5,000 years in the future, humanity faces total extermination. Our one defense: highly-trained soldiers who scour the metal-strewn blackness of space to hunt down a terrifying enemy: an insect life-form known only as ‘Bugs.’
This is the story of trooper Johnny Rico, from his idealistic enlistment in the infantry of the future through his rigorous training to the command of his own platoon. And his destiny is a war that will span the galaxy.
I picked up a copy of Starship Troopers when it came into the charity shop I volunteer at. It’s a book that’s been on my Wish List for a while and seeing as the book was bound for the bin due to unsaleable condition, I snagged it up and gave it a new home.
Everyone worth their salt has heard of Starship Troopers! It’s a fantastic Science Fiction film that sees the human race valiantly fighting against an Arachnid Alien in a race of “Who can wipe each other off the face of the Universe first.” It’s Military Sci-Fi at its best and a firm favorite for many – even if it is now somewhat dated and cheesy! But, what about the book that it originated from?
Starship Troopers was originally released in 1959. It is less about going off and fighting aliens and more a socio-political commentary in regards to Earth-Military. Starship Troopers follows the story of Juan/Johnnie Rico from the moment he leaves school, following him through the years of boot camp and his time in the Mobile Infantry (M.I.) It’s an in-depth character study of the character’s military career and the ethos that comes along with it. There’s a deep dive into the politics and policies of the setting, how the world of the future looks back at the politics and policies of our world now and compares them to the lows in which they live. I found this section of the book as fascinating as the military action. Politics isn’t a subject to which I naturally gravitate so seeing the discussions within Starship Troopers gave it another layer to a book that I was expecting to be more of an ‘action fest.’
Action, in terms of fighting Aliens, was actually rather light on the ground in the novel itself. Most of the time, we’re following along Rico’s time in boot camp as he learns how the M.I. works and his place amongst his peers. Having the inner workings of military life shown to us through Rico’s experiences and learning about the tech that he uses.
The movie and the book are vastly different, you can see where the movie gets its ideas from, but that’s about it. Some of the characters in the book and film – other than Rico – are there. Some are missing. Some are vastly different. In the book, there’s much less love-interest involvement, and there are power-suits – which the M.I. is famed for and reliant upon. These suits are akin to Warhammer 40k Space Marine armour, so to see that lacking in the movie was somewhat disappointing now I know about it. There is a lot of political and military doctrine in this novel and the perspectives of which won’t sit well for some readers; the society in which Rico inhabits could easily be seen as oppressive. Where hard work is rewarded and military service gives the individual the right to vote. There’s the notion that the Terran Federation stands for the USA, and the ‘bugs’ are seen as Communist states that the Federation/USA needs to stamp out, but this is a blurring of fiction and reality that I tend not to subscribe to. My media is read as a self-contained vacuum, despite where some of the origins lie.
Starship Troopers was released in 1959, off the wave of The Korean War and WW2. It’s no wonder that after these world-shattering events, there was an opinion that would crack the whip and keep a tight reign on the general infantry – there was a clear divide between those that served and those that didn’t. This isn’t something that can be easily related to in modern society, so reading about the policies within Starship Troopers, can make the laws seem particularly harsh compared to the freedoms we have today. More-so, Patriotism was at an all-time high and that is reflected in the characters in the novel. Even the more dissenting characters question the workings of their world, rather than rebel against it. And, despite one of the biggest changes I noticed between book and movie was the non-mixed-sex units, that doesn’t mean that women weren’t apparent in the novel. Usually reserved for the Space Navy as Pilots for their better reflexes; something unheard of in 1950’s America where the womans role was back in the home. There’s also a diverse cast in terms of race; another unpopular opinion considering the times of writing.
The plot of Starship Troopers, is relatively simple. Rico signed up to join the Military. Has high hopes for himself and flunks most of his exams and is assigned to the M.I. We join him throughout his career, seeing what happens to him during the difficult years of boot camp and then out in active service. It all makes for a very simple read in terms of plot. As you might gather, this isn’t the hardest part of the book to read, all the socio-political commentary is the tough stuff to wade through.
While Rico is an interesting character, I didn’t really understand him or his motivations all that well. He joined the Military because… it was something he felt like he should do? This is my biggest gripe throughout the book, the characters aren’t all that complex. There’s little to describe and many of them come across as flat and disposable. Maybe that is their point? They are disposable and some do get disposed of in such a casual manner that made their lives feel pointless. All links back around to it being militaristic in nature. Personally, I’d have liked to feel something for the faceless characters to drag out a bit more emotion. However, I am reminded of a lyric in a song that I’ve recently found myself enjoying that relates;
“There can’t be songs for every soldier”Dermot Kennedy, Lost
Now, to bring the review back around to the books content again, I was surprised about the indepth understanding and description of the military tech. The far-future technology and the jump suits we’re a well-written marvel that kept me reading. This was the Science-Fiction element to Starship Troopers that was captivating. Hearing about the ways in which the wearer controls the suit, how it works and functions was brilliant. One this I enjoy reading older Sci-Fi books for is to see how close the technology is to what we have now. (One example is in the book Mindstar Rising – Peter Hamilton, 1993 and the term Cibofax; Cybernetic Filofax, Mobile Phone) and I after reading Starship Troopers and it’s conveyed realism, we’re still a long, long way from Mobile Suits!
Starship Troopers is certainly a novel that makes you think. On various different layers. On the one hand, yes, at it’s heart it is a book about the Terran Federation fighting off a hostile enemy. It’s a dive into morality and what it means to be a military man. It paves the way for talks on what it means to be a member of society and peoples places within that society. It opens the door to socio-political commentary. It’s also a pretty epic Science Fiction novel with bad-ass suits in it!!
A classic in terms of Military Sci-Fi. Giving detailed insight to military of the future through the eyes of a solid main character throughout his career from boot-camp to veteran status. A little light on the ground in Aliens vs Human action. A very long and involved dive into the political status of the Terran Federation (Earth) of the setting. Opens the doors to deeper conversations in many ways if you want it too, but can also be enjoyed just as military science fiction