I found it difficult to pick just three books, but, I finally settled on: The Third World War by General Sir John Hackett, the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison and In Death Ground by David Weber and Steve White.
I know, technically, I’ve cheated by including a couple of series in my ‘three’ books choice – but, honestly, I couldn’t choose a favourite, so, I’ve used time-honoured, artistic licence to squeeze the Stainless Steel Rat and Starfire series along with the Third World War into ‘three books which inspire me’.
Today, The Third World War by General Sir John Hackett is considered to be an alternate history book. But, when I read it as an impressionable teenager, in the early 1980’s, with aspirations to join the army as soon as I could, the Third World War ensured I had no illusions of my choice of career – medals, tea and biscuits after defeating those pesky communists?
General Hackett worked at the highest levels of NATO and had intimate knowledge of its planned responses if NATO forces were called upon to react to a Warsaw Pact incursion. Along with several other retired generals, admirals and political/economic experts he put together a scarily realistic telling of how the war unfolded and its conclusion. Though not written in the alternate history style that we recognise today, it succeeded in gripping me from the first page to the back cover and, I am certain, fired my undiminished interest in alternate history; how a few, apparently, unconnected decisions could change the entire course of humanity.
For anyone who has never read it, I can thoroughly recommend The Third World War as an insight into the thinking of the opposing power blocs at the height of the Cold War.
Now, on to James Bolivar diGriz aka Slippery Jim… What can I say… A con man, a bank robber and a criminal mastermind. Slippery Jim, though undoubtedly the most accomplished thief in the known galaxy, has a warped sense of morality. He only steals from those who are insured or in Jim’s eyes are bad and deserve it while he loathes killing.
Harry Harrison brings you a character with dubious morals who you just cannot help but root for. The books don’t take themselves too seriously so they aren’t heavy going and today they could quite happily fall into the space opera genre.
All in all, a great introduction to science fiction which is exactly what they were for me.
Set in a distant future where humans travel the universe via warp points, the plot revolves around a human survey squadron. The squadron inadvertently enter the space of a race who in reaction launch a war on multiple fronts. The war brings massive loss of life to both sides and will only end when either humanity or the aliens are extinct.
For me, what makes this a great story is that the books are well written (a given with David Weber and Steve White) and that the story explodes from one vast battlefront to another while following the exploits of the heroes and great leaders who together have a chance of winning the war.
Any author or fan of military sci-fi understands that the reader must become engaged with colourful and conflicted characters to truly enjoy the story. In these books, I believe, the authors have set an incredibly high bar, and it’s a bar I dream of achieving in my own work.