06 June, 2009

Review: Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

     Starship Troopers (1958) is probably Robert Heinlein's most famous and controversial book. Even today, it generates a fair amount of debate, whether it be on Wikipedia or Amazon book reviews. Starship Troopers was written in only a couple of weeks in response to a nuclear testing moratorium. As with The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, it's message is timeless, layered, and consequently often misinterpreted.

The Setup

      Meet your run of the mill highschooler, Juan Rico, who signs up rather accidentally for the Federal Service (army). "On the bounce", we are introduced to a masterpiece of futuristic military warfare as Juan decimates an alien city wearing powered armor. Then, flashback to boot camp and witness firsthand how the soldier of the future is molded. Part philosophical inquiry and part military science fiction thriller, Starship Troopers centers on Juan's trials and tribulations in the Mobile Infantry.
     Starship Troopers is short and sweet, if at times slightly heavy on the philosophizing, but that is just my personal take. What it ultimately boils down  to is an affirmation of patriotism and civic duty. Mr. Heinlein's world is constructed in such a way that only those who have served a "term of service" are allowed to play a constitutive role in society; in the wake of social fragmentation following a global war on earth, entry into politics is restricted to those who have proven their commitment to the 'greater good' through service. Rich in military, philosophical, and political history, Starship Troopers is an insightful and captivating look at duty, courage, and things that go boom.

My Take

     I would love nothing more than to delve into the philosophical underpinnings of Mr. Heinlein's masterpiece, such as the implicit references to Jean-Jacque Rousseau's Second Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, but I will spare you but for this brief excerpt:

With this view, after laying before his neighbours all the horrors of a situation, which armed them all one against another, which rendered their possessions as burdensome as their wants were intolerable, and in which no one could expect any safety either in poverty or riches, he easily invented specious arguments to bring them over to his purpose. "Let us unite," said he, "to secure the weak from oppression, restrain the ambitious, and secure to every man the possession of what belongs to him: Let us form rules of justice and peace, to which all may be obliged to conform, which shall not except persons, but may in some sort make amends for the caprice of fortune, by submitting alike the powerful and the weak to the observance of mutual duties. In a word, instead of turning our forces against ourselves, let us collect them into a sovereign power, which may govern us by wise laws, may protect and defend all the members of the association, repel common enemies, and maintain a perpetual concord and harmony among us.
If you can't guess how that fits into Starship Troopers, you should be shot, possibly in the foot, but shot nonetheless. 
     That said, I could not have loved this book more had it been written with my tastes in mind. As you can tell from my personal top ten science fiction and fantasy books on the side, I enjoy a preponderance of military violence. In that respect, Mr. Heinlein pioneered the science fiction sub-genre of powered armor with this book, so give credit where credit is due. Given the stature and wide range of opinions on the book, it is difficult to dive into discussions of style and worth without upsetting someone, but I personally found the writing very agreeable; in fact, all of it was very agreeable. If you have not read Starship Troopers, you need to. If you think you don't need to, you are wrong. No self-respecting science fiction enthusiast can still lay claim to the title without having read this book.
     If I had to point out something that I felt was lacking from the book, it would be a certain amount of intrigue and suspense. Rico lets spill a little too much a little too early. However, given the narrative style and idea driven plot, Starship Troopers dispenses with the need for frivolous page turning shenanigans with a healthy does of plain old good literature. All in all an excellent, concise, and memorable must read. This is definitely being added to the top ten list, I jut can't decide if it should be socketed in above The Forever War or not... help!

Ratings and Links

Amazon: 4.25/5
B&N: 4.3/5
My Rating: 4.7/5

Piqued Your Interest?

     This is my book, there are many like it, but this one is mine. No giveaway for this book since I am keeping it, which is fairly rare for me. Get your own copy of Starship Troopers if you know what's good for you. 


Anonymous said...

Very good review of one of my favorite novels of all time.

Made me remember why I loved it so much.

ediFanoB said...

I like the style of your review. I didn't read the book but I saw the movie.

bloggeratf said...

Thanks guys. The movie is pretty different from the book, although it does try to bring up many of the same themes. The glossy look is not at all something that comes off in the book, and a couple things I found to be pretty important were changed, such as women in fighting with men ect..

Crotchety Old Fan said...

One thing not mentioned that might be of interest to potential readers is that ST was originally the 12th juvenile Heinlein was to write under a contract with them. The editors ultimately decided that it was "too adult".

It ultimately went on to win the Hugo Award for best novel.