Starship Troopers is an amazing novel and almost nothing like that abortion of a movie by Verhoeven, who thought Heinlein a Neo-Fascist. That’s his depiction in the movie, but it doesn’t resemble the novel except very superficially. Frankly, it’s a scandal that a man was...
Starship Troopers is an amazing novel and almost nothing like that abortion of a movie by Verhoeven, who thought Heinlein a Neo-Fascist. That’s his depiction in the movie, but it doesn’t resemble the novel except very superficially. Frankly, it’s a scandal that a man was given the job of directing the adaptation to intentionally smear the novel, its ideas, and the man, himself. But, on to the novel...
It’s vintage Heinlein—imaginative, but with a tangible flavor of realism and an accurate anthropology. The characters are well-developed and the action satisfying. One of the unique things about Heinlein is his strong sense of the moral and an interesting aspect of this novel, in particular, is the political moral philosophy that underpins it—the notion that the only people that should have political power (the voter franchise) are those that have demonstrated the moral commitment of sacrifice for society—indeed, the human race. That is, those unwilling to put society above their own interests are unfit to wield political power, which amounts to the authority to wield force and violence. Philosophers and theologians have observed similar things. For example, Martin Luther’s concept of the Left-Hand Kingdom, asserts similar concepts—the State wields the sword for the benefit of society (and, for Luther, The Church) to create order and protect people from chaos and threats. Heinlein has his own twist on these ideas. They’re intriguing—and, convincing.
It’s also my understanding that this is the first Sci-Fi novel to realistically depict military life. I can’t say for sure, because I have an insufficient understanding of the Sci-Fi cannon and I’ve never served in the military. Heinlein did know military life, as he graduated from the US Naval Academy and served 5 years as a naval officer before being retired because of an illness—tuberculosis, I believe. All I can say is that it is believable. It doesn’t just focus on the actions and action, but the inner life, attitudes, and thought patterns of the military man (and woman). Needless to say, the movie completely misses the mark on this point also.
I first read this novel decades ago and thought it terrific then—well, no surprise there, since it won the Hugo Award before the award was infested by political correctness. I thought it worth a re-read, especially in today’s political climate—the ideas here won’t be popular with people who think that government (really, other people) owes them free stuff. Even after decades, there were certain scenes that had stuck in my mind all that time. If you believe that the mark of a successful novel is its ability to stick in your mind, then this novel delivers in spades. Still, after reading it again I was surprised by how many substantive things I had forgotten, which is a testament to its depth.
Originally marketed as one of Heinlein’s juvenile novels, it really doesn’t fit well in that genre. It’s shorter than many of his novels, but not as short as the juveniles such as “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” (my favorite Heinlein novel of that genre). This is a serious book that explores serious ideas, so adults will find it satisfying. Nevertheless, I do recommend it for young adults. We’d do well to make it a regular part of the literature cannon taught in late middle school and high school, as it forces one to think about the relationship between responsibilities and rights, as well as economic concepts such as “value” and markets. If people are to be voting citizens, then they should be familiar with the ideas in this novel, even if they ultimately disagree with them. You can’t have a useful opinion on the concepts, though, if you don’t know what they are. Thinking about ideas is never a waste.