Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

".....Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at it's worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."

Starship Troopers (Hugo, 1960) is the controversial classic that spawned the subgenre of military science fiction. It changed modern warfare and is required reading for each and every U.S. soldier and Marine to this day. It is the novel whose voice was so strong, it forced Heinlein to set aside Stranger In A Strange Land to pen it. Beyond being one of the most influential, most important, and absolute best science fiction novels, it's also one of my very favorites.

See, it's dedicated to me.

Well, to be completely forthcoming, it's dedicated to a very many thousands. All Sergeants anywhen, in fact. I fail to hold that against it, however.

A political pamphlet on civic duty as well as a novel, Starship Troopers purports that suffrage ought to be the privilege of those who have earned it, and those alone. In Heinlein's society this group was solely veterans of military service. Though this idea (and many others in Starship Troopers) was very attractive to me in my youth, I can not help but notice Heinlein's shortsightedness in limiting his civic service to military service alone. For instance, do doctors not serve society with as much import as the soldier? I can almost hear RAH sighing when I say that; about to point out how doctors are economically rewarded for their service exponentially more than a soldier. Then I would point to teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and more. I believe he would assert that I would find most of these professions filled with veterans of military service, but some or most, even in the world of his own making, is not enough to make his point valid.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Robert Heinlein, and do not doubt that my mind is far inferior to what his was, but I do believe I would win this argument.


This one small point aside, I do believe that Johnnie Rico's adventures as a member of the mobile infantry is the most enjoyable, infuriating, and wondrous science fiction tale ever told.

Starship Troopers has become something of a handbook for my former service, The United States Marine Corps. It purports the superiority of an all-volunteer, highly trained, technologically superior elite force, which is exactly what the Marine Corps works constantly towards being. Heinlein envisioned night vision goggles, which are standard issue throughout military forces across the globe, but were first used tactically by the Marine Corps. He also envisioned thermal viewers, now known as forward looking infrared (FLIR) which is used on most tactical aircraft and tanks. The most famous idea from Starship Troopers, the powered armor, has been in development by the U.S. Army for nearly a decade, but has yet to see tactical use.

Starship Troopers was also the basis of somewhat comedic movie of the same name in 1997.

It occurs to me that I've not given any plot summary whatsoever. I don't intend to. You've probably already read it, but if you haven't, you absolutely must. Now. Starship Troopers is one of the five most important novels of science fiction.


Collector's Notes:

Starship Troopers, due to its relative importance and the collectiblity of Robert A. Heinlein, is a very expensive book in first edition. (Original cover pictured above) A signed first edition in very fine condition is selling on ABE Books for about six thousand dollars. There is also a copy on ABE, unsigned, for sale by Barry Levin for $4,500. I have inspected this particular copy myself, and it is finer than I believe he represents.

The UK first hardcover edition was published in 1975, and is nowhere near as valuable. (~$500)

There have been many reprints, but none worthy of note for collectors. Meisha Merlin, in the process of publishing The Virginia Edition of Heinlein's complete works, will be producing a limited leather edition at some point. However, due to Meisha Merlin's history of poor quality and repeated untimeliness, I would urge caution prior ordering this series.

Comments on "Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein"


Blogger Ran said ... (5:08 PM) : 

There is an essay by Heinlein which suggests that he didn't mean, or at least later reconsidered, the idea that the franchise should be limited only to military veterans. A PDF in which this is quoted can be found here.

I don't have Expanded Universe, so I'm not sure as to when Heinlein wrote what he did, but I kind of wonder how closely his rather specific error might be tied to the medical problems he had later in life...


Blogger RobB said ... (9:21 PM) : 

Very nice tribute, William. I've always heard that the book depicts the military very well, but to hear it firsthand from a former member of the military is what some might call "neat."

Embarrassingly, I haven't read this one. Must remedy that sooner than later.

If this is one of the five, what are the others? I'd assume Dune. Or is that fodder for another posting?


Blogger Mirtika said ... (12:45 PM) : 

When I was in H.S., I took the exam for the air force academy. Did very well. But my lousy health ,bad eyes, etc made ineligible.

I still hold those who serve in high esteem. And, personally, I wouldn't object to a system that said unless you are willing to serve in a capacity that might require your LIFE--cops, firefighters, military, teachers who are willing to work in dangerous schools, doctors and nurses who work in tough neighborhoods, rescue workers, etc-- you don't get to vote for the highest offices of the land. I actually could live with that. :)If you love the country e nough to take risks for it like that, then you deserve to vote more than folks who just enjoy liberty and a sense of security without paying a price for it.



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Blogger banzai cat said ... (1:32 AM) : 

I agree with your praise of Heinlein's opus. Moreover, this book holds a special place in my heart because Heinlein gave Rico an ethnicity not normally given to protagonists in books, i.e. Filipinos. (Er, yes, I'm also a Filipino.)

Which is why it rankled to find out a caucasian got to play Rico's role in the movie.

And to make matters even more inspiring, Heinlein also named a starship for one of our well-loved presidents. Outstanding indeed.


Anonymous Happy Ent said ... (8:04 AM) : 

I read it a while back, in my attempt to learn to like Science Fiction. I was not convinced, but might have been when I was younger. For my tastes, there was too little plot and characterisation, a large part of the novel reads like a blog rant. I concede that the novel succeeds at what it sets out to do, and that plot and characterisations aren't part of that. But at least the memorable first line did lead me to write a Heinlein parody for "If other authors had written A Song of Ice and Fire", Wildling Raider. "I always get the shakes before a climb."


Anonymous Scott Lynch said ... (6:20 AM) : 

Starship Troopers is undeniably one of the two or three most slam-bang entertaining spec fic novels ever written. How could you not love "I'm a thirty-second bomb! Evacuate the premises! I'm a twenty-nine second bomb..." ?

My objections to its premises have always been threefold. First, the "enfranchise soldiers, but not police officers, firefighters, paramedics, etc." aspect-- which, as you pointed out, Heinlein himself eventually gave a big D'oh! over.

Second, the idea that purity of motives could be presumed in every single person joining up for federal service-- although Rico stresses several times that the right to vote is really the only difference between citizens and non-citizens, I just don't buy it. You can't have that sort of political distinction and not expect it to create social stratification as well. The idea that people wouldn't sign up primarily for the prestige of being a voting citizen is loopy, as is the idea that that perception of prestige would not be encouraged by many who'd served.

Lastly, and most vehemently, I find the idea that soldiers are allowed to "de-volunteer" themselves from missions right up to the point that they're launched (without any bad feelings or formal consequences, to boot!) to be insane. Rico's contention that nobody would want to fight beside a guy who doesn't want to be there is microscopically small potatoes compared to the gaping holes this tears in basic military discipline.

"Gosh, guys, I know we were expecting indirect fire support and a field hospital, but the mortar squads and the medics all decided to stay home. Also, we've only got half the machine-gun squad, and the ammo carriers for the bazooka bugged out, too. But at least we're all happy to be here, right? Over the top!"

Other than that, I love it for what it is, and it's a rockin' good time.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:08 AM) : 

Just to clarify: Meisha Merlin's subscription-only edition of Heinlein's works is available not only in leather but in standard cloth; both come in slipcases with edge artwork by Donato, which will eventually form a series of murals on the bookshelf. Starship Troopers (Virginia Edition volume 3) should ship within a week or two. MM has shown the first two volumes at the recent WorldCon and DragonCon, but it would be nice if their website displayed representative images of the books published so far (exteriors as well as interiors) for prospective subscribers or for anyone wishing to evaluate quality of typesetting, layout, etc.


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