"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 52
Since this is the last day of April and we are only halfway through Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, both the readalong and the theme In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog will take over as much of May as necessary. (That's actually a happy thought.)
It's nice to be reading another book with multiple covers, but now I find I've used what would have been the perfect cover for this post in my earlier one, and that no other cover I've found comes half as close to capturing Heinlein's vision of futuristic armour.
The suit has feedback which causes it to match any motion you make exactly--but with great force.
Controlled force . . . force controlled without your having to think about it. You jump, that heavy suit jumps, but higher than you can jump in your skin. Jump really hard and the suit's jets cut in, amplifying what the suit's leg "muscles" did, giving you a three-jet shove, the axis of pressure of which passes through your centre of mass. So you jump over that house next door. Which makes you come down as fast as you went up . . . which your suit notes through your proximity and & closing gear (a sort of simple-minded radar resembling a proximity fuse) and therefore cuts the jets again just the right amount to cushion your landing without you having to think about it.
And that is the beauty of a powered suit: you don't have to think about it . . .
Wearing the suit sounds very much like having superpowers. (Or do I think so merely because I saw Iron Man 3 a few nights ago?) But note that the military believes that just having a suit isn't enough. As Sergeant Zim explains to the precocious trainee Ted Hendrick, "There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men."
Not counting the recruits who die during basic training, it is Hendrick who gets the most sobering story--an end to his term which his superiors know will make him hate the military for the rest of his life. It's arguably his own fault, but Sergeant Zim and Captain Frankel blame themselves: they know that Hendrick never would have done it if he had not been able to do it, and it was their responsibility as his trainers to have cut his legs out from under him (figurative speaking, of course) the first chance they got.
That may seem like an odd way to train a future infantryman, but Hendrick isn't looking for a military career. He just wants the citizenship which will open the door to a career in politics and which can be earned only by completing a two-year term . . . and now he will never have it. Not because he failed but because those who were supposed to be looking after him failed.
It's quite a radical thought, aye? It's also one which all the characters with infantry backgrounds and serious military careers wholeheartedly believe in . . . and which I feel rather sympathetic to.
"Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house . . . and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it gain. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken--whereupon you whip out a gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?"
"Why . . . that's the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!"
"I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?"
"Uh . . . why, mine, I guess."
"Again, I agree. But I'm not guessing."
And I am drowning in a pool of cute. =P The children-as-puppies analogy isn't absolutely watertight, of course, but it will do in a pinch.
The above passage, taken from a flashback to Colonel Dubois's History and Moral Philosophy class, is triggered by the execution of Danny Dillinger, a deserter who has murdered a little girl. Since he did it before he was properly discharged, the military is taking responsibility for what must come next. As our narrator puts it: "a man--a real man--shoots his own dog himself; he doesn't hire a proxy who may bungle it."
By Chapter 8, Johnnie is so over his "hump" that he is starting to think--and to talk--like those who have worked so hard to form him. Having understood why Zim feels personally responsible for having let Hendricks slip through cracks the boy should never have been next to in the first place, Johnnie now concludes that the placement officer who cleared Dillinger for the infantry should be held accountable, too. Not for the crime of murder, of course, which is Dillinger's own lapse . . . but for letting someone else get close to cracks he'd have no chance against. To add my own gloss to the text, perhaps the placement officer had hoped that passing Dillinger on to the next person in the chain would make the recruit less someone else's problem. If that were true, then Johnnie is right: the guy should turn in his suit.
I speak from my own sense of shame . . . Having once worked in a high school, I am willing to bet that every school year for the average teacher begins with the question, "How did they ever let you lot advance from Grade 3?" . . . and ends with the realisation, "It would be too much trouble to hold you back now just because you write 'good morning' and 'best friend' as one word each, use the pronoun 'her' in place of your brother because you're talking about his wife, and honestly think that hitting Shift+F7 on Microsoft Word to change key words in a lifted paragraph means you're not plagiarising."
In other words, I let a lot of puppies graduate because I hoped someone else would shoot them for me. I should be flogged.
What did you think of Chapters 5 to 8?
1. If you have raised or are raising children, what was your reaction to Col. Dubois's classroom lecture? Is it fair to say that what's wrong with the younger generation is the older generation's fault?
2. Do you think that those who can't hack it should be either "shot" or eased out as early as possible?
3. Hey, how about that suit???
Image Sources: a) Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, b) Pretty puppy