I just finished reading Starship Troopers the other night and I thought I'd bwog a bit on it. The first thing to do is forget the film that came out in 1997 - it has almost nothing to do with the book. Other than a couple names and one event... sort of... they could be entirely different stories. Rather, they are entirely different stories.
We follow Johnnie Rico in a first-person past-tense narrative as he recounts his journey from high school graduation through Military Infantry boot camp and service during a time of war. The war itself involves more than just Humans and Bugs (as the book cover would lead you to believe) but the other participant is such a minor player that it really doesn't matter too much - the Bugs are the Bad Guys here. I don't mind saying the ending was anti-climactic (I suppose there are other titles in the series but I'm not interested in them at all) and that my favorite parts were actually during non-combat moments. Everyone born in the Federation (read: Earth or its outlying territories) has to earn citizenship, if and when they want it, after turning eighteen. The benefits of this seem to really only be that a citizen can vote and some of the best dialogues in the book actually deal with topics like freedom, responsibility of a citizen, and why the form of government currently practiced by the Federation is superior to all others before it (and once again we have mention of the world falling to pieces as a result of our horrible twentieth-century policies... a common theme in science-fiction I'm discovering). I don't agree with everything that the author puts forth - or at least the conclusions he draws - but it was really thick stuff and wonderful to think through. There's the military stories and then it ends with a bug hunt that, I guess, is slightly more important than any other before it.
The movie is a sort of tongue-in-cheek parody of itself and I think the book is too, in ways respective to their media. The film is inter-cut with obvious propaganda advertisements to "join up" and that glorify life in the service while we see very clearly that it's bloody and far more people die (horribly) than you'd believe from the commercials. At the end you finally see the main characters featured in a commercial, which lends itself to a sense of hypocrisy that you're not certain the heroes even recognize - you'd expect them to be more honest about losing friends and such. There's far less emphasis on specific friends for Johnnie in the book but the sense of camaraderie is still present in full and lots of people die from his platoon. Where the film uses commercials to bring the propaganda element to the forefront I think the book uses the actual characters - they really do believe what they're saying. Most of the superior officers/non-coms have a part in illustrating the virtues of the Federation in one way or the other but it's not that different from our present-day situation. They're still engaged in a war without assured victory, there's still political corruption - or at least hypocrisy (represented by the inside looks we get at what happens when Johnnie is eaves-dropping on a conversation between to superiors) - and lots of people are still dying needlessly for an uncertain goal under orders from an unseen but all-powerful Authority. The book is itself its own propaganda commercial, and I think the anti-climactic ending is appropriate only in this sense. Sort of a "It's a Military Infantry thing, you wouldn't understand," conclusion, which fits because, well, I'm not.
I'd recommend the book for the thinking and not so much for the action. There's a lot left unexplained - like just about all the technology, how the bugs use weapons and spaceships (unlike in the film, where the problem is equally awkward to explain), or any policies that don't directly relate to serving... like if there even are any, or who started the Bug War and why. There's a lot of jargon related to military hierarchy and formations too, which further alienates the reader and adds to the feeling that we just couldn't possibly understand what it's like for Johnnie, even though he's telling us in his own words. There's some interesting things mentioned peripherally to the main plot too, like the prevalence of hypnosis and a sort of accepted sexism where women make the best pilots and everyone knows it but you can't ever see a girl except under rare and specific circumstances. What we really see, then, is a way of life that is touted as superior to all others while it's actually exactly the same - those "up top" use coercion in all its forms to convince the "sheeple" that signing up is not required and only for those who have a real sense of civic responsibility (i.e. those who aren't wimps) but rewarded with an ambiguously quantifiable prize in order to prolong a war against an Other that we may or may not be winning and which we may or may have not started where only strict obedience to your superiors will guarantee victory and no one soldier should be afraid to die for his comrades.
Sounds somehow familiar...
With Brightest of (Intergalactic Planetary, Planetary Intergalactic) Greens,