Rich Erlich, Science Fiction, etc.                  <210 StGd STFW>

Draft 2.1: June 1991, 1996, Biblio.: 1997, corrections 15/XI/97

 

 

Study Guide for Starship Troopers (1959) and

The Forever War (1972-74; as novel, 1974)

 

 

TEXTUAL NOTE/OPPORTUNITY:

         Starship Troopers may be reissued soon if the film version finally comes out (scheduled release: 7 Nov. 1997) and is popular.  As of August 1997, it is available in an old Berkley edition with an insectoid spaceship on a greed cover, and in an Ace edition in SF/F purple and grey, with a heavy-metal warrior on the cover.  They are set from the same plates, and I've never noticed a difference. 

         The Forever War is available in three variant forms: the 1974 Del Rey edition from Ballantine, with a samurai space-warrior and clocks on a white, green, and black cover; a 1991 Avon edition with a black cover, on the front of which is "a futuristic soldier who looks like Robin Williams in a funny hat"—and cyberpunkish leather jacket and mirrorshades; and a 1997 AvoNova Avon edition, with a black cover, Haldeman's name in large red letters, several blurbs praising the novel, and something in bronze-color on the front cover, which could serve for an SF Rorschach test. 

                  1974 Ballantine: If you read criticism on FW, this is the version they are probably writing about.  The "Sergeant Mandella: 2007-2024 A.D." section, however, is in large part not what Haldeman originally wanted but the section he wrote for Ben Bova, editor of Analog magazine, when FW was being serialized prior to its novel publication.  What Haldeman wanted was the "Sgt. Mandella" section to be a novella he called "You Can Never Go Back"; Bova thought that novella "too downbeat for Analog's audience."  In both "You Can Never Go Back" and the 1974 "Sgt. Mandella," the male and female protagonists return to Earth after their first tour of duty in the Forever War against the Taurans; what is different, primarily, though not entirely, is what they find on Earth. 

                  1991 Avon: Restores Haldeman's "You Can Never Go Back," renames it "Sergeant Mandella: 2007-2024 A.D.", but makes no other changes in the text, making for some inconsistencies.  So, the 1974 and 1991 editions are very similar except, primarily, in the 1974 version Sgt. William Mandella and Cpl. Marygay Potter return to a modernist dystopian Earth, where the U.N. (and the United Nations Exploratory Force) run a neat, happy-face, beehive planet, where there's little space for people and where you get medical care only as long as you fit the bureaucratic criteria that say you deserve it.  Mandella's mother isn't deserving under the guidelines and dies.  In the 1991 version—the one written earlier—William and Marygay return to a nastier, rougher Earth, closer to cyberpunk and the postmodern.  There, Marygay's parents are killed violently, but William's mother survives, and lives with her lesbian lover. 

                  1997 Avon: Basically the 1991 edition with Haldeman's brief intro. and the inconsistencies corrected—and Haldeman adds just enough of the 1974 version (117-20) to kill off William's mother in addition to Marygay's parents. 

 

         So, at least for a while, different members of the class are likely to have different "Sgt. Mandella" sections—the middle of FW.  That is confusing, but it is also an opportunity to look at dystopias ("bad places") in modernist forms and funkier (postmodernist? cyberpunk?) forms, and to do some very old-fashioned textual studies with a very contemporary story. 


     1.  For Starship Troopers:

 

         A.  Note the following famous passage from the Book of Isaiah, ch. 2 (repeated in Micah 4.1-4 [I modify the AV text]):

 

         It shall come to pass in the last days

              that the mountain of the house of the LORD

         shall be established as the highest of the mountains

              and shall be exalted above the hills;

         and all the nations shall flow unto it,

              and many peoples shall go, and say:

         "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

              to the house of the God of Jacob;

         that he may teach us his ways

              and that we may walk in his paths."

         For out of Zion shall go forth Toràh,

              and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

         And he shall judge among the nations,

              and render verdicts for many peoples;

         and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

              and their spears into pruning hooks;

         nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

              neither shall they learn war any more.

                                 (vss. 2-4)

 

 

This prophecy by Isaiah is echoed in the religious version of "Down By the River Side" and in what Juan Rico calls "Don't wanta study war no more" (ch. XII, p. 137)—which is what Heinlein refers to directly in Starship Troopers (ch. XII, p. 147; see also Heinlein's The Puppet Masters [1951], last two pages).  Note very well that at least two of Heinlein's protagonists call into question the teaching of Isaiah that the Kingdom of Messiah will come and will be peaceful and that such peace is to be desired.  That's pretty gutsy with Heinlein; not too many people attack Isaiah.

                   If you want to see Heinlein exemplifying godly, America in the 1950s, you need to deal with Heinlein's heterodoxy.  Consider the possibility that Heinlein was no Christian, and also the possibility that some 1950s-style nominal Christians can like Heinlein's work because they're not all that orthodox either.  (Note the 19th-c. idea of "muscular Christianity": Christianity purged of its feminine, wimpish, "peace/love/dove stuff" and rendered properly macho.)

 

         B. 

              Thomas Jefferson et al. (punctuation modernized): "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable [sic] rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" (Declaration of Independence, finally approved and signed 4 July 1776). 

              Jean V. Dubois, Lt.-Col., M.I., rtd.: ". . . a human being has no natural rights of any nature" (ch. VIII, p. 96).  Dubois continues to refute Jefferson et al. in detail. 

                   If you want to see Heinlein exemplifying patriotic Americanism in the 1950s, you need to deal with Heinlein's political heterodoxy.  How can one push Americanism while setting up a very authoritative spokesman, Col. Dubois, who denies the central tenets of traditional American ideology?  (Hint: Jefferson et al. were revolutionaries pushing the radical new doctrine that had grown up to support capitalism: Liberalism.  While such revolutionaries were setting up a "revolutionary secular republic" [as Anthony Burgess has described us], a lot of White folks in the united colonies revolting against the Crown were breeding and raising kids to be part of the new American "Christian nation" [as the Religious Right describes us].  Heinlein may just eliminate God and Christianity and have us as a nation, which patriots should support without a lot of idealistic to-do about what might be the purpose of the American—or whatever—State that protects the survival of the nation.  Note this "Fourth of July Paradox" very well: the struggle for the definition of America as republic [an Enlightenment intellectual sort of thing] or as nation [a tribal sort of thing that can get our emotions] continues unto this day.)

 

 

     2.  Joe Haldeman has stated that he did not have Starship Troopers in mind when he wrote The Forever War; believe him, but still consider The Forever War as Haldeman's answer to Heinlein.  (Biographical note: Heinlein was a naval officer between the two World Wars but was mustered out because of illness before he could fight in W.W.II; Haldeman was a grunt in Viet Nam.)

 

 

     3.  For research on Starship Troopers, see H. Bruce Franklin, Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction (Oxford, UK, and other cities: Oxford U P, 1980).  Starship Troopers is handled at length in the section, The End of an Era: Starship Troopers and "All You Zombies—" in ch. 5, "New Frontiers: 1947-59."  Below, I paraphrase several of Franklin's points (page numbers here to Franklin, where needed for clarity, Franklin's title given as RAH).

 

         a.  Starship Troopers planned as 13th novel in Heinlein's juvenile Space Epic cycle for Scribner's; Scribner's, though, rejected it as too militaristic.  Putnam's published it, and Heinlein's next six novels.  HBF finds these Putnam's novels quite depressing after the liberatory themes and pure joy of RAH's juveniles (110).

         b.  During same period: Heinlein's classic short story, "All You Zombies—" (frequently reprinted and readily available; see William Contento, Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections).  For all their differences, HBF sees a close fit between Starship Troopers and "Zombies."

              "Zombies" is a time-travel story in which a recruiter of the Temporal Bureau meets himself coming and going, ultimately finding himself his own mother and father—and the person recruited.  All this is symbolized in the ring he wears alone in bed in 1992: engraved on it is Ouroboros, the World Snake eating its  own tail, the emblem of his loneliness in the void created by his own solipsism (RAH 122).  Franklin quotes last lines of "Zombies": "I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from? / . . . / There isn't anybody but me—Jane—here alone in the dark.  /  I miss you dreadfully!"

         c.  Starship Troopers glorifies militarism, but for HBF "All You Zombies" shows us militarism's essential hollowness.  The novel exalts death and destruction, but "Zombies" wants to avoid war's horror and indeed the whole horrible history RAH glimpses in our future (RAH 123).  Starship Troopers may glorify the military life, but its source is the same as the cry of pain of "All You Zombies—" (111).

         d.  PARAPHRASE FROM RAH:

     "The model for and precursor of Starship Troopers was the Hollywood World War II film, idealizing America's fighting         (whatevers). 

     Recruiting: tough old war vet recruits soft, spoiled naïf. 

     Basic Training: Drill Instructors from Hell inflict what appears to be "calculated sadism" upon the recruits, while the real reality is that the DIs truly love their boys, and all the pain was vital for combat survival.  Indeed, much of the novel is what P. Hall and R. Erlich call Portrait of the Artist as a Young Warrior, through OCS and initial combat. 

     Cast: In the W.W.II flik, you got typical platoon representing America, Land of Diversity (in a bit of business going back to ca. 1600 and Shakespeare's Henry V): Smith, Jones, Kawalski, McGruder, Glendower, Schmidt, Wu, Jefferson, Schwartz, Vanderbilt, Romano, Knutson, Ozeki, Romanov . . . .  In Starship Troopers we get a typical selection of Terran youth. 

     HBF, however, stresses the differences between Starship Troopers and the W.W.II Hollywood movie.  Starship Troopers doesn't deal with "a mass conscript army called up in a war to defend democracy—that disappeared back in the twentieth century"; Starship Troopers shows instead "the superelite force" needed for the series of wars needed to achieve Earth's "manifest destiny in the galaxy.  And the Terran Federation, the society employing this force, is ruled entirely by veterans of this elite military machine and its non-combatant auxiliaries" (111).

         e.  Franklin notes correctly that Heinlein didn't think Starship Troopers militaristic, and that there has been some debate over whether the novel is as militaristic as it seems.  He holds that militarism—the ideology—sets the agenda for the novel and determines the tone of the characters' dialog, that militarism, briefly, along with endorsing imperialism, "is the novel's explicit message."  What interests HBF is how Starship Troopers is a work of its time and gives a glimpse of the world to come.  The distance between Starship Troopers and the W.W.II film helps show the changes between the army of draftees who fought the Fascists and "the growing 'military-industrial complex' (to use the words of President Eisenhower) that was attempting to hold and expand a worldwide empire against a rising tide of global revolution" (111-12).  Franklin notes the 1976 Avalon Hill game based on the novel and the statement RAH wrote for the box praising the effects one can get having elite troopers do great and rapid damage to communal aliens like bees or ants (112). 

         f.  In the novel, Johnnie Rico learns late twentieth-century history from a series of military mentors who teach that the unrestrained democracies of the late 20th c. collapsed because their citizens took no responsibility for their exercise of sovereignty. 

Note: "Popular Sovereignty" means that the People (populace) rule.  Sovereignty remains in the People, who assign authority for limited periods of time to various leaders. 

The cause of the political collapse was a moral collapse (ca. 1987) among the "undisciplined, self-indulgent masses" (StTr ch. 8).  The military veterans of the war of the Russo-Anglo-American Alliance against the Chinese Hegemony decide that only veterans (people who have done some sort of Federal Service) have the right to vote.  During the time of the action of Starship Troopers, this is the political arrangement, and the characters see it as "the best form of government in human history"; among other things, there will be no revolution against it (they're sure) since anyone aggressive enough to be more than a parlor pinko is either presently in Federal Service or a discharged veteran and member of the Sovereign (i.e. a voting citizen).  "The underlying premise of the new social order is that the only people fit to govern the state are those willing to sacrifice their lives for the state" (114).  See StTr ch. 12.

         g.  Franklin argues against relating Starship Troopers and Heinlein's work in general to Ayn Rand's style of Capitalist Anarchism ("Objectivism") and "middle-class exaltation of the individual, especially in its extreme Randian form in which the individual is freed from all social responsibility.  On the contrary, citizenship requires a demonstration of willingness to put the Social Good ahead of not just "personal advantage" but even personal safety (StTr ch. 12).  Franklin holds that we should see Heinlein anticipating by a year or so John F. Kennedy's injunction to ". . . ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country" (115). 

         h.  Starship Troopers presents two alternatives for a modern military: large armies of draftees, or corps of volunteers reduced to low numbers by forcing out all but the most qualified (see ch. 12).  The Terran Federation relies on well-equipped elite units, arranged in pyramidal hierarchies, based on the Mobile Infantry, highly efficient killers with a relatively low-tech. operation, but very high morale and loyalty: "Thus they embody both the myth of the superpotent individual and a rigidly determined form of social cooperation" (115).  HBF sees the MI as John F. Kennedy's Special Forces in Space, "an interstellar Green Berets" (116).  With his emphasis on elite ground forces with high motivation, Heinlein was on the cutting edge of military theory for his time. 

         i. 

              Terran Federation: Socially based on voluntary cooperation and voluntary self-sacrifice, with a good deal of initiative.  Hence we've extended far into the galaxy—where we've met our equals (at least). 

              The Bugs: They're arachnoid (sort of) but hive creatures, and this galaxy ain't big enough for the species of Men and Bugs.  Like RAH's slugs from Titan in The Puppet Masters, the Bugs are "obviously extrapolations from Heinlein's conception of twentieth-century communism."  Human warfare with the Bugs, then, pits a "society of cooperating individuals" against "the communist hive," with the galaxy at stake (see StTr chs. 10 and 11).  And even as the Russians joined the Americans and English to fight "the utmost in human communism, the Chinese hordes," even so, the Skinnies switch sides to become co-belligerents with the humans against the Bugs (117-18).  There is, then, a double hierarchy moving from most communistic to most individualistic: Bugs, Skinnies, Humans; Chinese, Russians, Anglo-Americans.  All, though, are cooperative: they must be to be powerful as States. 

         j.  Franklin notes two major questions of 20th-c. politics dealt with in Starship Troopers: crime and punishment, and the Marxist theory of value.  Crime and punishment is obvious enough.  RAH's spokesmen have it that value in a Marxist system is determined by "all the work one cares to add," in making something, whether the labor is skillful or not (indeed, whether or not the commodity is finished).  The obvious refutation here is that poorly performed labor might well decrease value.  HBF says that RAH cites in explaining the labor theory of value an argument Karl Marx used as an example of what he was not trying to say; HBF says that in Marxist theory commodity value "is determined by the average amount of socially useful labor necessary to produce them [commodities] under the most technologically advanced and efficient conditions."  HBF finds RAH's attack on the labor theory central to Starship Troopers since the whole elitist social structure depends upon "the denigration of common people" in all ways, which denigration must start with devaluing their labor (118).

              QUESTION: Assume that Franklin (a Marxist) gets Marx right and Heinlein gets Marx wrong; still, is Franklin correct in his assertion in the last sentence quoted above?

         k.  HBF cites StTr chs. 6 and 12 for quotations showing that Mrs. Rico is a doting mother and not good for either Johnnie or Mr. Rico, impeding each from becoming a man and not just an economic animal that produces and consumes (ch. 12).  In the MI, Juan Rico's real father is his CO (ch. 10).  Women in the MI are beautiful objects but not to be touched or ordinarily approached.  Women do pilot ships in the Federal forces—RAH was a liberal—but they're also manage the space-going homes and deliver the "boys" into combat.  In Starship Troopers, strong emotional ties are male bonds among the Mobile Infantry (119). 

     HBF finds the psychological climax of Starship Troopers in its final passage, which shows what HBF calls "a new human order, as the female Captain of the ship prepares to deliver a father and son who have switched places, leaping to sow death and destruction to the words and tune of a song from World War II."  Push this motif to its logical conclusion, and one has a man who is both father and mother to himself recruiting himself into military service.  I.e., you'd have "'All You Zombies—" RAH's other work from 1959 (119-20), the year HBF sees ending this phase of RAH's career. 

 

 

     4.  Starship Troopers and The Forever War are handled briefly by Leonard G. Heldreth in his essay "In Search of the Ultimate Weapon: The Fighting Machine in Science Fiction Novels and Films" (ch. 12 in The Mechanical God, ed. Thomas P. Dunn and Richard D. Erlich [Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood Press, 1982]).

         a.  For analysis of Haldeman's debt to Heinlein, see a work Heldreth cites: Patrick McGuire, "Variants: Joe Haldeman's SF Novels," ALGOL, 14 (Summer-Fall 1977): 19-20.

         b.  Heldreth himself discusses The Forever War as a kind of answer to Starship Troopers, "almost a point by point refutation of Heinlein's philosophy" (130). 

              Both novels have a protagonist-narrator tell us about the development of a soldier in his craft; both feature elite forces and fighting suits; both show hypnotic conditioning.

              "In Haldeman's book . . . the attitude toward the military is far more ambivalent, more negative [than in StTr]: Mandella does what he must to survive, and he questions little because he has no time.  At the end of the novel, however, he finds out with some disgust that the military had 'armed the colonizing vessels, and the first time they met a Tauran ship, they blasted it.  They dusted off their medals and the rest was going to be history'" (131-32).

              Heldreth also traces the different attitudes "toward women and the family," arguing that sexuality in Starship Troopers "remains at an adolescent level."  Compare and contrast Rico's and Mandella's attitude toward women in general and their mothers in particular—and toward the family.  Heldreth contends that "For Mandella, a family becomes something to begin after the chaos and separations of the war are over" (132)—what of Rico?

              Heldreth finds the different views of Starship Troopers and The Forever War "succinctly contrasted by their depiction of the planet of rest and rehabilitation": Sanctuary and Heaven respectively (132).  How are the two planets similar; how do they differ?

              Heldreth argues that "The views of humankind and aliens are the greatest differences between the two novels [132] . . . .  Survival and expansion are the proper goals for a species in Heinlein's universe . . . .  Mandella has no such clear-cut view of the place of man, and the war ends only because man has evolved enough to contact the Taurans . . . , evolved into exactly the kind of entity that Johnnie Rico hates"—i.e., Man, the Kahn-clones.  "The ending of the two novels characterize their different emphases.  In the last pages of Starship Troopers Johnnie Rico leads his men and his father in the final attack on Klendathu, the home planet of the Bugs; The Forever War concludes with a newspaper announcement of the birth of [Marygay Potter-Mandella and William] Mandella's son" (132-33).

 

     5.  Consider carefully Franklin's idea of "America as Science Fiction."  If this paradoxical title points to a truth, what aspects of that truth do we see if we view StTr as representative of Cold War America in the late 1950s and FW as a post-Viet Nam novel?  What sort of vision is more popular today?  Is contemporary popular art of the sort we see in Starship Troopers or in The Forever War—or something quite different from either or both?  Would it be accurate to describe the politics of contemporary mass-market art as "post-post-Viet Nam"?  (Consider presentations of aliens on television, from Third Rock from the Sun to Alien Nation to Star Trek: The Franchise to abduction stories to Independence Day and other films [including Starship Troopers].)

 

 

     6.  Consider the significance of the names of the protagonists of Starship Troopers and The Forever War.  Juan Rico was a new and emphatically progressive hero for a novel in American popular culture in 1959: the hero wasn't a blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordic but of Filipino descent.  (TRIVIA QUESTION, but a real one: where is the Rico home?  His basic training seems to be in the USA, but does his family live in the Philippines?)  Be sure you know what Mandella (spelled "mandala") refers to.

 

 

     7.  Note the changes on Earth while Mandella is off fighting to protect his home planet—and note that Earth changes too much to be "home" for Mandella and most of the other fighters.  This alludes to the experience of American veterans of Viet Nam returning from Nam to "the world," as they said.  When they got back home, home had undergone great changes.  Does Haldeman sketch a kind of brief (e)utopia, as Heinlein does in Starship Troopers?  Does Haldeman comment positively or negatively or neither way on utopian aspirations?  (Note that Heinlein doesn't seem to approve much of utopian theory—in theory; so be suspicious of my contention that Starship Troopers is a kind of Heinleinian utopia.)