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Starship Troopers

A book by Robert A. Heinlein

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Do You Want to Live Forever?

  • Feb 23, 2010
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Now, boys and girls, a little lesson on fiction. A novel is a long story in which a developing series of events happens to a character or group of characters, in such a way that when it's over something has changed - one of the characters is a different person from who he or she is at the beginning. By that definition, "Starship Troopers" is not a novel, it's a slightly fictionalized political manifesto in which the characters involved remain pretty much as they were, only more advanced and at higher military rank. Furthermore, to an even greater extent than this author's other work, "Starship Troopers" advocates a politically conservative, militaristic society in which no one can vote in elections without previously serving in the armed forces in some way. And I'm a progressive liberal moonbat of the first water, and I loved this thing. How do you figure?

Well, because it's interesting, of course. Robert A. Heinlein, as clunky as his writing could be at times, spent a long career publishing dozens of science fiction stories in the major magazines of the day and a series of novels for young adults, to such an extent that many consider him to have been the premier sf writer of the 50s and early 60s (beating out Isaac Asimov for the title, but we'll discuss that some other time). You can say what you like about the tastes of sf magazine editors in that era, but they knew enough to refrain from publishing writers who couldn't communicate. That should tell you something about Heinlein's ability to grab the reader's attention.

Getting to the story of "Starship Troopers" (what there is of it), Juan Rico of Buenos Aires decides to join the military after high school on a sort of whim, because his friends are doing so, and very much against the wishes of his wealthy industrialist father. Because young Rico has no particular skills and graduated in the respectable middle of his class, he goes to the Mobile Infantry and becomes a grunt - that is, one who actually fires weapons in battle. At just about the same time, Earth finds itself at war with the Bugs, a perfect communist hive mind wherein the soldiers have no brains to speak of - they move and fight by the instructions of distant bug brains.

And, friends, that's pretty much it. Rico goes through basic training, talks to his instructors, superiors and buddies, rises in the ranks and engages in a number of space battles, meanwhile discussing the history and philosophy of his world. This is largely based on the notion that duty is nothing more nor less than self-preservation extended to one's society, and the political idea that the vote is morally the property only of those who have already demonstrated their willingness to put the needs of their society or country or world or what have you before their own. There's plenty of incident once the novel gets moving, but nothing in the way of development or plot.

As you might guess, there's a certain amount of lecturing, but Heinlein was a skillful and experienced writer and placed the lectures in the mouths of his characters rather than his narrator. Frequently, the lecturing character is in fact a classroom teacher, sometimes delivering a lecture and sometimes answering student questions or objections. A very good idea - since the characters engage with each other, the reader can feel engaged too.

When Rico himself delivers a lecture or its equivalent to the reader, Heinlein again demonstrates his skill and experience; Rico rarely or never discusses social or moral philosophy outside of some specific incident. Why, for instance, does his society endorse capital punishment, everything from paddling to executions? Well, for instance, Rico narrates an incident in which he overhears another trainee being generally discharged for a serious violation, and then overhears the commanding officer dressing down the drill instructor for permitting the violation in the first place. When a similar incident comes up in Rico's own training, he immediately takes his lashes with a perfect understanding of their rationale. None of this agrees at all with the psychological realities of punishment and its effects, but that would only be a problem if Heinlein were making a speech in Congress in favor of whippings in the Army. Since he's writing a story, the philosophy behind it strikes one as entertaining, and - almost - convincing.

Of course, he set up his argument according to his own biases. The enemy in this novel is a perfectly aggressive, expansionist hive mind - of course you have to engage in total war against an enemy like that. Anything less is asking for extinction. Heinlein was a Navy man and did some war work during WWII, and I have to wonder how much of the Bugs' character comes from anti-Japanese war propaganda. For an antidote to this approach and an examination of what might happen if we applied these tactics to the sort of enemy we might actually encounter these days, see Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War", written explicitly as an answer to "Starship Troopers". But to get back to the subject at hand.

Here as elsewhere in "Starship Troopers", it's Heinlein's unexcelled ability to combine highly technical information, philosophical musings and adventure storytelling that makes the novel so good to read. I should warn fans of the movie, however, that it's nothing like the novel. The message of the movie is that "war makes fascists of us all" - that's pretty much the opposite of Heinlein's message here. He believed that war, or at least military service and virtues, made good citizens of us all, and whether you agree with him or not, "Starship Troopers" makes his case about as well as anything could.

Benshlomo says, Know your enemy and you will know yourself.

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More Starship Troopers reviews
review by . March 19, 2010
On the face of it, an exciting juvenile adventure story in a marvelous classic hard sci-fi setting! The edition I read summarizes it well,       "The Mobile Infantry of the startling twenty-second century attracts young and eager to serve Johnnie Rico. He enters basic training as a naïve youth who must learn quickly how to cope with every soldier's problems of courage, discipline and loyalty. But he barely learns the value of freedom before he finds he must fight for …
review by . July 15, 2010
Starship Troopers- Read the book, nothing like the movie.
Probably my favorite Heinlein book of all time. Heinlein develops characters so quickly into real people, you find yourself pulling for them and get really invested in their wellbeing. Just enough philosophy to make you think, just enough drama to make you care, and amazing action scenes that put your feet in the boots that are involved.       It starts off with Johnny and a class he despises, History and Moral Philosophy. It is set in the future and the teacher discusses …
Quick Tip by . February 27, 2011
posted in SF Signal
   One of those stories that seems to get re-read on a regular basis, and one over which controversy continues to reign.      The novel was originally slated to be Heinlein's final juvenile tale, but was considered to be too "adult".  It was eventually released on its own and tells a coming of age tale, chronicling the rise of Johnny Rico through the ranks of the Mobile Infantry.      The story is largely responsible for the creation …
Quick Tip by . September 29, 2010
I always wondered how they'd make a movie out of this, but they did a good job. The book's better though.
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
I usualy don`t like sci-fi, but Starship Troopers is awesome. It's very easy to enter this world.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
The movie ruined this book's idea, but at least you can still read it and see why it is a sci fi classic. Must read book.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
Heinlein's libertarian manifesto in action story form.
review by . November 15, 2009
In many ways, this is as much a political treatise as it is a science fiction novel about interplanetary war. It is several centuries in the future and the Earth Federation is at war with species in other solar systems. The social structure is based on the military, only citizens can vote and the path to citizenship is military service. It is a harsh service, it is truly a situation where many try and few succeed. The training is tough and it is very easy for a recruit to resign.    Johnnie …
review by . September 17, 2006
Arguably Robert Heinlein's best work, STARSHIP TROOPERS is a classic piece of science fiction displaying an Earth of the future in a galactic war against a sentinel race of giant bugs that are set on destroying humankind. The story is told through the eyes of Juan Rico, a member of the Mobile Infantry. Rico explains how he joined MI, some of his adventures, and how he rose through the ranks. STARSHIP TROOPERS is actually more a book of philosophy and military thought set against the backdrop of …
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Juan Rico signed up with the Federal Service on a lark, but despite the hardships and rigorous training, he finds himself determined to make it as a cap trooper. In boot camp he will learn how to become a soldier, but when he graduates and war comes (as it always does for soldiers), he will learnwhyhe is a soldier. Many consider this Hugo Award winner to be Robert Heinlein's finest work, and with good reason. Forget the battle scenes and high-tech weapons (though this novel has them)--this is Heinlein at the top of his game talking people and politics.
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ISBN-10: 0441783589
ISBN-13: 978-0441783588
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Ace
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