The top Military Fiction authors and their best books

Ok, this is one with some depth!

I’m defining this genre as military history based on real people and activities, with fictitous (or loosley based) dialogue.

For best book, I’m going with Killer Angels by Jeff Shaara (Gettysburg the movie was based on this). The follow up books were by his son and excellent as well.

Gods and Generals and Gone For Soldiers both excellent.

My favorite military fiction author is Bernard Cornwell, with the Sharpe series the front runner. (24 total books, repetitive enough to want to tear your eyes out).

WEB Griffin is pretty good, but formulaic. Been years since I read him. I remember enjoying The Corps.

does Ivanhoe count? If so, that.

Patrick O’Brian and the Aubrey-Maturin novels, aka the Master and Commander series.

Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. His best work by far, not the least because it takes place outside the Ryanverse.

Harold Coyle Team Yankee was probably my favorite of those cold war speculative war books

Gerry Carroll’s (RIP) three Vietnam era novels (Ghostrider One, No Place To Hide and North SAR) are all great and not too well known.

And also because Larry Bond wrote most of it.

I second The Killer Angels and the O’Brian books. Shaara’s son’s work left me wholly unimpressed.

Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth is outstanding. Maybe not quite fit for this list, but anyone who reads the sort of books listed here will love it so I don’t care.

O’Brians’ Aubrey-Maturin novels. Numerous other Napoleonic era sailing series, but I’d place this above all the others.

Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, and the Richard Sharpe Napoleonic novels. Is there a book from Cornwell that doesn’t include the phrase: “Kill the bastards!”? :-)

And not always including a military campaign (though those that do are usually the best), George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels.

Matterhorn was great, Vietnam book.

Most of my military fiction are based on fictional wars.

I really enjoyed the earlier novels of Dale Brown (Silver Tower, Sky Master, Chains of Command), Larry Bond (Red Pheonix, Vortex) and Harold Coyle (Team Yankee, Sword Point), Payne Harrison (Thunder of Erebus). Not sure about the latest stuff from Brown as he churns out 3 a week these days and there’s only so many times you can read about McLanahan disobeying orders. Clancy’s Red Storm Rising probably tops the list though.

More recently;

Eric L Harry - Arclight aka Oops we’ve accidentally nuked America. Lube up, this is gonna hurt.
Eric L Harry - Invasion. China’s eventual attempt at global conquest.
Clancy - The Bear Vs The Dragon. I liked the military bits, although he slips into a rather ugly Sinophobic slant outside of the action sequences.

Guilty pleasures;

Richard Marcinko. I prefer his earliest stuff, especially the one with Manny Tanto. However, I wouldn’t be suprised if people find him to be a total asshole and hate his books. The Marmite of special forces fiction.

Sven Hassel and Leo Kessler. Achtung! Spitfire! Schnell! Schnell! Although I’ve not read Kessler in years, there was stage I got all of them from the library. I remember really enjoying a few which followed ex-SS in the French Foreign Legion in Vietnam too but can’t remember which ones they are, probably the SS Wotan or Otto Stahl books.

Edit: Doh! I went back to the thread list for this subforum after posting and found another military fiction thread probably more suited to this reply. I’ll leave it as it is though.

I second, or possibly third, the Bernard Cornwell recommendation, though more for the Saxon series, the Grail series and Agincourt (a standalone novel) than for Sharpe. I like Sharpe, but after the first few books it gets pretty repetitive.

Simon Scarrow writes some fantastic Roman era novels. Start with “Under the Eagle” and move on to the rest of the Eagle series from there. Fast paced, detailed and full of action and intruigue. Good stuff.

Steven Pressfield. “Tides of War”, “Gates of Fire”, and “The Afghan Campaign” (oddly, he also wrote the golf-centric novel “The Legend of Bagger Vance” as his debut offering). He’s a little on the dry side, sometimes getting bogged down in the details, but he defintely brings actual moments in ancient history to life with characters that place you right in the middle of events. “The Afghan Campaign” (about Alexander the Great’s campaign in the region) was especially interesting as it’s parallels to the current U.S. situation in Afghanistan are easy to see.

Michael Curtis Ford : “The Ten Thousand”, “Gods and Legions”, “The Last King”. Ford is every bit as entertaining as Cornwell, and researches his people, places and history very well. The end result is an interesting and fairly accurate retelling of historical events though the eyes of fictional characters that give an interesting view on the subjects. “Gods and Legions” is an interesting examination of Julian, the Roman emperor who tried to reintroduce Hellenistic religion to the Christian empire. “The Last King” is an account of Mithradates of Pontus, who was one of early Rome’s greatest threats for many years.

One of my favorites who no longer writes anymore was Craig Thomas, who in a way started the techno-thriller genre with Firefox in the late 70s. In many instances his books are very description-heavy, where the hero (a spy, former spy, ex-spy or military man) usually is solo and the action-oriented sequences are long and thought out. Usually spy/political thrillers of one type or the next. Nearly all of the books are character-related one way or another. (For fans of Firefox there are a total of four Mitchell Gant works.)

Of course I back Bernard Cornwell in pretty much anything that doesn’t involve the American Civil War.

Larry Bond has kind of derailed I feel but his first few books are decent (Red Phoenix, Vortex, Cauldron). Similarly Ralph Peters had some interesting works before turning into a conservative nutcase (War in 2020, Red Army). Payne Harrison’s first book, Storming Intrepid, was pretty good if not mostly improbable.

— Alan

I haven’t read his Starbuck stuff. I assume that’s one to miss?

I would.

He has a new book coming this month called The Fort, which is set during the Revolution and features a young (and not yet knighted) John Moore of Corunna fame.

— Alan

Ugh. Sorry - can’t stand this guy. IMO, “Gates of Fire” is “300” in novel form and that is not a good thing. The anachronisms in that basically ensured I won’t ever trust him in another book.

Cornwell is definitely the king of military fiction today.

C. S. Forester has a number of stories (“Death to the French”, “The Ship”) beyond the Hornblower books - definitely worth a read.

Alan Evans is an author who wrote a number of WWI naval books(Audacity, Thunder at Dawn, etc). Seem to recall that they were pretty good, though that may just be the memories.

Lest we forget: Erich Marie Remarque “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Probably the most powerful war novel ever written.

My Civil War fanatic friend loves Cornwell, but warns me to stay away from his Civil War stuff.

It was the layering of one person recounting another person recounting yet another person’s story that got bad. I saw some potential and thought, well, first time out, there might be something there if he improves

One person recounting another person recounting another person recounting yet another person, and then moving back in and out of those layers to the point I had no idea who’s perspective I was reading at times. He didn’t get better, he got worse. And the anachronisms got worse, too. Lots of people like the graphic combat sequences, but overall, I don’t recommend him, much less place him up there with the best.

I’ve read maybe half of the Sharpe books. I like them, but couldn’t maintain momentum and once I moved on I haven’t gone back.

I’ve read the Hornblower saga and highly recommend it. Forester was absurdly talented and I’m glad he chose to spend so much time in a period I find fascinating.

I started Master and Commander but did not finish it and eventually gave it away. I’m not sure what the difference was between O’Brian and Forester to make me like one and not the other.

I’m in the midst of Alexander Kent (pseudonym)/Douglas Reeman’s Bolitho series, which is also naval fiction, starting in the 1770s and follows its main character all the way to 1815 and then switches to his nephew after the Napoleonic Wars. They’re easy to read, like Cornwell, and quite enjoyable, although Kent is no C.S. Forester. There’s more explicit characterization, which I don’t particularly care for, though it’s not so frequent as to be off-putting. And Kent rarely switches characters except to show other characters remarking on how awesome the protagonist is, which is kind of dumb, in my opinion. Other than those two (admittedly minor) flaws, I do recommend the series and I’m speeding through them.

This is the first recommendation I can back unreservedly. And the movie’s good as well.

Ivana Hoe