My name is Spencer (formerly known as Dr. Paleo Ph.D.).
I am many things. I'm a 22-year-old, Bible-believing Christian. I trust my savior Jesus Christ above all else, and strive to follow Him unceasingly. My soul is that of the warrior's, and I seek to fulfill my duties as such. I am science-minded, and am pursuing a career in dinosaur paleontology.
I am for my God, and His Word, the Holy Bible. I am for the literal six-day interpretation of the Creation account as found in the book of Genesis. I am for my country and its military, and I will give my support to those who defend this nation and its people, even if it means that we are forced to wage war. I am for homeschooling, the rights of parents and the unborn, the Biblical family, and courtship. I am for the rights of gun owners, and believe in carrying. I am for martial arts, and advocate the study of those means necessary to protect the family, the faithful, and the defenseless. I am for the dying ways of chivalry; "Women and Children First!" is a creed well worth dying for. I am for conservatism, and did I mention that I'm also a states' rights Confederate flag-waving Rebel?
This is me.
Welcome to my blog.
"Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave." --Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson
"God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and all would be equally brave." --Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson
"Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less." --Robert E. Lee
"Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” --Martin Luther
"Never give in—-never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." --Winston S. Churchill
"Look! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here today and we will conquer! Rally behind the Virginians!" --Gen. Bernard E. Bee
Book Review: Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Ace Books, New York, 1987 (1997 edition?), 263 pages
For those of you who may be familiar with the title "Starship Troopers", you probably will instantly think of the film. And if you know anything about the film, you'll likely also instantly think, "What the heck is Spencer doing reading THIS???"
Bear with me; first, the film is vastly different from the book and I'm going to have to ask those who are familiar with the film to completely forget about it for the duration of this review. Second, the only reason I picked this one up is because it is apparently on the reading list of the United States Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. That was something I simply had to check out.
I will tell you this right here and now: I got much more than I expected. This review is going to result in what may be one of my strangest positions on a reviewing subject I've yet taken.
This is Heinlein's most controversial work, often called militaristic, or even fascist. I approached this one with caution, yet interest. If it really was such a great military book, it might have some value to me...but then again, if it's got aliens (or worse?) in it, then perhaps it wouldn't be so great. There was only one way to find out!
Set in the future, the story centers around a young man named Juan Rico and his progression from boy to man in the Terran Mobile Infantry. The novel was short, but much more meaty than most fat books you come across these days. To the dismay of many novel readers no doubt, Heinlein's telling of the story is not chronological, hopping around with flashbacks (although it is written well enough to feel very smooth), and it can't quite called a character story either. Heinlein never sets aside a few pages to tell of Rico's likes or dislikes, his physical attributes, or anything along those lines. However, what I found so amazing was that, by the end of the book, you realize that the author has created a deep, compelling character without even really "creating" a character! Very well done, indeed.
Enlisting unexpectedly--almost accidentally--along with his best friend and a very fair young girl, Rico finds himself placed in what is called the "Mobile Infantry". Apparently it's all he's qualified for, even though it was pretty much his last choice as to the branch of service. From then on until about halfway through the book, it's all about training. Rico and his fellow recruits are put through what could be the world's harshest boot camp. Many do not make it. Many quit (long story short, anyone can resign). Others literally die. But a few, a very select few, make it through. Their biggest hurdle is themselves; Heinlein deals with what is called getting over the "hump" in depth.
Once past his hump, Johnnie Rico eventually takes part in interstellar wars against the "bugs" (spider-like aliens) and even against the "Skinnies" (humanoid aliens). He ends up going to officer school...and if I told you much more, I'd start spoiling some things.
So let's sum up this story here: it's all about the military. Rico comes from a curious, questioning teen to a firm, strong soldier. That's what this book is all about.
The book flashes back and forth frequently, from the vague present (I say vague because everything isn't really time-played as in "this is now" and "this was then") back to when Rico was in high school. As stated before, Heinlein weaves these seamlessly; for instance, we only go back to Rico's high school days in order to examine a point, usually one made by his History and Moral Philosophy teacher, Jean Dubois. Now, a few words about Dubois; you either love or you hate him, it seems to be. One of the book's (arguably THE) most polarizing characters, Dubois is a no-nonsense man who relentlessly hammers his students with what he sees as the facts, and he doesn't care about ruffling some feathers in the process, either. (If I told you more about his character, I'd be spoiling some more things.) It's also quite possible (or probable?) that Dubois is a channel for Heinlein's own views, so what this man says is subject to special reader analysis.
So, do I love him, or hate him? Well, I gotta say, I loved him. Allow me to present some direct quotes for to illustrate why.
P. 92, "...nevertheless the disheveled old mystic of Das Kapital, turgid, tortured, confused and neurotic, unscientific, illogical, this pompous fraud Karl Marx..."
P. 93, "...there is an old song which asserts 'the best things in life are free." Not true! Utterly false!...Nothing of value is free."
Beyond that, Dubois is the hardened military man; I loved that. While I did disagree with him at times (p. 117, "Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense."--simply not true), can you see why I liked him? (Seriously, anyone who says all that about Marx gets big points with me! And on p. 115 he also endorses spanking children; good for him!)
Another strong character was Camp Currie's Sgt. Zim, a fierce and strong fighter of a man who has the difficult job of whipping kids into order-obeying soldiers. Time is given to this character, and he's a good one.
For a moment, let's examine some more of the military aspects of the book. Heinlein served in the U.S. Navy years prior to WWII; therefore, he never saw actual combat. This fact fits with this book here, not because it portrays combat poorly, but because it is largely about military philosophy and the military overall rather than a book of shoot 'em up scenes. (The book opens with a raid on the home planet of the Skinnies. Besides being a huge grab scene to start a novel off with, the portrayal of a daring attack here was very well done, so we know Heinlein can do it.) I didn't mind this at all; other books portray combat and it's associated horrors and all that. This one didn't need to; it portrayed so many other things that I was refreshed and excited to see in a story. It's actually rather hard to describe, unfortunately, but truly, this is one amazing military work. (Or how about this, on p. 133, ...you don't win a war by defense but by attack...)
One of the huge draws for me was the futuristic aspect of it all. What's more, in no way was it unrealistic. On the contrary, on the one hand I see reality in Heinlein's ideas, and on the other, I see what should be reality. Originally written in 1959, our own military is more similar to the Mobile Infantry than it was back then. With an emphasis on highly-trained soldiers with their own mini arsenals, Heinlein's vision of the MI was one well worth examining. Transported by corvettes (i.e., spaceships) to their destination, they then climb into capsules (hence their nickname "cap troopers") which are then shot out of the ships (the whole process being called a "drop"). These capsules have many layers which eject, etc. as the capsule falls through the atmosphere and onto the planet. These ejected portions--as well as dummy caps--serve to confuse any ground defenders who may be attempting to shoot the troopers out of the sky before they land. Once free, a series of chutes gets the man on the ground. They are suited up in powered armor, replete with thrusters, large and smaller hand flamers, shoulder-mounted rockets, and even their own personal nukes. Each man is connected to his comrades via radio, and by merely biting down he can switch radio channels. How about some radar? Heck, he can even take a drink of water if he wants to! I could go on and on about these suits and all of this stuff, but I need to refrain from going off on a tangent here, don't I? The overall workings of the Terran Mobile Infantry are something our own military should take a look at. (I also liked the concept that only combat veterans can serve as officers.)
I must admit, however, that Heinlein does not approach warfare with moral questions, as in "Is this war just?" or anything along such lines. I also took exception with them raiding a Skinnie city--killing civilians and all just isn't my cup of tea.
Another plus was a conversation (pp. 178-179) that ends up causing Rico to state that to fight a war on behalf of one prisoner, or one soldier left behind, was worth it because you simply do not leave your comrades behind. A strong statement, much easier said than done, but I'm impressed with this and am particularly prone to this way of thinking.
Now let's look at some other issues. First, I'd like to show you yet another quote that made me want to yell "Booyah!" When a recruit bails from Camp Currie and later murders a little girl (the possibility of him being a pedophile is never mentioned), Rico analyzes the situation as such:
P. 112, Well, if there was no way to keep it from happening once, there was only one sure way to keep it from happening twice. Which we had used.
If Dillinger had understood what he was doing (which seemed incredible) then he got what was coming to him...except that it seemed a shame that he hadn't suffered as much as had little Barbara Anne--he practically hadn't suffered at all.
But suppose, as seemed more likely, that he was so crazy that he had never been aware that he was doing anything wrong? What then?
Well, we shoot mad dogs, don't we?
Yes, but being crazy that way is a sickness--
I couldn't see but two possibilities. Either he couldn't be made well--in which case he was better dead for his own sake and for the safety of others--or he could be treated and made sane. In which case (it seemed to me) if he ever became sane enough for civilized society . . . and thought over what he had done while he was "sick"--what could be left for him but suicide? How could he live with himself?
And suppose he escaped before he was cured and did the same thing again? And maybe again? How do you explain that to bereaved parents? In view of his record?
I couldn't see but one answer.
To borrow a quote from the film (yes, I know, and I'm sorry) "Kill 'em! Kill 'em all!"
The religion of the book? Little, other than mentions of a padre who any religious cap trooper might see before a drop (including followers of Islam). The Skinnies apparently have some form of a religion as well.
If you saw the film, something that may have struck you is the large amount of women in the ranks. While Heinlein in no way has a Biblical opinion on this topic, he has a far more appropriate view. While women can enlist, for the most part they serve in non-combat roles. Moreover, the male and female portions of the ships are strictly segregated, and when the officers dine together, all the men must seat the lady next to them. Also of interest is this opinion here:
P. 204, Besides the obvious fact that drop & retrieval require the best pilots (i.e., female), there is very strong reason why female Naval officers are assigned to transports: It is good for trooper morale....In a mixed ship, the last thing a trooper hears before a drop (maybe the last word he ever hears) is a woman's voice, wishing him luck. If you don't think this is important, you've probably resigned from the human race.
While Heinlein may not be illustrating the structure of a pontential Christian military, he certainly has a grasp on some truths that far too many people of our day have long forgotten.
No sex whatever is to be found in the book (besides one light mention of a dubious story where some soldiers claimed to have been able to use prostitutes). The only other associated references are a few respectful portions, such as where the starved soldiers absolutely love being near, or even seeing, a fine girl. Oh, wait, there is a kiss, actually....
To be honest, I've heard a lot about Heinlein's sometimes distasteful sexuality in his books, but as this is the only one of his works I have read I cannot and will not attest to anything other than what I myself have read. This book was perfectly clean, and that is all I can say on the matter.
Later on in officer school Rico would encounter a Major Reid, another important character, albeit a little less than Dubois, who may be a voice for Heinlein, also has an interesting point, while from an Evolutionist perspective, on population control:
P. 185, "Check of proof: Is it possible to abolish war by relieving population pressure (and thus do away with the all-too evident evils of war) through constructing a moral code under which population is limited to resources?
Without debating the usefulness or morality of planned parenthood, it may be verified by observation that any breed which stops its own increase gets crowded out by breeds which expand. Some human populations did so, in Terran history, and other breeds moved in and engulfed them."
And while on the topic of Evolution, Heinlein does speak of Evolution and he does believe the idea it would appear (in one part of the book, a colonized planet with little radiation results in a lack of human Evolution).
That same quote may bring up another oft-argued concept: that Robert Heinlein was a racist. Proponents of this theory take this book's usage of the words "bugs" and "Skinnies" as derogatory racial slurs. I do not concur. In a war, are you really going to say "Let's wipe out the Respectable Arachnid Residents of Klendathu!" Er, no.... Heinlein does not appear to be a racist in my opinion, judging from this book only. The Terran Federation is filled with people of every race imaginable, and none of them are spoken of in a negative manner whatsoever. What's the big deal?
Another big controversy claims that this is a fascist book betraying Heinlein's fascist ideas. I cannot concur on this opinion either. While fascist is technically a rather fuzzy word (attempting to define the word as synonymous with "Nazi" is a poor choice), and while I certainly do not approve of much of the political structure of the Terran Federation (I don't want a Federation, I don't want a massive government, etc.), I simply can't buy the idea that Starship Troopers is a fascist story. The director of the sham-film, Paul Verhoeven, would vehemently argue this point, but then again he himself admitted to not having read more than two chapters, didn't he? Again, what's the big deal?
Though to be fair, I have to admit I dislike the idea of only veterans being able to vote. Major Reid's take on why only veterans can vote:
P. 182, "Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage. And that is the one practical difference."
p.183, "To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy."
A few other questionable concepts were the use of hypnosis to teach, train or even to create a code word that, when used by another, can cause someone to involuntarily fall asleep, genetically-altered "neodogs" partnered with a human (and also capable of speech), and a kind of specialist who can discover the bug's holes from above ground (Rico wonders if he simply has good hearing).
And now, I must bring forth for discussion my biggest and main issue with the novel: aliens. The "bugs" are mentioned just once, if I remember correctly, for the entire first half of the book. The Skinnies appear in the beginning and that is pretty much it for some time. Later, however, the bugs take a more prominent role.
I'm certainly not interested in aliens in my stories, to be sure. From a literary standpoint, though, there is seemingly something to be said for inhuman foes, but how to implement them on this grand of a scale and remain plausible and Biblical at the same time must be quite a task (never tried it).
From a biological standpoint, I did have some difficulties with the bugs. We are told that they are spider-like, with eight legs and a carapace. The structure of their societies is reminiscent of Hymenopteran insects; a warrior, worker, and royal caste (a brain caste also is present). They live in underground tunnels and chambers just like ants, but they also use machinery, spacecraft, and the warriors carry beam weapons. I found this rather hard to accept (for once, the film has a possibly better idea, although I'm inclined to say that perhaps the show Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles had the best portrayal of the bugs), but in the end it isn't of much consequence to me as I don't buy the concept of extraterrestrials period.
They certainly did not look like the bugs in the film version. These artistic representations are a bit closer, here and here. They also reminded me of the television show's jungle spiders, larger than the ones seen at here 6:10 and on, yet smaller than the one seen here at 6:27 and on. Or, just check out this old cover art. That'll do.
I didn't really feel that this was an "alien" book though, to be honest. It seemed to me to be just that way Heinlein inserted an enemy figure in the story. While everyone here should know of my opinion on alien life forms, I'm not going to delve deeply into that here.
So let me just say this. I deal in absolutes. I find aliens to be grossly unacceptable from a Biblical standpoint, therefore, any form of fiction containing them is going to get an official negative marking from me.
However.... (Yes, there's a "however")
Heinlein's book has immense value. It's a tale of the warrior, it's a tale of manhood. It's a story about duty, honor, courage, valor, discipline, and all those great things that each man must find within himself in order to be called such. I listed a lot of my likes above; I need not list them again here. For a man, this is one good book to read. I might just make my sons read it some day.