Continuing on my "Reread Heinlein" project. I still remember when I first read this book: got the hardcover
out of the library of
Boyd Elementary School
in Omaha, Nebraska. I was either in fifth or sixth grade, and that would have made me 10 or 11 years old.
I even remember what shelf it was on in the library. Memory is funny.
And: whoa. I'd read some of Heinlein's juveniles before that. This was different. With someone buying
the farm in Chapter One, despite the best, heroic efforts of the narrator.
And the book pictured at your right is the edition I own: Signet 50¢ paperback, second printing 1963.
(Available for $9.60 at Amazon, plus shipping.)
The narrator is Juan Rico, spoiled aimless rich kid. On a lark, being eighteen years of age, he signs up
for the Federal Service, which is the only way in his future society to get the vote and qualify for
full citizenship. Having no skills of possible interest, he's assigned to the Mobile Infantry (MI). Which is
a tough way to go; even if you survive basic training (not everyone does), there's soon an interstellar war on.
The enemy is a race of insect-like creatures, unaffectionately called the "Bugs". Also involved are the "Skinnies",
who are initially Bug allies, but are "persuaded" (by MI actions) to switch allegiance to the humans.
But what the book is really about is Juan's growth from callow youth into a seasoned military veteran.
Heinlein handles this transformation deftly, to an extent I didn't really appreciate as a pre-teen.
Another theme is the obligation of individuals to their society. A few flashbacks to Juan's (required)
high school course in "History and Moral Philosophy" illustrate: the teacher, Mr. Dubois, is a veteran
and a martinet. None of this "two sides to every question" nonsense for him. He's utterly certain that
the philosophical underpinnings of the Terran Federation are not just true, but provably mathematically
correct! (I doubt that.)
The book won the Best Novel Hugo in 1960. So yeah, it's very good. But not perfect; for some reason,
Juan spends a bunch of paragraphs on the MI's organization and politics. Those are details we don't
And can you have spoilers for a sixty-year-old book? Well, stop reading if your answer is yes.
The book just ends, with Juan about to lead his troops into another battle. Does it end because
Juan buys it? Gee, hope not.
Oh, yeah: if you like this book at all, you're probably gonna hate the movie.