From Robert Heinlein’s 1959 Hugo-winning novel to the series of films, Starship Troopers became a science-fiction phenomenon. Here, Steve Rogerson looks at the book, the different versions of the film and even the two songs that bore the Starship Troopers name. In truth, the connections between them all are fairly flimsy.
Starship Troopers: The Book, the Film and the Song
How you can lose your heart to Starship Troopers, in book, film and song
Different products under the Starship Troopers theme
When Robert Heinlein introduced the phrase “starship trooper” to the English language in 1959, little could he have realised how it would be used not just for his book but in films, television, games, comics and even songs. But, despite the connection, there is often little relationship as to how it has been interpreted in the different media.
True, the film was based on the book and there are similarities in setting, but the premise and the underlying theme is very different. The songs have no relationship to either book or film save for the title. Nevertheless, they are all now part of the Starship Trooper family.
Starship Troopers – The Book
This 1959 science-fiction classic from Robert Heinlein tells the story of Juan Rico, from him joining the military as a young lad, through boot camp and on to actual combat. The difference is that this is set well into the future and what “Johnnie” Rico is actually joining is the Mobile Infantry, the shock troops that land on planets and do the dirty work.
Told in the first person by Rico, the experiences will be familiar to many modern day soldiers and parts are believed to be autobiographical, relating to Heinlein’s own experiences in the navy. The book is also overtly political as the young soldiers are taught lessons about society and their roles within that.
The book was originally written as a serial published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction under the name 'Starship Soldier" before being released as a novel in its own right. It won a Hugo Award in 1960.
Starship Troopers – The Film
In fairness, the 1997 film does follow the book to a certain degree. Johnny Rico is the hero, he is bad at maths and his parents don’t want him to sign up. Some of the politics are still there in that joining the army is the only way to full citizenship. There are differences such as in the book the mobile infantry are all men and are kept apart from the women in other military outfits, whereas in the film the men and women even shower together.
The main difference though is that the film is geared to action and special effects, hence the bugs are bigger and harder to kill. And there is a lot more shoot-’em up scenes whereas the book concentrates on military life and its repercussions through the eyes of one man.
That said, Paul Verhoeven did direct a cracking movie and kept the faith to some degree with Heinlein, which is more that a lot of film adaptations try to do let alone succeed.
Starship Trooper – The Song
On the 1971 album The Yes Album by Yes is the track “Starship Trooper” split into three movements – “Life Seeker”, “Disillusion” and “Whim” written, respectively, by Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Steve Howe.
Another related song was “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper” and it was the record that elevated Sarah Brightman to fame in 1978. Sung with her dance troupe Hot Gossip originally on The Kenny Everett Video Show, it reached number six in the UK chart.
A disco number, it had various references to the Star Wars film as well as bits of music from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Written by Jeff Calvert and Max West, the suggestive lyrics mentioned Captain Strange, Flash Gordon, Darth Vader and Starfleet Control.
Starship Troopers – The Rest
The 1986 film Aliens used terminology from the original novel, such as “bug hunt” and “the drop” and there was a direct reference to the book in the film. There have been sequels to the original 1997 film – Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation in 2004 and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder in 2008. In 2012, there was a direct-to-DVD animated film called Starship Troopers: Invasion. There was also an animated television series called Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles in 1999 that ran for forty episodes.
There have been games, such as the 1976 board game Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and a follow-up game in 1997 to tie in with the film release. In 2005, Starship Troopers: The Miniatures Game was published. There have also been various video and online games. And there have been Starship Troopers comics from the likes of Dark Horse Comics, Mongoose Publishing and Markosia.