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Starship Troopers

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Starship Troopers
Starship Troopers (novel).jpg
First edition cover
Author Robert A. Heinlein
Country United States
Language English
Genre Military science fiction
Philosophical novel[1][2][3]
Publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
December 1959
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 263 (paperback edition)
ISBN 0-450-02576-4
OCLC 2797649

Starship Troopers is a military science fiction novel by U.S. writer Robert A. Heinlein. Written in a few weeks in reaction to the U.S. suspending nuclear tests,[4] the story was first published as a two-part serial in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction as Starship Soldier, and published as a book by G. P. Putnam's Sons in December 1959.

The story is set in the future society ruled by a world government dominated by a military elite.[5] The first-person narrative follows Juan "Johnny" Rico through his military service in the Mobile Infantry. Rico progresses from being a recruit to a non-commissioned officer and finally to a officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between humans and an alien species known as Arachnids or "the Bugs". The story includes classroom scenes in which Rico and others discuss philosophical and moral issues, including aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, juvenile delinquency, and war; these discussions have been described as expounding Heinlein's own political views.[6][7] Starship Troopers has been identified with a tradition of militarism in U.S. science fiction,[8] and draws parallels between the conflict between humans and the Bugs, and the Cold War.[9] The novel explores the theme of coming-of-age, and also critiques U.S. society of the 1950s, arguing that a lack of discipline had led to a moral decline, and advocating corporal and capital punishment.[10]

Starship Troopers marked a transition in Heinlein's style from "juvenile" to "adult" science fiction. It became one of his best selling books, and is considered his most widely known work.[11] It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960,[3] and received praise from reviewers for its scenes of combat and military training, and its visualization of a future military.[12][13] Nonetheless, Starship Troopers became enormously controversial because of the political views it seemed to support. Reviewers were strongly critical of the book's intentional glorification of the military,[14][15] an aspect described as propaganda and likened to military recruitment.[16][1] The ideology of militarism, and the fact that only military veterans had the right to vote in the novel's fictional society, led to it being frequently described as fascist.[15][17][18] This description is disputed, with some commentators arguing that Heinlein was only exploring the idea of limiting the right to vote to a certain group of people.[19]

Despite the controversy, Starship Troopers was widely influential both within and outside science fiction. Ken MacLeod stated that "the political strand in [science fiction] can be described as a dialogue with Heinlein."[2] Science Fiction critic Darko Suvin wrote that Starship Troopers is the "ancestral text of U.S. science fiction militarism" and that it shaped the debate about the role of the military in society for many years.[20] The novel has been credited with originating the idea of the powered armor technology used by the infantry in the book, which has been a recurring feature in science fiction books and films since then, and has been an object of scientific research as well.[21] Heinlein's depiction of a futuristic military was also influential.[22] Several science fiction books written since, such as Joe Haldeman's anti-war novel The Forever War, have been described as reactions to Starship Troopers.[7] The story has been adapted a number of times, including in a 1997 film adaptation directed by Paul Verhoeven that sought to satirize what the director saw as the fascist aspects of the novel.[23][24][25]

Writing and publication[edit]

The cover of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (November 1959), illustrating Starship Soldier

At some point between 1958 and 1959, Heinlein ceased work on the novel that would become Stranger in a Strange Land and wrote Starship Troopers. His motivation to write the novel arose partially from his anger at U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's decision to suspend U.S. nuclear tests, and the Soviet tests that occurred soon afterward.[4] Heinlein, writing in his 1980 volume Expanded Universe, would say that his desire to write Starship Troopers was sparked by the publication of a newspaper advertisement placed by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy on April 5, 1958 calling for a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapons testing by the United States.[26] Heinlein and his wife Virginia Heinlein created the "Patrick Henry League" in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. Heinlein stated that he used the novel to clarify his military and political views.[27]

As with many of Heinlein's other books, Starship Troopers was completed in a few weeks. It was originally written as a juvenile novel for New York publishing house Scribner; Heinlein had previously had success with this format. However, it was rejected, prompting Heinlein to cease writing juvenile fiction for Scribners, end his association with that publisher completely, and resume writing books with adult themes.[4][28] Scholars have suggested that Scribner's rejection was based on ideological objections to the content of the novel.[29]

Starship Troopers was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in October and November 1959 as a two-part serial titled Starship Soldier.[28] A senior editor at Putnam's, Peter Israel, purchased the novel and approved revisions that made it more marketable to adults. Asked whether it was aimed at children or adults, he said "Let's let the readers decide who likes it," he said at a sales conference.[30] The novel was eventually published as an novel aimed at adults by G. P. Putnam's Sons.[28]


Set in the future, the human society in Starship Troopers is ruled by the Terran Federation, a form of world government dominated by a military elite.[5] The rights of a full citizen, to vote and hold public office, must be earned through voluntary Federal service.[19] Those who do not perform this Service retain the rights of free speech and assembly, but cannot vote or hold public office. Military service is required to get the vote. People of any gender above the age of 18 are permitted to enlist. Those who leave before completing their service do not receive the vote.[4][31] Important government jobs are reserved for military veterans.[5] This structure arose ad hoc after the collapse of the "20th century Western democracies", driven in part by an inability to control crime and juvenile delinquency, particularly in North America, and a war between an alliance of the US, the UK and Russia against the "Chinese Hegemony".[32]

Two extra terrestrial civilizations are also depicted. The "Bugs" or Arachnids are shown as communal beings originating from the planet of Klendathu. They have multiple castes; workers, soldiers, brains, and queens, similar to ants and termites. The soldiers are the only ones who fight, and are unable to surrender in battle.[33] The "Skinnies" are depicted as less communal than the Arachnids but more so than human beings.[34] The events of the novel take place during an interstellar war between the Terran Federation and the Arachnids.[35] At the beginning of the story, Earth is not at war, but war has been declared by the time Rico has completed his training.[4] The Skinnies are initially allies of the Arachnids, but switch to being allies of the humans midway through the novel.[34] Faster-than-light travel is depicted as real in the novel: spacecraft operate under the "Cherenkov drive", and can travel "Sol to Capella, forty-six lightyears, in under six weeks".[36]

Starship Troopers is narrated by space marine Juan "Johnny" Rico, a member of the "Mobile Infantry". It is one of the only Heinlein novels which intersperses his typical linear narrative structure with a series of flashbacks.[4][35] These flashbacks are frequently to Rico's History and Moral Philosophy course in school, in which the teacher, himself a military veteran, discusses the history of the structure of their society.[4][19] Rico is depicted as a man of Filipino ancestry, although there has been disagreement on this matter among fans. He is from a wealthy family, whose members had never served in the army.[4][31]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel opens with Rico aboard the spacecraft Rodger Young (named after Medal of Honor recipient Rodger Wilton Young),[37] serving with the platoon known as "Rasczak's Roughnecks". The platoon carries out a raid against a planetary colony held by "Skinnies", allies of the "Bugs" that humanity is fighting. The raid is relatively brief: the platoon lands on the planet, destroys its targets, and retreats, suffering two casualties in the process. One of them, Dizzy Flores, dies while returning to orbit.[38] The narrative then flashes back to Rico's graduation from high school. Rico and his best friend Carl are considering joining the Federal Service after graduation; Rico is hesitant, partly due to his father's attitude towards the military.[4] Rico makes his decision after discovering that his classmate Carmencita Ibanez also intends to enlist.[39]

Rico's choice is taken poorly by his parents, and he leaves with a sense of estrangement. He is placed into the mobile infantry, and moves to Camp Arthur Currie on the Canadian prairie for his training under Sergeant Charles Zim.[40] The training is physically extremely demanding.[41] He receives combat training of all types, including simulated combat in armored suits.[42][43] A fellow recruit is court-martialled, flogged, and dismissed for striking a higher ranked officer.[44] Dubois, revealed to have been an army veteran himself, sends Rico a letter, which helps him stay motivated enough not to resign.[45] Rico himself is given five lashes for firing a rocket at a friendly soldier during a drill with armored suits and simulated nuclear weapons.[46] Another recruit, who murdered a baby girl after deserting the army, is hanged by his battalion after his arrest by civilian police.[46] Eventually, after further training at another camp near Vancouver, Rico graduates with 187 others, of the 2009 who had begun training in that regiment.[47]

The "Bug War" has changed from border incidents to a full-scale war during Rico's training. An Arachnid attack that annihilates the city of Buenos Aires alerts civilians to the situation; Rico's mother is killed in the attack.[48] Rico participates in the Battle of Klendathu, an attack on the Arachnid's home world, which turns into a disastrous defeat for the Terran Federation.[49] Rico's ship, the Valley Forge, is destroyed, and his unit is decimated; he is reassigned to the Roughnecks, on board the Rodger Young, led by Lieutenant Rasczak and Sergeant Jelal.[50] The unit carries out several raids, and Rico is promoted to corporal by Jelal, after Rasczak dies in combat.[51] One of his fellows in the Roughnecks suggests that Rico go to officer training school and try to become an officer. Rico ends up going to see Jelal, and finds that Jelal already had the paperwork ready. Rico enters Officer Candidate School for a second course of training, including further courses in "History and Moral Philosophy".[52][53] En route from the Roughnecks to the school, Rico encounters his father, who has also enlisted and is now a corporal, and the two reconcile. He is also visited in school by Carmen, and the two learn that their friend Carl had been killed earlier in the war.[54] Rico is commissioned a temporary third lieutenant for his final test: a posting to a combat unit. Under the tutelage of his company commander, Captain Blackstone, and with the aid of his platoon sergeant, Zim (reassigned from Camp Currie), Rico commands a platoon during 'Operation Royalty': a raid to capture members of the Bugs' 'brain caste' and 'queens'.[55] Rico then returns to the officer school to graduate. The novel ends with him holding the rank of Lieutenant, in command of his old platoon, with his father as his platoon sergeant. The platoon has been renamed "Rico's Roughnecks", and is about to participate in an attack on Klendathu.[56]

Major themes[edit]

Robert Heinlein, pictured here in 1976

Commentators have written that Starship Troopers does not have a substantial plot, although it does contain some scenes of military combat. Instead, much of the novel is given over to a discussion of ideas.[57] In particular, the discussion of political views is a recurring feature of the "ideologically intense" book,[17] which has been categorized as a "philosophical novel".[1] Critics have debated to what extent the novel promotes Heinlein's own political views. While some have stated that the novel maintains a sense of irony that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, others have argued that Heinlein is sermonizing throughout the book, and that its sole purpose was to expound Heinlein's militaristic philosophy, and to persuade the audience to accept it.[17][19]


Starship Troopers has been identified as being a part of a tradition in U.S. science fiction that assumes that violent conflict and the militarization of society is inevitable and necessary.[8] The story is based on the social Darwinist idea of society as a struggle for survival based on military strength. It suggests that some conflicts must be resolved by force. These suggestions derive in part from Heinlein's view that in the 1950s the U.S. government was being too conciliatory in its dealings with communist China and the Soviet Union.[57][58][18][59]

Heinlein makes an analogy between the human society in the novel, which is well-to-do but needs to be vigilant against the imperialist threat of the Bugs, and U.S. society of the 1950s. It is suggested that the communal nature of the Bugs, which makes them capable of a much higher degree of coordination than the humans, also makes them analogous to communists. Bug society is once explicitly described as communist, which has been read as implying that those with a different political ideology are analogous to alien beings.[9] The degree of communism that the Bugs are driven by is shown as being militarily advantageous, but otherwise inappropriate to human beings, who are driven by self-interest.[9] The related motifs of alien invasion, of being patriotic to one's people, and personal sacrifice during war, are shared with many other aspects of U.S. popular culture from the 1950s.[18] Commentators have argued that Heinlein's portrayal of aliens, in addition to being a reference to people in communist countries, also invokes the trope of a return to the frontier. The concept of the frontier includes a social-Darwinist argument of constantly fighting for survival, even at the expense of indigenous people, or in the case of Starship Troopers, of aliens. Heinlein suggests that without violent expansion, humans would be destroyed.[60] Scholar Jamie King has stated that Heinlein does not address the question of what the military government and Federal Service would do in peacetime, and argues that Heinlein has set up a society designed to be continuously at war, and to keep expanding its territory.[61]

Although the mobile infantry, the unit to which Rico is assigned, is seen as a lowly post by the characters in the story, the novel itself suggests that it is the heart of the army and the most honorable unit in it.[41] In a commentary written in 1980, Heinlein agreed that Starship Troopers "glorifies the military ... Specifically the P.B.I., the Poor Bloody Infantry, the mudfoot who places his frail body between his loved home and the war's desolation – but is rarely appreciated... he has the toughest job of all and should be honored."[14] There has been disagreement among commentators over whether the "federal service" required in the book is service in the military and its support systems, or service in any government service. Though Heinlein himself has stated the latter is true, most analyses of the text have supported the former position.[4]

Coming of age[edit]

Starship Troopers has been referred to as a bildungsroman or "coming-of-age" story for Rico, as he matures through the process of military training. His training, both at boot camp and at officer candidate school, involve learning the value of militarism, thus inviting the reader to learn it as well. [41] It traces Rico's transformation from a boy into a soldier, while exploring issues of identity and motivation,[19] and traces his overall moral and social development, in a manner similar to stories about German soldiers in the First World War.[62] Rico's transformation has been likened to the common narrative within stories with military themes by scholar Howard Franklin. This typical narrative is that of a sloppy and unfit civilian being knocked into shape by tough officers, whose training is "calculated sadism" but is depicted as fundamentally being on the right side.[31] This is especially true of the parts of his training that involve indoctrination, such as the claim by one of his instructors that rule by military veterans is the ideal form of government, because only they understand how to put collective well-being above the individual.[41] The concept of the American frontier is also related to the coming-of-age theme. Heinlein's young protagonists attain manhood by confronting a hostile "wilderness" in space. Coming-of-age in a military, alien context is a common theme in Heinlein's earlier works as well. [63]

Moral decline[edit]

In Starship Troopers Heinlein also critiques U.S. society of the 1950s, suggesting that it had led young people to be spoiled and undisciplined. These beliefs are expressed through the classroom speeches of Dubois, Rico's history teacher. Dubois praises flogging and other types of corporal punishment as a means of addressing juvenile crimes. It has been suggested that Heinlein endorsed this view, although the fact that Dubois also compares raising children to training a puppy has been used to argue that Heinlein was making use of irony.[10] The story is strongly in favor of corporal punishment and capital punishment, as a means of correcting juvenile delinquents, part of a trend in science fiction which examines technology and outer space in an innovative manner, but is reactionary with respect to human relationships.[6][7]

Dubois also ridicules the idea of inalienable rights, such as "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness", arguing that people only have the rights that they are willing to fight and be killed to protect.[32][64] The "moral decline" caused by this situation is depicted as having caused a global war between an alliance of the U.S., Britain, and Russia against the "Chinese hegemony" in the year 1987. Despite the alliance between the U.S. and Russia, this war has been described as demonstrating Heinlein's anti-communist beliefs, which saw "swarming hordes" of Chinese as a bigger threat. The novel draws some comparisons between the Chinese and the Bugs, and suggests that the lessons of one war could be applied to the other.[64]


Starship Troopers has been acknowledged as one of the best known and most influential works of science fiction.[11][2][21] It is considered a landmark for the genre, having been described as a key science fiction novel of the 1950s,[15] as the best known example of military science fiction,[65] and as one of the 10 best genre books of 1959.[66] It was also a personal landmark for Heinlein; it was one of his best selling books, and is his best known novel.[11] The novel has been described as marking Heinlein's transition from writing juvenile fiction to a "more mature phase" as an author.[3] Conversely, Michael Moorcock described it as Heinlein's last "straight" science fiction, before he turned to more "serious" writing such as Stranger in a Strange Land.[67] To Heinlein's surprise,[68] Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960.[69] By 1980, twenty years after its release, it had been translated into eleven languages and was still selling strongly. However, Heinlein complained that, despite this success, almost all the mail he received about it was negative and he only heard about it "when someone wants to chew me out."[68]

The novel is also highly controversial. Heinlein scholar James Gifford called it one of the most controversial science fiction books ever published.[4][3] The controversy surrounded its "overzealous" praise of the military and approval of violence, to the extent that it has frequently been described as fascist, and its implication that militarism is superior to traditional democracy.[3][70] It had the effect of giving Heinlein a reputation as a "fanatical warmongering fascist".[5] A two-year debate occurred in the Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies sparked by a comparison between a quote in Starship Troopers that "the noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and war's desolation"[71] and the anti-war poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen.[72]

The writing in Starship Troopers has received varied responses, with the scenes of military training and combat receiving praise. In a 2009 retrospective, Jo Walton wrote that Starship Troopers was "military SF done extremely well."[19] She went on to argue "Heinlein was absolutely at his peak when he wrote this in 1959. He had so much technical stylistic mastery of the craft of writing science fiction that he could [tell the story "backwards and in high heels"] and get away with it."[19] Others have referred to as "highly readable" and compelling, with "exciting military episodes".[3][12][13] Heinlein's descriptions of training and boot camp in the novel, based on his own experiences in the military, have been described as being rendered with remarkable skill.[18] A review in The Herald Tribune praised the "brilliantly written" passages describing infantry combat, and also called attention to the discussion of weapons and armor.[73]

Criticism of the style of the book has centered on the discussion of politics. Heinlein's discussions of his political beliefs were criticized as being "didactic",[73][12][74] and the novel was derided for "exposition [that was] inserted in large indigestible chunks."[73] Author Ken MacLeod's analysis of the political nature of Starship Troopers stated that it was "a book where civics infodumps and accounts of brutal boot-camp training far outweigh the thin and tensionless combat scenes"[13] Scientist and author John Brunner compared it to a "Victorian children's book",[75] while the Science Fiction Handbook published in 2009 said that the novel provided "compelling images of a futuristic military" and that it raised important questions, even for those who disagree with its political ideology. However, it stated that the story was "weak" as a tale of an alien encounter, as it did not explore alien society in any detail, but presented the Bugs as nameless and faceless creatures that wished to destroy humanity.[22] Anthony Boucher, founder of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, remarked that Heinlein had "forgotten to insert a story."[73]

Criticism of militarism[edit]

Starship Troopers has been commonly described as promoting militarism, the glorification of war and of the military.[15] Scholar Bruce Franklin referred to it as a "bugle-blowing, drum-beating glorification" of military service, and wrote that militarism and imperialism were the explicit message of the book.[16] Science fiction writer Dean McLaughlin called it "a book-length recruiting poster."[76] Science fiction critic Alexei Panshin called Starship Troopers a militaristic polemic and compared it to a recruiting film, stating that it "purports to show the life of a typical soldier, with a soundtrack commentary by earnest sincere Private Jones who interprets what we see for us." Panshin stated that there was no "sustained human conflict" in the book: instead, "All the soldiers we see are tough, smart, competent, cleancut, clean-shaven, and noble."[77] Panshin, a veteran of the peacetime military, argued that Heinlein glossed over the reality of military life, and that the Terran Federation-Arachnid conflict existed simply because, "Starship troopers are not half so glorious sitting on their butts polishing their weapons for the tenth time for lack of anything else to do."[77] Some of Rico's dialogue in the novel suggests that the novel is contemptuous of a government without an active military.[78]

A 1997 review in Salon stated that the novel could almost be described as propaganda, and was terrifying as a result, particularly in its belief that the boot camp had to be an ingredient of any civilization. This was described as a highly unusual utopian vision.[1] Moorcock stated that the lessons Rico learns in boot camp: "wars are inevitable, [and] that the army is always right".[67] In discussing the book's utility in classroom discussions of the form of government, Alan Myers stated that its depiction of the military was of an "unashamedly Earth-chauvinist nature".[12] In the words of Science Fiction scholar Darko Suvin, Starship Troopers was an "unsubtle but powerful black-and-white paean to combat life".[74] Suvin called it an example of agitprop in favor of military values,

A few writers have defended Heinlein: for instance, George Price argued that "[Heinlein] implies, first, that war is something 'endured,' not enjoyed, and second, that war is so unpleasant, so desolate, that it must at all costs be kept away from one's home."[79] Multiple Hugo-award winner Poul Anderson also defended some of the novels positions, arguing "Heinlein has recognized the problem of selective versus nonselective franchise, and his proposed solution does merit discussion."[80] Heinlein also received some complaints about the lack of conscription in Starship Troopers. When he wrote the novel, the military draft was still in effect in the U.S.[81]

Allegations of fascism[edit]

The society within the book has frequently been described as fascist.[15][17][18][78] Scholar Jeffrey Cass has referred to the setting of the book as "unremittingly grim fascism". He has stated that the novel made an analogy between its military conflict and those of the U.S. after World War II, and that it justified U.S. imperialism in the name of fighting another form of imperialism.[82] Jasper Goss has referred to it as "crypto-fascist".[18] Robert Peterson wrote that it would be accurate to describe the novel as a "fascist utopia", and referred to it as totalitarian, based on the fact that only a small group had control over the government.[78] Suvin compares Heinlein's suggestion that "all wars arise from population pressure" to the Nazi concept of Lebensraum or "living space" for a superior society that was used to justify territorial expansion.[83][84]

Some reviewers have suggested that Heinlein was simply discussing the merits of a selective versus a nonselective franchise.[19] Heinlein made a similar claim, over two decades after Starship Troopers's publication, in his Expanded Universe and further claimed that 95% of "veterans" were not military personnel but members of the civil service and that only retired veterans could vote or hold office.[85] However, Heinlein's own description has been disputed, even among the book's defenders. James Gifford has argued that a number of quotes within the novel suggest that the characters within the book assume that the Federal Service is largely military. For instance, when Rico tells his father that he is interested in Federal Service, his father immediately explains his belief that Federal Service is a bad idea because there is no war in progress, indicating that he sees Federal Service as military in nature. Gifford states that although Heinlein's intentions may have been that Federal Service be 95% non-military, in relation to the actual contents of the book, Heinlein "is wrong on this point. Flatly so."[4]

Dennis Showalter, writing in, defended Starship Troopers, stating that the society depicted in it did not contain many elements of fascism. He argues that the novel does not include outright opposition to bolshevism and liberalism that would be expected in a fascist society.[82] Others have responded by saying Showalter's argument is based on a literal reading of the novel, and that the story glorifies militarism to a huge extent.[82] Ken Macleod argues that the book does not actually advocate fascism because anybody capable of understanding the oath of federal service is able to enlist and thereby obtain political power.[13] Macleod instead states that Heinlein's books are consistently liberal, but cover a spectrum from democratic to elitist forms of liberalism, with Starship Troopers being on the latter end of the spectrum.[2] It has been argued that Heinlein's militarism is more libertarian than fascist, and that this trend is also present in Heinlein's other popular books of the period, such as Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). This period of Heinlein's writing has received more critical attention than any other, though he continued to write into the 1980s.[15]


The setting of the book has been described as dystopian. However, it is presented by Heinlein as utopian; its leaders are shown as good and wise, and the population as free and prosperous.[5] The rulers are claimed to be the best in history, because they understand that human nature is to fight for power through the use of force.[41] However, the suggestion of utopia is not explored in depth, as the lives of those outside the military are not shown in any detail.[22] The novel suggests that the militarist philosophy espoused by many of the characters has a mathematical backing, though reviewers have commented that Heinlein does not depict any basis for this.[19][41]

Writers such as Robert A. W. Lowndes, Philip José Farmer, and Michael Moorcock have criticized the novel for being a hypothetical utopia, in the sense that while Heinlein's ideas sound plausible, they have never been put to the test. Moorcock wrote an essay entitled "Starship Stormtroopers" in which he attacked Heinlein and other writers over similar "Utopian fiction."[67] Lowndes accused Heinlein of using straw man arguments, "countering ingenuous half-truths with brilliant half-truths."[86] Lowndes further argued that the Terran Federation could never be as idealistic as Heinlein portrays it to be because he never properly addressed "whether or not [non-citizens] have at least as full a measure of civil redress against official injustice as we have today".[86] Farmer also agreed, arguing that a "world ruled by veterans would be as mismanaged, graft-ridden, and insane as one ruled by men who had never gotten near the odor of blood and guts."[87]

Race and gender[edit]

Authors and commentators have stated that the manner in which the extraterrestrial beings are portrayed in Starship Troopers has racist aspects, arguing that the nicknames "Bugs" and "Skinnies" carry racial overtones. John Brunner compared them to calling Koreans "gooks",[75] while Robert Peterson suggested that the nickname "Bugs" for the Arachnids sounded very much like a racial slur and that all of Heinlein's characters "unswervingly believe that humans are superior to Bugs, and that humans are destined to spread across the galaxy."[78]

Some of Heinlein's other works have also been described as racist, though Franklin argues that this was not unique to Heinlein, and that he was less racist than the U.S. government of the time.[88] Heinlein's early novel Sixth Column was called a "racist paean" to a white resistance movement against an Asian horde derived from the Yellow Peril.[89] In 1978, Moorcock wrote that Starship Troopers "set the pattern for Heinlein’s more ambitious paternalistic, xenophobic" stories.[67] Robert Lowndes argues that the war between the Terrans and the Arachnids is not about a quest for racial purity, but rather an extension of Heinlein's belief that man is a wild animal. According to this theory, if man lacks a moral compass beyond the will to survive, and he was confronted by another species with a similar lack of morality, then the only possible moral result would be warfare.[86]

The fact that all pilots in the novel are women has been cited as evidence of progressive gender politics within the story, although the idea expressed by Rico that women are the motivation for men to fight in the military is a counter-example to this.[19][22] The prosthetically enhanced soldiers in the novel, all of whom are men, have been described as an example of the "hyper-masculinity" brought on by the proximity of these men to technology.[90] The story portrays the Bugs as so alien that the only response to them can be war. Feminist scholars have described this reaction as a "conventionally masculinist" one.[91] Steffen Hantke has described the mechanized suits in the novel, which make the wearer resemble a "steel gorilla," as defining masculinity as "something intensely physical, based on animal power, instinct, and aggression". He calls this form of masculinity "all body, so to speak, and no brain".[92] Thus, in Hantke's reading, Starship Troopers expresses fears of how masculinity may be preserved in an environment of high technology.[93] This fear is exacerbated by the motifs of pregnancy and birth that Heinlein uses when describing how the soldiers in suits are dropped from spaceships, which are always piloted by women.[94]


An example of powered armor, a concept popularized by Starship Troopers

Heinlein's book, and Starship Troopers in particular, had an enormous impact as political science fiction, to the extent that author Ken MacLeod has stated that "the political strand in [science fiction] can be described as a dialogue with Heinlein," although many participants in this dialogue disagree with him.[2] Science Fiction critic Darko Suvin states that Starship Troopers is the "ancestral text of U.S. science fiction militarism" and that it shaped the debate about the role of the military in society for many years.[20]

In addition to Heinlein's political views, his ideas about a futuristic military as depicted in the novel were deeply influential among films, books, and television shows in later years.[22] Roger Beaumont has suggested that Starship Troopers may some day be considered a manual for extraterrestrial warfare.[95] Suvin refers to Juan Rico as the "archetypal Space Soldier".[96] Starship Troopers included concepts in military engineering which have since been widely used in other fiction, and which have occasionally been paralleled by scientific research. The novel has been cited as the source of the idea of powered armor exoskeletons.[97][98][99] Such suits became a staple of military science fiction. Franchises that have employed this technology include Halo, Elysium, District 9, Iron Man, and Edge of Tomorrow.[21]

Starship Troopers had a direct influence on many later science fiction stories. John Steakley's novel Armor was, according to the author, born out of frustration with the small amount of actual combat in Starship Troopers and because he wanted this aspect developed further.[100] The 1988 Gainax OVA series Gunbuster has plot elements similar to Heinlein's novel, depicting humanity arrayed against an alien military.[99] Scholars have identified elements of Heinlein's influence in Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, as well. Hantke, in particular, compares the battle room in Ender's Game to Heinlein's prosthetic suits, stating that they both regulate but also enhance human agency.[101] Suvin suggests parallels between the plots of the two novels, with both protagonists initially bent on destroying aliens, but states that the story of Ender (continued in several sequels) takes a very different direction, as Ender regrets his genocidal actions and dedicates his efforts to protection his erstwhile enemies.[96]

Conversely, Vietnam veteran Joe Haldeman's anti-war, Hugo and Nebula-winning science fiction novel The Forever War is popularly thought to be a direct reply to Starship Troopers, and though Haldeman has stated that it is actually a result of his personal experiences in the Vietnam War, he has admitted to being influenced by Starship Troopers.[102][103][104] Haldeman said that he "disagreed" with Starship Troopers because it "glorifies war", but added that "it's a very well-crafted novel, and I believe Heinlein was honest with it".[102] The Forever War contains several parallels to Starship Troopers, including its setting. Commentators have described it as a "reaction" to Heinlein's novel, a suggestion Haldeman denies; however, the two novels are very different in terms of their attitude towards the military. The Forever War does not depict war as a noble pursuit, with the sides clearly defined as good and evil; instead, the novel explores the dehumanizing effect of war, influenced by the real world context of the Vietnam War.[7] Harry Harrison's 1965 novel Bill, the Galactic Hero has also been described as a reaction to Starship Troopers,[5] while Gordon R. Dickson’s 1961 novel Naked to the Stars has been called "an obvious rejoinder" to Starship Troopers.[105] Ring of Swords, written by Eleanor Arnason in 1993, also depicts a war between two highly aggressive alien species, of which humanity is one. The story deliberately inverts several aspects of Starship Troopers; the story is told from the point of view of diplomats seeking to prevent war, rather than soldiers fighting it; and the conflict is the result of the two species being extremely similar, rather than different.[106]



Animated film and television[edit]

Live-action film[edit]

The film rights to the novel were licensed in the 1990s. The project was originally entitled Bug Hunt at Outpost 9, and had been in production before the producers bought the rights to Starship Troopers and adapted the screenplay.[113][114][115] The live-action adaptation was released in 1997, written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven. It shared character names and plot details with the novel. The film holds a 63% rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes.[116] The film contained a number of elements that were different from the book. The military depicted in the film is completely integrated with respect to gender. The film also had the stated intention of treating its material in an ironic or sarcastic manner, in order to undermine the political ideology of the novel.[18][23] The mechanized suits which featured prominently in the novel were absent from the film, due to budget constraints.[92][117]

The film utilized fascist imagery throughout, including portraying the Terran Federation's personnel wearing uniforms strongly reminiscent of those worn by the SS, the Nazi paramilitary.[117][118] Verhoeven stated in 1997 that the first scene of the film—an advertisement for the mobile infantry—was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), specifically an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst. Other references to Nazism include the Albert Speer-style architecture and the propagandistic dialogue ("Violence is the supreme authority!").[119] According to Verhoeven, this, and what he considered the fascist tone of the book, reflected his own experience in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during WW II.[120][25]

The film reignited the debate over the nature of the Terran society in Heinlein's world, with several accusing Verhoeven of creating a fascist universe. Other critics, and Verhoeven himself, have stated that the film was intended to be ironic, and to critique fascism.[121][70] In addition to a critique of fascism, the film has been described as criticizing the jingoism of U.S. foreign policy, the military industrial complex, and the society in the film, which elevates violence over sensitivity.[24] The film received several negative critical reviews, with reviewers suggesting that it was an unsophisticated film targeting a juvenile audience, although a number of scholars and critics have also supported its description as satirical.[23][24][25][21] The absence of the powered armor technology drew criticism from fans.[92][21] The success of the film's endeavor to critique the ideology of the novel has been disputed.[25]

Two sequels, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder were released as straight-to-DVD films in 2004 and 2008 respectively.[122][123] The animated 2012 film "Starship Troopers: Invasion", also a straight-to-DVD release, is generally considered a sequel to these.[124][110] In December 2011, Neal H. Moritz, producer of films such as The Fast and the Furious series and I Am Legend, announced plans for a remake of the film that he claims will be more faithful to the source material.[125] In 2016 Mark Swift and Damian Shannon were reported to be writing the film.[124] Commentators have suggested that a reboot would be as controversial as the original book.[11]




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External links[edit]