Friday, October 30, 2009

Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is a classic look at the life and training of a member of the Terran Mobile Infantry. Lieutenant Juan Rico recounts how he joined the military, ended up in MI, how he survived basic training, his first experiences of combat in the attack on the Bug homeworld of Klendathu, his decision to go career and training as an officer. And throughout the novel, Robert Heinlein presents a striking image of a worldwide (and interplanetary) limited democracy based on a morality of responsibility. The novel is as much an essay on morality and politics as it is an actual story. If you've only ever seen the movie by Paul Verhoeven, you have no idea what the book is actually like.

And it is in those essay qualities that the novel really stands out. Suffrage is only granted to those members of society who perform a term of military service. It's emphasis on individual responsibility is almost libertarian in leaning, but is more of a direct response to the growth of communism in the real world 1950s just after the Korean War. We don't really see much of the civilian government at all, beyond knowing that all elected officials are also veterans. Johnnie's father is a business man, and very clearly a capitalist as well (at least until he too joins up, following the Bug's destruction of Buenos Aires.)

As a part of science fiction as a whole, Starship Troopers wasn't the first military novel, but it was a distinctly influential one. Joe Halderman's The Forever War, though written in response to Vietnam instead of Korea and much less enthusiastic about military service, is clearly influenced by Heinlein. Joe Scalzi's Old Man's War is almost a direct plot and military/government interaction descendant of Starship Troopers. And there are even similarities present in movies such as Full Metal Jacket. And anyone who has enjoyed games such as Starcraft, Halo, Tribes, and Crysis can thank Heinlein's idea of biomechanical exoskeletons that double as spacesuits.

Score: 5 of 5

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