Top critical review
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on August 22, 2002
Less a slam-bang action-fest than a gutsy personal analysis of what makes for a realistic and attainable utopia, Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" fails to achieve great heights not because of the author's political agenda (the reason this book is continually labelled controversial), but simply due to poor pacing and a less than fully developed plot.
Told from the perspective of Juan Rico, one of the Terran Federation's armored Mobile Infantrymen, Heinlein's novel follows Rico's journey from listless graduate to raw recruit to battle-hardened warrior. Along the way we are treated to numerous socio-political asides on why the story's right-wing form of government works and why previous ones failed. Rico's military training is explored in convincing detail, and is in fact the backbone of the book.
Therein is some of the problem--Heinlein's never-ending seminars tend to get repetitive toward the end of the book, and Rico himself seems to run out of anything new to say. Other characters, including Rico's would-be sweetheart, Carmen, are barely developed and are only rarely shown interracting with the narrator. Moreover, despite its billing as a first-rate adventure yarn, there are only a few battle scenes and what we do get are over quickly and often only vaguely described--except for the opening scene, easily the most exciting part of the book and after which everything else is a slow letdown.
None of which makes "Starship Troopers" a bad book. The military and political evaluations are genuinely interesting FOR AWHILE and the whole is leavened with Heinlein's inimitable quirky sense of humor. If only Heinlein had developed the plot and its characters a bit more, this would have been a truly fine novel. As it is, it's still worth a look as long as you know what to expect: this is a political commentary, not sci-fi excitement. At the very least, it's better than the movie.