstellar shipping empire—killing most of Ky’s family. Fighting for her very survival, Ky is determined to avenge her family’s deaths.

Teaming up with a band of stranded mercenaries, her black-sheep cousin Stella, and Stella’s roguish ex-lover, Ky struggles to penetrate the tangled web of political intrigue that surrounds the attacks. Amid suspicion and deception, she is prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that Vatta stays in business. What she’s not prepared for is the shocking truth behind the terror—and a confrontation with murderous treachery.

“Excellent plotting and characters support the utterly realistic action sequences: swift, jolting, [and] merciless.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

9
Terms of Enlistment
by Marko Kloos – 2013

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.

“There is nobody who does [military SF] better than Marko Kloos. His Frontlines series is a worthy successor to such classics as Starship Troopers, The Forever War, and We All Died at Breakaway Station.”
—George R. R. Martin

8
The Forever War
by Joe Haldeman – 1974

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Conscripted into service for the United Nations Exploratory Force, a highly trained unit built for revenge, physics student William Mandella fights for his planet light years away against the alien force known as the Taurans.

Because of the relative passage of time when one travels at incredibly high speed, the Earth that Mandella returns to after his two-year experience has progressed decades and is foreign to him in disturbing ways.

Based in part on the author’s experiences in Vietnam, The Forever War is regarded as one of the greatest military science fiction novels ever written, capturing the alienation that servicemen and women experience even now upon returning home from battle.

7
Leviathan Wakes
by James S. A. Corey – 2011

Space opera combined with noir. I love this book and the whole Expanse series.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

“This is the future the way it was supposed to be.”
—The Wall Street Journal

6
Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card – 1985

Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, playing combat games and training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.

It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though the New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”

5
Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein – 1959

Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers while taking a break from 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.

4
Old Man's War
by John Scalzi – 2005

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 of 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.

“Scalzi’s astonishingly proficient first novel reads like an original work by the late grand master [Heinlein]… 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

3
Ninefox Gambit
by Yoon Ha Lee – 2016

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by 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.

“A tight-woven, complicated but not convoluted, breathtakingly original space opera.”
—New York Times

2
On Basilisk Station
by David Weber – 1993

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.

The government isn’t sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want Honor Harrington’s 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 Honor have made one mistake. They’ve made her mad.

1
Dauntless
by Jack Campbell – 2006

I’ve never been a big military SF fan, but Dauntless, part of The Lost Fleet series, does a solid job of changing my mind.

A soldier is woken up after one hundred years of drifting in space in survival hibernation and discovers that he’s been made a hero and a legend for his famous last stand. Not only is the war he fought in still raging, but he’s thrown into the command of a fleet of ships, deep in enemy territory and vastly outnumbered.

Dauntless is a skillful combination of military action, realistic science, and believable, interesting characters. The woken soldier (now fleet commander) has to deal with uncomfortable hero-worship, overeager soldiers, incompetent captains, political operatives with murky agendas, and a massive enemy fleet.

The Lost Fleet is some of the best military science fiction on the shelves today.”
—SF Site

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