Starship Troopers

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Starship Troopers
Author Robert A. Heinlein
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons
Released December 1959
Media Type Print ( Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 263 pp (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-450-02576-4

Starship Troopers is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first published (abridged) as a serial in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (October, November 1959, as "Starship Soldier") and published hardcover in 1959.

The first-person narrative is about a young Filipino soldier named Juan "Johnnie" Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military unit equipped with powered armor. Rico's military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an insectoid species known as " the Bugs." Through Rico's eyes, Heinlein examines moral and philosophical aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, the necessities of war and capital punishment, and the nature of juvenile delinquency.

Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960 and helped create a different genre of literature known as military science fiction. It has been adapted into several films and games, most famously the 1997 film by Paul Verhoeven. The novel has attracted controversy and criticism of its social and political themes, which some critics believe are militaristic.

Background: The writing of Starship Troopers

Robert A. Heinlein wrote from a military background because he had been a commissioned U.S. Naval officer upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy and served six years. According to Heinlein, his desire to write Starship Troopers dated back to 1958- 04-05, when he and his wife read a newspaper advertisement placed by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy calling for a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapon testing by the United States. In response, the Heinleins created the Patrick Henry League in an attempt to drum up support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. During the unsuccessful campaign, Heinlein found himself under attack both in and out of the science fiction community for his views.

Heinlein stopped work on the novel that would become Stranger in a Strange Land and wrote Starship Troopers sometime during 1958 and 1959. Starship Troopers was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in October and November 1959 as a serial called Starship Soldier. Although originally written as a juvenile novel for Scribners, it was rejected and was eventually published as an adult novel by G. P. Putnam's Sons. In many ways, Starship Troopers marked a turning point for Heinlein. Beforehand, he had written both adult novels and juvenile novels for Scribner's. However, following their rejection of Starship Troopers, he ended his longstanding relationship with them, and began writing books with more adult themes.

Plot summary

Starship Troopers is a novel set in an unspecified, but not unrecognizably distant, time in the future, or perhaps in an alternate history. . It chronicles the experiences of Juan Rico, the story's narrator, during his enlistment and training in the Mobile Infantry, and his participation in an interstellar war between the Terran Federation and the Arachnids (referred to as "the Bugs") of Klendathu. It is narrated as a series of flashbacks and it is one of only a few Heinlein novels to use that narrative device.

The novel opens with Rico aboard the corvette Rodger Young, about to embark on a raid against the planet of the "Skinnies," allies of the Arachnids. We learn that he is a "cap" trooper (called this because they are dropped in capsules toward their drop zones) in the Terran Federation's Mobile Infantry, a military corp which combines aspects of the Marine Corps and a space borne version of Airborne forces. The raid itself, one of the few instances of actual combat in the novel, is relatively brief: the Mobile Infantrymen land on the planet, destroy their targets, and withdraw, suffering a single casualty in the process.

The story then flashes back to Rico's graduation from high school and his decision to sign up for Federal Service over the objections of his father. This is the only chapter that describes Rico's civilian life, and most of it is spent recording the monologues of two people: retired Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois, Rico's school instructor in the subject of "History and Moral Philosophy," and Fleet Sergeant Ho, a recruiter for the armed forces of the Terran Federation.

Many readers have felt that Dubois serves as a stand-in for Heinlein throughout the novel. He delivers what is probably the book's most famous soliloquy, on how violence "has settled more issues in history than has any other factor." Fleet Sergeant Ho offers a separate angle on military service to that of Dubois. (Ho has prostheses for several limbs, but does not wear them on duty at the front door of the federal building. This is calculated to remind applicants of the real risks of service, and to weed out those not willing to take such risks in the service of the commonwealth).

Interspersed throughout the book are other flashbacks to Rico's high school History and Moral Philosophy course, which describe how, in the Terran Federation, the rights of a full Citizen (to vote, and hold public office) must be earned through voluntary Federal service. However, the franchise cannot be exercised until after honorable discharge from the Service, which means that active members of the Service cannot vote. Those residents who opt not to perform Federal Service retain the other rights generally associated with a modern democracy (e.g. free speech, assembly, etc.), but cannot vote or hold public office. This structure arose ad hoc after the collapse of the 20th century Western democracies, brought on by both social failures at home and military defeat by the Chinese Hegemony overseas (i.e. looking forward into the late 20th century from the time the novel was written in the late 1950s).

After enlisting, Rico is assigned to boot camp at Camp Arthur Currie. Five chapters are spent exploring Rico's training, under the guidance of his chief instructor, Career Ship's Sergeant Charles Zim. Boot camp is deliberately so rigorous that less than ten percent of the recruits finish basic training; the rest either resign (with no penalty save never being able to vote), are expelled (likewise), are given medical discharges (likewise) or lesser duties (enabling them to vote after their service is finished) or die in training. One of the chapters deals with Ted Hendrick, a fellow recruit and constant complainer who is flogged, and expelled for striking a superior officer. (It should be noted that flagellation and hanging have become the principal forms of both civil and military punishment in the novel's world, replacing the modern penal system with what seems to be something of a return to 17th - 19th century policies.) Another recruit, a deserter who committed a heinous crime while AWOL, is hanged by his battalion after his arrest. Rico himself is flogged for his negligent handling of a simulated nuclear weapon during a drill; despite these experiences, he graduates with his class and is assigned to an active duty MI unit.

At some point during Rico's training, the Bug War moves from police action and border skirmishes to outright war, and upon graduation, Rico finds himself taking part in combat operations. The war "officially" starts when an Arachnid attack annihilates the city of Buenos Aires, in which Rico's mother is killed, although Rico makes it clear that there had been many prior "'incidents,' 'patrols,' or 'police actions'". Rico briefly describes the Terran Federation's catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Klendathu; his own unit was devastated and its transport ship destroyed. The Terran Federation suffers such tremendous losses that it is reduced to making hit-and-run raids similar to the one described at the beginning of the novel (which, chronologically would be placed between Chapters 10 and 11) to gain time to rebuild. Rico meanwhile finds himself posted to Rasczak's Roughnecks, named after Lieutenant Rasczak (whose first name is never given). This part of the book focuses on the daily routine of military life aboard ship, as well as the relationship between officers and non-commissioned officers, personified in this case by Rasczak and Sergeant Jelal.

Eventually, Rico decides to become a career soldier and attends Officer Candidate School, which turns out to be just like boot camp, only "squared and cubed with books added." Rico is commissioned a temporary Third Lieutenant as a field-test final exam and, under supervision, commands his own unit during Operation Royalty; eventually he is commissioned a Second Lieutenant.

The final chapter serves as more of a coda, depicting Rico aboard the Rodger Young as the lieutenant in command of Rico's Roughnecks, preparing to drop to Klendathu as part of a major strike, with his father (who has joined the MI earlier in the novel after his wife's death) as his senior sergeant and a Third Lieutenant-in-training of his own under his wing.

Characters in Starship Troopers

Major characters

  • Juan "Johnnie" Rico — Son of a wealthy Filipino family who volunteered for Federal Service almost on impulse and over his parents' objections. He ended up in the Mobile Infantry. He did his basic training at Camp Currie and was assigned as a Private to "Willie's Wildcats". His first combat experience was the Battle of Klendathu. He was then transferred to "Rasczak's Roughnecks" aboard the Rodger Young, where he achieved the rank of corporal and survived several successful battles. He later entered Officer Candidate School at the encouragement of his friend Ace. Rico eventually became a lieutenant after commanding a platoon during the successful "Operation Royalty". At the end of the novel he is commanding a platoon back on the Rodger Young, with his father as platoon sergeant.
  • Charles Zim — Originally career Ship's Sergeant, Juan Rico's boot camp instructor and company commander at Camp Arthur Currie. Eventually, he was the Company First Sergeant of Rico's unit during Operation Royalty and acted below his rank to be Rico's Platoon Sergeant. Zim took the initiative to raid an Arachnid "bughole", and captured the first brain bug taken by the MI. He was given a field commission of brevet captain with the permanent rank of first lieutenant.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Jean V. Dubois — Rico's high school instructor in History and Moral Philosophy. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Mobile Infantry after he lost an arm. A letter to Rico during Basic Training boosts Rico's spirits and helps to keep him from resigning (and losing the opportunity to become a full Citizen).
  • Sergeant Jelal — Career Ship's Sergeant, Juan Rico's platoon sergeant aboard the Rodger Young and de facto platoon leader after Lt. Rasczak's death. He eventually made captain, but lost his legs. Nicknamed "Jelly", and anyone who had made one combat drop could call him that to his face.
  • Lieutenant Rasczak — Juan Rico's platoon leader in the Rodger Young. His platoon always called him "the Lieutenant", in tones of considerable respect. He died during a drop while recovering two of his soldiers. After the Lieutenant's death, a vote was taken among the cap troopers to rename the platoon "Jelly's Jaguars" and was passed unanimously; this was vetoed by Sergeant Jelal, and the unit remained Rasczak's Roughnecks.

Minor characters

  • Career Corporal "Ace" — Squad commander, Jelal's Platoon, Rasczak's Roughnecks. Assisted Juan Rico in the recovery of Dizzy Flores, a wounded Trooper. When Rico first became Corporal and assistant section leader, being promoted past Ace, they fought in the showers over Ace's lack of respect. Although Ace won, he acknowledged Rico's good intentions and helped him earn the respect of the entire platoon. Later, Ace convinced Rico to pursue a career in the military, and enroll in Officer Candidate School.
  • Dizzy Flores — (Male, although depicted as female in the movie version) Member of squad six in Rasczak's Roughnecks. Wounded in the first action of the Roughnecks under the command of Jelal: the raid against the "Skinnies" described in the first chapter of the book. Dizzy was recovered by his squad leader "Ace" and the assistant section leader Juan Rico, but died due to wounds during transport to the Roughnecks' transport, the Rodger Young.
  • Private First Class Dutch Bamburger — Senior squadmate that Rico is assigned to for his first drop. Dies while showing Johnny the ropes in Operation Bughouse.
  • Captain Frankel — Camp Currie Battalion Commander, involved in the trial of Recruit Ted Hendrick. Saved Hendrick from execution by creative manipulation of the charges and jurisdiction of the court martial summoned for the trial.
  • N. L. Dillinger — Mobile Infantry recruit who deserted. He was hanged for murdering a baby girl after kidnapping her for ransom. The execution was handled by the Infantry rather than the civil judiciary, as Dillinger was still an active-duty member of the MI. though AWOL.
  • Fleet Sergeant Ho — Federal Service recruiting officer who lost his legs and right arm while serving, he swore in Juan Rico and Carl. He appears without prosthetics to administer the oath to new recruits, as a demonstration of the possible consequences of service.
  • Emilio Rico — Juan Rico's father, a wealthy Filipino businessman. He opposed Johnnie's plans to join the Mobile Infantry, but after the Bug War began and his wife was killed, he found that position had become untenable. He was then sworn to Federal Service and eventually became a platoon sergeant in the Mobile Infantry.
  • Major Reid — Juan Rico's blind History and Moral Philosophy teacher at Officer Candidate School.
  • Carmen Ibanez — One of Juan Rico's high school classmates. Rico had a crush on her, and she was a major influence on his decision to enlist, joining the same day that she did. As she excelled in mathematics and gymnastics, she became a Navy spaceship pilot. The novel emphasizes that (space) Naval ranks were often female, whereas combat troops were universally male.
  • "Carl" — Juan Rico's best friend in high school, his example was one of the influences which prompted Juan Rico to enlist. The two of them enlisted the same day, and Carl was assigned to the Starside Research & Development facilites on Pluto. Later in the novel, it is mentioned that Carl had been killed when the Pluto research facilities were destroyed by the Arachnids.
  • Ted Hendrick — Mobile Infantry recruit who questioned the need to learn knife-throwing. Later court-martialed for disobeying orders and striking a superior officer (Sergeant Zim). Sentenced to ten lashes and Bad Conduct Discharge, instead of execution. He thereby lost his chance for the franchise and his intended career in politics.


  • Terra (Earth) — Terran homeworld. Location of boot camp "Arthur Currie".
  • Faraway — A Terran colony planet occupied by the Klendathu Arachnids.
  • Hesperus — A Terran colony planet.
  • Iskander — A Terran colony planet.
  • Klendathu — Home planet of the Arachnids. Location of "Operation Bughouse".
  • Planet P — A planet occupied by the Arachnids as a forward base, attacked and excavated by the Terran Mobile Infantry in "Operation Royalty". Location of first captured Arachnid leaders, and 3rd Lt. Juan Rico's first command as an (probationary) officer.
  • Sanctuary — A planet with an orbital stardock. A Mobile Infantry/Navy headquarters, R&R station, and backup headquarters of the Terran Federation. Its location was a carefully maintained secret enforced by implanted suicide orders in astrogation officers should they be captured. Described by Rico as being "like Earth, but retarded" due to a lack of Earth-like natural background radiation that prompted mutation and evolution of life.
  • Sheol — An Arachnid colony planet, decimated by the Terrans.
  • TFCT Valley Forge — The corvette transport of "Willie's Wildcats", features the retrieval song "Yankee Doodle". It was destroyed in a collision with the Ypres over Klendathu during "Operation Bughouse", but both ships were later recommissioned for the second assault on Klendathu.
  • TFCT Rodger Young — The corvette transport of "Rasczak's Roughnecks", features the retrieval song "Rodger Young." This refers to PFC Rodger Young, who was awarded the Medal of Honour posthumously during World War II and the subject of a popular ballad.


  • Powered Armor (Marauder Suits, Scout Suits, and Command Suits)
  • Heavy Weapons (Rockets, Nuclear Weapons)
  • Burners/Flamers (Rifle Burners and Hand Burners)
  • Ships (Many different classes)
  • Tactical warhead launcher

Major themes


Starship Troopers is a political essay as well as a novel. Large portions of the book take place in classrooms, with Rico and other characters engaged in debates with their History and Moral Philosophy teachers, who are often thought to be speaking in Heinlein's voice. The overall theme of the book is that social responsibility requires individual sacrifice. Heinlein's Terran Federation is a limited democracy with aspects of a meritocracy based on willingness to sacrifice in the common interest. Suffrage belongs only to those willing to serve their society by two years of volunteer Federal Service (there is no draft before the Bug War) -- "the franchise is today limited to discharged veterans," (ch. XII), instead of anyone ("...who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37 °C."). There is an explicitly made contrast to the democracies of the 20th century, which according to the novel were flawed (and collapsed) because "people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted . . . and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears." Indeed, Dubois, one of Rico's teachers, criticizes as unrealistic the famous passage of the U.S. Declaration of Independence about " Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Some critics have complained that Heinlein creates a sexist world where the electorate is mostly male, to the further exclusion of the disabled. However, the book details that the Terran Constitution requires the government to accept any volunteer, regardless of gender, skills, or ability (the general intent is volunteer sacrifice as evidence of ability to put society above private interest; the military is a single component of that service). The only instance in which one can be denied the opportunity for Federal service -- a Constitutional right -- is if psychiatrists determine the applicant does not understand his or her oath. Those not fit for active military service have some other service found for them of equtiable risk (risk of life being one of the key ideas, as stated above), one of the examples given was drug-testing. Also, while the M.I. is nearly all male, Fleet (i.e., the Navy), has a very high percentage of female personnel.

Starship Troopers is also widely regarded as a vehicle for Heinlein's anti-communist views, best summed up by Rico's belief that "[c]orrect morals arise from knowing what man is—not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be." Characters attack Karl Marx (a "pompous fraud"), the Labor theory of value ("All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart...") and Plato's The Republic ("antlike communism" and "weird in the extreme"). Many believe Heinlein's fears about communism are embodied in the Arachnids, the "ultimate dictatorship of the hive." The Arachnids are a society of "total communism" adapted to it by evolution. They lay their eggs in the thousands, and send their warriors off to battle without apparent regard for casualties, in both cases significantly different from the individualistic human Terrans.

Military innovations

Powered armor

In addition to Heinlein's political views, Starship Troopers popularized a number of military concepts and innovations, some of which have since been used. Perhaps its most famous concept is the powered armor exoskeleton used by the Mobile Infantry trooper. These suits were controlled by the wearer's own movements, but powered to augment the actions. A trooper could, for example, jump upwards, and the powered leg joints would launch him off the ground while rockets kicked in for further propulsion. Dropping from orbit in individual re-entry capsules, the troopers parachute into enemy territory for their attacks. Armed with weaponry including flame throwers, high-explosive rockets, and occasionally small nuclear weapons, the Mobile Infantry soldier had an arsenal that made him a one-man tank, with skills comparable to a modern-day fighter pilot.

One of the book's major creative feats is the rigorously coherent invention and depiction of the use of infantry delivered to planetary surfaces for operations designed not only to serve political purposes but also to take and hold positions. The concept of Mobile Infantry, whose basic element is the trooper, highly trained, encased in an armored space-suit, and delivered to the area of operations in a disposable re-entry pod, was unprecedented in literature, both military and otherwise. The weapons systems, tactics, training, and all other aspects of this futuristic elite force are completely envisioned, from the function of the armored suits and their variants to the training of personnel to the operational use of the suits in combat. Tactics are described in detail, and the weapons systems are tailored to the operational requirements of the plot.

Aspects of the suit design are under active research by the US Department of Defense in the first years of the 21st century. A call for designs was answered around 2001 by 14 universities and companies; the design by a company called Sarcos, of Salt Lake City, Utah, being selected. Sarcos has been commissioned to build a prototype "exoskeleton", which is due to be delivered for army testing in 2008.

Modern ramifications

While powered armor is Starship Troopers' most famous legacy, its influence extends deep into contemporary warfare. Almost half a century after its publication, Starship Troopers is on the reading lists of the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps, and is the only science fiction novel on the reading list at four of the five United States military academies. When Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers the United States military was a largely conscripted force, with conscripts serving two year hitches. Today the U.S. military (perhaps especially the Marine Corps) has incorporated many ideas similar to Heinlein's concept of an elite all-volunteer, high-tech strike force, while the U.S. Army has also initiated a transformation program which may give it similar capabilities in the near future. The Army has also taken steps towards powered armor warfare with Project Land Warrior, while DARPA has invested $50 million developing an exoskeleton suit for military use. The influence of Starship Troopers also extends beyond doctrine; some of the more mundane pieces of technology used in the novel that can be found in a contemporary infantry unit are night vision goggles, thermal viewers, and digital terrain maps with unit positions. In addition, references to the book keep appearing in military culture. In 2002 a Marine general described the future of Marine Corps clothing and equipment as needing to emulate the Mobile Infantry


To Heinlein's surprise, Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960. By 1980, twenty years after its release, it had been translated into eleven different 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".

Literary critiques

The main literary criticism against Starship Troopers is that it is nothing more than a vehicle for Heinlein's political views. John Brunner compared it to a "Victorian children's book" while Anthony Boucher, founder of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, remarked that Heinlein had "forgotten to insert a story." Alexei Panshin complained that the novel was overly simplistic — "the account of the making of a [marine]... and nothing more" — and that the characters were simply mouthpieces for Heinlein: "At the end you know nothing of [Rico's] tastes, his likes and dislikes, his personal life. The course of the book changes him in no way because there is nothing to change — Rico remains first and last a voice reading lines about how nice it is to be a soldier... The other characters are even more sketchy, or are simple expositions of an attitude." Richard Geib adds "The real life 'warriors' I have known are all more multi-faceted than anyone we meet in Starship Troopers. And the ones I know who have killed are much more ambivalent about having done so." He further complained about the almost complete lack of sexuality among the characters and the absence of any serious romance, although it should be noted in this regard that Starship Troopers was originally marketed as adolescent literature.

Allegations of militarism

Another complaint about Starship Troopers is that it is either inherently militaristic or pro-military. There was even a two-year debate in the Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies (PITFCS) that was 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" (paraphrase of the fourth stanza of " The Star-Spangled Banner") and the anti-war poem " Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen. Dean McLaughlin called it "a book-length recruiting poster." Alexei 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." Joe Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran and author of the anti-war Hugo- and Nebula-winning science fiction novel The Forever War, similarly complained that Starship Troopers unnecessarily glorifies war. Others have pointed out that Heinlein never actually served in combat, having been a Naval Academy graduate who was medically discharged for a tuberculosis infection and spent World War II as a civilian doing Research and Development at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Defending Heinlein, 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." In a commentary on his essay "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?", 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." The book's dedication also reads in part "... to all sergeants anywhen who have labored to make men out of boys." However, he thoroughly disagreed that Starship Troopers was militaristic, arguing that the military personnel in the Terran Federation were not allowed to vote while on active duty — since "the idiots might vote not to make a drop" — and that the military was thoroughly despised by many civilians. Interestingly, Heinlein also received some complaints about the lack of conscription in Starship Troopers (the military draft was the law in the United States when he wrote the novel). Heinlein was always vehemently opposed to the idea of conscription (calling conscripts "slave soldiers") and the advent of the modern all-volunteer military forces appears to have vindicated some of the ideas of Starship Troopers. The book is recommended reading within the U.S. Army and Marine Corps because of its emphasis on small-unit cohesion, the fraternity of service, and its focus on the forward-serving, elite mobile infantry units, that so closely resemble the infantry units of the United States Army Delta Force, Rangers, Paratroopers and the Marine Corps.

Allegations of fascism

Another accusation is that the Terran Federation is a fascist society, and that Starship Troopers is therefore an endorsement of fascism. These analogies have become so popular that two of the corollaries of Godwin's Law state that once Heinlein is brought up during online debates, it is inevitable that someone will compare the book's society to that of Nazi Germany. One could argue that the most famous proponent of these views is Paul Verhoeven, whose film version of Starship Troopers portrayed the Terran Federation wearing Nazi-like outfits and using fascistic propaganda. Most of the arguments for this view cite the idea that only veterans can vote and non-veterans lack citizenship. However, according to Poul Anderson, Heinlein got the idea not from Nazi Germany or Sparta, but from Switzerland.

Defenders of the book usually point out that although the electoral franchise is limited, the government of the Terran Federation is democratically elected. There is freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of conscience. The political system described in the book is multiracial, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic. The protagonist Juan Rico is Filipino and others in his training group are American, Armenian, Japanese, German, and Turkish or Arab, and one or two have recognizably Jewish last names. Many also argue that Heinlein was simply discussing the merits of a "selective versus nonselective franchise." Heinlein made a similar claim in his Expanded Universe. The novel makes a related claim that "[s]ince sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility — we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life — and lose it, if need be to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert."

Allegations of utopianism

More recently, Heinlein has been accused of creating a utopia (in the sense of a society that does, and can not, exist), and that while his ideas, sound plausible, they have never been put to the test and are, actually, impractical. This criticism has been leveled by the likes of Robert A. W. Lowndes, Philip José Farmer, and Michael Moorcock. The latter wrote an essay entitled "Starship Stormtroopers" in which he attacked Heinlein and other writers over similar "Utopian fiction." Lowndes accused Heinlein of using straw man arguments, "countering ingenuous half-truths with brilliant half-truths." 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". 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 odour of blood and guts." Heinlein however explicitly writes that this government is not creating an ideal society when Major Reid, a mouthpiece educating Rico in officer candidate school states, "The practical reason for continuing our system is the same as the practical reason for continuing anything: It works satisfactorily."(XII)

A possible counter argument to these objections is that the term "veteran" is used to mean any person completing a term (two or more years) of Federal Service, and that only a small percentage of service roles were of a military nature. Heinlein himself denied that military service was the only way to earn the franchise and noted that the novel made this point explicitly. A theoretical example is given in the novel that a blind volunteer who, being unsuited to many tasks, might be assigned to count caterpillar hairs for two years, and would receive the franchise after satisfactorily doing so. Hazardous occupations, in themselves do not qualify as Federal Service; for example, the ocean-going merchant marine - an excellent example of a hard and sometimes dangerous job - is explicitly noted as not being Federal Service. What counts in the world of the Terran Federation is personal risk in the service of the State.

One character in the book, a recruiter, tells Rico that any adult may earn the franchise with two years of service, and that the government is required to find some duty for them to perform which is within their physical and mental capabilities. The objective is that all voters have earned the franchise through voluntary service in some position not under the volunteer's control, rather than simply by reaching an arbitrary age. It is implied that those who did not get the franchise did so because they were unwilling to spend the time and effort gaining something, and that this was taken to be evidence that they did not consider political participation worth it. No punishment is imposed on those who fail to complete their service (save on military under orders). No effort is made to find and return to their positions those who walk away (even from the military under many conditions; Dillinger was returned to Camp Currie for execution after being caught by local police [not the MI or Federal Service enforcement officers of any kind] and being convicted of a crime).

However, this issue is still controversial, even among the book's defenders. James Gifford points to several quotes as indications that the characters assume Federal Service is military; for instance, when Rico tells his father 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, or not necessary to a businessman during peacetime. Some Federal Service recruiters wear military ribbons, and a term of service "is either real military service... or a most unreasonable facsimile thereof." Moreover, the history of Federal Service describes it as being started by military veterans who did not originally allow civilians to join and are not described as allowing them to join later. Gifford decides, as a result, 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."

Criticism of corporal punishment

Another controversial point is corporal punishment. The Terran Federation uses whippings for military discipline and also in civilian criminal justice. Characters speak of spankings or paddlings being used in child rearing. As the book was written at the beginning of Dr. Benjamin Spock's influence on the raising of children in American and European cultures, this may be more of a reflection on the practices of the time which do not hold to the philosophy of Dr. Spock and his adherents. Indeed, in Mr. Dubois' class, Johnny Rico participates in a discussion that derides the introduction of psychoanalysis into childrearing in the twentieth century. This is viewed by some as a direct attack on Dr. Spock's methods, a belief potentially supported by Spock's founding role in the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the organization to which Heinlein attributed his motivation for writing the novel.

Allegations of racism

The supposedly racist aspects of Starship Troopers involve the Terrans' relations with the Bugs and the Skinnies. Some people are also uncomfortable with the idea of an inter-species war, viewing it as similar to a race war. Richard Geib has suggested that Heinlein portrayed the individual Arachnids as lacking "minds or souls... killing them seems no different from stepping on ants." Both Robert Peterson and John Brunner believe that the nicknames "Bugs" and "Skinnies" carry racial overtones, Brunner using the analogy of " gook" while Peterson suggested that "not only does the nickname 'Bugs' for the arachnids of Klendathu sound too much like a racial slur — think of the derogatory use of the word 'Jew' — but Heinlein's characters unswervingly believe that humans are superior to Bugs, and that humans are destined to spread across the galaxy."

Robert A. W. 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 result would be warfare.

At the end of the novel, the main character Juan Rico is revealed to be Filipino when he states in casual conversation that his native language is Tagalog.

Adaptations and influences

Film and TV adaptations

The novel has been recycled into comics, books, films, and television series, the best known being Paul Verhoeven's 1997 Starship Troopers. The film began development with the working title Bug Hunt, but then a friend of Verhoeven pointed out the similarities between his script and the book. A license was subsequently obtained and the script edited to conform more to the book. However, in the DVD commentary of the film Verhoeven claimed he never finished reading the novel, becoming both bored and depressed after the first few chapters. This may explain the great dissimilarity between the book and the film, and the uproar among Heinlein's fans when the movie was released. The script reflects a merciless contempt for Heinlein's ideas, which are condemned as similar to Nazism. The film's uniforms, badges, and flags had German and Nazi origins and were clearly intended to imply that the society was racist -- against non-human species rather than human racial or national groups.

Comic Books

Starship Troopers was also adapted into a series of comic books by Dark Horse Comics in 1997 and 1998 and although it was explicitly based on the films, the later issues featured a suit of powered armor similar to that of the book. Other treatments more or less closely based on the book include a Japanese OVA series and accompanying manga made in 1988, entitled Uchû no Senshi, an animated series called Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, and a 2004 sequel to the first movie, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation.

In 2004 Mongoose Publishing released a graphic novel series called Starship Troopers - Blaze Of Glory - of which only the first book, Alamo Bay was released. Written by Tony Lee and illustrated by Sam Hart and Rod Reis, this new story followed the platoon Tamari's Tigers during the war, and charted the rise of new trooper William Tanner.

Mongoose Publishing did not publish the following two books however, and nothing more was seen for over a year until UK Publisher Markosia Publishing took over the comic license, releasing Blaze Of Glory and the successive two books, also written by Tony Lee - Dead Man's Hand and Damaged Justice as four-part miniseries to critical acclaim.

These books not only follow the timeline seen in the television series, but are also more linked to the novel than the movie. Several of the novel's characters appear in cameos - the most notable however is Sergeant Zim, whose story is expanded on in the third book.

A third film is said to be in the works with Rico returning in the title role.

Video and board games

Starship Troopers was first made into a strategy/simulation board game by Avalon Hill in 1976. The design was a straight-forward attempt to bring to life the military situation described in the book. In 1997, Avalon Hill released a completely different game, based on the movie, named Starship Troopers: Prepare for Battle.

In 1982, a programmer named Leo Christopherson wrote a game called Klendathu for the Tandy Colour Computer. Oddly enough, even though the game was created fifteen years before the theatrical incarnation of Starship Troopers, the bugs bear a closer resemblance to its depiction of the arachnids than what was described in the novel. The gameplay was simple in nature, with the objective being to earn money by burning bugs.

In 1998, Mythic Entertainment released Starship Troopers: Battlespace which was available to America Online subscribers. The game allowed players to assume either Klendathu or Federation roles. Players piloted ships in overhead space combat against each other while accomplishing larger objectives such as capturing enemy bases.

Blue Tongue Entertainment via Atari released the computer game Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy in 2000, a top-down real-time tactics wargame.

A first-person shooter game titled Starship Troopers was released November 15, 2005, based on Paul Verhoeven's film version rather than on Heinlein's novel. It was developed by Strangelite Studios and published by Empire Interactive.

In 2005, Mongoose Publishing released a roleplaying game with a corresponding miniatures wargame, based on the "universe" of Starship Troopers (including the novel, movies, and television show).

Release details

  • 1960- 06-01, Putnam Publishing Group, hardcover, ISBN 0-399-20209-9
  • May, 1968, Berkley Medallion Edition, paperback, ISBN 0-425-02945-X
  • January 1984, Berkley Publishing Group, paperback, ISBN 0-425-07158-8
  • November 1985, Berkley Publishing Group, paperback, ISBN 0-425-09144-9
  • November 1986, Berkley Publishing Group, paperback, ISBN 0-425-09926-1
  • 1987- 05-01, Ace Books, paperback, 263 pages, ISBN 0-441-78358-9
  • 1995- 10-01, Buccaneer Books, hardcover, ISBN 1-56849-287-1
  • 1997- 12-01, Blackstone Audiobooks, cassette audiobook, ISBN 0-7861-1231-X
  • 1998- 07-01, G. K. Hall & Company, large print hardcover, 362 pages, ISBN 0-7838-0118-1
  • 1999- 10-01, Sagebrush, library binding, ISBN 0-7857-8728-3
  • 2000- 01-01, Blackstone Audiobooks, CD audiobook, ISBN 0-7861-9946-6
  • 2006- 06-27, Ace Trade, paperback, ISBN 0-441-01410-0
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