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"Anyone who clings to the historically untrue -- and thoroughly immoral -- doctrine that 'violence never settles anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee..."
Lt. Col. Jean V. DuBois, M.I. (ret.)

Starship Troopers is a Military Science Fiction novel written by Robert A. Heinlein as an argument against a unilateral U.S. ban on nuclear testing, and published in 1959. It waxes Anvilicious on the merits of soldiers being willing to give their lives for their country and the proper merits of a soldier, an officer, and an army and nation as a whole. Having no combat experience himself Heinlein, an ex-naval officer, interviewed infantry soldiers and officers to get the "flavor" of ground combat for his book. The story traces the evolution of Juan "Johnnie" Rico from feckless civilian into an Officer and a Gentleman during the Bug War as a Framing Device and example. Much of the military action in the novel parallels the Pacific campaign of World War II ending at Guadalcanal.

Starship Troopers is significant, and controversial, for its description of the Terran Federation's political system. It is a limited democracy, in which only "veterans" of Federal Service are eligible to vote, run for office, hold certain jobs, or even teach some subjects at school. Federal Service must legally accept every volunteer, provided they are legally adult and mentally capable of understanding the oath they are required to take.

Long after the novel was published, Heinlein claimed in "Expanded Universe" (1980) that Starship Troopers "stated flatly and more than once" that 95% of the people who become citizens do so by serving their two years in the Federal civil Service, not in the military. However, a famous essay by James Gifford argues that the text of Starship Troopers does not support either this assertion, or the idea of non-military service generally.

A film of the novel was made in 1997, although it's a very loose adaptation that departs significantly from the novel in several places. Most notably, the Mobile Infantry of the film does not wear power armor and instead fights more like modern-day infantry.


Tropes hit by this novel:

  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: Japanese recruit Shujumi is a black belt, and able to fight Sergeant Zim to a draw on his first day of training.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Averted. Many planets are inhospitable to humans, who must wear protective armor while on them. Some have different gravity as well.
  • Amazon Brigade: Most of the Navy's pilots are women. The book explicitly states that women (in-universe if not IRL) have faster reflexes, and are better able to withstand "g" forces, which is downright crucial to the job. Pilots now and (in Heinlein's opinion) Twenty Minutes Into the Future need a strong kinesthetic sense to aviate. This is a characteristic they share with dancers and gymnasts, hence the implication that Carmencita's competitive diving skill is a manifestation of latent pilot awesomeness.
  • Ancient Tradition: The Mobile Infantry incorporate all manner of national military traditions.
  • Anyone Can Die: It's masked a little by Johnny's optimism, but pretty much anybody he mentions by name has about a fifty/fifty chance of buying it by the end.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Soldiers have to prove themselves in combat before they can go to command school and become an officer. Moreover to become a Marshal it's required that a candidate have commanded both an Infantry Regiment AND a Naval Vessel in combat.
  • As You Know: Inverted, as it's used toward the reader as an excuse to skip exposition. Specifically, Rico's narration skips over a lot about the powered armor by telling the reader something along the lines of, "I'm not going to bother telling you the details since you've already seen so much of them on the news."
  • Author Tract and Author Filibuster
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Everyone drops, with generals and other officers first on the ground, and command suits have the speed of scout suits while outdoing marauder suits in the sensor gear and weapons department.
    • They're certainly much faster than Marauders, with better sensors, but they hardly are depicted as outstripping them in the weapons department, they're equipped mostly for self-defense, only Rico and Sergeant Zim's use of the brain bug as a not-so Human Shield let them escape in the end.
  • Badass Army: The Mobile Infantry
  • Bad Luck Charm: Before going on his first training cruise, Rico is asked if he'll wear a set of officer's pips where all but one of the cadets who have worn them have flunked out due to various bad-luck causes. Rico reluctantly agrees which pleases the Commandant: he was the first one to wear them, and wants to see the jinx on them broken.
  • Band of Brothers: The Mobile Infantry. Which is why No One Gets Left Behind. Also, it's essential logistics in a Bug War; "Every time we killed a thousand Bugs at the cost of one M.I., it was a net victory for the Bugs."
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Bugs.
  • Book Dumb: Mostly Averted: Johnny thought his education was "well-rounded," even though he's deficient in math and it's revealed he took classes like "Appreciation of Television." One of his squad mates does mention that his education makes him an acceptable candidate for OCS, putting him fairly well ahead of the pack, but he still has a lot of catching up in the hard sciences. Johnny points out even an MI private has to learn so many skills he would easily be a master of many other trades if he trained as hard in them, and officers are forced to read everything from advanced natural sciences, pure mathematics, and political theory to "why Napoleon lost the big one."
  • The Brigadier and Officer and a Gentleman: every officer in the series, especially Rasczak.
  • Brits With Battleships: Rico goes through a number of different units within the Mobile Infantry, each with their own uniforms and traditions, very similar in flavor to the Regiments in the British Army.
  • Bug War: The Arachnids, also the Trope Namer.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • "What a bunch of apes!"
    • "On the bounce!"
    • "Come on, you apes! You want to live forever?"
    • "Bought the farm/Real estate deal."
  • Comes Great Responsibility: used as the justification for the Terran Federation's unusual political system: since being able to vote is the greatest power a person can wield, you have to prove you can handle it by voluntarily protecting the state and are willing to place others' needs ahead of your own by putting your own personal ass on the line.
    • The maxim "with great power comes great responsibility" is also used in the military criminal justice system. When an officer commits a crime he receives a punishment seven times greater than an enlisted man would receive because as an officer he should have a better understanding of his crime. A crime that would result in an enlisted man being flogged might result in a death sentence if an officer does it.
  • Conscription: Averted. Military service in the Terran Federation is completely voluntary, even during times of war. And even after enlisting the recruit can resign from the military any time they want, even immediately before a battle. The justification for this is that people who are forced into military service against their will make poor soldiers.
  • Corporal Punishment: Discussed at length. In the Mobile Infantry, any and all corporal punishment -- from a Dope Slap to a summary execution is legal... as long as the punisher can demonstrate that it was necessary and reasonable. Nor is it restricted to the military -- it's a civilian criminal sentence as well, and even public schools are mentioned to (rarely) use it on students.
    • A Taste of the Lash: A common judicial punishment both in the military and in civilian life. It's mentioned as the sentence for everything from drunk driving to dereliction of duty. One notable scene has Rico watching a whipping being carried out; he passes out just from watching halfway through. He's later whipped himself (though fewer lashes) and describes it as easier than watching. In both cases it's explicitly mentioned inflict pain but not harm. The conditions of the whipping are carefully controlled and the subject receives medical attention immediately afterwards -- it doesn't even leave scars.
  • Death From Above via It's Raining Men: Mobile Infantry troopers are dropped from orbit to land in a combat zone. They also have weapons that can "glass" a planet's surface from orbit but are reluctant to destroy the valuable real estate they're fighting over; it's mentioned that later in the war planet-buster bombs get developed. They are also reluctant to kill sapient beings unnecessarily so they only use the force needed to accomplish their mission.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Played with. When at OCS Johnny claims he and Carmen were dating, but she sent him a "Dear John". This is technically true, since he and Carmen went on a few dates, nothing serious, and she always begins her (occasional) letters with "Dear John". Essentially, Johnny is playing up the trope to gain some street cred.
  • Defector From Decadence: Johnnie, who joins the Mobile Infantry to prove himself instead of just climbing the ladder in his father's company.
  • Desk Jockey/Soldiers At the Rear: Both doubly subverted; Everyone in the MI fights, and other support jobs are either done by the Navy or farmed out to civilian contractors. Because all MI officers fight, and they drop first (and therefore sustain a higher casualty rate than enlisted men), officers often find themselves juggling multiple desk jobs along with their combat duty.
    • And jobs that can't be handled by either (like instructors at Officer Candidate School) are filled by officers who have been crippled, but have refused to be discharged. One notable example is the Dirty Fighting instructor, who was wheelchair bound and wore a neck brace, and could still kick your ass.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Zim, although all of Rico's instructors count.
  • Drop Pod: Trope Namer and likely Trope Maker.
  • During the War
  • Elaborate Underground Base: While some of their structures are above ground, the Bugs live almost exclusively underground.
  • Everybody Calls Him Barkeep: Rico's platoon sergeant. Revealed at the end of the book to be Sergeant Zim.
  • Evolutionary Levels: All over the place; the struggle between humans and Bugs is portrayed as one of biological imperative, not political choice. Rico visits a planet with low radiation and wonders if it will "retard" the development of future inhabitants.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Thirty Second Bomb, certainly truth in advertising, designed as a psychological warfare device to frazzle nerves.

  Thirty Second Bomb: I'm a 30 second bomb! I'm a 30 second bomb! 29, 28...

  • Fantastic Racism: most of the human characters in the book knows they might have to exterminate the Bugs to win, and are basically okay with that ("Us or them" is the exact phrase). Arguably a Justified Trope: all those characters are soldiers, and the Bugs are pretty clearly bent on exterminating us. Bugs are also a different species so calling this "racism" is a bit of a stretch anyway.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Handwaved with the "Cherenkov drive." Cherenkov radiation is a bluish glow given off when particles exceed the speed of light in the medium they are traveling in, like high energy electrons from a nuclear reactor exceed the speed of light in water.
  • A Father to His Men: Every officer and most non-coms -- maybe excepting only the inexperienced.
  • The Federation: Terran Federation.
  • For Want of a Nail: there's a novel called Armor whose setting is a direct rip-off of Starship Troopers, as admitted by author John Steakley. However, the plot and themes are quite different. (For one, there's more focus on actual fighting, which Steakley felt Heinlein didn't show enough of.)
  • Future Imperfect:
    • A bit character near the end mentions that every country has its own version of history. In his, Simon Bolivar built the Pyramids, went to the moon, and married Cleopatra.[1]
    • Also in-universe example: Rico tells a story about a Mobile Infantryman who heard that Napoleon was "the great warrior" and immediately asked: "So, where were his drops?" Subverted in that Rico clarifies that this story is most likely just a urban legend.
    • The exact chain of events which led to the Terran Federation are unknown, even to in-universe historians. The best they can do is tell where it probably started and why.
      • The scanty evidence available in the book indicates that the Terran Federation had its genesis in a series of actions by veterans returning from a world war between China and an Anglo-American-Russian alliance to restore civil order in areas (the one cited is Aberdeen, Scotland) where normal government had broken down for unexplained reasons (possibly nuclear attack?).
      • This would probably suggest that it's a kind of Spiritual Successor to the Sixth Column, where such a war is described in detail. Spiritual because the tech described in the two novels differs greatly and would've led to the entirely different history.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Even though each trooper carries a couple hundred pounds of ordnance, most of the actual fighting in the novel is hand-to-hand.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: See Chaste Hero - Heinlein skirts the trope occasionally by way of Sound Effect Bleep.
    • Johnny specifically refers to "shucks" as a curse at one point.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: An "Anglo-American-Russian" alliance is mentioned as part of Earth's history.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: The war between the Terran Federation and the Bugs (Arachnids).
  • Hard on Soft Science: Johnnie states at one point that "everything useful is based on math", and his teachers tend to have a fairly low opinion of the social sciences (see Politically-Motivated Teacher).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A major theme of the book; Rico's ship, the Rodger Young, is named after a private who did exactly such a thing during the Battle of the Pacific.
  • Hobbes Was Right: The general consensus in the novel is that the great democracies of the 20th Century all inevitably crumbled because most people are too stupid to know how to govern themselves effectively. See also Humans Are Bastards, below.
  • Humans Are Bastards: So much so that we need to work hard on our moral training to control our natural bastardness.
  • Humans Are Special, Humanity Is Superior: The latter is explicitly discussed in the book, and dismissed; superiority is not the issue. Rather, as all the characters are humans, they would prefer that humanity be the side that survives an "us-or-them" war.
  • Humans Are White: Completely averted; few characters receive much of a physical description, but last names and speech patterns allow you to read between the lines. Notably, Johnny speaks Tagalog as his native language and reveres Ramon Magsaysay, pretty much spelling out a Filipino heritage. Shijumi and Jelal are Japanese and Turkish, respectively, in a book written in 1959. Think about American attitudes towards the Japanese just a few years prior. Adaptations tend to ignore this.
  • Implacable Man: The warrior Bugs are like this.
  • Info Dump, especially in the form of classroom verbal tests.
  • Inhumanable Alien Rights: Averted. A number of less combat-oriented species are respected allies of humanity. The Federation is only at war with the Bugs because they are Dirty Communist Explosive Breeders who fight wars with Zerg Rushes; even if they loose several million Bugs taking a human world, it's a victory because they can replace those numbers and then some in a fraction of the time it takes to birth, raise and train a human as long as they have a planet to creche them on.
  • In Medias Res: The book starts with Johnny preparing for and executing a combat drop. The second chapter goes back to before he joined the military. Chronologically, the first chapter actually occurs about halfway through the book.
  • Insignia Rip Off Ritual: Played deadly seriously during the execution of a baby murderer who deserted from boot camp.
  • Insectoid Aliens
  • Kill It with Fire: Handheld flamethrowers. Text in the first chapter implies that they might be more exotic than that.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: averted. They are used in training, but rarely (if ever) in actual combat.
  • Never Found the Body: What happens to most men who enter Bug tunnels but not Rico's platoon at the end.
  • Nicknaming the Enemy: Humanity's main opponent was officially known as the Arachnids (or Pseudo Arachnids), but the MI called them the Bugs.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: "Men are not potatoes."
  • No Ending: Rico graduates from OCS after his second try, and takes command of the Roughnecks. Where he goes from there, to say nothing of the outcome of the war, are left to the imagination of the reader.
    • Although the epilogue does have them dropping down on Klendathu, the bug home world.
      • In some editions, there's an afterword that briefly mentions him making Captain, and dying.
  • The Not Love Interest: Carmen. Although she and Rico have gone on a few dates, and he's very obviously infatuated with her, nothing ever really comes of it.
  • Nuke'Em: Among their other armaments, the powered armors can be supplied with tactical nukes.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The recruiter deliberately left his prosthetics off when working to scare away gutless applicants.
    • There are also indications that the most gruesomely maimed soldiers are selected for recruiting duty to maximize this effect. In the book (but not the movie) these guys don't pretend things are better than they are.
  • Oh Crap: The intended effect of the aforementioned talking bomb, noted as being almost, if not more, important than the explosion.
  • Old Soldier: Zim and numerous other veterans.
  • One Sided Battle: Inverted; the Bugs initially get the drop on the humans.
  • One World Order
  • Planet Looters, Horde of Alien Locusts; Expansive (and exclusive) colonization is explicitly the goal of both the humans and Bugs.
    • A brief, offhand mention is made of the possibility of reaching a peaceful solution with the Bugs, but the general opinion is that they're too alien to communicate with.
  • Planet Terra: The human government is called the Terran Federation.
  • Planetville
    • Justified, as Sanctuary is pretty much just one city, which serves as both a spot for R&R, and a secondary base in case the Bugs conquer/destroy Earth.
  • Politically-Motivated Teacher: A justified example. The History and Moral Philosophy class exists to implant pro-military beliefs and encourage joining the Federal Service, so the teachers naturally push these political and philosophical values on their students. At least, that's the theory. Rico's dad thinks that they're using it to, through reverse psychology, dissuade students from signing up. Rico's own teacher, meanwhile, seems to be trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, encouraging morally able students who want to defend humanity, while discouraging crazies, glory hounds and would-be Sociopathic Soldiers. Every student is required to take the class, but passing or failing is irrelevant, giving some credence to the third theory.
  • Powered Armor: Trope Codifier for Western culture.
  • Psychic Powers: Not focused upon, but present; one "sensitive" is brought in to draw a map of a tunnel network near the end. It's the real deal, but Rico himself is skeptical. Rico also refers in passing to the "talents" assigned to Logistics & Communications (including "telepaths", "sensers", and "lucky men").
    • Even after the sensitive's skills are proven, Johnny still doubts the guy is psychic. His theory is the guy might just have really good hearing. Several comments made by the sensitive and his "handlers" would seem to back this up, but it's still ambiguous.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Heinlein states through his Author Avatar that killing is human, and specifically male, nature, so the best thing a man can do is channel his natural blood lust into defending his family/nation/race.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Johnnie is able repeatedly to read the signs when the M.I. is grooming another cap trooper for advancement. He never seems to realize they're grooming him as well.
  • Sergeant Rock: every non-commissioned officer, especially Jelly and Zim.
  • Space Cadet
  • Space Marine: One of the early defining examples of the trope, although the Mobile Infantry are never once referred to as marines, and might just as well be based on army paratroopers, except that Space Is an Ocean.
  • The Spartan Way
  • Staff of Authority: Drill sergeants carry swagger sticks that they use to hit the recruits. This is seen as more dignified than laying hands on them.
    • It also serves the purpose of ensuring that any frustrated recruit who appears likely to lash out against a sergeant is unable to get close enough to do so. One recruit ends up striking his instructor, and is given Corporal Punishment for it. The instructor is then harshly berated for letting the recruit be in a position to get in trouble because he hesitated to strike the recruit first.
  • Strawman Political: The Arachnids as Communists. Heinlein even lampshades this himself by saying that communism is okay for the bugs since they're evolved for it, but humans are different. More specifically, the Arachnids are the Chinese Communists -- Heinlein felt they were less concerned with individual lives than even the Soviet Union.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Subverted, sort of. The Mobile Infantry is exclusively male, but women serve in the Navy as pilots (and are the majority of them) and other dangerous things. Amusingly, the protagonist wanted to be a pilot and his last choice was the MI.
  • Tanks for Nothing: Tanks are explicitly stated to be useless against Mobile Infantry.
  • Team Dad: Rico describes both Jelly and Lt. Razchak as this.
    • Later, Rico and his father become this to the Roughnecks.
  • Theme Naming: Terran troop transport ships are named after either famous battlegrounds (large ships like the Valley Forge) or heroic individual soldiers (smaller vessels like the Rodger Young). This mirrors the Theme Naming practices of most real-world navies.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Denounced through the mouth of Sergeant Zim. See that article's quotes page.
  • The Reveal: The identify of Rico's unnamed platoon sergeant: Sergeant Zim
    • A minor one, but it does happen at the end of the book. Johnny's race or nationality are never mentioned, and his father's Harvard accent might lead one to think they're American, possibly of Latino extraction. Then at the end he mentions that his native tongue is Tagalog, implying that he's Filipino.
  • Training From Hell: Mobile Infantry Boot Camp is described by Rico as being extremely grueling and even dangerous at times. Out of Rico's original group of over 2,000 recruits less than 400 manage to complete their training (with a handful of recruits actually being killed from training accidents). Later in the book when Rico attends Officer Candidate School he describes it as being even harder than basic training because in addition to all the physical training and combat drills he is also required to become proficient in several academic subjects like math, science, history, military law, and strategy.
  • Un Paused: When Johnny Rico is put to sleep via post-hypnotic suggestion and then woken up again, he doesn't realize he's been asleep for more than an hour. He continues talking to the commanding officer who put him to sleep as if it hadn't happened.
  • Unusual Euphemism: To "Dance to Danny Deever" is to be hanged. (A man dropped at the end of a rope tends to bounce around for a bit.) The choice is apt, since the song "Danny Deever" is about a soldier who is hanged for murdering a fellow soldier, and apparently the tune is played at MI executions.
    • "Buying the farm" has long been a euphemism for dying. However, the soldiers often talk around this, for example calling it a "real-estate deal".
      • Most commonly, it's referred to simply as "buying it."
      • It's also a real life military slang. Another variant is "becoming a landowner".
  • We Have Reserves: Do they ever. "Every time we killed a thousand Bugs at the cost of one M.I., it was a net victory for the Bugs. ... We learned not to waste ammo even on warriors except in self-protection; instead we went after their lairs."
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Johnnie is deeply moved when he learns that his father was proud enough that he decided to join the Mobile Infantry himself.
    • Not just his father, but also his former high school teacher, whose letter saying how happy and proud he was that his former student had joined his his mobile infantry helped him through a significant psychological barrier. The same instructor later indicated how proud he was that Johnny was becoming an officer by asking that Johnny receive his own officer's "pips" as part of his final test. Johnny's disappointment that they're unavailable (real-estate deal) is profound.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A third race referred to as the Skinnies, humanoids with some kind of alliance with the Bugs, are the target of the first raid in the book. Somewhat later in the book Johnnie mentions that the Terrans have managed to break that alliance and turn the Skinnies into Terran allies of sorts (in fact, that's what the raid was about), but their eventual fate is never revealed.
  • World War Three: The war between the Anglo-American-Russian alliance and China.
  • Writer on Board: As pointed out above, that was the reason it was written. Heinlein stopped working on Stranger In A Strange Land just so that he could start this book.
  • You Are in Command Now: Discussed multiple times; happens to Johnnie during Operation Royalty.
  • Zerg Rush, subverted: the rush was mostly composed of non-combatant bugs and was meant as a decoy. Played straight later when the Cap Troops actually get rushed by warriors when moving in to rescue Sergeant Zim who'd captured a brain bug. Due to the close proximity of the bugs and the fear of friendly fire (which the bugs don't have towards other warriors) the MI are forced to fight the bugs hand to hand. Sergeant Zim used a similar tactic with regards to the Brain Bug. He rushed in alone and captured it, then positioned himself so to fire on him was to shoot the Brain Bug. For the bugs to attack him would literally require Boom! Headshot!.

Notes

  1. This was probably meant as a joke, though.
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