You know when you like something and you know you shouldn't? This was kind of like that (a lot like the film actually). Surprisingly, it's quite similiar to the film - some people have been conflated they don't have power-assisted suits in the film - but otherwise, it kind of follows the same trajectory.
The hero is Johnnie Rico who is all so "Gosh! Golly! Gee!" that you kind of want to punch him in the face after awhile. Everyone is really earnest, it's not just him, it's just that he's the narrator so he's the person to focus your face-punching on.
So, the plot is ridiculous, everyone acts like it's the 1950s and the society is ridiculously patriarchal, macho, ableist, sexist and just odd. There's a lot more in the book about Johnnie going through school and bootcamp, so you get lots of stuff about "moral philosophy and ethics" which turn out to be lectures on why violence is good, being a soldier is better and people who have any mental illness should be culled.
Here are some delightful tidbits of wisdom:
- Anyone who clings to the historically untrue - and thoroughly immoral - doctrine that 'violence never settles anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it.
- "I don't know" he had answered grimly, "except that the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young [he's talking about corporal punishment] did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves 'social workers' or sometimes 'child psychologists.
- Major Reid smiled cynically. "I have never been able to see how a thirty-year-old moron can vote more wiesely than a fifteen-year-old genius...but that was the age of the 'divine right of the common man.'
- Fact was, little Carmen was so ornamental that you just never thought about her being useful. [This is when Carmen goes to sign up to be a pilot.]
- It made Carmen look distinguished, gaver her dignity, and for the first time I fully realised that she was really an officer and a fighting man - as well as a very pretty girl. [Because being better than him at fucking everything wasn't enough - this whole line is brought about because Carmen shaves her head].
- I had to perform an act of faith. I had to prove to myself that I was a man. not just a producing-consuming economic animal...but a man.
The whole needing to be a soldier to become a citizen, and the reason behind it, is explained at some length but it just comes across as a bit fascist. I read a little about Heinlein while going through that particular bit and it looks like in his later life he became a bit of a libertarian.
The odd thing about the sexism though, is that he's trying not to be sexist in some respects. Heinlein says off the bat that women made the best pilots (and says it more than once). But then all the interactions are super sexist (like women just being pretty, having to pull out chairs for dinner, none of them being in the mobile infantry). It was very odd.
It doesn't pass the test. Also, it really annoyed me that I recognised some of the characters name from the film and they were all boys in the book (though I was chuffed that Sgt Zim was still a feature). The only female characters who have names are a couple pilots (including Carmen). I don't think even Rico's own mum gets a name.
Despite all of that, it was enjoyable. It is kind of a fantastical weird vision of the future and war in space against a very alien enemy. I did get tired of the endless description of doing math, doing drills and the kind of repetative nature of some of the military life. It probably didn't help that Heinlein did have a tendancy to focus on a specific thing and it was brought up again and again. It wasn't the best written thing in the world, that's for sure.
Anyway, 3/5 because it was fun but it's got a whole fucking boatload of flaws.