Caveat

With regards the reviews I write, I feel it is necessary to provide this caveat.
The initial section right up to the button that opens the full synopsis is the teaser where I try to give a look into the book without revealing too much.

The section within the button is a full synopsis. No detail will be hidden at all.

Be warned!
The final section (Food for thought) is a series of thoughts on the book. This is a personal take on the book and does mention important parts of the books. It should be considered as much of a spoiler as the previous section!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Book Review: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein - 4thwallfly

The film left me terrified as a child, the book was nonetheless enjoyable. Welcome to the Fly on the 4th Wall where we shall review one of the 'classic' science fiction books:
Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein
Cover art copyright of James Warhola

Synopsis:
 "Join the army and see the universe! In one of Robert Heinlein's most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe - and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind's most alarming enemy!" - Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein [1959]

The story follows Juan Rico (or "Johnnie") through his career within the Terran Mobile Infantry from a fresh faced recruit to the veteran and officer he later becomes. His career is set against mankind's struggle with the dangerous 'Pseudo-Arachnids', a race of insectile aliens. Alien here is for once the right word, since the Pseudo-Arachnids (or "bugs") have a completely non-human existence. This does make them hard to empathise with, but the narrative tells the story only from Rico's perspective so it isn't long before the bug becomes 'the enemy' to the reader. The story is told strictly in a 'flashback' method, frequently revealing exposition of the world, society and Rico's own life, through events in his life. 

Rico lives in what would be considered a dystopian future. His world is a society where the ruling party are formed solely of "Sky Marshals" (the highest rank of the armed forces which combines the disciplines of both the Infantry and Navy). The novel mentions that to be a citizen of this future every man or woman must complete a term of service in the armed forces.

It lends itself to an almost Roman society. The Roman Empire was famous for granting land and citizenship to those who were not born Roman citizens but had undergone terms of service within the Roman army. 
However, non-citizens of the Federation do benefit from a number of rights (such as freedom of speech and political assembly), but only citizens ('veterans') were entitled to vote and hold public office.


Click below for the full synopsis (click to open/close):





Food for thought:
Starship Troopers is a book that skirts around fascism through most of the story. Certain topics in schools can only be taught by citizens for example (this meaning 'military veterans').
Heinlein is considered to channel much of his own personality and opinions through Dubois (Rico's teacher) and expounds heavily on the concept of violence as a necessary part of mankind's existence, though this is nothing too surprising as this was written in the 1960s, when war with the Soviet Union was a very real threat. The idea of channeling aggressive impulses into sacrifice for 'good' ideals is not entirely shocking in this respect. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." - Thomas Jefferson

However, the film (called the same name) attempted to satirise the underlying fascism in the book's setting through an overly obvious link to the Nazi Party. Officers in the film wore black leather trenchcoats (of the sort commonly associated with the Nazi SS), Rico and the recruits swearing the oath of allegiance wore SA uniforms (Sturmabteilung), a vaguely eagle shaped motif was selected as the Federation's logo (to represent the twin-headed eagle) and the film was cast as if it were a propaganda film with the frequent allusions to the Federation's control of broadcasting.

This does raise my final food for thought. In the film, we see the Arachnids as monsters. Giant insects who rather messily disassemble people in various ways. But perhaps that is the point of the film (and in some respects the book too). By portraying an enemy repulsive and impossible to empathise with, we the reader (and audience of the film) are drawn into supporting the 'good guys' who are the product of a fascist state.
An argument could be made that it is easy for people to support fascist principles and see it as 'good' provided we are convinced the other, the alien, is not something to be understood but an enemy to be destroyed.

And yet... we know they can be understood. The Pseudo-Arachnid was an ally of the Skinnies after all.