Saturday, February 21, 2015

eBook Review: Starship Troopers


Robert HeinleinStarship Troopers 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 529 KB
    • Print Length: 292 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0441014100
    • Publisher: Ace (May 15, 1987)
    • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004EYTK2C
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled (a pisser) 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,378 customer reviews)
    • Price: $6.52 (odd price) 

1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it. I have read Starship Troopers at least six times and enjoyed every reading.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Extraordinary for its readability. The writing pulls the reader along. Even when Heinlein lectures through the voice of Johnny Rico, you want to read more. At least I did.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A walk in the park punctuated with roller coasters.
Worth my money. Worth yours, too. If you are a writer, even if you disagree with Heinlein's opinion of soldiers, you should study this book to improve your craft.
(The cover at top is not the current one. I believe it is the cover for the first printing.)

2.2. What I did not like: There are at least four things wrong with Starship Troopers:
1. The flogging;
2. The Mobile Infantry's march pace;
3. The use of Cadet Byrd as an instructor; and
4. The result of the appeal of the court martial of William Sitgreaves Cox of the USS Chesapeake.
     1. The flogging.
     While leading a platoon in a training exercise, Johnny violates the operating procedures. For this infraction, he is flogged. It is made clear in the book that this is lenient and that he could have been court-martialed and discharged.
     When I read this the first time as a kid, I thought this was harsh. Now I think it is insane.
     If a guy busts a training exercise, you don't flog him. You downcheck him, scream at him, and make him do it again until he gets it right. Maybe you fail him on that part of the syllabus and wash him back to the next class.
     But you do not flog him.

     2. The Mobile Infantry's march pace.
     Heinlein states the MI's march pace is 140 paces to the minute. This is the pace of a show band.
     The US Army marches at a quicktime pace of 120. That means six paces covers five yards.
     Show bands march 140 paces to the minute or faster. Their paces are shorter: eight paces to five yards.
     The French Army marches at a pace of 116. The French Foreign Legion marches at a crawl of 88. That is why they are always the last in parades.
     For the Roman army, I calculated a pace of 132. That is fast but do-able.
     Could a military unit march at 140 paces a minute? In full kit? I doubt it.

     3. The use of Cadet Byrd as an instructor.
     At OCS, Cadet Byrd is used as an instructor in mathematics while he studies the other subjects.
     Before Cadet Byrd entered OCS, the school must have had a mathematics instructor. What became of him?
     Plus, how does Cadet Byrd find time to complete his other studies and prepare for and teach classes and grade the homework and tests of other cadets?
     OCS is first and foremost a lesson in time pressure. In my experience, the schedule consumed 28 hours a day. How do you get it done when you are always short of time?
     This is not credible. It guarantees that Byrd would fail.

     4. The result of the appeal of the court martial of William Sitgreaves Cox of the USS Chesapeake.
     In the book, Colonel Nielssen says that a third lieutenant was convicted for deserting his post as commanding officer in the presence of the enemy and that his family tried for a hundred and fifty years to overturn the conviction without success.
     That is false.
     It is true that William Cox was court-martialed and convicted for exactly that charge and that his family sought to overturn the conviction for generations. It is false that they did not succeed. They did succeed.
     William Cox's conviction was overturned by an act of Congress in 1952 and signed into law by President Harry Truman. Cox was posthumously reinstated to the rank of third lieutenant.
     It is possible that Heinlein was unaware that Cox's conviction was overturned, but ignorance of such an extraordinary act of reinstatement is so unlikely that it is beyond the bounds of credibility.
     On this point, Heinlein used authorial license in full.

     I shall not treat with the form of government in Starship Troopers nor with the unified world government. Those are just stage props that serve as background for the story.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science fiction fans. Heinlein fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. Should be required reading for 14-year old boys.
     Once Starship Troopers was in the Marine Corps Commandant's Professional Reading List (Primary Level; that is, E1, E2,E3). It has been replaced by Ender's Game. In my opinion, that is a big mistake.
     I do not know who thought that Ender's Game would build better Marines than Starship Troopers, but he thought wrong. I read every version of Ender's Game published from the original novella to the overpadded novel. None of the instances of Ender's Game measures up to Starship Troopers.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Oh, yeah. Definitely.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
     Starship Troopers starts in the middle of the story with a prologue that is labeled Chapter One. This prologue/chapter introduces us to Powered Armor by means of a raid by Rasczak's Roughnecks on the Skinnies. It also introduces the main character, Johnny Rico.
     Chapter Two begins at the beginning with Rico's graduation from high school and enlistment in federal service.
     A pause to explain the significance of federal service in Johnny Rico's world.
     In Johnny's world, the Earth is unified under one government. People are born taxpayers and may become citizens through a term of federal service. Citizens may vote and hold public office. Taxpayers may not. Note that during the term of federal service, an individual is not considered a citizen. Thus this is government of the veteran, by the veteran, and for the veteran. 
Johnny completes his training in the Mobile Infantry (MI) at Camp Arthur Currie, one of 187 graduates out of an incoming class of 2,009. (This means MI training has a higher attrition rate than US Navy Seal training.) While he was in training, the Bugs nuked Buenos Aires. In a letter from his aunt, Johnny finds his mother was in BA shopping at the time and was killed. Johnny joins Willie's Wildcats for Operation Bughouse, an assault on the Bugs' home world. This goes badly for the MI, and they evacuate in a rout.
     Johnny soldiers on and gets tagged for Officer Candidate School. When he enters the school, he runs into his father who has also joined the MI. His father ships off to combat while Johnny goes through officer training. The MI require a professional tour (combat) prior to graduation. Johnny makes his in Operation Royalty, a bid to capture a Bug Brain. (This is the third and final combat action in the Starship Troopers.)
     At the end of the penultimate chapter we learn that Johnny is Filipino. This may seem 'meh' now, but when Starship Troopers was published in 1959 the use of a non-white hero was unheard of. (This is also one of the many reasons I hate the movie so much; it used a whiter-than-white lead to play Johnny Rico. "[A]ll the non-Anglo characters from the book have been replaced by characters who look like they stepped out of the Aryan edition of GQ." --Christopher Weuve)
     In the final chapter, we find that Johnny has taken command of his old unit which is now called Rico's Roughnecks. His father is his platoon sergeant. His unit is preparing to drop onto the Bug home world for the final assault. 

2.7. Other:
     Heinlein's story was first published as a serial in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction under the title Starship Soldier. F&SF has probably published more Nebula and Hugo award winners than any other magazine. I could verify that, but I'm not gonna. Not right now anyway. 
     Okay, we all know about the movie and what an abomination that was. In my opinion, the movie got everything -- and I mean everything -- wrong and nothing right. I hate it. I was disappointed but not surprised that Hollywood botched the movie. They also made a clusterfyck of Ender's Game.
     A big surprise was the CGI animated television series Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles. The time frame for the series is during the Bug War after the Skinnies have switched sides. The series uses the Bugs from the movie but otherwise adheres closely to Heinlein's vision of the MI. I recommend Roughnecks

     Starship Troopers is in fact a polemic disguised as a novel. 

     When Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, his contract was with Scribner's. He presented them with Starship Troopers as his final juvenile. Scribner's refused it. I do not know what happened with Heinlein's contract, and all those who did know are dead, but Heinlein left Scribner's and published Starship Troopers with Putnam's. 

     You can think what you want about the ideas Heinlein glorifies in Starship Troopers, but this book is fun to read. Years ago, I started to study the book in order to model my writing after Heinlein. I got so caught up in the story that I finished the book without making a single note. I read it again immediately to get the study done. 
     Joe Haldeman disagreed with Heinlein's theme but admitted "it's a very well crafted novel." 
     From the perspective of a reader, Starship Troopers is one of the three best novels in the genre of science fiction. 

     I do not understand the arguments of many that Robert Heinlein was racist. The hero of Starship Troopers is Filipino. The hero of Tunnel in the Sky is black. Only an ignorant idiot would argue that Heinlein was racist. 

(I promised to write a post about grip on a straight razor. Found out my camera will not work. Don't know why. I pray I only need to replace the battery. The post on grip is coming once I can figure out a way to take pictures and video and download them to my computer. Stand by.) 


2.8. Links: Robert A. Heinlein
The Heinlein Society

2.9. Buy the book: Starship Troopers

Saturday, February 14, 2015



     Went to Costco yesterday. Took my Kindle along (pictured above). This was a mistake. Big. Huge. 
     Somewhere during the journey, my Kindle glitched. When it glitched it --
1. unpacked all my collections; 
2. deleted the now empty collections; 
3. deleted all my bookmarks, notes, and highlights from one ebook (I'm afraid to open any others right now); and 
4. jumbled the list of 400+ ebooks I have stored on it. 

     So I am spending the day rebuilding my Kindle collections and adding 400+ ebooks back to those collections rather than writing a blog post. 

     I shall not take the Kindle to Costco anymore. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

eBook Review: Somme Success

Peter Hart Somme Success 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 5568 KB (large file size due to numerous photos) 
    • Print Length: 224 pages
    • Publisher: Pen & Sword; Reprint edition (November 28, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00AE7DH1S
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews)
    • Price: $7.49 

1. Short review: *:) happy (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Lots of first person accounts quoted at length. Numerous photos.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller coaster but not a scary one.
Worth my money. Probably not worth yours.

2.2. What I did not like: Somme Success disappointed me. I expected Peter Hart to make a thesis that the RFC succeeded in its mission over the Somme battlefield. Instead he recounts how the RFC dominated the air over the Somme battlefield in the summer and lost that dominance in the fall with the entry of the Albatros D.II into the war. PH does this with logs and diaries of the airmen involved.
     It is a worthwhile read as it is, but it does not state what the criteria for success were, what factors made the RFC a success over the Somme battlefield, or what the RFC achieved. Personal accounts  are good and add much to the narrative, but the final chapter lacked a summary to tie together all the missions and accomplishments of the RFC.
     It is like PH plopped a Christmas gift on the table, laid the wrapping paper and ribbons beside it, stood back and said, "There. All done," and walked away without wrapping the gift.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: My tribe; that is, WWI aviation historians.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No profanity, no obscenity, no sex, no lurid photos of the wounded and dead. If reading WWI aviation history does it for the kid, let him read it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
Table of Contents Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter One - In the Beginning . . .
Chapter Two - An Aerial Offensive
Chapter Three - A Perfect Summer Day
Chapter Four - July: Masters of the Air
Chapter Five - August: The Fight Goes On
Chapter Six - September: The Tide Turns
Chapter Seven - October: Clinging On . . .
Chapter Eight - November: Full Circle
Bibliography of Quoted Sources 
     If you are familiar with WWI and the Battle of the Somme and the Royal Flying Corps (as I am), the Table of Contents is a good outline and tells you what to expect. If not, it leaves you clueless.
     Somme Success cannot be your first read in WWI aviation. It cannot even be your hundredth read. You must have read a lot -- my guess is at least two hundred books -- on WWI for Somme Success to make sense to you.

2.7. Other:

     This is a book for my tribe. Even with that limited audience, Somme Success fails to deliver.
     Before I get into the book's failure to deliver on its promise, let's look at the Table of Contents.
     Title Page? Copyright Page? I cannot recall ever before seeing the title page or copyright page listed in a table of contents.
     Prelude and Preface. A belt and suspenders man. Not one but two useless appendages. As best I can tell, PH used these two, uh, chapters (?) to inject original source quotes that he could not bear to leave out but which fit nowhere else in the story.
     Chapter One describes the situation before the Battle of the Somme. By June 1916, the RFC had beaten the Fokker Scourge. The RFC still lacked sensible organization -- single-sear fighters were attached to two-seaters reconnaissance squadrons as an integral part of the squadron, efficient suppliers (curses be upon the Royal Aircraft Factory, the RFC was always short of planes and engines), and unity in Whitehall. What is did have was focus, missions that it could perform, and courageous airmen. That the RFC performed as well as it did is a testament to its airmen.
     Each of chapters two through eight is devoted to one month of the Battle of the Somme. The British offensive kicked off 01 July 1916, took a right, then a left, and finally petered out in November. It set a record for most casualties in a single day: 57,000 or 58,000 depending on whom you ask.
     The British had planned for the Somme offensive during the winter of '15-'16. They spent the spring building up their munitions dumps to support the offensive. The French pressured the British more and more to hurry up and launch their offensive in order to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun.
     What is commonly overlooked is that directed indirect artillery fire was new to the battlefield. The Japanese had used it against the Russian in the siege of Port Arthur, but they had done it slowly and with spotters on the ground using telephone lines. All nations in WWI used balloon spotters. The Germans, because they held the high ground, had more success with balloon-based spotters than the Allies.
     What is astounding is that the British had developed a workable means of aerial wireless artillery spotting by the spring of 1915. They did this using, of all things, the BE2c -- the Quirk, that flying deathtrap. The best thing that could be said of the Quirk is that it might do the job if there were no Germans in the sky to oppose it. Even without opposition, it frequently failed. Duncan Grinnell-Milne flew a Quirk on a 'deep' reconnaissance. He was taken prisoner when his engine failed and he glided down behind German lines. He never saw a German in the sky that day.
     The first day of the Battle of the Somme was a bloodbath because the idea of the creeping barrage had not occurred to anyone. Later in the battle, the British got the idea for the creeping barrage and casualty rates fell.

     All the above I knew before I read Somme SuccessSomme Success did not add one iota to the sum of my knowledge about WWI aerial strategies, tactics, and techniques.
     What Somme Success did do was present volumes of personal accounts of aerial warfare during the Battle of the Somme, many of which I had already read, but some of which I had not. I counted the book worthwhile for those accounts that were new to me.
     From the title, I expected Somme Success to 1) present RFC criteria for mission success over the battlefield, 2) detail the history of the RFC accomplishing their mission, and 3) summarize the successes of the RFC against their criteria. PH failed to deliver these.

     Somme Success omits giving any credit to the Royal Naval Air Service for the success of British air forces over the Somme. This is a major omission. Without the RNAS, the RFC would have been defeated.
     The RNAS developed the entire Sopwith line of planes -- Pup, One-and-a-half Strutter, Triplane, Camel, and Dolphin -- and transferred numerous planes to the RFC when the RFC were short of planes because the managers of the Royal Aircraft Factory had their collective heads up their asses. During the war, the Royal Aircraft Factory produced one good airplane: the SE5a. All their other 'planes' would have served the King better had they rolled them out of the factory and immediately set them afire.

     One fact that PH alludes to but does not state is that the German Luftstreitkr√§fte always fought against the odds. On their best day, they were outnumbered two to one (2 to 1). For example, during the war the British built more than 5,000 SE5a's and more than 5,700 Sopwith Camels; the French built more than 8,400 SPAD XIII's; but of their most numerous fighter type, the Fokker D.VII, the Germans built only 2,700.
     More than any other reason, this is why the Germans fought a defensive aerial war. And a defensive aerial war is synonymous with defeat.

    I read Somme Success as one of my tribe does, looking for quotes of original material I had not seen before. I found plenty of those. For that reason, I gave the book four stars.


2.8. Links: Peter Hart

2.9. Buy the book: Somme Success