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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 281

Robert Heinlein’s complex space fantasy, which stimulated considerable controversy when it was first published, has proved an enduring and influential example of the genre. Several film adaptations have followed, and the premise of a militarized future in which Earth is constantly at war with other planets has become a staple of science fiction.

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Writing in the 1950s, Heinlein exaggerates some features of the concerns of the times and normalizes others. He also uses aspects of social organization from diverse societies to create a frightening mega-state which seems totalitarian yet inspires the ardent devotion of citizens united to fight something bigger and scarier. While the "guts and glory" storyline seems to revere rugged individualism, the author also stresses the need to subordinate one’s will to the greater good in the character of Juan (“Johnnie”) Rico. Stern discipline that includes corporal punishment, sometimes graphically depicted, is presented as the norm in the elite unit’s basic training. The selfishness of the lone-wolf capitalist, personified by Johnnie’s father, is criticized, while the “all for one” conduct of people of modest means, like Johnnie’s comrades in arms, who are mostly people of modest means, is praised.

With his close attention to the technological features of future warfare, Heinlein created a far more complete world than most previous science fiction writers had done. His imaginary villains, in contrast, are almost stereotypically monstrous, drawn from human phobia for spiders. By painting the Other as entirely monstrous and equipping the Terrans with small-scale nuclear weapons, Heinlein perhaps implies the necessity of total victory in World War II. This could arguably allow for the U.S. bombing of Japan, and it possibly dehumanizes the Japanese.

The Plot

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

Starship Troopers is Robert Heinlein’s second of four Hugo-winning novels. On its surface, it is another of the author’s forays into science fiction for juvenile readers. Like Space Cadet (1948), Starman Jones (1953), and other Heinlein juvenile novels, the story follows a teenager through a series of adventures that lead to maturity and a leadership position in one of the interplanetary services.

The story begins as Juan “Johnny” Rico, a Mobile Infantry (M.I.) commando, participates in a raid on a hostile planet. Johnny experiences precombat fear but carries on with his mission. He and his compatriots are equipped with assault suits that give them tremendous strength and the ability to leap over buildings. They attack humankind’s enemies with an assortment of lethal weapons, including flame throwers, talking terror grenades, and “pee-wee” atomic bombs. Johnny makes minor tactical errors but generally conducts himself with skill and honor.

Safely back in the troopship, Johnny reflects on how he became an M.I. commando. The first son of a wealthy, unpatriotic merchant, he had accompanied his poorer friend Carl when Carl decided to join the service. To his own surprise and against his father’s strident objections, Johnny enlisted with Carl, partially to declare his independence and partially to impress Carmen, a classmate who planned to become a military starship pilot. (Johnny explains that women, because of their superior reflexes, do most of the piloting in the services.)

Rejected for his first duty preferences, Johnny was sent to M.I. boot camp to begin a rigorous training session, perhaps more rigorous than required by any army in history, with the possible exception of the Spartans. Zim, his drill sergeant, was the epitome of the tough career soldier and earned Johnny’s grudging respect. Many recruits resigned and several died during training, but...

(The entire section contains 965 words.)

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