Published on October 31st, 2012 | by Michaela Buckley0
Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
I have a rule when it comes to books.
It makes close-minded dismissal much easier and gives members of the public a brilliant opportunity to use my loud declarations as a talking point when I stride around bookstores not browsing any books.
If it’s written in first person, it’s probably shit.
Authors usually seem to use first person narrative as an unconvincing attempt to persuade the reader that their opinions matter and are very important.
They like to use passive-aggressive techniques to express the dreary woes or ill-begotten views they seem to have collected throughout the course of their miserable lives.
At least that’s the impression I get when faced with transparent nobodies disguised as protagonists, spouting views nobody cares about, even when the views exist within their own perfectly concocted simulation of events, which is where you’d expect them to be most convincing, yet still they end in failure.
Welcome to Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, a book about soldiers, guns and powersuits. First published in 1959, it was adapted very loosely in 1997 by Paul Verhoeven, who appears to have transformed it into a hilarious parody of itself, which I can relate to, having created a satire fuelled by anger, as you probably mustered from my earlier drivel. If you didn’t, then you’re already prepped to go with Starship Troopers, the book that leaves you perpetually hanging from the precipice of comedy and despair.
The story begins with what first appears to be the drop of some Troopers into a warzone on a planet, but it’s quickly revealed to actually be military scaremongering, because of a reason way too important for insignificant readers such as ourselves to know. Get used to this, as this is also true of the post-off-world-colonisation setting (that’s a lot of hyphens). The first noticeable thing about Starship Troopers is how loyal it is to the military theme and the quality of writing when evoking the army lifestyle.
This first half of the book is set in the training grounds before the events of the first chapter, about an unassuming boy who unwittingly joins the corps through his own incompetence and how he fares on his journey to manhood.
Set in the distant future, where warfare seems to be a huge part of life for the dedicated individual, society employs a snooty stigma to persuade “civilians” into going into service with the wonderful reward of giving you the rights of a “citizen”, you know, with luxuries. Like voting. Basically you are a worthless human being that can only get by on money and superficial power unless you decide to become the government’s gun-wielding arse-monkey.
The world is a right wing nightmare, only a few points of the Orwell metre off of being a Clockwork Bloody Orange, however the Patro-political bullshit is all fed to us, the reader, in the same manner as it is being fed to the unquestioning populace.
Militaristic Social Hierarchy aside, one of the awful theories that a character named Dubois mentioned was how he believed that children should be punished in the same way a dog should be when being reared. By spanking them.
First off, I don’t know of anyone who hits their dog.
Secondly, people don’t bring up children like dogs, because people don’t expect dogs to have the same kind of inquisitive mental functions as required with people.
It’s almost like they are breeding dogs of War in humans.
There is a lot of Moral Philosophy featured in the book, there are extreme examples of Liberalism gone wrong in order to try and justify heavy right wing ideas, like Capital Punishment, disdain for Communism, physical punishment over conditioning and blaming lenient left wing laws for a rise in delinquency before the present instated enforcement system. The character of Dubois appears to echo Heinlein’s own opinions and doesn’t do the best job in toning down the clear extremism of his views. This book was written during Republican power in government in the 50’s so there are bound to be many archaic and politically “incorrect” points raised.
The section where Dubois is eloquently proclaiming his views is brilliantly juxtaposed against Rico’s half arsed attempt at a summary at the end, where he idiotically sums up that it isn’t his problem and goes to bed. “That suited me. I went to sleep”. You can almost imagine the stupid smile creep across his face. The fucking idiot.
The greatest thing about this chapter is that it’s thicko Rico himself who is recalling Dubois’ teachings with perfect clarity, only to offer in return the most sublimely dense conclusion on the most basic of levels. It’s so bad I’m not sure if this is meant to further reinforce that the government’s training is working perfectly or it’s the biggest fuck-up of all.
The first person narrative emphasises the experiences of soldier John Rico and his complacent conscience as he attempts to make it as a soldier. It works really hard dehumanising the protagonist, from his sheeplike following of his friends to join the Army, commitment to the intense training like a zombie trying to eat its own head and stripping the reader of their initial appraisal during the drop, in favour of a development segment set in camp. The generic “Father hates me” back story does nothing to stop all the other characters, which are infinitely more engaging and intelligent, from putting Rico in the backseat and playing out the story amongst themselves, all hearing it through his voice.
The dialogue is one of the strongest aspects of the book, but really that’s a bit like saying that you didn’t find a hair in the spitoon that you were greedily drinking to avoid going near this book. The dialogue treats description like an obstacle and, where implemented, feels very laboured.
Zim said: “I request transfer to a combat team.”
Frankel answered: “I can’t hear you, Charlie. My tin ear is bothering me again.”
Zim: “I’m quite serious, sir. This isn’t my sort of duty.”
It would have been best if he had just left them out in the strings of conversation. It’s utterly hilarious and looks like a child wrote it, not a Hugo award winning author, frequently listed along with Clarke and Asimov.
You know what a great way of giving your book an air of gusto without any effort is? Adding POEMS.
When you add a poem, you can give an educated feel to your writing, while also padding out the page count. The publishers love it, and so will your readers! Another great benefit about adding poetry to your work, is that it’s a nice, quick and talentless way of giving some unforeseen depth to your characters, if you have been too busy to do it yourself, because you were untangling your headphones or realigning pencils and shit.
For example, you can put a really good poem handling suicide from Kipling at the front of a chapter, right after a chapter concerning some heavy emotional trauma to the mannequin main character, this makes the reader think that he might kill himself in the next chapter, making them feel a little bit guilty that they might not have taken the character seriously enough up to that point.
Like a form of emotional blackmail.
But when he doesn’t go through with it, OH GOD what a relief!
We aren’t responsible for the possible hypothetical death of this poor misguided soul!
I hate to treat it like it does, but there are some Science Fiction elements in the book, mechanical descriptions of the technology and uninspired futuristic ideas. The power suits are really the only thing to get at all excited about (in the way only tedium provides) and all that is mentioned is quite substandard fare. Lazy naming (binoculars are called “Snoopers”) and really amusing ideas like “solving” the Moral Dilemma don’t do a whole lot in a book which only really uses Sci-fi as a socio-political masquerade.
Everything about the book contributes to the worst kind of annoying about Right-Wingers.
From the blind inability to accept defeat (even when faced with overwhelming odds), to the unjustified sense of accomplishment and general betterness.
“Man has no moral instinct”. Well you would think that, wouldn’t you Heinlein? You big mean fascist.
There is lots more to this book, like the bugs for example, but in the end, I really had enough. Heinlein is clearly not someone I want to chat with in the pub, in fact I’d probably glass him as that seems like an appropriately English thing to do.
I really wanted to like this book, if only to relate better with friends that had read it.
I should probably at least thank it, as it’s possibly the best inadvertent advertising for tolerance around.
Well at least I understand how their bastardry works now, I suppose.
Starship Troopers is the most frustrating book I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading.
I never managed to finish it, but really with the length of this review, who’d want me to?
It’s just so…