Buckle up because this is the worst book I’ve read this year.
Although I watched the film years ago, this was my first introduction to Heinlein, and I have to say I was pretty confused at first. Right off the bat, there were soldiers killing aliens on their home planet, and something about that rubbed me the wrong way, almost reading as satire.
Being anti-war, and anti-military myself, I couldn’t have an unbiased opinion. I wanted to stop reading early on when I found out it’s not satire, but I thought I shall give it a try. It was difficult for me to figure out what Heilein wanted to say. His opinions were often contradictory and obscure. Whether he glorified war or only thought of it as means to an end, I had no idea. Reading up on Heilein himself I found out he was just as confused as I was.
The book tells the story of Juan Rico*, a young man who joins the Mobile Infantry, protecting Terra from alien invasion by some unspecified arachnid-like, and human-like aliens in an intergalactic war, the circumstances of which are never disclosed. There is no beginning or end to this war and the focus is not at all on the war itself. The war was merely foundation on which Heinlein builds his militaristic utopia.
With insipid prose, palpable military arrogance, he threw in platitudes like “freedom isn’t free,” and “infantry is for men,” and delineated with tedious details a perfectly brainwashed individual in a cultish clique. There was very little about the aliens and far too much about military ranks, training, flogging, court martials, and what the percentage is of Lieutenants compared to Sergeants, so much that I had to say “I don’t give a shit” out loud quite a lot.
I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I came out of it with my opinion on the military unchanged. In fact maybe I detest it a little more. Although I have to say, I can understand. Military personnel do the dirtiest of jobs, and in order to do it with your head held high, you have to have those beliefs instilled indelibly within your core. It’s the same reason why doctors like to say they’re saving lives, when in fact they’re surrounded by death day in day out —only their feeling of self righteousness can keep them alive.
I’m going to watch the film again. Also apparently Stranger in a Strange Land is a better book.
*Juan, for the better part of the book, has been referred to as Johnnie, his physical features and the tone of his skin never mentioned. Only later in the book we find out he’s Juan Rico from The Philippines. I think this is the best thing Heinlein has done, introducing a non-white character as well as a racially integrated army (judging by their surnames) must have been a breakthrough at the time.