To Earn Your Freedom: Review of Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is Robert A. Heinlein’s most well known work, it has been made into films (and its sequels), TV series, comic books and video games. It has a lasting effect on the science fiction genre internationally.

The story concerns Juan “Johnny” Rico, who enlisted to serve in the mobile infantry against aliens, primarily the Bugs, which were insect-like arachnids. The story consisted of the progress in which Johnny transformed from a trainee, to a private and then second lieutanent; how he relates to the different people around him, his flashbacks of his years in highschools and his views on a militaristic world.

I thought the characters were rather dull by themselves. Johnny was initially spoilt by his wealthy Filipino family, but then humbled himself after being cut off from his overbearing family and seeing first hand combat. Carl was Johnny’s friend with a significantly higher intelligence, though his main purpose was to show how friends can influence one’s convictions. Carmen, a Mary Sue character to show strong and empowered women in Heinlein’s novels, she is very good at mathematic, she eventually became a Navy pilot. Jean V. Dubois was Johnny’s history and philosophy teacher, a war vet who now serves in a civilian job and acts as Heinlein’s voice of reason in the novel.

Themes: 

The nature of rights– This was intriguing, in the novel, Heinlein argued that rights are not given, but only earned because of people willing to die for them. It’s a more consequentialist interpretation of the “nature rights”, which is consistent with libertarianism i.e. there are basic units of rights such as your body, your mind and your border. Heinlein used the history and philosophy class as a way to convey his ideas, he stressed that these ideas are essentially

Democracy and militarism- The new world is depicted as rather liberal, people have the same rights except the right to vote and hold offices, only those who have served in the military are allowed these extra rights, service is voluntary. Heinlein justified this as the best political system being that only those who have served their country can become truly “altruistic” for his fellow men. Although this does not essentially reduce an individual’s freedom since they are still allowed all other rights. He attacked democracy as a failed Western invention, which I couldn’t agree more.

Discipline and freedom- Like A Clockwork Orange, Starship Troopers was a critique the growing delinquency in the 50s. Young people all went through military-style training, even for civilians. Joining the army was the rite of passage for these youngsters; at the same time, they sacrificed their own freedom to secure “more freedom” which was ironic. Harsh disciplinary actions were acceptable, such as the use of corporal punishment and capital punishment.

Individualism and collectivism- The bugs the people on Terra were fighting evolved to be communist, they have a hierarchical structure of queens (leaders), brains (advisors), soldiers and civilians. The soldiers and civilians were controlled by the brains, an individual soldier bug’s life has no meaning. The bugs followed a very primitive, feudal culture; this was in direct contrast with the humans, who utilised a small proportion of the entire population to fight the war, only the best are selected. Every individual was valuable, the bugs would continue to fight even if 5 of their limbs were disabled, they would not stop fighting to help their fellow soldiers, whereas preventing casualty was the key to human soldiers. The bugs had no mind of their own, humans were rational animals.

Faux Utopia- Although Terra seemed like a perfect place to be in fact quite distressful. War was constantly needed to maintain the political system, although there was equality for men and women to serve, both genders were now slaves to the system. The main technological advancement was only in military combat, the people outside of military academy seemed to live in constant poverty.

Verdict: Although some of the characters were very annoying, the story was compelling and definitely one of Heinlein’s best works.

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