AT Book Club

Toasters Reads: Starship Troopers

Today’s post marks the launching off of an Atomic Toasters book club of sorts, wherein on a semi-occasional basis we’ll take a look at a work of outstanding science fiction literature, but not in a boring way. I hope to find books that explore some interesting technological aspect, or perhaps that had some predictive value, or perhaps just highlighted a cultural interaction with technology.

I have given some consideration to exactly where to start, and it is certainly a challenge. Do I lead off with something obscure or well known? Heavy or light? Robots or aliens? One suggestion was Stranger in a Strange Land, which I do enjoy, but since it explores some, shall we say, especially sensitive themes, I thought I might hold off a bit on that one, and get the discourse flowing here before we dive into that.

So instead of that, but sticking with Robert A. Heinlein, and with an eye towards the military on this Memorial Day Weekend–I present Starship Troopers! If you’ve seen the movie, but never read the book, stick with me, I assure you the book is an excellent read, and only vaguely similar to the film.

The world of Starship Troopers is our world, but in a future that has taken a somewhat unique turn. The governing body is essentially a military based democracy, in that to earn the right to citizenship, in order to vote or run for government office, you must first serve a term of service. Basically the option is open to anyone, since the technology of the day allows anyone to serve in some capacity, whatever physical handicap they may have (sometimes caused by their military service).

The military consists of 2 main parts, essentially an infantry that fights the wars and a ‘Navy’ that flies and mans the starships. Our protagonist is an infantryman, and throughout the tale we learn how he started out and what his training was like, and how he progresses along throughout his time in the service. One of the big components of the infantry battle plan (completely left out of the movie, by the way) is that an infantryman wears a mechanized power suit. It is controlled simply as an extension of the wearer’s body, with secondary operations such as communications and weapons selection. The power armor serves to create a fighting force that is somewhat of a hybrid of typical infantry and armored units.

One of the roles that the space fleet filled was that of troop delivery. The infantry could be launched from interstellar troop transports via a ‘drop’ from orbit, with each trooper in an individual re-entry capsule. Much of the book centers on describing the tactics, training, and even the political motivations of the Mobile Infantryman. Since the primary conflict during the period in which the story is set is a war between the Terran Federation of Earth and the Arachnids (“The Bugs”) of Klendathu, there are some actual battle scenes, however that is not the primary focus of the tale.

Starship Troopers was written between 1958 and 1959. Some of the influences that Heinlein drew on were his own military service in the US Navy, the recent conclusion of the Korean War (and WWII), and the politics of the military/government interaction during that time period, especially as pertained to atomic weapons. The book explores many of these themes through character dialog, and will certainly make you think, as well as entertaining. Perusing through the Wikipedia entry shows that some have interpreted the book in ways I never spotted, like advocating fascism and racism. If you have an interest in military history, there is much tying-in of the past to the training that the military is giving in the future of the story. 

Since today is the first attempt at discussing a science fiction book, I would like to know what everybody thinks. How was the book selection? Did you get too much plot or not enough? If there is anything else you all would like more or less of in a literary discussion, throw it out in the comments. We here at AT strive to be all things for all people, we really really do!


Images from tellurianthings, and if you want to know more without reading a real book, try the internet version of Cliff’s Notes, Wikipedia.

  • Renchick

    Well done! Love the idea of occasional book reviews. The only thing I'd like to see in addition to your well-written summary (no spoilers, but quite informative) is your thoughts on the piece. What did you enjoy/dislike? What kept you reading? What were your impressions/interpretations? Seems like that would help get the ball rolling for more in-depth commentary. On the other hand, it might lead to spoilers. Hm…

  • skitter

    Every collection of parts, words, or images has a character that goes beyond what can be quantified or checked off a list. Whether it's about a car, a book, or a movie, I'm interested in how it makes you think or feel, even if you just choose to shore up an earlier view. Even if we don't agree about an interpretation or opinion, once I understand where you're coming from, it's interesting and I'll get more out of the review.

    I'm looking forward to this becoming a regular-ish series. Don't be shy about pointing out your enthusiasms or musings.

  • Liroku

    YES! One of my favorite military sci-fi novels of all time! Great review; keep 'em coming!

  • PowerTryp

    Ahh Starship Troopers, excellent novel and the first Heinlein I've read. I find Heinlein to be very interesting because people assume that he was racist and conservative because some of his works do involve those themes inspite of the fact that he commonly used nonwhite main characters.

    I'd like to think that th main theme that he was trying to get across in Starship Troopers was that the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few and I think this because it is brought up time and time again.

    Looking forward to your next review Hyco.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    Joe Haldeman's The Forever War makes an excellent followup book since it puts a Vietnam war era spin on Heinlein's world view. Oddly, I read The Forever War before Starship troopers, but then the first Heinlein book I read was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
    I also read it over 30 years ago so my memory may be off, but in general Heinlein put a glossy and pro-military spin on the story in contrast to Haldeman's combat suits that were almost as dangerous to the users. As military SF goes, I prefer the more realistic worlds of later writers like Pournelle, Drake, Ringo and Frezza, although I do have some favorite Heinlein books