Review of Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein

After reading a couple Hugo award winning novels I didn't enjoy that much Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein was a real pleasure. I had read the book previously and knew I would enjoy it. What I didn't know was how much I had missed the first time. Some of that may have been due to the movie but most was because I was younger.

Perhaps the thing that I had most fully missed in my first read of Starship Troopers is that the protagonist, Johnny Rico is Filipino. This is an important point because it was written in 1960 but the surprise is also important to me because it reminded me of my own assumptions. Something that is not entirely comfortable but important to be reminded of. This is of course in part because of the Starship Troopers movie which causes me to see the hero of this book as the main character of that story but not entirely. I would have imagined him similarly no matter what movies I had seen I fear.

This book is as much about philosophy as it is science fiction. Many of the philosophies in this book are controversial. That is one of the things that makes Starship Troopers such an interesting book. Heinlein sees humans as animals which need to be trained to be anything more. In addition this book is said to be militaristic and perhaps fascist. It supports both capital punishment and corporal punishment and does so strongly. There are two answers to these charges, the first is that in every case except fascism there is not really anything wrong with supporting the idea. You may disagree with Heinlein but he can disagree with you as well. Beyond that this book is science fiction describing a different culture. The differences is culture are just that, differences. They do not have to be taken as correct only a different way of thinking.

Perhaps the most striking part of this story for me was in the middle where they have a man who had been a soldier and left but was then caught having killed a young girl. They execute him and the main character struggles with it. This is not left to be an easy decision but one that he ultimately decides is right. How he decides this is explained well in the book but basically, if he was sane he should be executed for murder, if he is insane either he can be cured or not cured. If he can not be cured he should be executed to ensure that he can not hurt anyone else in the future. If he can be cured he would then be left sane with the knowledge that he killed a little girl and a moral and sane person could not live with that so why make him?

Starship Troopers is not a typical story. There is not a real enemy, though there is a war and many times it deviates into political essay more than story. All that said it is a brilliant story and whether you agree with the points completely or disagree strongly it is worth reading to understand them.