As always, my Sunday book review is presented as a suggestion just before you are going on a trip with a link at the bottom to the kindle version so you can download it right before leaving on your trip. I am picking interesting and easier reads to help distract and entertain, not meatier tomes.


This week’s book is a SF classic and Hugo award winning**, Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. The book is a very straightforward story about the creation of first a soldier and then an officer. We meet the soldier, Juan “Johnnie” Rico, in the midst of a raid on an enemy called “Skinnies” who are allies of the Arachnids of Klendathu who are at war with the the Terran Federation. The. First part of the book is a simple and action filled account of Johnnie conducting his raid as part of a unit of Mobile Infantry that use suits of futuristic body armor to augment their abilities to fight. The raid is meant to smash and terrorize the Skinnies in the hopes that they would abandon their alliance with the Bugs (as the Arachnids of Kendathu are called in the book).

The next two sections of the book are of Johnnie in high school, and in particular with his History and Moral Philosophy course, taught by retired Lt. Colonel Dubois and boot camp. That particular course in HS is important in the book and there is a theme of taking responsibility throughout the book. The discussions with Lt. Colonel Dubois are the main way that the philosophy of the Terran Federation is explained, not only in the chapter when he is in high school, but in flashbacks during the rest of the book. When I read this book as a teenager, the discussions had a big impact on me. As an adult, I can tell that many of the things discussed were somewhat set up as a straw man with the hero knocking down the straw man, but even today it makes me think. The high school section ends with Johnnie joining up for Federal Service and falling out with his father.

I do not want to spoil the whole book in this short review, but the pattern is similar to many other military fiction books with book camp preparing Johnnie for war and then his war experiences showing just how unprepared he was. He eventually becomes an officer and there is a good combat scene at the end of his training with several returning characters.

The book was first published as a serial and then as a novel in late 1959, and many of the foundation technologies that as discussed in the book are extrapolated from that time. For a book of that time, there are a lot of social advancements that happen without any real comment. Johnnie’s real name is Juan and he is a Filipino, but there is no mention or reaction to him not being white in the book. Although there are no women in the book’s Mobile Infantry (the film adaptation does have this), women also sign up and serve in active combat on the ships that transport the Mobile Infantry and ships do get blown up pretty often, so women in the story are dying in combat as well. Again, there is nothing special about this in the book.

The society Johhnie lives in is certainly militaristic. You cannot vote or hold public office unless you serve your Federal Service which is military service. There is a strong theme of appreciation for the common foot soldier, and Lt. Colonel Dubuis knocks down several anti-war straw men during his lectures. However, I do not feel the book glorifies war. Johnnie suffers person loss from it and the Federation has at least one major defeat. The role of the common soldier is held up, but more because they are putting their lives in harms way to protect others than anything else.

Heinlein is an excellent writer. He is quite skilled in writing dialog. Even the real technology bloopers he extrapolates are written well. The action scenes move along well and the fighting technology of the Mobile Infantry suits is well thought out and even amusing every once and a while.

There are few books I have enjoyed more than Starship Troopers and my youngest daughter recently read it and was fascinated by it as well.

** Hugo award is an annual award chosen by paid members of a large SF convention called Worldcon. I have never read a novel that won the award that was poor, but they certainly have picked books that compare unfavorably against other books with the passage of time and more critical thought.

Starship Troopers

The movie

There was a movie version of the book made. They do not have the powered fighting suits, but otherwise I have always thought that they did a good job with capturing a lot of the story and the society in which Johnnie Rico lived.

Starship Troopers (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]