Saturday, March 10, 2018

Some Ideas on a Small-Screen STARSHIP TROOPERS From Me

A few days ago, Matthew Stienberg wrote a post on my blog about how he'd do STARSHIP TROOPERS as a TV series. Although there's already been one ST television show (the 1990s animated series Roughnecks I watched in middle school) and there's talk going around of a remake of the 1997 film, I think we're in agreement that a television show would be a better way to tell the story. Think Game of Thrones or The Expanse in which each book is a season. Although Starship Troopers is a relatively short novel, it covers what's probably multiple years of war and has enough incidents that can be fleshed out. As Matt's post lays out, basic training to the botched Federation assault on Klendathu is Season One, the rebuilding after Klendathu and Johnny earning his officer's commission is Season Two, the planning and execution of the assault on Planet P is Season 3, etc. Although Johnny apparently dies during another attack on Klendathu, he could always be Spared By The Adaptation or the second assault on Klendathu and Johnny's death could be Season 4.

Now here's where Matt's ideas and mine differ. The Starship Troopers novel references "incidents," "patrols," and "police actions" that occurred before the Bug War, which is also considered a "third" or "fourth" space war but the first truly "interstellar" war. Matt thinks this indicates there are other human societies besides the Federation. However, large-scale space colonization seems to happen only after WWIII, the collapse of most of society, and the reorganization and rebuilding by a trans-national alliance of veterans. There's a Starship Troopers role-playing game that explores the timeline and how the Federation functions day-to-day, but it's been so long since I flipped through the manuals at DragonCon that until I dug up the manuals on Amazon I couldn't remember much about it beyond telepaths not being legally allowed to gamble or trade stocks and how the veterans who founded the Federation decided that the years of war and collapse were so violent that every adult who lived through it should be considered a veteran and allowed to vote.

(That would make the Federation's system of earning the right to vote through either military or sufficiently-strenuous civilian service a much easier pill for the surviving populations to swallow, since nobody is actually losing the franchise--it's just their children and grandchildren will need to earn it later. This RPG manual here has the entire history of the Federation, which also suggests that at least one of these "incidents" might've been a pirate raid on a new colony by the Skinnies and that off-world space colonization was something the Federation started after the unification of Earth.)

Therefore, with the possible exception of people who dislike the Federation's limited franchise fleeing and establishing colonies elsewhere (more on that later), it seems more likely that there aren't human societies outside the Federation. Who then, is the Federation fighting? If these incidents were with aliens other than the Arachnids or the Skinnies, I would think there might be some mention of that.

And that leads us to a possible darker side of the Federation. I don't buy the hysterical claims that the Federation's system is fascist or militarist--if it were, it would be more overtly authoritarian with a Gestapo, a Fuhrer, etc. and Johnny wouldn't talk about "the poor bloody infantry" who protect home from "war's desolation." Real fascists and militarists would think war is a positive good and not a necessary evil and there are always personality cults, suppression of dissent, etc. That's one reason I'm not a fan of Verhoeven's bastardization, which you can see in my review of the movie. If the Federation were fascist, Johnny's father would be dead or in a work camp for complaining about Johnny's classes at school. Hell, Johnny might even be so brainwashed that he'd turn his own father in. That's what real totalitarianism looks like.

That said, the fact only veterans can vote hearkens back to another historical evil. During the lead-up to the American Revolution, the British claimed the Colonies, even though they lacked representation in Parliament, had "virtual representation" because Parliament would represent their interests regardless. The Patriots didn't buy that then, and we know that politicians generally only care about their immediate constituents, not the national good. That's why gerrymandering is such a problem. Even if the Federation's citizens represent a cross-section of race, class, creed, etc. (in the book Johnny is Filipino and comes from a wealthy family), they could still put their own interests above that of the "civilian" population that still greatly outnumbers them--there are colonies where half the population are citizens, but I don't think the figure of citizens on Earth itself is that high. Imagine, for example, lavish funding for programs that only benefit citizens but civilians aren't eligible for. There's a reason our forebears pushed for "no taxation without representation."

Furthermore, in the books it's made clear that the Merchant Marine wants its members granted citizenship after service like the military and (presumably at least some of) the civil service, but they don't get it. That explains the hostility between the Merchant Marine, which makes an interplanetary/interstellar peacetime economy possible, and the armed services, that occurs in the book. Johnny and some other military recruits on liberty get into a fight with some (surface) Merchant Marine sailors in a bar in Seattle, and apparently it's not an isolated incident. The same rules might apply to civilian shippers in space, although one would think that would be so dangerous it should guarantee citizenship in the same vein military service does.

So it could be that some of these "incidents" involving the Mobile Infantry weren't conflicts with external powers, pirates, etc. but something like suppression of a Merchant Marine strike or if you want to be even more extreme, wars of conquest against non-Federation human polities. For example, if we don't use the RPG timeline for our hypothetical television show, there might have been colonies within the solar system founded before WWIII that didn't collapse like their parent societies did Earthside and might have been conquered by the early Federation (hence multiple space wars but only one truly interstellar war). Once the Federation has control of the solar system, then you start seeing the massive united effort needed for establishing colonies around other stars. The Federation conquest of the solar system would be so distant in the past it would be like the Indian Wars to the modern U.S., but the Merchant Marine issues are in the book itself.

The more I think about it, the more a suppression of a Merchant Marine strike or strikes would be something to include in a hypothetical TV series before the beginning of the Bug War. If the entire Merchant Marine went on strike until their personnel got citizenship rights, the Federation's peacetime economy would collapse and the strikers could win without violence, but if only some of them did, there's a lot more potential for mayhem. Striking (armed) Merchant Marine ships could attack non-striking or "scab" ships, while on the other end, the Federation might be more willing to physically attack striking Merchant Marine vessels if they know that most of the Merchant Marine will stay loyal. The survivors of a Federation attack on strikers or a defeated attack on "scabs" by strikers could even go full-blown pirate, requiring a prolonged campaign to defeat.

Furthermore, widespread civil unrest within the Federation could be what tempts the Arachnids and their Skinny allies to attack the Federation--Saddam Hussein invaded Iran to take advantage of the chaos of the Iranian Revolution, after all. If the Arachnids and humans are competing for a relatively small number of habitable planets, a pre-emptive strike on humans could be a matter of species survival, especially if the Arachnids are fast-breeding and need to expand rapidly to avoid overpopulation and collapse.

And if you want to generate lots of discussion on the Internet, it could be hinted that the Federation's leadership provoked the Bugs as a "short, victorious war" to end internal strife within the Federation. It would provide an outside enemy to unite the people against (much like how opponents of the Argentine junta publicly embraced them after the conquest of the Falklands) and a prolonged war could generate a lot more veterans who can vote, reducing social pressures within the Federation. Only 400,000 Americans died in WWII, but 16 million or so served in some capacity; only 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam but 2.5 million served in the war itself and many more than that were in the military at the time.

Furthermore, the old show Space: Above and Beyond featured a human polity at war with the alien Chigs that had internal problems--there were cloned humans who had been mistreated, rebelled against said mistreatment, and now had to serve alongside their former tormentors in a war, while exiled artificial intelligences who'd rebelled against what was essentially slavery are allied to the Chigs. Having recent problems between the military and Merchant Marine could provide for some really interesting episodes--say after Klendathu the military requisitions some civilian ships for raids on the Arachnids and the civilian crew hates having to work with soldiers, some Merchant Marine extremists collaborate with the Arachnids, blocked by fraternization rules from romance with Dizzy or Carmen Johnny gets involved with a Merchant Marine sailor and both of them get trouble from their friends, etc.

If a TV show followed my or the other Matt's ideas, it would be more faithful adaptation of Heinlein's work AND would provide a more realistic, subtle critique of Heinlein's Federation than Verhoeven's straw-manning.

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