Book Review: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein - Starship Troopers - Header

People debate endlessly about whether a movie is better than a film and how true to the original source any adaptation may be. Previously though it wasn’t a conversation that I ever really got involved in, I never really read books; but having now discovered the literacy delights of a good novel, I have some catching up to do and am currently working my way through the titles that mean something to me. Mainly those books that have become films.

When it comes to movies, I like a bit of a science fiction. You can’t beat a good versus bad alien invasion story, and as I’ve previously reviewed, while it may have some issues, I have a soft spot for Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. So, knowing that it was taken from a book, it seemed perfect to read the novel that inspired the film. To welcome Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 classic into my life.

Now, I had heard enough people over the years say that the film and the book don’t accurately mirror each other, and I was going into the book with this small fragment of knowledge firmly in the forefront of my mind. What I found however, I wasn’t expecting.

Starship Troopers (Film) - Robert A. Heinlein

I had, for some reason thought that the book was more violent than the film, that it took action, war and death to a gorier level. But I was totally wrong. The film is stronger than anything evoked or described in the book. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I found the book boring. And I honestly, came very close to walking away from it. Turning the pages becoming harder and harder the longer it went on.

My problem is the style in which it’s written. It’s just slow and almost academic in places. There are huge swathes of the book that felt like I was being taught rather than entertained. It feels like you’re sitting in a history lesson with somebody recounting the events of times past, stopping to examine the reasons but not the emotions behind every action. And this formula never changes. It just monotonously marches forward and it becomes such a weight on top of you that you cannot draw any interest from it. I never really connected with it. It’s just a passage of text. Names on a page.

And this complete lack of connection isn’t helped by the fact that when the book isn’t slowly treating you to a history lesson, and actually tries to step into the characters, to create some action, to feel like you’re finally going forward, it does so with such military precision that I found it almost impossible to follow. I am sure that if you’re served in the armed forces, or have a better understanding of military structure and tactics than I do, then being told that Sergeant Whoever was X miles from Black Company who where holding Section 4 for the Lieutenant while he flanked the line previous held by the Platoon would be interesting, but I just found it impossible to follow and impossible to picture in my mind.

Robert A Heinlein Navy) - Starship Troopers

This favouring of military structure over actual action, or narrative depth completely surprised me. I was expecting fighting but it never happens. Occasionally hinted at but never described. Instead Heinlein spends the whole book justifying the actions, or explaining the reasons for something. The Morals and Ethics. And the more I read it the more I became convinced that it’s not a science fiction story resembling the movie, but rather the autobiographical fiction of a man’s own history. It truly feels like this is a façade painted over the authors own military events. Johnnie Rico isn’t a character in the Mobile Infantry, but rather Robert A. Heinlein serving his country.

While the structure to the language used is slow, and technical and boring, worse still is just how dated the flow of the words used feel. There are times when sentences, grammar, don’t seem to bit. Words you’d naturally expect seem to be missing. I’m sure it’s a reflection to the style and prose of the late 1950s but it just added to my already growing distaste with the book, and meant that I would from time to time, have to reread passages in an attempt to understand not only the imagery created but also the fundamental writing used.

I feel so let down by Starship Troopers, because while I expected it to be different from the movie, I didn’t expect it to be this different. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, what the movie is better, more interesting and more entertaining. The book is just too pressed, starched and printed to be enjoyable. It a sci-fi war story and yet it never made me feel in an danger what so ever.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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