BOOK REVIEW: Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein

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Publisher: Hodder

Series: Standalone

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 275

Publication Date: 1959

Verdict: 5/5

 

Thousands of years in the future, humanity is at war with an arachnid foe.

The military is the last saving grace of human society, the wall that keeps out the barbarians. And of course being a soldier comes with its perks.

Johnny Rico is a young man with big dreams. Namely, to get into the military and do his bit for the war effort. unfortunately for him, things are rarely that simple.

 

Like so many people, I am more familiar with the film version of Starship Troopers than the original novel. Since I hold the film in such high regard, and given that this novel basically kickstarted the Military SF genre, I figured it was about time I corrected this oversight. And boy am I glad I did.

First up, this is a classic example of the book being different from the film. Not necessarily better, but very different. For a start, almost two-thirds are spent in military boot camp. It’s only in the closing acts that we get a good look at the war against the bugs. But the biggest diversion the film took is in the humour. While the novel has less of the out-and-out violent humour, the political satire is much, much thicker. We get a better look at the political workings of the Federation, in all its messy intricacies.

That’s one of the strangest parts of the novel. It’s brimming with political speeches and moral justifications. It’s insightful, provocative, hilarious, but above all, it’s very hard to tell where satire ends and personal opinion begins. And I think that may be the point. Everything here is on a sliding scale, albeit one tilted to favour the extreme. But among the obvious humour, there are some genuinely fascinating pieces of moral philosophy.

This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the book’s original release, and its age does show. Even by the standards of Military SF, Starship Troopers is rather sexist, with almost every character being a hot-blooded male. Though I do feel this is balanced with the naval side of the army being predominantly female. The hardest part for me was envisioning Dizzy Flores as a man. I’m only glad I haven’t seen the film in a while, or these problems could have been far worse.

Quite often I find that older prose is more difficult to read. A temporal language barrier between myself and the golden age of the pulps, but Heinlein’s writing is as smooth and clear as any modern author. He writes without embellishment, but with good humour. Almost like a verbal storyteller. There are times when you forget this story isn’t being told by Rico himself.

I don’t think the book is quite good enough to knock the film off the pedestal I hold it on, but that’s down to personal taste more than anything else. granted some of my favourite scenes are absent or cut down, but others are enriched and shown in more detail. My recommendation would be to view the film and novel as two separate entities, in as much as that is possible.

 

At the end of the day, Starship Troopers is a magnificent piece of standalone fiction, and if you like philosophy, satire, or just good old-fashioned action, you should definitely take a look.


4 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein”

  1. BOOK REVIEW: The Macharian Crusade, by William King – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] always the little men that shine. At least it is for me. Maybe it’s the lingering legacy of Starship Troopers, but there’s something about the brutal warfare and gallows humour that has always appealed […]

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  2. BOOK REVIEW: Islands in the Sky, by Arthur C. Clarke – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] every one of his books being a winner for me. The third is Heinlein, who is more of a mixed bag. Starship Troopers is phenomenal, while Stanger in a Strange Land is decidedly not. Wedged between these two names is […]

    Like

  3. MILITARY SF: Is It Worth A Shot? – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959) is the go-to for serious Military SF. Without going too deeply into the complex web of Heinlein’s politics, Starship Troopers is unashamedly pro-military. It shows a humanity at war with an alien species, and a resultant civilisation that glorifies war. The book goes to such extremes in its glamorising of the military that it feels at times like a parody, though the evidence suggests Heinlein was since in his intentions. The 1997 film of the same name is not a straight adaptation, but uses many of the book’s elements to create a satire of the messages in the book. Book and film are very different creatures, but both are well worth a read. […]

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  4. BOOK REVIEW: Double Star, by Robert Heinlein – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:Moonrise, by Ben BovaThe Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. HeinleinStarship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein […]

    Like

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