Classic Military Science Fiction Books by Veterans

military science fiction books

Calling all sci-fi enthusiasts to the bridge!

Military science fiction has been a staple of the genre since the inception of science fiction. Intergalactic wars, space robots, lasers—the whole nine yards. But, sometimes military sci-fi can get a bit fanciful, and feels less science, more fiction.

In this article, we’ll discuss four military science fiction books by veterans, and how their real-life experiences influenced their writing.

  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • Up the Walls of the World by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon)
  • The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  • The Mercenary by Jerry Eugene Pournelle

The Forever War by Joe Halderman

joe halderman

The Forever War is a science fiction novel written by American writer Joe Haldeman, published in 1974. The book is about a group of human soldiers battling against an alien civilization known as the Taurans.

The book won the Nebula Award in 1975 and the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1976.

Joe Haldeman is well-known for several best-selling science fiction novels, such as The Hemingway Hoax (1990) and Forever Peace (1997), and of course, The Forever War.

He was born in Oklahoma on July 9th, 1943. He is currently married to Gay Haldeman.

Halderman was drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War. Many of his experiences overseas influenced his writing, and after the war he went on to get an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

Halderman has been the president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) twice and is currently an adjunct professor teaching writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Up the Walls of the World by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon)

alice sheldon

Up the Walls of the World is a science fiction novel written by American writer and feminist Alice Sheldon, who goes by the pseudonym James Tiptree Jr., published in 1978.

The book explores telepathy and other psychic phenomena in the face of an alien invasion from the planet Tyree.  

Up the Walls of the World was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1979. However, the nomination was withdrawn by the author.

Alice Sheldon was born in Chicago in May, 1915, and passed away in May, 1987. She was married to William Davey in 1934, got divorced from him in 1941, and then married Huntington D. Sheldon, with whom she had three children.

In 1942, Alice joined the US Air Force as an intelligence officer, analysing aerial photographs of enemy territory. After WWII, she joined the CIA for a time before furthering her education at American Unioversity and George Washington University.

Over the course of her career, she won a Hugo Award, a Jupiter Award, and a Nebula Award thanks to her eclectic novels and short story collections.



The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

elizabeth ann scarborough

The Healer’s War is a science fiction novel written by American writer Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, published in 1988.

The book narrates the story of Lieutenant Kitty McCulley, an inexperienced young nurse trying to help horrendously damaged Vietnamese soldiers and civilians while battling on her own against overt racism amongst her colleagues.

Elizabeth Scarborough was born in Kansas in March, 1947. Her best-selling novel The Healer’s War earned her a Nebula Award in 1989.

Elizabeth worked as an RN in the US Army for five years and served in Vietnam during the eponymous war. Many of her experiences during the war are reflected in The Healer’s War.

Today, she is an active novelist, having published over 45 original novels and many more short stories.

She now publishes the bulk of her independent work through Gypsy Shadow Publishers.

The Mercenary by Jerry Eugene Pournelle

jerry eugene pournelle

The Mercenary is a science fiction novel written by American writer Jerry Pournelle, published in 1972.

The book is a part of a larger series, Falkenberg’s Legion. The series follows John Christain Falkenberg as he assembles force to protect Earth from extraterrestrial threats. The novel was nominated for the Hugo Award but did not get it.

Jerry Pournelle was born in Louisiana in 1933, and passed away in 2017. Pournelle never won a Hugo Award, stating that “money will get you through times of no Hugos, but Hugos won’t get you through times of no money”.

Pournelle served in the US Army during the Korean War, and later went on to get a Ph.D. in political science. Pournelle married Roberta Jane Isdell and had five children, who have also written science fiction in collaboration with their father.

He wrote numerous publications that later on were used by the US Military and Air Force Academies and the Native and Air War Colleges. He also served a term as SFWA president.

While these classic military science fiction books just scratch the surface of the genre, they are a pretty good starting place. What military sci-fi books do you like? Let us know in the comments below.

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