Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don’t you dare try to reboot this Hollywood

Unfortunately, my only exposure to Starship Troopers had been the movie. Not a good first impression. But, as usually happens, you hear that the movie is nothing like the book. I’d been hearing this for years but never bothered to find out for myself. Then the Science Fiction Experience came along. I knew my first non-group read book would have to be Starship Troopers for the Sci-Fi Experience.

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein is the story of Johnnie Rico. We watch him grow from wide eyed student who defies his parents to join the Mobile Infantry, to become a seasoned officer during the Bug War.

I have a thing with stories about military men, watching them rise through the ranks (Aubrey/Maturin books, the Sharpe series, Horatio Hornblower). I love reading the development of a scared young man turning into - not a killing machine - but a confident, capable officer, who is respected by his peers. When done right it’s fascinating to read.

This book reminded me a lot of Full Metal Jacket. It’s got all the interesting boot camp adventures (minus the homicide/suicide) with the war time experience. I don’t know if it’s much of a spoiler but I’ll put the alert here just in case [SPOILER ALERT] but since the story is in the first person POV, Johnnie Rico does survive to the end of the book. It reminded me of the end of another military movie, The Big Red One (watch this movie, it's good!), how it was dedicated to the survivors. In a way, it felt like that's what this book was doing as well.

The only thing I had an issue with was a snippet of a review on the book cover saying the book had these "elegantly drawn battle scenes". Was I reading the same book as them? There were a couple but they were not that long. The one at the end, while exciting, I found a bit confusing trying to wrap my head around who was where and where did some of these platoon sergeants come from. Plus, it didn't last very long. I love my battles (don't even get me started on A Clash of Kings) but I was fine that there were not these long drawn out battles. There was enough going on following Johnnie on his journey to make this a good read.

And why was this book so controversial? Was it the idea it presented that a citizen could not vote until they served in the military? Was it because some felt it glorified war and the military?

I can see taking issue with the voting thing. I think I contribute enough to society that I have earned the right to vote. But I didn't think it glorified war or the military. I think what it did do was shine a spotlight on the sacrifices and hard work the men and women of the military go through. It showed a spoiled rich kid who was determined to make his own way, who didn't quit despite the rough boot camp experience and making some mistakes. He stuck with his decision and had pride in what he was doing; nothing wrong with that and one of the reasons why I like Johnnie Rico.

In the end, this book made me hate the movie even more so than I did before I read it. So, no, Hollywood, you do not have permission to reboot this to try and make it up to me. But if you must, promise to use the model set before you by movies such as Batman Begins, X-Men: First Class and Star Trek. This book deserves so much more.


  1. wow, I didn't know this was a book. I saw the film years ago. Glad to hear this one is good and al bit like Full Metal Jacket minus the Great review :)

    1. Thanks! And I hope you get a chance to read Starship Troopers :)

  2. I haven't read Starship Troopers in ages, but I remember it being really good, and I remember hating, hating, HATING the crappy movie version. Way to wreck the franchise, Hollywood!

    1. If we can get something with better acting and no weird "romance", then we can talk, Hollywood lol

  3. Yes, people felt it glorified the military and verged on fascist. At the time it was written this was part of the public dialog, which was why Heinlein, a military man, wrote it.

    I apparently did read a different book from many. And perhaps a different book from that which Heinlein actually wrote. I always felt there was an element of satire to the novel.

    Rico was a callow kid who grew into a good man. He and his friends were sincere people who were risking their lives for their society. These aspects of them are lovingly rendered.

    But their society, much of the military's culture, and their opponents I always saw through a satirical lens. Military and civilian culture alike were treating these young people poorly.

    Heinlein shows such an extreme version of military training and discipline, with no apparent critique. Most of his characters have no interests and no life beyond the military. After training they all become similar, action figures more than people -- the brainwashing of bootcamp seemingly washing them clean of much of their individuality.

    Heinlein's more serious novels almost invariably took an idea about what a culture might look like under certain circumstances and ran with it, almost like a simulation. Heinlein obviously felt some of these notions were good ones, while others were not. In both cases he did not temper his representations.

    That was how (despite his tendency toward in-text preaching) he really told truths. Which is why I will always feel that Starship Troopers contains implicit criticisms for all its apparent glorification of militarism.

    Which is why I like the first Starship Troopers movie. It's a movie which borrows from the book but is not, by any stretch of imagination, a movie OF the book. It is direct about thinking this fascist culture is a gross, cruel, and hypocritical propaganda machine. It's not how Heinlein would have done it, obviously, and it lacks Heinlein's perspective on what is GOOD and HONORABLE in military service.

    Nevertheless, it is a funny movie with a hyperbolic, but worthwhile, message. While the book is a serious portrait in which any criticism at all is subtle. The book is primarily about service, honor, strength, and sacrifice; it forces the reader to draw their own conclusions about the fascist trappings.

    1. When I think back to the book I can see the satire you pointed out and the brainwashing and like you I took away that this book was ultimately about honor which I liked.
      The movie I’m still working up towards watching again. I have to admit, it has been years since I’ve seen it and it might be good to see it again and see if I still have the same feelings about it; see if I can get through the bad acting ;)

    2. Well, I also sometimes like a made for TV C horror movie, bad acting and all. So my threshold is low in that respect.