Book Review: Starship Troopers

Book Name: Starship Troopers
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
First Published: 1959
Winner of Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960

Robert A Heinlein started his career as a writer by publishing short stories in Astounding Science Fiction, which was edited by John Campbell. He went on to write many more short stories and novelettes for Astounding Science Fiction, many of which later were republished as short novels. Heinlein’s first novel that was published as a book was Rocket Ship Galileo. It had been rejected at first because the notion of going to the moon was considered to be too outlandish, but Heinlein soon found a new publisher, Scribner’s, that began to publish a Heinlein “juvenile” novel once a year at Christmas. Eight of these first edition young adult novels were illustrated by Clifford Geary in a distinctive white-on-black style. The Heinlein Juveniles featured a mixture of adolescent and adult themes, the characters experiencing the sorts of personal issues that young adults commonly find themselves in, combined with fantastic futuristic machinery and complex ideas. Heinlein was of the opinion that young readers were much more sophisticated and able to handle more complex themes than people of the times realized and his writing reflected this.

Heinlein’s last “juvenile” novel was Starship Troopers. It is said that this novel was his personal reaction to the calls for President Dwight D. Eisenhower to stop nuclear testing in 1958. The novel met with great success and won the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is still in print to this day.

Starship Troopers is a coming-of-age story about citizenship, duty, and the role of the military in society and is set during an unspecified time of the near future when humans have developed interstellar travel. The book portrays a society in which full citizenship, in order to vote or to hold public office, is earned by the willingness to place society’s interests before one’s own and in participation of government service. In the case of the young hero, this was military service. The novel is seen through the eyes of young Juan “Johnnie” Rico who narrates the story through a series of flashbacks. Johnnie remembers his enlistment and training in the Mobile Infantry and his part in the interstellar war with the Arachnids (the bugs) of Klendathu. Through combat and training, Johnnie begins as a lowly private, but eventually becomes an officer and decides that being a career soldier is his life’s path. Life in the military shapes him into the man he becomes.

Rico, through a series of conversations with Ret. Lt. Colonel Jean V. Dubois, his instructor of History and Moral Philosophy during his high school years, and Fleet Sergeant Ho, a recruiter for the Armed Forces of the Terran Federation, the political and military ideas of the novel are presented. This is the meat of the novel, the concepts of how this particular society sees itself and their version of manifest destiny. The ideas are robust, but controversial.

One of the main virtues of science fiction is to depict other ways that society and culture might organize and function, giving us the reader new sparks of ideas of how society might otherwise function. I am not certain if all the political ideas that this novel portrays would completely work, but it does give one plenty of room for contemplation. Even now, 50 years after its published date, Starship Troopers inspires heated debate about its core concepts. Somehow, I believe that Heinlein would have been pleased to know this.

While the development of powered armor is Starship Troopers most famous legacy, the novel’s influence into the concepts of contemporary warfare are myriad. The novel is on the official reading list of the US Army, US Navy and the US Marine Corp, the only science fiction novel to have that distinction. The all volunteer, high-tech strike force military of Heinlein’s book, a futuristic concept at that time since the armed forces of Heinlein’s day were filled by conscription forces serving a two year hitch, is now similar in style of our own modern day volunteer armed forces. I know of more than one young man that told me that he volunteered for service in the infantry based on reading this novel. The story is powerful and to some minds it might be disturbing.

Of all the authors that I read growing up, Robert A. Heinlein was the most influential on me, both as a writer and as a citizen. The ideas of libertarianism, of self-reliance, and of personal responsibility all came from reading the myriad of novels and short stories that this author wrote. His dead-on prediction of many scientific gadgets that we take for granted today, such as flat screen television, cell phones, and other everyday items was astounding. There is a saying among writers that “Heinlein was here first.” For good reason. His stories have shaped the genre of science fiction in ways that are incalculable. If you are to become familiar with science fiction in general, Robert A. Heinlein should be on your reading list.

List of Robert A. Heinlein’s Juvenile Novels:

    Rocket Ship Galileo, 1947
    Space Cadet, 1948
    Red Planet, 1949
    Between Planets, 1951
    The Rolling Stones, 1952
    Farmer in the Sky, 1953
    Starman Jones, 1953
    The Star Beast, 1954
    Tunnel in the Sky, 1955
    Double Star, 1956 — Hugo Award, 1956
    Time for the Stars, 1956
    Citizen of the Galaxy, 1957
    Have Space Suit—Will Travel, 1958 — Hugo Award nominee, 1959
    Starship Troopers, 1959 — Hugo Award, 1960




starship troopers book coverStarship Troopers can be found at your local library or any bookstore. It is not in the public domain, but often times you can find a used copy at a very reasonable price.

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