Friday, 12 February 2010

Starship Troopers, Book Review

Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein
published: 1959

Pros: interesting technological ideas, lots of adventure, realistic portrayal of military life

Cons: preachy at times, there are several digressions from the story that are unnecessary (too technical with regards to the science)

I read Stranger in a Strange Land a few years back and hated it with a ferocity that recurs every time I think of the book. So I was hesitant picking up this science fiction classic. Still, it's hard to read classics and ignore such a huge name in the genre, and I'd been told that this book is one of his better ones.

In many ways they were right. The writing is better, the story exciting and, for the most part, interesting. And yet, it wasn't a book I'd read again.

Juan "Johnnie" Rico tells the story of his military service. It's a society wherein such service is optional, but in order to be a full citizen and have the privilege of voting, one must serve.

His parents are upset when he decides, for fairly ignorant reasons, to sign up. But Johnnie perseveres. He tells of the trials of Camp Currie and training, of making drops to fight the 'bugs' and the different trials of becoming an officer.

Heinlein intersperses a lot of technical details into the story, too much for my taste. It reminded me of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and all the digressions he made (though Heinlein's are thankfully shorter). I also found his history and moral philosophy classes to be a bit too on the preachy side.

His characterization of Johnnie was good if extremely impersonal, but all other characters are basically cardboard cut outs. When people die (and a LOT of people die) the reader feels no regret, partly because Johnnie doesn't seem to. And I found his father's change of heart towards the military near the end of the book completely improbably given his earlier stance.

In the end, it's a great adventure story and I can see why hoards of boys (and girls) have found their love of science fiction through this book.

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