Starship Troopers is one of Heinlein’s greatest works and also one of his most controversial. Some people see this book as an idealized love letter to the military. It is in fact, required reading for many military academies and is a great representation of how soldiers view themselves and the world around them in philosophical terms.
Heinlein is the architect of social science fiction, he is considered to be the third wave of science fiction writers preceded by Stanley G. Weinbaum and E.E. Doc Smith as the revolutionaries in the field of the golden age of science fiction.
Many authors have written books inspired by Starship Troopers, including a previous review I did: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman http://excursionsintoimagination.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/the-forever-war-by-joe-haldeman/
The story centers on the career and view of a single soldier. It begins on a routine attack of an enemy planet and then the book turns itself over to a memoir recollecting the training of the narrator, Juan. The book lays down the philosophical foundations for a government in which the citizens must earn the right of citizenship through voluntary service. No mention is made with regards to the civilian population or their rights and responsibilities as the book merely states this as a matter of fact after the failings of democracies and communist states in history.
This is the point on which most people criticize the book as an endorsement for fascism. (Heinlein also wrote, Stranger in a Strange Land, which is considered to be the bible of the counterculture movement of the sixties in direct opposition to this line of thinking.) It shows the talent of a great artist that can so eloquently defend many differing viewpoints and be embraced by both sides at the same time. It is a rare feat which not many people have the ability to pull off. To successfully see and understand opposing views and sum them up so effectively is indeed an amazing talent unheard of today. A great documentary on him can be seen here: Prophets of Science Fiction Episode 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C5qz8Wf1_w
Heinlein’s words in defense of this criticism were “This is strictly local patriotism, but I want my race – the human race – to go on.”
There are many good philosophical points brought up in the book that should be looked at seriously. In our country, the United States, which was Heinlein’s country as well, there is a lot of talk about rights, but very little talk about responsibility. In Starship Troopers, citizenship is not mandatory, it is earned voluntarily. No one can be refused in signing up, but it is only after the completion of service that you become a citizen and have all the rights associated with that, such as voting. It is all a matter of voluntary choice. Even after joining, you can resign at any time without penalty, but you forfeit any future rights you had hoped to gain.
It is an interesting idea that would add responsibility to citizenship, however the idea is incomplete in that it does not go into detail about what rights non-citizens have or don’t have. As is depicted in the story, it does not seem to be anything more than voting and holding public office that is determined by military or public service. Would a vote have more significance and meaning to a person who was invested in the society than someone who is just given the right simply by age? It does seem a valid point, but one that could be easily exploited and manipulated to oppress people as well.
In the story, that is not the case. Politics does not play into it at all from the view point of the soldier. He fights because he is ordered to and his life and the life of those around him depend on it. The ideals for which Juan risks his life are abstract moral ideal such as laying your body in harm’s way between the enemy and your family. Most people would do this unquestionably in reality, but in the abstract it is not an easy sell.
One point he makes in the story is having a course taught in school called History and Moral Philosophy. This is a great idea, since all morality is drawn from history and the lessons learned from falling flat on our collective faces. It is one of the great failings of the educational system that philosophy is not taught until college, if even then.
There are many good ideas and points like that made in this book, and no it has little or nothing to do with the movie. That is another case of Hollywood completely missing the point. There is not a great deal of action in the book just as in a soldier’s life; there is not much action, but a great deal of waiting. The pace of the novel is fast, but Heinlein is able to convey the mind-numbing hours of mental solitude that is faced by soldiers, even in the future.
The novel, written in 1959 envisions many revolutionary ideas which we are beginning to see come out even now. The visual visors that are activated by facial movements sound just like the new Google Glasses that they are coming out with. The armor suits and prosthetic limbs mentioned in the book are closer to being a real thing than I imagine even he would have thought possible.
There will always be detractors to any work of art that is actually worthy of the name. If the highest purpose of art is to inspire, then Heinlein has succeeded as few others have before him. So I can only recommend that you throw the prejudiced views of the book aside and check it out for yourself.
- Robert A. Heinlein (enderra.com)
- My Reading Life: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (readmorebooks.wordpress.com)
- Katie′s #CBR5 Review #15: Starship Troopers By Robert Heinlein (cannonballread5.wordpress.com)
- Fiction Review: “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein (19thlevel.blogspot.com)
- Starship Troopers: Invasion 2012 – Arachnids are back (meangoblin.com)
- Starship Troopers and the notion of established Canon (mycardboardcastle.wordpress.com)
- Sci-Fi Classic: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (readmorebooks.wordpress.com)
- Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein (stuffireadlately.wordpress.com)
- Starship Troopers! Battle the Collectivists personi-bugged as Bugs! (notesonthenwo.wordpress.com)