27 July 2017

FWS Top 10: Most Influential Military Sci-Fi Works

There are some works in fiction, no matter the media form, that are touchstones of inspiration for fans and creators. We creators of currents military science fiction have all been influenced by a number of other creators and works in our special sub-genre of the broad genre of science fiction, and I thought was high time that FWS made a list of the Top 10 most influential Military SF works. Bear in mind that some of these are more current and they are influencing not only us currently, but the future generations of MSF creatos to come.

1. Starship Troopers (1959)
Nearly every Military Sci-Fi creator or work cites this 1959 novel about the adventures of Juan Rico in the Mobile Infantry as being an influence. With good reason, this novel by Robert Heinlein the founding classic of Military Science Fiction and it setup many of the common elements of the genre that carry onward to this day. Powered armor, space drop, hostile insect aliens all came out from this one novel and have been carried on by modern creators, like James Cameron. Throughout the years, the book has been translated into other media forms such as an 1980's anime, an big budget bloody 1997 film, and a combat board game from Avalon Hill. What is most interesting about the influence that Starship Troopers has broadcasted on the genre of sci-fi as whole is not as much about the story itself. Often elements are extracted, like the powered armor, by creators to frame their own Military SF universe. The story itself is has been controversial since its release and it divides fans and critics. Some have clearly drawn inspiration from the society presented in the text, but many steer clear of the military-centered government and the "service guarantees citizenship" policy. However, this culture and society presented in the novel continue to be a source of examination and discussed despite the novel being over fifty years old. It is likely that Starship Troopers will influence writers and creators for a long time, just as War of the Worlds has.    

2. Various Tabletop Military Sci-Fi Games
This may be a cop out, but hear me out. As a younger gamer back in the exciting 1980's going to various hobby, comic, and book stores, I was exposed to one of the greatest eras in sci-fi gaming. There was a sea of sci-fi tabletop games that were war simulations, RPGs, or hybrid of the two. Most people I knew that were into science fiction, where also playing several RPG games at once along with D&D. From the legions of Military SF fans I've met over the years and here on FWS, I began to see the influence of these great non-video gaming systems on forging new fans of the entire sub-genre of military science fiction. Hell, even the box art was an influence on some of us. With these games servicing as a foundation, fans could creator and explore, setting their heroes in off-world space wars that only their imagination limited. I know this is where I constructed my first fictional worlds, races, armies, and conflicts. This was at a time when video games (computer and console) were less immersive, expensive and less involving, causing these more physical gaming systems be more immersive and more social. Some of the earliest ventures in to sci-fi creation were done within these borders and boundaries of various sci-fi games by current movers and shakers in the world of sci-fi/fantasy.

3. Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Back in 1978, NBC aired a daring sci-fi show that built upon the Star Wars fever sweeping the nation at the time as well as creating a unique sci-fi universe. I actually watched classic BSG back in its original run when I was two, and the show has been part of my life ever since. While I was never a huge BSG fan, it was something I was interested in and the ships and space fighters were damned cool designs (along with one of the best theme songs!). For years, there were rumors of an rebooted or sequel coming to expand on the one season of classic Battlestar Galactica. Richard Hatch was so committed to make this a reality, he used his home to fund an BSG "2.0" sequel. He shopped his pilot around for years and that is how I met in him at a con here in DFW.
Then in 2003, we finally got new BSG via the Sci-Fi Network and it rocked the world of science fiction and Military SF with a significant alteration to the classic BSG of the late 1970's. It alienated some fans, but forged many new ones, even roping in non-sci-fi fans due to the strenght of the writing and dramatic elements. For six years, the Ronald D. Moore rebooted BSG showed many of us how reality could be interjected into science fiction along with a building slow-boiling mystery. It became an influential work that saw its style of space combat and reboot formula incorporating into new sci-fi works like 2010's Space Battleship Yamato. For many of us, Ronald D. Moore's style allowed creators to explore interpersonal conflicts that were alien to shows like ST:TNG. At present, no science fiction show has equalled the new BSG, despite what you might think about the ending.

4. Star Wars/Star Trek
Often in modern life, there is a decision between similar products that force you to chose and does say something about you. Coke vs. Pepsi, Galaxy vs. iPhone, Xbox vs. Playstation, coffee vs. tea, Beatles vs. Elvis, PC vs. Mac. In the science fiction, there is such a choice: Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Both contain military sci-fi elements and both have greater altered the world of sci-fi and society. While some of us are fans of both, we often come down to liking one over the other.
Needlessly to say, these are obvious massive influences on all of us and all works that followed since their emergence. These two massive science fiction universes are often the starting point for future creators due to their extreme accessibility and society wide impact. These are "gateway drug" to wider world of science fiction and even military sci-fi. Moreover than being an influential films or TV series, these twin sci-fi franchises have generated the creation of other products that have spread their influence. These other products include cartoons, toys, RPGs, tabletop combat games, and cosplay. There can be no discussion of science fiction or Military Sci-Fi without including these two pillars of the genre.

5. The Forever War (1975)
While 1959's Starship Troopers may have laid down many of the elements of Military SF and gifted us with a idea how these novels should be written, it was a rather cold, incomplete book when take at its narrative face value despite its popularity and notoriety. The true founding classic of military science fiction, it terms of the heart-&-soul of the entire genre, is 1975's The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Much like Starship Troopers, it is a book that the vast majority of fans and creators within the genre read and with good reason: it is the best MSF novel of all time and a masterpiece of showing the horror and oddness of warfare...even if it many lightyears from Terra. Unlike Starship Troopers which has been made into an anime, an American CGI cartoon series, films, and video games; The Forever War has received nearly none of these...making it somewhat more pure(?) in a way and more contained to its original form of media. The stage play and graphic novel adaptations are rare and relatively unknown by the general sci-fi general public. For many of us Military SF creators, The Forever War is a massive influence and the standard to which we hold ourselves.  

6. Mobile Suit Gundam/ROBOTECH/Starblazers
The current state of anime and manga is simply outlandish to an old school Otaku like me. It is an easy affair today to consumer anime and manga. One simply has go to Amazon, or to the local comic book store, or even a major chain book store and slap down some cash. Back in my day, anime/manga was much more rare and those that loved it where cool-beyond-their-time (haha). By the mid-1980's, anime/manga had become more commonly accessible with several major Japanese Military SF anime arriving on the shores of America in the late 1970's/early 1980's. Due to this, I am going to rope all of these into one single entry.
What these anime series did was inspirit an entire generation watching to think about sci-fi a different way along with futuristic conflicts and pave the way for importers to market Japanese model kits, toys, and cell books. This forged many of us early watchers of anime to love combat mecha, space-going battleships, and wild haired pilots. I count myself very fortunate that I was living in Dallas at the time of Gundam and Starblazers release, because it altered who I was and who I was going to be. Then came ROBOTECH in 1986, and it blew the lid off of everything in my mind. I was hooked on not only anime but without knowing it, military science fiction. The very foundation of Future War Stories was laid when I was three watching Mobile Suit Gundam and Starblazers in my house in Richardson, Texas.

Way back in 2001, a little military science fiction game out that would change the face of the entire genre of military sci-fi and gaming as well. Since the release of HALO: Combat Evolved, a massive franchise has been created around the world of HALO that until recently was one of most profitable in history. Books, comics, other games, toys, and even cosplay were all influenced by the universe of HALO, giving the entire genre of military science fiction a boost. Despite the fall-down-the-stairs recently, HALO has a major influence on the gaming industry and on military science fiction with the injection of new blood and excitement into the genre. Certainly, HALO was a massive influence on me and I still consider HALO: Combat Evolve my favorite video game of all time. Given the caliber of the majority of the games and even the books, it likely that HALO's influence will remain bright despite the abortion that HALO 5: Guardians was. 

8. Warhammer 40,000 and Space Hulk
There is just something about the grimdark world of 40K and its future where there is only war. When I was going into comic book stores in the 1980's, I was in awe of the models and box art of WH40K and when I was old enough, I played Space Hulk and 40K...plastic crack had invaded my life. Beyond the tabletop battles was a mythology that we ate up because it was not typical sci-fi, it was more akin to D&D, and it was truly dark and exciting. This was new soil to grow new and different ideas about future wars and fictional universe influencing us to fuse elements of fantasy, history, and insanity into our brave new bloody worlds.

9. Ender’s Game
In 1985, an interesting take on alien invasion, child soldiers, and retribution was explored in Orson Scott Cards' award-winning military science fiction novel Ender's Game. Since publication, Ender's Game has remained on "best of" lists in both military sci-fi and regular science fiction. Much like Starship Troopers, it is on military reading lists, and it was also made into a major motion picture. While SST film of 1997 was only slightly related to the original source material, the Ender's Game film of 2013 was actually quite good and I believe it was better than the book in most parts...but it failed to be as much of a success as the SST film. Since the original release of the book, the universe has been expanded many times over with comics and books. The unique plot and approach has caused this book to be a major influence on many creators and fans...but, I am not one. This is the only entry on this list that I do not agree, but the facts are clear: Ender's Game is a major work in the genre of Military SF. I enjoyed the film much more than the book along with some elements of the book. However, I've never read anymore entries in the Ender's Game book series due to this...and I likely never will.

This 1986 sequel is the best military science fiction movie of all time...bar none. Since its debut, ALIENS has reminded one of the most influential Military SF works of all time and has inspired thousands of works and millions of creators. Not only is well done in terms of design of the future military hardware, it is also a blast to watch, rewatch, and watch again. It is a great movie that one of those films that is as good as you remember it. Everyone seems to draw inspiration from ALIENS around the globe, and it such on a rarified level, it has never been duplicated despite many failed and painfully efforts. In many ways, ALIENS is the standard, and we all, in one way or another, operate to that fact. I think I need to rewatch watch again!

*BONUS* War of the Worlds and Edison's Conquest of Mars 
The entire genre of military science fiction was founded via one single novel at the edge of the turn-of-the-last-century with H.G Wells' celebrated (and terrifying) novel: War of the Worlds. This 1898 novel called into question man's inherent sense of superiority when an alien invasion is called down from the red planet. Despite the advancements of science, mankind is unable to stop the armored walkers of the Martians armed with "heat rays". It is the smallest of invaders, Terran bacteria that stops the red invaders. Repeatedly cited as a book that laid down the foundations of science fiction, it is also the forgotten "sequel" that also spawn many common elements of military science fiction: Edison's Conquest of Mars. Relatively unknown today, Edison's Conquest of Mars was an newspaper serial that was an unauthorized sequel to the 1898 novel that picked up after the halted invasion when the Earth decides to strike back at the red planet. It ushered in several major elements of science fiction warfare itself and while unknown, it still echoes onward to this very day. There really cannot be modern science fiction nor Military SF without these two classics of the 19th century.

Next Time On FWS...
One of the most common types of science fiction weaponry is the almighty blaster...but what the hell is an "blaster" anyways? And there an real-steel equal to the sci-fi blaster that hangs from the tights of many our favorite heroes and villains? Join FWS next time when we explore and explain the archetype of science fiction weaponry: the blaster!


  1. Even if I was never really exposed to most of the stuff, I can't really disagree with your list. I look forward to the next post as always.

  2. Sean Robert MeaneyJuly 27, 2017 at 2:40 AM

    The steam arm is a ballad from the 18th century about a soldier from the nepoleonic wars who lost an arm olny to have it replaced by a mechanical steam powered arm. Its lyrics vary depending on the nation, but it goes back in history to a single source.

    Source: https://www.loc.gov/resource/amss.as113180

  3. Titan Comics is currently reprinting the Forever War graphic novel. I picked it up at my local comic shop and it's a great read, I recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it yet.

    This is the first I have heard of Star Frontier but I have seen artwork with those characters on the net from time to time. Strange that allot of seemingly great Sci-fi Table Top RPGs from the 80's like Traveler and Renegade Legion seeming go almost forgotten.

  4. Star Frontiers is awweessooomme! I played so much of it back in the day. The boxed set had TONS of counters and maps, you could play out massive battles! Don't forget the companion RPG of spaceships, "Knight Hawks". All sorts of golden age sci-fi space goodness versus those nefarious Sathar :) IIRC you can get all of SF/KH for free on the interwebs (legit free, not pirated, as this system is long OOP). I'd combo it with Traveller as a very influencial sci-fi RPG (if you are gonna combine Trek and Star Wars as a single item....:)

  5. VOTOMS...

    You missed out VOTOMS and arguably the importance of Fang of the Sun Dougram, which inspired BattleTech.

    Just saying. Nice piece.

  6. I had a list of 20 and cut it down to 10. VOTOMS, Hammer's Slammers, and Fang of the Sun Dougram, and BATTLETECH were all on there...part 2 maybe? FWS will be launching a new serial devoted to Military SF Anime! Watch the first installment on the Fang of the Sun Dougram!

  7. I have to throw in a good word for the Wing Commander Series, Gamma World, and Twilight 2000.

  8. It pains me that neither Battletech or Hammer's Slammers made this list.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing this awesome info! I am looking forward to see more postsby you!sci-fi nerd reading lists