Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: Starship Troopers

A conversation on the Writers of the Future boards got me to looking at this book.  Comments were largely centered on how the movie was a terribly poor interpretation of Robert A. Heinlein’s epic military sci-fi novel, some going so far as to completely disavow the movie’s existence.  This got me intrigued.  Could it really be that bad?  The movie was, at best, a popcorn sci-fi action flick; check your expectations at the concession stand.  Bringing along my trusty Kobo during my vacation, I downloaded it and gave it a whirl.  To say that my initial expectations were more than adequately met would be to insult this book for the absolute brilliance of it.  The review tag on the cover states “Nothing in science fiction has even come close.”  I am here to say, unequivocally, that this particular review got it spot on.

The depth of the cultural analysis was surprising and refreshing, particularly in the context of the book’s publishing date.  That the ideas represented herein would have been considered radical, even controversial, is perhaps less so an issue nowadays compared to fifty years ago.  As a member of the military, I found Heinlein’s chapter discussing the difference between citizens’ and non-citizens’ approach to serving to protect their society to be rather poignant, given the current efforts in the Middle East.  Heinlein’s approach to humanizing and accurately demonstrating ‘Basic’ training and officer candidate training put a smile on my face; I can’t state anything to contrast Heinlein’s account and the emotions and trials I went through during my officer candidate and trade-specific courses.  This is a man who either went through exactly this same kind of process, or did some damned fine research.  I remember hitting my own ‘hump’ back in Phase 1 training, thinking at week 13 of 16 that things just weren’t worth, not working out; I got over myself, overcame the ‘hump.’  I found the action sequences and the military jargon particularly engrossing, making a terribly interesting read.

To the movie.  As a likely exercise in masochism, I’m going to have to rent it to see just how bad it was in comparison.  I don’t think I can subject my wife to this one.  I remember not particularly enjoying it back in the day, mostly action and bad acting with some decent graphics to represent the bugs.  How they made two sequels I will not quite understand; I have no intention of finding out ether.  To say they took liberties with the book is an insulting understatement.  No power armour, just a concentration on the Bugs as bad guys and the ensuing combat frivolities you can only get from Hollywood; oh yeah, don’t forget the gratuitous nudity.

I’d like to say that Starship Troopers is right up there with other greats like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. What I cannot reconcile is how the movie rendition of Heinlein’s work is so utterly unlike Ridley Scott’s interpretation of Androids; Bladerunner took liberties as well, but became a great movie that stood up on its own for the quality of it; acting, plot, complexity, computer graphics, production design, et cetera. The movie rendition of Starship Troopers did none of those things. 

I may have to reserve the right to exclude this movie from existence.

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