Since Robert Heinlein published Starship Troopers in December 1959, military science fiction has become a major subgenre, exploring warfare in the far-flung futures and distant galaxies of our imaginations. A whole legion of authors have followed in his bootsteps, chief among them well-known writers like David Drake, Joe Haldeman, Jerry Pournelle, and David Weber.
But the real world has a habit of eclipsing what we once though impossible. Over a half-century later, drones patrol the skies, soldiers wear smart armor, and real-world warfare has become more science fictional than ever. A whole new generation of authors has looked at the last decade of global warfare and put it to use for their own stories. As war has grown more complicated in its execution, so have the books that reinterpret it in the realm of sci-fi.
Below, a look at 5 recent military sci-fi novels that show the future of the subgenre looks more and more like our present day.
Unbreakable, by W.C. Bauers
W.C. Bauers’ debut is a lot of fun: Skilled soldier Promise Paen of Victor Company of the Republic of Aligned Worlds Marine Corps finds herself shipping out, right into the heart of a fevered battle, as tensions erupt between her government and the rival Lusitanian Empire. Unbreakable runs the gamut from close-quarters combat, to titanic space battles, to interstellar foreign policy as Promise and her marines are pinned down far from home, defending the planet Montana.What sets it apart is hinted at in the title: Paen and her soldiers are subjected to a rigorous and unrelenting campaign that tests their skills and resolve. Bauers demonstrates the real impact that war has on soldiers as their numbers dwindle over the course of the a never-ending battle.
Terms of Enlistment / Lines of Departure, by Marko Kloos
Kloos found self-publishing success with this novel, which was later picked up by a publisher. At its heart, it is a story that questions the reasons people go to war, and why they stick with it. In 2108, Andrew Grayson escapes from a bleak existence in the North American Commonwealth with the promise of a military career and better food. Grayson fights not for his beliefs, but to escape an impoverished life, yet he ends up advancing in the ranks as an infantry soldier just the same, and is eventually reassigned to the Navy just as the human colonies make contact with an alien race. A former soldier himself, Kloos perfectly captures the lives of characters on the front lines. Lines of Departure continues the story with Grayson shipping off to a distant, cold world to take part in a burgeoning, brutal interstellar conflict. Readers don’t have long to wait for more: Angles of Attack is due out later this spring, while a fourth, Chain of Command, will also come out in 2015.
The Red, by Linda Nagata
Like Kloos, Nagata self-published The Red, which went on to become the first self-published novel to earn a nomination for the prestigious Nebula Award. Now being re-released by Saga Press, this near-future thriller follows Lieutenant James Shelley as he and his unit are deployed to sub-Saharan Africa and equipped with advanced tech. Little do they know, they’re also being constantly surveilled by the public at large. Nagata takes a close look at the increasing role of (and reliance on) technology on the battlefield, and the pitfalls that it can present. The Red is being re-released in June, with a sequel, The Trial, coming in August.
Going Grey, by Karen Traviss
Traviss has made a name for herself with novels of military affairs for years, first in her own Wess’Har Wars series, and then with stories of combat set within the Star Wars, Gears of War and Halo franchises. Recently, she’s come back with this self-published novel set in the near future. Ian is a shape shifter, the ability the accidental result of a biotech project designed to allow covert operatives to go undercover in every way imaginable. When the company responsible starts to hunt him down, the only people he can rely on are a pair of conflicted military contractors sent to track him down. Where other books examine the changing roles of technology and weapons in their books, Traviss looks in a different direction: The increasing role of private military operators in an increasingly complex battlefield.
The Human Division / The End of All Things, by John Scalzi
I’m going to split off Scalzi’s latest installments of his best-selling Old Man’s War series. Stylistically and thematically, The Human Division was an interesting addition to the series. Split into individual sections that were originally released serially, the book is a collection of short works that make up a larger whole. The Colonial Union has begun to take stock of their place in the cosmos, following some major revelations on Earth and the growing threat from the Conclave, a major alien collective. A single Colonial Union ship under the command of Lieutenant Harry Wilson is tasked with taking on the impossible jobs in the most unconventional way possible, while a larger conspiracy brews on the horizon. Scalzi does some interesting things with this narrative, using the changes in format to reveal the bigger picture, looking at how greater political movements can impact the soldiers those movements put into harm’s way. The End of All Things continues the story in August, and SyFy has the series under development for a television show.
What military sci-fi do you recommend?