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Starship Troopers: Interpretation and Analysis

Eric the .5b

It's all so esoteric
Validated User
Regarding FTL and whether the Bugs sent the meteor or not, it seems important to me to remember that this a movie where:

1) A spaceship heading out of the solar system and a big rock heading in to impact Earth a very short time later (as opposed to centuries or millennia later) appear to pass each other at about fifty miles an hour. ETA: And can only see each other right when they're about to collide. Let's not even talk about the whole gravity well business...
2) Giant bugs can fart slow-moving balls of plasma that reach from ground level to space and accurately hit orbiting spacecraft not hours later, but less than a minute later.
3) Those spacecraft orbit in such close formation that those plasma farts wreak utter havok when they hit.
4) It doesn't take very long at all to cross the galaxy.
5) Humans are only mentioned as having "warp" technology in one scene, in a brief exchange when human spacecraft are trying to flee the plasma fart barrage. (And it sounds totally cribbed from Star Trek.)
6) Bugs control many planets within the "Arachnid Exclusion Quarantine Zone" (notably, not a Manifest Destiny Future Expansion Frontier, but an Exclusion Quarantine Zone people are supposed to stay out of, with no authority other than the Terran Federation itself suggested as creating such a designation).
7) Earth and Klendathu are almost directly across the galaxy from each other, with no mention of any other civilizations around.

Given all that, I'm not buying that there was much deliberate thought to how distance works on a galactic scale. Someone said, "We should have a map in this scene" and the answer was to plop down a diagram of the galaxy and mark two points on roughly the opposite sides.

If we assume that the Bugs have no FTL and control a tiny, tiny patch of the galaxy through some sort of sub-light colonization, so that the Terran Federation had to blow up one of its own cities to get people to go along with this war on some gas station-sized patch (relatively speaking) of galactic real-estate....Well, we get the awkward question of just why would they do that?, in a dramatic context. We're not shown or told, subtly or otherwise, any reason for the Federation to want to murder millions of their citizens and provoke a war, and every explanation has to invent a reason to shoehorn into the story. Is the Federation's hold on power weak, needing to be propped up by a war? Not that we see or hear. Do the Bugs have space-oil or spice melange or some other resource on their barren-looking planets—something valuable that's worth crossing the entire galaxy to get and is not available anywhere else closer to Earth? Sure isn't mentioned or depicted!

Also, there's the problem that if this is all absurdly ridiculous in the setting, it's absurdly ridiculous to the people in the setting, who seem reasonably educated and are more familiar with how things work there than we viewers are. If the Bugs are known to have no FTL capability, then the whole bit about the Bugs using plasma farts to redirect meteors toward Earth is as obviously absurd as San Francisco exploding and the explanation being, "Taliban fighters in Afghanistan shot, like, ten RPGs in unison into the eastern sky!". We don't see anything like the totalitarian infrastructure—secret police, spying, crackdowns on dissent—necessary to support the public going along with this. We don't hear of riots and rebellions against the government, not even in the most biased framings. We see critics of the government, but none of them accuse the government of faking the war. And if the government had the sort of iron control over the public so that everyone goes along with this hideous kabuki (taking us into the realm of "pretty much everything we see in the movie is utterly false"), why would they need to drop a meteor on a city to start a war?

ETA: Pulled up a few clips from the movie, and it's a Quarantine Zone.
 
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AliasiSudonomo

Trying to be a bird
Validated User
Much before that, I'm really curious what would happen if you interviewed Heinlein in say, the aftermath of the Vietnam War, about how his thoughts had changed in the aftermath of a brutal grinding attrition war. The reason I say that is I think the society he depicts in Starship Troopers would get smashed against a tree, and otherwise crushed, by an attrition war, because its politics would collapse. He would obviously still be in favor of a volunteer force, but, I think Vietnam would give the middle finger to the idea that a powerful conventional force would be enough, and that occupation wars wouldn't be necessary. Which matters because I just don't buy the society he writes there would function in a long, grinding attrition war against an enemy that refused to give it a conventional fight.
He died in 1988, so he did write about Vietnam in essays and letters. I recall his thoughts were along the lines of "the point of whether it is 'right' for the US to be there or not isn't the relevant question, the point is if the US does not honor our agreements of alliance with other countries our word isn't worth a thing". I will note this was hardly an unusual opinion, at the time. The conduct of the war, now... I don't recall right off the top of my head what statements he might have made, but I recall Glory Road featured a protagonist (Oscar Gordon) who had served in an unnamed war in Southeast Asia that expressed some cynicism about the war itself; just no shame on Oscar's part for being a soldier in it.

(Actually, Killer, not that I'm trying to turn this into a general Heinlein thread, but have you read any of his other stuff? You seemed to imply you hadn't further up but I'm not sure.)
 

Killer300

Registered User
Validated User
He died in 1988, so he did write about Vietnam in essays and letters. I recall his thoughts were along the lines of "the point of whether it is 'right' for the US to be there or not isn't the relevant question, the point is if the US does not honor our agreements of alliance with other countries our word isn't worth a thing". I will note this was hardly an unusual opinion, at the time. The conduct of the war, now... I don't recall right off the top of my head what statements he might have made, but I recall Glory Road featured a protagonist (Oscar Gordon) who had served in an unnamed war in Southeast Asia that expressed some cynicism about the war itself; just no shame on Oscar's part for being a soldier in it.

(Actually, Killer, not that I'm trying to turn this into a general Heinlein thread, but have you read any of his other stuff? You seemed to imply you hadn't further up but I'm not sure.)
I'm aware of it? The Mistress and the Moon book I can't remember the actual name of sounds really interesting, although a male writer writing a matriarchal culture sounds... fraught, and Stranger in a Strange Land has an epic title if nothing else. He strikes me as someone who had a lot of interesting ideas, but could often stretch a bit beyond their grasp, however, was still noteworthy in the attempt.

Note, I don't think he's a Fascist or anything. Politically speaking, I'm honestly not sure what his views were, other than that he seemed to be hawkish in a general Anti-Communist way and... maybe classically liberal?

Its just, it seems like Vietnam would've been a huge threat to his worldview, because the Communists there arguably had the moral high ground, and the U.S. military's approach, outside of it not being a volunteer force, would seem to fit with what he would want, i.e., maximum force and all. Heck, it started with special forces, which seemed to be what he was basing Starship Trooper's military on. Hence, it seems like Vietnam would've been a really massive challenge to his worldview in a way that say, the Korean War wasn't.

I have to couch all of this in that, to be honest, I have no flipping clue what his worldview actually was, and its probably a fool's errand to try to glean it from his books because of his writing style. He presumably say, wrote characters he didn't agree with occasionally. But what I do know of it suggests that Vietnam would've been a lot more threatening to his worldview in a way that no other conflict the U.S. had been in... in its history, much less his lifetime, could've been.
 

Caseyg

Registered User
Validated User
How did the bugs get that asteroid to attack Earth in the first place? We see on the map they're on the other side of the galaxy, that Asteroid was not travelling faster than light. No FTL capability is ever shown for the Bugs in the film... How didn't Earth see it coming? We see in the propaganda piece at the start that they can blow up Asteroid's with the Moon's orbital ring... a ring that is shown to already be present before the first asteroid arrived.

My theory is... the bugs had nothing to do with it, they didn't start the war, the Federation did, as they wanted an excuse to go wipe them out because they were interfering with colonising efforts.

Regardless of feelings on the book, Verhoeven was trying to criticise facism in the film. What did the Nazi's do when they wanted to invade Poland? They faked an attack
This!

I always saw the asteroid attack as a false flag operation orchestrated to unite the people against a common foe and reinforce the authoritarian government's grip on society.

Incidentally, Imperial Japan pulled a similar trick in China during the build up to WW2.
 

Eric the .5b

It's all so esoteric
Validated User
After the landings were complete. The Bugs didn't react to the aggressive blockade and invasion of their homeworld until the MI actually started shooting on the ground.
No, they were already firing on the fleet and at landing craft before the MI landed. At around 2:00 in this video, the bridge crew start to twig that the firing isn't "random and light", and a small ship gets blown up even before all the landing craft are clear of the Rodger Young (the Navy Boyfriend announces that they're "empty" around 2:21). Then, within a few seconds, big ships get hit and start crashing into each other while the characters stare and boggle. And some landing craft get blown up (one from a really confusing angle that suggests it was hovering directly above a plasma bug right before the others landed).

And then the MI spills out in a random mass that heads toward some of the plasma bugs. They do this with catlike tread, so that none of the soldier-bugs around the plasma bugs notice them until they all get vaporized.



If-We're-Worrying-About-Science-Tangent: what are the Bugs eating? All their planets that we see look like badlands free of any vegetation, but the atmospheres are perfectly breathable. (Mind, Klendathu appears to have oceans...)
 
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Leonaru

Taxidermic Owlbear
Validated User
My theory is... the bugs had nothing to do with it, they didn't start the war, the Federation did, as they wanted an excuse to go wipe them out because they were interfering with colonising efforts.

Regardless of feelings on the book, Verhoeven was trying to criticise facism in the film. What did the Nazi's do when they wanted to invade Poland? They faked an attack
I always saw the asteroid attack as a false flag operation orchestrated to unite the people against a common foe and reinforce the authoritarian government's grip on society.
The bugs are apparently at the other end of the galaxy. How do they interfere with human colonisation? Are all nice planets in their corner of the galaxy? Have the humans already colonised all other suitable planets in the galaxy? We never see any of that. And that authoritarian government? Humanity seems to be doing pretty well under it. Maybe all of that is untrue, but if so, we don't see any of it. There's reading between the lines, and there's making a whole bunch of assumptions not backed up by the film, and this is the latter.
 

Daruma

New member
Banned
Although does the Big Three inventing sci-fi apply outside of the United States and Europe?
In Eastern (post-soviet) Europe "the Big Three" doesn't really apply. Asimov is incredibly popular and well known, but Heinlein and Clarke less so. The BIG names of Soviet sci-fi are Stanislav Lem and the Strugatsky brothers. But as an inventor of sci-fi most people sci-fi nerds would probably call Alexey Tolstoy, who wrote an Aelita space odyssey in 1920s.

Overall, USSR had a lot of sci-fi writers and readers.
 

Eric the .5b

It's all so esoteric
Validated User
With all that said, I think Starship Troopers itself, while I very much disagree with it ideologically, is indeed well written. I actually hold up the book as a contrast against say, Atlas Shrugged, because it proves you can write a good book without everyone agreeing with its ideological message.
Eh, I wouldn't say it's badly written, but it's more ideas than plot or characterization, a bildungsroman that shows off the setting more than the protagonist. (Lots of ideas, some tossed off with only brief explanation before the story moves on, just to establish that that weird futuristic stuff is around.) It's one of Heinlein's juvies early in his career, where he was constantly struggling with editors who weren't crazy about things like PoC protagonists*. He has better stuff, even just as a matter of prose.





* Tunnel in the Sky, another of his juvies, has a much better-developed protagonist than Jonny Rico. He doesn't get much of a description, but he keeps offhandedly mentioning things that seem designed to hint to the reader that he's black. ("Everyone I know stranded on this alien planet expects me to pair off with this one, particular girl among us, even though we don't associate much. Incidentally, she's the only black girl stuck here. *rolls eyes*" to paraphrase one bit.)
 

Daruma

New member
Banned
The bugs are apparently at the other end of the galaxy. How do they interfere with human colonisation? Are all nice planets in their corner of the galaxy? Have the humans already colonised all other suitable planets in the galaxy? We never see any of that. And that authoritarian government? Humanity seems to be doing pretty well under it. Maybe all of that is untrue, but if so, we don't see any of it. There's reading between the lines, and there's making a whole bunch of assumptions not backed up by the film, and this is the latter.
If memory serves me, in the movie bugs interfered with human colonization because Mormons decided to settle in the bug space specifically to be away from every other human.
 

ranson

"Two Sheds"
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It also justifies the Bugs launching a pre-emptive strike on humanity; you cannot live in peace with a nation that believes it will always need more liebestraum - sooner or later, the Bugs were going to end up on the chopping board.

(There's probably room for a sequel where the interstellar community finally has enough of Earth's bullshit and launches a campaign to crush the Federation, liberate the Skinnies, and generally restructure human culture so it can once again actually live peacefully with its neighbors...)
If you don't read John Scalzi already, you really need to check out his Old Man's War series. The first book owes a heavy (and acknowledged) debt to ST, and the ongoing plot in later books actually hits all the notes you mention here. They're really good.
 
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