Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Starship Troopers

the cover of my dopey copy
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

Here's a Vintage Sci-Fi month title that really took me a while to get around to.  I've had it for a year, but I'm not big on military SF so it was hard to get started.

Starship Troopers turns out to have almost identically the same plot as Space Cadet did, except that it's for an older audience and plays with a different political system. Here, we have Juan Rico, a wealthy young son of industry who decides, almost on a whim, to enlist in the military after graduating from high school. This is a couple hundred years in the future--humanity has spread out to many planets--and only veterans are allowed to vote and be full citizens. Anyone can serve a term in the military; they will find a job for you no matter what your capabilities are, but only a fairly small percentage of the population joins up to serve the two-year term. Juan joins up during peacetime, but humanity soon finds itself in a war for survival with the dreaded Bugs--extremely intelligent hive-mind insects looking for planets to colonize.

Most of the story consists of a detailed explanation of Johnny's military training, from boot camp to officers' school. There is very little actual plot. He's a soldier in the infantry, and it sounds very much like mecha manga, with each soldier in a suit that makes him into a one-man tank. Heinlein plays around with ideas about freedom, government, and war. As far as I can tell, Heinlein was given to toying with different systems just to see what would happen, and this is one of them. I thought it was pretty clear that these were not Heinlein's own ideas; he's just doing a thought experiment. In the middle of the book, the teacher that provides most of the political philosophy gives a little speech that makes it clear that he has no understanding of the ideas in the American Constitution as any modern American would understand it. I don't mean that Heinlein was spouting ideas that he would have considered to be completely wonky, but Starship Troopers is not a clear reflection of his political values, whatever those were.  I wouldn't know.

It was a pretty fun read if you like the occasional foray into military science fiction. Military stuff is not usually my cup of tea, but Starship Troopers is a pretty major classic and I wanted to see what it was about.  Apparently the movie (which I have not seen) uses the title and the bugs, and not much else.




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