Science Fiction

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (and how certain books enhance their own reading experience)

It’s time for sci-fi on Saturday, isn’t that fun? I’m supposed to be reading and featuring GrimDark reads here this month but in truth it’s going to be one of the most genre diverse months I’ve had in a long time.

The plan was to share my thoughts on Starship Troopers today. What I’m really feeling is a post about the times when the book itself, as in the physical item, means something and therefore enhances the reading experience. We will see where I start and end on this post.

I know I’m adding nothing to the Heinlein review canon so I’m just going to leave you guys with a few brief thoughts on the book, and then start talking about something else that will continue in a post I’m writing for next Saturday.

I am open for and do absolutely encourage discussion on Starship Troopers, I just find no reason to “review” it

So here are my thoughts, then I’ll digress if this post isn’t way too long already.

Bookish Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Starship Troopers
  • Author: Robert A. Heinlein
  • Publisher & Rease: originally GP Putnam’s Sons, 1959
  • Length: 263 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: I do firmly believe this is a sci-fi canon must read, and enjoyed it

Here’s a synopsis:

In Robert A. Heinlein’s controversial Hugo Award-winning bestseller, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy…

Johnnie Rico never really intended to join up—and definitely not the infantry. But now that he’s in the thick of it, trying to get through combat training harder than anything he could have imagined, he knows everyone in his unit is one bad move away from buying the farm in the interstellar war the Terran Federation is waging against the Arachnids.

Because everyone in the Mobile Infantry fights. And if the training doesn’t kill you, the Bugs are more than ready to finish the job…

I originally read Starship Troopers back in high school when I was about 15 and did not remember it at all.  I saw the 1997 movie a few years later and recall it as something that was way too long and slightly terrifying. It hardly felt like the same story.  Now after reading the book again, I feel my brain shifting back to a fonder stance on the story in general.

I like that Heinlein did in 263 pages what it can take some series 8+ books to do.  I like that it’s military sci-fi that is about war, but not about THE war so much as a main theme.  Heinlein is the crazy uncle of sci-fi that kind of tells a story but mostly throws a lot of ideas at the reader, and I appreciate him for that. There’s a story there, you just have to see it as a reeeaaalllyyy general framework for his ideas, not vice versa.

As someone that spent years living with military persons, I can say that all the hemming and hawing about the book being military propaganda feels more than a little ridiculous to me in 2022.  It probably could have seemed that way but any military person (that I’ve talked to anyway) will tell you that voluntarily putting their lives between harm and home becomes part of who they are.  It’s not propaganda, the pride and military family and routine become a way of life, like the survival mechanisms they adapt, and I think Heinlein just encapsulated this feeling from his own military service experience and put it on page when he was discontent with the state of the military, nuclear testing, etc during the Cold War era.

That said though, he had some hilarious views on certain military things. He clearly just *loved* bureaucracy and, to pick one rant I laughed at,  the American Military Structure that has officers for absolutely everything.  Sergeants also take a verifiable ton of shit in real life (as in the book) and I think Heinlein did a decent job, as a Navy man, setting up the social structure of the Mobile Infantry.  My favorite thing to focus on when reading these books is how things like the command and social structure are portrayed.

Idea wise, like anywhere else, some of Heinlein’s ideas are good and some seem sketchy. Either way, some of his foresight was dead on, like for example, the absolute lack of corporal punishment for kids these days? I’m not getting into a debate about spanking and such but the point is that a lot of these questions, ideas, and arguments, are still quite valid today.  Our military has been in active conflicts for most of my waking memory (Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc…) so the peace time debate seems moot, but maybe not, say, the part about where members fit into society after active service. The size of the organization. Finding holes for everyone wanting to participate in this giant machine.  As a literal reader in this case, I did think a lot of his tangents (yes, I’m calling them tangents) were fairly dead on.

That all said though, I liked the book before and I liked it again some nearly 20 years later.  The action is good when it’s present, the ideas are still relevant, and besides that, it so clearly influenced enough media and literature that followed that I feel it’s one of those sci-fi books that everyone just has to read.

I’m running out of page space but I do want to quickly touch on my point above about nostalgia and certain books.  I was at a friend’s house not too long ago and besides the fact that I have a 900+ book library in my house, I saw Starship Troopers on his bookshelf (that distinct green color stands out) and was thumbing through it.  We sometimes pass books back & forth and I always feel like reading someone else’s book is a special experience.  Maybe it smells like the person’s house or has notations in it or something else like a leftover scrap of bookmark, but I found myself generally enjoying the experience of reading, more than I have recently. I think it’s because I have some odd reverence for other people’s books. Anyway, I’m about to return it in one piece and am always honored when fellow bookies trust me with their property😅

Next week on Sci-fi on Saturday: The October Country (or the experience of reading something that is a multi generational treasure, or, stories that keep stories alive?)

One reply on “Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (and how certain books enhance their own reading experience)”

‘Heinlein is the crazy uncle of sci-fi that kind of tells a story but mostly throws a lot of ideas at the reader, and I appreciate him for that.’

For all the accusations that get thrown at him regarding his personal beliefs, I think Heinlein was one of those authors who would take an idea that interested him and push it to the extreme in the name of making the reader think. It’s been a few years since I read Starship Troopers, but some of the ideas were pushed so far I’m sure he was satirising rather than promoting them. Not being sure is half the fun of reading his work, and Starship Troopers is definitely my favourite of his ‘Big Three’ novels.


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