Hey Space Cadets, here is the next installment in my series of book reviews. As I write this, I’m trying not to go crazy from the emotional roller coaster that ending my series has become. It’s a bittersweet day, as I close the chapter on one series and move on to the next. Lance Scipio and I have had a good run, but now I’ve got to let him go. It’s harder than I thought, we’ve spent every waking moment together for the last two years. But at least I have new projects to distract me! In addition to finishing the Sleeping Legion, I had an anthology that I’m in published a month ago. I hope everyone enjoys it too, which you can still buy for 99c here! Finally, I recently hit “the end” on my super-duper secret project, sent it off to the editor, and now it’s back! So yesterday I began the editing process, which I hope to finish this month. Ideally it’ll be off with the publisher before the month is over. I’ll let you know more when I can, but that’s all I can say for now. I’ll be working on my next project, but more about that in the days to come.
This story was a hard one for me to review, and I considered not writing it. I try not to write reviews for books I can’t give at least 4 Grenades too. The world is a dark enough space, without adding to it with negativity. If I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it, so I don’t think any review from me would be fair at that point. I’m making an exception with this novel because of the iconic nature of it. I expect I’ll get some hate mail, but I’ll put on my big boy pants and hit delete for those!
But enough about me, onto the review of one of the most iconic science fiction stories of all time!
Title: Starship Troopers
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Narrator: Lloyd James
Price: $9.99 USD (Kindle Edition) & $7.49 USD (Audible Version)
Obtained: I bought the story and audiobook combination from Amazon.
Rating: 3/5 Grenades
First, let me say that none of what I’ll say in this section couldn’t be found on the back copy of the novel. Heck, I cribbed this summary from the back, and then I add my own twist! And not even much of one, since most of the books I read have kick butt descriptions (aka blurbs). If the blurb doesn’t catch my eye, then I tend to skip the book unless a friend recommends it. This book was an exception, much like all of the classic pieces of literature in any given genre. Generally speaking, my goal is to provide a spoiler-free review, so here goes nothing!
In Robert A. Heinlein’s controversial bestseller, a recruit from the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy. Like all soldiers since the beginning of time, he joined the Army to see more of the world (erm, universe) than where he’d grown up. It was all fun and games until a war came along. The historians can’t seem to settle whether to call this one “The Third Space War” (or the fourth), or whether “The First Interstellar War” fits it better. The soldiers just call it “The Bug War.” Everything up to then and still later was “incidents,” “patrols,” or “police actions.” And none of those received much media coverage. Either way, in the Mobile Infantry, everybody fights. But you’re just as dead if you buy the farm in an “incident” as you are if you buy it in a declared war…
In this novel, there is the main character, Juan “Johnny” Rico. He is a mobile infantry soldier in the Terran Federation of earth. He seeks to earn his citizenship through that service; also joining to follow his best friend, Carl. Throughout the story, we get to watch him grow into manhood as he rises through the ranks of the mobile infantry. There isn’t a lot of character growth, and I grew to like him less as the story drug on. He seemed like a good soldier, but emotionally he was an empty vessel for the reader to insert themselves into. There was a lot of room for growth with this character, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I almost felt like the characters were just a chance for the author to wax poetically about his worldview, which is supported by the number of words dedicated to memories of classroom lessons, over actual plot points. Heinlein did step outside of the norm, making his main character Filipino in an era when that just wasn’t done, so props for that I guess. Overall, I give this character 3 out of 5 Grenades.
Unlike most of the military fiction, I love to read, this wasn’t an action-packed novel. Instead, this story was a chance for the author to world build a dystopian future. What it lacked in action, it made up for in the novelty of his ideas. What little action there was, was very clinical, and didn’t get the juices flowing. One of the good things about this story was how it portrayed the military. That part was convincing, given the world in which it existed. I thought that it was portrayed very credibly, which is no surprise when you consider that the author was a graduate of the US Naval Academy. This story was set in the future, though we never know exactly how far it was relative to our timeline. I had to look it up to see that it was set approximately 700 years after the present day, but I don’t remember noticing it as I read the novel. We follow the career development of a mobile infantry soldier, as he goes through his training. Through the flashback scenes, we learn about his high school experience, all of it centered around morality and philosophy instruction. It seemed to be very rambling, without any real plot. Instead of a plot, this story is driven by major themes; militarism, coming of age tales, masculinity and manhood, and the moral decline of society. You could forgive all of that because of how revolutionary his tactics and thoughts were. And his prose, you can forgive a lot for such a talented writer. As far as the overall plot, I give it a 3 out of 5 Grenades.
This is a standalone novel and told the story of an infantryman in the far future. While the story was dry and academic, the world was very flushed out. He never said how or why we ended up with a one world government, not with any specificity. Heinlein gave you just enough to set the scene and then went forward with his story. He balanced the micro with the macro for his world creation and did it well. The tech he created still stands the test of time, some of the ideas are antiquated, but for a novel written in 1959, I can forgive those minor foibles. He posited some scientific theories about planetary evolution, but I’m not qualified to judge those, so if you’re curious there are a ton of scholarly reviews from the Brainiac types. His overreliance on hypnosis and nuclear weapons didn’t age well, at least not as far as genre trends go. What did work was how he put it all together. I give the world building 5 out of 5 Grenades.
I am torn on this one, I watched the movie first, so maybe Heinlein’s visualization was skewed for me. He did an excellent job describing the mech suit and the technology that let the CAP troopers drop from orbit. The descriptions of the mechanical gizmos inside the mech suits were different than I’m used to, but it kept my attention. His description of the planets where the action occurred was a mixed bag for me, the world that housed the secret resupply base was very well described. However, the planets where the few actions scenes happened were flat. I couldn’t picture them, and I really wanted to be able to. He was also a little light on the details of what the various characters looked like. And he went overboard on the unit nicknames, with cute rhyming patterns that seemed ridiculous. Overall, I give Heinlein 3 out of 5 Grenades in this category!
This was the first time I haven’t enjoyed an audiobook. It’s not fair to judge the quality of the narrator himself because the quality of the audio was so terrible. The volume was inconsistent, the background white noise was distracting, and I felt like I was cheated by this purchase. I ended up stopping after two hours, and read the book the old-fashioned way. I didn’t finish the audiobook because it was so terrible. I was listening to this while I was driving, and the poor quality almost induced some serious road rage. Save your money, don’t get this as an audiobook. I’ve seriously heard drunk hosts put on better podcasts. I give this audiobook a 1 out of 5 grenades for the piss poor audio quality. While I was clearly displeased with this, I don’t feel like it would be fair to credit that to Mr. James performance so I would give another one of his narrations a chance. I’d highly recommend trying the sample though.
I really wanted to love this book, to give this seminal work of science fiction a 5-star review. One thing I found fun about this book was the evolution of its covers throughout the decades. I’ll warn you, though, be careful about using the cover with the movie poster on it because die-hard fanatics will think you’re reviewing the movie! It’s probably heretical to say, but I enjoyed the movie and the books. Both had their flaws but could be enjoyed for the work of speculative fiction history they were. Heinlein got it right when it came to the military culture shown in this book, though he overdid the nicknames. As for the military equipment, he was a man ahead of his time! Some of his ideas are coming to fruition, though the limited ability to power them is still a bottleneck for full-scale adoption by anyone. The mech suits were innovative, and the tactical applications of them were sound. And in case you were unclear, I judge the tactics on how they fit in the world the author created, and nothing else. One area where the novel irritated me was the language, the overuse of “on the bounce” and other 1950’s verbiage. In all fairness, I can forgive that from a book written in that era! I didn’t take off for it, I’m just noting it in an effort at full disclosure. I loved how he made the comment about how the best pilots were women, this too was groundbreaking at the time he wrote it, making the female characters so strong. It was one of the more interesting aspects of the historiography of this story, but I’m a nerd like that. The novel has had a lot of controversy surrounding the politics Heinlein created, but since those arguments are so subjective, based on your personal biases, I won’t get into those with my evaluation. Basically, Heinlein didn’t write a novel, so much as a political treatise dressed up as one. You could make credible arguments either way regarding Heinlein’s personal beliefs, so I’ll leave those decisions up to you! Overall, this is a book I recommend you check out from a library, it wasn’t worth the $10 USD unless you’re a fanatic fan of the classics of science fiction. I give this a solid 3 out of 5 Grenades. It’s worth reading because it’s such an important piece of speculative fiction history, and if you love it for its own sake, even better! Just don’t get the audiobook!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.