Uncanny Valley Digest: Starship Troopers

starshiptroopersvintagecoverLast night’s Starship Troopers discussion was the hobbyist’s jetpack! Notes follow. We were pleased to welcome new arrivals to the group from Nebraska and Brazil! Thank you Nate and Eren! Starship Troopers is cannonical sci fi, but it also validates all of the major criticisms of sci fi. Consensus: on par with Flatland.

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Heinlein’s Premises
Man lacks a moral compass beyond the will to survive. The rest is taught.
Dan – “An emphasis on the individual heroic act.”
Really simplistic dualistic human condition stuff. Right wing radio style polemics.
Rights are conferred, not innate. What right to life does a father who must protect the lives of his children? All rights must be redeemed with blood every few generations. (He does a lot of this right wing radio stuff.)
“Some B.F. Skinner shit going on here.” The Skinner box. Human beings are as human beings do.
Codified scientific theories will solve all moral and ethical problems. No accounting for intangibles.

His big premise: If we don’t kill them, they’ll kill us. Life is a Hobbsian war of each against all.

It’ ain’t that, Heiny.
Darwinian competition, sure, but there are as many examples of cooperation. Those cooperative interrelationships are more complicated than his world view will admit.
“Just because you have one opinion on one subject, doesn’t mean you’re going to act on it.” – Nate.

“What a book, man. It’s fascinating how many things it influenced.” – Nowell

The protagonist is a Spanish kid named Juan, Johnny Rico, from Buenos Aries. He’s training in Canada and the U.S. Some implicit stuff there about one world government. But Heinlein thinks it’s a great idea. He thinks it’s the farthest mankind’s ever advanced.

Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 8.57.57 PMPublishing History
He wrote the book as a break during Stranger in a Strange Land. Took a break to write a “juvenile book,” for 12 year olds.
The G. I. Joe style of writing. He’s intentionally pandering to 12 year old boys.
Published as teen fiction in a magazine serial by Putnam and Sons. “Let’s let the readers decide who likes it!,” said their PR man. (That sounds like something out of Space Merchants. [I’m glad Space Merchants comes up so often.])

Is This Satire?
It’s definitely some kind of social commentary.
Reminded Nowell of Camus’s the Stranger. Camus is writing as a tool for espousing a philosphical politcal view. Meant to convince you of an ideology.

Contrast with the way this type of alpha voice worked in Space Merchants. Heinlein rants would have been ironic in Space Merchants. He would have been demonstrating it to demonstrate the wrongness of its existence. But not Heinlein, he loves that stuff. He idealizes the militaristic hierarchy. It’s prescriptive polemic, designed to make a point. Here’s what you need to do to be a bad ass.
“Does he buy what he’s saying, or is he saying it to make fun of it?”
“I don’t see how anybody could make the argument that this is satire.” – Gill
“Satire would have to have some element of clever humor. But this is humor-less.” – Nowell
“It could be satire through exaggeration.” – Dan

Detail of Plato and AristotlePlato’s Republic?
Is this book like Plato’s Republic, where he says this is how it ought to be. Or was there a satire in there?
It didn’t smack of satire.
The characters are stamps, icons, taking us on a tour through this military government he’s imagined. Fine, why is it so long? Make it 150 pages.
“I’m going to show them what the perfect military of the future would look like.” – Gill
“I think one reason it’s annoying is that the arguments he makes are compelling, at least logically speaking.” – Rafidi
“Yes, but is it the best possible logic for the situation?”
“Like in war, his arguments are a zero sum game. So you have to completely destroy the other side to say anything against it.” -Dan

Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 7.37.21 PMPolitical Agenda
It is trying to impose a mindset, but’s just one we don’t necessarily agree with.
“Similarities between the militaries. They’re all controlled by this remote brain, and so was Rico.” – Dan
Reference to the brain bug in the movie: “All that macho military stuff and you’re trying to kill a vagina?!” – Dan
The twist of his father. It’s so weird when he sees his dad
“That was cool. But a build up would have been nice. That character arc was interesting.” Nowell.
“That’s what happens in Atlas Shrugged.” -Gill. That’s when it gets Ayn Rand oversimplistic, dualistic, rhetoric designed to get you to think something. Sales. It’s an ad, an advertisement for that viewpoint.
HA! A straw man. Flat characters that exist to prove a point. It is what was passing for a story in this.
Sorry Heiny, maybe next book. You’re just not seeing the politics because you agree with it.

Nowell, “I think the gear lust is a big factor in this. Let me take a minute to talk about the suits!! It influenced the movie Aliens big time. James cameron had all of the actors read Starship Troopers.

20150701_210339“What’s the modern equivalent of this book?”
“Ender’s Game.”
A long diversion into Ender’s Game.

Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 8.38.33 PMHeinlein The Man
He idealized military life.
He had the blue balls of war combat.
Got squeezed out of military service in 1938 after contracting Teberculosis, and never got help to liberate the world from the Axis. [this could be why he so gives such unqualified idealization of military service and combat glory]
Heinlein’s traversal of the political spectrum, ending on conservative to the point of fascist.
He attracted people from both ends of the political spectrum because of his emphasis on personal responsibility.
Heinlein liked The Fountainhead.
Strongly affected by P.D. Ouspensky
Heinlein liked the social credit movement of the 1930s. Interdisciplinary distributive philosophy by C.H. Douglas. Absolute economic security for the individual. “Not that we shall be put into somebody else’s utopia, but that we shall be put in a position to construct a utopia of our own.”
Interesting idea that both Miller, Jr. and Heinlein were writing in a way that was processing their personal military experiences.

Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 7.57.24 PM Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 8.39.18 PMScreen shot 2015-07-01 at 7.57.25 PMScreen shot 2015-07-01 at 8.57.57 PM
What would Zizek say?

Violence is not the expression of power, but the expression of powerlessness. The father who has to hit his kid to make him be quiet has no power over his child. He has more power over a friend or acquaintence.

Heinlein validates all the major criticisms of the science fiction of his era:

  • Clunky writing (He’s got a knack for sentences that prematurely diffuse suspense)
  • Weak to nonexistent story lines
  • Escapist politics
  • No women characters, but women make good pilots. (He’s a mess. THIS is his gender equality?)
  • And he peppers it with indulgent politcal rants
  • Bugs: total colonialist “Othering” of the non-white world.
  • You never see out into the civilian life. It doesn’t exist.
Sad Puppies, Hugo Awards Esoterica 2015

Don’t let them get you down.

Current Events, Sad Puppies, and The Twilight of the Hugo Awards
A group of conservative sci fi writters (Brad Torgerson among them) rigged this year’s hugo awards. The Sad Puppies slate. They stacked the ballot with conservative writers. Because of this, many members are likely to vote No Winner. This could effectively end the Hugo Awards. It’s about time.

Supplementary reading:
Haldeman’s “The Forever War.”
The liberal leftist response to Starship Troopers.

Wrap Up:
Starship Troopers is a canonical book for the time being. We can’t wait to see other books knock it off its smug perch.

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About Suhail Rafidi

Suhail Rafidi is a novelist and educator whose works explore the destiny of human values in a technological landscape. You can find him on Twitter, too, @shelldive.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books, Movies, Philosophy, Science Fiction, Sociey and Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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