Image © estate of Robert Heinlein, art not credited.
This is the novel that put Heinlein into idealogical conflict with many of his faithful readers. It posits a future America where full voting rights are only granted to military veterans, and follows the life of Juan Rico from high school, to enlistment in the service, (which is strictly voluntary and the recruiters do their best to discourage recruits), then through basic training, advanced training, and combat action on distant planets. Juan is “Mobile Infantry,” which means he wears a powered armored suit that sounds like something out of Transformers, and his missions are against a hostile alien civilization nicknamed “Bugs,” as they are set up in communal hives rather like ants or termites.
Heinlein was a Naval Academy graduate, and Naval veteran, though he did not see combat, I believe. The ideas he presents are well thought-out, and even though they present life choices I would never make, I found those choices rational, admirable and believable as told. The military in the book is idealized, in that everyone is on the same page, works hard and well together, and there are almost no desk jobs, except for veterans with severe injuries like lost limbs. Human nature being what it is, both the military and the government as presented are never likely to happen in real life, but as ideas to strive for, they’re certainly worthy of thought and fun to read about. The book does get bogged down in idealogical and political discussions at times, but mostly it’s about a boy’s journey to manhood in an arena of great danger but even greater camaraderie. Despite the sniping Heinlein took from many left-wing writers and critics, the book won the Hugo Award for best novel, the highest honor in the science fiction field. It’s a fine read that will make you think, whatever your personal beliefs.
Note that if you’ve seen the movie, which I haven’t, expect the book to be different, and from what I understand, better.