Every once in a while everyone comes across a book that fundamentally changes how the reader sees the world and their place in it. For me that time came when I was 17 years old, and that book was Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Never before had I read a book as fascinating before, and never had a book asked me about my place in society and my purpose along with it.
The high action movie version that seems to be more well-known these days is nothing like the book. While much of the movie takes place through action scenes with little character development, the book takes place largely in flashbacks and in classrooms. Of course there are scenes of action, but these are few and far between.
The story is about a young man named Juan “Johnny” Rico and his training for and eventual participation in a war to protect humanity from a race of insect like creatures known as Arachnids. While this war rages, however, we see through several flash backs how the man at the beginning of the story came to be, first through images of philosophical debates presented to him in school and second through his intense training for the Mobile Infantry. The Mobile Infantry is the name of the military force of the Terran Federation, the super national government which controls Earth and her colonies in other solar systems.
The Terran Federation is a limited democracy, which means that only a select few can vote. The population is divided into two sections: Citizens and Civilians. Citizens earn the right to vote through some type of service to the state (usually a two year term in the Mobile Infantry) while civilians are ordinary people. Other than voting rights there are no real differences between citizens and civilians. Other than voting both groups enjoy the same freedoms and protections by the state. The rationale behind this divide is that only those who are willing to sacrifice their individuality for the greater whole can be properly trusted to vote in the best interests of civilization rather than for their own personal gains.
The book makes the argument that every person must come together to help make the larger world better for all. While this sounds communist in nature it surprisingly isn’t. Heinlein makes the point that all jobs, no matter how petty or unimportant they may seem are always important to the larger picture. A doctor who cures patients is just as important as the janitor who keeps areas clean and sanitary for all to enjoy.
The book also gives a good description of a future military force. All soldiers wear a type of mech-suit which increases strength, maneuverability, and the gathering of battlefield intelligence. Each soldier can do the entire workload of a squad of normal soldiers, thus increasing the capabilities of large armies. Another interesting aspect of the Mobile Infantry is that EVERYONE fights, not just the normal grunts. This includes chaplains and commanding generals. The rationale behind this is that it builds up a greater sense of brotherhood amongst the troops, fostering a higher level of trust in the chain of command.
In conclusion this book is a Sci-Fi classic, while at the same time being a philosophical novel at the same time. I believe that it can interest a whole score of readers, even if they aren’t interested in Sci-Fi or military based fiction.