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Starship Troopers: Interpretation and Analysis

AliasiSudonomo

Trying to be a bird
Validated User
I've been putting off reading Heinlein in Reflection, a series of 'retro reviews' of Heinlein's work by someone who read them as a child and is returning to them as an adult. This thread encouraged me to pick it up again. While I have quite a few misgivings - the author mentions, in his review of The Puppet Masters, how the book demonstrates the dangers of control... "like the Left's control of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, which is a danger to democracy" and he talks critically of the NFL player protests and my eyes cannot roll hard enough - on the balance the author takes a similar stance as mine: Heinlein was so far ahead of his time, these days he seems mundane and we only see the things that are old-fashioned. (He brings up how he feels Heinlein can't write female characters well, and I'll allow that his early fictional women are both progressive in intent yet bound by the expectations of the 40s and 50s, and his later women are much more realistic but are also Basically Virginia Heinlein In Funny Wigs.)

I have a feeling I will continue to roll my eyes very hard at Mr. Nuttall's opinions, but it's nice to revisit and have some things pointed out I'd forgotten. It's telling that he skips a number of works I would not have, though.
 

Fabius Maximus

Registered User
Validated User
That's a common problem writers have--their future is not simply our present, but often our past. At the time, the idea of Clarissa as a nurse and officer and later lenswoman was unusual. Today, the books get smacked for not going far enough, with people forgetting that they went quite far for their time.

It's something about modern critics that annoys me, this idea that somehow the author should be judged by our most current thought wehn he lived a hundred years ago. That mind you, isn't a get out of jail free card-IE Lovecraft and his racism, but I dislike the way so many modern readers seem to want to have their very own Cadaver Synod.
 

AliasiSudonomo

Trying to be a bird
Validated User
That's a common problem writers have--their future is not simply our present, but often our past. At the time, the idea of Clarissa as a nurse and officer and later lenswoman was unusual. Today, the books get smacked for not going far enough, with people forgetting that they went quite far for their time.

It's something about modern critics that annoys me, this idea that somehow the author should be judged by our most current thought wehn he lived a hundred years ago. That mind you, isn't a get out of jail free card-IE Lovecraft and his racism, but I dislike the way so many modern readers seem to want to have their very own Cadaver Synod.
Yeah, one I just read now is a review of The Rolling Stones and mentions how Hazel is a capable engineer... who dropped out of the profession because less capable men would get promoted over her, and she even advises Meade to not get into the field because she'll just become heartbroken.

That's less "Heinlein being sexist" and more "Heinlein realizing exactly how the world treats intelligent women"... in 1952, well before the phrase "glass ceiling" was in common parlance. There's a lot of that. Really, the thread that comes to me, given Starship Troopers and all the rest, is Heinlein was a good example of "a cynic is a frustrated idealist". There's a lot of goals I think he'd readily agreed as being worthy in theory, but not actually practical (like the dismissal of pacifism in the speech I linked earlier).

And, well, that's something idealists of any stripe really hate to be told. And, of course, sometimes the "realist" isn't in the right; they're blinded by their biases. (Seriously, for all the trouble Russia still gives the world... give me a time machine and some books on the fall of the Soviet Union to slip on his desk...)
 

Rolzup

Dinoczar
Validated User
I was, in my youth, a huge Heinlein fan -- thanks largely to Boy's Life magazine's comic-strip serialization of Between Planets. Read everything I could get my hands on, and enjoyed all of it...although even as a callow teen, Farnham's Freehold was clearly Not Good. And the sheer luck of having read The Forever War right before I first picked up Starship Troopers led to some interesting cognitive whiplash.

Trying to re-read his books as an adult, after my son flatly refused to read Have Spacesuit Will Travel past the first chapter, was interesting. He's still a very readable writer, and I found myself sucked into the plots of his books just as I was as a kid, but I found myself viscerally disliking most of his characters, so much so that I gave up after Glory Road. That one, in particular, hasn't aged well...when it's good, it's great. When it's bad it's just awful.

Troopers, though. I didn't add that to my re-read, although it's not too late to do so. Couple it with Forever War and Armor for the full experience. But I can't help looking back at it fondly. What's the quote? "The real golden age of science fiction is thirteen"? It fits, I think. Reading it at that age, the intended age of the audience, it was just a really good story of power armor and evil aliens. The political stuff, as I must admit was my habit at that age, I largely skimmed past so that I could get to the (at the time) interesting bits.

It saddens me a little, how far Heinlein's star has fallen. My library branch has only two of his books: Stranger in a Strange Land and The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, and only the former has circulated in recent years. Our last copy of Starship Troopers was withdrawn back in 2017, because it hadn't been checked out in close to a decade. There are a grand total of two copies left in circulation in our (fairly large) library system.

(It is available as an e-book, but I don't have access to those circulation records. I doubt that it sees much use, though.)
 

AliasiSudonomo

Trying to be a bird
Validated User
It's interesting, the wide range of reactions. As I've said on other threads, I was reading through a recent collection of Heinlein retro reviews by Christopher Nuttall; it's a weird situation where I had some vague familiarity with him as an indie writer and the books seemed like they might be interesting, but I think Heinlein in Reflection might have unsold me from him. He spends rather more time ranting about how the real problem today is the SJW progressive destroying universities, even though he's also clearly not a fan of Trump or latter-day fascism, than necessarily saying anything interesting. Still, his observations weren't completely without merit and I bookmarked a couple of points I wanted to bring up here.

Directly to the topic of the thread, he points out things that have already been pointed out here; while it might be unlikely for the government of the Federation to be stable once the lessons of the founding had faded, as presented the book isn't even particularly pro-war, as opposed to pro-military; a disastrous operation early on is expressly due to the military being both out of practice and not realizing the scope of what they're up against. But the book is trying to balance Johnny's coming of age story with a greater philosophical statement and it is one of the more uneasy parts of the book.

A second thing is Heinlein did have a recurring love of bringing up uncomfortable truths. "Violence never settles anything" might be a popular saying, but flatly wrong. More generally, that morality doesn't necessarily have a damn thing to do with what might happen, and sometimes understanding this can give you insights to people you disagree with. There are things I don't agree with, re-reading Heinlein, but it is something that informs stuff like Farnham's Freehold; if one considers it aimed at the majority-white population of the US, it's a simple "how would you like it" turnaround tale, combined with a probability that, yes, were the tables turned and a technologically superior dark-skinned bunch of people came across a bunch of pale-skinned people they could dominate and enslave, someone would probably do so. The slaughter of the Native Americans when Europeans colonized America was terrible, but it happened, and even had the Europeans been kinder, the spread of disease was almost certainly inevitable.

It's one reason I like Job, although Nuttall wasn't too impressed by it. Heinlein uses the same tricks he uses in Starship Troopers to get his (again, presumed teenaged white male readers) to sympathize with a character then spring 'see, he's not white but he's a lot like you anyway!' to get you to sympathize with Alexander Hergensheimer, who is, frankly, the sort of man who causes Handmaid's Tale dystopias. (Thankfully, it's a tale of Alex getting his head pulled out of his ass, forcefully, and he gets there in the end; I suppose Heinlein was getting across that the problem with people who do evil isn't that they're evil; it's that they've convinced themselves evil is good.)

Although Nuttall also brought up a bit of Heinlein (in his defense against Heinlein being charged as a racist, as NK Jemisin did) that I quite thoroughly disagree with: In a letter Heinlein described how "the enslavement of African people was evil, but I didn't do it and don't see why I should feel guilty about it", and continued on to refuting the idea of affirmative action. When... the smarter schemes at least are only seeking to bring recruitment to approximate the overall representation of that minority in the population. Is Heinlein trying to contradict his own claim that a black (or Asian, or anyone else) person can be just as smart, and just as dumb, as anyone else? At most, I might concede a point when he discusses hiring on an engineer and caring only about the skills; a particular skillset that requires a lot of education that is not common among a disadvantaged minority might not be practical. But that just argues for the need to practice it in education all the more, and give out scholarships, preferential admittance, and the like.

(That, and both Nuttall and Heinlein tend to be dismissive of anything not a 'hard science', just like modern STEM-fanatics... although I think Heinlein was less dismissive than Nuttall, ironic for a guy who apparently is best known for a bunch of Harry Potter-style magic-school knockoffs.)
 
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