One night while I was up late, I channel surfed across the 1997 movie "Starship Troopers." "Troopers" is a guilty pleasure of mine. No, it's not "Citizen Kane" or "The Godfather," but it is a so-campy-it's-entertaining sci-fi-action popcorn movie that has endeared itself to me such that I have to pay it a couple minutes of respect any time I randomly channel surf across it. It's violent, cheesy and completely ridiculous, but all of that is done so well that it makes for an entertaining couple of hours.
So while I was watching it late last winter, I was thinking that while the movie is silly, there plot has a solid bedrock; a larger notion giving the movie direction. This usually points to one thing: this movie is based on a book.
So it is, and I set out to find and read it. Getting my hands on the book was an adventure of its own that I wrote about last winter.
|Robert A. Heinlein|
The book is quite different from the movie. The book seemed pretty straight forward where the movie opted for an over-the-top, almost comic book feel. The book builds up drama, but doesn't use it for any other effect but to provide the book's pathos. The movie naturally spends a disproportionate amount of time in the book's rare action sequences, where the book largely exists in classrooms, boot camps, and barracks. Both the book and the movie deliver irony and sarcasm in subtle little doses.
"Trooopers" takes place in the future when earth is governed by a worldwide government. While all members of this civilization are considered "civilians," not all are considered "citizens." One has to earn citizenship by serving the Federation -- most often in the form of military service -- which affords rights such as voting and holding public office.
Against his parents' wishes, the main character, Johnny Rico, joins the military with his friends from high school. While in the military, earth comes under attack from an alien race of arachnids who earn the nickname "bugs" and this war acts as the backdrop to the book.
Very little of the book is actually about Johnny seeing action out in the field. Much of the story is actually about him studying government, military theory, leadership and fighting techniques as he makes his way through basic training as a foot soldier, and later as an officer.
What the book becomes then is a vehicle for Heinlein to express his own philosophies rather than an action romp through the stars. Though there's just enough of the latter that you don't feel like you're reading a textbook. Whole chapters are devoted to school teachers, drill officers, and commanders pontificating about various aspects of life, military, and duty. All of these lessons Johnny comes across do come to a head in the final climax where the earth federation goes on a military offensive against arachnids on one of their own planets.