After doing some heavy reading with The Communist Manifesto and The Hidden Reality, I decided to go for something a little lighter, namely a science fiction story. Using a helpful chart at ChartGeek I ended up giving Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers a shot. I saw the movie a while ago on TV (so no infamous shower scene…) and enjoyed the campy goodness and having Neil Patrick Harris tell us how best to murder giant bugs. I was shocked to find that Starship Troopers the book is not very similar to Starship Troopers the movie at all, and actually ends up being something like a love letter to fascism.
The movie adaptation of this book conditioned me to expect lots of social satire out of the source material. Paul Verhoeven does a great job (as he usually does) adding some razor sharp social commentary into the movie Starship Troopers. In the film, we see fascist, militaristic images but for the most part they are used in order to criticize those elements in our own society. While the movie is critical of preemptive strikes, militarized society and mass desensitization to violence, the book seems to advocate these things.
This is the most difficult to swallow aspect of Starship Troopers. Heinlein spends large chunks of the novel describing why public corporal punishment is a good idea or why the only people who should vote are those who have served in the military. An infamous section of the book features a speech from an officer explaining why life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not inalienable rights of all people. And this is not satire. Heinlein thoroughly believes these ideas. They are interesting, and as I mentioned in talking about the Manifesto, there is something to be gained from reading different political viewpoints, even though I did not agree with them.
Besides those touches of fascism, Starship Troopers is a pretty simple story. A fresh high school graduate, Juan Rico, enrolls in the military and becomes a part of the Mobile Infantry, a branch of the military that consists of soldiers in powered armor roughly equivalent to our modern day Marine Corp. Rico learns all about duty in basic training and then goes to fight giant bugs on a planet called Klandathu. In the end he becomes a commanding officer and his arc is complete. There is not really much to it. No real twists, and the action is not nearly as excessive as in the movie adaptation. Although the plot is simple, it never felt unintelligent and it was an easy read.
Robert A Heinlein is one of the masters of science fiction, but I do not think that Starship Troopers is one of his best works. It is first and foremost a vehicle for his political beliefs. The depiction of military life is worthwhile (I heard that the United States Armed Forces had this book on their reading list for a while) but other than that, Starship Troopers never really has the grand vision that makes science fiction so fun to read.