No sooner have we finished celebrating “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” that beloved, fake internet holiday, than we’re commanded to turn our enthusiasm to the observance of Banned Books Week.
“Aarggh!” being what most students groan when assigned to read any 19th-century novel, there’s a certain logic in the timing.
Yet in all honesty the week is less a demonstration of freedom than another excuse for people to engage in the kind of smug self-congratulation the Internet thrives on.
So many posts about Banned Books Week are written with the insouciant naughtiness appropriate to 60-year-olds who are now invited to pretend they got away with something by reading Huckleberry Finn in the fourth grade.
Then there are the inevitable lists of books that have been banned someplace, sometime. Because we’re talking about censorship they must all be honored for the stripes they wear no matter what we might say about them in any other context.
Consider Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein’s novel prized by 1960s youth for much the same reason they read The Harrad Experiment. When challenged for its adult themes in Mercedes, TX in 2003, the book was actually retained. However, parents were subsequently given more control over what their child was assigned to read in class.
When’s the last time you reread Stranger? I did, not too long ago. Reading Stranger is a punishment in its own right, the passage of 50 years having rendered the novel unreadable in a way that has not touched Starship Troopers.
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]
Which version of STRANGER? the initially published version, or the unedited version? Some people weren’t too pleased with the unedited material.
The uncut version, you’re right. The problem, though, is how topical the lectures are, how dependent they are on mundane attiudes and institutions that have changed a lot over the years.
Sadly, you’re right… but why is Troopers good still, then?
I learned more about how to look at art from Jubal Harshaw’s lecture to Ben Caxton than I did in an entire semester of “Art Appreciation”.
@Gregory Benford: Troopers is still good because young men still ask themselves if they have what it takes to survive basic training and face death as foot soldiers in combat. And social changes are overtaking that book more slowly, so its background isn’t such a distraction. In America there is still a comparable design of basic training. There are still men-only combat units (though not universally).
And in some ways Starship Troopers is still satisfyingly unpredictable, such as the Federation’s reverse-psychology recruiting, actually trying to scare off or discourage some of those who come wanting to enlist.
Starship Troopers isn’t still good because of the military aspects, it’s still good because it addresses social responsibility. And while there are comments about other types of service – a friend was serving as a scientist – “I’m willing to go get shot at” has the most impact.
Which isn’t to say that the military aspects don’t matter. When a friend was at Parris Island mumble years ago he would sit on the bathroom floor at night – that was the only place with lights – and write long letters to me. His experience ran pretty much parallel to that in Troopers. It’s a good novel.