5,000 years in the future, mankind is threatened with extermination…
This is the story of Starship Trooper Johnny Rico, from his idealistic enlistment in the infantry of the future, through his rigorous training to the command of his own platoon.
His destiny is a galactic war of unlimited violence and destruction.
Rico and his fellow troopers scour the metal-strewn emptiness of space to hunt down a terrifying enemy – an insect life form which threatens the very future of mankind.
Starship Troopers is nothing like the 2007 movie by the same name. In fact, the two share so little in common that the movie barely warrants the name at all. Starship Troopers the movie is about guns, aliens and gratuitous nudity shots. Starship Troopers the book is about ethics, morality, and the reasons why people fight.
Don’t let the synopsis fool you. Starship Troopers is science fiction in the classic sense. Heinlein takes an improbable premise and through that lens, he examines humanity.
The premise is this: current Western society collapses through participating in a massive war against Asia. From there, people band together and it is the veterans that people look to for guidance and protection. Through this, a new government is formed. Anyone may live within the new society, but to be a citizen – to have voting privileges or to be able to run for election – a person must first go through Federal service. Most commonly, this means a two year stint in the armed services.
Johnny Rico is not particularly idealistic or even patriotic. He’s not sure why he signs up for Federal service. It may be to impress his sometimes girlfriend Carmencita, or to compete with his life-long friend Carl. He doesn’t wind up doing anything glamorous like piloting a ship. He ends up being a mud foot, a ground pounder, a hairy ape: a proud member of the Mobile Infantry.
Rico’s journey cuts between short bursts of action and longer sections of flash backs to portions of Rico’s education in which issues of the morality, ethics and psychology of both our society and theirs are discussed through the eyes of the futuristic society.
Heinlein’s writing style is engaging, and the many characters are artfully and believably brought to life. There are no thoughtless military automatons, as could very well be expected from a book with a setting such as this. Each character – and especially Rico – is a well-rounded, interestingly motivated individual who has their own desires and goals.
Similarly, the plot itself is interesting and varied. The overarching, though arguably less important, plot-line of the intergalactic war intertwines and segues neatly into Rico’s memoires, lessons and conjectures. Starship Troopers is very easy reading for the most part. There is occasionally some military jargon and some acronyms are used, though the vast majority of them are explained and clarified.
Some of the portions in which the moral code of the future society is explained may come across to some readers as somewhat preachy. While this may be literally true, it is important to note that many of the lessons being taught are by citizens of the society, and their vanity may be just as inadvisable as those of the societies which they are comparing themselves to.
The lessons and discussions with teachers themselves are what provide the most thought provocation. Many issues are covered, mainly in the realms of, as stated previously, morality and ethics. Heinlein postulates that it is possible to construct a mathematical model of morality, through which any action and its consequences can be accurately predicted, charted and quantified.
The technology that Heinlein presents in Starship Troopers still feels relevant and current, despite having been written more than fifty years ago. The suits which all Mobile Infantry soldiers wear, and are the reason for the “Mobile” in Mobile Infantry and were notable for their absence in the movie, are artfully and imaginatively realised. Not armour as such, the suits use feedback to enhance a soldier’s strength, speed and perceptions. They are equipped with a variety of weapons from flame-throwers to nuclear missiles. They also have jump jets which nearly allow troopers to fly.
Also making an appearance is the obligatory faster than light drive on the space ships which ferry the soldiers about – the “Starship” in Starship Troopers. This engine is not discussed in any detail merely to state that it does work. As the war progresses, the scientists and psychologists also come up with some novel and inventive weaponry and tactics to help turn the tide.
Starship Troopers can also be credited with inspiring a lot of more modern science fiction. For instance, the Colonial Marines in James Cameron’s Aliens are doubtless influenced in part by Johnny Rico and his gang. The famous “Is this gonna be stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?” is nearly a direct quote from Starship Troopers. The ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troops) in the famous Bungie series of Halo games are also a tribute to Starship Troopers. The long running Japanese series of Mobile Suit Gundam was inspired by Starship Troopers.
Starship Troopers is an excellent read. It is thought provoking, and moving. It is a tale of high-science fiction and of lowly humanity. It is classic science fiction in its own right, and as impressive and relevant a read as any of the other great science fiction classics such as War of the Worlds, Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451.
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Demographic: Young Adult and up
- Rating Out of Five: 5
- Format: Paperback
- Find At: The Book Depository
- Published: December, 1959