Starship Troopers

I’d first heard of this story years ago when I saw the movie that is very loosely based on the book.  It was interesting, and so going into the book I thought I had an idea of what to expect.  Well, I was wrong.

Book Stats

335 pages

Science Fiction

Characters

The main character of the book is Juan Rico.  The book covers the course of his life through what ends up being the “bug war,” a major war involving humans and an alien species trying to destroy them.  The book is written in a way that it reads more like a memoir than a typical book, with Rico reflecting on his past experiences.  As a result of this, many of the other characters fall kind of flat, but it’s still an interesting book.

Setting

Earth and various other intergalactic destinations in the future.

Plot

The book opens with an action sequence, but then goes back to Rico remembering why he joined the Army’s Mobile Infantry in the first place.  From there it traces his life in the military from basic training through officer school and then ultimately through the end (maybe) of the bug war.  While the book follows Rico’s life, the plot is really more of a setting to discuss some larger ideas.

Enjoyment

One thing that I wasn’t expecting when I bought the book was one of the taglines on the front cover: “The controversial classic of military adventure.”  And as I started to read the book, I really wondered why it was so controversial.  From what I remember of the movie (it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it) a lot of the controversy was left out of that version, and instead they focused more on the action aspects of the book (because lets face it, for most people, that’s a better movie).

But when you read the book, you find quite a few ideas discussed by the characters that would be very controversial today.  The first is when they’re discussing the discipline system of their society as compared to our current system (in America at least).  They discuss how most offenders are given warnings or just a slap on the wrist when they commit a crime, which doesn’t scare them away from committing more crimes at all.  By comparison, in the futuristic society Heinlein creates, people are regularly punished (often physically) for even slight violations throughout their entire lives.  This can start with simply paddling people in school, and advancing to much more painful punishment such as flogging or lashings as adults.  And these displays of punishment are also public, so along with the physical pain, you’re given the psychological shame of everyone knowing that you were punished.

Another idea that Heinlein discusses is the ideology of how you fight a war.  A direct line from the book, when talking about the defensive mindset that most people have when they encounter violent oppression is to act defensively and protect the homeland.  Heinlein’s characters look at it a little differently saying: “This is sill, of course; you don’t war a war by defense but by attack–no ‘Department of Defense’ ever won a war; see the histories.”  This is one area where I have to say I completely agree.  Look at the way that we’ve handled the situation in Iraq.  Trying to peacefully occupy the country, rules of engagement for what we will and won’t do, etc.  If you’re serious about winning a war, don’t mess around.  Get it, get the job done, and get out.

The last idea that I’m going to bring up is why they only let citizens who have served military service vote.  The idea is that most people do things in their own self interest (that’s hard to argue) including voting.  However, if you’ve been through the military as it’s described in this book, you obviously care about more than just yourself.  They make their military difficult to join and easy to drop out of.  This means that the only people who serve their full term are those who are willing to put the good of society as a whole ahead of their own good.  Those are the exact kinds of people that you would ideally want to vote for anything in a society.

Overall Grade

The story in this book serves more as a vehicle for ideas than what we normally think of as a story in a novel.  But it’s very well written and the ideas will make you think, it’s a solid book.

7/10

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6 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. It sounds like you were as surprised by the direction it took as I was. I was not a fan of the movie when it came out and delayed reading the book for years, but I am so glad I finally buckled down and did so as I enjoyed it very, very much. I didn’t find it as “controversial” as it proclaimed but I wasn’t really reading it at the time with an eye towards examining the controversy. Looking back now and reading your review I can certainly see how it was probably very much so at the time and still is now. It just wasn’t what I experienced when reading it. Heinlein can tell a good story, that’s for sure. Here is the link to my review if you are interested:

    http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/starship-troopers-robert-a-heinlein

    Reply
  2. I listened to the audio version years ago and found it very engaging. I think this might be my favorite Heinlein (not that I have read his works extensively).

    Reply
  3. Great review, and what a curious idea about voting! We have compulsory voting here, so everyone has to vote – I’m not sure about it capturing only those public minded people (or perhaps people who just do well under a military system?), but it does mean that we don’t only have people who hold extreme views voting either. A contentious issue, I know.

    Reply
    • Where are you from that they have compulsory voting? (If you don’t mind my asking.)

      I think it’s an interesting idea, and I think overall it would get a lot more people interested in politics if you had to vote. For example, I don’t vote regularly, and in large part it’s because I don’t take the time to follow the issues or candidates in any given election. (I think that voting when you’re uninformed is worse than not voting.) But if I was required to vote, I would definitely look into it a lot more. Unfortunately, I think that compulsory voting would also end up with a lot of people who don’t care and as a result vote for a particular party rather than a candidate.

      I have no idea which system of voting would be the best overall, but I enjoy hearing about different ideas.

      Reply
      • Ah – I meant that in Australia, we already have compulsory voting! There can certainly be an issue between deciding between a candidate and their party – especially if you would prefer a particular party to have power overall, but the candidate in your area is useless!

  1. August 2012 Month in Review « Reviews and Ramblings

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