Robert A. Heinlein is one of the demigods of science fiction. However, I was not so impressed when I read his The Moon is a Harsh Mistress many years ago. Recently, I got interested in watching the Starship Troopers movie, which is supposedly an interesting take on Heinlein’s book of the same name. That led me to give him a second chance.
Starship Troopers gets off to a fantastic start. Using the point of view of a Marine named Johnny Juanito, we are thrown into the midst of an inter-planetary war set in the future between humans and arachnids (bugs from another system) and the Skinnies (another species) caught in the middle. Heinlein takes the US Marine Corps into the future and into space and gives them spaceships, Cherenkov Drive (faster-than-light space travel), capsules (to make jumps into planets) and armor exoskeletons. We follow Johnny’s schooling, choosing between the Marines and his dad’s business, his boot camp experience, his early battles and finally his rise through the ranks to leading a platoon.
This is a totally military novel, albeit one set in the future. The bugs are just a sideshow. The bugs have workers, soldiers, brainies and queens, and the latter three need to be fought and eradicated on every planet. That’s about it for the bugs. Most of the novel is a manifesto for why the military must be supported wholeheartedly by the populace. Many of the principal characters and many of the chapters are dedicated to Platonic dialogues making the case for the military, the necessity of war, the chain of command and why only those who have served in war should be allowed to vote or stand for office!
The novel has a fantastic first act, but it slowly goes downhill from there. It is not just the pro-military stance, but Heinlein simplifying or dumbing down gender (“females make for better pilots, males make for better soldiers”) or other species does not really help. On the plus side, the novel is a fast read. Johnny’s boot camp experience is quite memorable and so are the friends he makes there and on his first adventures. So the novel left me with a mixed taste and I am not so sure I will trying anymore Heinlein novels in the future.