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Literature: Starship Troopers

"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. Heinlein, an ex-naval officer with no combat experience of his own, 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. Needless to say this alone tends to provoke accusations ranging from 'jingoistic' up to 'fascist propganda'

The novel itself is not deaf to these complaints shows some bits of nuance. Non-citizens have full freedom of speech and Rico's father even implies he has some soft political pull as a wealthy businessman. The "History and Moral Philosophy" class is propaganda everyone must take, but you don't have to actually pass. The Federal Service must legally accept every volunteer, provided they are legally adult and mentally capable of understanding the oath they are required to take. Consequently they overflow with applicants who are only after the benefits of citizenship and have no interest in the military in particular, thus spend there time doing asteroid mining or other menial labor. The local MI vet missing limbs that mans the recruiting station front desk... scare tactic. He takes his prosthetics off to shock people and seeks to discourage people from joining. Ultimately though the novel isn't about exploring the political conditions of the setting, and how dystopian it may be simply can't be determined.

A film of the novel was made in 1997, that is almost literally the opposite of the book it share a title with. In the film when a recruit questions the point of the knives and other small weapons when nukes exist, Zim throws a knife through his hand. In the book this same scene had Zim stop, treats the question as valid, and gives a calm lecture about using appropriate levels of force.

Oh and in the movie the Power Armor is replaced with unsupported light infantry, you probably care about that more.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Ace Pilot: Captain Deladrier, the CO of the corvette Rodger Young. In the prologue of the book, the Roughnecks' shuttle is late to lift off because they're waiting to extract wounded; this causes them to miss the carefully preplanned & calculated rendezvous. note  Captain Deladrier instead takes manual control of her corvette, and plots a flight course to dock her ship and the shuttle. On the fly. No calculations. By sight, instinct, and a steady hand.
  • 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. In the same scene it's stated that Shujumi's father is a famous martial artist and Colonel Badass who at some point taught Zim.
  • 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) 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 Johnnie's optimism, but pretty much anybody he mentions by name has about a fifty/fifty chance of buying it by the end.
  • 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."
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Soldiers have to prove themselves in combat before they can go to command school and become an officer. Moreover to become Sky Marshal it's required that a candidate have commanded both an Mobile Infantry regiment AND a Navy vessel in combat.
    • And Invoked and Subverted by Ace, who gets in an argument with Rico during an op (Ace outranks Rico, but Rico was in command of their team at the time). They go find a private place to brawl about it, and Ace wins handily before insisting that Rico plant one more swing on him so that Ace could say Rico got the last hit in and won the fight.
  • Author Tract and Author Filibuster: We get several classroom scenes which are literally just the teacher talking at length about whatever Heinlein wants pounded into our heads.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Everyone drops, with generals and other officers first on the ground, and command suits have the speed of scout suits while still packing weapons for self-defence.note 
  • Badass Army: The Mobile Infantry. A good example comes from what happened to Rico on a leave from training, when he and two fellow trainees got attacked from behind and by surprise by four sailors of the merchant fleet: Rico executed an Offhand Backhand on the one who attacked him, then realized they were being attacked and turned to help the others but sees that they did the same to their aggressors, with the short and shy 'Kitten' Smith stomping two of the aggressors (Rico's narration then says it's a good thing they are unarmed on leave and trained to fight to disable, as they had acted only through reflexes). If unarmed trainees halfway through training can do this, then the fully trained and equipped M.I. rules this trope. note 
  • 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.
  • Bald of Awesome:
    • MI regulations dictate hair must be shorter than a given length, but the troopers are responsible for their own haircuts. As simply buzzing it all off is just plain easier than cutting it to a standard crew cut, most of the MI opts to just shave it.
    • Unusually for this trope, Carmen. It is stated that, like most female pilots, she shaves her head so that she won't get hair in her eyes during zero-g maneuvers.
  • 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: Johnnie 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. Johnnie 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."
    • One of his OCS classmates is a Captain who received a Field Promotion, and willingly took a demotion to 3rd Lieutenant so that he could attend OCS and get the book learning to complement his experience.
  • 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.
  • The Captain: Played With, due to "Captain" being Army and Navy ranks of differing grades (a Navy captain outranks an Army captain by a significant degree). Navy tradition is that only one man on the ship can be The Captain, so any Army Captains who happen to be aboard receive a temporary honorary promotion to "Major" (step up from Army Captain, still a full two steps below a Navy Captain. Also, a navy Captain-by-rank traveling as a passenger becomes "Commodore".)
  • 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."
  • Colonel Badass: There's a few of them
  • Comes Great Responsibility:
    • The concept covered by the trope is 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 (unless they're facing military discipline). 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.
  • 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 Johnnie 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 Johnnie." Essentially, Johnnie is playing up the trope to gain some street cred.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Johnnie and Ace are close after their fistfight (which Johnnie lost, but Ace said he lost to protect Johnnie's position as a superior). Similarly, Johnnie's first squad leader is said to have recommended him for promotion shortly after beating his ass for mouthing off.
  • Defector from Decadence: Johnnie, who joins the Mobile Infantry to prove himself instead of just climbing the ladder in his father's company. His father does the same thing.
  • 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.
    • Another notable (and highlighted strongly in the book) special task is recruiter. This is reserved for the most mangled, crippled, and disfigured of survivors. The one in the recruiting center Rico signs up in is missing three limbs, an eye, and has a face barely recognizable as human. He has a full set of prosthetics with him, but doesn't wear them on the job. These people are given the task of signing up recruits because this is a military that wants you to know what might happen to you before you sign up.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Zim, although all of Rico's instructors count. They do it on purpose, to weed out those not cut for the job and on the idea that pain will help the trainees learn (it works). When basic training has gone on for so long pretty much everyone who won't hack it is gone, the drill sergeants become even more demanding, but far less nasty.
    • Johnnie mentions that the M.I. tries to weed out the bullies and sadists, not because they believe in going soft on recruits, but because bullies are in it for fun and will start to slack off when it stops being so. He isn't so quick to rule out that some of the instructors might be professional at their job and enjoy it at the same time.
  • 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.
  • 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...
    • Also the action Rico is on when he uses the above weapon, explicitly called a Terror Raid.
  • 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.
    • However, nobody thinks the Arachnids are inferior or evil. It is just everyone's bad luck that "two tough, smart races want the same real estate."
  • 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.
  • Field Promotion: A few examples:
    • Fresh-out-of-OCS Third Lieutenant Juan Rico recommends a couple of field promotions be performed on the way back to base, to fill out his platoon. Captain Blackie explains you never promote on the way back to base (higher headquarters will grab them).
    • Earlier, Rico (a term lance corporal at that point) is given the job of assistant section leader, giving orders to squad leaders who are corporals. The officer in charge feels that it makes more sense to leave as many squads as possible with their squad leaders, since the MI mostly operates by squad, and things have been rough lately; the assistant section leader doesn't do a whole lot and is such a relatively safe place to put Johnnie. Rico is later promoted in due order, and bumped to sergeant shortly before leaving the platoon note 
    • A subversion happens when Rico is at OCS. We find out one of his fellow officer candidates received a battlefield commission as a 1st Lieutenant some time prior, and had since been promoted to Captain. note  The reason he's attending OCS is to become an officer "properly" - as a battlefield commissioned officer (with no higher education), his chances of rising higher than Captain are very small. With Academy education and field command experience, his prospects are suddenly very good indeed.
    • Sergeant Zim is mentioned to have received a battlefield commission for capturing the Bug Queen.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: One of Rico's squadmates is a man nicknamed "Kitten", having acquired it in basic training when Sergeant Zim disgustedly said "a kitten could hit harder" during a unarmed combat drill. "Kitten" is an all-round Nice Guy, but he is also a fully trained Mobile Infantryman, and fully capable of killing someone in twenty ways without breaking a sweat.
  • 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.note 
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: See Chaste Hero - Heinlein skirts the trope occasionally by way of Sound Effect Bleep.
    • Johnnie specifically refers to "shucks" as a curse at one point.
    • It is emphasized that Sergeant Zim insults the recruits, eloquently and at length, WITHOUT using profanity or obscenity, which he "saved for special occasions".
  • 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 BSOD: Johnnie ends up seriously depressed and almost resigns while in boot camp. The triggering event isn't the nonstop hazing or the difficulty of the tasks set to them, but rather realizing that those setting the tasks are mere mortals after all, and that everything he thinks he knows about the military is all wrong.
  • 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.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Ace says this to Johnnie Rico after he beats Johnnie in a fight. Afterwards they shake hands and Ace accepts his authority.
  • Hobbes Was Right: The general consensus in the novel is that the great democracies of the 20th Century all inevitably crumbled because they failed to balance privilege with responsibility. 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, Johnnie 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.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: During basic training, a recruit strikes a drill instructor. Though the instructor and later the base commander do their best to ignore this, the recruit makes it impossible for them to do so (saying point-blank that he did it during a formal legal procedure). He's instantly court martialed, found guilty, whipped, and dishonorably discharged which is actually a light sentence possible only through some deft legal maneuvering on the part of the commander, because striking a superior is a capital offense in wartime.
  • Implacable Man: The warrior Bugs are like this.
  • Infodump, 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 lose 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 Johnnie 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.
  • Insectoid Aliens
  • Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: Played deadly seriously during the execution of a baby murderer who deserted from boot camp.
  • Insistent Terminology: Inverted. Only one person on a Navy ship can be The Captain, so any MI captains embarked on the ship are referred to as "Major" instead.
  • Interservice Rivalry: There's a certain amount of this between the Mobile Infantry and the Navy, as Rico observes on one of his ships. The level of rivalry generally varies from hostile to friendly (after her Ace Pilot moment above, Captain Deladrier is feted and made an honorary Roughneck). As a general rule, it doesn't get too unfriendly, since there are a lot of cute girls in the Navy, which Rico suspects was a deliberate choice by Navy higherups. Also, in order to have a shot at Sky Marshall, a prospective candidate must have held major commands in the MI and Navy.
  • It's Raining Men: One of the Trope Codifiers for science fiction. The Mobile Infantry troopers are dropped from orbit in individual Drop Pods.
  • 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.
  • Leitmotif: An unusual literary example: each ship in the Fleet has a theme song, played over the radio by the recovery shuttles, so the troopers know when it's time to regroup and leave. The Rodger Young has "The Ballad of Rodger Young". "Yankee Doodle" is also heard during the Battle of Klendathu.
  • Meaningful Name: Juan ''Johnnie" Rico, Johnnie Rich. He's a Spoiled Sweet rich kid before joining the marines.
  • 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.
    • The aliens Johnnie's platoon is attacking in the first chapter are referred to as Skinnies.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: At the end of Rico's training, he mentions that he left a lot out, specifically, that he said "...nothing about the time we dropped everything and fought a forest fire for three days, no mention of the practice alert that was a real one, only we didn't know it until it was over, nor about the day the cook tent blew away..."
  • 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.
  • Nuclear Option: Among their other armaments, the Mobile Infantry can be supplied with mini-nuke rockets. They're drilled extensively to "get their money's worth" out of them, and taken seriously enough that Johnnie is flogged in boot camp for using eye-ball reckoning (rather than computer targeting) with a simulated one and getting one of his troopers caught in the simulated blast radius.
  • 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: Crossed with We Are Struggling Together; it's implied that the Federation's members may end up turning on each other once the Bugs are out of the picture.
  • Planet Looters, Horde of Alien Locusts; Expansive (and exclusive) colonization is explicitly the goal of both the humans and Bugs.
  • 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, so the teachers naturally push these political and philosophical values on their students. Every student is required to take the class, but passing or failing is irrelevant.
  • Powered Armor: Trope Codifier for Western culture. And at least inspiration for most of Anime/manga.
  • 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, Johnnie 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.
  • Rank Up: Johnny is promoted several times, to Lance Corporal, Sergeant, and then 2nd Lieutenant.
    • In an inversion, one of his OCS classmates is a battlefield-commissioned Captain, who would be demoted to 2nd Lieutenant after graduating OCS (though Rico notes that his career prospects are better, so it all works out in the end).
    • Another inversion: the Commandant of Officer Candidate School is actually a famous and highly-decorated retired General who returned to duty to run OCS. As OCS is a Colonel's billet, he took a voluntary demotion. (Rico notes that when he retires again, he'll revert back to his actual rank).
  • 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.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Averted. During training, Rico committed a safety protocol violation that doesn't result in anyone being hurt (and that he committed because he knew that nobody could possibly get hurt), and is severely punished by having his powered suit deactivated to force him to stay still for hours (Rico compared it to torture) while Zim explains exactly how stupid he had been, then he's brought before the commander who, after Zim vouches for him, decides to not kick him out of the service, asks him if he prefers to be judged by a martial court, and when Rico doesn't ask for the court martial has him flogged, to drive home the point that you don't violate gun safety protocol even when you know it's safe to. Note that Rico admits he got off easy: had he asked for the martial court he would have been flogged and drummed out.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Subverted. The number of Mobile Infantry seems pitifully small to fight an interplanetary war, smaller than many real-world armies today. But the Roughnecks are considered enough to take on entire planets alone, and at one point Rico is highly stressed by a fight where the troopers are so close together than it's very difficult to fight without risking a friendly fire incident: namely a trooper every mile or so. Mobile Infantry are just that Bad Ass.
  • 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. Ace all but has to whack him in the head and tell him "The Army wants you to be an officer, dumbass!" while the two are on shore leave, and Jelly has his reenlistment paperwork filled out and waiting for his signature.
  • 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
  • Species Loyalty: Humans are out to make the universe safe for humans, never mind the bugs.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Team Dad: Rico describes both Jelly and Lt. Razcak as this, the book ending with another person in the position: Johnnie Rico himself.
    • Dynamic is more of Jelly being a Team Mom while Lt. Razcak is an aloof Team Dad. Jelly is explicitly compared to a strong willed mother keeping the family (the platoon) together after Razcak's "real estate deal".
  • 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.
  • Throwing the Fight: In the first chapter, Rico is assistant section leader, and gets some static when giving orders to Ace, a squad leader who outranks him. Later, he decides to settle things the M.I. way (fistfight). He loses handily, but Ace revives him with cold water and tells him to crack him a good one, so he can tell his squad that Rico whipped his ass over his insubordination. The punch Rico connects with is described (by the narrator) as not being forceful enough to harm a mosquito, but it serves Ace's purpose.
  • 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. Johnnie'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 Johnnie 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. The topic of discussion? Rico refusing to go to sleep.
  • 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."
  • Up Through the Ranks: Required by the Federation military's structure. Everyone starts as a grunt or crewman and if they do well, they're allowed to apply to officer candidate school, as Johnny Rico eventually does. The sky marshal, the overall commander of the military, is required to start at the bottom rank in both the Army and the Navy and work his way up to the top rank of both services.
  • We Have Reserves: Averted by human military strategy, specifically because the bugs fit this trope to a T. "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.
    • Johnnie's former high school teacher wrote him a letter saying how happy and proud he was that his former student had joined the Mobile Infantry, which helped him through a significant psychological barrier. The same instructor later indicated how proud he was that Johnnie was becoming an officer by asking that Johnnie receive his own officer's "pips" as part of his final test. Johnnie'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.
    • Averted spiritually when despite being THE Bug War, the Bugs actually use tactics not unlike humans and Bug Warrior are broadly equivalent in style to Cap Troopers. Highly capable, and few in number.


Starman JonesCreator/Robert A. HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land
Starman JonesLiterature of the 1950sThe Stars My Destination
The Stars Are Cold ToysScience Fiction LiteratureThe Stars My Destination
Slaughterhouse-FiveMilitary and Warfare LiteratureSten
Have Space Suit Will TravelHugo AwardChilde Cycle

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