Jan 17 2012 11:20am

Game Over, Man! Tor.com Appreciates Military Science Fiction

Military Science Fiction on Tor.com

For the month of January, Jim Killen, the buyer in charge of Barnes & Noble’s SFF selection and curator of the Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks, has chosen a military science fiction theme! In conjuction with the appreciations and excerpts, we’ll be exploring this subgenre with original articles from our own contributors along with some of the biggest name authors of military science fiction.

Some highlights include: Jo Walton on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, John Scalzi’s thoughts on the film version of Starship Troopers, and Liz Bourke on women in military science fiction. We’ll also hear from Myke Cole, David Drake, Tim Maughan, Ron Hogan, Rajan Khanna, Emily Asher-Perrin, Ryan Britt, and more.

Below are the 15 titles we’ll be covering as this month’s B&N picks:

  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman (SMP/Griffin)
  • Hymn Before Battle (Human-Posleen War Series #1), John Ringo (Baen)
  • Into the Looking Glass (Looking Glass Series #1), John Ringo (Baen
  • Mutineer (Kris Longknife Series #1), Mike Shepherd (Ace)
  • Dauntless (Lost Fleet Series #1), Jack Campbell (Ace)
  • The Complete Hammer’s Slammers: Volume I, David Drake (Baen)
  • March Upcountry (Empire of Man Series #1), David Weber and John Ringo (Baen)
  • On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Series #1), David Weber (Baen)
  • Orphanage (Jason Wander Series #1), Robert Buettner (Orbit)
  • Ragnarok, Patrick A. Vanner (Baen)
  • Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein (Ace) 
  • Old Man’s War, John Scalzi (Tor)
  • Overkill, Robert Buettner (Baen)
  • Legion of the Damned (Legion of the Damned Series #1), William C. Dietz (Ace)
  • Heris Serrano: Omnibus One, Elizabeth Moon (Baen)

Make sure your ray guns are fully charged because military science fiction is here! We begin with an appreciation of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.

This article is part of Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Picks: ‹ previous | index | next ›
This article is part of Military Science Fiction on Tor.com: index | next ›
Dave West
1. Jhirrad
Gah! How did you leave out the single greatest novel to fit in this category - The Moon is a Harsh Mistress?!?
Keith Barrows
2. Keith Barrows
I'm a little disappointed that the Semper Mars (Heritage, Legacy and Inheritance Trilogies by Ian Douglas) is not on the list. :)
Keith Barrows
3. ElizabethB
No Ender's Game? And Shadows in Flight is coming out today! One of the best military science fiction series IMO.
Chris Hawks
4. SaltManZ
Haven't read it (yet) but I'm surprised to see Steakley's Armor not make the cut.
john mullen
5. johntheirishmongol
I would have included the Destroyerman series by Anderson and the Lost Regiment Series by Fortchen (sp).
Luis Milan
6. LuisMilan
Regarding military sci-fi, and in addition to several books already on the list above, I liked David Weber's and Steve White's "In Death Ground" and its sequel "The Shiva Option".
Paul Howard
7. DrakBibliophile
Jhirrad, I don't know how they decided what is Military SF but by one standard Moon (as good as I think it is) doesn't fit into Military SF.

This standard involves the Military POV as a major part of the story. Moon is more a "Revolution in Space" story and really lacks a Military POV.

When you look at the ones they picked, you'll see that the Military organization & mindset are part of the story in a way that is lacking in Moon.
Dave West
8. Jhirrad
I guess I can understand that, but at the same time, I still see it as a Military SF book personally. There is an organized military structure, combat between two rival military forces. And anyone that doesn't think the Davis family is something of a military organization, you should read it again. :) I agree that it's not focused on military technology and super hardcore military themes, but it still FEELS like a military SF book to me. Which is why I was so utterly shocked not to see it on this list.
George Brell
9. gbrell
I concur with SaltManZ that Armor by John Steakley should be included.
Keith Barrows
10. wiredog
John Scalzi’s thoughts on the film version of Starship Troopers
Never happened.
Kristoff Bergenholm
11. Magentawolf
Oooh... will I have a few choice bits to say about Dauntless once we get there...

And I agree, Armor should've been right up there.
Keith Barrows
12. Randall G. Hauk
It'd be nice to forsee a future where a list can be posted without immediate outcry over items left off said list. Now THAT would be some science fiction.
Keith Barrows
13. Andre Elias
The lack of Ender's Game is surprising to me...
Chris Hawks
14. SaltManZ
@12: It's a list. There's not a lot else to comment on. Hooray, I'm glad Old Man's War made it, I guess?
Jared Mills
15. JaredMills
Agree with others about Armor. Really a great book that is a different take on military sf. Two Ringos? Really?
Glad the Ender series was left off. Besides being the one of the most widely read and discussed sf books, the series as a whole is garbage.
Ilona Fenton
16. felinewyvern
Glad to see most of my favourites on the list :D
Chris Hawks
17. SaltManZ
@15: The Ender books are mostly great, but only the first one counts as military sci-fi at all, and even then I think you have to squint a little.
Keith Barrows
18. AlBrown
I wouldn't call your list the best military SF novels ever written, but it is a representative cross section of the subgenre. Some serious extrapolation, some stories from vets, some army, some navy, some political, some nothing but lurid pulp fiction (and I will wait till the individual reviews get posted to weigh in on which is which).
The one name I expected, but didn't see, was Jerry Pournelle, one of the finest writers of more thoughtful military stories ever. The tragic dilemma he poses for his character Colonel Falkenberg on the planet Hadley (from the book The Mercenary), where the only path to success for the colony appears to be to commit an atrocity, makes the old Star Trek Kobiashi Maru scenario look like a walk in the park. And the Mote in God's Eye is a remarkable tale of a naval expedition making first contact, again, in a scenario fraught with moral complexities.
It is funny how time changes. A few decades ago, you were branded as a war monger if you were seen reading this type of book, and if you wore your uniform in a bus or train station, you were likely to be spat at. It will be interesting to see if this military SF focus on Tor.com brings with it a discussion of the morality of war, and of its depictions.
Brian R
19. Mayhem
@18 Agreed, it is a very good representation of where the field is now, although personally I'd have dropped the second Ringo in favour of some other classics, like Gordon Dickson's Dorsai or one of Laumer's Bolos.
Joris Meijer
20. jtmeijer
Is this subgenre really so utterly American? Not even a single Commonwealth citizen on this list.
Keith Barrows
21. AlBrown
@20 Interesting observation. Been trying to think of a non-American author of military SF, and no names are coming to mind. Just British writers of historical military fiction.
At this point in history, are we Yanks more jingoistic?
Ron Hogan
22. RonHogan
"although personally I'd have dropped the second Ringo in favour of some other classics, like Gordon Dickson's Dorsai or one of Laumer's Bolos."

Well, heck, if we're dipping into the classics, let's show some love for Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries series. At least that's what Junior High Me has to say about it.
Kristen Templet
23. SF_Fangirl
My thoughts ... way too many "book 1 of series" in the list. I'm sure not going to pick any of those books up and start to read when I know it's part of a never ending series.

Talking out of the other side of my mouth, I am glad to see LMB Vorkosigan series; although, I don't think of the majority of it as mil SF. I'm happy to have Jo take on the discussion of some of my favorite books.

Also glad to see Old Man's War and Forever War. I personally prefer Haldeman's Forever Peace which not the actual sequel to The Forever War, but is thematically. It's his take 20ish years later on war. The absence of Steakley's Armor is an oversight. Dorsai! would have been interesting too because I recently struggled to finish it. I found it very boring and kind of silly and was amazed that it was the start of a long series. I sure wouldn't have read book 2.
Keith Barrows
24. Karibdis
Frankly i am amazed they didnt do mutineer's moon, and yes it is book one. As for those complaining of book one, i would rather have 3 or 5 books in a universe that captivates me, then have a one shot wonder and then just wish he/she had made another book in it. Joel Rosenberg should definitely have been in there, and Dickson's the dorsai should have been a must also. As for Ringo, there should have been more, since he is probably the best military sci author out there. Definitely should have included Modesitt, for quite a few of his books. Bill Baldwin for sure, for the wilf brim series, and Allan Cole and Chris Bunch for theirs.
Keith Barrows
25. Sean O'Hara
Another diverse list of writers, running the gamut from white men, to white men, to a white woman. Good to see this project is living up to the promise made back in September:
This is a monthly series and will cover authors from many backgrounds, orientation, and gender.
David Spiller
26. scifidavid
Very excited to see this series of articles. I am so used to seeing critics pound military sf, this is a very welcome breath of fresh air.
Keith Barrows
27. karibdis
seen, i would love to read books by all backgrounds, orientation, and genders with the only prerequisite being that they are good, and if you know of some not listed, please hold forth so i may check them out.

Unfortunately, i dont check to see if a particular military/sci fi author is a man, woman, white, black, gay, religious, atheist, whatever, so i cant with certainty said what my authors are or are not, nor, for that matter, does it make a difference to me.

I would like to get to a point where a book, or music, or artistry, is judged on the merit of its content, not by the physical/religious/sexual particulars of the person . In fact, I am pretty sure i have gotten to that point, so i guess by i, i mean we. To say i am going to read and enjoy this because it is written by a such and such person, is as ridiculous, exclusionary and marginalizing as saying i am going to read this because it is written by a white male heterosexual.
Keith Barrows
28. CabSav
What about Tanya Huff's 'Confederation of Valour' series. Book 1: Valor's Choice.

Or an oldie, but still good. C. J. Cherryh's 'Hellburner'.
Keith Barrows
29. Sean O'Hara
@karibdis, it's fine to say, "I don't care what race or gender an author is," but if your selections are then overwhelmingly by white men then there's something wrong with your selection process that's biasing the results.

The blog post itself mentions Bujold, yet she's not on the list even though Ringo, Weber and Buettner make it multiple times. Nor do we see anything from Norton or Cherryh even though they both have works that qualify and are better than some generic Kris Longknife novel.
Joris Meijer
30. jtmeijer
@21 It seems to depend on the inclusion of tie-in work. The works approaching milsf most closely from eg british writers seem to be in Warhammer40k, and some of the star wars and game related work (Abnett, Traviss etc).
Brian R
31. Mayhem
@Sean O'Hara
Actually thats quite a good point, but I think it also reflects some on the one raised above. Who is actually *writing* military SF outside of the USA?

Since to be fair, White Man is a pretty reliable description for the conservative ex-serviceman who wants to write about military adventures.
From an international point of view, I can't say I really know of any explicitly *ethnic* SF writers, but then, I don't actually care what race/sex/creed the author is, I just want to know if the book is any good. That works both ways though - it means while there might be authors who fit your criteria, I couldn't tell you who they are but I could say if I had read them if you bring up the names.

Thinking of your suggestions, Bujold was never really Military SF, and she's shifted to more political intrigue as the series goes on.
Norton wasn't really known for it either though I guess Cherryh fits, I just haven't read her Company Wars ones. Drake/Ringo/Weber on the other hand pretty much made their careers telling and retelling war stories.
I think the lack of balance is more a factor of what is available than in any particular selection bias, which is why the essays are covering a broader range than the specific titles can.

Still going with the middle class white man approach though Modesitt would make for a nice alternative - he looks a lot more into the ethics of the situation and is much more philosophical. Something like The Parafaith War would work well. Oh, and for a British writer, Iain M Banks drops in and out of the genre - Excession would probably work well. Still White Male though, sorry.
Joseph Kingsmill
32. JFKingsmill16
I agree that Armor should be on the list.

What about Walter Jon William's Dread Empire's Fall series?
Keith Barrows
33. Sean O'Hara
Who is actually *writing* military SF outside of the USA?
Haikasoru has put out three Japanese novels that would meet anyone's definition of MilSF -- Yukikaze and Goodluck Yukikaze by Chouhei Kanbayashi and All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. I know of one Indian author who's written MilSF, but unfortunately he's relying on self-publishing to get into the American market.
Since to be fair, White Man is a pretty reliable description for the conservative ex-serviceman who wants to write about military adventures.
Racially the US military isn't that different from the American population at large -- if anything, blacks are overrepresented in the military. So why would you think only the white soldiers would want to write sci-fi adventures about people like themselves?

And while I'll agree that MilSF published by Baen has a decidedly conservative slant, they aren't the only game in town, and there are plenty of non-conservative MilSF authors out there -- even on the B&N list there's Haldeman, Moon (an ex-Marine, note), Scalzi and Flint (a Baen author no less).
Norton wasn't really known for it either though I guess Cherryh fits,
Norton's Star Soldiers certainly fits.
Brian R
34. Mayhem
The Japanese novels sounds interesting, do they have good translations?
I've read some interesting SF and fantasy stuff from Europe, especially translations from Russia and Croatia, but again those tend to be White Male, if not american at least.
Apart from the japanese though, I think every writer you have named has also been white. Can you suggest some more good alternatives?

I agree that the military in general reflects a country as a whole, but I really can't think of many openly black or hispanic writers in the American SF genre, let alone in Military SF. Possibly it is because they have trouble getting published, possibly they don't write what will sell to the perceived audience, I don't know. I would be interested to know what is popular reading amongst the black or hispanic military community, and whether they even care of the colour of the author.
Keith Barrows
35. Sean O'Hara
The Japanese novels sounds interesting, do they have good translations?
They're from Haikasoru, an imprint of Viz, the largest publisher of manga in the US. Of course they have good translators working for them.
Apart from the japanese though, I think every writer you have named has also been white. Can you suggest some more good alternatives?
As someone who's not a huge fan of MilSF, no. But given the overwhelming whiteness of the previous lists, just one person of color would be an improvement.
I agree that the military in general reflects a country as a whole, but I really can't think of many openly black or hispanic writers in the American SF genre
Writers of color I can name off the top of my head: Steven Barnes, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Samuel Delany, Maurice Broaddus, Nnedi Okorafor, Brenda Clough, Aliete de Bodard, Ted Chiang, Charles Yu, Sherman Alexie ....

They're certainly out there, but they don't often make lists like these so people don't notice them, so when someone comes along and complains about their lack of inclusion people say, "Yeah, but there aren't that many of them."
Keith Barrows
36. Suzanne B.
@34. I can't speak to the presence of writers of color in the military SF subgenre, since I haven't read much of it (except for the Vorkosigan saga). But to the already growing list of writers of color working in the spec-fic genre, I would add Nisi Shawl, Nalo Hopkinson, Andrea Hairston, Hiromi Goto, Tobias S. Buckell, Yoon Ha Lee and Alaya Dawn Johnson to the list of "open" writers of color.
Nor are these writers exactly obscure: in the recent Nebula awards, 2 of the five nominees for best novel were written by black authors (NK Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor). It's not like they're all hiding in a closet.
Brian R
37. Mayhem
@35 Sorry, didn't mean to denigrate Haikasoru but not being American, I've never heard of them - translations in europe and australasia can be a bit hit and miss so I find it often pays to check.

With regards the lists - to be honest I've only read Barnes, Butler, Delany and Buckell, and Butler and Delany were the only two I knew as being coloured. I've only actually heard of two more of the others, will have to start tracking the rest down.

Tor, there is definitely a need to do a week or two based on SF&F literature from non-white writers and foreign writers - Sean does have a point.
Keith Barrows
38. Harvey Hams
The first should have been Starship Troopers. If you look at it Robert Heinlein's book was the GRANDFATHER OF THE GENRE. Starship Troopers is the Father of the Japanese anime. Then it's line continues into video and war games like Battletech. Right on into John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata. Forever War can also be added into the fold also.
Keith Barrows
39. bribrom
I can underestand leaving off Orson Scott Card's "Kids in Space" novels, but where are Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai novels?
Keith Barrows
40. AlBrown
Hey, Stubby the Rocket put on makeup for Bowie week. Why hasn't he gunned up for the latest discussion? ;-)
Irene Gallo
41. Irene

I wish we could! Sadly we don't have a budget to create logos for all our themes. Fact is, we didn't initially commission awesome Bowie-Stubbs. An artist friend of mine sent it to me once we started the week.
Keith Barrows
42. AlBrown
Irene, Thanks for the reply. And pass my appreciation on to your friend. Bowie-Stubby was a nice piece of work!
Keith Barrows
43. Antonia T. Tiger
I'm British.

I've written military SF, in a sort of fanfic AH sort of way.

And one element of my heroes is that they are a reaction to the rather unpleasant political tendencies expressed by many of the milSF characters that were around a few years ago. Why, gentlemen, does every hero-soldier have to be a present-day Republican?

Looking at that first story, I maybe reacted a little too much to a certain John Ringo story. And I may have lifted a few thoughts from British historial milfic. Sharpe hangs around with some pretty classy dames, such as Teresa Moreno, and my guys have the same sort of fortune.

And maybe there's a touch of the different history in it all. My parents were old enough to remember WW2 happening around them. My mother's life wasn't Rosie the Riveter, it was dodging a Heinkel on the road home from school.

War isn't something that happens in a distant place. It happened here, to people I know, and they didn't have to be soldiers.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
44. tnh
Now that the week is winding down, I'll quietly say that the in my opinion, the biggest and most inexplicable absence is J.R.R. Tolkien. He was an officer in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was one of the most influential writers in our genre. His experiences in the Great War unquestionably affected his work. And what other writer in the field has had a book-length study devoted to his military service? I highly recommend it, if you're into that sort of thing: Tolkien and the Great War, by John Garth.
Keith Barrows
45. Soliloquat
The lack of OSC's 'Ender's Game' and the parallel 'Shadow' series is unforgivable! Otherwise, great list.
Keith Barrows
46. Domitype
I agree with Mayhem on Laumer's Bolo series, but also missing is Harrison's "Bill, the Galactic Hero" - I first read it while in the Navy, serving off the coast of Vietnam and it is a perfect SF-satire of the military.

The sequels were not as good...
Keith Barrows
47. Military Sci-fi Guy
Military sci-fi extends to alternative history as well, yes? Turtledove's "Guns of the South" launched a whole new branch of this genre. If you like naval "what ifs" try the novel by John Schettler "Kirov" for a great naval saga with a dash of science fiction to get the story rolling. How would the most powerful modern day surface raider ever built fare in the cauldron of WWII?
Keith Barrows
48. Markcymru
Another milSF writer with an interesting take is John Dalmas.
Keith Barrows
49. Joe Zieja
If there are any authors out there, I have a series of articles I've been writing on integrating realistic military environments into your fiction. I was asked to speak at WORLDCON this year on this topic since I'm both active military and a spec-fic author. Check them out at http://josephzieja.com
Keith Barrows
51. EvCruz
The Forever War is definitely the greatest military scifi bokk I ever read. As I approached the end of the book I felt like crying because it was coming to an end. I'll never forget that book. Joe Haldeman is one of the authors that have inspired me to write my own books and short stories in this genre.

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