Home / General / I would like to know more

I would like to know more


Scott references Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ column in which GHR cites Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for the proposition that some sort of altruistic public service ought to be a prerequisite for the right to vote:

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, in his famous novel Starship Troopers, envisioned a society where voters, too, had to demonstrate their patriotism before being allowed to vote. In his fictional society, the right to vote came only after some kind of dangerous public service — in the military, as a volunteer in dangerous medical experiments, or in other ways that demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally for the common good. The thought was that such voters would be more careful, and less selfish, in their voting.

So when the five-day wonder of questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism is over, perhaps we should address another question: How patriotic is the electorate? And how long can we survive as a nation if the answer is “not very”? And we should proceed from there.

I’ve never read Heinlein’s novel, and ever since I saw Paul Verhoeven’s film version I’ve wondered if the book itself is a satire on the fascistic values at the psychological core of nationalism, or a celebration of those values, or something else. I enjoyed the film, because I took it to be the former, although it would be pretty disgusting if taken straight, as some reviewers did at the time.

Anyway, I’ve thought and written about the relationship between authorial intention and textual meaning in the context of legal and literary works, but I’ve never really considered that question in regard to films. Films, especially big budget major studio productions, seem like especially complex texts, because their authorship is so complex.

What does it mean to say that Starship Troopers is “really” a satire, and not a campy glorification of fascist politics and aesthetics? That Verhoeven, if he is understood to be the film’s primary author, intended to the taken as the former? That, without regard to what Verhoeven or anyone else involved in the film’s creation may have intended, this interpretation makes it a much better film, aesthetically and/or politically?

And what about Heinlein’s novel? Can it be read as a satire, or is it too obvious that Heinlein intends the ideas in it to be understood unironically, which certainly seems to be Reynolds’ interpretation?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Keaaukane

    I took the movie as satire, but the book as poorly thought out fascism.

    • Yes. Especially since Verhoeven produced a number of other satires and Heinlein produced other fascistic screeds.

      • LeeEsq

        Yet, the book has a Filipino protagonist while the movie makes everybody white.

        • apogean

          It heightens the absurdity. Look at NPH furiously mugging for the camera and tell me it isn’t a satire.

          • mojrim

            I was especially fond of his leather-trenchcoated chorus.

      • TribalistMeathead

        Mrs. Meathead doesn’t believe RoboCop is satire.

        She also preferred the remake to the original.

        I married her anyway.

      • JMP

        I’d love to see Verhoeven, or someone with similar sensibilities, take a shot at making a film version of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead; the Free Market has already failed the Randians, proving that almost no one wants to see a straight adaptation of that crap, but a movie that mocks the idiocy of the books’ ideology might possibly actually be watchable and entertaining.

        • Hogan

          Heinlein had an imagination that wasn’t entirely in the service of an ideology; it did what it did, and he made fitful and not entirely successful efforts to rein it in to whatever he was thinking politically at the moment. I think that’s where the possibilities for parody/satire exist. Rand had no imagination of any kind, just grievances and resentments that she built into a philosophical superstructure and then turned into just-so stories. That’s a tougher nut to crack.

          • Mellano

            It’s hard to conceive of the novel as a satire. There are things reasonable people might acknowledge make the premise disagreeable or unrealistic. But there was never the sense that Heinlein was really trying to explore scenes or characters that would be the real fault lines of a militaristic oligarchy. It felt more to me that he was taking something like the self-conception of the U.S. military establishment and trying to project that onto a fictionalized society. It portrays that culture in a flattering light — a group of tough but virtuous and self-sacrificing comrades, within an institution devoted to the good of a larger society, which society in turn respects its protectors. (And yes, the protagonist is Filipino, but I think that was again reflecting a sense of national exceptionalism — in the future, everyone sounds like an American teenager ca. 1955).

            At the same time it isn’t a Randian manifesto. More like a short exploration of a theme that isn’t overly concerned with teasing out all the implications of its ideas. And I think that lack of concern is where the ambiguity lies for whether readers consider it fascist or something less.

            • Hogan

              It’s hard to conceive of the novel as a satire.

              I’m not saying ST is a satire. I’m talking about why it might be easier to satirize Heinlein than Rand.

        • Sly

          There has already been a great satire of Atlas Shrugged, but it wasn’t a movie.

          • Malaclypse

            I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Telymachus Sneezed, the book-within-a-book in Illuminatus!

          • I now forever associate Randian philosophy with the ability to shoot bees out of my left hand.

          • JMP

            I tried to get into that, but found that it’s still and FPS, and I just cannot play them at all. I’m sure there is a very good story in there, but was too busy constantly getting stuck and killed to see beyond the very beginning.

            • Redwood Rhiadra

              There’s a good Let’s Play of Bioshock – great for those of us without any gaming skills :-)


              It’s really worth watching.

    • wca

      Yes. Starship Troopers is a good read, but most of the politics in his books are pretty bad.

    • tsam

      I got the impression the movie was poking fun at the source material too. From the kids stomping Earth bugs to the near perfect images of Nazi uniforms.

      I liked the movie. (sorry)

      • TribalistMeathead

        To the fact that literally everyone on the planet spoke American English.

        • malindrome

          Exactly. Casper van Dien, Neil Patrick Harris, and Denise Richards are all supposed to be natives of Buenos Aires? Hmm …

          • Phil Perspective

            Don’t forget Dina Meyer!

            • Hogan

              Like I could.

      • Hogan

        Right up to Doogie Howser, SS.

        • NBarnes

          Quite. Doogie Howser does not show up at the end of the movie wearing an SS greatcoat by accident, as some people would have you believe.

      • I liked it too. Especially the little propaganda commercials that pop up throughout the movie.

        By the end of the movie the new recruits looked to be about 13 years old.

    • Danny

      I’m no Heinlein scholar, but I thought it was pretty well accepted that Heinlein was at the very least sympathetic to fascism, if not outright supportive of it, which makes the idea that the book was satire a bit far fetched.

      As for the movie, the vast majority of it only makes sense to me if you take it as satire. That said, the ending doesn’t really fit with the rest of it on those terms. Of course, that could just be an artifact of the studio system. As Campos mentions, the authorship of a big budget studio film is incredibly complex. It’s possible that the proper way to read the film is as a satire, until the end where the hero embraces his role as a cog in the fascist war machine.

      • He liked to depict different types of political societies, Dictatorships, Monarchy, Bureaucracy (The Star Beast), and even Democracy in his books. He leaned Libertarian, and had a real attraction to “Superman” type heroes and heroines.

      • If I remember correctly, he spent WWII working at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which strongly suggests a lack of sympathy for the real fascists available during his life. He did seem to incorporate pieces of that philosophy into his version of libertarianism, however.

        • steverinoCT

          He was fiercely patriotic– he was a Naval officer before the war, and had to get out due to some physical problem.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        I thought it was pretty well accepted that Heinlein was at the very least sympathetic to fascism, if not outright supportive of it,

        Yes, that’s “pretty well accepted” among people who like to make shit up. Heinlein was more conservative than the average LGM commenter, but someone has to be grossly ignorant of Heinlein’s actual writings to think he was a fascist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein#Views

  • J. Otto Pohl

    The movie is satire on the book. Heinlein was like many 20th century fiction including science fiction writers a right winger. So was Paul Anderson. I don’t think Heinlein was being satirical in Starship Troopers.

    • Paul Anderson
      I hate it when people misspell Germanic / Scandiwegian first names.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Poul Anderson then, but why would Fredrick Pohl who is both dead and was not a right winger care?

        • TribalistMeathead

          You’d be so much less fun if you ever developed a sense of humor, Jotto.

          • Malaclypse

            Have you forgotten J Otto trolling The Racist McCain trying to get them to review his dissertation since they had already reviewed Erik’s? I think J Otto has a sense of humor, and is taking the piss out of all of us.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              ;-) I wish this blog had better emoticon technology.

            • sibusisodan

              That is one of my top seven LGM memories. If JOtto didn’t exist the world would be a poorer place.

            • TribalistMeathead

              That was akin to the 9,784,650th monkey who just happens to type out the complete works of Shakespeare.

              • Manny Kant

                But wouldn’t we all suspect that that monkey was, in fact, actually a genius?

                • msobel

                  I may be confused here but didn’t the monkey love Bacon?

        • How would you feel if someone spelled your first name with a K, like you were a character in a Kafka novel?

          • J. Otto Pohl

            Well Poul Anderson like Frederick Pohl is dead so I don’t think he feels anything about his name being mispelled at this point.

            • The Dark Avenger

              Interesting, to have a historian plead inaccuracy on the grounds of both parties confused being dead.

              I await your latest essy on Steelman(Stalin), and his grandfathers’ possible
              Kryptonian roots………

              • J. Otto Pohl

                What is an essy? There is an iron law that every comment about a typographical error will itself contain a typographical error. ;-)

        • mikeSchilling

          The joke is that Pohl spelled his first name without a “c”.

    • rwelty

      Heinlein’s politics were originally fairly liberal; they moved sharply to the right after he married his third wife, Ginnie, in 1948. and apparently Verhoeven never read the book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein#1959.E2.80.931960

      • Halloween Jack

        Heinlein’s next book after Starship Troopers? Stranger in a Strange Land.

    • mojrim

      I disagree strongly with your premise. Veerhoven essentially took a treatment that was lying around and fashioned it into the sequel to RoboCop, down to the commercial cutaways. While the book certainly had fascistic overtones that was hardly the point – he explained later that he was exploring what the individual owed his society, something he felt was missing in contemporary american culture. Moreover, he made a habit of exploring different social arrangements, often in very sympathetic light, throughout his writing career. His real strength was always in imagining technology and it’s impacts rather than politics, and it showed.

      To have directed a satire of the book Veerhoven would have needed to actually, you know, read it and demonstrate understanding of the author’s intent before moving forward.

  • Turkle

    Same deal with Fight Club. The book was all straight-up macho posturing, but the film did everything possible (from goofy music to funny camera angles to barely-concealed homosexuality to bitter irony) to subvert the original meaning of the book while telling the same story. Quite good.

    Starship Troopers the novel is straight-ahead fascism. But the film (as we should expect from the always-excellent Verhoven) ironically undermines the original intent of the book.

    Perhaps, in some sense, the best adaptations of original source material contain precisely this ironic twist, this subversion of original intent? I’d like to think so.

    • Same deal with Fight Club. The book was all straight-up macho posturing, but the film did everything possible (from goofy music to funny camera angles to barely-concealed homosexuality to bitter irony) to subvert the original meaning of the book while telling the same story.

      I gave up on the novel about 1/3 through, maybe not even that. And as much as the movie attracts a certain dude-bro idiot fanbase, I’ll defend it for all the reasons you cite. (My personal favorite joke being Pitt and Norton on the bus laughing at the six-pack model in the underwear ad.)

      As for Troopers, I’ve also never read the book, but when you compare it to the other two masterpieces in what I think of as the Verhoeven trilogy (Robocop and Total Recall), it’s pretty clear he’s satirizing largely right wing politics gone amuck in all three. Ronny Cox FTW.

    • I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but by all accounts the same thing happened with American Psycho, with the female director taking a story that glorified the misogynistic lead and turning it into a dark comedy about his ridiculousness. Some of the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey have suggested that the director tried to do something similar there, but was only partly successful, stymied by the author’s input and the studio’s desire for a blockbuster.

      • Turkle

        I’m a bit surprised to hear that, I thought the book was meant to be satire (although of the grimmest sort). I read it, and if meant seriously it is utterly loathsome.

        • Manny Kant

          Ellis is pretty damned loathsome, so it’s not hard to see why people would read it that way. I’ve not read it, but my sense of Ellis would suggest that he did intend it as satire, but a much stupider and more loathsome satire than what Harron turned it into.

      • Vance Maverick

        I shouldn’t let myself be drawn into this, but….I’ve read American Psycho, and the narration is blankly deadpan as to whether Bateman’s actions are good or bad. Clinical, even. I’m pretty sure Ellis intended the reader to find neither glorification nor any other shading.

        Last time we discussed this, people pointed out that it’s not even clear that the actions are “really” taking place anywhere but Bateman’s head. But I’m not sure how this bears on anything.

        • elm

          Given the long discussions in the novel of business cards and various pop stars, treating each as serious works of art, it is hard not to read the book as satire. If that was sincere, Ellis is even more screwed up than I thought possible. (American Pyscho is actually a good book, in my opinion, though it does get tedious after awhile. The rest of Ellis’s oeuvre is pretty much unreadable, though.)

          • Katya

            I read American Psycho as clearly satirical. I honestly can’t see how you read it otherwise.

            • keta

              Yep. And yep. Like elm I too liked it, although its too long.

    • DonN

      I’m going to to say, yeah – very right. The movie was a straight ahead mockery of the book while telling (mostly) the same story. Heinlein thought facism was ok and the movie went with it. No need to watch twice.

  • snarkout

    The novel is a straightforward glorification of military service, as well as Heinlein’s usual assortment of half-baked political ideas presented as self-evident (usually demonstrably so by authorial fiat).

    • brugroffil

      I just happened to have read Starship Troopers last month, and this was my impression as well. I sort of expected it going in, so I still enjoyed the book overall, but it seemed to offer nothing but approval for its depicted society.

      However, I also thought it was unintentionally absurd and self-refuting when it got heavy-handed. Mathematically correct ethics and morals! Really! And of course the lecture not-so-subtly denouncing those namby pamby liberals and their “soft on crime, spare-the-rod ideas.” That the instructor made his point by referencing absolutely god-awful and counter-productive dog-training techniques in a positive manner (yes, shove your dog’s face in it’s shit when it makes a mess! yell at it and hit it!) only served to undermine the point he was trying to make and the earlier claims of mathematically proven morals.

      • Richard Hershberger

        This is made even worse when you consider that the book was written for what they then called the juvenile and we now call the Young Adult market. Heinlein was one of the favorite authors through my teens. There is a reason why there is the acronym GOOH: Grew Out Of Heinlein. A surprising number of people never do.

  • AcademicLurker

    As others have noted the book, alas, took itself seriously. If you poke around the intertubes you can find “true” Heinlein fans who are still angry about the movie.

    • Richard Hershberger

      You don’t even have to poke very hard. There are vast swaths of fandom where being angry about the movie is accepted wisdom. There are other regions of fandom where this produces eye-rolling, but these regions tend not to be so passionate–and therefore vocal–about it.

  • Malaclypse

    1) So, Heinlein was undeniably sexist and homophobic. Re-read Stranger In A Strange Land. Along with Jubal’s constant belittling of women, and the rigid gender roles, and the threats of gendered violence, there is a section where the topic of possible homosexuality at the orgies is broached. Poor Michael, what will he do if some man crosses swords with him? Don’t worry, dear reader – VMS can make wrong people simply cease to exist, and he will obviously recognize the wrongness of peepee-touching, so he’ll simply make gay people vanish from the universe. Stuff like this is all through Heinlein.

    2) People point to stories like the (brilliant) Long Watch to argue that Heinlein could not have been fascist, therefor Starship Troopers must be satire. Other people point out that RAH became more and more “anti-communist” as he got older, and did indeed at the least flirt with fascism.

    3) Given point 1, the argument in 2 is a boring one. Heinlein was a brilliant storyteller, who has loathsome politics. The exact contours of those politics are not worth spending thought on. The question is not resolvable, beyond “holy shit this dude is fucked up.”

    • postmodulator

      Don’t worry, dear reader – VMS can make wrong people simply cease to exist, and he will obviously recognize the wrongness of peepee-touching, so he’ll simply make gay people vanish from the universe. Stuff like this is all through Heinlein.

      Heinlein’s personal views are not the hills on which I intend to die, but his later novels contain many allusions to the central characters’ same-sex experimentations, spoken of in a positive light. Off the top of my head, that’s in To Sail Beyond The Sunset, I Will Fear No Evil, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. The protagonist of Job starts the novel as a violent homophobe and his views are held up for mockery.

      I think on this point he might have become more reasonable between 1960 and 1986. Not unlikely, since the rest of the country did too.

      • And I thought that it was the reporter dude who was a bit homophobic but then grew out of it in Stranger.

      • The Dark Avenger

        IIRC, Jill explains homosexuality to Mike in order to make sure he doesn’t disappear any guy who innocently makes a pass at him. In fact, the last guy he disappears is the leader of the screwball religion whose cathedral he tours with Jill, and there isn’t the implication that it was done because the guy made a pass at him.

      • Friday, as well, has a somewhat more open and diverse sexuality (and alternative family lifestyles as well, including multi-lateral polygamy) though some rather disturbing ideas on eugenics.

        There’s an anarchism to it, as well, which seems to be the direction his libertarian-right attitudes took him.

        The implicit analysis in that book of the lopsided struggle between states and capital is brilliant, though what passes for plot is a mess.

        • Basically, yeah. Heinlein was a right-libertarian with a militarism fetish, and that takes him to places I’d never go, but on some issues he comes out a lot better than his left-wing mainstream SF contemporaries.

          Heinlein supposedly wrote Startship Troopers out of an argument about the draft. He thought it was impermissibly coercive. And, while he has quaint notions about gender roles, he does have women as combat pilots in a book written in the 1950s. And a non-white main character.

          • Never mind. Excerpts below explain.

    • keta

      1)(watching an amateur video of an orgy they were in)

      Bob Crane: What is that on my ass?
      John Carpenter: That is my hand.
      Bob Crane: Rubbing my ass?
      John Carpenter: So what?
      Bob Crane: Your fingers are up my cheeks. What you doing in there?
      John Carpenter: lt’s an orgy, Bob.
      Bob Crane: So you can just touch my ass?
      John Carpenter: I thought you liked it. – I thought it was her! God! What’s the difference?
      Bob Crane: The difference? You got your fingers up my asshole!
      John Carpenter: Sorry.
      Bob Crane: Fuck you very much.
      John Carpenter: Bob, I said I’m sorry… It’s a group grope!

      From the move Auto Focus.

      2) Boring.

      3) Nothing cracks me up more than someone sniffing they won’t watch/read/listen to a certain artist because of his/her politics. It’s freakin ridiculous, and when you ask these people if they apply the same principles to what furniture they buy, or which car rental company they use they look at you like you’re the one that’s crazy.

      • McAllen

        Really? I’ve stopped reading, for example, Orson Scott Card for his politics, and I don’t feel particularly bad for it. And I do try to avoid buying things from companies that have particularly bad politics.

        • Mellano

          The excerpts I’ve read from his more recent books make this a very easy choice.

          • Richard Hershberger

            This, for a rather broad value of “more recent.” His work in the 1980s was very interesting. Some of his short stories were brilliant, in a slit-your-wrists depressing way. Then when he should have been hitting his mid-career stride, he quite quickly grew uninteresting and annoying. I haven’t any insight as to why, since I recognized what was happening quickly enough to avoid reading too much bad Card, and have heard enough subsequent reports that I don’t believe it was a transitory phenomenon.

        • keta


          I don’t read sci-fi, so I can’t comment on OSC. And the point I was trying to make is that generally when people tell me they don’t watch/read/listen to certain artists because of the artist’s politics, they make no effort to be consistent with this discretion anywhere else. Which I find hilarious.

          • McAllen

            Well, part of the reason for that might be that when an artist has bad politics that starts appearing in their works, whereas a furniture-maker being a libertarian or fascist or whatever probably isn’t going to have a noticeable effect on how they make their chairs.

      • Alan Clark

        when you ask these people if they apply the same principles to what furniture they buy

        You talk to people who buy their own furniture?

      • I stopped reading Terry Goodkind for that reason, mainly because his books became more and more steeped in his politics as the series went on.

      • Bruce B.


        #1. There is more good art (and good entertainment, and etc.) than any one person, particularly me, can consume.

        #2. Some creators of good art (and etc.) are putting time, effort, and money into organized efforts to hurt me, thanks to their attacks on the rights and well-being of groups to which I belong, or to hurt people I love and care about, ditto.

        #3. There’s still more good art (and etc.) than I have time for when I set aside work by people who are trying to hurt me and mine.

        • Richard Hershberger

          #4. Even if the problem is not the artist’s bad politics per se, the bad politics often infuse the work. There are any number of authors whose politics I don’t know or care about, because their politics don’t seep into their books.

    • BigHank53

      It would be wise to remember that Heinlein was a working author; books that didn’t sell meant he’d be scrambling to pay the bills. So he was writing stuff that he was pretty sure the audience would buy, and the audience for SF in the fifties and sixties was overwhelmingly white and male. So he was producing something that would appeal to them and remove them from their little suburban lives.

      Trying to divine his personal politics from those invented for a fictional world–designed to force his characters into actions that were/are literally impossible–strikes me as a fool’s errand. I mean, is there anyone seriously propounding that Steven King is somehow rooting for humanity to lose out to aliens, the undead, vampires, demonically-possessed automobiles, or a slate-wiping superflu?

      • msobel

        I asked Governor Walker if Steve King is rooting for Humanity to lose out and he said, he will have to punt on that.

      • Tunnel in the Sky, 1955, has a young woman, the second protagonist, hiding her identity because she knows the protagonist is sexist. He had his moments of being right. Then they end up a couple on the last page because must have happy ending with implied sex.

        • rea

          That’s just 1955.

      • mark

        I have to ask, have you actually read fifties era Heinlein? Your defense would work if someone were making guesses about A. E. van Vogt due to his limited female characters. With Heinlein we’re talking things like Farnham’s Freehold, the Sixth Column, Starship Troopers. Long monologues and walking straw men who exist to give people with Correct Political Views a chance to hold forth.

        Not that his politics stayed unchanged, but he wasn’t writing to hide his views or pander to the reader’s politics.

        • mikeSchilling

          Farnham’s Freehold, the Sixth Column, Starship Troopers

          One of these is indeed from the 50s.

          • mark


        • elm

          I read and liked Stranger very much when I was in highschool. Wanting to read more from Heinlein, I checked Sixth Column out of the local library. No idea why that was my second choice, but I never read another Heinlein novel again.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Alien vampires infected with slate-wiping superflu, driving demonically possessed automobiles ….. what a movie! It’ll be the next Sharknado!!

    • Quite Likely

      Eh, Heinlein certainly had his issues with gender and sexuality, but it’s hard to argue he was anything but ahead of his time on gay issues, and no worse than average on women’s issues.

    • mojrim

      That’s a grotesque simplification. Heinlein flirted with a number of political-social ideas throughout his life and, being a writer, did it with the pen. Also, being a writer of fiction, his ideas were generally ill-conceived, poorly thought out, and reflective of whatever was happening in his life at the moment. Artists are like that, hanging them with ideologies is just shooting the wounded.

      • Richard Hershberger

        Yabbut, he wasn’t exploring these ideas in an intellectually honest, stimulating, or even interesting, way. He was propounding them with the authorial Voice of Authority, often via the Lazarus Long/Jubal Harshaw/Professor de la Paz/whoever wise elder. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be no big deal, and long forgotten today. The problem is that Heinlein also had the storyteller’s knack. The result was a bunch of half-baked ideas foisted on impressionable teenagers as Truth.

  • rea

    I don’t think Heinlein meant the book as a political program, exactly, or took it quite as seriously as some of its readers, both pro and con, have.

    • postmodulator

      In an essay he wrote around 1980 he says that he started writing Starship Troopers in response to Eisenhower suspending A-bomb testing. So he had some agenda.

      • tsam

        That’s um…clarifying. Not in a good way.

        I haven’t read the book. I suppose it’s all a Cold War allegory then?

        • postmodulator

          The bugs are a Communism allegory. No individuality, hive mind. (So, really, an allegory of a cartoonish idea of Communism.) There are some allusions to the Korean War, which apparently he figured was a disaster.

          • benjoya

            i always thought verhoven’s POV was by making the enemies bugs (not human, untermenschen, even) he was signaling the nazism/fascism of the ‘good guys’, no matter what heinlein’s intention. remember, verhoven was born in holland right after WWII

          • CP

            The bugs are a Communism allegory. No individuality, hive mind. (So, really, an allegory of a cartoonish idea of Communism.)

            The SF of the era seems extremely fond of the Communism As Hive Mind, Individuality Erased Because All People Are Exactly Alike kind of “commentary” on communism.

            It’s one of these associations I picked up fairly early on when reading/watching, but that seems weirder and weirder to me the more I grow up. Even Marx’s most famous quote – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – seemed to acknowledge pretty well that people were different and that their governments had to take that into account.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              This has to do with what was happening in China during the late 1950s and early 1960s with the Great Leap Forward. Most people associate communism with the actual existing regimes of Stalin and Mao. The do not associate with some never even well explained yet alone implemented paradise from the writings of Marx and the consistently underappreciated Engels.

              • bharshaw

                I’d say it has more to do with Chinese tactics during the Korean War, at least as reported in Western media: “human wave” tactics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_wave_attack

                • The Dark Avenger

                  And works like this one tended to stress the collectivist aspect of Red China, vs. the post-Stalinist USSR, IMHO.

        • Quite Likely

          To an extent. The book’s message was more about how to build an effective military though. It’s all about this elite group of super-effective volunteer soldiers, as opposed to what he saw as the failure of the mass conscript army. The book came out in 1959, the American military finally came around to Heinlein’s way of thinking after the Vietnam War.

  • TribalistMeathead

    I’ve never read Heinlein’s novel, and ever since I saw Paul Verhoeven’s film version I’ve wondered if the book itself is a satire on the fascistic values at the psychological core of nationalism, or a celebration of those values, or something else.

    What’s it like to stand on the site of a future thousand-comment-long comment section?

    • Keaaukane

      Without first names, dead horses, condiments or vodka? Not likely.

      • TribalistMeathead

        Bringing up ST and the question of whether the source material was also satirical conjures a force equal to the above four combined.

      • wca

        Lift jingled; I answered, fixed basic martinis, vodka over ice, handed hers in, got out and sat down, out of sight –nor had I seen sights; she was shoulder deep in happy suds.

        From Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Discuss.

        • theduck

          Oh God, ICE? In a martini?


          • J. Otto Pohl

            It is a libertarian novel. Imagine what a libertarian society would look like?

            • sibusisodan

              It would be like a boot, not infringing the rights of other peoples’ faces. Forever.

              • wca

                The toxic, oops, doubleplusgood waste from the unregulated production of said boots would kill the entire population.

            • Malaclypse

              In the novel, justice consists of vigilantes pushing people out of airlocks. Luckily, they never once make a bad call.

              • rea

                Well, in fact, the hero rescues an earther who made a social blunder and was about to get killed in consequence, unless I’m confusing the book with something else.

                • Malaclypse

                  Right, but nobody pauses and says “holy shit, we need some kind of process to make sure we never fuck up.” It is all Rational Heroes Being Heroic.

                • an earther who made a social blunder and was about to get killed in consequence

                  I bet it involved ketchup.

              • Richard Hershberger

                This is something of theme in libertarian (or worse) literature. In Vernor Vinge’s story “The Ungoverned” social norms are similarly maintained by lynching.

            • If it looks like people drinking martinis on the rocks, that confirms everything I had ever suspected about goddam libertarianism.

              • postmodulator

                It’s set in an underground moon base. Vodka and beer are the only alcohol they can produce. (Also there’s supposed to be a lot of Russian influence on the culture.)

                • rea

                  And ice is their major natural resource

          • TribalistMeathead

            If “rocks” wasn’t an option, people wouldn’t order martinis “up,” would they?

        • Mellano

          In fairness (or not?), the book is written in a pseudo Russian accent.

          • Bruce B.

            Actually, not pseudo – it’s genuine Russian grammar, as I understand it from friends who speak Russian. (I’m in no position to know on my own.)

      • rea


        A horse is a horse, of course of course,
        and no one can blog ’bout a horse of course,
        that is of course, unless the horse,
        Is famous ’cause he’s dead!

  • Todd

    I think the film is a completely separate text. Whatever the original intentions of the author were with the book, I’m not sure they mean very much with regard to a later film adaptation. Even the screenplay is problematic as “the” text of the film. The director can shoot whatever tickles his or her fancy that day on the set – changing dialogue, characterizations and even plot – sometimes in fundamental ways. And of course after primary production is over, the character of a film can be changed enormously in the editing process, which is often a real collaboration between the primary editor and the director. The book and screenplays are source materials for a film – like Shakespeare with a history book in his hands.

    As for the main point – where is satire and/or irony to be found? Well, it’s not Verhoeven’s first film. It’s not Heinlein’s first book. Do they take ironical or satirical stances in their other works? If so, is it the same type of irony/satire as would be found in “Troopers”? The ironical stance is often a consistent practice across works. Satire, too.

  • TribalistMeathead

    It’s often been said that Showgirls failed as satire because Elizabeth Berkeley didn’t know it was intended as satire and played it completely straight. I often wonder if the leads in ST knew they were supposed to be satirizing the teen films they were currently appearing in.

    • BigHank53

      I am certain that when Neil Patrick Harris saw his costume he understood exactly what Verhoven was doing.

      • TribalistMeathead

        Oh, naturally. I was thinking more of Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Amy Smart, etc.

        • izzy

          The Rifftrax guys do a brilliant joke, playing off the dopeyness of Richard’s character: “I’m Denise Richards, and even I think this is satire is heavy-handed.”

      • NBarnes


    • postmodulator

      Showgirls also fails as satire because it wasn’t intended as satire and Verhoeven/Esterhas only started claiming as satire after it was clear that they’d completely fucked it up. It was originally marketed as a reunion of the team that brought us Basic Instinct, a pretty insubstantial film but the single finest date movie of my high school years. It set a mood.

      • TribalistMeathead

        I find it hard to believe given the amout of mustache-twirling done in that movie, particularly by Kyle MacLachlan.

        Never underestimate the The Room defense, though.

        • Four Krustys

          If nothing else, the lines about eating puppy chow and “I’m erect, why aren’t you erect?” give the whole game away…

          I guess it’s hard to understand it as satire if (a) you don’t get Verhoeven’s very Dutch sense of humor; (b) you’re not familiar with the kind of super low budget “naive girl gets mixed up in crime/lesbianism” exploitation movies it’s paying homage to (is “whitesploitation” a term?)

          I really don’t get people who miss that. It’s not a subtle movie. And IMHO there’s absolutely nothing in the script or how it was filmed that should make somebody think it isn’t satire (or at least over the top homage, a la Tarantino movies and blaxploitation).

          • TribalistMeathead

            I meant that it was hard to believe that it was never intended to be satire. For the reasons you identified, and “Must be weird not having anybody come on you,” and the dumbass sequel hook at the end, and holy shit the Thai businessman at the boat show.

      • Basic Instinct is hilarious. “She got that magna-cum-laude pussy done fried up your brain!” is one of the best movie lines ever. I have spoken.

        • tsam

          I loved it.

          Michael Douglas as the jaded cop who cares not for your “rules” and “regulations” is a supreme win.

    • erick

      I think for it to work as Satire she has to play it straight. Think Leslie Nielson in all his comedies.

      The problem is 1) she was such a bad actress it wasn’t possible. 2) Like others I don’t buy that Verhoven meant it it be satire as he was filming it so didn’t take it far eough. I think McLoughlan and Gina Gershon figured out pretty quickly that they had to camp it up as much as they could, if Verhoven would have run with that it would have worked.

      • TribalistMeathead

        One of my favorite moments in the commentary track for Airplane! (which is already wall-to-wall awesome) is when they talk about Lloyd Bridges demanding to know why a particular joke he’s supposed to deliver is funny and Robert Stack barking “Lloyd, we ARE the joke!”

        • tsam

          Much was made of having Peter Graves be perfectly serious as he’s asking Joey if he had ever seen a grown man naked or spent time in a Turkish prison. Lloyd Bridges did some later slapstick that was great (The President in Hot Shots), but Stack was another of the more “serious” actors that were hilarious delivering lines like they would in a real disaster movie.

          Airplane! is a true work of genius. The BEST comedy film I’ve ever seen, and I dig comedies. Caddyshack is a close second.

      • Ann Outhouse

        I think for it to work as satire it needed a better script and better direction.

  • medrawt

    The book is not satire. Reynolds perhaps mildly misrepresents the gov’t of the book, but it reads pretty clearly as at least a little fascist, but portrayed by someone who thinks that’s good. What the book definitely isn’t, though, is a serious argument for fascistic policies and values in fictional form. It’s a book in which Heinlein has some ideas he thinks are interesting and throws them at the wall and goes from there. In high school I read this, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land, plus one or two short pulp ones in the vein of Troopers. (Moon is the only one I found interesting to revisit as an adult.) There’s a pretty broad drift of political ideology between those books; maybe the man himself underwent large shifts in political attitude over the time he wrote them (I believe he had such a “conversion” much earlier in life), but I sort of got the impression he was just playing with ideas he found appealing, without any great commitment. He was a generally conservative guy and I think he found both authoritarian and libertarian attitudes appealing. (Certainly, his boosterism of liberated [“liberated”?] sexual mores seems the most consistent thing among the books of his I’ve read, though sometimes it comes off more creepy than free-spirited.)

    • AcademicLurker

      Heinlein was politically consistent in the sense that he was always equally bombastic and certain regarding whatever political position he happened to take at any particular moment.

      • The Dark Avenger

        “Sometimes he thinks he’s Robert A. Heinlein.”

      • Protagoras

        Perhaps. My impression from his books was that they always advocated pretty strongly for whatever the ideology of the protagonists was. There were considerable differences between different books, as medrawt mentions, which I’m more inclined to believe represented medrawt’s suggested playing with ideas, or just a writing style that uses advocacy for the protagonists as part of the effort to tell their story sympathetically, or perhaps some combination of those and other similar factors, rather than that Heinlein was always a sincere propagandist and changed his mind a lot.

    • Agreed he was taking his ideas for a test drive.

      Given how little we see of society *outside* the military in his novel, I think it’s a bit hasty to call the ideology “fascist.” Fascism may be militarist by nature, but all militarism is not fascism. Sparta might be a better place to look, for instance.

      • Mellano

        Yes, this. It’s difficult because the conflict is with literal insects who are utterly repugnant. But this military order also united human governments after a world war, apparently peacefully — to the extent that the fighting units in the story are culturally diverse melting pots right out of a Hollywood film. There doesn’t appear to be the mythology or symbolism of a right-wing government, either, just twisted versions of familiar US-style HS civics courses.

    • Quite Likely

      I mean, the society in the book is basically democratic, right? It’s just that you have to do some kind of serious government service in order to vote, which as I recall can be a pretty wide range of things, so long as you’re providing benefit to the community. The book focuses on the military of course, because it’s much more about the military than it is about the wider political system. And there it’s basically an appeal for a more libertarian style military: a small number of highly trained, highly effective volunteers, as opposed to the masses of conscripts that were still in use in Heinlein’s time. By now the US at least has totally adopted Heinlein’s vision, Starship Troopers is mandatory reading at West Point.

    • msobel

      Brad Delong has a discussion of a bad biography if Heinlein where he argues that Heinlein started out as a New Dealer and ended up as a right wing extremist. Somewhere, I can’t find the link, he mentions that Heinlein started out in an open marriage with essentially two women and after that broke up, married a conservative woman and became conservative. (Reagan anyone?)

      I don’t know why, but I personally was able to separate the bad politics from the fun stories, until the last half dozen books which seemed to be self indulgent.

      • guthrie

        Not just self indulgent – perhaps and Oedipus complex, or simply a childish desire to shock, since all these new wave kids were doing it too, he had to try a well.

  • theduck

    Most of the evidence seems to support the notion that Heinlein meant Troopers straight.

    Personally, I had a really hard time reading it that way though. It just came across to me as if it were a propaganda piece authored by a member of the Inner Party. I perceived constant hints that things were not as wonderful as Rico was trying to suggest. I mean it basically ends by alluding to the fact that Humans were, in fact, going to be wiped out by the Bugs.

    • guthrie

      Really? It seemed clear to me, what with humans being on the bugs home planet, that the bugs were going to be wiped out. What irritated reading it as an adult was the general lack of interest in the bigger issues and things outside the narrow purview of the central character.

  • Daragh McDowell

    Starship Troopers the book is what I’d term kinda-fascist, in that Heinlein kinda seems aware of where his ideas are going, and is often kinda uncomfortable with it, so inserts caveats that make it kinda palatable. Helluva read though.

    What’s slightly off-topic is that community organising is exactly the kind of altruistic public service that does make for an engaged, patriotic (in the best sense of the word) citizenry. And of course, Reynolds, Giuliani et al at best simply sneer at Obama’s record as if he was a giant sucker for not selling out immediately, or at worst claim that being a community organiser is roughly equivalent to being an activist in Stalin’s Comintern. It’s almost as if they weren’t terribly sincere, and/or smart.

    • Derelict

      They decry community activism while simultaneously telling everyone they need to do more of it. From Bush’s “Office of Faith-based Initiatives” to Joni Ernst whining about how we need to replace welfare with church-run soup kitchens and food pantries, it’s community activism all the way down.

      What they’re actually complaining about, though, is any activism that gets the Blahs out to vote, or to march on City Hall and demand basic human decency.

      • BigHank53

        The main reason they’re pissed is that the government at least has to try to treat everyone the same, while your faith-based stuff is free to discriminate against filthy immoral sluts, people who don’t speak English as a first language, miscegnators, Christ-killers, etc.

        • Malaclypse

          Yep. Passing judgment on the undeserving is key. Supplicants never feel, as Romney said, “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

          • The Dark Avenger

            The “undeserving poor”, as Me. Doolittle puts it in Shaw’s’ Pygmalion

            • msobel

              I always assume that their objection to Obama is because in spite of his centrist policies, he is still black.

  • Captain Haddock

    Books like Starship Troopers are useful in illuminating how few actions or occupations constitute patriotism in a country where patriotism is almost exclusively measured by words and gestures.

    • Derelict

      In America, patriotism today is measured by only one thing: Are you a Republican? Any answer other than “YESSS!!!!!!” means you hate America and are likely actively plotting its downfall.

  • CL Minou

    I actually rewatched the movie not long ago and did a quick Wikipedia lookup of it, so I have some facts in hand. I’ve also read the book several times, although not in over a decade.


    1) The movie was actually from an original screenplay that had a certain resemblance to some scenes in Heinlein’s book; this led the studio to option the book and splice in stuff from the novel as a way to capture a larger fanbase.

    2) This backfired somewhat as fans of the novel who wanted to see things like its signature powered armor and rags-to-riches military promotion story got none of those things.

    3) Verhoeven seems to have not read the novel, but relied on some of his writers and production staff who had, and based his satire on the reported themes of the book. (One can see how it would be possible to do this by reading the screenplay “straight”, without the commercials etc.)

    4) The book posits a future society founded by returning veterans of the last great global wars. Convinced that the rich democracies have failed (and failed to stop wars), they took over, unified the planet, and established something vaguely resembling the Roman Republic. The franchise is expressly limited to citizens who have done a term of “National Service.”

    5) Heinlein basically lied about/misremembered what “service” meant in later interviews, claiming that it could be as easy as a civil-service job. The novel expressly contradicts this in the chapter where the main character volunteers–the recruitment sergeant tells him that the service is either military duty, or something equally deadly and dangerous.

    6) The society in the book engages in public corporal and capital punishment as a shaming device to encourage respect for authority and order. Flogging is a known penalty (the main character, IIRC, gets flogged during basic training) for offences that…most societies today would not consider as justifying it. The viewpoint character strongly opines that the resumption of corporal punishment is a Good Thing.

    7) Students are indoctrinated to believe things like “democracy has failed” and “violence is always a valid tool of the state” (there is a famous exchange where a young woman in the main character’s high school class tries to claim that violence never solved anything. “Go ask the city fathers of Carthage” is the instructor’s retort. This is held to be a decisive argument.)

    8) Given all that, it’s not exactly an expansive reading of the book to call the society Fascist, and since the viewpoint character strongly believes it to be a good and admirable society, that the book is pro-Fascist. That said, Heinlein could be a slippery bastard and the possibility remains that he was actually satirizing/Candidizing modern society and/or the future society of his novel.

    9) Still, he wrote it in explicit response to, IIRC, the nuclear test ban treaty, and was well-known as a rabid anti-Communist.

    10) The movie isn’t a subtle satire of the book (given its detachment from the source material, how could it be?), but it certainly captures the mood of a lot of people (self included) who strongly criticize the novel on the grounds I laid out above. And late 20th century latent militarism/American faddism and corporate culture. When I saw it in the theater, my girlfriend wondered “Are we getting ready to fight a war?” Of course, that was pretty prescient.

    11) And thus, to answer the question, this whole thing is a rat’s nest of intention by multiple authors. Heinlein always rejected, although not IMHO meaningfully, the Fascist reading of his novel. Verhoeven intended a satire of contemporary society and fascism, but found fans liked uncritically the society he showed in the movie. (The uniforms are modeled on Nazi uniforms, for goodness sakes! Doogie Howser is in the SS!) So what you make of it depends a lot on what you carry in, I guess.

    • Lee Rudolph

      5) Heinlein basically lied about/misremembered what “service” meant in later interviews, claiming that it could be as easy as a civil-service job. The novel expressly contradicts this in the chapter where the main character volunteers–the recruitment sergeant tells him that the service is either military duty, or something equally deadly and dangerous.

      A Genevan friend of mine was allowed (in the 1960s) to substitute service as a fire fighter for service in the armed forces.

      Another mathematician friend (this one younger than me) got out of serving in the Soviet armed forces by being part of a surveying team in the wilds of the Russian Far East. That was certainly not as deadly as being under arms in Afghanistan, but it wasn’t physically easy; the only animal protein they ate for six months was salmon they caught, and he still won’t touch it. (At the end of his tour, when they got back to their base camp, they were treated to the local specialty of whale blubber that had been buried for a long, long time.)

    • guthrie

      Nice post.

      The thing that always irritates me about the Heinlein apologists is that they’ll make all sorts of excuses re. Starship troopers, but forget that the actual audience it is aimed at is teenage boys, so frankly all it needs is the powered armour and big explosions and you’ve got a winner. Yet it has all the other stuff, and Heinlein wasn’t stupid, he surely had an idea of how it would appear to the readership, i.e. that a restricted franchise by military service, expansive imperialistic humanity, many element of fascism etc, were good things.

      • randy khan

        Starship Troopers was not, actually, one of his juveniles. You could say it was aimed at younger readers, certainly, as most SF of the time skewed young, but it was published as a novel for adults.

        I don’t know that saying this constitutes an excuse for the book, one way or another, but if you read all of his juveniles together with this, I’m not sure you’d have any idea what kind of government he thought was best.

        • mikeSchilling

          It was written to be one of his juveniles. Scribners (the publisher for the juveniles) turned it down, so it went to another publisher which marketed it towards adults.

    • The LTBT was in 1963. Do you mean in response to a debate about it?

    • brugroffil

      RE: 5, sure it was military duty, but unless I’m misremembering (just read it for the first time last month), there was plenty of talk early on in the book about how, during peace times, there was an awful lot of make-work for people wishing to serve, and that even once they were at war, most people simply would not be cut out for an actual combat role. I’m think it can be analogized to the person in our modern military who does IT support or something like that. It seemed pretty clear to me that service didn’t actually require combat duty or anything like that.

  • xq

    I’m not sure what the justification is to call the government in Heinlein’s book “fascist.” Yes, it is nationalistic and militaristic, but there were were and are many nationalistic and militaristic societies which are not identified as fascist. The most discussed feature of the government in the book is probably the restriction of the franchise to military veterans, but as far as I know, this is not a feature of any actual historical state associated with fascism, nor even proposed by advocates of fascism.

    (this comment is not intended as a defense of the ideas in the book)

    • Warren Terra

      As I recall, in the book the protagonist’s family is described as being wealthy in a distinctly corrupt state-capitalism way typical of fascism (also of Chinese and Russian post-Communism).

      Also, the Nazis required all youth to join paramilitary organizations. Does that count?

      • brugroffil

        well, typical of damn near every government, no?

    • Ah, you beat me to it. Yes, “fascism” is a vague term, but it’s not a synomym for “militarist oligarchy.”

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Ah, but in the world of internet commenters, “fascist” is a synonym for “anything I don’t like that appears to be more right-wing than my own political views”!

  • MacK

    Verhoeven’s movie was definitely a satire and took substantial liberties with the book – I read the original Starship Troopers as a teenager, and Heinlen’s world was less authoritarian and racist than the movie – or the movie series. It did have the full-citizenship for service part though.

    Heinlen was a guy with some pretty strange political views – they would have causes as many conniptions on the right as the left. He also comes across as not just into free love, but somewhat sexually incontinent.

  • Best line in the movie:

    The multiple-amputee recruiting sergeant saying “The infantry made me the man I am today!”

    • tsam

      And the kids thinking “oh shit, what have I done?”

    • rea

      My recollection is that something very like that occurs in the book; later on you find out that the recruiting sergeant was trying to scare them off.

  • clandee

    Heinlein got increasingly Right-wing as he grew older. IMO, he meant everything he said in Starship Troopers. For an even more extreme book, read Farnham’s Freehold”, in which he celebrates the outcome of a nuclear war. As found in Wikipedia ” To paraphrase Mr. Farnham, “How do you know who is the officer in the lifeboat? The one with the gun.””

    • Keaaukane

      Glad you brought up Farnham’s Freehold. It is one of the most vile books I have ever read.

      • Richard Hershberger

        I never got through it, even when I was in my callow Heinlein adoration phase.

  • spearmint66

    A good question for Reynolds would be: If your franchise restriction proposal, using whichever definition of patriotic you yourself would write, were implemented on election day 2012, what do you think the Romney-Obama margin would have been? Ballpark. I’d say 90-10 Romney. This is 1998 Mark McGwire to voter ID’s 2014 Derek Jeter.

  • benjoya

    i watched ST shortly after we started the iraqstrophuck. When NPH does the mind-meld with the master bug, he says “It’s afraid!” and the assembled fascists burst into applause, it seemed apt.

  • Derelict

    So I’m forced to wonder just how a majority of the citizens of the United States can not be patriots. I guess the new standard of patriotism is voting the straight GOP line. Anything else means you’re a fifth columnist or something.

  • MacK

    A few odd points about Heinlein.

    Politically he started as a socialist, campaigning to get Upton Sinclair elected governor of California and running for office in California on Sinclair’s ticket. By the 60s he was with Goldwater….

    Heinlein was also a housemate and drinking companion of L Ron Hubbard, and It is widely said that Hubbard after saying that starting one’s own religion was the best way to get rich, made a bar bet with Heinlein that he could create a religion – hence Scientology,

    • It is widely said that Hubbard after saying that starting one’s own religion was the best way to get rich, made a bar bet with Heinlein that he could create a religion – hence Scientology,

      I’d heard that with John W. Campbell in the place of Heinlein.

      • Tehanu

        And I heard from A.E. Van Vogt himself that the bet was between himself and Hubbard. Don’t know if he was making it up but I’ve never forgotten it.

      • mikeSchilling

        I’ve heard it with more or less every SF writer who was alive at the time.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Seeing as Campbell later was promoting Hubbards’ first iteration of what later became CoS, Dianetics, on the cover of Astonding Science Fiction, it couldn’t have been him.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Why would his promotion of what he would have known (had it been him) was a fraudulent scheme be a contradiction? He might have hoped for a cut of the proceeds.

          • The Dark Avenger

            According to Alfred Bester, who met Campbell for the first time when he was taken with Dianetics, the latter fell for Hubbards’ creation hook, line and sinker.

            And I came in and shook hands with him, and I’m fairly big but he was enormous; he towered over me. He was about the size of a defensive tackle. Anyway, we sit down (and I’ve got a great sense of humor, and that’s why I could never get along with him). I had the same trouble with Arthur Clarke. I said something once about never being able to get along with Arthur Clarke because he didn’t have a sense of humor. And Arthur wrote me this bitter, wounding letter, and the gist of it said, “I have so got a sense of humor.” But he had included clippings from his reviews that he said proved he had a sense of humor.
            Anyway, Campbell said to me out of the clear blue sky, “Of course you don’t know it, you have no way of knowing it yet, but psychiatry–psychiatry as we know it–is dead.”

            And I said, “Oh, Mr. Campbell, surely you’re joking.”
            And he said, “Psychiatry as we know it is finished.”
            And I said, “If you mean the various Freudian schools and the quarreling that’s going on between them…”
            He looked at me and said, “No, what I mean is that psychiatry is finished. L. Ron Hubbard has ended psychiatry.”
            I said, “Really?”
            “Ron is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”
            And I said, “Wait a minute. I’m sorry, Mr. Campbell, but you’ve lost me. You have to understand that I’m out of Madison Avenue. Outside of the normal networks I don’t know what the hell’s going on.” And I thought, Or in this tacky little office, in this tacky little room, and this guy is full of it.

            He said to me, “Would anybody who ended war with the Peace Prize?”
            I said, “Sure.”
            “L. Ron Hubbard has ended war.”
            “Wait a minute, you’ve lost me. How?”
            “Honestly, Mr. Campbell, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
            And he said, “Here. Read this.”
            “Here and now?”
            “Couldn’t I take a set of galleys home with me?”
            “No, no, it’s the only set I’ve got.”
            So he’s going about his business, talking to his secretary and whatnot, and I read the first galley and said to myself, “I can’t make any sense out of this mishmash,” so I turn to the second galley and I start to skip over a little, then a little more, but I figure this Campbell looks like a pretty shrewd guy, so I allow enough time for each galley, then I go on to the next one — and hell, there must have been 12 to 15 of these galleys, it was an enormous stack — and so I finished, put them on his desk, and he looks at me and says, “Well? Are we going to win the Nobel Peace Prize?”

            It should be noted that Campbell touted the Dean Drive and the Hieronymus machine later on, even going as far to have a cover of Astounding Magazine feature a space-going sub, powered by the Dean Drive.

  • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

    Calling Heinlein’s brand of libertarianism ‘fascist’ seems a little off the mark. However, he was certainly highly authoritarian by nature and Starshit Troopers, like all his stories, had a father figure to wearily explain the world to the reader.

    Interestingly, that element of the text–the moral philosophy lesson–is reproduced word-for-word in Verhoeven’s movie. Which I thought rather clever of the Dutchman–getting Heinlein to damn himself with his own words.

    As ever, Michael Moorcock has Heinlein nailed, in his essay ‘Starship Stormtroopers’:


    • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

      I have run into libertarians who seem quite comfortable with Heinlein’s oppressive paternalism and are a little too enthusiastic when mention of restricting the franchise to veterans comes up.

      I usually point out that governments of veterans do not have a particularly proud or happy history. At which point the libertarians usually respond with some guff about Heinlein’s world permitting non-military service.

      Somehow, I suspect even offered some cushy non-military service my libertarian acquaintances would still find some way to get a deferment. They are, to a man, all narcissists and self-serving toads.

      • sparks

        The self-serving libertarian toads of my acquaintance (both sexes!) were all in the IT industry.

        • Having worked in IT, it does seem to have more than its fair share of libertarians.

          • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

            IT attracts those of an engineering disposition. Engineers tend to possess an inflated belief in their own capacities. They are also the ones most likely to imagine that messy old societies can be engineered to their liking.

            This is, of course, a crass generalisation and your mileage may vary.

            • guthrie

              Also most engineers learn about stuff that is settled; no mucking about with the uncertain frontiers of science, they learn known facts and laws about how things work. Add that to the human propnesity to forget that other people are like them, and their type of job, then you can see why there might be a higher proportion of engineers denying science in some form or another.

              Mind you last example of stupidity I saw was a physicist trying to explain how biologists got it all wrong.

      • MacK

        On of the oddities of US libertarianism and conservatism is its popularity among military officers and retired officers – like say Heinlein, invalided out of the Navy – he received a pension from a relatively young age.

        The thing is, when you find out about how the military live – base housing, the PX, base schools, etc., especially for the officers it is sort of a socialist paradise – with very little libertarian about it – also sort of behaviour codes, bans on adultery etc. A libertarian society it is very very far from.

        Reminds me of my mother, a diplomatic wife/widow, getting annoyed with the dim wife of a retired insurance executive from Palm Springs when the two of them were up in DC for CPAC, who engaged her in random conversation in which she kept parroting “government is the problem” – “hang on, your husband made his fortune in an industry largely created by government, you live in a city whose golf courses and swimming pools depend on government supplied water …. what you need to do is spend a week in downtown Mogadishu, you’ll want government then…”

        • CP

          This makes plenty of sense to me. The people who like libertarianism the most are the people who’ll never have to experience it.

          • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

            I note that the libertarians I talk to seem to all be working on fat government tech projects. While I, radical peon that I am, work in one of the least stable and most fiercely competitive entertainment industries on the planet.

            It’s funny the perspective that comfort can give a person.

        • Manny Kant

          If your mom feels that way, why was she at CPAC?

    • randy khan

      That’s kind of a funny essay from someone who wrote the Elric books. (Yes, I know, the deep point of those books and many of his others was to be anti-sword and sorcery, but at the same time they actually are s&s.)

      • Hob

        I don’t follow. The essay isn’t saying there’s an inherently bad ideology that is part and parcel of fantasy fiction by nature; it’s saying fantasy fiction is a very convenient vehicle for delivering bad ideology, because it’s easy to gloss over the problems of a system of authority that your fantasy hero is identified with. But the Elric books make it incredibly clear from the start that Elric’s society is horrible, and that his quest is a self-destructive tragedy; that’s not a “deep point”, it’s explicitly stated! So Elric isn’t Moorcock ignoring the point of his own essay— it’s Moorcock setting out to do the opposite of what he complained about in his essay, and succeeding.

        • randy khan

          It’s been a long time since I read the Elric books (and most of the rest of Moorcock’s fantasy writing), but the thing about those books is that while they certainly do make a point of how bad things are, Elric still spends an awful lot of time in sword fights – and one fight even appears in the three different books, IIRC.

      • Manny Kant

        Given that Moorcock is an anarchist who conflates “bourgeois reactionaries” and “crypto-Stalinists” as basically the same, I’m not sure what his political criticisms have to offer those of us who don’t share his idiosyncratic views.

  • Quite Likely

    The movie was a fairly well done satire, that didn’t do well because action movie audiences didn’t like the satire, while the audience for satire didn’t go see what they thought was a dumb action movie.

    The book on the other hand was a more serious military sci-fi / social science fiction novel. It’s worth reading just for the story, and for the window it offers into how the military works, which Heinlein was quite familiar with. I don’t agree with a lot of Heinlein’s politics, but he was a fairly smart and complex guy, and the ideas he puts into the story are more ones that I have reasoned disagreements with than ones that make me mad and want to stop reading.

    • guthrie

      I’m not sure that the military depicted in the novel would actually work in real life. Heinlein had had a few years in the navy, albeit never in wartime, and I think he used his imagination a lot in his novels.

      In this particular case, the fascistic arguments don’t get in the way of the bug killing and the cool suits, which is the main attraction for a teenage boy.

    • postmodulator

      Nearly every Heinlein novel is worth reading for the story; you have to give him that.

      • I defy you to find a story in “Beyond This Horizon”.

        • postmodulator

          Technically there are two. But I did say”nearly.”

          • There is some sort of weird back-story, too, in that the human genome in BTH consists of 48 chromosomes rather than the 46 chromosomes we mostly have today.

            Evidently the human race gained two chromosomes at some point, in an episode which could have been a novel in its own right.

            • So Heinlein’s genome is the Catholic bible of sci-fi?

            • Warren Terra

              iirc, this is historical – for some reason that escapes me, there actually was confusion for a while about the number of chromosomes we’ve got.

              … and, Google and PubMed help me out:

              The correct determination of the human diploid chromosome number as 46, by J-H Tjio and A Levan, at the University of Lund, Sweden, occurred 50 years ago, in December 1955; the finding was published in April 1956, ending a period of more than 30 years when the number had been thought to be 48.

              BTH was published in 1942.

              • Don’t spoil my fun.

                • Warren Terra

                  Just imagine a world in which I didn’t.

              • mikeSchilling

                They were using microscopes whose magnification went up to 11.

            • postmodulator

              No, they used to think there were 48.

  • randy khan

    Well, the book definitely is not satire, but I’ll echo the point above that you shouldn’t assume it represents an actual point of view about how the world should be governed. Heinlein certainly believed in the value of military service, but you can find all sorts of governmental organizations in his books – The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress eventually ends up with a democracy with pretty close to universal suffrage (and I mean universal – the voting age seems to be about 10), Methuselah’s Children posits governance by the eldest, and there are half a dozen, at least, other choices in his other books. He also wrote books and stories that made it clear he wasn’t a fan of having no government, and he certainly wasn’t a fan of religion-based governments. (One story “If This Goes On . . .” is about a revolution against a theocratic government.)

    My take as a reader was that, like a lot of SF writers, he picked a system of government based on what would work for the particular story, nothing more, nothing less and, as you’d expect, the particular government system often didn’t show up at all in his stories when it wasn’t important to the plot.

    • Warren Terra

      Except of course for the dreaded, self-indulgent, rather icky Late Heinlein, which had multiple novels that consistently featured a weird brew of libertarianism and local-dictatorship by the head of household, who happened to be an idealized super-talented unapologetic asshole living in sybaritic luxury and engaging in personal interactions ranging from the libertine to the criminal.

      • randy khan

        There’s no doubt that by the end he had a thing for the local patriarchy government (and you could argue that it goes back to Methusaleh’s Children, although the first leader in that one is a woman). Still, in his best years you’d have had a hard time figuring out what kind of government he liked. Heck, even as late as Time Enough for Love, he makes a collectivist point in the Dora story, as the colonists execute someone for eating seed grain early on in that one. (Then, of course, the main characters in the book basically create their own government by family, so you could say that was merely a diversion.)

      • local-dictatorship by the head of household, who happened to be an idealized super-talented unapologetic asshole living in sybaritic luxury and engaging in personal interactions ranging from the libertine to the criminal

        Ah, c’mon, the usual sad fantasies of aging weasels; Heinie just got to type them for publication. Mitt Romney is living the dream, except the “super-talented” part remains fantasy.

    • Richard Hershberger

      While the Moon ends up with a democracy, it is not at all clear that this is regarded as the ideal. The ideal seems to be anarchy, with a low enough population density to make this possible. The book ends with a complaint that the Moon is getting too crowded, and it might be time to emigrate. I suppose we should give props to Heinlein for noticing that anarchotopia schemes rely on low population density, so that each happy anarchist can have his slice of ungoverned heaven unperturbed by close neighbors shouting at him to turn the damned stereo down so they can get some sleep.

  • guthrie

    I’ve read bits and pieces about Heinlein over the years, including Alexei Panshin’s book about him, which Heinlein rather disliked because I think it gets a bit close to the core of him.

    But to summarise what I recall from my readings, Heinlein’s character included a large dollop of contrarianism, thus anything you might say was great, he’d say really, I don’t think so.
    Moreover, he seems to have been oddly pliable. He was actually something more like a new deal liberal with his first wife, and his navy pension after he was invalided out helped them survive before his writing took off. Yet after a messy divorce from his wife due it seems in part to a polyamorous relationship that didn’t work out, he ended up with a woman who was far right wing.
    So his politics changed to suit her….

    Suddenly some of the themes and occurences in his novels make more sense.

    • MacK

      He seems to have been way beyond new deal liberal – flaming red actually – and it was his second wife – Leslyn MacDonald. The first marriage lasted only a few months.

  • guthrie

    OH yes, can anyone name the novels that “Starship Troopers” inspired? I can think of at leat 3, there might be more.

    • Hogan

      Ender’s Game? Or maybe the entire Ender series.

      • guthrie

        Not that I am aware of. Last I read, Card was inspired by some weird Mormon stuff.

        • Warren Terra

          Hogan may be drawing parallels to the earned-citizenship model, but (though it’s been a very long time) I don’t remember this from Ender’s Game; I do remember a sort of justified-extra-parentage model, but the justification was genetic superiority rather than social merit; also, it was clearly a cruelty imposed on god-loving folk who obviously deserved to be fruitful and multiply, as God wanted.

          • Manny Kant

            Ender’s Game is about a vaguely fascist human society at war with buglike aliens. Is it really so hard to see the parallels with Starship Troopers?

    • The Forever War, obvs.
      Four of your three books would be the installments of Gerrold’s “War Against the Chtorr” series.

      • Warren Terra

        the War Against The Chtorr series is far more interesting than it has any right being, but you’re right: it has the same earned-citizenship model.

      • guthrie

        The what? Never heard of it.

        You know, I’m not sure I would consider the Forever war, but then it’s years since I read it. Well, decades.

        • Warren Terra

          I took The Forever War to be a response to Vietnam (obviously) but also to the notion in Starship Troopers that war brings clarity and higher purpose to people and societies.

          • postmodulator

            Joe Haldeman’s explicitly stated it was both. Heinlein apparently liked The Forever War, so who knows what the fuck.

          • randy khan

            I was in a book club that read ST and TFW back to back, and even without Haldeman’s affirmation, it would have been quite obvious that TFW was a response to ST.

            (Totally unrelated to the topic, but there actually are multiple versions of TFW out there. There’s a whole subplot that’s not in some versions.)

            • Matt_L

              Gads, I read The Forever War as a teaching assistant in grad school and led discussion sections on it for the undergrads. The connection to Starship Troopers was obvious even to the 18 year-old Heinlein fans.

    • Warren Terra

      I think the plot “young man trains for war/adventure, experiences war/adventure, matures” predates Heinlein.

      If nothing else, there’s Henry IV.

    • Malaclypse

      Old Man’s War, per its author.

      • guthrie

        OKay, make that 4 then.

        • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

          Don’t forget Gundam and pretty much every Japanese mecha comic/show/animated movie ever since.

    • theduck

      Well, they aren’t books, but the first things that come to mind for me are Warhammer 40k and Starcraft. For those not familiar with the franchises, both prominently feature power armor, horrific totalitarian governments, and homicidal bug-aliens.

    • Bill the Galactic Hero.

      ST was so inspirational it managed to inspire the extra-vote-for-military-service idea in Shute’s In the Wet, published six years earlier.

      • guthrie

        Yay, someone got one.

    • guthrie

      None of you read “Bill the Galactic Hero” by some unknown called Harry Harrison?
      Or “Armor” by John Steakley?
      Or Gordon R. Dickson and “naked to the Stars”, which I understand was written as a response to “Starship troopers”

      • TribalistMeathead

        I used to love the BTGH series and the Phule series when I was in junior high. The Phule series has held up pretty well, but I don’t have much hope for the BTGH series.

      • mikeSchilling

        The only DIckson novels I’ve read are the Chile cycle.

      • Another one — Bob Shaw’s “Who Goes Here”.

  • Warren Terra

    It’s been decades since I read either, but as I recall some aspects of the film Starship Troopers are taken from Heinlein’s novel of the same name – in particular the civics class and boot camp, some of the character names, and the reappearances of the drill sergeant and civics teacher – but most of the plot once it gets going is ripped off of John Steakley’s Armor, uncredited.

    Notably, in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers the “mobile infantry” wore giant mechanized armored suits and flew around nuking everything in sight, which is extremely unlike the film.

    • ColBatGuano

      Notably, in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers the “mobile infantry” wore giant mechanized armored suits and flew around nuking everything in sight, which is extremely unlike the film.

      This sort of technology would have made far more sense in the movie that very poorly armed infantry they portrayed. /off topic

      • You mean the tech of a human race that has interstellar travel but has forgotten how to make hand grenades?

        • That seems to be a pretty common trope in science fiction.

          Most of the fights in Star Wars would have been over quickly with one hand grenade.

          • Warren Terra

            Not to mention that scene in the beginning of episode 1 where they’re on a spaceship full of robots, and rather than take advantage of the vacuum of space their enemies decide to gas the space wizards.

    • Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

      As I understand it, the mobile infantry suits were intended to be in the film until they realised the cost would be prohibitive. You can find concept pictures out there from pre-production.

  • John F

    Long time ago I was working with someone who claimed to have known Heinlein quite well. (This guy had been a genre publisher in the 1950s/60s, and via Google I can tell that he did know Heinlein, though hard to tell how well)

    anyway, he claimed that Heinlein was convinced that sooner or later (likely sooner) there would be a nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR, so Heinlein researched and researched to located the ideal spot, far from any nuclear target, shielded from fallout, local food and water supply, etc., the perfect place to survive during and after a nuclear war.

    Bought some property, enough for a small dairy farm, builds a house…

    The Air Force than buys a few thousand acres in the next county and began digging out ICBM silos… and moved back to California.

    • Apparently it was not so much the silos, as the NORAD site under Cheyenne Mountain that Heinlein saw as attracting unwanted missile-target attention. He revenged himself by describing the destruction of Cheyenne Mountain in MIAHM.

  • MacK

    Cutting and pasting:

    Later in life, as a libertarian, he would rail against “loafers” and the welfare state but in his leftist days he knew how much he depended on the government. As he acknowledged in a 1941 letter, “This country has been very good to me, and the taxpayers have supported me for many years.” The popularizer of TANSTAAFL ate more than his share of subsidized meals.

    In discovering his midlife vocation as a science-fiction writer, Heinlein was aided immeasurably by his second wife Leslyn, who he married in 1932 (an earlier marriage in 1929 fizzled after a year). Both were socialists and sexual radicals—it was an open marriage with each having many lovers—and in the 1930s both were leading figures in the grassroots movement End Poverty in California (EPIC), working to push the Democratic party to the left. When Heinlein started selling science fiction in 1939, Leslyn served as his un-credited collaborator and story-editor …

    Heinlein’s leftwing politics got him blacklisted from the Navy, which didn’t want his services even during World War II when the military was so desperate for trained recruits that they found office jobs for disabled soldiers. Instead he worked as a civilian engineer in Philadelphia, helping to design the high-altitude pressure suit, a precursor to the astronaut suit. In 1944, Heinlein met Lieutenant Virginia Gerstenfeld, and after the war tried to bring her into his house as part of a ménage à trios. Gerstenfeld accepted but her stay with the Heinlein’s was brief and stormy. This wasn’t the first love triangle in the Heinlein residence (they had earlier been in a consensual threesome with L. Ron Hubbard), but Leslyn found Virginia threatening so the marriage collapsed in 1947. Heinlein and Gerstenfeld wed the following year, a marriage that would also be open.

    Whereas Leslyn was a liberal Democrat, Virginia was a conservative Republican. Some of Heinlein’s friends speculated that his shift in politics was connected to his divorce and remarriage. That’s too simplistic an explanation, but Heinlein acknowledged that Virginia helped “re-educate” him on economics.

    In truth, Heinlein’s shift to the right took place over a decade, from 1948 to 1957. In the early 1950s, the Heinleins travelled around the world. The writer was already a Malthusian and a eugenicist, but the trip greatly exacerbated his demographic despair and xenophobia. “The real problem of the Far East is not that so many of them are communists, but simply that there are so many of them,” he wrote in a 1954 travel book (posthumously published in 1992). Even space travel, Heinlein concluded, wouldn’t be able to open enough room to get rid of “them.” Heinlein treated overpopulation as a personal affront.

    Heinlein had caught a bad case of the Cold War jitters in the late 1940s. He accused liberal Democratic friends, notably the director Fritz Lang, of being Stalinist stooges. With Heinlein’s great talent for extrapolation, every East-West standoff seemed like the end of the world. “I do not think we have better than an even chance of living, as a nation, through the next five years,” he wrote an editor in 1957. The USSR’s Sputnik launch in 1957 and Eisenhower’s moves toward a nuclear test ban the following year both unhinged Heinlein, who called Ike a “slimy faker.” By 1961 Heinlein concluded that even though it was a “fascist organization,” the John Birch Society was preferable to liberals and moderate conservatives.

    The turning point came in 1957. After that year, Heinlein’s books were no longer progressive explorations of the future but hectoring diatribes lamenting the decadence of modernity …

    Only on the issue of sex did Heinlein remain faithful to the radicalism of his youth, with some of his late books portraying a future where bisexuality is the norm. Yet even on sex, late-period Heinlein is an untrustworthy guide. Many readers have been disturbed by the pro-incest arguments found in such books as Farnham’s Freehold, Time Enough For Love (1973), and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987). Perhaps the best that can be said on Heinlein’s behalf is that incest served as an objective correlative to his libertarianism and solipsism.

    • (they had earlier been in a consensual threesome with L. Ron Hubbard),

      I vomited a little at this.

      • LeeEsq

        Its the best argument for conventional sexual morality ever made.

    • Many of those 1950s concerns found their way into his 1952 attempt at prophecy in Galaxy (starts p. 13).

      And here’s some B.Spencer bait — John C Wright’s hagiographic attempt to defend Heinlein’s good name by justifying each prediction.

    • Lee Rudolph

      ménage à trios

      It’s an ill wind that … oh, forget it.

      • Where there’s muck there’s brass, as the Yorkshireman said when the marching band fell in the sewer.

    • CP

      Another pile of human excrement who climbed up the ladder and then swiftly kicked it away lest those filthy peons who were behind him catch up. What a shocker.

  • EvanHarper

    The name of Alexei Panshin has already come up. He’s Heinlen’s leading critic (always in the literary and only occasionally in the personal sense, though Heinlen’s reaction to both stirred massive drama in the SF community.)

    Panshin maintains an archive of the 1960-61 ‘zine responses to Heinlen’s right-wing turn and Starship Troopers in particular.

    In brief, yes, Heinlen really was that far to the right, and completely in earnest. He didn’t realize the practical implications of his views and surely would have denied they were right-wing; he was a crackpot sci-fi utopian disillusioned with post-1929 liberal democracy, in exactly the H.G. Wells mold, and his political ideas were exactly as stupid.

    • Bruce B.

      In one of those interesting bits of serendipity, Panshin’s son runs the guild I play in when I’m doing World of Warcraft on the Horde side. (He does a good job, too.) He was very startled the first time he mentioned who his father is and a couple of us actually knew who he was. :)

  • Brendon

    Three things disappointed my about the movie:

    1) The portrayal of the bugs. In the novel, they are an intelligent space faring species with modern technology, weapons, and cities. They were clearly the equal of humanity, but very different — they would have made a much more interesting antagonist then then mindless hordes of melee-combat-monsters shown in the movie. Given the apparent intent of the director to merely spoof the novel though, I guess I can see why he made the decision to change the bugs. Still, bugs with spaces ships and guns would have been way more interesting.

    2) The absence of the “Skinnies.” The Skinnies are a third intelligent space faring species — humanoid, but a different specifies none-the-less. In the novel, humans and the skinnies start out as enemies (if I recall, the first combat action in the novel is a raid on a skinny world) who then become allies in fighting the bugs. Their existence adds another, complicating, dimension that makes for a more nuanced story.

    3) The absence of powered armor. Here I’m totally letting my geek flag fly — with Starship Troopers RAH basically invented an entire SciFi institution. From novels to movies (think Riply vs Queen in “Aliens”) to anime, powered armor is the go-to mil sci-fi trope of all time. RAH, in particular, also fairly comprehensively thought out how such armor would be used. He presented some pretty well developed tactics for these things and it would have been neat to see them on screen — though I imagine the budget and effects limitations of the late-90s made presenting the armor a non-starter.

    I would really love to see a serious adaptation of the novel as a film — it’d look great and be pretty interesting.

    As to whether or not the society the novel posits is fascist – that argument can certainly be made (and it has), but its not an iron clad case. The novel does not touch at all on the economics of the society. and a big part of fascism is its relationship to the capitalists in society. Also, RAH does make reference to a number of checks and balances that would seem to cut against the fascism argument. For example, service in the military is a fundamental right — in the novel a recruiter (or perhaps the civics teacher?) points out that if a blind guy in a wheel chair shows up and insists on serving, the military is required, by law, to find him a job, even if its sitting at a desk and counting the hairs on the backs of caterpillars by hand. Moreover, race (as we think of it) plays in part in the society – the protagonist is a brown guy, after all. Its hard to imagine a society that actually has meaningful protections of rights, that is non-racist, and that respects the rule of law as being truly fascist.

    That being said, the novels infatuation with corporal punishment is simplistic and sadistic, to say the least…

    • the military is required, by law, to find him a job

      This is perhaps worth emphasising. Heinlein is perfectly explicit that in his barrack-culture utopia, “the franchise is today limited to discharged veterans”.

      When Reynolds renders this as

      the right to vote came only after some kind of dangerous public service — in the military, as a volunteer in dangerous medical experiments, or in other ways that demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally for the common good

      he is simply lying.

      • dn

        Actually, that’s an accurate representation of the book as I recall it. If I remember right, the rule (explained by the recruiting officer at the start of the story) was that you had to volunteer for service, but that anyone who volunteered and stuck it out couldn’t be turned away – hence people who weren’t fit for any military role could accept non-military service as guinea pigs, etc. and still get the franchise.

        • You signed up for military service, with the possibility that the military duties were non-frontline if you were not capable.

          • dn

            I suppose that’s about right. The macho military ideal is definitely there, in any case, which I think is what matters.

    • NBarnes

      if I recall, the first combat action in the novel is a raid on a skinny world

      You do recall correctly, It also bears mentioning that the protagonist was in the process of committing a war crime during that entire sequences, as it was a raid on a skinny civilian city. The scene comes complete with the protagonist dropping high explosives onto a hospital.

  • JS

    I completely unapologetically love the film (as pretty much everything by Verhoeven), and yes, it is definitely satire. In case this hasn’t been mentioned before, it’s well worth checking out Verhoeven’s commentary track on the DVD (it’s him and the screenwriter, but PV is amazing). Anyway, the point is that PV’s politics come through loud and clear (also too what he thinks of the US).

  • dn

    Starship Troopers is clearly not fascist (there’s no national-rebirth mythmaking involved, for starters), but definitely right wing. And Heinlein was pretty clearly not being ironic with the politics in the book either. There’s at least one scene where he (through his mouthpiece character) takes a direct jab at an imaginary Karl Marx, for instance. Over the labor theory of value, of course, although he doesn’t seem to realize that said theory was not originated by Marx at all.

    • Warren Terra

      there’s no national-rebirth mythmaking involved, for starters

      Seriously? I’m pretty sure the new sense of purpose arising from the ashes of Buenos Aires is in both the book and the movie (possibly not the same city).

      • dn

        I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m pretty sure that was not a major factor in the book – I remember it being mentioned only once, very briefly and in passing, and not as a central part of the ideological narrative. (In any event, there are other objections to the “fascist” label that I could make. No Duce or Fuhrer. No mass movement. Women in the military.)

        • rea

          Re: the destruction of Buenos Aires: It’s part of why you know the narrator is to some extent unreliable–his mother is killed, and he downplays his reaction (in the book, though, it motivates his father, previously hostile to the military, to sign up).

          The book is done in the form of wartime propaganda–we’re supposed to see that, and grasp that things aren’t quite as wonderful as the narrator portrays.

      • Mellano

        I remember the Buenos Aires thing being a straight up reprisal of the U.S. saying it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor — the rallying call of a legitimate war of self-defense, not an event justifying military rule (which had been long accepted).

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      Heinlein also wrote “Who Are The Heirs of Patrick Henry” – a jingoistic call to arms which has all the national-rebirth mythmaking you could possibly desire. And it wasn’t fiction.

    • dn

      Another not-so-fascist element of the book: its explicit faith in social science. There’s a passage where the narrator talks about science having “proven” that all wars, even ostensible wars of religion, are actually consequences of “population pressure”. Rather historical-materialist of him.

      • mikeSchilling

        This was a Heinlein trope: that whatever idea he was championing in that particular book could be proven mathematically. Another is that math and physics he found distasteful (Cantors’ theory of transfinite types, Goedel’s theorem, the uncertainty principle) would eventually be disproven.

        • altofront

          That was a longstanding idea of his–it’s prominent at the end of the juvie Farmer in the Sky, for instance.

  • mtraven

    Anybody ever read his very early work For Us, The Living ?

    he biggest economic impact in the book, however, is Heinlein’s Social Credit system, that he takes many pains to explain: the Heritage Check System, an alternative form of government funding, in place of taxation. The heritage check system is a moderately altered Social Credit system.[5][6] Its modification reflects Heinlein’s more libertarian views and Heinlein’s interpretation on how financial systems are affected by the relationship between consumption and production.[7][8]

    The system could be construed as a libertarian’s approach to a socialist idea, creating an alternative to a tax system that puts fewer requirements on individuals, while simultaneously providing more for the common welfare.[9] This is not too surprising, as Heinlein (a proclaimed libertarian) was also fascinated by Social Credit plan that appeared in Canada (which was later shot down by their Federal Government).[10] In this role, the government becomes less a part of the economy and more a facilitator of it.

    • I’m waiting for the movie.

    • mikeSchilling

      Yeah. It reminded me of Looking Backwards, and is similarly dull. A lot of the ideas wound up in Beyond This Horizon

  • CP

    Having read the book a long time ago, my own two cents,

    1) Starship Troopers was emphatically not satire.

    2) Most of the political text is spent either promoting a restricted form of democracy, with voting rights limited to the author’s specifications, or berating the old staw-man punching bags of weak, decadent, limp-wristed liberal girly men, who’re too wimpy to understand the value of a good spanking or the manly virtues of violence.

    I didn’t find the ideology “fascist” in a Hitler or Mussolini sense, so much as just “American-style conservative.”

  • Tehanu

    One other thing about Heinlein: he was conservative to a fault, and as somebody upthread said, kind of a crackpot, but he was never an asshole. For example, he admired Philip K. Dick’s writing and when told by a mutual friend that Dick was broke, he contacted him and gave him a wad of money — just gave it to him, with no request for return. I personally can’t stand most of his later books, but calling him a “fascist” doesn’t qualify as legitimate criticism.

    • mikeSchilling

      Heinlein could be incredibly generous. When Ted Sturgeon was horribly blocked, Heinlein mailed him 26 story ideas to get him back on track. But he could definitely be an asshole, too, e.g. how he treated Panshin.

  • The Temporary Name

    This thread informs me that “Her nipples went spung!”

  • eh

    All of Verhoeven’s US movies except for his first, “Flesh + Blood” (“Black Book” is in English, but a Dutch movie), are comic books, parodies pointed directly at the US. Gotta love ‘im.

  • CSI

    Starship Troopers is a very influential work in both military hard science fiction and “mecha combat” fiction – i.e. humanoid fighting machines, in this case worn armored exoskeletons. The description of combat with these powered armor suits is thrilling and well written.

    I’m not sure if this powered armor is exactly plausible. At least it is far more plausible than the 10 meter+ tall japanese anime/video game mecha this story partly inspired.

    However the pseudo-fascist government described in the story with much pompous lecturing is a bit silly, as many others have pointed out in this thread. The way the Mobile Infantry (space marines) of the story is organized is a bit silly too. Everyone fights! Every man is an infantry man! Yeah right. A modern military needs a huge “tail” of non-combatants.

    But the Paul Verhoeven move was just awful. It didn’t even include the powered armor, which might have redeemed it. The official explanation from Verhoeven was that, after Robocop, he didn’t want to be typecast about making movies about men in metal suits. Um, more likely he just ran out of money or something.

  • j_kay

    The system described in the book, Starship Troopers, was oligarchy, what both libertarians and apparently most Republicans want. The first oligarchy, Sparta, was for keeping down the slaves, and had only a few citizen-soldiers whom had rights.

    Our military draft started because Buchanan’s plot to raise a confederate army first totally worked. He sent sympathetic armies South months before Lincoln could get there and have power. So the draft was what we needed to make up the numbers down South.

    • Manny Kant

      What on earth are you talking about? Buchanan sent sympathetic armies south? I am pretty sure this is not something that happened on Earth.

      • rea

        The South started the draft first. Buchanan did things that facilitated the South later raising armies, but he did not actually raise armies for the Confederacy.

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    I have read Starship Troopers a couple of times, once as an adolescent, then again after seeing the movie. I would not
    call it fascist per se, certainly not Fascist. It is definitely not satire. However, it is strongly authoritarian. I understand that Heinlein wrote it to promote military service during the Cold War.
    Now as far as Heinlein’s work, Farnham’s Freehold is much closer to fascism than Starship Troopers. Heinlein’s fondness for rule by the ubermensch got completely out of control, descending into A. E. Van Vogt territory.
    From what I understand, Verhoeven planned a satire of militarism set in an interstellar war. It was found that the original treatment overlapped S T to the extent that to go forward, Verhoeven had to purchase the rights and did utilize quite a bit of the book, so far as characters and incidents.
    I suppose Heinlein is the reason I find at least an undercurrent of authoritarianism in most Libertarians. And, of all the strains of conservatism, Libertarianism is the most hierarchical.

  • hey so

    The most frustrating thing about Starship Troopers’ worldview for me is that to the extent that our (or at least Heinlein’s) world is being ruined, it’s most certainly not being ruined by people whose personal ambitions would falter in the face of two years’ government service.

  • Pingback: Tuesday Night Links! | Gerry Canavan()

  • MikeN

    I think the argument is that democracy was born in ancient Greece because of the bonds formed among fighting men who were seen as basically equal to each other. Though originally limited to men who could afford both the equipment and practice time required to be a hoplite, it was later extended in Athens to any citizen who could “swing an oar”. The same principal was later said to be found in the Swiss pikemen, and of course the minutemen.

    Now that I am safely past the age, it doesn’t seem like necessarily a bad idea- nor necessarily right-wing. “Comrades, who deserves a voice? Those willing to give their lives to protect others, or parasites who sit back at home and selfishly indulge themselves?”

    The other interesting thing is the role of women. The army is male, but the space navy is mostly comprised of and run by women. Women are assumed to have better reflexes and greater endurance for the rigors of space, to the point that the hero of the story is mocked for saying that he, a male, wants to be a pilot. Not bad for 1959, when pilots in particular were regarded as the epitome of martial service.


It is main inner container footer text