…but it has inspired a lot of other great novels.
I have never really been a big fan of Robert Heinlein’s Hugo award-winning novels. It is my speculation that he was admired for his interesting short-fiction and juvenile novels, which are, in my opinion, much better than his long-form fiction geared towards adults. I believe that the awards were intended as encouragement for him to produce adult novels of the same caliber as his other work.
Of course, this is probably only all in my head. Some people really connect with Heinlein’s novel “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Originally published in 1961, one can see a lot of the counter culture movement of the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s in that novel. It makes you wonder if art was intimidating life at the time or the other way around.
The only novel that I found somewhat engaging was Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” which was perhaps the best example of early military science fiction. It was also mercifully shorter than his other award-winning novels, but still present was the tendency for his characters to get on a soapbox in several places in the story to promote some odd philosophy or alternate lifestyle that interested the author. I could never understand why he couldn’t work these ideas into the story and move the narrative along at the same time. I also feel that these long lectures were also inserted to flesh out his work to novel-length without really having to come up with additional nuances for the story.
The 1997 movie based on the novel is for me one of the very few times that I enjoyed the movie much more than the book. Although some of the interesting aspects of the book’s story were missing, also gone were the unnecessarily long speeches. A lot of the movie is also done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion to poke fun at the source material and the times it was written in.
Having noted all this, I do feel that “Starship Troopers” did inspire at least three great novels. The first that comes to mind is Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War” which has a lot of the same basic plot elements of a war between aliens and humans. The war aspects of the novel are taken from Haldeman’s own experiences in Vietnam. What stood out for me in this novel was the author’s depiction of the difficultly of conducting warfare in space given problems with inertia in order to obtain near light speeds for space travel and problems soldiers face with time dilation traveling at near-light speed. A tour of duty for one year means that 25+ years have passed on earth, so on top of dealing with the typical horrors of war, the soldiers also have to deal with the fact they can never really return home as each future Earth evolves further and further away from the familiar.
The next novel that comes to mind is Orson Scott Card’s novel, “Ender’s Game.” However, Card claims that he never read Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” but I have the feeling that it is possible Card read the book as a youth and just didn’t remember it specifically, but it still had perhaps a subconscious impact on his novel. Like “Starship Troopers, Card’s book features a war against a race of insect-like aliens. Here the recruits are genius children learning combat in a military battle school. Their final training exercise comes with a memorable twist at the end.
Finally, John Scalzi pays homage to “Starship Troopers.” in his novel “Old Man’s War.” This time it is septuagenarians nearing the end of their lives on Earth who are offered a chance to inhabit new genetically augmented bodies in exchange for enlisting in an interstellar army which does battle with many different alien species in order help colonize precious habitable Earth-like worlds.
While I think it is good to read Starship Troopers for its influence on science fiction, particularly military science fiction, I still cannot whole-heartedly recommend it, as I can these other three novels that it influenced.
Below are links to the novels you can check out on Libby or Overdrive:
Starship Troopers e-audiobook:
Forever War e-book:
Ender’s Game e-book:
Ender’s Game e-audiobook:
Old Man’s War e-book:
From RB Digital:
The Forever War e-audiobook: