159. Starship Troopers

Stranger in a Strange Land proves that Heinlein was a hippie guru. Starship Troopers proves that he was a right wing madman.

Nonsense, of course.

I was talking to a book store owner in the early seventies who said, “We get hippies in here who just read Stranger and want something else by Heinlein. We always give them Starship Troopers.” He had a nasty look of self-satisfacton on his face.

Heinlein was an honest workman, who set up cultures and situations to see where they would take him; sometimes we enjoy the ride, sometimes not. Citizen of the Galaxy, for example, is an important book, but it’s not much fun to read about slavery. 

Starship Troopers is one of his views of the problem of the military in a democratic society. One of his views; that is crucial. He has presented other positions in other novels such as Friday and to Time Enough for Love, and in his lost novel For Us the Living.

In summary, Starship Troopers presents an Earth under attack by non-human aliens with an ant-like society too different from Earth’s society for understanding or compromise. Earth has a democratic society; the vote is open, but only to veterans. There do not appear to be any prisons; crime is punished by whippings or hangings, both public.

It is a trap to believe that this Earth is at war because it has a militaristic society. Earth is at war because the aliens attacked. Any society would have fought back; many kinds of society would have survived. For a writer to display a militaristic society well, he needs a war and Heinlein gives us a dandy.

Starship Troopers is a fast read, with few challenges to those who are willing to sit back and enjoy the ride. The action is inventive and exciting. There is a lot of talk between bits of action, but that is appropriate to the hurry-up-and-wait reality of military life. Besides, if you don’t like chatty books, Heinlein is not for you.

Troopers and Stranger mimic the right wing/left wing divide in America, making each controversial, and making the contrast between them even more controversial. They get the most ink in the press, but neither is Heinlein at his best.

For me, Starship Troopers is a good, fast read whose central character is a bit too dim to hold my interest. To be fair, he is just the right wattage for what little he has to do in the story.

People who are not fans- who have read Stranger and Troopers and not much else – have a tendency to think Starship Troopers is Heinlein’s prescription for society. Nope. He is presenting one society; whether the reader would like to live there is up to the reader.

Heinlein is a child of the depression, Annapolis, and World War II. I am a child of Viet Nam. You would be right in guessing that I disagree with him often, but he is honestly seeking answers (plural) to knotty problems.  Next post, Stranger in a Strange Land.


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