Starship Troopers is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first published (in abridged form) as a serial in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (October, November 1959, as "Starship Soldier") and published hardcover in 1959.
The first-person narrative is about a young soldier named Juan "Johnnie" Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military unit equipped with powered armor. Rico's military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an arachnoid species known as "the Bugs". Through Rico's eyes, Heinlein examines moral and philosophical aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, the necessities of war and capital punishment, and the nature of juvenile delinquency.
Starship Troopers won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960. The novel has attracted controversy and criticism for its social and political themes, which some critics claim promote militarism. Starship Troopers has been adapted into several films and games, with the most widely known — as well as the most controversial and criticized — being the 1997 film by Paul Verhoeven.
According to Heinlein, his desire to write Starship Troopers was sparked by the publication of a newspaper advertisement placed by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy on April 5, 1958 calling for a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapon testing by the United States. In response, Robert and Virginia Heinlein created the small "Patrick Henry League" in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. During the unsuccessful campaign, Heinlein found himself under attack both from within and outside of the science fiction community for his views. Starship Troopers may therefore be viewed as Heinlein both clarifying and defending his military and political views of the time.
Starship Troopers is a novel set in an unspecified time in the future, although probably not in the far-flung future. It chronicles the experiences of Juan "Johnny" Rico, the story's narrator, during his enlistment and training in the Mobile Infantry, and his participation in an interstellar war between the Terran Federation and the Arachnids (referred to as "the Bugs") of Klendathu. It is narrated as a series of flashbacks — one of only a few Heinlein novels to use that narrative device — and contains large sections of character discussion and introspection, as well as exposition, all meant to detail the political theory and philosophical beliefs underlying the society that Juan Rico lives in.
The novel opens with Rico aboard the corvette Rodger Young, platoon transport for "Rasczak's Roughnecks", about to embark on a raid against the planet of the "Skinnies", allies of the Arachnids. We learn that he is a "cap" trooper (called this because they are dropped in capsules from the ship in orbit toward their drop zones) in the Terran Federation's Mobile Infantry (M.I.). The raid itself, one of the few instances of actual combat in the novel, is relatively brief: the Mobile Infantrymen land in the capital city, destroy their targets while trying to avoid unnecessary Skinny casualties, and withdraw, suffering three injured (one fatal) in the process.
The story then flashes back to Rico's graduation from high school and his decision to sign up for Federal Service over the objections of his wealthy father rather than attend Harvard University. This is the only chapter that describes Rico's civilian life, and most of it is spent recording the monologues of two people: retired Lt. Colonel Jean V. Dubois, Rico's school instructor in the subject of History and Moral Philosophy, and Fleet Sergeant Ho, a recruiter for the Armed forces of the Terran Federation.
Many readers have felt that Dubois serves as a stand-in for Heinlein throughout the novel. He delivers what is probably the book's most famous soliloquy, on how violence "has settled more issues in history than has any other factor. Fleet Sergeant Ho offers a separate angle on military service to that of Dubois. (Ho has prostheses for several limbs, but does not wear them on duty at the front door of the federal building. This is calculated to remind applicants of the real risks of service, and to weed out those not willing to take such risks in the service of the Federation).
Interspersed throughout the book are other flashbacks to Rico's high school History and Moral Philosophy course, which describe how, in the Terran Federation, the rights of a full Citizen (to vote, and hold public office) must be earned through voluntary Federal service. However, the franchise cannot be exercised until after honorable discharge from the Service, which means that active members of the Service cannot vote. Those residents who opt not to perform Federal Service retain the other rights generally associated with a modern democracy (e.g. free speech, assembly, etc.), but cannot vote or hold public office. This structure arose ad hoc after the collapse of the 20th century Western democracies, brought on by both social failures at home and military defeat by the Chinese Hegemony overseas (i.e. looking forward into the late 20th century from the time the novel was written in the late 1950s).
After enlisting in the Mobile Infantry, Rico is assigned to boot camp at Camp Arthur Currie. Five chapters are spent exploring Rico's training, under the guidance of his chief instructor, Career Ship's Sergeant Charles Zim. Boot camp is deliberately so rigorous that fewer than ten percent of the recruits complete basic training; the rest either resign (with no penalty, save never being able to vote); are expelled (likewise); are given medical discharges (which may however be refused); or assigned to lesser duties (enabling them to vote after their service is finished); or die in training. One of the chapters deals with Ted Hendrick, a fellow recruit and constant complainer who is flogged and expelled for striking his sergeant. (Flagellation and hanging having become the principal forms of both civil and military punishment in the novel's world). Another recruit, a deserter who kidnapped a small child, held her for ransom, and then murdered her while AWOL, is hanged by the battalion after his arrest and transfer from civilian to military authorities. Rico himself is flogged for his negligent handling of his equipment during a simulated nuclear weapons drill. Despite these experiences, he graduates with his class and he is assigned to an active duty M.I. unit.
At some point during Rico's training, the Bug War moves from police action and border skirmishes to outright war, and upon graduation, Rico finds himself taking part in combat operations. The war "officially" starts when an Arachnid attack annihilates the city of Buenos Aires, in which Rico's mother is killed, although Rico makes it clear that there had been many prior "'incidents,' 'patrols,' or 'police actions'". Rico briefly describes the Terran Federation's catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Klendathu; his own unit was slaughtered and its transport ship destroyed. The Terran Federation suffers such tremendous losses that it is reduced to making hit-and-run raids similar to the one described at the beginning of the novel (which chronologically would be placed between Chapters 10 and 11) to gain time to rebuild. Rico meanwhile finds himself posted to Rasczak's Roughnecks, named after Lieutenant Rasczak (whose first name is never given). This part of the book focuses on the daily routine of military life aboard ship, as well as the relationship between officers and non-commissioned officers, personified in this case by Rasczak and Sergeant Jelal.
Eventually, Rico decides to become a career soldier and with the encouragement of his fellow trooper "Ace", applies for and is accepted to Officer Candidate School, which turns out to be just like boot camp, only "squared and cubed with books added. Rico is commissioned a temporary Third Lieutenant as a field-test final exam and, under supervision, commands his own unit during Operation Royalty; eventually he is commissioned as Second Lieutenant. At the end of his field exam, it is revealed that Rico's platoon sergeant during his final exam was Zim, his drill sergeant from Camp Currie.
The final chapter serves as more of a coda, echoing the opening few scenes of the novel and bringing the novel a sense of return and closure. In the preparation for this drop, however, Rico is aboard the Rodger Young as the lieutenant commanding Rico's Roughnecks, preparing to drop onto Klendathu as part of a major strike, with his father (who has joined the M.I. earlier in the novel after his wife's death) as his senior sergeant and a Third Lieutenant-in-training of his own under his wing.
There is an explicitly-made contrast to the democracies of the 20th century, which according to the novel, collapsed because "people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted... and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears. Indeed, Colonel Dubois criticizes as unrealistic the famous U.S. Declaration of Independence guarantees concerning "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". No one can stop anyone from pursuing happiness, but life and liberty are said to only exist if they are deliberately sought and paid for.
Starship Troopers is also widely-regarded as a vehicle for Heinlein's anti-communist views, best summed up by Rico's (and his Federation's) belief that "correct morals arise from knowing what man is—not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be. Characters attack Karl Marx (a "pompous fraud"), the Labor theory of value ("All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart..."), and Plato's The Republic ("ant-like communism" and "weird in the extreme").
Several references are made to other wars: these include the name of the starship that collided with Valley Forge, Ypres, a major battleground in World War I, as well as Rico's boot camp, Camp Arthur Currie. (Named after Sir Arthur Currie who commanded the Canadian Corps during that war). Another World War I reference was the phrase "Come on you apes! You wanta live forever?", which comes from Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly at the Battle of Belleau Wood (Although instead of "apes", Daly said "sons of bitches"). The Rodger Young was named after a World War II Medal of Honor recipient on New Georgia Island. Another war reference, this one from the War of 1812, is the implications of the court-martial of Third Lieutenant William Sitgreaves Cox, which are discussed in some detail.
Whether directly inspired by Starship Troopers or not, the United States military has attempted to develop "real world" technology that would give the abilities of the MI's powered armor to its soldiers. Equipment which replicates many of the individual abilities of powered armor (night vision goggles, infrared goggles, and Global Positioning System locators) are now standard issue military equipment. Between 1996 and 2007, the U.S. Army conducted its Land Warrior research program, which would have given many of the MIs integrated communications and tactical intelligence abilities to United States infantrymen. However, the program funding was eliminated in the army's 2008 budget. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Department of Defense has also spent some $USD 50 million in an attempt to develop a powered exoskeleton in its Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation program, although apparently without any significant breakthroughs or the release of battlefield versions of its prototypes.
Another concept the book pioneered was that of "space-borne infantry". The heavily mechanized units of M.I. troops were attached to interstellar troop transport spacecraft, which then delivered them to planetary target zones, by dropping groups of Mobile Infantrymen onto the planet surface from orbit via individual re-entry capsules (hence the book's slang term "cap troopers" for M.I. troops). The uses for such a force - ranging from smash-and-burn raids, to surgical strikes, conventional infantry warfare, and holding beachheads - and the tactics that might be employed by such soldiers are described extensively within the novel. The weapons, tactics, training, and many other aspects of this futuristic elite force are carefully detailed: everything from the function of the armored suits themselves, to the need for multiple variants of powered armor, to the training of personnel in both suit operations and the specialized unit tactics that would be needed, to the operational use of the suits in combat.
The book is recommended reading within the U.S. Army and Marine Corps because of its emphasis on small-unit cohesion, the fraternity of service, and its focus on the forward-serving, elite mobile infantry units, that so closely resemble the infantry units of the United States Army, Delta Force, United States Army Rangers, the cavalry units of the United States Army, and the Marine Corps Force Recon.
Defending Heinlein, George Price argued that "[Heinlein] implies, first, that war is something 'endured,' not enjoyed, and second, that war is so unpleasant, so desolate, that it must at all costs be kept away from one's home." In a commentary on his essay "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?", Heinlein agreed that Starship Troopers "glorifies the military ... Specifically the P.B.I., the Poor Bloody Infantry, the mudfoot who places his frail body between his loved home and the war's desolation — but is rarely appreciated... he has the toughest job of all and should be honored. The book's dedication also reads in part "... to all sergeants everywhere who have labored to make men out of boys. However, he thoroughly disagreed that Starship Troopers was militaristic, arguing that the military personnel in the Terran Federation were not allowed to vote while on active duty — since "the idiots might vote not to make a drop — and that the military was thoroughly despised by many civilians. Interestingly, Heinlein also received some complaints about the lack of conscription in Starship Troopers (the military draft was the law in the United States when he wrote the novel). Heinlein was always vehemently opposed to the idea of conscription (calling conscripts "slave soldiers" and arguing that a nation which was not able to find volunteers to fight for it did not deserve to endure).
Defenders of the book usually point out that although the electoral franchise is limited, the government of the Terran Federation is democratically elected. There is freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of conscience. The political system described in the book is multiracial, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic. The protagonist Juan Rico is Filipino and others in his training group are American, Armenian, Japanese, German, Australian, and Turkish, or Arab, and one or two have recognizably Jewish last names. Many also argue that Heinlein was simply discussing the merits of a "selective versus nonselective franchise." Heinlein made a similar claim in his Expanded Universe. The novel makes a related claim that "[s]ince sovereign franchise is the ultimate in human authority, we insure that all who wield it accept the ultimate in social responsibility — we require each person who wishes to exert control over the state to wager his own life — and lose it, if need be to save the life of the state. The maximum responsibility a human can accept is thus equated to the ultimate authority a human can exert.
However, this issue is still controversial, even among the book's defenders. James Gifford points to several quotes as indications that the characters assume Federal Service is military; for instance, when Rico tells his father he is interested in Federal Service, his father immediately explains his belief that Federal Service is a bad idea because there is no war in progress, indicating that he sees Federal Service as military in nature, or not necessary to a businessman during peacetime. Some Federal Service recruiters wear military ribbons, and a term of service "is either real military service... or a most unreasonable facsimile thereof." Moreover, the history of Federal Service describes it as being started by military veterans who did not originally allow civilians to join and are not described as allowing them to join later. Gifford decides, as a result, that although Heinlein's intentions may have been that Federal Service be 95% non-military, in relation to the actual contents of the book, Heinlein "is wrong on this point. Flatly so."
Robert A. W. Lowndes argues that the war between the Terrans and the Arachnids is not about a quest for racial purity, but rather an extension of Heinlein's belief that man is a wild animal. According to this theory, if man lacks a moral compass beyond the will to survive, and he was confronted by another species with a similar lack of morality, then the only possible result would be warfare.
The 1986 James Cameron movie Aliens incorporated themes and phrases right out of the novel such as the terms "the drop" and "bug hunt" as well as the cargo-loader exoskeleton. The actors playing the Colonial Marines were also required to read Starship Troopers as part of their training prior to filming. In 1988, Bandai Visual produced a 6-episode Japanese original video animation locally titled Uchū no Senshi. The novel's name was licensed for Paul Verhoeven's film adaptation in 1997. The movie of the same name diverged greatly in terms of the theme and ideas with the novel. It received mixed reviews, and was followed by a sequel (which premiered on the Showtime television network) Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation in 2004; a direct-to-video third film, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder was released in the summer of 2008. An animated series Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles which took inspiration from both the novel and the first film was started in 1999, and lasted for 40 episodes.
In 1976, Avalon Hill published Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, a map-and-counter wargaming board game featuring a number of scenarios as written in the novel. In 1997, as a tie-in with Verhoeven's film adaptation, they published Starship Troopers: Prepare For Battle! which entirely focused on the film. A miniature wargame of the same name which used material from both the novel and the film was published by Mongoose Publishing in 2005. In 1987, a Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactive book set in the Starship Troopers universe, Combat Command in the World of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers: Shines the Name by Mark Acres, was published by Ace Publishers.
In 1998, Mythic Entertainment released Starship Troopers: Battlespace which was available to America Online subscribers. The game in which players battled each other in overhead space combat allowed players to assume either Klendathu or Federation roles. Blue Tongue Entertainment via Atari released the top-down real-time tactics wargame Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy in 2000. A first-person shooter game titled Starship Troopers was released November 15, 2005, based on Paul Verhoeven's film version rather than on Heinlein's novel. It was developed by Strangelite Studios and published by Empire Interactive. Starship Troopers is also thought to have influenced numerous computer games, including Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, Tribes, and Tribes 2, Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri, Halo, Warhammer 40,000, Fallout 2, and StarCraft..