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Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein first published in 1959. It received a Hugo Award in 1960, and remains one of the most controversial science fiction novels ever written.

Starship Troopers was made into a strategy/simulation board game by Avalon Hill in 1976, a Japanese anime series in 1989, a film by Paul Verhoeven in 1997 and an animated television program in 2000.

Table of contents
1 Plot synopsis
2 Political subtext
3 Film and animated series
4 Influences
5 External links

Plot synopsis

The novel deals with the growth of a young man from spoiled mama's boy to selfless leader of men.

After rigorous basic training, he is assigned to a platoon of future soldiers in the Mobile Infantry defending humanity from an intelligent race of creatures collectively known as "bugs", a repulsive alien enemy sharing many characteristics with social insects such as ants or termites, and their allies, called "Skinnies" (appearing in the first chapter of the book).

The military confrontation between Earth and the "Bugs" bears some similarities to the United State's war with Japan in World War II - the Bugs start the war with a surprise attack. Over the course of the war, the Mobile Infantry are ferried by the Navy from planet to planet for short but fierce engagements. This very much resembles the progress of U.S. Marines in the island-hopping war in the Pacific. To some degree, the "Bugs" seem representative of the Japanese, as depicted in U.S. war propaganda -- as insectile members of a more hierarchical society who were unwilling (or as the lower caste Bugs, unable) to surrender.

For science fiction fans, the novel popularized the concept of the powered exoskeleton in the form of the powered armor suits of the Mobile Infantry soldiers. These suits were manipulated by the wearer's own movements but also powered to augment the actions. The soldier could, for example, jump upwards, and the powered leg joints would launch him off the ground while rockets kicked in for further propulsion. Dropped from orbit in individual egg-shaped heat shields, the troopers would parachute into enemy territory for quick hit-and-run operations. Armed with a significant arsenal including high-explosive rocket launchers and flame throwers, the Mobile Infantry soldier was a one-man tank.

Political subtext

Politics is a significant subject in the novel, taking up a greater part of the story than the scientific or technical aspects. The novel presents a very favourable view of the purposefulness and order of military life and disgust with the slack, individualistic, and purposeless life of "civilians". Many fans regard the book as one of the best literary descriptions of the positive aspects of military service (notably the strong bonds between soldiers).

In the future world of the novel, only those who have volunteered for federal service (which includes military service) are permitted to vote and hold political office. These aspects of the novel make it highly controversial, with numerous detractors interpreting the book as thinly-disguised, expertly-written propaganda for fascism.

The society portrayed in Starship Troopers also considers corporal punishment acceptable in childrearing, civilian criminal matters, and enforcing military discipline.

Film and animated series

Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film takes up these political themes by satirizing the book's attitudes mercilessly, using references from propaganda films such as Triumph of the Will and wartime news broadcasts, but wrapping this satire in slickly-produced action sequences with clever special effects such that the satire went unnoticed by a mostly teenage male audience who treated the movie as a simple gung-ho "action flick". The movie did not perform well at the box office: despite its lavish $100-million-plus production budget, it earned only $54 million in its theatrical release, though its subsequent release on video helped to earn its costs back. Critical reaction to the film was largely negative, and the film was criticized for having characters who were as mindless and one-dimensional as the special effects were impressive and dazzling.

The "bugs" were also altered to be less an alien civilization and more "monsters".

The animated series Roughnecks: Starship Troopers (released in 2000) was closer to the events of the book, such as including the war with the Skinnies, and included more of the characters. However, it focused mostly on combat, and didn't address the political aspects at all. Verhoeven was also a producer for the series, and it used the creature designs from the 1997 movie.


Starship Troopers clearly influenced many later science fiction stories, setting a tone for the military in space, a type of story referred to as military science fiction.

On the other hand, Joe Haldeman's antiwar novel The Forever War is popularly thought to be a direct reply to Starship Troopers, though Haldeman has stated that it is rather a result of his personal experiences in the Vietnam War. (1998 interview)

External links