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Starship Troopers

On Sunday, I read Heinlein's Starship Troopers for the first time.

I'm not a fan of Heinlein. To be honest, I'm not really a fan of any of those old science fiction guys, unless it's Fritz Leiber. It's a shame, really, that Leibers not more wildly known--perhaps then Michael Chabon wouldn't feel so at ease taking too liberally from the Mouser and Fafhrd in Gentlemen of the Road. Though perhaps that is too uncharitable of me, given that i've only read the first few pages, and not the rest of the book, and I don't know what he's done there. Still, the character descriptions run a little too far out of homage and into Guess-Who-I've-Stolen-From. We'll see. First impressions never last. Anyhow, not to jump off the track of Heinlein, who lets face it, I'm not a fan off, simply because I like my writing styles to be more than that flat meat and potatoes that he has. The politics I don't agree with, but that's really not something to turn me off, and in truth, I had a good chuckle reading Starship Troopers, and especially its lines about psychologists and social workers making it impossible for children to properly beat their child as they raise them in the same way you would a dog. Frankly, that's just awesome. You couldn't get that said with a straight face in a book these days.

But it was a weird reading experience, all up, because I couldn't quite shake Paul Verhoeven's satirical Starship Troopers as I went along. The book is played straight, but it's not difficult to take what is written and twist it upon its side, and make something that, in a small way, offers a counter argument to the book. In fact, in many ways, once I had finished the book, I emerged with a little bit more respect for the film. For one thing, Verhoeven chopped out content wisely: the father angle, which, when you find out that he has joined the army, and that his early anger at his son for joining was based on his own short comings and failure to do what he wanted is a real what the fuck kind of moment and when, at the end of the book, the two of them are standing together and sharing a familial touch before a drop, the son ranked higher than the father, a reversal in their roles from the start of the book, you can't help but want to laugh at the stupidity of it. Likewise, the film made stronger connections with the three main characters than the book did: the death of Carl, done absently, done with a flick of the narrative wrist, shows where Heinlein's interests lay, and where they did not. Likewise, the relationship between Johnny and Carmen isn't any kind of thing at all, and she, like all the females in the book, are either parental figures, or hot little chickie babe pilots that the men want to get into the sack. I wouldn't exactly say women get the best portrayals in the film, but it's winning over the book.

Like I said, it was a strange reading experience. I think, if I hadn't seen the film, I would not have made it to the end. It's fairly preachy for such a tiny book, but the two make an interesting conversation between each other, and while I'm not sure what Heinlein would have made out of that, I must admit, I have to give Verhoeven a few props for pulling that off. I'll have to track down a copy of the film and watch it again, I reckon, if only so I can see how well he subverted the legless soldier scene.

Comments

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drjon
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)
Worth reading is Haldeman's Forever War, which was a Viet Vet SF writer's response to Heinlein's book.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:40 am (UTC)
yeah, i read that ages ago. i like it--strangely enough, it plays well with teenage girls.
drjon
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
Well, it's also a love story.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)
heh. that's not what they're geling with, i don't think.

i used to teach it in a course i did, as an intro to spec fic. it had the whole vietnam war thing, so i used that. no matter how many times i did it, about 75% of the girls in there listed it as their favourite of the excerpts they got. i always thought it weird, but maybe it had to do with how i presented it.
drjon
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
;}P>
They're hot for you, man.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:59 am (UTC)
Re: ;}P>
well, like, obviously.
ex_chrisbil
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
Ah, I have that in the Gollancz shiny classics from last year. Haven't read it yet, but I must... should I read the Heinlein first?

I haven't even seen the film...
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
as a novel, i think heinlein will pretty bland if you don't have the others to contextualise it. well, the film at least--THE FOREVER WAR is about the vietnam war, and doesn't really interact with STARSHIP TROOPERS, if you ask me.

FOREVER WAR is a good book, though.
ex_chrisbil
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
I'll dive straight in, then.
drjon
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
It's a powerful Anti-War book. Heinlein was one influence upon it. The Vietnam War was another.

If you think you should you read up on the Vietnam War before starting Forever War, then by all means also read Starship Troops first.

Myself, I don't think it's necessary ;}P>
ex_chrisbil
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
Ought to fit in with the Vonnegut I've been reading the last few months, then. I know a fair bit about the Vietnam war, so I guess I'll get by.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:59 am (UTC)
Havent read that Heinlein book but i thought the Verhoven flick rocked. I was dismayed at how many folks I knew who saw that film did not consider it to be satirical.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)
the first time i saw it, i didn't. but i think it was in how the film was presented to me--i thought i was getting a straight flick, y'know? and then my friends and i went in, and we got something that wasn't.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
I've seen it many times and I cannot see anything but satire in it. I just don't get what other people were seeing there.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:06 am (UTC)
the first time i saw it i had no idea what i was getting. took a second viewing--but that's how it is sometimes.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)
I think several folks I know had it in for Verhoven before they even walked into the cinema, based on some of his earlier works.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
weird. i like some of his earlier stuff--ROBOCOP, for example. the only other films that jump to mind are BASIC INSTINCT and TOTAL RECALL, both which are funny, but funny cause they're bad.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
I think it was Showgirls that left a bad taste
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
oh, yes. well, that was an awful film, it's true.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
I loved Robocop though.
paulhaines
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
You do know of course that V secured the rights for Starship Troopers when they realised that there was significant overlap in the almost finished screenplay they were writing/working on/filming?

Hence a lot of Heinlein fans hated it because it wasn't the same story, just a similar one, and instead a very funny one. And you can't have that in classic SF unless tentacles are caressing breasts. Not bugs. Never bugs.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC)
but classic sci fi is all about the bugs!!!
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
really? i never knew that. it plays nicely off the book for something done that way.
ashamel
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
It's been ages since I've seen it, but it always seemed to me that considering it satire was wishful thinking.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC)
see it again. Its full of jokes. SATIRICAL jokes!
jack_ryder
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:49 am (UTC)
I dunno. I found it very funny. Voerhoeven in his DVD commentary (purportedly - I haven't heard it yet) talks about how he found the fascism in the original novel so distasteful he had to turn it into satire.

(Voerhoeven's breakthrough film was Soldier of Orange - the same film that brought Rutger Hauer to Hollywood's attention - and that was very much an antiwar film.)

Still - it doesn't explain Showgirls or Hollow Man though.
deborahlive
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
Your Secret Life?
Something you want to share with us, Ben?



Hmm?
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
...okay, that's a little disturbing.

...

no, really.
deborahlive
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
Well, yeah. I happened to see these guys on a commercial for a Monster Christian Rock Anthems compilation today and I thought, whoa, that's weird.


benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
yeah. well. normally the monster christian rock thing would be worth a joke there, but, like...

my god.

i need to have a conversation with my mother.
deborahlive
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:55 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
Maybe there's a blackmail angle here.

I did not just say that...on Sunday...
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:57 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
Christ on a bike, that dude looks TOTALLY like Peek!!!
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
it's fucking weird, isn't it?

fortunately he doesn't look like me in other vids.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
it's monday here.
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
come to think of it, when we were in America, I did not see all that much of Peek. Was this because he was off recording songs about Jesus? Yes, I think maybe it was!!!
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
shut up! this is really disturbing me!
catsparx
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
Hallelujah brother! You are so busted.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
this is so fucking weird. i keep watching videos.
deborahlive
Jan. 14th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC)
Re: Your Secret Life?
Oh, now I feel bad for posting it... sorry!

(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 03:22 am (UTC)
yeah, apparently me and jesus are a lot closer than i thought. it's like i been brain washed and ended up as the lead singer of a christian rock band.
cassiphone
Jan. 14th, 2008 04:19 am (UTC)
I had a similar experience, reading the book after the film (though straight after) and I found it fascinating experience to look at the relationship between the two.

And yeah, I don't think enough people see how smart a film that was, it looks like cheesecake sci fi (and of course at times it IS cheesecake sci fi) but it had some really interesting undercurrents in it, and I loved all the jabs about the shiny future media.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 05:18 am (UTC)
those shiny media things i'd seen before though--they're in ROBOCOP.
alawston
Jan. 14th, 2008 09:23 am (UTC)
I lazily described Starship Troopers as a right-wing misogynistic book the other week, and some blogbore started banging on about Heinlein's female characters being terribly positive. There was no way I was going to bother rereading it, so I let it go, but it's nice to see others share my interpretation.
benpeek
Jan. 14th, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
you know, i don't think i've ever heard anyone--even people who like heinlein--say his female characters were good. it's certainly not the case in STARSHIP TROOPERS, i can assure you.
fred_mouse
Jan. 14th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
I think that the standard line is that he has three characters - old Heinlein, young Heinlein, and Mrs Heinlein. I love his stuff, but I read it with exactly the same part of my brain that I read McCaffrey's stuff. And that I read Rice's stuff when I was a teenager. Which is to say, the bit that isn't interested in interpretation, or critical reading, but in the pretty way the words are strung together.
ataxi
Jan. 15th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
I've not read Gentlemen of the Road yet, but I peeked inside in a bookstore the other day and noticed it was dedicated to Michael Moorcock. Since Moorcock's always been quite clear about his debt to and admiration for Leiber's Fafhrd/Mouser stuff it can't be too bald a heist, then ...
benpeek
Jan. 15th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
yeah, i dunno, like i said, i haven't read the more than the first pages. i'm hoping it's not, but the descriptions of the two...
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