(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In addition to winning for Heinlein his first Hugo award, Starship Troopers put an end to the Scribner’s juvenile series. Heinlein wrote it for the series, but Scribner’s rejected it. That rejection was the beginning of years of controversy over Starship Troopers.

Many readers, and a majority of academic critics, objected to the overt militarism of the book. Despite the Hugo, science-fiction fans at conventions in 1960 distanced themselves from the book’s philosophy; a youth-oriented radio talk show on WMCA in New York even devoted its October 23, 1960, broadcast to a critique of Starship Troopers and its philosophy. There had been military settings in the juvenile series before: Space Cadet describes an interplanetary military; the protagonist of Between Planets joins a militia on Venus; Citizen of the Galaxy ends with its hero enlisting in the Exotic Corps. What is different about Starship Troopers is that it describes a society in which government service of some sort (though not always infantry) is an absolute requirement for full citizenship.

This system, often distorted by critics into a fascist nightmare, is what caused the controversy—and guaranteed sales. It is described through the experiences of the narrator, Juan (“Johnny”) Rico, who enlists in the Mobile Infantry and tells of his training. Much of the story is interrupted by his flashbacks to a high school civics course on history and moral philosophy. Mandatory for all high school students in the society Heinlein depicts, this course teaches the moral imperative of citizenship: placing society’s welfare before one’s own. The course must be taught by a veteran of government service who has by that service proved this moral imperative.

The flashbacks do not interrupt the flow of the narrative, for the points discussed in the classes are always germane to what is happening to Johnny in boot camp. Furthermore, Johnny’s instructor of the class, Jean V. Dubois, is very much like his drill instructor, Ship’s Sergeant Charles Zim. Indeed, it turns out that Dubois, whom Johnny is shocked to discover was a lieutenant colonel in the Mobile Infantry, was a battle comrade of Sergeant Zim.

Both Dubois and Zim are mentor characters, a familiar type in Heinlein’s fiction-—especially in the...

(The entire section is 969 words.)