Dorsai by Gordon Dickinson
Following Donal Graeme, an extraordinary military mercenary warrior, the novel charts his rise as he hires himself out to other planetary governments. Written in the late 50's, it is an imperfect novel. Donal is of course the unstoppable warrior while his enemies seem less than bright. The dialogue is also rather wood. But it and the rest of Dickinson's Childe Cycle series has certainly influenced the entire sub-genre of military science fiction.
Old Man's Army by John Scalzi
John Perry, aged 75, joins the Colonial Defense Forces having agreed to do so 10 years earlier, along with his now deceased wife. Thus he is taken to the CDF where his mind is transferred to a new body, made from his original DNA, but containing improvements so that Perry's new body is stronger and his senses much more acute. The novel follows Perry from raw new recruit to Captain and is easily on par with the greats such as Heinlein or Haldeman.
A Hymn before Battle by John Ringo
John Ringo's innovative novel, A Hymn before Battle tells the tale of a near future Earth as they discover the news that yes, there's intelligent alien life out there (who are good) but the Earth is in the line of fire as these "good" aliens battle it out with their enemies. It is in this environment that Michael O'Neal and his fellow grunts are thrown into the front lines of intergalactic combat. If you like David Weber, you're gonna love A Hymn before Battle!
Honor Harrington Series by David Weber
It was difficult to come up with one particular novel from David Weber's explosive, series, so we decided to nominate the whole series. Taking his inspiration from CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, Weber has created a unique character in Honor that readers have gladly followed since Weber's first Harrington novel, On Basilisk Station. Part political intrigue (we love that the Peeps are not just "the bad guys"), part kick ass space warfare, it's easy to see why the Honorerse has dominated science fiction bookshelves for the past 15 years.
Hammer's Slammers by David Drake
David Drake's collection of stories based around the mercenary regiment "Hammer's Slammers" and its leader, Colonel Alois Hammer helped make the military science fiction genre the way it is today. Taking elements of mythology and historical events, and placing it against the backdrop of a real military organization, the results are gritty must-reads.
Semper Mars by Ian Douglas
Unlike pretty much every other novel on this list, Semper Mars is unique in that the war being waged is not between us humans and some unknown alien creation. Instead, the war is between a brow beat US and the now powerful United Nations. While the novel is set in the year 2040 and features alien artifacts on Mars, it is the battle between the US and the UN that takes center stage- which is perhaps a little more realistic compared to the happy "one nation" Earth that we usually see in science fiction. The world that Douglas creates shows the darker side of the "one nation" future, and the only people that stand in the way are the USMC.
Enders Game by Orson Scott Card
Given that this book is on the US Marine Corp's recommended reading list, this was a no brainer contender for our top military science fiction novels. After having barely won two battles with an alien insectoid race, Earth's International Fleet looks to its young children for the future military commander who will help them fight the "Buggers" in the much anticipated third invasion. Thus, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is sent to Battle School to train to be the military commander they need, and quite, the human race's savior.
Armor by John Steakley
John Steakley tells two halves of a story in his novel, Armor. The first half follows Felix, as he makes his first drop onto the alien world of Banshee, clad in machine-like armour, to fight against the insecoid race known as Ants. As Felix fights for his own survival, he discovers that by switching on "the machine" he is good in battle. However, due to poor military bureaucracy, Felix finds himself called up on combat drop without reprieve, which will surely kill him. The second half of the novel takes place on the Planet Sanction. The war now being over, it follows anti-hero Jack Crow who finds Felix's old battle armour and is able to experience everything that Felix had gone through on Banshee. Confused? It does come together in the end. Ultimately, the novel focuses on the psychological effect of warfare on humans.
Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Joe Haldeman's Forever War is in many ways an autobiographical story told in a space opera setting. Haldeman's novel lets go of the many clichés found in military science fiction, such as the hero single-handedly turning the course of a battle (this book is arguably anti-heroic), instead Haldeman focuses on the military machine and its treatment of soldiers as well as the soldier's reintegration when they return home. All of these themes make this the perfect choice for the basis of Ridley Scott's latest science fiction outing, and hopefully the director will stay faithful to this masterpiece.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
This book is probably the pinnacle of military science fiction. Following the story of Johnnie Rico as he goes from raw recruit to ultimately commanding his own unit, Rico's Roughneck's, this book does not just lay out the day to day workings of the military and it certainly is not just about the war against the "bugs". Heinlein, as one might expect, goes much deeper than this. In Heinlein's world, the right to vote and hold public office is given only to those that have served in the military. What's more, for those willing to serve, the military must then find a place for that person, regardless of aptitude. The book dwells as much on themes such as civic duty, capital punishment and government as it does on the war against the bugs. These themes were satirized in the poor adaptation directed by Paul Verhoeven. The novel has also been on the reading lists for the US Army, USMC and the Navy. It was also required reading for the USCM, although we have to wonder if Rico's Roughneck's might have fared a little better in that fight!