Juan Rico (or "Johnnie") never planned to join the military. But when his best friend Carl and his crush Carmen both join up, he spontaneously does so as well. The future society of Terra (Earth, of course) is ruled by the law that only people who have served a term in the military can receive full citizenship rights, including the right to vote. So that's a perk, anyway. Starship Troopers is about Johnnie's personal journey through boot-camp, the companies he is attached to at different points, and his desire to become an officer. It's also about the starship troopers in general, or "Mobile Infantry" (MI): what they are, what they do, how they're set up, how they think, and the bonds between them.
I could have used more science fiction in this novel. I mean, I've heard about it for years as the classic military sf novel; plus, it's HEINLEIN. All of the science fiction seemed marginal to the military descriptions and commentary. That being said, I loved the hints we got of the future society in this book, particularly the idea that only people who fight should be allowed full citizenship rights. I also loved the tech bits we got, like the suits and the capsules. The Bugs terrified me, easily, but I felt bad for all of the aliens in this story. They were all painted as either treacherous, stupid, or really, really freaky. The humans weren't quite to the genocide level yet, but they definitely didn't mind killing as many of the aliens as they possibly could. Science fiction is so different now, it was almost amusing.
Speaking of being out of date, I could instantly tell that this book was published before the Vietnam War. Nowadays, any US book that includes a war in its plot has to at least suggest the idea that the soldiers are all deluded, brainless machines. Soldiering can be a noble cause, from the present POV, but only if the war is without a doubt moral and just and proper, and everyone seems to have different definitions of that. This book has virtually no discussion on whether it's "right" that the soldiers don't care what war they're fighting. They care about keeping their people alive and completing whatever the mission is, no questions asked. And you know what? I kinda LOVED that. They were brave enough and loyal enough that they just did what they were asked, and trusted their officers. It was refreshing to have a military book be about the fighting and the soldiers, and not have to worry about the politics or morality. In the same spirit, I'm not going to launch into a discussion of the real-world viability of that, or the definition of a just war.
I am now going to awkwardly segue into another thing I liked about this book: the military competency. Well, generally. All of the soldiers were SO well-trained, and the officers were too, it was just fantastic. I hate reading military stuff where everyone literally FAILS AT LIFE. Some of the really high-ups were incompetent (like the Sky Marshals), but all of the people actually fighting or directly commanding the fighters were awesome. Yay!
I think my main complaint was the lack of consistent characters. Very, very few characters were present for the whole novel, or even ALIVE for the majority of the novel. The ones who lived went on and off screen with only tiny bits with our narrator. The ones who died would have a chapter or so in which we got to the point where we remembered their names, and then they were offed. Blargle. But Johnnie was a jolly good MC, so it was survivable.
Rating: 4/5 stars.
PS: This is my first read for the ""Men in Uniform challenge, and oh babies, were there men in uniform!