The best military science fiction & fantasy books by veterans

Who am I?

I care about military SFF because it has the potential to contribute to a just and prosperous society by building bridges of understanding between military professionals and civilians. I've never served in the military, but I taught operations and strategy to US Army officers for six years, after which I went to Abu Dhabi as one of the founding faculty members of the UAE National Defense College. I wrote a book, How Militaries Learn, which is one of the few academic books on civil-military relations to use large-n statistical analysis. I’ve lived in ten countries and I speak four languages, including Arabic.


I wrote...

Rise of Ahrik

By Nathan Toronto,

Book cover of Rise of Ahrik

What is my book about?

My first novel, Rise of Ahrik, tells the story of a young military officer who commands a secret army of clones. Using secret clone armies sworn to defend women’s rule, women brought the world over two thousand years of peace after The War, the generations-long conflict that nearly extinguished humankind. A surprise rebel attack on Ahrik’s wedding day changes everything. Ahrik goes to war, an experience that forces him to question his hatred for his wife, his disdain for his brother, and his commitment to keeping the clones a secret.

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The books I picked & why

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Book cover of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Why this book?

Heinlein, who served in the Navy, is best known for Starship Troopers, but The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a more nuanced tale about rebellion, politics, and war. I have a PhD in political science and I worked on the staff of the US Army/USMC Counterinsurgency Center, so I have a soft spot for Moon. Military science fiction and fantasy (SFF) is awash in stories about state-sanctioned military forces duking it out with cool tech, but Moon tells about the rebels. The Loonies launch a shoestring rebellion using a self-aware supercomputer, an electromagnetic catapult, and a DIY ideology summed up by the now-famous acronym TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). In Moon, as in real life, politics and warfare are inextricably intertwined, which is why I can’t recommend this novel enough. 

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2075, the Moon is no longer a penal colony. But it is still a prison...

Life isn't easy for the political dissidents and convicts who live in the scattered colonies that make up lunar civilisation. Everything is regulated strictly, efficiently and cheaply by a central supercomputer, HOLMES IV.

When humble technician Mannie O'Kelly-Davis discovers that HOLMES IV has quietly achieved consciousness (and developed a sense of humour), the choice is clear: either report the problem to the authorities... or become friends.

And perhaps overthrow the government while they're at it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has been called…


The Forever War

By Joe Haldeman,

Book cover of The Forever War

Why this book?

When I met Joe Haldeman, I was struck by how such an unassuming, witty person could write such a gritty, visceral novel about war. Haldeman served in Vietnam, and (by his own admission) his combat experience shines through in Forever War. Yes, this novel captures combat in unflinching detail, but I’m a former professor of war, so what I really care about is the intriguing interplay of time, space, and war. As captured so well in the short story version of the novel, “Time Piece,” this novel is less about fighting and dying and more about what war over relativistic distances does to society. I love this novel because it says just as much about those who stay home as it does about those who go into combat.

The Forever War

By Joe Haldeman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Forever War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The monumental Hugo and Nebula award winning SF classic-- Featuring a new introduction by John Scalzi

The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand--despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties and do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But "home" may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time…


Sheepfarmer's Daughter

By Elizabeth Moon,

Book cover of Sheepfarmer's Daughter

Why this book?

We need more characters like Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter, the daughter of a sheep farmer who joins a mercenary company to avoid an unwanted marriage. Moon, who served as a Marine in Vietnam, gives us a perfect hero’s tale. Paksenarrion (“Paks” for short) doesn’t set out to garner fame and glory, but she works hard at what she does, and her moral compass is firmly attuned to a sense of justice and truth. Paks captures everything we want in a hero, and Moon’s understanding of infantry, siege, and melee tactics filters through in subtle yet powerful ways, from details like foot soreness on the march to how most sieges end with rebellion within the gates. Sheepfarmer’s Daughter literally has it all. Go read it today. 

Sheepfarmer's Daughter

By Elizabeth Moon,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sheepfarmer's Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter may be the daughter of a humble sheep farmer in the far north end of the kingdom, but she dreams of so much more. After refusing her father’s orders to do the sensible thing and marry the pig farmer down the road, Paks, runs away to join a band of mercenaries, dreaming of daring deeds and military glory. But life in the army is different than she imagined, and her daydreams at first seem to be turning to nightmares. But Paks refuses to let her dreams die—and does her duty with honor and integrity. Her path is an…


Book cover of The Complete Hammer's Slammers

Why this book?

Drake served in an armor unit in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, so it’s no coincidence that Hammer’s Slammers, a collection of short stories, revolves around a tank unit. So many military SFF stories focus on knuckle-dragging ground-pounders, so it’s refreshing to see war from a tank turret. Drake has been accused of writing gun porn, but I find a lot of nuance in his writing, especially on combat motivation and small-unit leadership. He was one of the first military SFF authors to write an openly gay character, and women fight right alongside men without the misogynistic or objectifying undertones that sometimes afflict the subgenre. To get a sense for Drake’s writing, “But Loyal to His Own” and “Caught in the Crossfire” are two of my favorite stories.

The Complete Hammer's Slammers

By David Drake,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Complete Hammer's Slammers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling series that rocketed David Drake to Military Science Fiction stardom is collected in this first of three volumes.


Planetside

By Michael Mammay,

Book cover of Planetside

Why this book?

Mammay, who served multiple tours in Iraq, gives us a completely different kind of military SFF story. Planetside is a murder mystery set in a (space) combat zone, but I love this book because Mammay captures the mannerisms and culture of the military so exquisitely. Every detail is spot on, matching everything I’ve experienced interacting with military officers and enlisted personnel from armed forces around the world. This book is also an absolute page-turner, and it comes together at the end in a way that readers will not expect. And readers need not worry—this murder mystery also has plenty of combat for warfare geeks. For readers that want a window into how the military really works (and not just how it fights), this story is perfect.

Planetside

By Michael Mammay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Planetside as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Planetside is a smart and fast-paced blend of mystery and boots-in-the-dirt military SF that reads like a high-speed collision between Courage Under Fire and Heart of Darkness." - Marko Kloos, bestselling author of the Frontline series

A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet...

War heroes aren't usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it's something big-and he's not being told the whole story. A high councilor's son…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in war, space warfare, and heroes?

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