Title: Starship Troopers
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Classic Military Science Fiction
Rating: 4 of 5
This classic sci-fi novel has surprisingly little action compared to the sub-genre that it spawned/influenced (e.g. the Warhammer 40,000 franchise). The entire middle section of the book is essentially a philosophical glorification of militarism and fascistic government (“…the power of the Rods and the Ax…political authority is force.” – p. 145). Most of the book focuses on our narrator’s education in “History and Moral Philosophy,” brutal military training, camaraderie with fellow infantry, and experience in the chain of command. The various lectures and conversations along the way serve as an opportunity for the author to express his views.
In this “glorious” future, the “noble but misguided” democratic governments of the 20th century have failed, and humanity is united into a multi-planet federation in which citizenship and the right to vote and participate in politics (i.e. wield force – p. 145) is limited to military veterans (from an all-volunteer military in which anyone can try to serve out a discouragingly-difficult term). This arrangement is justified with the argument that a veteran is the only one who has demonstrated “that he places the welfare of the group ahead ahead of personal advantage” (pp. 144-145). No exposition is given of how non-citizens fare in this “utopia.” Any mention of civilians quickly dismisses them as mostly-contented, ignorant, cowardly sheep who very occasionally need to be kept in line with public flogging or hanging.
Throughout the course of the book, there is much more exposition of questionable (at best) views on the nature of morality, warfare, leadership, etc.. Humanity’s war against “the bugs,” an aggressive hive-mind race, provides some plot and a couple action sequences that keep the book from being a purely philosophical treatise.
As much a I found most of Heinlein’s views disturbing, the book was very interesting. Its vivid description of military service and unashamed advocacy and explanation of fascistic oligarchy provide a useful perspective on how and why some (by no means all or even most!) veterans and/or extreme-right-wing people think…not to mention that it’s just good, solid sci-fi.