The topic of future war is popular, and in the last few years, it has exploded. However, not all military science fiction is equal, and one of the missions of FWS is to be a guide into the dark world of MSF. So, here is the list of the finest examples of military sci-fi in films, TV, comics, anime, and literature. Of course, given the size of this topic, there could wonderful items I've not yet discovered. I hope is to update this blogpost in a few years, adding and subtracting entries based on the changing ground of MSF as a whole.
This is Citizen Kane of MSF films...I have seen this epic 104 times, and each time I am deeply impressed by the creative work that James Cameron threw into this sequel. While ALIEN was more a space horror film, ALIENS was a military sci-fi horror film that broke new ground in presenting a realistic space-borne military. Unlike most of other sci-fi works of the time, Earth and her colonies were not under a united banner, but the old nation-states still exist in the 23rd century. ALIENS used the Ripley character to explore this new world that was 56 years past hers, and film masterfully weaves the pain/trauma of the Ripley character with the blazing action scenes.Since ALIENS came out in 1986, it's vision of the future, military, and off-world colonization have been copied, but never surpass, even by it's own director. ALIENS is the groundbreaking film work of MSF, and one of hell of a movie!
STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)
While ALIENS and AVATAR are light years better than Starship Troopers, they are not as "pure" of a MSF movie as is this B-movie. Starship Troopers is the most "pure" MSF movies to date, and firmly focuses on lives of the Mobile Infantry during the Bug War of the 25th century. While plot gaps, bad acting, and simply unsound military tactics run throughout this 1997 movie, Starship Troopers is a well-made MSF movie...of which we have so very few...also there is something about it that makes me watch it a few times a year...can't put my finger on it.
Like ALIENS, AVATAR is not a pure MSF film, it is more of a message movie about the dangers of a crumbling environment and the rights of people and corporations. However, past the enivormentist speeches and blue people is a rather well-thought out MSF story with jaw-dropping special effects, stellar acting, a realistic armored power suit (the AMP) and believably military elements. AVATAR shows that a MSF film can and does work within a boarder story.
TERMINATOR/TERMINATOR 2: (2029 SCENES)
Terminator and Terminator 2 are not completely MSF, mostly they are than well-thought out action story. However, these films do show a darker future than most any sci-fi film have ever done, where machines rule over the ruins of a post-nuclear world, and humans wage an impossible war.
\When I first witness the darkness and power of these 2029 scenes, I have been wanting to see a entire movie set in that grim future. The 2029 scenes also showed that not all post-nuclear war films are grade B fare, and that MSF can be set in other situations than just power armored human trooperss against bug-like aliens.
THE LIVE-ACTION HALO SHORTS
When HALO Landfall, the Eigth-minute live-action short-film came out online, I saw the promise of good MSF...and how great the HALO concept/universe was. Since the Landfall/Arms RaceHALO-3 shorts, there have new ones added for every new HALO game release, and each one is a gem of MSF goodness. Few pieces of live-action SF/MSF can live up to these live-action HALO shorts have set.
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1991)
Masamune Shirow is a genius, and the Ghost in the Shell graphic novel is just further proof of that. Shirow was able to mix the future here on Earth with cyperpunk, computer networks, AI, crime, and very cool weaponry into a MSF classic.For those that have only experienced the Anime series/movies of Ghost in the Shell, you are missing out on the whole story, mixed with humor and high-tech. Ghost in the Shell almost never leaves Japan, let alone Earth of the 2020's, and this allows for the development of Section Nine of public security to fully explore the darker side of the future of humanity. But, where Shirow and his work shines is at the application of technology and how is used for and against society, and a great story. This is his masterpiece and a jewel of MSF.
Mix one part genetic politics of Gattaca, off-world colonialism in the solar system, powered armor, soldiers, and planetary invasion, and you've got Shrapnel by Racial Comics. The visuals of the comic are breathtaking, and the story is original.
Few comics about war/future war deal with the politics and/or emotion after combat. Shrapnel also handles the confusion of war via the art and direction of the combat scenes. It is a shame that not more comics about futuristic warfare are not as mulit-leveled and/or visually shocking as Shrapnel.It is my hope that this brought to the movie/game adaption
THE FOREVER WAR GRAPHIC NOVEL: VOLUME ONE (1990)\
There as already been an extensive review of this product on the blog sometime ago, but to restate, The Forever War Graphic Novel: Volume One is a wonderfully artistic interruption of the book and it adds and redefines the story in a way that is organic to the original novel without destroy it.Also, the art is pin-up worthy...this is shows what military science fiction comics can be.
ALIENS: VOLUME TWO BY DARK HORSE (1990)
Before the heresy of ALIEN-3 movie, there was this comic story of the xenomorphs taking over Earth with help from the company. In this version of the post-LV-426 events, Hicks is still live, and Newt is bat-shit crazy from the trauma of her LV-426 experience.
This Dark Horse 1990 comic series picked up as Newt, the skinjob Butler, and Hicks escape the dying Earth in an automated deep space cargo vessel bound for a military colony.
The art, done in air-brush, is haunting, even many years later, the story of the Colonial Marine General with visions of leading an xenomorph army to liberate Earth and achieve honor is better than a majority of the ALIEN movies/games/books. This is how ALIENS 3 and 4 should have been. The writer of these original Dark Horse ALIENS series, Mark Verheiden, also was co-producer and writer on Battlestar Galactica.
THE ALIEN LEGION (1987-1990)
Far future military sci-fi epics are rare, and Alien Legion is just that, a far future where three galaxies are under one massive government, but it is rotten at its core, with greed, politics, and petty wars populating the thousands of worlds, and hundreds of alien races.
The protectors of the tri-galactic government is the Legions. The worst of the worst, is dumped into FORCE NOMAD, the Legion's home for the convicts and bad-soldiers in the galaxies.There two Alien Legion comic series done by Epic, an imprint of Marvel, the first in 1984 was less gritty, and less groundbreaking in terms of style and story. The second series from 1987 to 1990 was an Alien Legion relaunch coupled with a much harder edge and more complex art and stories...these are the best of the Alien Legions products. This series was followed up by a several graphic novels, most are good. There as been nothing like Alien Legion in comics or MSF...and is worth picking it up.
In a post-WWIII world, a utopia of super-computer, cyborgs, and a special urban police striker force, ESWAT, raise up from the ashes. In the city of Olympus, two outsiders from the rubble, a combat cyborg Briareos and his lover and fellow special forces vet, Deunan join Olympus to fight for the future of humans and cyborgs. This, up until Ghost in the Shell, was Masamune Shirow's best known work of Manga, and what makes this great MSF is it originality and the steer skill as a artists/writer that Shirow puts into his worlds.
ALIENS: TRIBES DARK HORSE (1992)
Tribes is not completely graphic novel nor a novel, but Tribes blends a shocking story of a special Colonial Marine investigational team to an off-world research station, with text and a few haunting art pieces.
Unlike many of the ALIENS comic books and movies (all but ALIENS and ALIEN), this one as teeth, and the story will haunt you for a long time after. The characters, their inter-relationships, and the plot develop into a dark space horror, and above that, Tribes introduces the concept of the MOX aka the "shit-kicker."
The MOX, Mobile Offensive Exo-Warrior is a sedated mass murder with homicidal rage encased a powered armor suit mounted with tons of weaponry, that is kept snowed unlit they are needed, then unleashed on the xenomorph hive.
The parts of the book with the MOX and the CMC character of Cat are the ALIENS universe at its best. Be warned, this tale is not for everyone, it is highly disturbing.
Robotech changed my life forever, and it is the cornerstone of some of my MSF ideas, and this Anime 1985 epic that covers 85 episodes is one of the finest Animes ever made (Cowboy Bebop is second). Robotech tells the story of three generations of human warriors, from 1999-2044, waging a three generational war against three separate alien races, invading to capture an advanced alien space battleship that crashed on Earth during the Global Civil War of the 1990's.
Earth unites, rebuilds the battleship, using its advanced technology to develop robotechnology (mecha) if and when the original owners of the battleship show up. A Series of wars nearly destroy the human race and leave Earth scarred. Robotech was a combination of three different Anime series that had new American-created dialog mixed over to create a whole new story from the original Japanese Macross series. Robotech is not Shakespeare, and at times, the series falls on its face, but most of the time, it is a thrilling adventure through mankind's struggle to survive.
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1994)
Ghost in the Shell is original...there is nothing like this OVA in Anime, offering the viewer a world of high-technology of cybernetic bodies, advanced robots, hacking, future politics, and a special police force made up of cyborgs. Then add philosophically discussions of existences and purpose, and you've got Ghost in the Shell.Often, military sci-fi is about off-world warfare, with ships, fighters, and marines, but then where are works like this, that redefine the role and setting of MSF, from colonies and space, to the dirty neon streets of Hong Kong.
Gundam is a complex web of series, (like Dragon Ball Z), but at the original series, called the Universal Century timeline, is were Earth creates off-world colonies, space elevators. Then wars breaks out among the human powers using massive mecha powered suits.
Often Anime and most MSF set future wars between aliens and humans or humans and robots, but rarely was there human verse human...which is much more interesting in the long run. Mobile Suit Gundam started Japanese and Western viewers on the obsession of mecha in future war, and this was the genesis of other MSF series in Anime and Manga, and the American 1980's comic series Dynamo Joe (FWS review soon).
STARSHIP TROOPERS OVA (1988)
In 1988, there was an attempt to turn the classic 1958 book into a full-length Anime series, complete with the combat armored power suits featured in the book. The OVA followed some elements of the book more closely than the American films and the CGI TV series, however, it still takes liberties and is not involved in the politics of the Federation, which was the main thrust of the 1958 book.
It is rumored that Starship Troopers is the origin of Japanese mecha, the bedrock foundation of most Anime/Manga.The series is not currently available in the US on DVD. Some sources say that it was available on subtitled laser disc and VHS. It can be viewed at Youtube and several other sites...the quality is so-so and the series itself looks like a 1980's Anime, complete with cheesy music. I was disappointed at the depiction of the Bugs, which more like jellyfish, and there complete deletion of the Skinnys.
ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS (1983)
VOTOMS is a more hard-sci-fi series, which is rare in Anime, that as two alien powers locked in bitter war where the VOTOM suits are the primary infantry. VOTOMS is set in the far, far away Astragius Galaxy and the war is between two alien races, the Gilgamesh and Balarant.
What sets VOTOMS apart is that these alien powered armor suit use oddly realistic weaponry, which is more than most Anime.Manga at the time. More over, the series deals with soldiers fighting for one another than their ideals or government, which they don't trust.
Sadly, most MSF Manga/Anime are not very good, and often disappointing, however, VOTOMS is not bad, and gets better as the series moves along. VOTOMSbucks the trend in Anime/Manga in not having these expensive warmachines being piloted by teenagers, which would not exist in the real-world military structures.
THE HALO SERIES
The last of a military breeding program to create the prefect soldier is charged with saving humanity from an all out alien invasion is dumped on a unknown and uncharted alien world, and discoveries a secret that no one expected.That is basic outline plot of HALO, and it has been done many times before...but there lays the promise of HALO...taking a tired concept and making it kick ass for years.There simple is not a better MSF games than the HALO games
Killzone was going to be the HALO of the Playstation world, however, what we got was something more original than HALO, a story where human vs. human on a disputed colonial world, where a group of soldiers must pull together to prevent a traitor from turning over this world to the enemy. Killzone as a good original story and the gameplay and graphics have improved since the first game, more over, it is excited to see futuristic human warfare with borrowed elements of World War One and World War Two. Killzone sits above other FPS in terms of story and originality.
MASS EFFECT SERIES
MASS EFFECT is set in one of these best big universe concepts in all of sci-fi, games or otherwise. This universe is filled with unique aliens,clever human characters, and one hell of a story. MASS EFFECT is also a MSF games/story. I simply cannot believe the complexity of the MASS EFFECT galaxy, and enjoyment of the beautiful writting, and my own pleasure at exploring the world of MASS EFFECT. The real beauty of MASS EFFECT, is putting a MSF story into big-universe concept, and out doing Star War/Star Trek at the same time.
I have a theory, unproven, that MASS EFFECT and Old Man's War have a connection...it's just a feeling I had while playing the first game...
THE STARCRAFT SERIES
While I have not played Starcraft...I know, its a crime, I deeply respect the story, military technology, and nod to the founding concept of MSF: armored infantry fighting insect-like aliens in a bitter interstellar war. Some of the trailers to Starcraft II and Starcraft: Ghost, are amazing bits of MSF storytelling at its finest. If you love Starcraft check out the manga comics done in 2008, and in most big-chain book stores' manga section. I am planning on reading the Starcraft books...
THE WARHAMMER 40K UNIVERSE
There is nothing like WH40K in SF/MSF, in terms of story, mood, characters, technology, and visuals. The rule of a God Emperor over a dysopia Milky Way galaxy challenged by Orks, Traitor Marines who sold their souls to dark greedy gods, and rebellious humans, is unlike anything else. The concept of the space marines, the monstrous Tyranids, and the Tau also original in the world of SF/MSF. What makes WH40K one of the best games in MSF is that it broke the tired mode of typical humans battling aliens with a just and noble government behind them. The Imperium of Man is a dark giovernment that rules over their subjects with legions of genetic altered space marines that fanatically serve the will of a god-like emperor, added to this, was the enemies that were even more dark and twisted.
For those who are not familiar with Traveller, this is an old style pen-and-paper RPG that was designed by Games Designer Workshop," in 1977. Travellers was one of the first space-based RPGs, and developed some of its material from noted sci-fi authors Niven, Pournelle, Asimov, Piper, and Poul Anderson. This game itself was largely depend if the players and DM wanted a more MSF lend, but the concepts of a MSF universe without Star Trek/Star Wars as a backbone allowed people like me to see sci-fi in a new way. Traveller as had a vast developed galaxy of weapons, ships, and combat situations that spurred mass thought of future war situations.
The CRYSIS Series
Aqua-based aliens? Check. Badass, nano-technology based super-soldier suit? Check. Corporate greed and a government conspiracy? Check. Seriously, the series of three Crysis MSF games are a real stunner in terms of story and gameplay. I bought Crysis 2 for cheap for my Xbox 360, and was deeply impressed with this world and became one of my favorite campaigns on 360.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the tabletop Battletech RPG. In the 1980's, my brother and I would play Citytech for hours, destroying cities, mecha, and urban infantry with all manner of weapons. Some of my first memories and story developments can be traced to this and Japanese Anime. The first technical manuals I bought were for this universe, the fist fan-fiction I wrote, was for this universe. At the time, nothing seemed better than picking a mech, its weapons, designing a urban combat zone, then hashing it out with my friends for hours.
SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND (1995-1996)
To counter the rash of Star Trek and Babylon 5 domination of sci-fi TV in the 1990's, Space:Above and Beyond showed a bitter, realistic war with an armored alien force on actual stars. SAAB combined elements of WWII, Vietnam, X-Files, real science, and great actors/writing with early CGI to make one of the best sci-fi shows ever on American TV. SAAB only ran for one season, but easily showed how good sci-fi could be on TV, and personal turned me towards MSF and away from Star Trek/Star Wars.The series did not shy from hard emotions, drugs, sex, drinking, and the realities of war and death...oh, and they play some kick ass music.
BATTLESTAR GALACTIC (2003-2009)
The original 1970's Battlestar Galactica was a messy fusion of Star Wars, classical studies, 1970's fashions, and ancient alien theory, the new Battlestar Galactica is a gritty, realistic, military space drama. It is true that BSG spent more time with the characters, and their demons and relationships, than in space combat scenes, there was something so honest and true about the writing that often every episode was good. Frakking Galactica is what MSF could and should be.
STARSHIP TROOPERS (1958)
The book that started it all. This is the founding classic of MSF, and gave the world of sci-fi, anime, and manga the concept of armored power suits. Starship Troopers was written in the 1950's, and some of its ideas and dialog have not aged well, however, the overall plot is seemly timeless, the politics of war and how societies interact with war and their soldiers.
The best portion of the book, is still the first few pages, when the Roughnecks raid the "Skinnys" and use micro-atomic bombs then are recovered in mid-air. This is one of the concepts that interested me more than the Bug Wars...
THE FOREVER WAR (1975)
Where Starship Troopers is mostly about politics, The Forever War is about the grim realities of space warfare, faster-than-light travel, and being in command. The author used his experiences in Vietnam to develop the world of 1997, when the UN is at war with unknown alien race. There are few battles in the book, the meat of the story is about the effects of traveling through collapsed stars, and how a soldier that has fought only a few battles are now hundreds of years old. While Starship Troopers is is the first real MSF book, this is the first really good military sci-fi novel, and is still very readable today. This is the book got me back in to reading sci-fi, and with some help from Nigel, writing my own books.
THE OLD MAN'S WAR (2003)
It is hard to be original in the world of sci-fi with the legions of books, movies, and anime/manga that exist today, but John Scalzi created one of the most original MSF books in Old Man's War. If you have read FWS review of the novel, than you know how impressed I was with the development of his universe and humanity's place in it.Within the pages of this novel, the reader is treated to world of deep differences, on one hand, these 75 year old soldiers get new bodies and are able to enjoy life again, then on the other, war in the future is often brutal and quick.
If you have not read Old Man's War then you are missing of the best MSF/Sci-fi novels.
ENDER'S GAME (1985)
I have not yet read Ender's Game...it is on my night table, it is next novel to be read...writing for the blog, plus my own MSF novel, then little things like life prevents me from reading as much as I would like..but my brother-in-law read Ender's Game and along with most people that have read, say that this, is one of the best MSF novels.
This novel takes an unique concept and POV on futuristic war, that most author could not do with such talent...or so I am told.
THE GHOST BRIGADE (2007)
It is very hard to followup one of the best MSF books ever written, but John Scalzi proves himself as one of the best sci-fi writers today by giving the readers what they wanted...a novel set in the world of OMW and being all about the Special Forces.
While the plot is not as good as OMW, this is still better than 90% of the sci-fi books out there, and his Jane character is one of those great female soldiers in sci-fi that is not a hollow pretty shell.
THE ORPHANAGE (2004)
Unlike Old Man's War, Starship Troopers, and The Forever War, this 2004 book by ex-CIA employee Robert Buettner, is not well-known. However, Orphanage is a top-notch MSF novel that takes the war-with-aliens to a new place...the moons of Jupiter. The plot centers around teenager Jason Wander, who as been orphaned when exo-solar system aliens (nick-named Slugs) establish a base on Ganymede, and bombard Earth with "rods from god", wiping out the largest cities. In a new twist, Earth as abandoned space travel before the alien attacks, and is forced to attempt an armed expedition to Ganymede when Earth as yet to return to the Moon! Jason Wander must travel to Ganymede with Vietnam-era weaponry and fight to save what is left of Earth.
This is one of those fast-paced books that is an easy read that sticks with you because of its original story and great writing. One of the best first-novels I have read.
ALIENS: THE COLONIAL MARINE TECHNICAL MANUAL (1996)
Simply stated, this is my choice for a MSF bible. Every piece of hardware from the film is in fully glorious detail, coupled with the opinions of fictional military personal, and fully explains the world of the Colonial Marines.
\Unlike many other movie-tie books, this both fuses well into the movie universe and expands it without seeming cheap or cheesy.
As a writer, it is often difficult to investigate how certain element of science can be used in a MSF setting, such as with how a realistic DEW system would work. This is where the technical manual is very useful to any SF or MSF writer, the limitations of high-tech is explained and how it would kill on the battlefield. Moreover, the A:CMTM brings up the realities of a government trying to project power over dozens of light-years. If you love the movie ALIENS, or technical manuals, or even a writer of SF/MSF, then buy this...it is worth every penny.
HALO: THE FALL OF REACH (2003)
I doubt the power of HALO to be translated to a book format...but I was wrong...really wrong. Military science fiction is filled with stories of super soldiers and their fight to save humanity against dark and blood-thirsty aliens. There is also a number of books tied into a line of video games, most of not this good. HALO: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund could be a stand alone book, and even if you are not a gamer, this is a good read and an original take on the super-soldier story.