Mar 5 2009 11:24am

Over the hump: Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers

I just realised, I’ve read or participated in a zillion threads online about Starship Troopers and practically all of them are arguments over the earned franchise issue with side arguments about Juan Rico’s Filipino ancestry. I’ve seen people quoting “counting the fuzz on caterpillars” from both directions hundreds of times, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and people very seldom talk about what a clever story it is.

It’s a good story with a lot more to it! I first read it when I was twelve, along with pretty much everything else Heinlein had written up to that point. I liked it. It wasn’t, and isn’t, my favourite Heinlein, indeed it’s probably somewhere about fifteenth—he wrote a lot of books—but it’s a good readable story and just so stylistically clever.

There’s a standard way of telling a story where you start off with incidents and information that slowly builds up to the point where the reader has learned enough about the world and the background that they can follow a fast-paced climactic sequence without needing to slow down to explain anything. This is the pacing of Moby Dick, for instance, and it’s a very common way to do SF, where you have to introduce and inclue a whole lot of world and background so as to make sense at all. It’s a technique Heinlein knew intimately and used many times. In Starship Troopers, he does this backwards. And it isn’t only the tech and world that he does this backwards with, he also does it with the emotional arc of the novel—the bit where you’re supposed to start to care about characters before you see them killed. He does that backwards too, he does it “backwards and in high heels,” like Ginger Rogers. The book begins with a battle sequence in which troopers are bouncing around the landscape exploding atomics and destroying everything in sight, and with the sergeant, Jelly, not taking the place of the dead lieutenant even though he’s doing his job. Then it backs up to go through Juan’s recruitment, boot-camp, and early war-experiences and acquaintance with these people, with frequent flashbacks to History and Moral Philosophy highschool classes. Then when it’s caught up to the beginning, it goes on to do Juan’s officer training. And it does this all in the confiding, compelling, but unreliable first person narration of Juan Rico himself.

Anybody can call voices from the vast deep, but Heinlein was definitely one of those who got them to answer. Instead of giving you the information you will want, he gives you the information so you can slot it in afterwards. Heinlein was absolutely at his peak when he wrote this in 1959. He had so much technical stylistic mastery of the craft of writing science fiction that he could do something like this and get away with it. I’m tempted to say “don’t try this at home.”

Starship Troopers is best viewed with Heinlein’s juveniles, because it’s definitely the story of a boy becoming a man. More than that, it’s a story of a boy being transformed into a soldier, going through the military training that redefines his identity and loyalty and motivation. And Heinlein had been through this himself, at a different tech level—I have no doubt that the boot camp sections and the bull sessions where they’re talking about the expurgated Bugs and the blankety-blank civilians are as authentic as it is possible to write them, given the constraints of the time.

It’s a juvenile, it’s about going into the world of work. It has no whiff of sex, and the violence is at at a level perfectly acceptable for twelve-year olds. The reason it’s an adult novel is the (much argued over) politics, which I strongly suspect Heinlein put in far more to make people think than as firmly held beliefs intended to convince people. Anyone who wants to argue that it reflects Heinlein’s own opinions should look at the beautiful reference to the War of 1812 as “one of the bush-fire wars on the sidelines of the Napoleonic Conflict.” Heinlein was a patriotic American who could see over the hump of his own prejudices, but I feel sure that wasn’t his own opinion of the War of 1812! Also, throwing in arguments about who ought to get the franchise was one of his favourite ways of being stimulating. In Expanded Universe he suggested just women should have it. I doubt he any more meant that only veterans should have it than he meant that. Probably he’d have been delighted at how much the book has made people think and argue. It’s astonishing that it’s still controversial now, fifty years after it was first published.

Looking up that date as part of this re-read, I was surprised how early it was. I’d somehow gathered the impression that it was in some way a Vietnam protest book, but it isn’t. (I also thought The Liberation of Earth was a Vietnam protest story. The Korean conflict had somehow vanished from the mythologically significant history of the twentieth century by the time I was a teenager.) And was juvenile delinquency terrible in the fifties in the US? It’s not the way the era is remembered, but there’s that discussion about parks you can’t go into and how corporal punishment isn’t allowed—it sounds more like the stereotypical seventies.

The one point where it really feels of its time is the gender politics—Heinlein was well ahead of the curve for 1959 in having women fight as pilots, but... Juan’s thoughts about women being “why we fight” are just weird now. I don’t know how many women read it in 1959 and wanted to have a powered suit (talk about a great equaliser!) or what Heinlein would have made of women’s desire to serve loyally in the front lines putting their bodies between home and war’s desolation. At twelve, I didn’t find it problematic, I just rolled my eyes and went on identifying with Juan Rico. Now, well, I can see the points where Juan isn’t a reliable narrator, in part because what Heinlein’s writing about is the way he’s being absorbed into the MI in much the same way that the bacon I ate for breakfast is being absorbed into me, and in part because he isn’t all that bright and is happy to take simple answers that are handed to him. (Heinlein palms the card of their “philosophy” having mathematical logic underlying it. Show your workings...) And the “women smell nice” is part of Juan’s worldview and not a problem, but the segregated service and the chaperonage is part of the fifties worldview and rubs like grit in an oyster.

More than anything, this is military SF done extremely well. One of the advantages of SF is that you can have an enemy who is unquestionably wrong. The Bugs are interstellar-travelling hive minds, and humanity can’t communicate with them,  and also they attacked first. There’s no moral issue fighting them. (Joe Haldeman has a brilliant reply to this in 1968.) But meanwhile you can just enjoy them being sentimental in the way old soldiers are and getting out there and blasting bugs.

James Nicoll
1. JamesDavisNicoll
One of the advantages of SF is that you can have an enemy who is unquestionably wrong.


The Bugs are interstellar-travelling hive minds, and humanity can’t communicate with them,

But the Skinnies, who seem rather human, appear to be able to.

and also they attacked first.

We don't know this. Rico doesn't pay attention to Human/Bug relations until it involves a war he is personally involved in.

There’s no moral issue fighting them.

I cannot agree more strongly. Once the Bugs got an idea of the Humans Uber Alles ideology the humans follow, they would have had no choice but to fight, whether it was in reaction to something overt the humans did or as a preemptive act of self-defense.
Ronald Hobbs
2. dustrider
Love this book. love it.

I've always found the moral issues completely overblown, especially in light of some stuff like Haldeman's Forever War which I thought were much more mysoginistic in the original timeline (and goes off the rails in the final timeline ;))

Heinlein may rub some people the wrong way, but for me that's only because that's exactly what his intensions were. To make people think, to challenge them morally while still managing to tell a good story.

I don't know if I agree about this being classed as a juvenile, I certainly agree that it's perfect for a 12 year old, but adults also get a lot out of the book.

Its one of those special books you can come back time and again and have a different reaction each time because your world view has altered.
3. clovis
The novel was published in 1959 so I suppose Heinlein was referring to the teenager/rock'n'roll scare of the 1950's. It's interesting that he gives his narrator a hispanic background as hispanic gangs seemed to have been a bogey group for middle-America (see the early Ed McBain 87th Precinct novels for a liberal take on the phenomena).

Thanks for a piece on the novel which doesn't get bogged down in a discussion of Heinlein's politics. I have no idea what they were, but Rico's strongly held beliefs here do not tally with Manny's strongly held beliefs in 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' (my other favourite Heinlein, though there's many I haven't read)so I'm inclined to agree that he was being provocative rather than polemical.

I re-read the novel recently and agree that it has dated surprisingly well, with only Rico's attitudes towards women really showing its age. On this reading I found it's main strength in the description of Rico becoming a state functionary as his society becomes more militarised, a process echoed and enforced when he meets his father after becoming an officer.
Mitchell Downs
4. Beamish
This is a great column. It really is shame that people have focused so much on that political theme alone and apparently forgotten both the structural uniqueness and the simple joy of the story.

I also read this book when I was 12 or 13 - the politics of it flew right over my head and I just enjoyed the "yarn" as it were. Of course I have re-read it a dozen times since and have probably been involved in half the interweb discussions of the politics. Even as I approach 40 the book still works really well as just a ripping adventure story.

I look at this as Heinlein's "transitional" novel from the success of his juveniles to his much more "adult" works. The "yarn" of it is very much in keeping with his juveniles, but the oft-discussed politics of it was Heinlein evolving his novel style. His short stories had already had some very political and sociological themes (e.g "Coventry" and "The Roads Must Roll") - but now he was trying to interweave that among a roaring adventure story.
James Nicoll
5. JamesDavisNicoll
he gives his narrator a hispanic background

The hints are that he's of Filipino extraction, not Hispanic. The Spanish name would be due to the long history of Spanish domination of the Philippines.

The significance is that when Heinlein was in the USN, the USN accepted Filipino recruits but limited them to subordinate roles . The idea of a Filipino officer would have been rather unwelcome in the USN of the early 20th century.

1: Ditto with blacks. There's a scene in Tora, Tora, Tora where we see a black cook man an anti-aircraft gun. That character is Dorie Miller, the first black American to win the Navy Cross. He had received no training with the gun he commandeered.

He died some years later when the Liscome Bay was sunk at the Battle of Tarawa.
6. David A1
My understanding is that Heinlein wrote this novel as part of his juvenile series, but the publisher refused to accept it for that series because of the military themes. He refused to change it to suit them, so it was published by another publisher as an "adult" novel.
7. matija.g
I will always be grateful to Heinlein for this book. I read it a few months before I was drafted, and it gave me the tools to survive boot camp.
Jeremy Heater
8. nexus
I've always enjoyed Heinlein's endings, in this book in particular. I always find them a bit moving, but also opening onto new horizons,and new "stories". Always a lot of fun.
Paul Howard
9. DrakBibliophile
To JamesDavisNicoll

Where did you get this idea that the Humans of Starship Troopers had the Humans Uber Alles ideology? While I'll agree that there is no text evidence concerning who started the war, that idea sounds more like the Starship Troopers movie not the book.
10. chrisweuve

11. Mary Frances
JamesDavisNicoll@5: The hints are that he's of Filipino extraction, not Hispanic.

Interesting point. I seem to remember that this book was the first place I ever read the word "Tagalog"--had to go look it up, and then was very proud of myself for figuring out that it meant that Johnny Rico came from the Philippines. Odd, the things that stick in your head . . . but until that point, I was identifying so strongly with Johnny that I don't think it ever occurred to me that he was from *my* home town.
Ian H
12. Moewicus
One of the advantages of SF is that you can have an enemy who is unquestionably wrong. The Bugs are interstellar-travelling hive minds, and humanity can’t communicate with them, and also they attacked first. There’s no moral issue fighting them. (Joe Haldeman has a brilliant reply to this in 1968.)

Jo Walton, aren't you thinking of The Forever War rather than 1968 here? I haven't read 1968, but I would think that if any Haldeman book is a reply to Starship Troopers it's TFW.
Ethan Pope
13. Unforsaken
Moewicus @ 12 Jo Walton may be refering to Ender's Game also.

P.S. How do you change your text to italics like that?
- -
14. heresiarch
Unforsaken @ 13: There's a list of acceptable text tags if you follow the bbCode link directly above the "Post a comment" text box.
Jo Walton
15. bluejo
Moewicus: No, I was thinking of the part in 1968 where the character going crazy in Vietnam, imagines himself killing alien bugs in a battlesuit, instead of actual Vietnamese people. I think The Forever War is also in dialogue with Starship Troopers but I don't think it's making such an interesting point.
Carl Rigney
16. cdr
What an excellent article, thanks! But then, what is your favorite Heinlein? Citizen of the Galaxy? The Moon is a Harsh Mistress?

(Mine is Have Space Suit Will Travel, recognizing that "favorite" does not have to mean "best.")
Jo Walton
17. bluejo
CDR: Double Star, then Citizen of the Galaxy then Tunnel in the Sky and after that it gets silly counting.
Phil Culmer
18. philculmer
The Forever War was specifically written as a reply and tribute to Starship Troopers - it was Haldeman's Vietnam to Heinlein's WW2.

I remember a discussion of the film, on, about 10 years ago, where someone came up with the idea that the story that Verhoeven, being of the Vietnam generation, actually wanted to tell was The Forever War, and that he told that story using the places and characters of Starship Troopers.

The general consensus seemed to be that the film made a lot more sense in that light.

Not sure which is my favourite Heinlein, as they're all so good - maybe The Number of the Beast, but Have Spacesuit Will Travel will always have a special place in my heart - it's probably one of the first I read.

ISTR reading Starship Troopers with vague memories of having read The Forever War as a child or young teenager.
Jo Walton
19. bluejo
Philculmer: Oh, it's definitely intended as a response. It's just that it's a response by a draftee to the glory of the military stuff, which is interesting enough, but not as interesting to me as the response in 1968 to the "they are mindless aliens we can't communicate with: kill them!"

The things I like about The Forever War are the things where it is furthest from arguing with Heinlein -- the stuff it does with lightspeed and time is wonderful. I could read it -- do I want to read it?
Mitch Wagner
20. MitchWagner
I've discussed this with the author, Joe Haldeman, on several occasions: The Forever War was *not* intended as a rebuttal to Starship Troopers; he'd read the earlier book, but didn't have it in mind when he was writing TFW.

Similarities between the two (he says) can be attributed to the nature of the stories: They're stories about a young person going off to war. Once a writer has committed himself to writing a story about a young person going to war, the plot choices are limited: The young person goes into training, and then experiences battle, finds the experience difficult, and either adjusts, or doesn't. He lives, dies, or is wounded.

TFW certainly reads as a response to ST -- but it wasn't written that way.
Jo Walton
21. bluejo
Mitch: Have you talked to him about 1968?
Kat Woman
22. thekatwoman
You all say you read Starship Troopers at 12 or 13. What was your FIRST Heinlien?
"Orphans of the Sky" at the age of 9. I didn't read "Stranger in a Strange Land" until I was 39. I just couldn't wrap my brain around it. As for favorite it has to be "Have Space Suit--Will Travel" I hear 'they' are making a movie. I'll cry if they tear it up like "Troopers".
Clark Myers
23. ClarkEMyers
I suspect, but will never know, that the infantry side came more from Robert's brother than from his own experience. I believe the sea service to be more on the order of the man who was too lazy to fail - using the fencing team to escape punishment - early first marriage and some other issues aren't much like Juan Rico at all. In looking at the military in Mr. Heinlein's books it always pays to remember Ginny's hitch and a rump.

Then too I'll go along with David Drake when he distinguishes space opera and military SF. Drake says some of his own writing is one and some the other. I'd say Starship Troopers is space opera. I'd go along a long ways with sentimental the way old soldiers are. At the end I'd say Juan Rico is a citizen but not yet grown up nor shows the wounds of a veteran of heavy combat (as Haldeman says IIRC those who think Forever War has a happy ending are wrong)- it took his father the whole book to grow up and it will take Juan Rico some time yet.

Double Star may be about a boy's growing all the way up. Seems to me that key to the juveniles qua juveniles is that the lead in Starship Troopers, in Citizen of the Galaxy, in Tunnel in the Sky, in Starman Jones and on is growing up, is over the hump but not so far gone as to be out of sight for the golden age (pubescent) reader.
Jo Walton
24. bluejo
Katwoman: My first was Assignment in Eternity. When I was twelve, I approached writers in alphabetical order.

Clark: That's all very interesting. I think you're right about Double Star and growing all the way up. Certainly it's a book that has grown on me as I have grown up.

Sentimental the way old soldiers are is something for which I am a soft touch. I'm not sure why, maybe too much Kipling, maybe too much McAuslan at the Rough, maybe the way in which it's such an appealingly male kind of sentimentality, but it always gets to me.
Eric Picholle
25. Eric_Picholle
The reason it’s an adult novel is the (much argued over) politics, which I strongly suspect Heinlein put in far more to make people think than as firmly held beliefs intended to convince people.

There has obviously been many political arguments around the book, but how many about the actual politics the book ?

While it is indeed designed to make the reader think, this is largely through not giving any hint about the underlaying society : we know all about the military, and basically nothing else ; moreover, it is made clear than the war is of little importance to most civilians.

Most "arguments" depend on some readers trying to impose their own definition of political notions ostensibly discussed, but never actually defined, in the book's universe.

For instance : while only veterans can vote, what's a "veteran" (95% of them have performed only a civilian service, explicitly), and when does this voting franchise apply (we do know that only veterans can vote to send other people in harm's way; but we don't know who decides what in civilian affairs, aka "politics").
Jeff Soules
26. DeepThought
@thekatwoman #22 -- Would have been The Door Into Summer, which my Dad gave me when I was 7. I was moving too fast through kids' books and he was hoping that something FAR more complicated would shut me up for a while. Well, it did...

@Eric_Picholle #25 -- Yeah, this is totally a book that people love to project on. Particularly while forgetting the time period it came from. I think ultimately the questions you raise are simply not things that Heinlein ever had answers to or world-built around; they're big enough holes that one wonders if the world as described could have even functioned (let alone been the militaristic fascist dystopia that many commentators on the book seem to imagine).

If anything, Heinlein seems to be promoting a sort of benign-neglect attitude of the government toward non-voters; there's sort of a sense that people who can't vote feel somewhat superior to voters, and are just sort of relieved not to have to worry about it and to focus instead on other worldly successes. (Though that could just be the attitude of Johnny Rico's wealthy social class). But I think at the end of the day, that's just not what the book is about; the H&MP class quotes are supposed to be more about individuals' responsibility towards society than laying out a practical philosophy for an actual working government. (In my fuzzy memory... I think I should reread this book again!)
Clark Myers
27. ClarkEMyers
First Heinlein: Rocket Ship Galileo - I was amused enough to finish it but not impressed; I did not notice the butcher paper calculations to make some parts correct.

First Heinlein to really make a strong favorable impression was Puppet Masters though Joe-Jim stuck in my memory before that. I read Puppet Masters closely enough to be quite sure (perhaps mistaken but sure) that I could have marked up the changes in the Ginny initiated uncut republication without having read it much (because why bother when I didn't need the paper to see the words) during the interval.

Starship Troopers had not yet been published when I was 12 or 13 and by the time it appeared I was reading Heinlein fairly soon after publication - maybe when it hit the bookclubs or paperback level.

When I started making some effort to chase down SF I associated hardback SF with the Winston juveniles, libraries and such. I saw paperbacks as marketed to YA or adults in the sense of people with money who bought their own books. I bought paperbacks.
Mitch Wagner
28. MitchWagner
Bluejo - No, I have not talked to Joe about "1968" - at least, not the "Starship Troopers" influence, if any. I think it's pretty apparent in that novel.

thekatwoman - I think my first Heinlein was also the first novel I ever read: "Red Planet," in the third grade. I think I would have been about 9 years old. I remember our teacher, who was very progressive, had a little reading corner set up in a corner of the classroom, with a scrap of carpeting and bookshelves set up at child-height.

That was the second book I ever read - the first was a biography of Helen Keller, also that year.

ClarkEMeyers - What is Drake's distinction between space opera and mil sf? Why is Starship Troopers space opera rather than the other?

I read "Orphans in the Sky" when I was about 12 years old, and fell head-over-heels in love with it. I tried re-reading it recently, and it just hasn't survived aging, alas.
29. thekatwoman
DEEP THOUGHT: "Door into Summer", you bring up a big deep fight within me... how can I REALLY choose?

When I say "Orphan.." was my first Heinlien I should clairify.. :Orphans.." was also my first SCIFI of any kind. My mother gave it to me and said give it a try... sending me down a path of SciFi fanatisim.

At the heart of Heinlien stories isn't the politics, (but I think he puts it in there to make you think responsibly) but the people. People you really love or hate. If I didn't love that cat would I have finished the story. He made a 9 year old love a two headed mutant, not hate or depise him.
Clark Myers
30. ClarkEMyers
MitchWagner: ClarkEMeyers - What is Drake's distinction between space opera and mil sf? Why is Starship Troopers space opera rather than the other?

I can't speak for David Drake but I share his belief and IMHO agree with it as to his own works and likely some others. Do a Google search on space opera limited to the domain to find e.g.:

I write a lot of military SF. With the Lightnings is something quite different: space opera. David Drake

....Space opera they are, but they're very hard, harsh books.Through the Breach in particular is a more realistic view of what war does to a citizen/soldier than Redliners was. I'm more self-aware now than I was when I wrote the series, but I'm honestly not sure whether more than chance was involved in my choosing to write Through the Breach in first person, which is nearly unique in my fiction. David Drake

In my opinion, not necessarily David Drake's, some of the distinction is focus on units and consequences with non-recurring and more than somewhat limited - dehumanized if you will - characters or focus on John Campbell style individuals - for Drake see e.g. his first published Slammer story which is an exact to the smell it and taste it memoir of war as he first knew it - his Red Badge of Courage. I was in fact wrong FWIW but I thought I recognized the incident - such things are both common and uncommon in war.

As for Star Ship Troopers that's just my opinion though I think many would share it - there is an opposing argument

Our First Death not sure of the title (?) or consider Ed McBain's (aka Evan Hunter aka his birth name) 87th Precinct. As originally conceived and written Steve Carella died in the first story but in fact he lived on and on - Podkayne style? - by editorial choice; on the one hand the focus really is the Precinct on the other hand the focus really is Steve Carella]

that contrasts Illiad and Odyssey - some say the death of one horse in the Illiad is more moving than all the choking servant girls in the Odyssey. People today have forgotten that the ear lobe jewelry in Star Ship Troopers was a straight file the serial numbers off for WWII and there are strong historical elements. On a panel I could make my own assignments of a work to space opera, military SF or perhaps something else for extended examples. YMMV. Because that's the way Mr. Heinlein wrote it perhaps? In the end it is all a matter of opinion and anyway I have difficulty answering questions that start with why.
David Dyer-Bennet
31. dd-b
Eric@25: on what's a veteran, I seem to be the documenter of the "very few people" position. I'm aware that Heinlein said in a much later phone conversation that most "veterans" of Federal Service were from what would now be civilian civil service positions, but there's no evidence for that and tremendously detailed evidence against that in the book itself. I've put all the details here.
Clark Myers
32. ClarkEMyers
the "very few people" position.

Certainly true in Juan Rico's home neighborhood - do you suppose it might be true of any place inhabited by "rico's"?

Explicitly and cannonically not true of all neighborhoods. There are specifically cited neighborhoods (a whole planet actually higher proportion by far than Sanctuary {50% military as I recall} ETA:
....the percentage of citizens among adults ranges from over eighty percent on Iskander to less than three per cent in some Terran nations - yet government is much the same everywhere....Major Reid
p. 182 of the current paperback illustrated above.) where lots of adults are voters.

I'd say this is intended to depict a society in which rent seeking or living off the public trough in one way or another - see e.g. the current earmark controversy or refer to Randy Cunningham - is simply not a possibility - though by authorial fiat as much as anything. CF the seed grain variant of the Federal Reserve (TEfL). The franchise does not pay off in pecuniary terms (rico again) That is the ability for a group to vote a distribution to the group has been omitted from the social fabric. Debateable in terms of reserved jobs but few people really want the candy stand franchise in a Post Office lobby.
Clark Myers
33. ClarkEMyers
Vaguely relevent to the (deep) background discussion of the very few people position - that is to: Jim Gifford's The Nature of Federal Service in Starship Troopers - is this from
Google Earth
Dr. Pournelle:
Many years ago, Mr. Heinlein wrote of traveling through the USSR with Mrs. Heinlein. He wrote that the population of Moscow couldn't be 5 million, giving three examples: Mrs. Heinlein, speaking Russian, had determined that the number of children in each family was generally below replacement; his own observations about the number of railroads, roads, and available river ports, and a colleague in the armed forces who estimated the population using techniques developed in the War College.

Has anyone done the same using Google Earth? I wonder how accurate worldwide population estimates may be.


I spent many evenings with Robert discussing his observations. I know of no one doing that with Google Earth now, but of course intelligence community now has satellite photographs and there are some smart people there. Google Earth may get some conclusions discussed and public.

Dr. Pournelle
William S. Higgins
34. higgins
Jo writes:

Now, well, I can see the points where Juan isn’t a reliable narrator, in part because what Heinlein’s writing about is the way he’s being absorbed into the MI in much the same way that the bacon I ate for breakfast is being absorbed into me, and in part because he isn’t all that bright and is happy to take simple answers that are handed to him. (Heinlein palms the card of their “philosophy” having mathematical logic underlying it. Show your workings...)

I think Heinlein believed, at least for a while, that mathematical laws of philosophy were possible and would eventually be worked out. I think his romance with General Semantics around 1940 supports this notion. Lots of concern about semantics, and the mathematical analysis of language and belief systems, turn up in his stories for decades afterwards.

I can't disagree with your demand "show your workings," except to say that Starship Troopers may already have all the philosopical lecturing it can hold.

(I'm taking time out to post this from something I'm writing for Eric, and I'm a sixth of a crown through one of Jo's novels, so I have a feeling that my shoulder is being looked over.)
35. JohnnyYen
"And was juvenile delinquency terrible in the fifties in the US? It’s not the way the era is remembered, but there’s that discussion about parks you can’t go into and how corporal punishment isn’t allowed—it sounds more like the stereotypical seventies."

--- The '50s gave rise to the whole teenage savages fear, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause, Knock on Any Door et al and the attendant hearings on horror comic books as an inciting cause of teenage mayhem.
Greasy, violent and horny. Bad news.
Described somewhere as the first time Americans were afraid of their children.

'Ginny's hitch and a rump' - seen this reference a few times and it bewilders me. Hitch refers to s a term of military service but what is rump all about?
Clark Myers
36. ClarkEMyers
#35 - According to accumulated points for good behavior (smiley good behavior included killing people lots of points awarded for awards) with the end of WWII folks were released early from a term of enlistment (brought home etc.). Ginny was a Woman Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service Lieutenant and served one term of enlistment (hitch) and part of another (rump).

The specific ("seen this reference a few times" as is a reference a brother in the army) usage is current in the Heinlein community and has been for a very long time. Somebody may have said it first in those terms.

*Mr. Heinlein was a commissioned officer (as opposed to enlisted - the difference shows up in the language) regular navy and served under different rules and served on active duty for less time than Ginny served on active duty as a WAVE officer.
Gilmoure Gylbard
38. Gilmoure
Oh man, ST probably had the largest overt influence on my life, in that it was one of the main deciding factors in my joining up ('87). The other was a martial arts teacher who'd been in the Marines before getting a medical due to busted knee (the guy's 10 years older than me and has only now stopped doing triathlons). I was so taken by ST that I was surprised to find out that active duty military were allowed to vote. Seemed very weird to me.

As for the state of 'yoots' in the 50's, stories from my Dad (class of '57), growing up in a small mid-west farm town (still only has one stop sign), they drank beer and whiskey, drove fast cars, got in fights, smoked skunk weed (low grade hemp still growing wild up there after WWII) and had lots of sex. Ok, Dad was a jock who lettered in everything so his group of friends might not be totally representational. Watching Happy Days with him was eye-openning.

My first Heinlein was Space Cadet, back in fourth grade, followed by By His Bootstraps. Space Cadet doesn't hold up man, I love 'Bootstraps.
Kevin Maroney
39. womzilla
I wrote this back in 2004 about ST:

That said, it's not hard to see why someone would react to Starship Troopers as if Heinlein were quite satisfied with the probity of the society described therein. Political theorizing gets a tremendous amount of screen-time; explicit lectures interrupt the narrative for long chunks of the short novel. The fact that these explicit lectures are about how badly mistaken people were in the twentieth century indicates that Heinlein takes them seriously, and his comments about the novel indicate that he wanted his audience to take them seriously as well.

My subjective but not particularly uncommon assessment of the political discussions as hectoring, unfair, and self-congratulatory leads me to believe that Heinlein was serious about thinking that this society would be substantially better than ours, even if not utopian.

-- An addendum: I have a hard time viewing this novel as "well-structured" because of the giant wodges of self-congratulatory philosophical lectures in the Socrates-as-bad-father mode--"What do you think about capital punishment?" WHAM! "No, I'm sorry, that's not the right answer. Try again." (That's that voice of authority Jo talked about in one of her other essays.)

I don't believe the political philosophy of ST was the sole point of the novel*, but it was a major part of the novel and obviously something Heinlein took seriously.

*I also don't think it's the sole weakness of the novel.
40. Jonquil
Clark@33: It's worth calling out that the Heinleins were wrong about the population of the USSR. Somebody (James Nicoll?) suggested that the ordinary Russians were unwilling to talk to a stranger about the conditions of squalor and overcrowding in Soviet apartment blocks, and thus underreported the number of people in each.
41. James Davis Nicoll
Somebody (James Nicoll?) suggested that the ordinary Russians were unwilling to talk to a stranger

Not me. Carlos or Doug?
42. Captain Button
Without digging up and rereading the article, as I recall it there were three strands to the population in the USSR topic.

1) Virginia's impression from talking to people about their families.

2) Heinlein's impression about how Moscow didn't feel like a big city. Which he notes doesn't tell him anything about other cities.

3) Heinlein's recounting of a conversation with some highly placed source who says an analysis of the Moscow transport facilities says the population can't be what is claimed because they couldn't keep them fed.

1) is subjective, and if she was wrong about that, a lot of other people were too. All through the 1980s I was hearing about how the ethnic russians weren't replacing themselves and were worrying about the central asian populations out breeding them. Is this another one of those commonly accepted factoids that was completely untrue?

2) Is clearly imprecise and subjective.

3) Is the only part I find problematic. Heinlein claims some expert who should know what he is doing flatly states that the population of Moscow is much smaller than claimed.

I have no idea what to make of this last one. One thing reading Mr. Patterson's biography does make me wonder is if the unamed expert is the same one who debriefed the Heinleins after their visit to the Soviet Union. The biography names that person, but I'm too lazy to dig out the name right now.

Maybe there will be something about this in volume 2 of the biography.
Jo Walton
43. bluejo
As to 2, when I was there in 1987 I thought "Wow, I'm amazed this didn't feel like a big city to Heinlein! It does to me!" Again, purely subjective.
44. CarlosSkullsplitter
Jonquil, that was me, not James -- that Soviets were unwilling to tell an inquisitive American the truth about their squalid living conditions.

The analysis of Moscow's population in Expanded Universe appears to be wrong for several reasons.

Housing in Moscow, even in 1960, was still largely prewar stock, and therefore meant immense crowding, often literally a family per room. It was a major social issue of the day. (This is known! You can ask Muscovites! They have the Internet!) There were also izbas, basically log cabins, within city limits, which in 1960 extended out as far as the ring road.

Commerce to Moscow was principally by rail, not by the Moskva River, which was not particularly navigable. There was a canal built in the 1930s which linked the Volga to Moscow, built by exactly the people you expect would build it in Stalin's Russia: gulag labor. It was not a great success, for the simple reason that it froze over for five months of the year, and rail had priority.

Soviet maps did not show the railroad network in and around Moscow by design, just as maps of India from the British colonial period to the present day obscure vital information. If he was using a map derived from Soviet sources, Heinlein's "War College method" friend was suckered.

Since it's been over twenty years since the Berlin Wall fell, you can find the Russian population pyramid and other demographic data rather easily. Here's a RAND study from the late 1990s. (And look at the dents in that pyramid.) Suffice it to say that 1980s paranoia about falling ethnic Russian birth rates has little to do with 1960 Moscow's population. Much of Moscow's growth, I should note, was driven by rural to urban migration, not by "natural" increase, just as cities all over the world have grown.

The weird thing that I see -- in 2010, when I can *fly* to Moscow for a week for less than a thousand dollars -- is so many people in the science fiction community repeating these misconceptions, as if Russia is still an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a slice of bacon, instead of being all too obviously what it is.
45. Jonquil
Sorry about that, Carlos. As usual, your essay and links are informative and fascinating.
Jim Hardy
46. JimZipCode
I agree with Jo that it's a shame the political discussions about this book, overshadow the book discussions about the book. Because the story is a hell of a yarn.

I also don't understand why Heinlein's feet get held to the fire on THIS one. He presented dozens of alternate societies with different forms of governance over the course of zillions of stories and novels. Why is THIS the one that he gets hammered for? Why do people assume that THIS is what best represents Heinlein's true beliefs? The shrillness of the discusion about Heinlein's "true" politics, based on this novel, is bewildering. Don't people remember that he's a science fiction writer?

I suppose it's a compliment to the text. Most sf governments focus as backdrop, and barely register. This one gets the reader invested. It's also true that there's a large liberal-pacifist streak in sf readership -- which is interesting given how many of the mid-century sf writers were veterans. It's surprising how intolerant that liberal-pacifist bloc seems, reacting to Heinlein's novel.

Samuel R Delaney's observation was interesting. In the famous essay where he comments on Rico's skin color, Delaney makes note of how much Heinlein has to stack the deck: the aliens are ruthless, we can't communicate with them, they have a hive-mind, they bombed Buenos Aires, it's a fight for survival. Heinlein put all that in place, so he could tells his "military glorification" story. It's almost commentary: it says that you *need* all those elements, before the military story is "justified". An interesting way to look at it.

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