The List Continues…
Honor Harrington: Very long running series (13 books with several spinoffs) by prolific author David Weber. Written to be a science fiction equivalent of Horatio Hornblower, it follows the exploits of a junior captain in the Manticore Space Navy and their war against the People’s Republic of Haven. As the series progressed, the author – an outspoken conservative/libertarian kind of guy – got a bit preachy in his books, something which he largely stayed away from in the earlier works. However, when he steps away from it and focuses on the action, he writes the best spaceship battles around.
Hyperion: Not strictly a military science fiction book but one of two books I added because there is a strong military character. The four book Hyperion Cantos is considered a modern science fiction classic, on par with Dune and Foundation. The books are a new take on the Cantebury Tales and is set on the eve of an apocalyptic interstellar war and follows eight people selected to go on a religious pilgrimage. One of the pilgrims who occupies a key role in the story is a military Colonel and his chapters where he tells his backstory are worth the price of admission.
The Expanse: The Expanse series – its first book is Leviathan Awakes – is a newer popular series which is debuting this fall on the SyFy channel and is expected to be the new Battlestar Galactica. The story has a very Firefly vibe to it but one of the primary characters is a Martian Marine whose PTSD becomes a key part of the story. I think it is only one of two times I have ever seen PTSD appear in a science fiction story and thought it was pretty well done here.
The Black Company: Enormously influential fantasy series which along with Conan serves as the antithesis to The Lord of the Rings. It follows an elite mercenary company in the employ of an evil wizard – imagine a world with no good guys, just really bad witches, wizards, and Demons. The action is gritty and the characters are all recognizable to anyone who has ever served a day in the military. There are no heroes in the Black Company, just elite professionals killing for coin. I have always read about good guys with swords and white horses – this was blind blowing stuff when I picked it up in the 80s and when I reread the series a few years back (the author who is in his 70s is still writing more!), they still hold up well.
The Deadhouse Gates: This is a hard recommendation. The ten book Malazan series is clearly an impressive work of fantasy – but it is also one of the most frustrating and obtuse series of books you can pick up. There is no preamble and no explanations, the author just throws you into the middle of a fantasy world with tons of backstory and terminology which he never explains. It is definitely sink or swim. I nearly quit this series a dozen times but I didn’t because this series has some of the most powerful scenes I have ever read. There are about five separate storylines interwoven together in the context of the final war between the warriors of a failing Empire, a religious based insurgency, a newer evil empire, and a bevy of warring Gods. The second book is the retelling of Xenophon’s march of the ten thousand as an Imperial Legion attempts to escape a foreign land which has fallen to the insurgents. It remains one of the most riveting books I have ever read.
The Heroes: The best fantasy book I have ever read. It is the fifth book in a projected nine book series by famous fantasy author Joe Abercrombie. The cover suggestion envisioning the book as “Lord of the Rings as directed by Kurosawa.” But I think a more apt description would be to imagine if J.R.R. Tolkien teamed up with Quentin Tarantino to write a new fantasy series and this series is what you would get. The series is intense and bloody and contains awesome characters like Sandor Glokta, the King’s Torturer, and my personal favorite character of all time – Logen Ninefingers, a Barbarian with severe rage issues who is just trying – and failing – to fly straight. The Heroes is unique in that it is set over the course of a three day battle between what I will describe as ‘The Roman Legions vs. The Vikings’.
You don’t need to read the previous four books to get this one though I would recommend it because it gives weight to some of the actions that occur in the final third of the book – not to mention that several characters from the previous four books make appearances in this one. The battle sequences, the personal bravery, the betrayals and reverses are intense and definite page turners. The final battle at the top of the main hill is frankly beautiful and the aftermath on the bloody hillside is the only time I have ever teared up reading a book. I have reread this book a half dozen times in the past couple of years and each time, that last sequence hits me right in the feelings. It is a great fantasy book but I think soldiers would be especially moved.
This article first appeared in The Havok Journal 15 July 2016.