I will admit that I first saw the movie with the same name before I ever thought about reading the book. In fact I didn’t even know it was a book until a few years ago. Surprisingly the movie is really nothing like the book other than they have a few similar plot lines and share a few common themes, other than that the overall tone of each is totally different, but we will get into that in a minute. When I saw the movie and found out it was a novel first, and a famous novel at that, I knew I had to check this one out.
Heinlein was born in Missouri and studied at the US Naval Academy in Maryland where he graduated with a B.S. in Engineering. After a brief stent in politics he soon began writing, the rest is history as they say. Starship Troopers is one of his most famous novels not to mention one of the most famous in the sifi genre. Perhaps his most famous novel is Stranger in a Strange Land, which is also one of my favorites. He is one of the most well known sifi writes of all time and one of the most accomplished. In 1974 the Science Fiction Writers of America named him its first Grand Master (Wikipedia). I am not sure what that is, but you can bet that it is quite an accomplishment. One interesting thing about him is that in 2003 he had a brand new book published called For Us the Living, which is on my list to read as well. That one had been written well before his death and was released for the first time in 2003. He also has an asteroid belt and a crater on the moon named for him. Heinlein has also won 4 Hugo Awards for various novels. If you are a sifi fan and never read anything by him you should be ashamed of yourself (said with my arms crossed, head leaned to the side, pointing my long bony finger at you just like your mother use to when you were in trouble.) Yeah so let that sink in…
The novel follows a soldier for the Terrain Federation named Juan Rico, who goes by Rico. The Terrain Federation is at war with bug like creatures from Klendathu. The story opens with Rico and his troops completing a raid on a planet where one of his friends is killed in the process. Soon after that the story jumps back to Rico as he struggles with what to do with his life after he graduated from high school. He joins the army and from there the story flashes back and forth from the present to the past. Most of the past scenes are Rico’s personal life as he deals with his father, who does not want him to join, to his teachers, one in particular who heavily influenced his decision to join. The novel also touches on the training the troops go though as well as how Rico’s career advances in the military.
I found it difficult to give a synopsis of the story. I think the book jumps around a lot so it’s hard to nail down a specific plot, as the book focuses more on ideas and themes rather than a specific storyline. Don’t get me wrong there is a story, but I felt the main focus of the book was not on that though. I will say that I did like the ending as you really get to see how much Rico has changed as well as a few other characters throughout the story especially his father. You also get to see how Rico grows and why he makes some of the decisions he has in his life. Younger adults are very impressionable and Rico in this story is no exception.
The plot in this one is not what you think it would be. To me the title suggest that book would be full of action and many different scenes about some sort of intergalactic war that is going on. That could not be further from the truth. There are very few scenes that deal with the actual war and any sort of action as it were. That does not by any means that this book is bad, just not what you would think by looking at the cover art and the title.
The interesting thing is that despite the title this book is more about politics, the idea of fighting for your country, and want it means to be a citizen (in the story if you serve in the military you then get the right to vote and hold office.) So there is an exploration of the culture and how the political system is set up in this future society. There are so many ideas that deal with the above issues that are explored in this story, and that to me was the main focus in the story. Heinlein seems to use the war as a base to drive the story, but it is more of a background device that gives a setting to what he really wants the reader to see.
I am on the fence on whether or not I liked this one. I do not think it was terrible or anything, I just am not gushing over it like so many others who love this book. Not really sure why it did not appeal to me but I just could not get into it as much as I thought I would have. There are tons of interesting ideas throughout the story, which I always like, but still it did not “tickle my fancy.” One reason could have been that at times I felt that the story kind of dragged on a little, at least in my opinion. I also felt there was a lack of action in the story, as I have already mentioned. Honestly, I would put this novel in a sifi political category as I felt that was more the main focus of the book, not necessarily the war itself. Which, again is fine, I just did not realize that before I started reading this one. I think I was secretly hoping for a shoot ‘em up sifi war novel, but that was not the case. This is more a thinking man’s sifi novel and I will say that the author does a fantastic job of portraying many different political ideas in a future almost dystopian society something that is often left out of dystopian society stories.
The novel has also been accused of promoting “militarism,” and glorifying war. I guess you can see this in the novel, but I did not necessarily take that away from the book. I felt a lot what others read into regarding militarism to me was more patriotism and love for the country and world for that matter. I felt there was a bigger issue of an ex-Federation soldier being able to teach a class and more or less persuading young impressionable children to join the military. Basically a recruiter in a high school, I felt there are more issues there, but what do I know? While reading this I never made the connection of glorifying the military or war for that matter in any way. With that being said this issue has cause a bit of controversy over the years with the novel.
This book and The Forever War both have very similar ideas at their base. Both novels follow a soldier, as he and his fellow soldiers fight an alien enemy. However that is where the similarities stop. As I have said this novel is more a political based novel where TFW did not touch on those themes as much. I cannot remember which one I read first, but I can tell you that I enjoyed TFW so much more. I cannot explain why, I just like the overall story better. With that being said both stories are classics in my mind and if you are a real sifi fan you will need to read both. Interestingly enough Joe Haldema, author of The Forever War, said that he “disagreed” with Starship Troopers because it “glorifies war”, but added that “it’s a very well-crafted novel, and I believe Heinlein was honest with it.” according to Wikepedia.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph there is a movie out there based on this novel. The movie is more an action packed Hollywood blockbuster that barely touches on the political military themes that the novel uses. I thought the movie was kind of a joke, and not necessarily as serious as it wanted to be, it also performed rather poorly while in theaters. Although, I have read that in the recent years the movie has gained quite the cult following. Watch the movie at your own discretion, it will give you very little to no insight on the book, as the two are very different in almost every aspect.
I recommend that you read this one as it was written by one of the greatest writers in sifi history. If you like reading about politics and ideas along those lines you will love this novel as it is an entirely different spin on them. I felt there was a lack of action throughout the novel, but again do not let this discourage you from reading it. Even though it was not my favorite you need to read this one, if for no other reason just to say you have.