Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to military science fiction

A character in a military jacket with a science fiction style.

Military science fiction is a captivating subgenre that blends elements of science fiction with military themes, conflicts, and technology. These narratives explore the potential impact of warfare and military advancements on society and individuals, offering readers and writers an engaging and thought-provoking storytelling experience.

This article provides an overview of the subgenre, discusses its key elements, offers techniques for compelling storytelling, and guides writers in choosing military science fiction as their genre of choice.

Understanding the reality genre

The reality genre is a broad category of storytelling that encompasses various subgenres, each focused on narratives grounded in reality or plausible scenarios. Examples include factualism, realism, and military science fiction. The appropriate reality genre for a writer depends on their interests, the story's focus, and the intended audience.

When to choose military science fiction as your reality genre

Military science fiction is an ideal choice for writers who:

  • Have an interest in military strategy, technology, and history
  • Seek to explore the potential impact of warfare and military developments on society and individuals
  • Aim to create stories that blend elements of science fiction with military themes and conflicts

The origins of military science fiction

Military science fiction has its roots in the early 20th century, when authors began incorporating military themes and technology into their science fiction narratives. This subgenre has since expanded to include various forms of storytelling, such as novels, short stories, films, and television.

Notable early military science fiction authors and works:

  • Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers"
  • Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War"
  • Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game"

Key elements of military science fiction

Military science fiction stories often showcase advanced technology and weapons that push the boundaries of current capabilities. These narratives explore the intricacies of warfare, both tactically and strategically, in futuristic or science fiction settings. Protagonists in these stories are typically soldiers, officers, or other individuals involved in military structures and operations. Military science fiction delves into the human aspects of warfare, including the bonds formed between soldiers and the physical and emotional toll of conflict.

The key elements of military science fiction:

  • Futuristic military technology and weaponry
  • Tactical and strategic warfare in a science fiction context
  • Characters involved in military hierarchies and conflicts
  • Exploration of themes such as camaraderie, sacrifice, and the impact of war

Techniques for compelling military science fiction storytelling

  • Conducting thorough research on military history, strategy, and technology: Writers should invest time and effort researching military concepts and advancements to create a believable and accurate foundation for their story.
  • Balancing technical detail with engaging storytelling and character development: While maintaining technical accuracy is crucial, writers should also focus on creating engaging narratives and well-developed characters.
  • Employing strategic and tactical elements as key narrative components: Military strategy and tactics should play a central role in the story, driving the plot and influencing character decisions.
  • Addressing the moral and ethical complexities of warfare and military actions: Writers should consider the ethical implications of their narratives and explore the moral complexities of warfare and military operations.

Examples of military science fiction in storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • "Starship Troopers" by Robert A. Heinlein - A controversial novel that explores themes of militarism, citizenship, and the ethics of war through the eyes of a young soldier in an interstellar conflict.
  • "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman - A critically acclaimed exploration of the psychological toll of war as soldiers fight a seemingly endless conflict across vast distances of space and time.
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card - A thrilling and thought-provoking story of a young genius trained to command Earth's forces in a desperate battle against an alien threat.

Popular films and television series:

  • "Starship Troopers" (film) - A satirical adaptation of Heinlein's novel, critiquing war and propaganda in a futuristic battle against alien bugs.
  • "The Matrix" series - While not exclusively military sci-fi, these films feature intense, highly stylized action sequences and an oppressive, technologically advanced enemy.
  • "Battlestar Galactica" (TV series) - A reimagining of the classic series, focusing on humanity's military and political struggles as they flee a genocidal robotic enemy.
  • "The Expanse" (TV series) - A complex, character-driven story set in a future where Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt are on the brink of war, focusing on the military and political implications of space travel.

Challenges and criticisms of military science fiction

  • Avoiding glorification of war and violence: Writers should be mindful of the potential for their stories to inadvertently glorify war or violence and strive to present a balanced perspective on the complexities and consequences of warfare.
  • Ensuring that military detail does not overshadow character development and plot: While technical accuracy is important, writers should ensure that military elements do not detract from character development and plot progression.
  • Addressing potential controversy or sensitivity around the portrayal of war and military actions: Writers should be aware that certain aspects of military science fiction may be controversial or sensitive for some readers and should approach these topics with care and consideration.

The enduring appeal of military science fiction lies in its ability to blend the excitement of science fiction with the drama and complexity of military conflict. This subgenre offers writers the opportunity to explore the potential impact of warfare on society and individuals, and delve into the intricacies of military strategy and technology. With continued growth and innovation in the field, military science fiction remains a compelling choice for writers seeking to create engaging and thought-provoking stories. It has found a home in novels, short stories, films, television, and even video games, and continues to evolve and expand within the reality genre.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.