Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

Anthony G Williams

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I read a lot of Heinlein in the 1960s, when I absorbed all of the SFF I could get my hands on, but was never a great fan and didn't read any of his books more than once. I remember enjoying Starship Troopers, though, so looked forward to a re-read with the Classic Science Fiction discussion group. Coincidentally, the film of the book was on the TV just before I read it, so I recorded it to watch immediately after the read.

I remembered nothing about the plot except for what is obviously implied by the title, and those cool combat suits; part exoskeleton, part armour, part space-suit, part weapon carrier (probably what appealed to my teenage self!). I was at first impressed by the way in which the blunt, matter-of-fact style is well-suited to the subject of a personal memoir by a no-nonsense soldier, and followed his account of life on a future Earth and training in the "boot camp" with interest. I was not immediately put off by the right-wing moralising, since that seemed to go with the territory, but about half-way through this becomes the dominant theme.

An entire chapter is spent recalling a school lesson in which he learned the importance of corporal and capital punishment, and how stupid societies had been to abandon them in the late 20th century. Reading now from an adult perspective, I'd certainly agree that too many children are brought up badly today and lack a structured disciplinary environment, but the notion that if we always hit them immediately they did anything wrong they would grow up to be model citizens is simplistic, to put it mildly. So is Heinlein's notion that children are not born with any moral sense, it has to be beaten into them. Plenty of studies have shown how people, like other social animals, are hard-wired to have an understanding of working cooperatively with others and adhering to the behavioural codes which make that possible – the basis of morality.

Elsewhere in the book is another polemic about the evils of universal franchise, and why governments should be controlled only by those who have volunteered for military service and passed the rigorous training designed to weed out those without the "right stuff". In fact, the entire book is a paean to the virtues of the military life, the harsher the better, and also to unthinking obedience untroubled by any concerns about right or wrong – that's the responsibility of those who give the orders. And this so soon after Nuremburg?

The last part of the book returns to action rather than polemic and is all the better for it. The book is not without its merits, mainly the laconic and gritty account of future combat which presumably influenced Haldeman's vastly superior The Forever War. However, the plot gets swamped by the repellent philosophy. This is best regarded as a curiosity, mainly of value in providing an insight into the mind of right-wing America in the mid-20th century.
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Watching the film, made in 1997 some 38 years after the book was first published, is a rather strange experience. It's as if the characters and plot elements of the book have been chopped up and rearranged, with some additions and subtractions, and the attributes of one character sometimes assigned to another. The script stays broadly true to the spirit of the book, with Heinlein's jingoism parodied in a series of simplistic, gung-ho news broadcasts. There are some major differences, however. One is (almost inevitably) a much stronger romance element, achieved partly by making the Mobile Infantry mixed rather than male-only. The other (sadly) is the absence of those impressive combat suits and the tactics associated with them. Apart from the grenade-sized tactical nukes, the infantry fight with equipment and tactics not dissimilar to those of World War 2, which makes the military aspect of the film rather a sad joke. And as usual, the director is keen to maximise the use of the CGI "Bugs" with lots of associated nastiness and slaughter. He also doesn't remotely care about basic credibility; the Bug homeworld is shown as being on the other side of the galaxy (at least 50,000 light years away) but their favourite mode of attack is to launch asteroids from the belt around their planet to score direct hits on specific Earth cities, despite the lack of evidence for any technology. Given that a human spaceship was able to take action to avoid a collision with an incoming asteroid, they clearly travel at a small fraction of lightspeed, so would be likely to take at least a million years to make the journey. No wonder today's youngsters are so ignorant of science.
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A brief heads-up for those who followed my series of posts on Global Warming and SF. I have combined and updated them and put the result on my website as a handy reference (to be amended in the light of any further developments) here: Global Warming and SF

(An extract from my SFF blog)
 

Vargev

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I quite liked the first film, the other straight to dvd ones were an utter snoozefest.
 

Rodders

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Yes i have to agree. OK, the film was not in the same league as the book, but there were some good aspects about it. It was a good romp.
 

AE35Unit

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Re: Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

Well I've not read the book yet and keep getting put off by everyone's negative reviews of it. I loved the film myself but ignored the fact that it Based on a novel by Heinlein. I always know they're gonna be worlds apart no matter what book it is. If you compare the two you're always in for disappointment. When it comes to movies one should be prepared to just switch off the brain and enjoy the fun.
 

Rodders

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I think that i just bears a passing resemblance to Heinlein's Starship Troopers in the same way as Total Recall bears a passing resemblance to We can remember it for you wholesale.

I'd read it though AE.
 

Pyan

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Re: Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

Well I've not read the book yet and keep getting put off by everyone's negative reviews of it.

Don't be put off, Larry - read it and make your own mind up.

Personally, I'd rate it in my top three RAH books*, and my copy has been re-read so often that the spine is totally unreadable with all the cracks in it.




* Top three, in no order:

  • Starship Troopers
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Time Enough for Love
 

AE35Unit

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Re: Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

Don't be put off, Larry - read it and make your own mind up.

Personally, I'd rate it in my top three RAH books*,

* Top three, in no order:

  • Starship Troopers
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Time Enough for Love

Your second recommendation is the one i'm interested in! Must find a copy of Moon...
 

Moggle

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Well I've not read the book yet and keep getting put off by everyone's negative reviews of it. I loved the film myself but ignored the fact that it Based on a novel by Heinlein. I always know they're gonna be worlds apart no matter what book it is. If you compare the two you're always in for disappointment. When it comes to movies one should be prepared to just switch off the brain and enjoy the fun.

I don't know what you're talking about. A great number of ppl love this book no matter how insanely boring it is.
 

iansales

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The book is rubbish, the film is excellent. Verhoeven did the only thing possible with the book: he made it a satire.
 

Connavar

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Well I've not read the book yet and keep getting put off by everyone's negative reviews of it. I loved the film myself but ignored the fact that it Based on a novel by Heinlein. I always know they're gonna be worlds apart no matter what book it is. If you compare the two you're always in for disappointment. When it comes to movies one should be prepared to just switch off the brain and enjoy the fun.

Whose bad reviews ? Its an award winning classic piece of sf. Not the best thing Heinlein has done but for a juvie of his its a great book.

Iansales is prolly the only one in these forums that dont see any merit in it.

You can love the movie and still enjoy the book. Its like I am Legend book,film I,Robot film,book nothing in common but the title really.
 

iansales

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Conn, I don't think I'm the only one. In fact, in the UK it's generally considered inferior to the film.
 

Connavar

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Conn, I don't think I'm the only one. In fact, in the UK it's generally considered inferior to the film.

I was thinking about the number of us fans here in the chrons contra the ones that dislike it .

Sure some in these forums might not like it but not many have called it rubbish like you did. I know your taste in sf, i have read your blogs. I understand,respect other people opinions one of my favorite writers.

I just said to AE35unit that there is many people who like the book too
 

Pyan

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Conn, I don't think I'm the only one. In fact, in the UK it's generally considered inferior to the film.

Hmm...is that just your opinion, Ian, or can you back it up in any way?
 

Fried Egg

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I'm quite keen to read this...I'm hoping I really like it so I can tell Iansales how wrong he is! ;)
 

iansales

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Pyan, that's a general impression I've gained over many years attending UK sf conventions. I certainly know plenty of people who would agree with me. I also think Heinlein is held in higher regard in the US than he is in the UK - only a handful of his books are still in print here, for example.
 

blacknorth

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I would agree with Iansales on this one. Heinlein doesn't seem to have the reputation in the UK that he does in the US.

I have most of his novels but only made it through four or five before deciding enough was enough. Stranger In A Strange Land almost killed my interest in SF full stop, and Farnham's Freehold was the novel that certainly killed my interest in Heinlein.

A few years ago I was in an Oxfam bookshop and picked a Heinlein book from the shelf - an American tourist who happened to be in remarked 'Got a Heinlein, did you?' - I quickly returned the book to the shelf and left.
 

AE35Unit

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Re: Starship Troopers, by Robert A Heinlein – book and film

Wow thats weird blacknorth,cos I found Stranger in a Strange Land to be hugely entertaining-its what woke me up to Heinlein in fact!
 

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