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Starship Troopers: The black sheep of science fiction

Jared Simonelli '18, Staff Writer

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Some call his work “fascist”, while others praise it as “noble.” No matter the opinions surrounding this famous work, Heinlein’s novel has gained fame throughout society, becoming required reading for all military branches and inspiring countless science fiction novels.

Despite critical acclaim from literary academia, the 1997 film adaption of the story tainted its original meaning and plot for many. Conceived in the years of America’s post-war golden age, Heinlein found inspiration from both the failures of the Korean War and the growing liberal “countercultural” influence on American higher education. He felt that particularly in the sci-fi community that there was little diversity of opinions and views.

Thus, with these motivations, Starship Troopers was first published in two sections in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction as Starship Soldier, which would later become a full-fledged novel. The story follows Johnny Rico, a Filipino, as he progresses through the ranks of the elite “Mobile Infantry” during the Terran Federation’s war against a Marxian hive of alien creatures.

Throughout the novel, Rico takes breaks from describing his achievements as a soldier to reminisce about his schoolteacher, Jean Dubois. In these terse moments, Heinlein evokes a didactic tone to relay the critical themes of the novel to the reader. Mr. Dubois fiercely argues against the theory of communism, and also reflects upon democracy’s failure to instill a sense of duty in a youth ridden with degenerative culture. Here, the novel accumulates a large amount of criticism, as many argue that these moments break the flow of the plot and overtly present Heinlein’s themes without any polish to the writing. In addition, Heinlein’s juxtaposition of the decay of democracy with the ascension of meritocracy led readers to consider his ideals as “tyrannical”, despite the absence of an oppressive government.

Although Heinlein focuses heavily on politics, his social themes put forward in the writing were revolutionary for his time. He envisioned a society in which all races were equal, and all members of both the military and civilian populace were compelled to complete the same tasks, regardless of social standing.

Rico’s tale of interstellar war has withstood the test of time. West Point Academy cadets continue to discuss Heinlein’s stoic virtues, while filmmakers in Hollywood continue to draw concepts of war and society from his descriptions of earth and planetary battles. Through provocative teachings and descriptions of war, Starship Troopers, remains the “black sheep” of American science fiction tales. For those looking for a novel with a linear plot and interesting themes, look no further.

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Starship Troopers: The black sheep of science fiction