When a novel explores a battle-born and battle-broken sci-fi setting, readers are in store for some really interesting characters and worldbuilding. These books pose questions such as, what is it like to fight an alien threat? In the future, how will soldiers manage their weaponry? And what does war do to a character's psyche as they manage to survive from battle to battle?
If you want answers, turn to these 10 gripping books about sci-fi soldiers, perfect for any military sci-fi reader.
The Forever War
This piece of classic sci-fi by Joe Haldeman is frequently cited among fans of military sci-fi books as a shining example of the genre. Like the other books on this list, The Forever War is first and foremost about the brutalities and trauma faced by combat survivors.
Private William Mandella is a soldier in the United Nations Exploratory Force, tasked with battling the alien Taurans. Readers follow William across multiple planets, a black hole, and more. Through it all, Mandella remains fixated on his love interest, fellow soldier Marygay.
The novel explores Mandella's notions of masculinity and sexuality, exposing how he holds onto what he knows as Earth changes rapidly during the war.
The Forever War scribe, Joe Haldeman, is a Vietnam veteran who channelled his own experiences into the Forever War series.
Robert A. Heinlein did a lot for the sci-fi genre at a time when it was still very much considered 'genre,' and treated as inferior from 'real' literature.
Heinlein gave the soldiers in Starship Troopers humanity, which makes their experiences even more vivid and intense for the reader. The future is highly-militarized, thanks to the Terran Federation. Juan Rico is an officer that enters the ongoing war against an alien menace called the “Arachnids.” He and his classmates are soldiers, but also students of the world they inhabit.
All You Need Is Kill
This sci-fi story mashes up Groundhog Day with battlefield woe.
Sakurazaka’s ingenious novel was a runaway hit among sci-fi fans, and was even adapted in Edge of Tomorrow, a movie starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. However, the original work is a lot more fun than the big-screen adaptation.
Keiji Kiriya is stuck in a horrible time loop. He dies in battle over and over again, only to wake back up again in the heat of combat. Facing the same horrors repeatedly does nothing to numb him to the trauma.
Thankfully, a female soldier known as "the Full Metal Bitch” is cognizant of the time loop. She's enigmatic and intimidating to Keiji, who inevitably seeks her counsel in order to find a way out of the time trap.
I Am Legend
Though this one doesn’t quite fit the “soldier” archetype, I simply had to add one of my all-time favorites to the list.
Matheson managed to take all the zombie and vampire tropes and blend them together into the story of one human going to battle against an army of the undead.
The last man, Robert Neville, has survived the post-apocalypse wasteland long enough to become outdated, a single and solitary creature who intimidates and scares the society evolving around him. He sees Earth's new inhabitants as monsters, horrible and odd vampiric hybrids, and makes it his mission to stake them while they sleep.
Though the reader might not see Neville as a soldier, he is very much viewed as such by the world around him.
Campbell’s Lost Fleet series is a military sci-fi standout. It merges the bleakness of war with action-packed angst, adrenaline, and hope.
What happens when a war continues for so long that nobody remembers what it was like before all the carnage? Jack Geary wakes from a century of cryosleep to find himself an idolized war hero, tasked with leading an Alliance fleet. Geary is clever and cunning, but disturbed by the cult of worship that has evolved around him.
This novel is the first in the Machineries of Empire series by Yoona Ha Lee, and it’s a page-turner you can’t help but lose yourself to.
At the center is Captain Kel Cheris, who's on a formidable mission of redemption. Given a chance to atone for unconventional battle tactics, she must reclaim the Fortress of Scattered Needles, which has been overrun by heretics.
Kel's undead partner in this mission is Shudos Jedao, one hell of an intimidating commander. He's never lost a battle — but he has killed his own armies without a second thought.
Old Man's War
Scalzi's fascinating Old Man's War series subverts many common military sci-fi tropes.
At 75 years old, John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Force, a military entity that only recruits older adults.
New soldiers are promised a homestead on a colonized planet after retirement from the service. But first, they're expected to use their experience gained from decades of life to fight extraterrestrials who are pushing back against human colonization.
The Prodigal Sun
Commander Morgan Roche leads the intelligence arm of the Commonwealth Empires. When Morgan is charged with guarding artificial intelligence called "The Box," her ship is ambushed by the Dato Bloc, and she crash-lands on a nearby prison planet.
Marooned, Morgan must battle against inmates and guards alike to fight her way through. To do it, she must rely on genetically enhanced warrior Adoni Cane, who could prove either the savior of the human race or its downfall.
Allen Caine is a resistance fighter against the Ryqril—hostile, leathery-skinned aliens who successfully invaded Earth. The Ryqril have established their own empire, and Caine must perform an undercover infiltration mission to take on the identity of a senate aide.
When Caine finds himself stuck on the wrong planet and his operations go awry, Caine's last hope is to seek the blackcollars: an elite guerilla force that might prove the key to the Terran Democratic Empire's survival.
First, however, he needs to find them.
The year 2194 sees Nicholas Seafort assigned as a midshipman to the UNS Hibernia on an interstellar naval adventure. However, when a terrible accident kills the senior officers, Seafort must help to lead the crew and colonists aboard on a 17-month gauntlet.
Seafort knows from the outset that no rescue will come. No reinforcements will be offered. Can he overcome mutiny and alien horrors to save the lives of those in his care?