Thursday, April 04, 2013


Starship Troopers, Robert A Heinlein, G P Putnam's Sons, 1959, 263 pp

Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award in 1960. (Until 1965 when the Nebula Award was created, the Hugo was the only major science fiction award.) I have also learned that a sub-category of sci fi is called military sci fi. This book falls in that category and has a reputation of being Heinlein's most controversial work.

As far as I could tell it is a story in praise of soldiers: their toughness, bravery, and loyalty to each other and to the country, planet or intergalactic entity for which they fight. Heinlein took his experiences in the US Navy and made up a story about a soldier named Rico who trained with and fought for a futuristic military branch called the Mobile Infantry.

These guys wore atomic powered armor and were dropped on enemy planets with orders to wreak as much destruction as possible. The enemy against mankind was an intelligent arachnid species nicknamed the Bugs.

I belong to that much maligned segment of humanity called pacifists. I am staunchly antiwar. My spiritual heroes include Jesus, Buddha, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, etc. I was educated to understand that as Americans, we fight for democracy, we always win, and we have God on our side. As far as I can tell, in any war, each side feels justified by some kind of spiritual belief that they are in the right and should be proud to kill and destroy the enemy for the good of their own portion of mankind. Sounds like insanity to me.

Therefore I pretty much hated this book the whole way through. It is an age-old quandary. If someone or some group of someones is out to conquer or destroy you, what should you do? Is mankind doomed to a tooth and claw existence or do we have abilities which should enable us to rise above such animalistic tendencies and find a more constructive method of resolving differences?

If we spent as much money and sacrificed as much human life as we do on war to create a harmonious existence with each other, I don't see how we could fail. But where is the fun and excitement in that, eh?

Heinlein was a consummate storyteller and a fine writer. I suppose his curse was that he was also a deep thinker but failed himself to find answers. He wrote it all down in his stories and if Starship Troopers was controversial, his next book went beyond controversial to provocative. Within two years, Heinlein won the Hugo Award for Stranger in a Strange Land. I am eagerly anticipating my rereading of one of the hippy manuals I read in my youth.

(Starship Troopers is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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