Starship Troopers Archive

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Podcast Episode 29: The Kaiju-sized Military SF Episode

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and K.W. Ramsey

It took a couple weeks of planning and schedule jockeying, but K.W. Ramsey and I were finally able to sit down to record an extended length podcast on military science fiction.

What could be finer than two white guys talking about the quintessential post-colonial white guy sub-genre? Am I right?

Seriously though, we begin the discussion by drawing upon Damien Walter’s Guardian piece on overly simplistic military science fiction. From there we jump back and forth between military SF on film and in literature. As with most ninety minute discussions, nothing gets resolved, but I think we come up with a few decent ideas on how military SF can evolve to reflect a slightly less antiquated world view.

Make sure to check out Mr. Ramsey’s blog at The Left Hand of Dorkness and follow him on twitter @kwramsey

Topics under discussion include,

- The ideology of the Federation and Starfleet’s role therein; also that time David Nickle trolled us on facebook about Cumberbatch’s character in STiD

- David Weber’s love affair with the 19th century and why military SF at large needs to get past the British Empire

- John Scalzi as the wild card of military SF – also included there is the story of the first time I met Scalzi and went from zero to fanboy in eight seconds.

- Mr. Ramsey’s very compelling theory on why I think Ender’s Game is a crap novel

- A discussion on how to responsibly consume art when the artist is a horrible person

- Robert Heinlein, kooky but honest

- How Pacific Rim does military SF in a slightly different sort of way

- Class and education as factors in crafting protagonists in military SF

Cold Intro Music: The Lady of Vastness by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com

Theme music: Bionic Commando stage 4 (Dale vs Wray mix) (NecroPolo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


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Movie Review: Starship Troopers Invasion

Hey there, are you a sheltered adolescent male of sub-normal to average intelligence who has never so much as talked to a girl for more than ten minutes let alone considered one to be anything more than a mobile boob delivery platform? If so, then have we got a movie for you. Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for some non-stop action because Starship Troopers Invasion is about to rock your galaxy.

As a member of this film’s target demographic, we know that you say “whatever” to the book version of Starship Troopers and its messages of alternative government, mandatory military service, and a comprehensive inventory of Robert Heinlein’s political views. Reading is too much like school, and who needs that when you can have an adrenaline filled mile-a-minute dragon upper cut to the face filled with explosions, space battles, giant bugs disembowelling humans, and three out of four speaking female characters naked within the first twenty-five minutes? That’s right, this is one of those movies where the women get naked but the men stay comfortably dressed; kind of like Game of Thrones but without the cultural subtext on the role of women in Westeros. So what are you waiting for? The sooner you watch it the sooner you can troll some people on the internet when they dare to tell you this isn’t the greatest film of all time. Maybe you could even use a connection to the Third Reich to win the argument?

But wait, there’s more! Do you like Halo? Do you think there should be more Halo in things outside of the Halo universe? Then hold on to your seats because Starship Troopers Invasion is going to give you all the Halo you can handle. From sniper rifles to the Mobile Infantry’s power suits, you’ll swear director Shinji Aramaki stole a whole bunch of concept art from his previous work in Halo Legends and changed it just enough to make it legally distinct from any other intellectual property.

And while those other studios and art directors chart new frontiers in making animated features, Starship Troopers Invasion stays close to home. If you hate critical thought as much as I do, then there’s a good chance you don’t go in for artsy hyper-realism in animation. After all, movies aren’t art; they’re just things to watch to kill a couple of hours before going to bed and fantasizing about being stuck on an island with Katee Sackhoff. Who needs animated characters looking and sounding distinct from each other when they can all be bland carbon copies? Let those Harvard elitists point out that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is eleven years old but still manages to look better than Starship Troopers Invasion. Interchangeable characters speaking in such bland dialogue, so much so that not even Casper Van Dien was willing to reprise his role as General Johnny Rico, means you, the viewer, will have less to keep track of as the story lurches from battle sequence to battle sequence.

The producers of Starship Troopers Invasion understand your busy lifestyle, and subsequent challenges in focusing on a single thing for a given amount of time. And while past entries in the Starship Troopers franchise depended on such dated and inconsistent technology as compelling soundtracks to direct viewer attention while building tension, Starship Troopers Invasion’s advances in sound mixing will let you know exactly when it’s time to put down the smartphone and watch the movie. All you need to do is remember this one simple rule: when people are talking you don’t need to watch. But once you hear gunfire, it’s time to look up because Invasion is delivering its pulse pounding derivative nonsense akin to what GI Joe was doing back in the 80s. But who cares, because GI Joe is old, and this is new, and we all know that newer is better.

Sure, you could go with a movie offering decent pacing, a somewhat well ordered plot, fair gender roles, and a visual aesthetic which doesn’t make a person nostalgic for the 1999 Starship Troopers animated series. But where’s the fun there? Starship Troopers Invasion delivers high-octane thrills guaranteed to reduce a viewer’s ability to hear into the higher registers and think complex thoughts.

Would you like to know more?


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The Daily Shaft: Coming Soon to Blu-Ray, Starship Troopers Invasion

Today has shaped up to be a pretty big day in science fiction. The BBC announced that Jenna-Louise Coleman is replacing Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as the Doctor’s companion on Doctor Who. SyFy offered a carrot for fans of man-on-robot warfare with a trailer for their much talked about (web?) series Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. Oh and BioWare’s co-founder, Ray Muzyka, took to the internet to say that Mass Effect 3’s ending is getting retcon’d due to popular outrage. Is this a thing now? If I complain loud enough will the endings to other things get changed? Somebody dig up Heinlein, I want to talk to him about the ending of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

While we’re talking about the grand master, let’s take a minute to change the news cycle. In a day already filled with revelations, I happened upon a trailer for a new Starship Troopers movie. My thanks to friend and PoR reader Jay Helstrom for the tip.

Let’s all have a watch, shall we?

Compared to some other things that I’ve seen within the last twenty-four hours, that looked pretty good. The redesign of the starships makes them look like instruments meant to drop troopers from orbit with pinpoint accuracy. Whatever the grunt in the trailer was putting on, it didn’t look like canonical powered armour per se; perhaps it’s an update on the standard issue power suit from Roughnecks the animated Starship Troopers series. I even recognized the voice over as a modification of Heinlein’s own words.

FYI: The passage actually reads like this.

I always get the shakes before a drop. I’ve had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and it stands to reason that I can’t really be afraid. The ship’s psychologist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn’t fear, it isn’t anything important – it’s just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate.

I couldn’t say about that; I’ve never been a race horse. But the fact is: I’m scared silly, every time.

So perhaps this trooper is a bit more gung-ho than Juan Rico was before his assault on the Skinnies in the first chapter of the novel. The bottom line is that I look at this trailer and I’m reminded of the excitement that I felt fifteen years ago when I caught my first glimpse at Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. Sony Pictures and Stage 6 get to put one in the win column because I really want to see this movie.

Being the good trooper that I am, I always want to know more. This is what I found in the “about the film” section of the movie’s website.

A distant Federation outpost Fort Casey comes under attack by bugs. The team on the fast attack ship Alesia is assigned to help the Starship John A. Warden stationed in Fort Casey evacuate along with the survivors and bring military intelligence safely back to Earth. Carl Jenkins, now ministry of Paranormal Warfare, takes the starship on a clandestine mission before its rendezvous with the Alesia and goes missing in the nebula. Now, the battle-hardened troopers are charged with a rescue mission that may lead to a much more sinister consequence than they ever could have imagined….

It’s not the worst piece of copy that I’ve ever read, but it’s not the best either. Perhaps we could make the first sentence active so the bugs are attacking rather than the fort getting attacked. Should this copy suggest that Carl is the minister of paranormal warfare? Or is he just a member of said ministry? And why would the Terran Federation have ministers, anyway? That’s more of a parliamentary thing.

I know these aren’t huge details, so why am I making a big deal out of it? Because if a person walks into a room full of nerds and says the words “Starship Troopers”, they’ll meet with giggles, groans, outrage, and maybe the odd approving nod. The name and associated story lines, from Heinlein and others, have a bit of an image problem. At best, Starship Troopers is a campy big budget B-movie. At worst, it’s a screed from Heinlein that attempts to legitimize semi-fascist military juntas as effective governments. So when something comes along that looks like it might just transcend either of those narratives, the least the producers can do is offer up some copy that doesn’t look to have been written by a nervous intern.

So here’s how I would have done it.

When the bugs attack Fort Casey, an outpost on the fringe of the Federation, the fleet dispatches the fast attack starship Alesia and its battle hardened troopers to assist in the evacuation. As the Mobile Infantry fight a losing battle to hold the fort, Carl Jenkins, an operative with the Department of Paranormal Warfare, coordinates the evacuation of vital personnel and research aboard the base’s lone orbiting defender. The Alesia’s troopers expected an easy hot drop and bug out. That is until they arrived at Fort Casey and found Jenkins and his starship missing. Loyalties will be tested when the Federation orders the Alesia to hunt down one of its own.

Starship Troopers Invasion drops later this summer as a direct to DVD release. Shinji Aramaki of Appleseed and Appelseed: Ex Machina is directing. Edward Neumeier and Casper Van Dien are attached as executive producers. Neil Patrick Harris does not appear to be reprising his role as Carl Jenkins.


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Retro Television Review: Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles

Summary Judgement: It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s certainly a diamond in the rough of late 90’s animation.

To say that Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a controversial novel is a literary understatement. For every scholar/author/book critic who champions the work as a masterpiece of military science fiction, there is another waiting in the wings apt to dismiss the book as a plotless fascist screed. Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 big screen adaptation of Starship Troopers gave members of both groups an occasion to unify against what is largely recognized as a technically impressive, if wholly brainless, action movie. Yet two years later the visual aesthetic of Verhoeven’s, ahem, “masterpiece” yielded one of the more impressive animated series of the 1990s. I refer to Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles. Having recently discovered that the entirety of this series is now available to watch, legitimately, on youtube and crackle.com, I thought it fitting to say a few words about this often over looked bastard child of Robert Heinlein, Paul Verhoeven, and Richard Raynis.

The series follows the exploits of Alpha Team, a rifle squad within the Strategically Integrated Coalition of Nations’ (pronounced Sci-Con) mobile infantry. Note here that the morally dubious Terran Federation is a non-entity. Among the troops, Alpha Team is commonly known as Razak’s Roughnecks. The cast of characters share more in common with Verhoeven than Heinlein, but not necessarily to their detriment. Dizzy Flores remains a woman, though she is a little more level headed with her affections toward Johnny Rico than in the movie. Rico, despite a slight shade of brown in his complexion, is still very much Johnny and not Juan. Razak is an amalgam of the novel’s Mr. DuBois and the movie’s Lt. Rasczak. Oh and Xander Barcalow is in the series; he’s still a pompous swaggering subordinate-seducing asshat. On a positive note, none of the movie actors, save for a late entry from Clancy Brown as Sergeant Zim, reprise their roles in the animated series. Thus the characters all feel quite distinct from what Casper Van Dien and friends brought to the movie, especially Carl Jenkins – Sorry, NPH.

One of Verhoeven’s most infamous crimes against Heinlein’s novel was his treatment of the mobile infantry. The mad Dutchmen stripped the MI of their power armour, as well as their clothing from time to time, and turned them into an ill-trained rabble that only occasionally got the job done and even then only through brute force and superior numbers. Where Heinlein saw the MI and Fleet as precision instruments, Verhoeven turned them into a sledge hammer and collection of the worst Top Gun clichés, respectively. The mobile infantry of Raynis’ Roughnecks lean much closer to Heinlein than they do Verhoeven. Orbital insertions through drop pods are the word of the day. All troopers wear powered environmental suits with select members of each squad piloting “marauder” exo-suits. It’s not exactly shoulder mounted nuclear rockets, but it’s more than a few steps in the right direction.

So what about the bugs? Raynis actually kept Verhoeven’s bugs for the series. Call me a heretic, but I liked Verhoeven’s bugs. I could never get past the idea that space arachnids would develop firearms; there’s something too human-centric in that notion especially when a species is capable of evolving sub-species suited to individual tasks (warrior bugs vs worker bugs in the novel). Plasma bugs, tankers, and warriors, as seen in Verhoeven’s movie, feature prominently in Roughnecks first story arc. As the series moved on to new campaigns, so too came new bugs. To balance this Verhoeveian influence, Roughnecks’ brought the Skinnies, an alien race mentioned in the first chapter of the novel but ignored in the movie, into the galactic conflict. Just like in the book, the Skinnies began as allies of the bugs but gradually shifted their loyalties to SICON.

Partly because it was aimed at a young adult audience and partly because it’s hard to sell space facism on television, Roughnecks put politics in the back seat. It’s still there, but it’s much more subtle than Neil Patrick Harris decked out in his jack-booted future-Nazi regalia. One particular episode sees Lt. Razak fighting to stop SICON from giving Rico a lobotomy when he presents prolonged symptoms of post traumatic stress. Another episode sees Karl Jenkins breaking under the pressure that SICON is putting on him to militarize his psychic talents. The enduring theme is that the troopers on the ground know much more about war than the Sky Marshall and Generals. There’s even a bit of character death, as well. People don’t die with the frequency that they did in something like Exo-Squad, but there is an evident human cost to the bug war. Not bad for a YA audience.

Though the animation looks a bit stiff by contemporary standards, Roughnecks has aged fairly well as far as late 90s CGI productions go. It’s comparable to any late season episode of ReBoot, and leaps and bounds beyond Voltron: The Third Dimension.

While Roughnecks isn’t what I would call a “must watch” sort of series, it’s a certainly worthwhile throwback to the early days of computer generated animation. It’s more sophisticated than the movie that served as so much visual inspiration, but it’s still likely to make novel purists grind their teeth.

Overall score: +2, maybe even a +2.5

Would you like to know more? Here’s the first episode.


From Crackle: Freefall