Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
$6.99 at Amazon.com ISBN: 0441783589
Heinlein is famous for his controversial novel Stranger In A Strange Land, a masterpiece of science fiction. This fascinating novel was made into a great horror movie a few years ago. It's a dark future in which humans are at war with a race of giant, intelligent insects. The obstacles to winning a war with bugs should be obvious: for one thing, they reproduce in vast numbers, so no matter how many you kill there are always millions more to replace them. For another, they don't care for their own lives, so a holocaust of dead insects in exchange for one dead human soldier is actually a victory for our six legged rivals. How does one win a war against an enemy like that?
Sound exciting? Well, it is! Yet surprisingly, that's not all there is to this story. Heinlein has an amazing talent for using sci-fi as a vehicle for social philosophy. Johnny Rico, the story's young hero, spends as much time in the classroom as he does on the battlefield. In it he learns about the society of his world, in which only those who've served in the army have any rights. Civilians, those who have not served in the military, live in security on Earth but cannot vote, run for public office, or travel without permission from a Citizen. These privileges are reserved for those who've proven their dedication to the body politic by defending it with their lives.
All the philosophy discussions are very interesting, and they don't go on for more than a few pages or delve too deep, so they never get boring. In one chapter Rico and his classmates discuss whether whipping law-breakers is appropriate, or a needlessly cruel punishment. In others there are lessons in value, civic duty, and the need for war. Conditions on Earth are very brutal at this point: the war with the bugs has gone on for years by the time Johnny joins. Their rules seem a bit heavy-handed and unforgiving, but under the circumstances they can hardly be blamed. Even Johnny is publicly flogged on at least one occasion.
So this book has a lot going for it: some good war scenes that are so scary the soldiers wet their pants. But it's not just a slug-fest. The harsh policies of this futuristic society had me re-examining some of the leniency in our own culture. Our lives are very soft compared to these people. It's cheap ($6.99), not too long (272 pages) and darn enjoyable reading. It begins when Rico is a teenager, follows him through boot camp, and ends with a seasoned veteran. Lots of fun, with enough depth to keep it engaging. The movie is good, too!

1 comment:

about a boy said...

i loved starship troopers!