Great Hugo Readthrough 1960: Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers

First Readthrough/ Reread: Reread
Acquired: Owned

Other Nominees:
Gordon R. Dickson: Dorsai! (also known as The Genetic General)
Murray Leinster: The Pirates of Ersatz (also known as The Pirates of Zan)
Mark Phillips: That Sweet Little Old Lady (also known as Brain Twister)
Kurt Vonnegut: The Sirens of Titan

Background: Heinlein wrote this novel as a vehicle to explain his military and political views. It was originally intended as one of his juvenile novels for Scribner, but was rejected by them, eventually settling at G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Synopsis: Juan “Johnny Rico” joins up with the Mobile Infantry to fight aliens, listen to moralistic speech after moralistic speech, and earn his citizenship. …That’s about it, really. It was the first book to heavily use powered armor, so that’s something.

Verdict: It’s very little like the movie, and for one of the premier pieces of military SF, has very little in the way of actual action, and a lot of long, moralistic speeches. Lots of them. The few times we get to see the powered armor in action are pretty cool, but again, they’re few and far between. The speeches aren’t John Galt-style monstrosities, thankfully. They get a bit aggravating, but they’re only a few pages each, and pretty concise. Plus, Starship Troopers has had a surprising amount of influence on the philosophies behind the American military today. Most of the other books on the list are pretty obscure. Dorsai! is pretty cool, but somewhat obscure, and the next two are almost forgotten at this point. The Sirens of Titan is the big competitor this time around. Honestly, I think Vonnegut had the better novel this outing. As influential as Starship Troopers is, it is a bit light on plot, and isn’t Heinlein’s strongest entry ever. However, in retrospect, Starship Troopers has had an absurd amount of influence on SF. When it comes to military SF, well, this is the book that really kicked off the whole genre as we know it. It’s a pretty hefty mantle. So… I’m going to say that in retrospect, Starship Troopers wins, but if I’d been voting that year, I would have voted for Sirens of Titan. Looking at the Retro Hugos, though, a lot of the winners would never have won if there had been a Hugo vote the year they came out, and many books that have won Hugos would never win if they were up for a retro Hugo. (I’m looking at you, They’d Rather Be Right.) So… Eh. For a book that’s generated as much controversy and sold as many copies as Starship Troopers has, I really don’t have that much to say. It’s a pretty good book, but Heinlein’s had tons of better ones. (Many of which we’re going to see.)

<1959: James Blish's A Case of Conscience
1961: Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz>

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6 comments

  1. As much as I adored Heinlein, your bold statement makes me want to read (or re-read, as it certainly does sound familiar) Vonnegut’s novel now!

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  2. I remember my mom (a big SF buff, especially at that time) saying she couldn’t even finish the book because she found the politics so tiresome. I’m more interested in Heinlein’s later work (like the Lazarus Long cycle), but I suppose I should read this someday.

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    1. It’s pretty short, and since it was one of Heinlein’s relatively few books that were made into movies, and definitely one of the better known films, it might be interesting for you. Otherwise, I’d go for a different one of his books.

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