Andrew's Reviews > Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein
by Robert A. Heinlein
Feb 03, 08
Read in January, 2008
** spoiler alert ** This is one of the books on the Navy Reading List, and since there was a copy of it lying around the office I started reading it one day, got interested by it, and ending up buying a copy to finish it. Basically, this is one of those books that's interesting moreso then it is good, in my opinion. A couple of quick notes on the book. First of all, even though this seems like a Science Fiction novel, it really is a military book. You could easily get rid of all of the science fiction elements of the book (spaceships, giant bugs, different planets, robotic suits), reset everything in a contemporary setting, and still be left with virtually the same story. I'm guessing that since this book was originally published in 1959 (when Sci-Fi was hot) they gave it a futuristic setting just so that it would sell more copies to the young adults a book like this is geared for. The bulk of this book is about the military: basic training (boot camp), OCS school (officer candidate school), the decision to enlist in the first place, the difference between being an officer and an enlisted man; these all are the main focus of the book. The science fiction elements, such as the raids on bug nests on alien planets and the robotic suits the soldiers wear, are really just afterthoughts relegated to the very beginning and ending chapters. To switch to more contemporary setting all you'd really have to do would be to replace the bugs with human opponents, and the futuristic technology with contemporary technology for the strikes, while leaving everything else pretty much the same. Secondly, this book is very corny and idealistic. A lot of the dialog has a very corny 50's quality to it (such as when Mr. Rico, after being away from women for so long during bootcamp, goes on liberty for the first time and starts an inner monologue about how women are these magical, mythical types of creatures). Plus, everything in this book is very convenient. Mr. Rico starts off as a civilian who joins the military against his families wishes just because his best friend is joining as well. While in boot camp, the day he was going to quit just happens to be the day he receives a letter from an old high school teacher he never liked much before (and whom he thought never liked him) telling him how proud he was of him and how he too served in the military. Right before he leaves for OCS Mr. Rico has a reunion with his father, who it turns out enlisted after he did and was mad at him for enlisting originally because he was ashamed of himself for not enlisting when he was younger. Plus, everything in the novel is paints the military in the best light possible. The officers in this book are all men who work insanely long hours and miss meals just because of how dedicated they are to the military (all senior enlisted and officers in this book are workaholics dedicated to nothing but making their recruits/soldiers and themselves the best they can possibly be). Additionally, this book has several philosophical arguments in favor of only letting people who have served in the military have the right to vote (as they do in the books setting), since, according to the book's argument, only people who would risk their own personal welfare for the overall good of the state could objectively choose the best leader for said state. Plus, there are arguments in favor of pre-emptive war, arguments about why war is necessary, arguments in favor of physical punishments (in schools and armed services), arguments for having all officers do the dirty work of being soldiers rather then just being chaplains or legal officers (for example), and arguments in favor of making the military as tough to get into and as easy to get out of as possible. Which makes it interesting to read the book from a modern perspective, since today's military is very easy to get into (with continually lowering standards) and very hard to leave once you enlist (you can't really request to leave, so your only way out is to pop on a drug test, or something of that nature), and most officers still primarily have just a specialty (rather then having to be soldiers first). While we've never had a democracy where only military men can vote, it's been proved time and time again that military dictatorships (governments where the military is in control, although not democratically) are destined to fail eventually. As for pre-emptive warfare, needless to say that hasn't worked out too well recently. Basically, a lot of this book reads like a well-disguised military propaganda campaign, which while interesting is too one-sided in the arguments and points it tries to make (never really letting counter-arguments be heard but just reinforcing why it's ideas are considered right) to be considered good. Plus, after reading the book I do have one major problem about the science fiction element, which is the use of giants insects in place of more human-like opponents. A lot of the horrors of war that can be inflicted by both sides don't really apply here, since rather then killing/capturing/and perhaps even torturing flesh and blood people (or close to that), the soldiers here are instead just raiding a bunch of sub-human insect-like creatures. A more gutsy book may have had more humanoid creatures as the race at war with Earth, but since this book conveniently makes the opponents sub-human and without any motive other then simply killing us and taking our planet, it gives the novel a very simplistic black and white feel. If you're are looking for a nuanced and frank look at military life and the military in general, look elsewhere. However, if you simply want a "hoorah, lets blow up some giant insects!" Joe-Army type of novel that's a cross between an Army brochure and a summer blockbuster, Starship Troopers should be right up your alley.
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