Robert Heinlein: Starship Troopers

Discussion in 'Robert Heinlein' started by Brian Turner, Aug 19, 2005.

  1.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Messages:
    11,302
    So I finally got a small amount of freetime before bed and so read Robert Heinlein: Starship Troopers.

    The first thing that strikes me is the light-reading aspect of it - most books I'm so engrossed in that I don't notice the world around me, and can be very annoyed when it does intrude mid-chapter.

    With Starship Troopers, I could read and happily chat to my girlfriend because the book was so generally uninvolving. It's not really a story - it's a general first person ramble with story elements but no classic plot in terms of having a situation that the protagonist has to face and resolve - he goes places, does stuff, talks about life in the military a lot. Oh - and then after half-way there's mention of a war.

    In terms of construction is reminds myself very much of Brave New World, in that the primary purpose is not to tell a story as much as relate philsophical concepts at the expense of the story. Luckily, Heinlein keeps things more traditional in terms of using the novel format, but it still failed to engross in that regard.

    With all that in mind, in hindsight, I have to be completely heretical to other Heinlein readers and say that the film seems to have done the book justice to a large degree, not least by protraying something of the world that Heinlein was trying to communicate, in a way that a film would need to. There's really so little story and substance to the novel itself that any film production would necessarily have to create its own sense of identity with the book as a platform from which to work.

    There are a couple of chapters assigned to social philosophy which I was pleased to see - one arguing the benefits of corporal punishment, and the other arguing an alternative political system.

    However, while the issue that only military-served personal could have elective rights was interesting, he never really explored the potential challenges to it - maybe it is indeed important to instill social responsibility in people, but my impression is that military personel are trained to take orders rather than use free initiative at every step, so what you have is an electorate with different vulnerabilities.

    Also, surely such an electoral basis would be as subject to partisan political problems as any other political system? In other words, the problems he raised with political systems was not due to the fallible nature of the electorate as much as due to the limitations of the political system itself - so changing the basis for acceptance into that electorate cannot address the limitations of existing partisan democracies, because the fundamentals of self-interest above the interest of the electorate will surely remain an issue?

    Anyway, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, if anyone's up for discussion. :)
  2.  
    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Knivesout no more

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2003
    Messages:
    4,075
    An excellent take on the book, I think. Heinlein had severe problems with the concept of popular democracy, and tirades against it surface in many novels, such as Glory Road. I really don't think the military service-based franchise solves anything. I think this novel was especially a topical reaction to Heinlein's dismay with the popular resistance towards the US role in the Vietnam war, an also his discomfort with notions such as nuclear disarmament. He really believed that a strong society had to be one with extensive defensive abilities, and goes to great lengths to glorify this in Starship Troopers. I think his thesis here is little more than 'might makes right' dressed up with pseudo-Darwinist and patriotic trappings. The notion of having some qualification to vote beyond the universal adult franchise is very attractive to critics of popular democracy as it is practiced, but as you point out, exclusively elevating the military class to suffrage results in as skewed a vote bank and political scene as anything else.


    The story elements here really are very skimpy, and I think it's to Heinlein's credit that a book that, in substance, is little more than a sermon, is still kept so readable! And with such a tabula rasa of a narrator at that. Still, it's almost impossible to discuss this book except in terms of engaging with its ideas and I'd have to say there are serious problems with the concepts avanced here.

    Heinlein also displays intellectual dishonesty in making this a war against inhuman bugs - thereby simplifying the issue of how to think about war to a simple 'us or them'. The novel might have worked far more interestingly if he had chosen to make the enemy a renegade branch of humanity, say a Mars colony with different ideals from the main body of earth humans. As it stands, the Bugs are a bogey-man, pure and simple, and fighting them is clearly the right thing to do. It's worth comparing the last chapters of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game in this respect. But, for Heinlein's views to have any power, we cannot afford to do what Card did and attempt to examine and understand our enemies. It's a strawman set-up and an example of the intellectually dishonest ways in which Heinlein makes his points here, and elsewhere.

    For all that, it is such a darn gripping novel. The man had some real magic at his command in this respect.
  3.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Messages:
    11,302
    That would certainly make sense - a book of its time, as much as anything.

    More to the point, offensive capabilities - he makes a scathing point that civilians only want to defend, but you can't win a war simply defending.


    I agree - it was a short but otherwise enjoyable read.

    It's also good to see he was able to get away with a couple of chapters squared entirely at social commentary. I very firmly believe in books provoking thought, regardless as to whether a reader concludes in agreement or not.

    That is a very good point, and to be honest, it was one of the pivotal issues I saw in the film. While some people saw nothing more than a violent SF flick, the use of symbolism was very rich and clever.

    However, in dealing visually with some of Heinlein's concepts, it made Starship Troopers very much an anti-war film. I guess this is a key beef of the Heinlein reader film critics - that it did not preserve the observer experience that Heinlein was aiming for in support the military.

    Now that is a very good point - it would be very interesting to find out whether any aspect of Ender's Game was set in response or even tribute of Heinlein.
  4.  
    Ash

    Ash Strong Silent Typist

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2005
    Messages:
    160
    My Dad bought me Starship Troopers for my birthday many, many years ago. I grew up reading classic Science Fiction from his library, but this was the first novel he'd ever bought me. As such it's got a lot of sentimental value for me.

    I've read it several times. When I was younger the philosophical/commentry stuff was quite beyond me, but I enjoyed the portrayal of soldiers and soldiering in it. Enjoying both the training in the first half of the book and the battles in the second.

    As time went on I came to realise that the views expressed by Heinlein in the book with regards to society and the military were pretty much the complete opposite of my own. ButI still like and enjoy it as a novel.

    We also had the Avalon Hill Wargame which I absolutely adored. It's probably the first game of this kind I can remember getting into.

    I liked the movie as well. Although it was obviously (as has already been mentioned) sending a completely different message to the book. The battle scenes in it are absolutely incredible.
  5.  
    Leto

    Leto Outside

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2004
    Messages:
    2,070
    Although I love the book, it must be one of the reason why I'm so cautious (allergic would be a better term) of military people and militaristic mind. Having read him in the same row than A Clockwork Orange certainly didn't help loving authority...

    Err, Brian I think there's already another thread about Starship troopers, could be a good idea to merge both (and erase this comment) ?
  6.  
    andycook

    andycook The Reader

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2005
    Messages:
    12
    Starship Troopers is one of my favorites. It illustrates for me how easily and quickly events move along (of their own momentum?) for the "average" person and suddenly there is a major war when a few months earlier such a war would have been inconceivable. There are parallels to current events galore.

    I but this book in the same vein as Haldeman's 'The Forever War' and Asprin's 'Bug Wars.'
  7.  
    mikeo

    mikeo now with Dentyne!

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2005
    Messages:
    95
    The odd thing for me is that I always thought that this book was satire in itself - I hadn't realised that Heinlein actually meant for a number of the themes of this book to be taken literally. That explains why the movie (which I just recently saw) struck me as an entertainingly over the top emphasis of the satire I saw in the book, while many Heinlein fans thought it was naught but sacrilege. :D

    At any rate, it's certainly an excellent book - I quite enjoyed reading it.
  8.  
    Leto

    Leto Outside

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2004
    Messages:
    2,070
    Welcome into the "satire" club, mikeo ! I think the movie director, Paul Verhoeven, already stated he was in it too.
  9.  
    Illiad

    Illiad The Analyst

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2007
    Messages:
    7
    I actually agree with most of the points in this book, such as The Right to vote after Service, because it really does drill out those who don't deserve the right to vote, or turn them into someone who does. I believe in Private Capital Punishment but not Flogging. Its extremely similiar to Tyrant reign.

    But, No, there can not be a Universal Standard. But this is as close as you are going to get.
  10.  
    zatchstar90

    zatchstar90 FFVII Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2007
    Messages:
    10
    i think heinlein brings up a good point with Discipline. in todays society parents are not disciplining thier kids, they just say no and then go on with their lives then get confused when their kid does the same thing again!

    i hate the ending, there should be a short story about the battle to rescue the POW's and kill the hives.
  11.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    8,127
    I couldnt careless about that battle. Even if their suits and battles was cool it wasnt the thing i remember of the book.

    You know wiki says Rico was filipino, when its said in the book???
  12.  
    TTBRAHWTMG

    TTBRAHWTMG I am only an egg

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2007
    Messages:
    420
    Rico's ethnicity is one of those topics that will stir up much debate amongst Heinlein enthusiasts...but there are some clues about his upbringing that could suggest he is Filipino...or atleast has some in his heritage. Heinlein often intentionally makes it difficult to peg his characters down. I recall a story from Heinlein about how, while writing one female character, he kept pictures of 2 beautiful women on his desk, one black and one white. He purposely wrote in such a way that his physical descriptions of the character could describe either woman in the photographs, and he would make an effort to visualize both as the character while he wrote.
  13.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    8,127
    Ah good to know i didnt miss anything.


    I see what his critics say about ST in wiki. Talk about grasping for straws.

    They say things like Rico didnt grew during the book, nothing changed for him.

    First things changed for him second it wasnt some kind of epic space opera where its about him becoming a legendary hero or something.

    I could careless about Rico's personal life even if he was interesting. It was just like RAH meant to, seeing the world and its ideas through Rico's eyes.

    Heck i wanted to know even more of the world and its ideas etc even more than you get to know in the book.
  14.  
    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2005
    Messages:
    8,204
  15.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    8,127
    I wondered about Ramon dude. Why he was important to Rico. Planned to check him out but forgot.


    Tagalog was a good a giveaway if you knew what it is. I didnt think too much of it caue Rico sounded too much latino to me.
  16.  
    TTBRAHWTMG

    TTBRAHWTMG I am only an egg

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2007
    Messages:
    420
    There are enough real flaws with this book that it is ridiculous to pick on that point. I found Rico matured or at least changed, dramatically throughout the entire book, especially throughout the course of his training. I agree the "Bug Hunt" had little to do with the story Heinlein was trying to tell.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2007
  17.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    8,127
    Yeah there are flaws but i liked that he had an idea and he told it well.

    Sure sometimes it felt too preachy but most of the time i enjoyed the things they were talking about. Sure the story wasnt as much focus i expected.

    Instead of talking about what flaws his ideas and his world had, i almost laugh when the criticts of the book simplify everything by saying it was too militristic and glorifying the military.


    The suit i really liked other than that i didnt care much for the bug war.
  18.  
    TTBRAHWTMG

    TTBRAHWTMG I am only an egg

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2007
    Messages:
    420
    Those were the points I was referring to...I wasn't paying attention to his ethnicity last time I reread...does Heinlein actually say that Tagalog is Rico's native language or was it more veiled? The only thing that added some debate for me was this future "global" community and ethnicity in general...good example would be myself and my children. I've got 1 part English, 2 part Welsh, and 1 part German in me, just going back to my grandparents. My wife is 3 parts Scottish, and one part French going back to hers. What ethnicity does this make my kids, other than mutts? How about my sister and her Samoan husband? What ethnicity are their kids?
  19.  
    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2005
    Messages:
    8,204
    Not exactly veiled.:p

    And further on, Bernado says:
    wich would emphatically rule Juan out of being Hispanic.
  20.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Messages:
    8,127
    Hehe thats the problem when the main character isnt really the focus of the story. I mean i was thinking about the last class where they talk about why thier current state system work and the other in thier history didnt work.

    To even be interested in what Tagalog might be.

Share This Page