Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers is a military space adventure. The novel takes place in the far future. Heinlein created the world of Starship Troopers where humanity has become an interstellar civilization. And its story focuses on a space war between humanity and an alien race.
The novel became a major success and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Furthermore, that novel became one of the most influential science-fiction novels. It was Starship Troopers that popularized the use of power suits and dropships as seen in HALO, Warhammer, and Fallout. But even after all of its accolades… the film adaptation became more beloved than the novel. And why is that?
The Novel’s Militarism and Fascism
But the novel was not without its critics. Many have condemned the novel for its overt themes of militarism and fascism. For me, the majority of these comments are true. In Starship Troopers, humanity has formed a singular global military government called the Terran Federation. And to be able to have the right to vote and hold positions of power you must first become a veteran. This means you will have to join the military. And only after your service will the federation gives you the right to suffrage.
The novel’s belief in extreme selective enfranchisement is akin to Fascist ideology. Moreover, Starship Trooper depicts military service and its institution in an extremely positive manner. Thus, Heinlein wrote paragraphs upon paragraphs on the virtues of service and the righteousness of the military. Because of this, many saw Heinlein’s work as favoring fascism and militarism.
Why is that?
Well, to understand why the novel has these then we have to look at the author. Heinlein was an officer in the US Navy in the 1920s. As such, his time in the military influenced his writings. Moreover, Heinlein wrote the novel during the McCarthy period and the start of the Cold War. So, the anti-communist rhetoric common during the period influenced Heinlein’s writing.
Thanks to these features of Heinlein’s life, we can see that the novel was a product of its time. The novel’s war against the aliens is analogous to America fighting the Soviet Union. And the proliferation of militarism and fascism was to encourage the Americans to be tougher on the Soviets.
Correcting the Novel
And in 1997, Paul Verhoeven created a film adaptation of the novel. And the film corrected many of the criticisms. In short, Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is an antithesis of Heinlein. His film was a satire of the original themes of militarism and fascism. Verhoeven made fun of these themes by presenting them as silly overt propaganda.
The novel is in stark contrast which solemnly depicts its themes. And because of this, the film completely diverges from the novel’s original story. The film only used some of the names and settings, and not much else. Thanks to these corrections, the film became much more palatable than the novel.
Improving the Novel
Beyond using satire, Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is much more entertaining. The film had massive set battles and cool action scenes. And Verhoeven used funny satire to give the audience a break after each action scene. Furthermore, Verhoeven made the film gorier which made the aliens much more terrifying. In contrast, Heinlein’s novel is extremely boring. Even though the novel is a military space adventure, it has few battles.
Moreover, the battles in the novel are bland. Their no sense of terror or tension in those scenes. In addition, most of the novel chapters revolve around lectures on moral philosophy on why the military government is good. While the rest of the novel focuses on the main character’s boot camp experience.
Personally, I enjoyed both the film and the novel version of Starship Troopers. For me, they both complement one another. Overall the novel is an amazing read. But you just have to be conscious of its overt themes of militarism and fascism. You can best enjoy Heinlein’s work as a way to train your critical thinking skills. I disagree with many of the novel’s politics and philosophy. But there are aspects of the novel I do agree with. Most notable is Heinlein’s belief in leadership and duty. So, if there is one thing you take away from this novel. Then let that be how to be a dutiful and decisive leader.
But like many, I enjoyed the film more than the novel. Verhoeven’s work is just much better and iconic compared to the novel. The film had better battles, stories, characters, dialogue, and themes. In addition, the film is also an amazing work of satire that mocks militarism and fascism. This is because Verhoeven is critiquing Heinlein’s philosophy. Thus, it feels like a dialogue between two different philosophers.
In the end, I highly recommend both the book and the novel. Each brings its own unique entertainment. But if you only have time for one. Then I suggest you watch the film.
Martin is your average manileño. He loves history and traveling around his beloved Metro Manila. His passion is to make the past come to life by exposing past stories not known by the general public. Tag along with him as he visits the past through the present.