Posted by: Jacqui Murray | September 2, 2011

Book Review: Starship Troopers

This review of Starship Troopers (Ace, 1987) is from Chief Petty Officer (ret) and critically-acclaimed award winning author of Sea of Shadows,  Jeff Edwards. Jeff’s naval career spanned more than two decades and half the globe – from chasing

book review

USMC recommended

Soviet nuclear attack submarines during the Cold War, to launching cruise missiles in the Persian Gulf.  Collectively, his novels have won the Admiral Nimitz Award for Outstanding Naval Fiction, the Reader’s Choice Award, the Clive Cussler Grandmaster Award for Adventure Writing, and the American Author Medal.  You can visit Jeff online at

This review is part of an ongoing series highlighting books on the USMC Book List.

Starship Troopers 

The book was better than the movie.  Most of us have heard (and said) those words so many times that they’ve become a cliché.  In the case of Starship Troopers, it would be more accurate to say that the book bears almost no resemblance to the movie.

The 1997 Paul Verhoeven film adaptation is a frenetic jumble of gory combat engagements against hoards of ferocious CG aliens, punctuated by a half-hearted love triangle and some gratuitous nudity.  By contrast, Robert Heinlein’s 1959 science fiction novel contains no gore, no sex, and only a few instances of actual combat.  The movie is about mindless warfare.  The book is about the mindset of the warrior.  In other words, don’t let the senseless action of the movie fool you.  If you haven’t read the book, you don’t know what Starship Troopers is all about.

Set in a future where space travel is common, the novel is a first-person narrative told by Juan (Johnny) Rico, the only son of a wealthy family from the Philippines.  Raised in security and comfort, when he reaches his eighteenth birthday, Johnny has every possible privilege, except one.  He can’t vote, because the exercise of political franchise is not a right.  It cannot be bought, and it can’t be conferred.  It has to be earned, either by a term of military duty, or by some other form of difficult/hazardous public service.  The reason behind this custom is a source of ongoing discussion throughout the book, but it can ultimately be summed up by a short quote from Thomas Paine.  That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.  Citizens in the fictional society of Starship Troopers don’t take politics lightly, because they’ve earned the privilege to vote the hard way — through blood and personal sacrifice.

Johnny Rico doesn’t join the Army because he wants to vote.  He practically stumbles into the military by accident, tagging along when his High School buddies Carl and Carmen go down to the Federal Building to enlist.  Carmen wants to be a starship pilot; Carl wants to be a scientist, and Johnny doesn’t know what he wants to be.  He’s just stringing along because that’s what his friends are doing.

Johnny — who doesn’t have Carl’s technical aptitude or Carmen’s gift for advanced mathematics — becomes a grunt in the Mobile Infantry, better known as the MI.  The story follows him through the rigors of basic training, where he learns to wear and operate the powered battle armor that gives the MI its name.

Over the past several decades, pop culture has been flooded by images of robotic exoskeletons, cybernetic combat suits, and other high-tech reimaginings of the armor worn by knights during the middle ages.  If the military gadgetry of Starship Troopers seems familiar to you, keep in mind that Heinlein did it first.  His 1959 descriptions of powered combat armor and its associated weaponry were the inspiration for all the writers, artists, and animators who came later.

The armor plays a major role in the story, from Johnny’s struggles to master its use, to a number of exciting battles where we see this amazing hardware put to the test on the soil of hostile alien planets.  The combat sequences are fast paced, tense, and powerful, without being graphically violent.

Ultimately the story isn’t about high-tech weapons, star travel, or even the future.  Stripped of its science fiction trappings, Starship Troopers is a thoughtful examination of the nature of military service.  It explores the challenges of leadership, the interdependencies of responsibility and accountability, and the moral philosophies that differentiate a true Soldier from an armed brute who happens to wear a uniform.  It’s a hard look at the relationship between a warrior, and the society that he or she is sworn to defend.

In the hands of a lesser author, a novel of this type could easily bog down in a quagmire of political arguments.  But Heinlein was not called the Dean of Science Fiction for nothing.  As thought-provoking as Starship Troopers is, this also happens to be one hell of a good read.  Although the action is intermittent, there’s more than enough of it to satisfy any fan of military thrillers.  The pace is brisk; the style is compelling, and the entire package carries Robert Heinlein’s signature stamp of excellence.


I rate this book as 5 (out of 5) Anchors.

I’m already thinking about reading it again.

If you’ve read any of the books on the list and would like to guest a review, leave a comment. I’ll contact you.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member SIGCT, a columnist for, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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  1. […] Book Review: Starship Troopers ( […]


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  3. […] Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein […]


  4. […] have a blast with them in the later years, but that would be moving away from the original novel by Robert A. Heinlein. I say, come up with some reason to bring a few back from the dead and get the fans of the first […]


  5. […] a blast with them in the later years, but that would be moving away from the original novel by Robert A. Heinlein. I say, come up with some reason to bring a few back from the dead and get the fans of the first […]


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