Starship Troopers

Starship TroopersThis is classic sci-fi and seemed like a natural choice after reading Old Man’s War. The influence this book had on Old Man’s War is undeniable as there are many similarities. They both follow a single character (Johnny Rico, John Perry), told from his point of view. Both willingly enter the infantry and both know they have to made a multi year commitment. In each story, the galaxy is a crowded place with humanity fighting against other species for colonies. Combat drops from orbit (like beach landings) figure in both, but Troopers gets the recognition for introducing the idea. Another innovation attributed to Troopers was the concept of powered armour. Old Man’s War has the advantage of being written 50+ years after Troopers so the technology and dialog is updated, but Troopers stands up surprisingly well. What dates it is the dialog (golly gee swell) and depiction of women (as the fairer sex). I think this is partly due to the fact that Heinlein originally intended Troopers to be a juvenile book.  Heinlein’s military experience shows as Rico progresses from recruit through the NCO ranks and eventually becomes an officer. There is a espirit de corps that he attempts to capture, as well as a feeling of paternalistic fraternity within the MI. Definitely a pro-military stance.

Troopers includes socio-political stands that Old Man’s War lacks or for the most part steers clear from which makes it as much as an essay as a story. Thoughts on suffrage and civic duty, mostly exposed through Rico’s participation in History and Moral Philosophy courses are strong and are believed to mirror Heinlein’s own views. This is by far the most intriguing aspect of the book, and is really the only part that gives it any depth. Imagining a society based on a limited franchise earned only through civic duty and sacrifice is a great thought experiment (I didn’t get the sense that the resulting society would be fascist as implied by the movie of the same name). This is good because the characters and their motivations are flat. Apart from a dislike of math, getting the jitters before a drop and an adoration of women, Rico is two-dimensional. Even being reunited with his father (who joins the MI after his wife’s death in Buenos Aires) doesn’t seem emotionally convincing. Rico doesn’t seem at all emotionally phased at the loss of friends, even his childhood friend Carl. Since this book was originally written with teenage boys in mind you can see the arc where Rico defies his successful father, proves himself worthy on his own merit, then reconciles and leads his own father as the platoon leader of Rico’s Roughnecks.

Throughout the book there was this implication that moral argument could be mathematically proven, that in a sense morality became a science. I wonder if Heinlein was influenced by Asimov’s concept of psychohistory in the Foundation series.

Overall I can see this book being innovative for its time. Many works since then have built on this military science fiction genre that I think Heinlein popularized. I understand it was even required reading for those working on the movie Aliens. Its influence is undeniable. But this book is over fifty years old. The language and attitudes towards women are dated. The characters require and demand no emotional investment on the part of the reader. In conclusion, this is a better essay than a story.

(Amazon) Starship Troopers

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