Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein is my favourite all time novel. I bought my copy in high school probably because it had the word “Troopers” on the cover, so it had to be something like Star Wars Stormtroopers, right? Ahem. Anyhow, I’ve read it at least once a year since 1984 which makes it my most well-loved and most dog-eared novel on the shelf.
Starship Troopers isn’t an action story, though there’s plenty of technology and explosions. It isn’t the story of a great hero, though there are plenty of heroics. It isn’t a book about tedious daily routine of military life, but parts of it would make a great documentary. It isn’t the inspiring story of someone who overcomes and achieves all, though the central character does have his share of failures, tragedies and achievements. It isn’t a book about the government, the military, or even being a soldier though the story uses these as a framework. It’s a book about civic virtue, and what it means to be a citizen. In the book, the rights of a full Citizen (to vote, and hold public office) must be earned through voluntary Federal service and are given only to these who are honourably discharged from Federal service. I’m not going to pigeon-hole myself or paint myself into a corner by saying that I fully agree with this philosophy, but I can’t say that it’s a bad idea. Those who are willing to put their society ahead of themselves, who are willing to risk their lives for their fellow citizens have proved themselves and should be rewarded ahead of those that are not willing.
The central character of the story isn’t a mighty hero. Juan Rico is just an ordinary guy who, almost on a whim, decides to enlist in the service right out of high school. His story is told mostly as a collection of flashbacks to different parts of his life including childhood, high school, basic training, and OCS school up to the point where he gets command of his own group of warriors.
The book suffers (rightly or wrongly) from allegations of militarism, racism, sexism and fascism but I think most if not all of these allegations can be refuted when you look at it in this context: it was written in the 60s when the United States military was largely conscript, when there were still white and coloured drinking fountains and when female cadets were not allowed at the service academies. Indeed, the lead character is Filipino, the Navy not only has female officers but is dominated by female officers, and the government is explicitly described as a representative democracy where the only difference between those with full citizenship and those without is the right to vote and hold public office.
I waited for the day this would be made into a movie. I always thought Brandon Lee would make a good Johnny Rico, but alas he died young. I always thought it’d make a fantastic movie if narrated in the first person and told from the single point of view in much the same way Full Metal Jacket was done, but with more voiceovers. I was so excited when I heard this movie was coming out in 1997 and I just hoped it would be done right.
Instead, we got an abortion of a movie which made little to no sense and wasn’t a shadow of the book. I can only live in hope that this crime against cinema will be corrected by having the movie redone at a later date, and that it will hold true to the themes and characters of the book. May God have mercy on Paul Verhoevens soul.