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Starship Troopers

A science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein first published in 1959, it received a Hugo Award in 1960, and Starship Troopers remains one of the most controversial science fiction stories ever written.

It was later made into a film by Paul Verhoeven in 1997. An animated television program was also made from it in 2000. A Japanese anime series was also made in 1989.

The novel deals with a platoon of future soldiers defending humanity from an intelligent race of creatures collectively known as "bugs", a repulsive alien enemy sharing many characteristics with social insects such as ants or termites.

For science fiction fans, the novel popularized the concept of the powered exoskeleton[?] in the form of the powered armor suits of the Mobile Infantry soldiers. These suits were manipulated by the wearer's own movements but also powered to augment the actions. The soldier could, for example, jump upwards, and the powered leg joints would launch him off the ground while rockets kicked in for further propulsion. Dropped from orbit in individual egg-shaped heat shields, the troopers would parachute into enemy territory for quick hit-and-run operations. Armed with a significant arsenal including high-explosive rocket launchers and flame throwers, the Mobile Infantry soldier was a one-man tank.

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Political subtext

Politics is a significant subject in the novel, taking up a greater part of the story than the scientific or technical aspects. The novel presents a very favourable view of the purposefulness and order of military life and disgust with the slack, individualistic, and purposeless life of "civilians". Many fans regard the book as one of the best literary descriptions of the positive aspects of military service (notably the strong bonds between soldiers).

In the future world of the novel, only those who have volunteered for federal service (which includes military service) are permitted to vote and hold political office. These aspects of the novel make it highly controversial, with numerous detractors interpreting the book as thinly-disguised, expertly-written propaganda for fascism.

The society portrayed in Troopers also considers corporal punishment acceptable in childrearing, civilian criminal matters, and enforcing military discipline.

Film and animated series

Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film takes up these political themes by satirizing the book's attitudes mercilessly, using references from propaganda films such as Triumph of the Will and wartime news broadcasts, but wrapping this satire in slickly-produced action sequences with clever special effects such that the satire went unnoticed by a mostly teenage male audience who treated the movie as a simple gung-ho "action flick". The movie did not perform well at the box office: despite its lavish $100-million-plus production budget, it earned only $54 million in its theatrical release, though its subsequent release on video helped to earn its costs back. Critical reaction to the film was largely negative, and the film was criticized for having characters who were as mindless and one-dimensional as the special effects were impressive and dazzling.

The "bugs" were also altered to be less an alien civilization and more "monsters".

The animated series Roughnecks: Starship Troopers[?] (released in 2000) was closer to the events of the book, such as including the war with the Skinnies, and included more of the characters. However, it focused mostly on combat, and didn't address the political aspects at all. Verhoeven was also a producer for the series, and it used the creature designs from the 1995 movie.


Starship Troopers clearly influenced many later science fiction stories, setting a tone for the military in space. James Cameron's Aliens movie incorporated themes and phrases right out of the novel such as "the drop", "bug hunt", and the cargo loader exoskeleton. Chris Carter's TV series Space: Above and Beyond also appears to follow many of the same themes. Peter F. Hamilton's novel Fallen Dragon[?] continues the traditions of exoskeletonic military cameraderie in confrontations with human-sourced rather than alien societies. Orson Scott Card's popular novel Ender's Game further explored the theme of human battle against a centrally-controlled insect-like species.

On the other hand, Joe Haldeman's antiwar novel The Forever War is popularly thought to be a direct reply to Troopers, though Haldeman has stated that it is rather a result of his personal experiences in the Vietnam War. (1998 SciFi.com interview at http://www.scifi.com/transcripts/1998/JoeHaldeman)

Starship Troopers was also made into a strategy/simulation board game by Avalon Hill in 1976.

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