Saturday, June 16, 2007

Starship Troopers. A bit shit, isn't it?

I suppose I should talk about this Japan thing sometime, but that would take effort, and why exert yourself when you could talk about pop-culture instead of real life? Exactly.

There's quite a lot of Nerd Rage flowing about the internets whenever Starship Troopers gets mentioned. You can hardly bring up either the movie or the book without some put-upon fan of Heinlein wanting to burn Paul Verhoeven at the stake for what he did with the movie adaptation.

I can certainly understand how someone with a lot of affection for the book would feel upset at all the ways the movie differs from the source material.

Verhoeven, while depicting the core values of Heinlein's Federation (franchise has to be earned, the way to earn it is through military service, horrible communist alien scum must die) accurately enough, chose to send it up as the xenophobic and militaristic proto-fascist state it is.

I just can't see why someone actually *likes* the book.

I love sci-fi, not only for the lasers, explosions and big stompy robots, but for the all the opportunities it affords the authors to comment on technology and current social issues. You can stick what you want to talk about under federation star ships and whatnot, leaving it for those that want to look a little bit deeper. Or you can be completely overt with your commentary, cutting loose like it was 1984. What you can't do, is suck.

Johnny Rico rebels against his father, and signs up for military service, for reason's not entirely clear to himself. He then proceeds to fuck up with regular intervals, so a strict, but infinitely wise and well-meaning commanding officer can correct him and steer him on the right track. Occasionally they slaughter vaguely defined aliens, for no other reason than that this is the way of the universe; constant expansion and military prowess is needed or we become wiped by some other race. Sometimes Heinlein will wax lyrical over the virtues of public corporal punishment and executions, but mostly it's a never ending sloppy blowjob to the military.

Starship Troopers is just a hideously dull polemic, populated by paper thin character, and very little in the way of plot. And the writing's not much cop either. The prose is workmanlike at best, and it's painfully obvious that this was intended to be 50's juvenilia. There's a lot of "Why, I...!" and sometimes a "Heck!" or even a "Gosh!" thrown in for good measure.

So there's not much to except general awfulness to distract you from his message, not even explosions. (For something that promises "Military Adventure" on the cover, there's an awful lot of boot camp and lecturing, and comparatively little fighting. If you're going to write military porn, at least have the decency to show us more ultra-violence than sermons about what a moral fucking organisation it is.) Whatever his aspirations towards serious discourse on the meaning and responsibilities of citizenship, it just ends up a repellent militaristic screed. That Heinlein chooses to elaborate on most of the philosophy in flashbacks to Rico's History and Moral Philosophy classes, doesn't help matters much either, since the lecturers are all always Unquestionably Right. They can prove everything they say, see. With math.

To be fair, the actual science in the book comes off as pretty credible (apart from the times they use math to prove political and sociological points, that is). But when the only worthwhile thing about your book also applies to technical manuals, you're doing something very wrong. Heinlein might as well have written a fictional user's manual for powered armour. It would have been a marked improvement.

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