Friday, February 24, 2006

06.09 The Forever War by Joe Haldeman


The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Paperback, 1974

The Forever War is a slim little sci-fi novel that I have known of for many years but never read. This story might be classed as one of the earliest examples of the genre of military sci-fi something along the lines of Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

The discovery of "collapsars" (basically wormholes) has allowed humanity to achieve interstellar travel. Initially, however, several of the exploratory ships disappear and the subsequent discovery of an alien species, the Taurans, sparks an interstellar war.

William Mandella has been drafted into the space army because he has a background in physics. Because the Taurans are completely unknown, the army has recruited people with a diverse array of skills (luck, languages, empathy, etc.) in the hopes of fielding a victorious cadre. The story tracks Mandella's training and first chaotic encounters with the Taurans.

Through pure chance he manages to survive the first few encounters and is allowed to retire back to Earth. Unfortunately, the effects of time dialation via his travels means the world has moved ahead decades in only a short subjective time. In fact, he is so unable to deal with the new realities of a strange time that he re-ups back into the army. As he ships from battle to battle, the war continues across centuries, and time dilation takes them through a new cultural upheaval on every trip. Hence, the forever war.

This was a great book. Read as a straight up sci-fi, it comes across as a bit cliche which often happens with older genre books. The ideas are pretty fantastic as are descriptions of the aliens and the crazy encounters.

Where the book really rises to another level (Hugo and Nebula award winner) is when you look at the allegorical aspects. This was Joe Haldeman's second novel after returning from Vietnam where he was a combat engineer. His descriptions of both the battle situations and the alienation of returning home are sparse and powerful.

Definitely a excellent book to add to the list this year.


Keepers 2 said...

Jarrett here.

Great review. I definitely wll add this to my list - the time dilation sounds cool, and I'd like to see how the author creates the conflcit in the character.


Olman Feelyus said...

I liked the way the author conceived of the changes in society. They were pretty radical (think of changes in sexuality in a couple hundred years from now) and really gave you the feeling of how alienated the soldier would be. I always find Rip Van Winkle idea disturbing. Seems so lonely!

Olman Feelyus said...

You know it just dawned on me the connection between Haldeman's own Vietnam war experience and this book. He must have come home and felt a similar disconnection with the social changes that had happened while he was away. That must be weird.

Lantzvillager said...

Yes, I think thats why it really resonated for many people in the mid-70s.

They have just rereleased all his memoirs of his time in Vietnam, called "War Stories". It looks like something I would like to read.

Mustapha Mond said...

My dad gave me the Forever War years ago, and I sat down and read it pretty much straight through. (It took two nights, but only because I had to force myself to get to sleep for school the next day.)

Anyone who hasn't read it, has to make it a top reading priority. The story is gripping on so many levels. POSSIBLE SPOILER: What got me the most was when he falls in love with that lady while they're in rehab and then what he goes through when she ships out again, and then what they do so they can be together when he gets back from the final battle. Their romance is only a small part of the story, IIRC, but it really resonated with me.

Man, it's time for me to give FW another read. Been too long!