Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Starship Troopers

[This review originally appeared on www.goodreads.com]

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the future Earth is governed by the Terran Federation. The Terran Federation is very similar to modern democracies with one major exception: full citizenship (e.g., the right to vote, to serve on a jury, to hold political office) is given only to those who have completed at least two years of Federal Service. The Federal Service is usually synonymous with military service, but there are positions available for anybody who's willing to volunteer, regardless of physical or mental ability. Against his family's wishes, Johnnie Rico joins the mobile infantry where he learns to fight in a suit of powered armor. After extensive training, Johnnie finds himself at the front lines of the war with an alien species called the Arachnids.

A few pages into Heinlein's Starship Troopers I had to check the original publishing date. I was amazed when I saw that it was first published in 1959. The description of the mobile infantry's powered armor and its onboard sensors and displays sounds like technology featured in a current issue of Popular Mechanics, not something from a novel written in the '50s. The combat sequences, from the orbital drops to the battles on the ground, are excellent. They're exciting while still conveying some of the horrors of war.

Although the battles are a highlight of the novel, much of the story actually focuses on training and on the motivation of the trainees in entering the war. The theme that individual sacrifice is necessary for a citizen to be responsible is pervasive. The requirement that full citizenship be available only to those who have completed a term of Federal Service was in response to the collapse of Earth's early democracies, whose citizens "had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted... and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears." The only other science fiction novel that has made me really think about the ideas presented by the author was Heinlein's own The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

Starship Troopers is an excellent novel for any science fiction fan. I would list it as one of my top ten favorite novels.

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