By Matthew Pilgrim (Rated G)
There are few novels that I have reread as many times as Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It is a masterpiece of science fiction and is as intellectually stimulating as it is imaginatively engaging. Each time I have revisited the Terran Federation, its advanced power-armored soldiers, and their fantastically alien enemies, I have come away with a new appreciation for this classic work. Though it was published in 1959, Starship Troopers is a fresh feeling as ever, because its substance is not just about interstellar warfare but timeless concepts about man and human society.
Starship Troopers follows the story of Juan “Johnny” Rico as he comes of age and enlists in the futuristic branch of the military of the Terran Federation called the Mobile Infantry. He undergoes extraordinarily intense physical and psychological rigors in order to prove himself capable of becoming a fighting man obliged with the defense of the human species. Afterwards, Rico is sent throughout the galaxy as he fights against the alien Pseudo-Arachnids across many different theaters in a full-scale interstellar war. Throughout the conflict, Rico undergoes further changes as he grows into the life of a professional soldier, culminating with his completed understanding of the meaning and value of what it means to be a soldier of the Mobile Infantry and a citizen of the Terran Federation.
It is difficult to discuss the plot of Starship Troopers without also describing the rich setting in which it takes place, for the novel is as much about various philosophical, moral, and political ideas as it is about the story of Juan Rico. In the future of Starship Troopers, the Terran Federation is the government that stands for all of humanity on Earth and all other human colonies throughout the galaxy. The Federation is the strictest form of meritocracy; while all individual human beings have guaranteed rights and freedoms, the privileges of voting and holding public office are reserved only for those men and women who have completed a term of Federal Service where they have demonstrated their willingness and ability to risk their personal safety for the common good.
Starship Troopers can be enjoyed on several levels: as a coming-of-age war story, as a challenging and fascinating set of ideas, and as an exploration of an incredibly detailed science fiction setting. The novel is rich with world building, despite being relatively short in length and quick in pacing. Heinlein’s prose is accessible and enjoyable; the narration is entirely from Rico’s perspective and is surprisingly timeless, though it is noticeably laced with idioms of mid-twentieth century America. It almost feels as though you are yourself living in the future and reading the Rico’s memoirs. Readers that have any interest in stories involving military adventures, men finding themselves through hard work and values, or other worldly science fiction could do no better than this book.