I don't know whether anyone else read Ender's Game with Starship Troopers this semester--or had read it before--but I just read this interesting post on the Feminist SF blog--I was actually linked to it from Paper Cuts--about Orson Scott Card's winning the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which, I also learned, is some sort of important lifetime achievement award for YA lit. The thrust of the post is that Card is a horrible bigot and shouldn't be touted as a credible voice for young people.
I'm tempted to call this novel nostalgic, for all of its debatable purpose and philosophy. Of course I wouldn't be the first to call it so, and part of the reason the jacket calls it "The controversial classic of military adventure" is the long history it has spawned of civilian readers being to some degree upset or suspicious of the almost fond way in which this future society of citizenship through military service is described; but still I had promised myself going in that I was going to try and find Heinlein's real philosophy behind the novel.
The fact that Starship Troopers is on the reading list for four of the five military academies is certainly not surprising. The book is the story of a man who finds enlightenment through his progression in the military. Johnny discovers that one must make personal sacrifices in order to be a citizen. It is a privilege that one must be willing to die for. With that said, I find it difficult to recognize any true change in the character of Johnny. Yes, he is wiser in the military trade and can regurgitate what he has been told to be true. But Johnny remains little more than a soldier.
So here it is, my very first reading response for my very first lit class!
While I was reading Starship Troopers over the weekend, I found that I was rather surprised with the parallels between the Bugs and the people of the Terran Federation. There seemed to be this common need to put the needs of the group in general before the needs of the individual. This in turn, I found a bit strange because I was under the impression that Heinlein was opposed to communism which is almost what he was advocating. Anyway, there were two parallels in particular that caught my attention.
I am currently 4 minutes and 15 seconds into the movie Starship troopers, and I am absolutely sure that is has the worst opening sequence I have ever witnessed. Perhaps it is because I just recently saw Cloverfield, which went a little too far down the documentary/shaky-cam road, but the little sequence 'on the battlefield' was RIDICULOUS. Let's even put aside the fact that a trained soldier continues to talk to the camera even though a Bug has (not sneakily at all) come around the corner and is about to snatch the soldier up in his semi-CGI, animatronic-looking maw.
We all know that it's a common trope in science fiction for ideas about divisions of race to be transplanted to racial boundaries -- as if the authors are saying, "Look, if they can get along with wookies, why can't we humans all get along among ourselves?" It's such a common device, in fact, that it becomes difficult to recognize when alien species are actually not supposed to represent ethnicities.
So a couple thoughts on Heinlein. First of all, although I agree with the below comment that alien races can imply racial connotations, I think that in this case Heinlein used the communal properties of an insectoid race to demonstrate the potential power of a communist social structure in a species adapted to it--and to show it's fundamental incompatibility with human drives. Second, I think Heinlein's discussion of the source of political power, though not directly involving race or gender as a major factor, is a potentially useful tool for understanding modern political power relations.