My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to admit the so-called “controversy” of this book was lost on me. When I think of controversial topics I think of something that really challenges the status quo. The ideas presented in this book were nothing new nor all that daring. To me, it was just an interesting account of military life in a futuristic setting.
That being said, I thought themes on meritocracy and personal responsibility were engaging. Does democracy work if citizens are not actively engaged in making it work? If you do nothing but vote is that enough? Do you have a large enough stake? Heinlein argues throughout the story that even the most seemingly incapable are capable of contribution to society. No one is forced to participate but it is highly incentivized to take part.
Heinlein pushes a bit too far in the use of corporal punishment. There is no place for flogging in a well run free society, in my opinion. Such tactics are meant to spread fear amongst the masses instead of teaching the transgressor a lesson. Terrorism is not a suitable form of government (see: Taliban).
Let me pause and say the movie and the book should not even be mentioned together. The movie lifted a few scenes and characters, but the campiness of the movie does not exist in the book. The overall plot and subsequent military themes are exact opposites. If you see the movie as a satire on fascism instead of just a bad movie, it still has little similarities.
Rico is an inexperienced and somewhat lackadaisical young man who joins the military almost on a whim. Despite constant voices (including the recruiter) urging him not to join, he does anyway. The author did not spend a lot of time examining the MC’s urge for service, although classroom lectures reveal a bit more insight. I felt it wasn’t enough.
Aside from that critique I thought the book was an excellent portrayal on military life. As a civilian I found it fascinating to get an idea of what training camp and war (although completely fictional) might encompass. The scenarios are clearly sci-fi, but the fear of death, survival instincts, and brotherly bonds seem authentic to me as someone ignorant of such matters.