This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced one fantasy author.
by Robert A. Heinlein
When I was in my early teens, I discovered science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. I believe the first novel of his I read was Stranger in a Strange Land, an excellent book though it’s not for everyone. I found I enjoyed Heinlein’s prose, but I also liked that his stories had strong themes and messages without bashing me over the head with it.
What amazed me even further was the inability by myself to label Heinlein. Obviously he was a science fiction author. But socially and politically speaking, his fiction was all over the place. Stranger in a Strange Land, for instance, is obviously a left-leaning work with ruminations about the hippy culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Starship Troopers, on the other hand, is a right-leaning, flag-waving, rah rah, let’s go kill the enemy kind of book.
I liked that. I liked that one author had more layers to him than the simple ones defined by American social and political and public culture. I like the fact Heinlein’s fiction couldn’t always be so easily labeled from a cultural viewpoint.
For one thing, it mirrors my own personal viewpoint and opinions. Politically speaking, I’m middle of the road, conservative on some issues and liberal on others, and mixed on a bunch. My personal feeling is to classify every single thing in the world by only two narrow viewpoints is not only silly, but it’s also dangerous. It’s also a disservice to other humans, though it can make for entertaining news coverage.
So now you know one of the reasons I love Heinlein’s writing.
But why do I love Starship Troopers in particular?
As I mentioned above, it’s military science fiction at its most hardcore, with a definite bias towards the military mindset. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. In fact, I love it in this novel
There is some fun action/adventure in this novel, but there’s much more than that. There’s a lot of philosophy here, and it never feels heavy-handed, at least not to me. The book explores issues of warfare, soldiering and the like from the soldier’s point of view, while also veering into topics of citizenship, and raises questions about rights. Who should have particular rights within a society? Everybody? Only certain types of citizens? Should veterans have more rights? All intriguing questions.
Starship Troopers does offer some answers, but it tends to shy away from definitive ones while sticking to broader philosophical viewpoints.
This book caused Heinlein grief from his left-leaning readers, but so what? As I said, he was obviously an author who at the least could appreciate more than one viewpoint. To me, that’s not only a sign of a good writer, but of a decent human being.
Up next: World War Z