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Earth is at war with alien attackers. (I believe most of the conflict takes place in the Jovian system at the time of the story.) Earth has suffered terrible losses, and the alien ships are incredibly difficult to destroy. The most effective human ships are essentially crewed single-shot missile carriers with a moderate chance of success and a low chance of survival.

The protagonist is being shipped out to captain a new missile ship; as he passes through Earth-based facilities, his observations tell us that most non-combatant roles are filled by women, and he notes approvingly of every pregnant woman he sees. (It is made clear that the birth rate is being pushed as high as possible to make up losses from the war.)

He arrives at his ship, and meets his crew. They are very hostile to him. It seems that his crew is composed of something like clones, except I recall them being described more as partly regenerated from salvaged body parts. But they are patterned after famous heroes of past battles, somehow gaining some of the capabilities of their prototypes.

Part of the reason they are hostile is that as created people they are second-class citizens. In confrontation with the captain it is revealed that they are looked down on because they are all sterile, thus only useful as cannon fodder.

The captain finally wins some sympathy from his crew when he reveals that he's been sent there because he is also sterile (some accident or previous battle injury) and so he is also no more than cannon fodder.

The story closes with the crew agreeing to try to fight hard under him, because it would be great to have a few more of him around the mess.

I recall this being a short story, or at least no more than novelette length. I would probably have read it approximately 30 years ago, in a paperback borrowed from a cousin.

marked as duplicate by Organic Marble story-identification Nov 30 '18 at 14:36

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  • sterile in what kind of context? Maybe its due to my lack of english language skills. But I can see here multiple meanings of what steriel could mean which are very different and all of them seem equally (un)likely to be meant in this context. – Zaibis Nov 30 '18 at 10:27
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    @Zaibis unable to reproduce – Thomas Nov 30 '18 at 10:34

"Down Among the Dead Men", a novelette by William Tenn, also the answer to the old question I am looking for the title of a short story about dead soldiers bodies being reused; first published in Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1954, available at the Internet Archive. Does any of these covers look familiar? Given that you read it in a paperback around 30 years ago, maybe this anthology is the likeliest.

"Fortunately," I whispered, "it wasn’t a wound that showed." Weinstein started to ask me something, decided against it and sat back. But I had told him what he wanted to know.

"A nucleonic howitzer. The way it was figured later, it had been a defective shell. Bad enough to kill half the men on our second-class cruiser. I wasn't killed, but I was in range of the backblast."

"That backblast.” Lamehd was thinking aloud. “That backblast will sterilize anybody within two hundred feet, unless he's wearing—"

"And I wasn't." I had stopped sweating. It was over. My crazy little precious secret was out. I took a deep breath. "So you see—well, anyway, I know they haven't solved that problem yet." Roger Grey stood up and said, "Hey!" He held out his hand. I shook it. It felt like any normal guy's hand. Stronger, maybe.

"Slingshot personnel," I went on, "are all volunteers. Except for two categories—the commanders and soldier surrogates." "Figuring, I guess," Weinstein asked, "that the human race can spare them most easily?"

"Right," I said. "Figuring that the human race can spare them most easily."

He nodded.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Yussuf Lamehd laughed as he got up and shook my hand too. "Welcome to our city."

"Thanks," I said, "son."

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    I am a bit embarrassed to have searched here only for "sterile" (no applicable hits) instead of "sterility" (which finds the previous question). And good guess on the anthology. I definitely remember that cover, I recognize the Angus McKie art! (I think that picture was even in Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 – DavidW Nov 30 '18 at 14:32

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