Starship Troopers

by Robert A. Heinlein

Starship Troopers CoverA smarter man than I once said that, while it is perfectly reasonable to dismiss a book due to its terrible beginning, a strong start doesn’t preclude a terrible transformation. (The original quote actually dealt with videogames, but it fits Starship Troopers so well that I couldn’t help myself here.) The book starts out promising, with some exciting military action right out the gate. And, let it be said that Heinlein truly knows how to describe futuristic fighting; he gives enough information to understand fantastic things, such as the powered armour the Mobile Infantry fight inside, but he never bogs us down with information to take away from the spectacle (at least not at this point, anyway). We then flashback to the protagonist, Johnnie Rico, making his way through boot camp, which is a fine way to expose us to the military lifestyle and to slow things down a bit to prepare the reader for some more action, when it comes.

Then, partway through, three major issues arise. Firstly, the book becomes preachy. We learn about Heinlein’s controversial social and political views through direct lectures (i.e. only those who underwent military service should be allowed to vote; society’s going to hell because we don’t beat our children anymore). Secondly, the story slows down for far too long, to the point where we get to watch much, much more hanging out and studying (yes, really) than, you know, fighting giant space bugs. And, third, the actual fighting scenes––as few and far between and as painfully short as they are––change from exciting to tedious, to the point that the preparation is described, as well as the aftermath, but we quickly pass the battles without any real description of the fighting. Taken together, these issues effectively stripped the story of most anything that I cared about initially.

It comes as no surprise to me that Heinlein is considered such a talented writer, as I caught a glimpse of that in opening of Starship Troopers. Unfortunately, it was just a glimpse.