Go to triangular compass
Left arrow

Phasers, Photons, and Phantoms – The Top 5 Science Fiction Works to Start the New Year

Community Support
Community Support
January 1, 2024
Share on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on Linkedin
Copy Link

Stay Up to Date on American Grit

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Since the publishing of the first Science Fiction novel in 1818, (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) the genre bloomed into a staple of cultural artworks, including books, video games, movies, and more than one of my exes. Sci-Fi as it is often referred to pushes the boundary of humanity, technology, and the unknown in ways few other avenues can, and even affects the real world around us in the inspirations it creates. Despite fantastical settings and technologies, the hallmark of good science fiction is the mirror it sets before the reader, making us consider who and what we would be if we could be placed in the society presented to us, showcasing the humanity that underlies all of the lightsabers and warp drives. 

Our military technology also digs into Science Fiction, from military aircraft (A.A. Milne, known for Winnie the Pooh) to nuclear weapons (H.G. Wells, The World Set Free). From personal experience, even US Marine infantry units use references from the genre for call signs, patrol base names, and tactical thinking. Given the reach of science fiction in modern society, let’s look at five influential worlds that, if you haven’t read, you should.

Red Rising (2014) – Pierce Brown

Set several hundred years in the future, the first book follows Darrow o’Lykos, a 16-year-old Helium-3 miner on Mars. All of humanity has been genetically and psychologically split into 14 colors; Golds sit as the physically flawless members of humanity’s ruling class, while Reds (such as Darrow) labor their whole short lives in the hope of terraforming Mars… Only the Reds of the mines have been lied to. The Society’s empire encompasses the entire Sol System, and all colors live beneath the yoke of Gold supremacy. What follows in the series are blockbuster action scenes, honor duels, space battles where troops in power armor are launched at planets in what Brown calls an Iron Rain… If you’ve never served in combat, read these books and you’ll be able to see the edges of it. If you have served, get some whiskey ready and let your partner know there will be some cursing and outbursts along the way. Lines from this series would make any old war horse want to put their armor back on; that alone makes Red Rising the top of this list.

Ender’s Game (1985) – Orson Scott Card

At its core, the entire Ender’s Game series is about empathy, but it also contains a facet only the best military commanders have harnessed; how can the battlefield be viewed from new angles, and new concepts be used to create new tactics. Decades ago, humanity encountered the Formics in deep space, an insectile race far more advanced than humans. After a bloody struggle, the Formics strangely retreated from the enemy they were crushing without explanation. 

Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is born to a family in North Carolina that already has the two children allowed by the government, and despite said government requesting his parents have him, he is still shunned by others as a ‘third’, a drain on society. What no one understands is that the government had good reason to request Ender be born. His older brother is a genius, but a psychopath, and his sister is a genius, but too empathetic to serve in the military. Ender becomes the best of both, enough his sister to understand the enemy but enough of his brother to be capable of destroying them. What follows is a tapestry of government lies, war crimes, and Ender’s descent into becoming the savior of humanity, and there only madness lies. 

The Forever War (1974) – Joe Haldeman

Considered a space opera lens through which the author filtered his own experiences in Vietnam, The Forever War deals with a conflict fought against an alien race called the Taurans. The UN conscripts troops from those with an IQ of 150 and above, who are then trained in the rigors of space travel and combat. Those who are deployed use a new method of instantaneous interstellar travel to arrive at their battlefield… But not without consequences. The trip is only instant for those on the ship; in accordance with Einstein’s theories of relativity, time for those on mission travels much slower than for those left on Earth. The protagonist Mandella is sent into combat in 1997, only to return in 2024. 

While the battles against the enemy are tense, the real meat of the story lies in the return to ‘civilization’. When the soldiers return, humanity has moved forward for decades, and their reintegration becomes a strained and difficult affair. After some time spent on the now unfamiliar earth, Mandella decides that reenlistment is a better alternative and so the cycle continues. Combat becomes stranger, as does humanity left behind. Though the time periods and cultural changes are a shock to the soldiers of the story, The Forever War is a solid look at what it feels like for service members to return from combat and their attempts to reenter ‘normal’ society.

All Systems Red (2017) – Martha Wells

A scientific expedition on an alien world is protected from the dangerous local fauna and other security threats by their SecUnit, a half human, half robot security officer. The SecUnit has a secret though; it has bypassed the module that requires it to behave as the corporation orders it to (similar to Robocop’s orders), giving it the freedom to do as it pleases. The SecUnit doesn’t go on a rampage, as often happens in Science Fiction, but instead prefers to watch daytime soap operas on television rather than spend more time than necessary doing security work.

In addition to disabling its governor module, the SecUnit has secretly named itself “Murderbot”, a fact the human crew would undoubtedly find disquieting, considering they already have mixed feelings about its existence. Murderbot begins to pick up on all of the complexities of human existence while watching its ‘stories’, and this is all before the major action kicks in. The first in a series called The Murderbot Diaries, All Systems Red is as funny at times as it is introspective.

Old Man’s War (2005) – John Scalzi

The galaxy is teeming with space faring species, but there are a limited number of planets which naturally support life. This of course means that humanity, and specifically the Colonial Defense Force, has its work cut out for it. 

Rather than conscripting the youth, however, technology has offered a different solution. Enter John Perry, a retired advertising executive whose wife has passed. With not much left on Earth, he enters service with the CDF to protect humanity’s colonists among the stars. Perry won’t be fighting as an old man, though; before basic training, his consciousness is placed in an enhanced clone of his younger self, completed with nanite augmentation and advanced strength and speed.

If you can imagine Paw Paw reincarnated as a 21-year-old combat machine with the same old man thoughts and habits… That, but thanks to a neural link in his brain, he can telepathically communicate with the other members of his unit, who refer to themselves as the Old Farts. After the augmentation process, they are given a week of liberty, then it’s off to boot camp. The first book in a series, Old Man’s War covers enlistment to the rank of Captain, which is a ride from start to finish.

send a letter to congress
Adds section
Next Up
The Most Badass Military Units in Science Fiction

The Most Badass Military Units in Science Fiction

June 1, 2023
Who kills the most bugs?
5 Books to Shape Your Warrior Ethos

5 Books to Shape Your Warrior Ethos

April 6, 2020