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Beth Meacham, David Brin

Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein I started reading sci-fi quite intensively in the 80s (as if my life depended on it) and if you had asked me at the time who my favorite of the Big Three of Science Fiction is I would have said Robert A. Heinlein. He was, I thought, the funniest, the liveliest, the least dry, and basically the most badass of the Three. In recent years have been re-reading a lot of classic sci-fi and my answer today would be different. I would place [a:Isaac Asimov|16667|Isaac Asimov|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1341965730p2/16667.jpg] first then [a:Arthur C. Clarke|7779|Arthur C. Clarke|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357191481p2/7779.jpg] and Heinlein would be trailing them a little. I may be a little unfair to Heinlein here as recently I have been reading his less well received books from the 80s, [b:Friday|17208|Friday|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1315410828s/17208.jpg|1415529], and the dreadful [b:I Will Fear No Evil|175325|I Will Fear No Evil|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1303411477s/175325.jpg|45662]. Of course I remember very well how much I loved [b:Stranger in a Strange Land|350|Stranger in a Strange Land|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1156897088s/350.jpg|908211], [b:The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress|16690|The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348768309s/16690.jpg|1048525] and [b:The Puppet Masters|7171856|The Puppet Masters|Robert A. Heinlein|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348052588s/7171856.jpg|2534984] when I read them. The funny thing is I remember loving Starship Troopers too.

Starship Troopers starts off with a bang where the protagonist Juan Rico is about to go on a raid against some aliens called The Skinnies. Scenes of combat, explosions, heroism, and death ensued. On the second chapter the flashback from the beginning of Rico’s military career begins. Most of the novel’s narrative is centered on Rico’s military life. As I am not a fan of military combat scenes I did not feel particularly involved with the first chapter but things really do pick up with the story of Rico’s boot camp experiences. I quite enjoy the “Drill Sergeant Nasty” trope. Where the Drill Sergeant spends all his time cussing and cursing at the trainees and generally making their lives miserable for their own good, and to weed out those who are not tough enough to cope with the rigors of the training. The details of the training, the future military technology and Heinlein’s jaunty, snarky narrative tone and dialogue makes this section of the book fast paced and enjoyable. This is just as well as the boot camp chapters takes up most of the first half of the book. I expect the storyline to become even livelier subsequent to the boot camp, especially as I already knew some insect-like aliens are about to make an appearance.

I was very surprised at how the second half of the book turned out. A long section of this part of the book concerns Rico’s training at the Officer Candidate School. The lecturing scenes are Heinlein at his didactic worst. Even though Heinlein can be very persuasive I was not entirely convinced of the political and philosophical points he is making here. Worse than that, I was a little bored of reading these thinly disguised lectures. It seems to me that the pacing of the novel grinds to a halt at this point and Heinlein has sacrificed the storytelling to espouse his personal views.

The last section of the book where Rico has graduated from the Officer Candidate School and goes on another raid to capture (literally) the brains behind the Bugs operations resumes the storyline and pick up the pacing. Unfortunately by that point the book has already lost my goodwill and I have already stopped caring about how Rico or even the rest of humanity fare. Besides, the ending of the book is inconclusive as far as the Bug War is concerned. This is not at all surprising because, in spite of initial appearances, this is not a sci-fi thriller about Humanity vs. Aliens. The aliens and their war with humanity are merely plot devices to mount Heinlein’s treatise about the value of the military and the necessity of war.

It is not my place to criticize Heinlein's views on these matters as he has clearly thought long and hard about them and I have not, but all his pontifications plays hell with the narrative flow and as a work of fiction Starship Troopers is by and large not a lot of fun to read. “Military science fiction” is hardly my favorite subgenre of sci-fi, but I did find [b:The Forever War|21611|The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)|Joe Haldeman|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386852511s/21611.jpg|423] to be more consistently enjoyable and the author’s views more palatable without being overly didactic.