Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is a bit of a genre-founder, but politically bizarre. It has the prototype of men in powered space-suits fighting an insectoid enemy (“The Bugs”) which would remind a modern reader of StarCraft, but it also has repetitive scenes of the characters in a classroom being lectured to on what may or may not be the author’s beliefs about society and how it should be arranged: everyone in the Terran Federation (a global nation?) has to serve in the military in order to secure their citizenship, and everyone is subject to corporal punishment in the form of public flogging, or in the worst cases, capital punishment.
The plot of the novel follows Juan Rico from the time he decides to sign up for the army (via peer pressure from his friend Carl who becomes an army engineer, while Rico goes into combat), his physically challenging time in boot camp, his intellectually challenging time in officer training school, and, briefly, his experience on the field. I thought the boot camp part was the most interesting, since it’s the part that’s described in the most extensive detail, so I felt like I was really living it as Johnny. The boot camp section also includes the part when Sergeant Zim calls the recruits “scrofulous toads” (scrofula being lymph nodes swollen with tuberculosis – which is apt because Heinlein caught TB which ended his career of five years in the navy).
I kind of zoned out through a lot of this book because I had to read it for book club and left half of it until the last day (ruh-roh). I did finish it in time, but just barely. So I got the gist of what happened at the end and how the battle against the Bugs ended up, but I missed much of the actual tactics. The disciplinarian, military nature of this book didn’t really grab me, but I can respect it and understand how someone would think this way. The basic idea is that “freedom isn’t free”, that if you want to enjoy a peaceful life, you have to fight for it, which is kind of paradoxical, and I think its applicability would depend on the situation. If you’re in a place where resources are sufficient and you have good relations with your neighboring nations, I don’t see why you would need to fight for peace.
I think it was wishful thinking for Heinlein to say that the twenty-first century’s most dire problem will be juvenile delinquency. The United States dissolved because we didn’t spank our children enough? I’m sorry, but that’s just silly.
I’ve heard some people say that this is a foundational science fiction text, and it did win a Hugo (to Heinlein’s surprise… he got a lot of criticism for the book and wasn’t expecting it!) but I don’t think I learned anything new about science fiction from reading this, and I didn’t enjoy it all that much, so it gets a two from me.