Let me begin by giving a heartfelt thanks to all of the men and women that have served this country, all of those that put themselves in the line of danger to ensure the safety of all. This is your day, and I hope to take this article in the spirit that it is written. I see these characters, though some of them are better described as caricatures, as tribute to all soldiers.
With that being said, where to begin? Unlike the piece I did for Father’s Day (here) where it was a struggle to find subjects to talk about, the genre is rife with soldiers. In fact, Military Science Fiction is a vast sub-genre in itself. The problem now is where to draw the line. First, I am going to stick with the Sci-Fi genre, no Fantasy. Not that I have anything against Fantasy. I read some of it, but I have to do something to whittle down the pack. Second, no comic book characters, including those in the movies; it’s just not my thing and perhaps a whole other article. In the end, what you are going to get are some of my favorites. I’m sure I’ll miss some of yours, feel free to leave a friendly note in the comments.
My other issue with this piece is how to present the characters. Often you see articles in this vein that attempt to rank the characters based on their exploits in the stories. One, I don’t see a best to worst in this list and two, I’d have to go back a re-read most of these books to cover any details. What this means is that, much like my Sci Fi Readers Starter Kit (here), you’ll be getting a bit of a narrative in hopes of inspiring you to go out and read.
In no particular order, let’s start with some of the classics:
Juan Rico – Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Forget the movie with the same title; it was very loosely based on the novel. The novel follows the career of Juan Rico in the Federal Service mostly through a series of flashbacks. He joins the service fresh out of High School against the wishes of his father who disowns him because of this decision.
Though there is very little action in the book, it provides a depiction of one man’s journey through enlistment, perhaps for the wrong reasons, boot camp, and combat. At some point, Juan makes the decision to become a career soldier and ships off to Officer Candidate School to become a Lieutenant leading Rico’s Roughnecks (not the battlefield promotion shown in the movie).
Donal Graeme – Dorsai! (The Chylde Cycle) by Gordon R. Dickson
In the far future, the human race has separated into specific subcultures, each of which focuses on specific talents. The Dorsai,to which Donal belongs, produce warriors. They are bred and trained to be the the finest warriors in the galaxy who hire out as mercenaries to the other planets. This series of books follows Donal through various actions where he eventually discovers that he is something more than just a warrior.
The first book in the series was up for a Hugo award in 1960 but it lost out to Starship Troopers; it’s definitely worth reading.
Karl Sten – The Sten Adventures by Alan Cole and Chris Bunch
How can you not like this guy? Named after the ubiquitous line of British sub-machine guns that originated in World War II, he started out as the son of indentured servants on an industrial planet. After his parents are killed, he becomes an outlaw who, through a turn of events, gets recruited into the military and eventually becomes the leader of Team 13.
Team 13 is the Sci-Fi version of a Navy SEAL team, highly trained, highly motivated, and heavily armed. They travel around the galaxy solving problems for the Eternal Emperor. Sten eventually figures out the secrets behind the Eternal Emperor and, perhaps, frees the galaxy.
Dominic Flandry – Ensign Flandry (Flandry of Terra Series) by Poul Anderson
Dominic was the son of a minor noble in the Terran Empire. As I recall, he was not all that likable of a fellow, stealing his best friend’s girlfriend, using his family influence to increase his power in a decaying empire, and being a James Bond-like womanizer. He is not above using blackmail or seduction to further his own cause.
Trust me, he does get better turning his efforts to keeping some remnants of the empire together. In fact, he’s such a strong character that he appears in several books by other authors.
Virgil Samms – First Lensman (The Lenseman Series) by E. E. Doc Smith
This is actually the second book in the series. The first book, Triplanetary, sets the stage for the conflict between the Arisians and Eddorians. These two ancient races represent the good and evil in the universe. The Arisans also secretly promote a breeding program on Earth that eventually leads to the birth of Virgil Samms. When Virgil comes around the Arisans, based on his leadership and integrity, recruit him to become the first Lensman and create the Galactic Patrol. The Lens is a device created by the Arisans that give the bearer mental powers that assist in their duties. The key thing about the Lens is that only those deemed worthy of bearing one can touch one. Anyone else will experience extreme pain or death. Virgil travels the galaxy recruiting Lensmen from other races who become the protectors of the galaxy, battling the evil Boskone. Other than the books, there was an Anime film loosely based on the books that is not too bad.
Ender Wiggin – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
This is perhaps the definitive novel depicting the potential of a military system that has gone out of control to create the ultimate warriors. Ender (his real name is Andrew; read the book to find out why his nickname is Ender) is a particularly ruthless child who is recruited to attend battle school and lead the battle against the “Buggers” that attacked Earth. Battle school is exceptionally rigorous and demanding, but Ender is able to build his team and successfully eradicate the alien race. But is this this a true victory?
This is one of the rare instances that I would highly recommend the movie that was based on the book. I find that this is one instance that the movie captured the essence of what the author intended.
William Mandella – The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
William begins his career as a physics student who gets dragged into the United Nations Exploratory Force, an elite force comprised of highly intelligent and physically fit individuals, to fight the mysterious Taurans. This book depicts the trials of operating in harsh environments against an enemy that is much more advanced technologically. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of this particular work is that it does not ignore the physics of relativity. After a tour of duty, William returns to a world that is decades beyond when he left. Though he tries to fit into the new society, he finds that the only world he knows is to return to the fight.
Now, on to some more modern works:
John Perry – Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
In a different twist on the space soldier story, John Perry joins the Colonial Defense Force when he turns 75. He is then given a new, enhanced body and trained to fight among the hordes of aliens that populate the galaxy. The CDF is manned primarily with elderly retirees like John to hide the grim truth of Earth’s precarious position from the rest of humankind. The CDF personnel are not allowed to return to Earth, as far as anyone on Earth is concerned they are dead and buried.
Adam Cain – The Fringe Worlds (The Human Chronicles Saga) by T. R. Harris
Adam Cain is a Navy SEAL who gets abducted by aliens, and along a common theme of the space soldier, discovers that the galaxy beyond Earth is not a friendly place. In his travels, he discovers that it is not only beneficial to have been a SEAL, it is also beneficial to just be human.
Humans are significantly stronger and faster than almost all of the alien races that he encounters. The series covers Alan’s struggle to save Earth from the hordes of aliens who wish to remove the threat of more humans entering the fray.
Jasmine Yamane – The Empire’s Corps (The Empire Corps Series) by Christopher G. Nutall
Jasmine is an Imperial Marine under the command of Captain Edward Stalker. Stalker and his Marines are exiled to a remote planet. Exiled for standing up for the truth in a decadent, decaying empire. Shortly after their exile, the Imperial Navy is pulled out of the outer rims leaving them stranded to fight for their own future. Jasmine is an exemplary soldier, rising fairly quickly to the rank of Lieutenant based on her leadership and loyalty.
What I found most captivating about this series, besides the action, is the commentary in the afterwords in each book that describes historical and perhaps current events that motivated the story. History lessons buried in Sci FI, it’s a wonderful thing, I would also recommend Nutall’s Ark Royal series.
Again, the list of books could go on for much, much longer, but I’m going to stop it here and leave some for next year. I would stop here, but my cohorts here at SciFi4Me.com would most likely disown me if I completely left out their suggestions. I’m going to shift gears a bit here and actually pick out some of the top soldiers here and even tell you why.
There are several to choose from here, so let’s take a look at some of them. Yoda – perhaps a soldier a long, log time ago, but by the time the movies were made, he was a general and more importantly, a mentor. Obi-Wan Kenobi – a pretty good spy and negotiator, a bit of a pacifist though. Luke Skywalker – too much of a one man show, even after becoming a Jedi. Maybe I’m off, but I don’t see the Jedi Knights as soldiers, they are peace keepers and it’s a different line of work. The true soldier in Star Wars? Chewbacca is my pick. The Jedis would run off on their own secret causes, but Chewbacca would always cover your back even to the point of rescuing the most annoying member of the group, C-3PO.
Even though there are several aspects to this movie that really bother me (what branch of any military would send the whole unit down to the planet with absolutely no backup or support crew on the orbit ship?), it is still one of my favorite movie depictions of Sci Fi soldiers. It’s hard to pick the outstanding soldier here, it’s a hardcore platoon of veterans (except for Gorman). Hicks and Vasquez are prominent, but even Hudson pulls through after being slapped around a bit.
This is a good one, I get to compare and contrast the original series and the new series and the pick from both would have to be Starbuck. Gender differences aside, these are two very different characters. In the original series Starbuck, played by teenage heartthrob Dirk Benedict (I feel obligated to mention that, he grew up in a town that I am quite familiar with), was the pretty boy, swashbuckling ace pilot that could do no wrong. Unfortunately, his character suffered from low budget TV writing and was one-dimensional but still a man that you could count on in the heat of battle.
Starbuck in the new series was much more dynamic. She was a deeply troubled individual, arrogant and reckless at times, but deeply loyal and trustworthy when the chips were on the table. I suppose, oddly enough, that her most endearing quality was that, one episode you would love her, and the next, you would hate her. To me that made the character more real, dealing with her troubled past and the day-to-day trials of a straggling fleet of ships trying to escape the horrors of the Cylons. She lashed out from time to time to relieve the stress, but in the cockpit, was calm and collected.
This is not, by any means, a complete list, but it’s a few characters that stand out in my mind. If you are a fan of military Sci Fi maybe this will give you some books to consider. I’m looking forward to hearing some of your suggestions; I already have one from my editor – The Honor Harrington series. Happy reading!