30 April 2013


"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."

Chapters 5 to 8

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


Bob Wallace said...

The suits on the cover could not have looked like what Heinlein wanted. "Ironman" was a lot closer.

Bob Wallace said...

By the way, if you want to see how Heinlein got stranger as he got older, read "Farnham's Freehold." And that was in 1960.

His early stuff was pretty good. I pretty much thought "Waldo" was the best thing he ever wrote.

love the girls said...

Bob Wallace writes : "Ironman" was a lot closer"

The bad guy giant version where the guy inside is more of a controller is a lot closer.

Given that the suit was a total sustained living environment in any condition or environment.

The suit could not have been small or conforming to the outline of the flesh for it to have carried all the necessary equipment as well been able to sustain a man for days only needing to be recharged.

love the girls said...

"1. If you have raised or are raising children, what was your reaction to Col. Dubois's classroom lecture?"

The analogy holds insofar as we have a duty to raise our children, but not much beyond that.

Raising children is a continuous process, there are not stages that are graduated through. They keep growing up all too quickly regardless.

Children cannot be held back, so to speak. Nor do we concern ourselves with their stepping over the line as if there was a miss step that is so far beyond the pale that we would disown them.

A far better understanding of how to raise children is the Prodigal Son. We do our best, we sacrifice all we have to habituate them to be good as well doing our best to give them the beginning of prudence so them will know how to been good, and we love them dearly regardless.

And if we do well enough, then they will eventually come back if they fall.

NoelCT said...

Regarding the armor, it's worth noting a bit of history, in that the novel was a huge seller in Japan when it was released in the 70s, and was an admitted influence on the conception of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, which launched the mecha anime/manga wave going into the 80s. Prior to this, most giant robots were of the "hero" variety, like Mazinger or Gigantor. Following the cue of Troopers, the new wave was more realistic, piloted as a vehicular extension of trained soldiers, and often tied into stories of military conflict.

In the early 80s, an edition of the novel was published with designs by Kazutaka Miyatake, which were then used as the basis for a 1988 anime adaptation.

Don't watch the 1988 anime, by the way. It's awful. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Bob -- Heinlein's books are pretty hard for me to find. I'm reading Starship Troopers as an ebook because I had no other choice. If I do another space-themed month, I'll be open to reading more of his work, but as things stand, he's not really in my wheelhouse. =)

LTG -- If only St. Luke had written space-set fiction, aye? ;-)

I guess what you're saying is that no matter what a parent does, the outcome is ultimately out of his hands? I leave room for a "margin of error" myself, but while it's definitely wider than Colonel Dubois's, it's probably narrower than yours!

NoelCT -- Very interesting as always, Noel! Thanks for the trivia. =) (I'm afraid that the only anime I ever got into was Ranma 1/2! LOL!)

love the girls said...


What I'm saying is that the final end of parenting is the good of the child, where as the army uses the soldier as an instrumental cause.

Darwin said...

I find that I'm getting back into my Heinlein stride and enjoying the book.

Chapter 8 is the point where more clearly than at any point to date we can see Heinlein's moral philosophy and how it's fundamentally one that's not Christian. He talks a little vaguely about a "scientific" moral system, but mostly what he's got here is some mix of ancient Roman virtue, libertarianism, and a sort of pragmatic communal self interest. I don't agree with it at all, but as alien philosophies go, I'm kind of enjoying it. It's certainly a bracing alternative of the squishy-yet-vicious sentimental self interest that one seems to run into in the real world.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Well, I was off base in reading your first comment! LOL! I got it now. =)

Darwin -- I agree that it's bracing! And even kind of fair. But its biggest limitation seems to be that it assumes doing A will always result in B--except in certain situations, in which case, the solution is to shoot. Which, given the messiness of human life, is actually not fair.

I once had dinner with a big group of people, one of whom was a man who had recently married a widow with two children. Someone asked him whether he was worried about becoming the head of that household, and he said he wasn't because his policy was "Good behaviour will be rewarded; bad behaviour will be punished"--and he was sure that the kids would soon get with the new programme. I was still a teenager back then, but I was already thinking, "Oh, if only it were that simple . . ."