The Expeditionary Force series is written by author Craig Odell, better known by his pen name Craig Alanson, which was a New York Times bestselling series.
The Expeditionary Force series was first written in 2016 with the most recent novel coming out in 2022.
There’s no official word on whether there will be more just yet, and while the 15th book is recognized as the endgame, Alanson is self-published so could easily pick the books up again.
There are some spinoffs, but today we are going to list the order of the original books, in the order they should be read, and discuss the themes of the books as well as their plots, pros, and cons, and more!
Keep reading to learn more about the Expeditionary Force series, and more, below.
Expeditionary Force Book Series
Expeditionary Force has been referred to as a space opera by many commentators, that doesn’t mean it has singing, but stages the dramatic events of space adventures, various narratives, the melodramatic relationships and politics of warfare, like Star Wars.
It follows the events after humanity has been thrust into a galactic war after an alien invasion of Earth. The main protagonist is Joe Bishop, a US army soldier, and Skippy, an advanced AI from an ancient civilization.
The first book in the series follows Joe Bishop as the Ruhar, the alien antagonist race in the story, invades Earth on Columbus Day.
Being Columbus Day, Alanson uses this framework to make many comments about American colonialism, as Earth itself is colonized by an alien race, just as Columbus Day indicates the beginning of US colonization of the Native Americans.
While the Ruhar invade Earth, another Alien race, the Kirstang, then also invade Earth in order to liberate the planet. As a result many humans start fighting for the Kristang against the Ruhar who continue to fight for control of Earth.
Basically, everything isn’t what it seems, the Human race is passed between these much superior alien races without much say and it turns out that they are part of a much wider conspiracy they didn’t realize, and it becomes unclear who the humans should actually be fighting for and against.
Soon Joe Bishop discovers Skippy, an ancient but intelligent AI from an ancient civilization that existed before all these races, Skippy helps things become more clear and sheds light on the warring factions that juggle for control of the human race like the pig skin of a football game.
- Alanson creates a fairly unique plot within the alien invasion genre
- Humorous characters and writing
- Complex intergalactic conflict
- Gets a little confusing plot wise
- Can get a bit repetitive
In the second installment of Alanson’s space opera we get to see a lot more backstory for the conscious AI, Skippy.
After successfully figuring out which race was enslaving them, the Kristang, and successfully freeing themselves from serfdom, Joe Bishop has to make good on a promise.
Bishop promised Skippy he would go back into the black vastness of space to attempt to discover more AIs like Skippy and perhaps some trace of the transcendent creators of the universe, the Elder race that Skippy seems to originate from.
But Earth’s politicians force Bishop to take a special team with him made up of scientists and military personnel alike, to Joe and Skippy’s dismay.
As they go into the deepest reaches of space, they must ensure that no more alien races see they have this technology that allows them to reach these outer rings of space where the Elder race once lived.
Along the way they intercept communications suggesting the Kristang are enlisting the help of another race, the Thuranin.
- Brings characters into a slightly different plot and setting
- Expands on previous characters with backstory
- A fun read for those who like science fiction
- It’s basically just the two main characters, Joe and Skippy, and it gets pretty repetitive even if you like these characters
After saving Earth once again in the previous installment of Expeditionary Force, Joe and Skippy, and their spec ops team, The Merry Band of Pirates, continue their adventures on the planet they nickname Paradise.
Here they pick up previous storylines from the first book, where the planet was introduced.
Now controlled by the Ruhar who plan to give the planet Paradise to the Kristang, which would mean certain death for the humans on the planet, Joe and Skippy have to save the planet all while not revealing their super advanced alien technology to the humans, remaining undetected.
- More Skippy and Joe banter
- Again Alanson does well to create a completely different plot to the previous installments, rather than carrying on one long storyline
- Banter gets a bit repetitive between the main characters
- You either really like the characters or you will find them really annoying
- Lacks a coherent edit like previous books
The book is an attempt by Alanson to switch up the characters a little after much criticism of the books being repetitive.
This story picks up where the third installment finishes, and follows Major Emily Perkins as she, and new Ruhar liaison Nert, try to bring peace to Paradise after a successful expelling of Kristang forces.
Perkins has to rebuild the largely destroyed Paradise, attempting to enlist help from the resistant Ruhar.
She tries to create a political alliance with the Ruhar, who are disinterested, in order to help rebuild the planet to its former glory. There’s no Skippy or Joe in the story, which some will be glad for, and some will hate.
- Brings some well needed new characters
- Ties up some plot ends
- Expands on the story of Paradise
- Emily and Nert have very similar banter to Joe and Skippy
- Some find it quite slow and boring
- Less space adventure, more interracial politics
In Spec Ops, Joe and Skippy managed to destroy an alien ship that was bound for Earth, from another alien race known as the Thuranin.
The main plot line in this book follows them as they discover this aforementioned alien race is sending yet another starship to Earth, with the goal to enslave the human race.
In order to save Earth again Joe and Skippy have to combine forces once more to get the Kirstang and the Ruhar to work together to defeat this threatening alien race of the Thuranin.
This requires some serious space politics in order to stop the Kirstang from helping the new species. We also learn more about Skippy’s race along the way.
- Learn more about Thuranin race
- Expands a little more of Skippy’s character
- Plot lines are getting quite repetitive
- Dialogue gets old even for those who enjoy it
- Still lack coherent editing
- Lots of space politics in this one
This installment of Alanson’s space opera deals with many of the decisions made in the previous book in order to save Earth, and also adds some more suspense through Skippy’s omnipotent character being nerfed and humbled.
After starting an alien civil war among the Kristang, a necessary move to stop their collaborative invasion of Earth with Thuranin, Joe and Skippy, and their Merry Ban of Pirates, continue to clean things up politically in order to make sure Earth isn’t invaded again.
This goal is put into question as Skippy is suffering from a virus that threatens his and everyone else on the ships’ life. They have to seek out more of the ancient AI race of Elders to try to save Skippy before the titular ‘zero hour’.
If the zero hour is reached Skippy will die, along with the decrepit ship he has been single-handedly piloting the past three books, as well as Earth itself.
- Some welcome suspense added to this novel
- Skippy’s plot armor is questioned
- Plot moves a little quicker under the suspense
- Alien invasion plot line feels overused at this point
- Some find there is just too much dialogue and not enough action
In this installment we see the story of Major Perkins on Paradise, from the Trouble On Paradise story, picked up again.
The novel starts with Joe and Skippy encountering their normal alien invasion issues, this time two starships present a serious threat to Earth.
Then the story switched point of view to Major Perkins as she forms the Mavericks, a tactical group attempting to prove themselves to the Ruhar, their overseers.
In doing this they inevitably end up in a predicament that they can’t solve, and the crew of the Flying Dutchman, Skippy and Joe pretty much have to save both Paradise and Earth.
- Tells two stories at the same time which join at the end
- Provides some welcome respite from Joe and Skippy
- Freshens the general storyline a bit
- Some don’t enjoy the Paradise narrative
- Some overly specific military slang and jargon
With the Dutchman in worse shape than ever and Skippy being more of an asshole than ever, thanks to his previous reboot, the Merry Band of Pirates must now face yet another threat of alien invasion that seems even more impossible than the last.
This time it’s the Malholhx that are sending two ships to investigate the mess that Joe and Skippy created last time.
With their now slightly different crew on a still pretty decrepit Flying Dutchman are faced with some seriously impossible tasks to save Earth, going behind enemy lines, stealing ships, all while cracking the silly wanted these characters are known for.
- The alien invasion seems near impossible and they have to beat all the odds
- Skippy’s character develops a little due to previous events
- Another alien invasion just gets repetitive
- Doesn’t directly answer some leering cliffhangers from other novels
As the title suggests, Joe and Skippy are really put through their paces in this novel as life itself is threatened by another alien invasion.
As a result of the seriousness of this new mission, Alanson’s writing is much more hard hitting and serious, full of tension, rather than being so haphazard and jokey.
A Malholhx invasion is seriously threatening the universe in this book, and many enjoy how the alien invasion feels really serious in this eighth book, the general plot is extended quite a bit and Alanson takes a lot of risks with certain characters’ lives.
- Book has a much more serious and hard hitting tone
- No characters are safe in this one
- A lot more tension, allowing the humor to be more welcome than just scaffolding
- For many, it’s just another rehashing of the alien invasion story
In this novel we see Joe and his Pirates, and Skippy, deal with the fact that Earth is no longer savable, and that somehow they need to find a way to evacuate thousands of humans from the planet Earth to a much safer part of the universe.
Luckily they’re in their new ship Valkyrie, not the Flying Dutchman, which Joe uses to make the aliens regret their attempted invasions.
A second plot emerges halfway through concerning another set of aliens who are experimenting on human children, when Joe plans yet another impossible rescue mission Skippy unearths some truths that lead to a particularly sticky cliffhanger that will leave you wanting more.
- Story continues this more serious tone from the last novel
- Some big plot points are covered that really move things along
- Huge cliffhanger and revelations in this one
- Many don’t enjoy the second half of the novel nor the choices Alanson makes with some characters
This novel follows directly on from the pot twist and cliffhanger in Valkyrie. It seems Skippy, unbeknownst to even him, is part of these alien invasions.
But the previous novel is resolved as Skippy comes back to save Joe, but this comes with its own consequences.
As the Malholhx start to pass through the same wormhole Skippy uses to save Joe, not only is Earth’s survival in question, but Skippy also has to prove his loyalty to his crew after the revelations of the previous novel.
- People enjoy that is directly resolves and deals with the revelations and cliffhanger of the previous novel
- Certainly darker and more serious in the one of these later novels
- Some dislike the potential padding out of the book, having had so many cliffhangers to resolve
- Another repetitive alien invasion, literally the same in every novel
Finally, it seems that Joe, Skippy, and the Pirates have brought peace on Earth with an uneasy truce and the new weapons obtained by Earth making it into a galactic player itself.
Joe enters into an interesting romance strand narrative with Margaret. Yet, peace is inevitably thrown into question as the alien’s now need to make sure Earth is not a threat to their own existence.
We get a POV from a Malholhx as they seek to capture Skippy to ensure their own safety.
- Some interesting changes of narrator
- More personal development for Joe’s character
- Interesting changes to political climate presented in novels previously
- Some found that there was lots of filler in the middle
- Some didn’t like the romance narrative
- Another. Alien. Invasion.
Now Earth is in the big leagues, with their own weapons of mass destruction, while many thought this might lead to a peaceful stalemate, with truces proving to be a failed idea, it has led them into a position of mutually assured destruction.
But Earth can’t back down, and Joe has an idea to hit the remaining aliens back as hard as they ever have, but with an impending ice age caused by retaliating forces, everything seems a little more high risk. It seems that Skippy and Joe’s luck is soon going to run out.
- Slightly more interesting twist to the inevitable alien invasion
- Interesting to see Earth’s own invasions proving unsuccessful
- Continuing character development
- The Maverick storyline feels like filler to most
- Classic middle book syndrome, trying to set up the end
Joe’s master plan to convince the rest of the galaxy that Earth has a world-ending weapon has seemed to have worked, until their rivaling species seem to have decided to call Earth, and Joe’s, bluff.
Even Joe’s Earthly superiors, who are blind to his bald faced lie, have asked him to release his super weapon. Without actually having any super weapon, just a political whim, Joe has to figure out how to wave off another impending doom without losing face.
If this isn’t enough, Skippy is starting to become more certain that another Elder AI is waking up, which could eclipse all their issues and lead to a total blackout.
- Provides an interesting plot change as the endgame is slowly being set up
- Joe’s decisions seem to actually have consequence in this installment
- Still lots of filler fans are sick of
- More repetition of the invasion narrative
In the penultimate novel of the Expedition Force series, all our understandings of the powerful Elder AI is finally put into question as Skippy and Joe deal with the fact they will have to face a now awake Elder AI that can rival their presumed and real weapons of defense.
Everything is dialed to 11 as Skippy has to learn about this nemesis he has to face, and as the galaxy also learns of these waking sentinels, everything becomes a little less certain as the pieces finally arrange themselves for an endgame.
- Fans happy to learn more about Elder AI Sentinels
- All plot fillers now matter as they are tied up in preparation for the final novel
- Things feel much more important in the penultimate novel
- Lots of build up for the last novel
- Hard to keep track of all the plot lines and continuous fake outs from Joe
In the final installment of the series we rejoin Skippy in the embarrassing wake of his manipulation by his nemesis AI, facilitating a message from the AI to the Elders themselves.
This message has triggered all the Elders to return to our universe to see what has gone on since they have been gone, and Skippy fails to see how waking them up this way isn’t going to end in all-out destruction of Earth, of Paradise, of literally everything.
On top of that basically every race they had communications with in the past are also wanting Joe and Skippy’s heads for this hiccup. Will they survive this final episode? You’ll have to read it to find out.
- Lots of wrap up of plot lines
- People glad to have some sort of ending
- Lots of final moments with the characters
- The ending is as predictable as literally every solution they have to the endless alien invasion
- Many find the final act is rushed while the opening acts are too long
Many love the Expeditionary Force novels and those who have read all 15 books without abandoning it halfway through will always have something to say about the ending based on their own commitment to the story itself.
While many have problems with the books, if you read all 15 you start to just accept the faults of Alanson’s writing style.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Expedition Force Continue?
It’s hard to say, with the final book coming out so recently. Many fans think the way that it was left at the end has meant that should Alanson want to, he can probably return to the series, or at least provide some spinoffs or prequels.
For the moment it seems that this is very much the end, at least from what Alanson has alluded to in his interviews, but it’s unsure whether it is the end. Being self-published Alanson can kind of do what he wants.