I make it no secret that I really enjoy Military Science Fiction. It’s been on my mind lately, as I’m in the middle of preparing an anthology of Military SF stories for launch. When I was in college, I studied History and eventually earned my master’s in Military History, and I’ve found that the sub genre has been an interesting place to read and rant about.
Starship Troopers, for all of its issues, remains a favorite story of mine, and as I’ve been reading a number of stories from new authors about warfare, I was interested in seeing where the modern sub genre came from. Unsurprisingly, it’s the product of both the 2nd World War, the Cold War and the style of American politics that emerged from that era.
I think that it would be safe to say that Starship Troopers and Heinlein have rather poor reputations at the moment within certain circles of SF Fandom. The very nature of war is very decisive, and Heinlein’s novel has been the center of criticism since its publication. I don’t want to defend the novel against those criticisms: it certainly deserves them. However, I think that it’s an important novel to read at least once: if anything, it’s an interesting take on what motivates a large number of people. Examination of one’s motivations, even if they don’t line up with one’s own politics, I think is a good thought exercise.
Regardless of the politics, I’ve found Starship Troopers a novel that holds up rather well when it comes to military hardware and action. It’s an exciting, over the top and straight-up read.
- Trillion Year Spree, by Brian Aldiss: Aldiss doesn’t have much good to say about Starship Troopers, but his opinion is a good representation of the book’s reception.
- Grumbles from Beyond the Grave, edited by Virginia Heinlein: A collection of letters from Heinlein to his agent were particularly helpful here, especially with his motivations for publishing the book.
- Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol 5, edited by Frank Magill: This volume contains an excellent review and summary of Starship Troopers.
- Seekers of Tomorrow, by Sam Moskowitz: Moskowitz talks at length about Heinlein’s life. As always with Moskowitz, handle with care.
- Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, by William H. Patterson Jr.: This book is a fantastic biography on the man, and sadly, wasn’t entirely helpful when it came to Starship Troopers: volume 2, which should be out at the end of this year or sometime next year, will likely cover this period of Heinlein’s life in more detail. However, this one was helpful in the pre-1948 years.
- The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts: Like Aldiss, Roberts doesn’t have much to say, but it’s interesting to see the updated critical reaction to the novel and some of the philosophical underpinning.
- American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film, by David Seed: This book has some good references to the novel and its historical context.
- Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser and Eric Rabkin: For a book examining Warfare in Science Fiction, this collection only has Starship Troopers mentioned three times. Still, it’s an interesting read, although it was marginally helpful here.