Starship Troopers brought to an end Heinlein's series of juvenile novels. It became one of his best-selling books, and is considered his most widely known work. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960, and garnered praise from reviewers for its scenes of training and combat and its visualization of a future military. It also became enormously controversial because of the political views it seemed to support. Reviewers were strongly critical of the book's intentional glorification of the military, an aspect described as propaganda and likened to recruitment. The ideology of militarism and the fact that only military veterans had the right to vote in the novel's fictional society led to it being frequently described as fascist. Others disagree, arguing that Heinlein was only exploring the idea of limiting the right to vote to a certain group of people. Heinlein's depiction of gender has also been questioned, while reviewers have said that the terms used to describe the aliens were akin to racial epithets.
Despite the controversy, Starship Troopers had wide influence both within and outside science fiction. Ken MacLeod stated that "the political strand in [science fiction] can be described as a dialogue with Heinlein". Science fiction critic Darko Suvin wrote that Starship Troopers is the "ancestral text of U.S. science fiction militarism" and that it shaped the debate about the role of the military in society for many years. The novel has been credited with popularizing the idea of powered armor, which has since become a recurring feature in science fiction books and films, as well as an object of scientific research. Heinlein's depiction of a futuristic military was also influential. Later science fiction books such as Joe Haldeman's anti-war novel The Forever War have been described as reactions to Starship Troopers. The story has been adapted several times, including in a 1997 film version directed by Paul Verhoeven that sought to satirize what the director saw as the fascist aspects of the novel.
Robert Heinlein was among the best-selling science fiction authors of the 1940s and 1950s, along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke; they were known as the "big three" that dominated U.S. science fiction. In contrast to the others, Heinlein firmly endorsed the anti-communist sentiment of the Cold War era in his writing. Heinlein served in the U.S. Navy for five years after graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1929. His experience in the military profoundly influenced his fiction. At some point between 1958 and 1959, Heinlein put aside the novel that would become Stranger in a Strange Land and wrote Starship Troopers. His motivation arose partially from his anger at U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's decision to suspend U.S. nuclear tests, and the Soviet tests that occurred soon afterward. Writing in his 1980 volume Expanded Universe, Heinlein would say that the publication of a newspaper advertisement placed by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy on April 5, 1958, calling for a unilateral suspension of nuclear weapons testing by the United States sparked his desire to write Starship Troopers. Heinlein and his wife Virginia created the "Patrick Henry League" in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. Heinlein stated that he used the novel to clarify his military and political views.
As was the case with many of Heinlein's books, Starship Troopers was completed in a few weeks. It was originally written as a juvenile novel for New York publishing house Scribner; Heinlein had previously had success with this format, having written several such novels published by Scribner. The manuscript was rejected, prompting Heinlein to end his association with the publisher completely, and resume writing books with adult themes. Scholars have suggested that Scribner's rejection was based on ideological objections to the content of the novel, particularly its treatment of military conflict.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction first published Starship Troopers in October and November 1959 as a two-part serial titled Starship Soldier. A senior editor at Putnam's, Peter Israel, purchased the manuscript and approved revisions that made it more marketable to adults. Asked whether it was aimed at children or adults, he said at a sales conference "Let's let the readers decide who likes it." The novel was eventually published by G. P. Putnam's Sons.