Written in a few weeks as a response to a proposed nuclear testing moratorium and other issues, it has been interpreted and misinterpreted, praised and excoriated. It recently generated hundreds of "reviews" on the Amazon.
Since its debut inRobert Heinlein's novel Starship Troopers has been one of the most popular -- and controversial -- works of science fiction ever published. Written in a few weeks as a response to a proposed nuclear testing moratorium and other issues, it has been interpreted and misinterpreted, praised and excoriated.
It recently generated hundreds of "reviews" on the Amazon. Long on philosophical discussions about citizenship, government, and sociology, this is a book that can be read on several levels: It virtually defined the powered armor subgenre of military science fiction.
It also generated an awful lot of mail, most of it negative. Lest anyone later accuse me of having a hidden agenda, let me make my agenda public at the outset: Starship Troopers might just be my favorite book of all time. This web page was inspired in large part by the degree of misinterpretation, false statement, and outright character assassination I have recently witnessed concerning Robert Heinlein in general and Starship Troopers in specific, ranging from people on the internet who obviously felt that they didn't have to read the book or read it thoughtfully before condemming it, to the hypocritical statements of those responsible for Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers.
For a specific example of such misinterpretation and falsehood, I recommend Don D'Ammassa's recent "review" of Starship Troopers printed in April issue of Science Fiction Chronicle. D'Ammassa uses same tired old technique of making what he claims are statements of fact regarding the society described within the book which are simply not supported by the text, then condemning the book based on these inaccurate claims.
To see my letter to the editor of Science Fiction Chronicleand any further details of the resulting corespondence between Mr. D'Ammassa and myself, please click here. I have no problems with people disliking or even condemning the book for its contents; it is a controversial work, and while I personally think that "polemic" is a little extreme, I can see why someone might describe it that way.
What I do not accept, though, is condemning the book on the basis of willful ignorance or poor reading comprehension. This is not to say that Starship Troopers doesn't have its flaws; it can be preachy and with a narrow focus, thus giving rise to the impression incorrect, I believe that Heinlein was only focused on the military.
More about this below. To further complicate matters, Heinlein occasionally makes contradictory statements about the society portrayed in the book. While I disagree with Heinlein on a number of issues including the one that prompted him to write the book in the first placeI do agree wholeheartedly with his take on citizenship; that with rights come responsibilities, and that many if not all of the major problems facing the western democracies today -- especially the United States -- are the result of people having forgotten that simple fact.
Chapter 1 opens with a quick strike mission on a world of the Skinnies, the humanoid allies of the Federation's main foe, the insect-like Arachnids. The story then flashes back to Johnny's graduation from high school, and his decision -- on a whim, really -- to sign up for Federal Service over the objections of his wealthy industrialist father.
After some aptitude testing and preliminary screening, young Johnny finds himself at a boot camp so rigorous only ten percent of the recruits finish basic training. He survives, is assigned to a unit, takes part in a few operations, almost gets killed, goes career, attends Officer Candidate School, is commissioned, and eventually commands his own unit.
Interspersed through this are flashbacks to his high school History and Moral Philosophy course. These flashbacks are not filler; indeed, in many ways they are the core of the book. For in the flashbacks we learn that in the Terran Federation of Johnny's day, the rights of a full Citizen to vote, and hold public office must be earned through some form of volunteer "military" service.
Those residents who have not exercised their right to perform this Federal Service retain the other rights generally associated with a modern democracy free speech, assembly, etc.
This structure arose ad hoc after the collapse of the 20th century western democracies, brought on by both social failures at home and defeat by the Chinese Hegemony overseas.
This is a society where John Kennedy's "Ask not want your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" isn't simply a musty old speech, but a core political philosophy.
The recent release of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers has led to a lot of online debate concerning the original book. Some of the participants have made cogent points based on a thorough understanding of both the book in specific and the military in general. Other people, though, have made the following comments.
In the context of Starship Trooperssuch statements usually precede the speaker's attempt to paint the book in the terms of the alleged pejorative, i. Starship Troopers was written in response to real-world situations, and Heinlein certainly argued in defense of the book that the current method of awarding the franchise -- accidental birth in the country in question, followed by surviving long enough to reach the age of majority -- is, by itself, a somewhat haphazard way of guaranteeing that the enfranchised are prepared to exercise their privilege in a responsible manner.
On the other hand, he has also specifically stated in private correspondence submitted to the Quotable Heinlein page that his "fictional characters speak for themselves, not [Heinlein].
I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them.Welcome to the Purdue OWL.
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