Monday, April 12, 2010

The Hugos: Starship Troopers

Today I learned the meaning of the word 'polemic'. Let me share it with you: it's a reasoned argument presented in attack/defense of a concept or doctrine. Neat-o, right? It's good to learn new things!
The 1959 Robert A. Heinlein novel 'Starship Troopers' was called a polemic in a UK Sci-Fi mag I happened to skim through today, and once my friend Ron read me the definition you see above, I agreed.
The book wasn't a screed: that's the one-sided rants you'll often see here at Mike's Best Blog Ever, the kind that offer no room for argument; i.e. She-Hulk is the best Marvel Comics Super-hero. Full stop!
The doctrine in question in the novel 'Starship Troopers' is militarism. Robert Heinlein, (normally one of my favorite writers) in this novel reminds me of the televised exchange between 'Futurama's evil alien newscaster Morbo and Richard Nixon's thousand-year-old head:

"Morbo! How's the wife and kids?"

"Belligerent and numerous!"

"Good. 'Cause Nixon's pro-war and pro-family."

Heinlein, to be charitable, was not really pro-war. (When would Lazarus Long find time enough for love if he was always face-down in the mud of the battlefield?) But RAH sure as heck was pro-military.
Hence my ambivalence toward this Hugo winner: I have a personal philosophy of total pacifism honed in the fires of being a tremendously privileged doughy white coward who rarely had to fight for anything. Heinlein had buds who died at Pearl Harbor. So who am I to judge?

Starship Troopers tells the tale through long (but interesting) dialogues and classroom scenes, (without much in the way of actual combat sequences) of Juan Rico, Filipino soldier in the Terran Federation fighting in the war against the arachnids of Klendathu. The bugs in question are soulless commie drones, and the Rico in question is a brave and mighty democratic human individual who has earned the right to vote along with his willingness to die and kill to defend the Earth in kick-ass power suits dropped on enemy planets from orbit.

By the way, that dying seems to begin with about a 50/50 chance of dying IN TRAINING. Just in case you wanted to join up for the co-ed shower scenes like in the Verhoeven movie. 

It's not like that movie. 

Among other things, in the book 'Dizzy' Flores is a dude. And, no, Johnny and Dizzy probably don't bunk together in the book either, in case THAT got you interested! This is not a book of sex or romance, except maybe Heinlein's romantic feelings about his country and his military service. Pacifist and Dutch pervert Paul Verhoeven's awesome movie satirizes what Heinlein takes VERY seriously. Yet both book and movie were criticized for 'glorifying fascism'.

Controversial? Yeah. And RAH would have liked that. He was one smart guy. He loved his country and he was too sick to fight in maybe the only war the 20th century NEEDED to fight. I know that bugged him. Doughy, know-nothing socialists like me sitting on our butts out-gassing on topics our public schools and TVs barely prepared us to blather about on blogs all over the 21st Century probably would've bugged him, too. Canadians aren't commies, per se, but, well... I still would have liked to meet him. Don't know what we would have talked about.
He was seemingly fascinated by Mormons.
And until I reached the age of reason I was one of those... ah, it's not important now.
Maybe we'll meet in the waiting room in Mormon hell. I can tell him about the Verhoeven movie.

I gave this book 3 stars out of 4. Low for a Heinlein, but the thing is 'Forever War' and 'Ender's Game' prefer to show war in something of a different light. A nasty one. And I liked them better. They seemed more honest.

(Canada should be thankful I do not literally stand on guard for it. The bugs would probably roll right over me while I apologized and tried to see their point of view.)

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