In the future-USA, democracy as we know it has been abolished. The only people allowed to vote or hold a political office are military veterans because these are people willing to give their life for the safety of the state and its citizens. But nobody is forced to join the military, quite the opposite: There are more recruits than the army actually needs, so they make the training particularly rigorous and weed out the majority of would-be soldiers.
Juan / Johnny Rico has just turned 18 and finished school when he decides to join the military. He doesn't have a good reason but does it because his friend joins, too. Only he's not fit for anything but the mentally least demanding job left - he finds himself in the infantery and has to go through the harshest training imaginable. In this he finds his calling, as well as good friends and finally a true purpose when earth is attacked by aliens called 'bugs' because that's what they look like. And it seems like they're winning. It' up to people like Johnny to protect and save mankind by going to the bugs' planets and fighting the viscious creatures on their own turf...
The novel follows Juan / Johnny from his training days through a few battles and his training as an officer. The future military and society are fascinating, but I also get the impression that many of the details of military life are timeless. Since Heinlein himself was in the Navy for a while, I'd say he knew what he was writing about and managed to bring it to life extremely well. The book is at once highly entertaining and has a surprising depth with its social criticism and topics like civic duty, responsibility and honour. A lot of people dislike the book a lot and called Heinlein a fascist and militarist for even daring to imagine a society in which the military has the power and showing soldiers one can respect and like. I myself was fascinated and entertained at the same time, and it gave me a lot to think about. The only thing I would have wished for would have been more encounters with the bugs. Otherwise the novel is a perfect example of a well-written military Science Fiction-novel. If you dislike the military or soldiers on principle, you'll almost certainly dislike this book. If you're open-minded you can't do better than this in the genre.
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