on 17 September 2005
Robert Heinlein has crammed a gripping story, some fascinating philosophy, ideology and politics into this relatively short book. And incredibly, for a book about soldiers at war, there's hardly a word that could be categorised as 'swearing'. The soldiers are pleasant and wholesome, if occasionally a bit gruff. The reason they are so well behaved is that good manners and a sense of responsibility are "paddled" (a euphemism for beating) into them, resulting in "lumps" (swelling injuries) from an early age. In this future society anyone may vote if they earn the right by volunteering a couple of years of their life (which they may well lose before ever getting the franchise) in the service of the state. Juan (Johnnie) Rico's route to citizenship is via the MI: the Mobile Infantry. He can anticipate a period of tough training after which, if all goes well, he completes his service and then gets back to civvy street and the world's his oyster. However, a war breaks out between humans and a sort of planetary empire of intelligent arthropods before his two years are up. The story of Starship Troopers is Johnnie Rico's account of what happened to him after he volunteered: his training and transformation into a proper soldier; use of military technology (the MI use powered suits of armour that give the wearers great strength, a range of formidable weapons, communications devices and the ability to bounce high and fast over great distances); the friends and officers who influenced him; the victories and setbacks he experienced personally and as part of a military body at war and his thoughts about what it all meant.
Descriptions of the political system, how it came about and Johnnie's thoughts and feelings about it, is a thread that runs right through the book. It's an attractive ideology on the face of it, that works because it's logical and based on a solid foundation: the understanding of human nature. People behave reasonably well, crime levels are low, everybody tows the line, there are no revolutions. This is human nature as we've never seen it, in fact: idealized. The system seems to be a sort of right-wing socialism. In this future though, there are better enemies to fight than other human nations. There are aliens to play the role of our hated "other": hostile alien bugs that are occupying territory human populations could be expanding into. And just as you would expect from a human enemy, these intelligent bugs are bound to have a different point of view.
The combination of exciting adventure and stimulating philosophy makes this an effortless read. Recommended.
Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers has finally made it in ebook form to the kindle, i've been waiting for this for a while and having never read it before I can happily say it was worth the wait and I can see why to many it is a classic. Those of you who have seen the films (I love the first and detest the others) may have a vague idea of the plot but the films are a pale imitation missing so much the book has to offer.
The story follows the career of Johnnie Rico as a Trooper for the federation in a far off fascist future. Despite being a military sci-fi novel it has a surprising amount of political commentary running throughout adding an interesting layer of depth that a lot of modern military sci-fi novels really lack. In the future the only people that can vote have to have worked for the federation to earn citizenship, they have to have earned the right and put the good of the whole above the individual but it's not that simple as Johnnie finds out.
Though Rico's reason for joining started as a political choice it soon turns into the look at the life of a mobile infantry trooper, over half the book is about his training alone, about what really makes a soldier in the future. Most of the cadets don't make it through training, nevermind to serve their term to be citizens.
The way Starship Troopers is written from Johnnies point of view makes everything remarkably clear as the poor lad is as confused about events as the reader so nothing is left unexplained yet it never gets bogged down or feels slow, it's all pretty engrossing.
I think that's what was so good about it, yes the bug war is mentioned towards the end but there's no resolution. It's not a book about saving worlds, about good vs evil, there's no distinct point. Just a career view of a trooper in a politically different future. It's a fascinating read I recommend to any sci-fi fan.
+ Interesting political sub theme.
+ Rico's training is detailed.
+ Well written universe, clear and concise.
+ Interesting plot focus, a little different.
In Starship Troopers Robert Heinlein does what he did best: challenge human convention; conviction and ideologies with scathing ease. Set in a future where social inclusion or 'citizenship' is earned through right of passage (ie: undertaking national service in a fruitless war against arachnids in a distant star system) Heinlein's vision is daunting and bleak, yet satire adds a degree of science friction evident in many of his works. Those who are looking for the 'in your face' gorefest approach of Verhoven's movie take on this book will be sorely disappointed; but if you enjoyed the film's darker satirical edge then you may still take something away from this great book.
I think it's inevitable when writing a book that was adapted into a very successful film to draw comparisons between the two. A common criticism of films adapted from books are how much of the original novel the miss out of the final movie, but this is mostly because a book that may take many hours to read, is difficult to condense into a 90-120 minute movie. This book isn't different to the movie because there's a hell of a lot missing, it's different to the movie because the book is more a political treatise than a sci-fi action novel. I have only recently read the book, but having seen the film many times over the years, I went into it with certain expectations.
Set in a utopian future in an unspecified time period, America has collapsed, humanity has spread out into the galaxy and is colonising planets, yet this society is militaristic, a society in which you can only gain 'citizenship' and the right to vote by signing up to military service. This world and the future in which it is set may be vibrant and intriguing, but the majority of the book was more about politics and philosophy than it was about Juan "Johnnie" Rico, the book's protagonist and the person whose first person perspective lends us the narrative framework for the story.
The story tells of how Rico signed up to the military with his best friend Zim and of his experience training, going to war, and rising through the ranks. This story, however, plays second fiddle to Heinlein's political and philosophical ideas. Told from the perspective of what Rico learned from his teacher, the respected, Mr. DuBois, there are lengthy chapters which seem to drift off into a philosophical arguments about human rights, political ideologies and the human condition. These are really interesting and to genuinely have you thinking, but I found myself also frustrated at reading these lengthy segments that I didn't really feel added anything to the story.
The relationships between Rico and his friends, family and fellow soldiers were all alluded to and nothing more. I never got the sense I really understood Johnnie as a character or what drove him to do the things he did or what really made him what he was. Arguably the best chapter of the book was when Heinlein actually stepped away from the philosophy and got to the action and drama in the final chapter of the book, but even then everything came across as quite shallow. Any threat Rico and his crew may have faced didn't seem important because Rico himself wasn't really that well developed as a character. I simply didn't care, and that's the book's major downfall.
In the midst of this great war between humans and alien 'bugs' I found myself thinking "So this Heinlein guy is pretty cool with the idea of fascism". It was a good read, even if it wasn't what I was expecting, but I would advise you look elsewhere if you want a legitimate sci-fi novel rather than a political thesis masquerading as such.
on 20 March 2009
I read this book first many years ago and enjoyed it, in amongst many other books I was reading at the time but did not, looking back really understand it fully. Later I saw the film and was a bit disappointed, although it was worth watching.
This one, like many Heinlein books is a simple story, beautifully told; essentially of a relatively ordinary person, decent, mostly honest and good hearted and shows how he grows as a person on overcoming the challenges to his existence. Its worth reading just to enjoy a good story and the adventures that 'Johnny' goes through as he joins up hoping to do a couple of years to earn his citizenship and ends up committing his future to the cause.
One of the many political points raised is that in most societies today we have people voting bread and circusses. Basically, anyone has a vote and most have only self-interest in mind. Thus, in the UK political parties tend to pander to people to get elected and when in power have to do the same, perhaps rather than taking the decisions that should really be taken. As soon as the popularity ratings drop, a panic is triggered.
In other countries, military service is enforced on everyone, eg Israel, some others too. At least in Heinlein's world people have a choice. Its somewhat ideal and primary coloured; but if we were able to build a system based on natural law what would it be like? It would be simple, probably unfair but workable. Fairness is often screamed for, but who does one really want to be fair to, the guy who just claims benefit and contributes nothing; or someone who is willing to help improve things?
Now, I wouldn't run off and join the army after reading this again. But I do understand from this what the training is supposed to achieve and that a growing appreciation of real hard work, discipline and decency, working with other people and depending on them is actually what makes a person fit to be a citizen -- not just where one happened to be born.
The subjects this book takes up are big subjects and important concepts that a person should be exposed to and it provokes thought without being too complex for a young person to understand. Even if one doesn't agree, or perhaps especially if one doesn't the exposure to a different point of view is very valuable.
There are things worth fighting for and books well worth reading. This is one of them.
on 8 January 2002
Probably for its length one of the best pieces of war/social commentary fiction ever written.
I won't bore you with a repeat of the story, but through the eyes of one young man it puts a number of questions to the reader.
How much do you value democracy?
Would you pay a price to vote?
If not, why? Don't you think a vote is worth anything?
You may not like Heinlein's politics but he makes a compelling argument for a more socialy responsible society that, in this case, sacrifices automatic personal fredoms for earned responsibilities.
There are people today who have never used the vote that democracy has given them. If they had had to earn the right to vote then (Heinlein infers) only those who wanted the responsibility that comes with it would put themselves out and pay the price. Those who couldn't get out of bed on polling day would never miss it.
As for the film, well I must admit I enjoyed it but I enjoyed Star Wars too. I wouldn't enjoy Blade Runner done in the style of Star Wars and that is what the film is to the book Starship Troopers.
I first read this book when I was 14 and now, (nearly 20 years later), I go back to it from time to time and am suprised how little it has dated.
Considering that Heinlein wrote this book as one of his series of `juvenile' novels it is quite amazing how much effect it has had. It seems the novel is violently hated by many because of it's, apparently, militaristic approach (a fact which Verhouven seems to have picked at the cost of almost everything else!). In my view it is one of the most interesting political documents in the realm of SF - on a par only with that other great Heinlein classic, `Stranger in a Strange Land'.
In the first place it's a rollicking classic `coming of age' story with the spoilt hero growing up to be a man (shades of Perseus, Theseus, and the rest). The baddies are `bad', the goodies are good - and Rico is a goodie but that doesn't detract from his characterisation: he still struggles with his conscience.
To correct a reviewer below, you don't become a citizen for fighting the `bugs' specifically, but for serving in the defence of your country. Not a bad concept one may think but probably too difficult to impose right now! There is much political philosophy in the book but, in general, the major drive is of individual `responsibility' together with an idea to appear later in `The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', i.e. TANSTAAFL - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. It may not be top-hole political philosophy but it can sure make one think!
I have an original paperback of this brought when I was much (much!) younger that is now so brown and broken I had to buy a new copy. I read it regularly and would recommend it to any SF reader as one of Heinlein's very best.
on 13 November 2004
I have waited ages for Starship Troopers to appear in my recommended booklist. It appeared in my DVD list almost from the beginning and the review of the film really annoyed me. I have now had the opportunity to read the many reviews on the book and even the readers who liked the book without exception make the same mistake as those who rail against it. The film is indeed a spoof and a most excellent one at that. The production values and special effects support an excellent cast who 'live' the characters so broadly drawn by Robert A. Heinlein. The film in no way undermines the story written by the 'Dean', however, since the original novel was itself a work of deepest irony.
Like one or two other reviewers I read the book some time ago (about forty years actually) and even then recognised the ironic overtones of the work. Anyone who has read the whole corpus of work by Robert Heinlein can only conclude that, not only was he NOT a supporter of militaristic or even right-wing government, as all reviewers seem to think, he was actually deeply suspicious of all forms of authority and authoritarianism. I refer you to Stranger in a Strange Land as one of the earliest of several extended novels that makes Heinlein's liberal credentials crystal clear and illustrate his beliefs in 'modified hedonism with personal responsibility' (as far as I know, my own phrase!). Although he began writing in the 1940s Heinlein was one of the first of this previously male dominated genre to use a teenage girl as the main protagonist in a full blown SF novel (Podkayne of Mars) and several later novels had strong female protagonists (e.g. Friday), so neither can he be accused of male chauvinism!
If any reader (or film goer) is in any doubt as to how to recognise the signs of irony in SF form I can recommend to them Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero. The eponymous hero in this very humorous novel, ignorant of the ironical narrative in which his story is set, also blindly follows his leaders and eventually becomes part of the dubious Imperial system under which he serves. Harrison, like Heinlein uses ironical humour to illuminate the absurdity of his characters' political environment; these characters, like all gung-ho heroes, strive to survive according to a set of internal, maybe even moral rules in a 'kill or be killed' (sometimes 'fight or be shot') world.
n.b. The definition of irony is: where the actual meaning (i.e. intent) is the opposite of the literal (i.e. stated) meaning, e.g. all the previous reviewers are moderate, literate readers of great perspicacity.
Buy the book and see what I mean.
J. Warner, Dorset: (SF collector for over forty five years)
on 4 January 2012
Heinlein's Starship Troopers is fast paced, easy to read science fiction novel. The story follows Johnnie Rico as he enlists into the global government's mobile infantry. We follow Rico through his gruelling months at boot camp, turning from a naïve youngster into well trained soldier of an elite fighting force. Soon war between humanity and the "bugs" breaks out, resulting in Rico, and his comrades, being deployed into battles across the galaxy. We follow the course of the war, from humanity being on the verge of defeat to turning the tide, while following Rico's rise through the ranks. The battle scenes are well told and gripping and Heinlein even manages to make the mundane life of his soldiers between battles equally gripping to read.
While the story is well told, in places feeling like Rico is writing a letter to explain how life in the army is, most of the characters, with the exception of the protagonist, feel two-dimensional and I don't feel like they are developed as well as they could have been. At several points the author opts not to provide sufficient detail: the reader is basically left to make up their own mind on what the armour, the infantry use, looks like (although ironically Heinlein provides an overly complicated account of how the armour works), and the officer training school Rico goes to feels like a rehash of the high school sections as both only focus on the one class: `history and moral philosophy'.
While the type of government that rules over humanity seems to get a lot of attention, appearing to be militaristic and created out of the ashes of the collapsed twentieth century societies, I do not see why it still creates so much debate today. On its release in the aftermath of Second World War, the discussion of a utopia created by a militaristic society would of course appear shocking, however today it just seems fantasy, and dare I say it pure science fiction. The Russian Revolution is alluded to during the work and the creation story of the federation seems to be an imaginative retelling of such events, and similar ones throughout history: collapse and/or revolution against the existing order resulting in the creation of a new way of ruling people.
The author makes several points throughout the work aimed at the apparent inadequacies of the military forces of the "past" and the superiority of the mobile infantry over them. All these comments seem to be aimed at the military the author was part of, the Second World War and the Korean War and the armies that fought them. However my impression is that morality and universal suffrage are the central theme of the book. During the flashbacks to Rico's time in high school, and later during his time in the military, the `history and moral philosophy' classes that he takes are used as a vessel by the author to discuss the difference between being a civilian and a citizen, and the benefits of being the latter. A citizen is someone who has enrolled for `federal service', to serve the central government in some format (not just in a military capacity, yet this is the route our hero ends up going down) and on completion of that service is granted citizenship and the right to vote. Having undertaken this service the person has gained the responsibility, and moral superiority, needed to make a qualified decision when it comes to voting whereas the civilian is essentially unqualified to make such a decision. On completion of his service, Rico should be ethically and morally superior to a civilian. However here lays the greatest irony of the work. By the time Rico finishes basic training he been turned into a professional killer ready to follow whatever order he is given, he is no longer the individual he started as. He goes to war were he indiscriminately kills warrior and worker bugs, before learning the difference between the two, he is remorseless, destroys private-civilian property and sets out to destroy key civilian infrastructure such as a waterworks, and has no objection to the use of biological warfare. The war between the humans and the bugs, and their short-term allies, is one of total-war and in it Rico losses any moral or ethically superiority he is supposed to have gained during his service, over a civilian. In all this I think perhaps the author is mostly looking back to his wartime service and hinting that the men who fought the war hold no superiority over the rest of us. The question raised from all this but not answered by the author, is how this service, all this violence, the complete change from a naïve individual to trained killer, one among many, closer to the bug hive mind and warrior mentality, makes Rico any more responsible to make an informed decision in voting when it comes to the civilian who is untouched by these horrors, unchanged, still an individual. The central theme is contradictory: the citizens are not demonstrated to better qualified, due to having served and gaining superior morality, to vote than complete universal suffrage.
A gripping read, which is not without its flaws but at the same time is thought provoking. Recommended.
on 4 August 1999
Given the appallingly low turnout in recent British elections, Starship Troopers is an excellent reminder that we should participate.
As people say, if you don't take enough of an interest to vote you can't complain about what happens in politics. In Heinlein's world, the vote is not a right: you have to earn it by standing up and doing something to help the body politic. If you don't care enough, fine; you can get on with you life and make a success of youself, you can pay taxes and receive benefits - you just leave the decision making to those who do care. Even a passive turning out once every few years to put your cross on a ballot paper isn't enough - Heinlein says that freedom is so precious, and so dearly won, that only those who truly appreciate that price are worthy to be full citizens. In his society, there is no discrimination against non-citizens and citizenship is open to absolutely anyone who is willing to face up to the responsibility of potentially paying for freedom with their life.
Don't fall into the common trap of assuming that Heinlein glorifies the military; he makes it quite clear that there are other ways to earn the vote - for example by testing new survival equipment, or being a guineau pig for medical experiments. Of course, for dramatic purposes, a war makes a better novel, and it's easier to highlight the fact that citizenship is earned through contribution when that contribution is the defence of the body politic against an enemy with whom we can feel no empathy, and who is seeking to destroy not just the body politic but the entire species. It might be harder to get the message across in a novel where Johnny Rico's slipped into a fatal coma because the drug he's been given didn't work.
It's a great novel, which I've read and re-read dozens of times. It doesn't necessarily make me want to go and join the army - no chance! - and nor do I condone Heinlein's society of the future, but it woke me up to the fact that politics (in the widest sense of the word), and government, are everybody's responsibility, and if we abdicate the duty of participation, then we've got precious little right to complain when things don't suit us.