Starship Troopers (Heinlein)

Heinlein, Robert.  Starship Troopers.  Baen Books. Audio Edition.

So begins the first “realistic” science fiction novel.  While it is not certain that this book sealed Robert Heinlein’s position as the “Dean of Science Fiction,” it’s hard to find a better candidate.  Even the silly film adaptation didn’t ruin this book. It only enhanced the book’s prestige (if only as an incompetent foil).

Heinlein perfected the art of “indirect exposition,” which is probably why this book is such a success.  Heinlein doesn’t “tell” the reader everything that happens. He lets the reader make his own inferences. This maintains the easy flow of the story without sounding didactic–the rule of good literature is to show, not tell.  It’s this technique that allows Heinlein to fudge on some plot aspects (more on that below).

The story’s plot is simple.  Sometime in the conveniently distant future, an alien race (i.e., “the Bugs”) attack Earth (i.e., Terran Federation) and its colonies.  The strange thing about this novel, though, is that the Bugs’ invasion isn’t really that important to the story. The main story is about our protagonist’s (Johnny Rico) life as a Mobile Infantryman. It’s a very interesting life, but it might also suggest a problem with the story: take out the antagonists and very little of the story changes.  The reader is often more interested in whether Rico survives Basic Training than when he is about to be overwhelmed by Bugs.

In terms of writing style, this book is as good as it gets.  It is smooth, balanced, and occasionally funny. For example, when Rico and his friends are meeting with the Army recruiter, he tells them the type of work they will probably be doing: “No doubt you will be field-testing survival gear on one of Jupiter’s moons).   Without probably intending it, Heinlein mastered the ironic understatement. Another example of the skilled narrative is when Rico finds out who is field sergeant is at the end of the story. That move was near perfection.

Heinlein’s book is the rare case of when an incompetent film adaptation actually enhances the book itself.  Some words on the film: in the film the platoons are coed. In the book there are rumors that women might even exist.  That’s one of the problems between the two. On the other hand, the film did a good job in capturing what the “drop” on Klethandu probably looked like.

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