Sci-Fi Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

I read a lot of Heinlein in the 1960s, when I absorbed all of the SFF I could get my hands on, but was never a great fan and didn't read any of his books more than once. I remember enjoying Starship Troopers, though, so looked forward to a re-read with the Classic Science Fiction discussion group. Coincidentally, the film of the book was on the TV just before I read it, so I recorded it to watch immediately after the read.

I remembered nothing about the plot except for what is obviously implied by the title, and those cool combat suits; part exoskeleton, part armour, part space-suit, part weapon carrier (probably what appealed to my teenage self!). I was at first impressed by the way in which the blunt, matter-of-fact style is well-suited to the subject of a personal memoir by a no-nonsense soldier, and followed his account of life on a future Earth and training in the "boot camp" with interest. I was not immediately put off by the right-wing moralising, since that seemed to go with the territory, but about half-way through this becomes the dominant theme.

An entire chapter is spent recalling a school lesson in which he learned the importance of corporal and capital punishment, and how stupid societies had been to abandon them in the late 20th century. Reading now from an adult perspective, I'd certainly agree that too many children are brought up badly today and lack a structured disciplinary environment, but the notion that if we always hit them immediately they did anything wrong they would grow up to be model citizens is simplistic, to put it mildly. So is Heinlein's notion that children are not born with any moral sense, it has to be beaten into them. Plenty of studies have shown how people, like other social animals, are hard-wired to have an understanding of working cooperatively with others and adhering to the behavioural codes which make that possible – the basis of morality.

Elsewhere in the book is another polemic about the evils of universal franchise, and why governments should be controlled only by those who have volunteered for military service and passed the rigorous training designed to weed out those without the "right stuff". In fact, the entire book is a paean to the virtues of the military life, the harsher the better, and also to unthinking obedience untroubled by any concerns about right or wrong – that's the responsibility of those who give the orders. And this so soon after Nuremburg?

The last part of the book returns to action rather than polemic and is all the better for it. The book is not without its merits, mainly the laconic and gritty account of future combat which presumably influenced Haldeman's vastly superior The Forever War. However, the plot gets swamped by the repellent philosophy. This is best regarded as a curiosity, mainly of value in providing an insight into the mind of right-wing America in the mid-20th century.
Watching the film, made in 1997 some 38 years after the book was first published, is a rather strange experience. It's as if the characters and plot elements of the book have been chopped up and rearranged, with some additions and subtractions, and the attributes of one character sometimes assigned to another. The script stays broadly true to the spirit of the book, with Heinlein's jingoism parodied in a series of simplistic, gung-ho news broadcasts. There are some major differences, however. One is (almost inevitably) a much stronger romance element, achieved partly by making the Mobile Infantry mixed rather than male-only. The other (sadly) is the absence of those impressive combat suits and the tactics associated with them. Apart from the grenade-sized tactical nukes, the infantry fight with equipment and tactics not dissimilar to those of World War 2, which makes the military aspect of the film rather a sad joke. And as usual, the director is keen to maximise the use of the CGI "Bugs" with lots of associated nastiness and slaughter. He also doesn't remotely care about basic credibility; the Bug homeworld is shown as being on the other side of the galaxy (at least 50,000 light years away) but their favourite mode of attack is to launch asteroids from the belt around their planet to score direct hits on specific Earth cities, despite the lack of evidence for any technology. Given that a human spaceship was able to take action to avoid a collision with an incoming asteroid, they clearly travel at a small fraction of lightspeed, so would be likely to take at least a million years to make the journey. No wonder today's youngsters are so ignorant of science.
A brief heads-up for those who followed my series of posts on Global Warming and SF. I have combined and updated them and put the result on my website as a handy reference (to be amended in the light of any further developments) HERE .

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein


In the annals of military science fiction, one book has always stood apart in my mind as the epitome of excellence. That book is Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. A controversial book to say the least, its also one of the best coming-of-age novels that SF has to offer. It may also be one of the most storied novels in the history of our genre as well; the controversy surrounding its submission by Heinlein to Scribner's is legendary. So legendary in fact that it would be a horrible waste of time for me to go over it yet again here. But the debate over the purpose of this book has raged quietly since it was first published in 1959. Most readers take this book as an exercise in jingoistic excellence, as full of the polemic of military virtue as a book of three hundred odd pages can possibly be. One thing though that it is actually surprisingly light on, at least by today's standards, is blood and gore, which is odd for a military-themed work. The reality of war is presented well: Dead civilians, crippled infrastructure, nuclear blast craters and dead comrades are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, and topics such as terrorism and the targeting of noncombatants are presented without the amorality being questioned at all. But by far the bulk of the text is dedicated to deep discussions of what it means to be an adult, and the ways that real men and women care for society, and make decisions about the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy. Without ever sounding preachy or descending to pandering or nagging, Heinlein did an excellent job of describing exactly what that meant within the framework of a military dominated government. If you ask me this book is clearly focused on the military and sociological themes, but what the book becomes is nothing short of a utopia tale. It is definitely another one of those ambiguous utopias, but Heinlein presented a society here that chose to focus on a military way of life to avoid certain problems that crop up in a society like our own where freedom is a birthright and rights are granted before people have a chance to consider the burdens of citizenship. As it happened, after that particular course was chosen for the ship of state an interstellar war broke out, so throughout the story the military government was just doing what it was designed originally to do; make war on an enemy...Please click here, or on the book cover above, to be taken to the complete review.
I'm of two thoughts when it comes to Starship Troopers..............

~~~The book was one of the best sci-fi novels ever written, period. Omphalos' earlier post was dead-perfect in its' analysis; about every point you could make was made in that post. :smiley:
~~~The movie, on the other hand, is IMO one of the worst things Hollywood's ever produced. I sat through maybe 20-30 minutes of that (fill in the blank.......) before leaving the theatre and asking for a refund. No substance, no plot, shallow characters........everything one could do to eviscerate a classic sci-fi work, they did with that film. :mad:
I recently read Starship Troopers and watched the movie (loosely based on it) for my podcast - No Deodorant In Outer Space ( We had some lively discussion about the book and the many philosophical themes it get into concerning militarism, patriotism, duty, honor, voting rights and corporeal punishment. It's a good book for making you think about this stuff. Sort of cerebral.

That said, I definitely recommend that people NOT watch the movie first which is more satire and action based. I made this mistake and I think it skewed me for the book. I kept looking for more action and bug wars. The book is woefully lacking in this. At times, it even gets a little heavy-handed. I also lamented the fact that we got very little insight into the "bug" society - an alien species that is advanced enough to travel the galaxy - no less. I felt this book could have benefited by more action sprinkled throughout to break up the philosophical themes.

I also felt the book did not have strong conflicts as the main character kind of goes from rank to rank without much standing in his way besides chance and circumstance. This also detracts from themes touched upon because it highlights the philosophical waxing and makes it start to feel kind of monotonous.

Its odd, but I think this movie - however satirical (and maybe a little cheesy) - is a bit more enjoyable then the book. At least from a modern reader's perspective. I might have felt differently if I had read the book first, but I did not. It's not a faithful adaption to the book but the director's vision is interesting and sort of cranks up certain elements of the book to such a degree that the movie has its place (almost a counterpoint to the book).

Just thought I'd share that. Not sure if anyone else felt the same way.

Anyone curious on checking out my podcast episode will find it here: Review: “Starship Troopers” (Robert A. Heinlein) and “Starship Troopers” (Paul Verhoeven)
I suspect Heinlein found the country in 1950 jaded and narcissistic as compared to his childhood home in KC (especially in Southern California), and his experiences stateside in WW2 (and before that in the Naval Academy), and perhaps he imagined the country (world) ruled by WW2 veterans.
I read Starship Troopers when I was young and reread it years later. I guess I was older because I wasn't as immersed "in" the book as I remembered being the first time. Someone else noted the lack of blood and gore in the book, as compared to many in this day. That fact didn't take away from the tension for me then. The ideas of citizenship, comradeship, and loyalty impressed me. I don't the book has changed - I think all of us have been changed bu blockbuster movies and special effects.. In my view is there is a danger of getting jaded as we age - "growing down" is what I call it. Losing your childlike wonder and ability to "go outside" yourself in your mind is a great loss. Maybe I'm entering a second childhood. I hope so, because my sense of wonderment is reemerging as I get older. I'm sixty-eight years old and now those in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are the "old" people. Maybe I'll consider my self "old" when I reach 100 - but not yet, not yet.