Friday, April 27, 2007

A Minor Jolt

I've been out with the flu; I'll post on things political in a few days.

While flat on my back I reread "Starship Troopers" for maybe the twentieth time. I've recommended it to others who've never read Heinlein and used it as the topic of impromptu essays at various schools over the years. I think I first read it at the age of 12. "Twentieth time" may be an undercount.

Reading it in one sitting this week, I was struck by a flaw in Heinlein's writing, or it seemed a flaw: Rico talks about Man's traits versus those of the etees, but he doesn't know whether they'll prove superior. He doesn't know the ultimate outcome of the war.

At first, I put this down to editorial error by Heinlein, as if he didn't write the ending until the very end, and so left these open-ended questions in the text by mistake.

Then I considered that Heinlein is probably the finest craftsman of science fiction ever, and asked myself how this could be a deliberate authorial decision? Easily--Rico doesn't know the outcome of the war, because Rico doesn't make it.

Reread that last chapter, with the introductory verses on sacrifice. Note how it ends with an interruption. Note that it's followed by a posthumous Medal of Honor citation. There's even some foreshadowing, where Rico maintains much earlier how much morale is helped because "the last thing in a Trooper's ears before the drop, possibly the last thing he ever hears, is the sound of a woman's voice wishing him luck."

I've read the book over twenty years and this never occurred to me. I've become convinced I'm right, because it resolves that annoying "glitch" and it gives the whole discourse a real nobility, the dignity of a last will and testament, instead of another space opera. As I write this I think on most of Heinlein's other works, and how often a major character dies nobly, and I'm sure I'm right. A minor slap in the face by a great author I've misread for years.

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