This past week, we Book Smugglers read and highly enjoyed new novel Fortune’s Pawn from Rachel Bach. A military science-fiction novel (albeit one with heavy romantic overtones), Fortune’s Pawn is the first in a trilogy starring a young, highly skilled mercenary. This mercenary is deadly, likes to drink whiskey and sleep with pretty young things, is singularly career-driven and aspires to become a Devastator (the most elite of all soldiers in the universe).
Oh, and she’s a woman.
Meet Devi Morris, protagonist of the Paradox trilogy, and one of the most ambitious and stubborn heroines we Book Smugglers have had the pleasure of reading in a while. While Devi is a phenomenal lead, she isn’t the first female character to star in a military science-fiction series—in fact, she has plenty of good company. One of our favorite subgenres of science fiction is military SF, as often in these novels female characters (like Devi) are accepted as equals in combat, science and command scenarios.
If you’ve read Fortune’s Pawn and are looking for more female characters like Devi, this list is for you.
The Confederation Series by Tanya Huff
Starting with Valor’s Choice (or get the omnibus edition, A Confederation of Valor, containing Books 1 and 2), the Confederation series stars Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr as she is assigned various missions on behalf of the Confederation. Senior, competent and intelligent, Torin Kerr is pretty awesome at her job—being a great NCO, and a fantastic heroine.
Theirs Not to Reason Why Series by Jean Johnson
This relatively new series from Jean Johnson stars a precognitive heroine named Ia. Ia has chosen to enlist in the Terran Space Force Marines for a very specific purpose—to stop Armageddon—and it’s a very fine line she walks between disaster and salvation. Bonus points for the series: By choice, Ia enlists as a grunt on the ground (not as an officer, though she would be qualified by her significant psi abilities).
Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
The omnibus edition containing the first two novels (chronologically speaking) in the Vorkosigan saga, Cordelia’s Honor tells the story of Cordelia Naismith, Betan captain who finds her fate entangled with that of Lord Aral Vorkosigan. We love Miles Vorkosigan with the force of a thousand supernovas, but Cordelia’s prequels are equally amazing (if lacking a little bit of the polish of the later Miles books).
Vatta’s War Series by Elizabeth Moon
Kylara Vatta is the youngest of the prestigious Vatta Transport trading empire, and explicitly does not want a share in the family business. Even though she’s the most promising cadet at military academy, she’s kicked out on a technicality and has no other choice but to join the Vatta family ranks—as the captain of her very own ship. Shenanigans ensue.
Honor Harrington (& Stephanie Harrington) Series by David Weber
On Basilisk Station is the first book in the many adventures of Honor Harrington, captain of a slightly demoralized crew in the Royal Manticorian Navy, and two-legged companion to treecat companion Nimitz. Bonus Points: YA prequel series, starring Honor’s ancestor Stephanie Harrington, is equally awesome (try A Beautiful Friendship).
The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair
This one is science-fiction romance that involves both military and action components—and it’s one of our very favorites of the SFR genre. The Down Home Zombie Blues follows extraterrestrial Guardian Force commander Jorie Mikkalah, who is poised to stop a biotechnological infestation of Earth. Linnea Sinclair is the queen of science-fiction romance, and we highly recommend her.
The best book that we’ve read all year, hands down, Ancillary Justice challenges notions of gender (the Radchaii have no concept of gender and refer to all people as female) and pushes the boundaries of space-opera science-fiction (with military overtones). Following the consciousness of a ship in one of its ancillary bodies, Breq, this science-fiction novel is unexpected and utterly brilliant.
And that is our list! Doubtless, there are many other leading ladies of military science-fiction whom we have left out—let us know who your favorites are, and we’ll do our best to catch up!