Starship Troopers (Robert A Heinlein)

Tabitha

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Starship Troopers

I have just finished this book - I found it enjoyable, but not as fascisti as I was expecting, especially after having read the comparisons with Paul Verhoeven's movie which this story 'inspired'.

Review from www.amazon.co.uk
Written less than 15 years after the end of the second world war, as anti-Communist paranoia was reaching fever-pitch in the United States, this book is very much a product of its time. Originally planned for a juvenile audience, Starship Troopers has become a classic of hard science fiction, albeit a controversial one. Heinlein creates a future society where citizenship must be earned through military service, and although there are a number of exciting scenes of battle, much of the book is taken up with an exploration of the philosophical ramifications of such a society. The book discusses the necessity of warfare to moral development and the importance of beating children in order to make them into good citizens. Heinlein's political theory is quite unpalatable and occasionally irresponsible. However, the book is frequently exciting, and the details of the society are fascinating. This is an entertaining and thought-provoking book, but perhaps not best-suited for use as a political manifesto. The most interesting feature of Starship Troopers is its fascinating glimpse into America's struggle for a post-war identity, told as a heroic tale of interstellar conflict.

What I am not sure of, is whether this is supposed to be social commentary by giving us an example of something that was NOT ideal, or whether this is actually Heinlein's philosophy.

Any comments?
 

ray gower

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Not sure if Troopers reflects Heinlein's political philosophy. Having said that. Much of the training Rico recieved is merely an egged version of my own and therfore does not look too strange. Pongo's would find it even more familiar, it is designed to make you follow orders explicitly.

Many of his books are themed on, or around, the frailties of systems of political control. It is noticeable simply because he is a precise and descriptive writer. Where, how and why the status quo occurs, is always described somewhere.

Troopers shows humankind under a strong militaristic leadership, based upon 'honour' and discipline, after a general realisation that it was disappearing into depraved decadence.
Pitching it against an equally firm and singleminded 'all for one, one for all' concept, merely prevents things becoming out of balance and the value of discipline. If there is any statement to be gleaned from that, it is that both sides must be equally prepared to take the hits.

Where his opinions are clearer, taking all of his works, is in how our cultures will become homogeonous. Taking features from all of the major powers (at the time) Russia, China, American even British.
 

Tabitha

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Firstly, who or what is a "Pongo"? Me no speaka dis lingo, Ray ;)

I have been mulling over your reply, and in the meantime have read a few more Heinlein bits n pieces. Not having read the majority of his stuff I can't say anything in particular about his idea of the coming homogeniety of humanity, but I certainly have the idea that many scifi authors do share this vision.
But from what I can tell, and I have mainly been reading his late fifties early sixties writings, he seems to envision a future world government heavily influenced by American customs and concepts. I suppose this is not surprising, and seems to be borne out by events since these writings - the closer we get to the 'future' the more it seems that America will be the central system for humanity.
His short novel "The Day After Tomorrow" (aka The Sixth Column) is pretty triumphalist and racist, but I believe it was written in the early forties, so was perhaps fueled by anti-Japanese sentiment following Pearl Harbour and the war in the Pacific.

Starship Troopers gave us only a fleeting look at the actual political situation on Earth, Rico was writing from the perspective of an indoctrinated product of the militaristic regime, and I am not sure whether we should take his precepts at face value or not. He has no contact whatsoever with actual politicians, either in person or even on television.
On the one hand the idea of only allowing the franchise to those who have proved beyond shadow of a doubt that they can put the human race's interests (as determined by their superiors) before their own, is attractive, much fairer than limited franchises that have previously existed in western culture, and possibly more effective than the current "one man, one vote" situation. On the other hand that franchise must be incredible small - not only do you need to complete your training, but then you need to actually survive beyond your two year term of service. Women must have been a very small percentage of this surviving group too, not being permitted to join the infantry (unlike the movie version).
So those that survive would likely all be inclined to have fairly similar views, by virtue of their training. A more responsible electorate, but no more rarified than the old property based laws....
But is Heinlein telling us this would be a better system than what we have now? I am not sure...

I am a little confused, but hopefully this all makes some sense :)
 

ray gower

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Re. Pongo

Pongo- Service slang for infantry soldier esp. British (Like Tommy but less complimentary)

Sorry. Entirely my fault!:(
 

ray gower

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The simplistic beauty of a truly militaristic command structure is that from the lowest squaddy to the highest Major General, all know exactly what, where and who they must look to for the next instruction. A private looks to his corporal, who looks to the sergeant, who looks at the Captain and the Sergeant Major. Who is above the next man in the chain is irrelevant.

The structure, theoretical and practical, is inscribed irrevocably during training (indoctrination if you prefer). How all this works comes over quite well in Troopers during Rico's training.

The downfall of the system is that it tends to make those that have undergone it both cynical and intolerant of any weaknesses in either the system, or those that control it. Many military junta's appear because of this.

Again the book used it as a foundation of how the whole system came into being. There were enough dissident Military Officers, who had seen too much decay and combat and a populace that, if not demanding change, were too appathetic to care.

Where military rebellions tend to fail, is that those in control fail to remember that the strength of their support lies in a very small number of people (the regiment(s) that backed them). In Heinlein's world they backed off and opened the hope of control and a high quality of life to others. If they pay a small levy.


Survivivg the levy is another matter. If the odds were particularly bad, then the price might be considered too high. So I suspect that physical combat, or extremely dangerous situations were actually quite few and far between for the majority. There are always rumours and tales told for appreciative crowds from ex-servicemen and they always grow in the telling.

Again in Heinlein's world, all those that volunteered were guaranteed service. Sort of Global National Service. If you could make a mark you were in. It didn't need to be Infantry for men, or pilots for females. It could, I suspect, be as simple as scrubbing sewers for those that really could not do anything else. So the numbers and range of people that achieved 'Citizenship' would actually be quite high.

Women not joining the infantry is simply due to the norm at the time. Even today female soldiers in the British Army are not deployed to the front line.



In this case Heinlein put a lot of thought into conceiving a whole philosophy behind the politics of the story. In this case it looks as if he approved. I suspect he served on the front at somepoint during the war, if only as a reporter?

But he has also championed quite a few other systems in his books and with as much thought. It is difficult to decide upon what he really believes upon this one book.

Many suggest we will degrade to the 'Robocop Corporation' and he attempts their overthrow. So I guess we know what he doesn't believe?

It is, of course. just possible that he just set out to write good stories, without recourse to political points. The depth is just a happy bonus?
 

Kanazaka

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I didn't much contemplate the political ramifications of this novel, but I did enjoy reading the combat scenes and appreciating all of the details (strategies, setting, and especially the combat suits :cool: ). But I also recall liking the story, since it all made sense and didn't pull any punches. Rico is of course a sympathetic character, but so are many of his comrades. I cared about some of these characters dying, moreso than in the movie version, anyway. And that's my two cents, since I can't recall anything else about the novel's impression on me.
 

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