Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein
Let me start by getting two things out of the way: the movie, and fascism.
If you, like me, saw the movie before reading the book, forget about it. Beside the inter-planetary war theme and some characters, they have little else in common. While the movie is a B-grade action flick (though pretty fun, and I enjoyed it), the book is a veritable socio-political philosophy novel. The action scenes, although nicely described and fast paced, are few and short, and there is absolutely no sexual content, unlike in the movie.
As for the allegations that Starship Troopers promotes Heinlein’s fascist views, these couldn’t be more wrong. Some of the fundamental traits of a fascist regime are dictatorial rulership and the rejection and oppression of different cultural and ethnic groups. Starship Troopers is exactly not like that. The leaders are still chosen by voting (more about this in a minute), and Juan “Johnnie” Rico, the book’s main character, is a Filipino man that doesn’t for a second encounter any impediments caused by his ethnic origins. In fact, they are given no attention and importance at all.
Heinlein describes a society where, in order to become a citizen and earn the right to vote, one must enroll in a 2-year public service term. The words in bold, public service, are very important, because nowhere in the book is it specified that the military is the only way for one to serve that term (Rico’s friend actually becomes a research assistant for the same purpose), and this is one of the main arguments of the fascism accusations. The only reason the military way is given a lot more importance is because that’s the book’s setting, military life from boot camp to war.
The idea that one should first undergo 2 years of public service before attaining full franchise as a citizen actually has some pretty good arguments behind it. The main one being that, in order to earn the ultimate force (suffrage), one must first prove (s)he is able to put his/hers interests bellow the group’s.
This is not to say that non-citizens have it bad. On the contrary, they enjoy all the rights that citizens do, except the right to vote. Some of the wealthiest, most successful business(wo)men presented in the book are not citizens.
Most of the book’s action takes place during the grueling boot camp Rico and the other recruits have to go through, and their training under Platoon Sergeant Zim. The entire training is modeled around creating an all-volunteer, highly specialized strike force, much like the US military is organized now, but written half a century earlier! In fact, Starship Troopers is such a marvelous work regarding small-team leadership, one’s responsibility towards his nation and peers, honor, courage and morale that the book is presently on the required reading list for the US Marine Corps and the US Navy, and the first science-fiction novel on the reading lists at three of the five US military branches.
One thing that is amazing about the book is that, even though it was first published in 1959, it doesn’t feel old at all. Heinlein’s military knowledge (he served as an officer in the US Navy) and the use of specific terminology grants the book a very believable feeling, and the political and social arguments, voiced by Heinlein through the Dubois character, Rico’s “History and Moral Philosophy” teacher, are still pertinent today.