I have a confession to make: before this book, I'd never read any of Haldeman's work. Don't ask me why. Given my interest in the military, I should've. OTOH, and to be fair, I didn't read a bunch of military sci-fi when I was younger, and Haldeman, a Vietnam vet who clearly explores that war in his fiction, penned stories that didn't thrill me as much as, say, hard sci-fi. And, honestly, I just wasn't interested in Vietnam back then, maybe because, as a young kid, I didn't understand what the war was really about and by the time I became a sentient human being, there were other things to worry about. Vietnam was something to forget not dwell on and certainly nothing to really give any serious thought.
What an idiot. Me, not Haldeman.
I picked up this classic of military sf while on layover in Chicago and so discovered what I've missed all these years. Haldeman's writing is terse without descending into caricature, but there is also plenty of violence here (including sexual). The strength of the story, though, doesn't reside with the characters or even, in many ways, the situation--to wit, he science is actually quite hard-core; and the story is deceptively simple,the plot turning on a physicist turned soldier named William Mandella. Earth is at war with a mysterious race, the Taurans, and the beauty of the conceit is that because of the vast distances involved in fighting this war, each battle is horrifically lopsided. In other words, if you're traveling at near light-speed, but it still takes hundreds of years (in Earth time) to reach your target, the enemy has had those hundreds of years to perfect their weaponry. By the time you reach your destination, you're already outgunned. Battles are waged and the results aren't known for years afterward. To say that this is an allegory about Vietnam or the futulity of war is almost too simplistic. With its graphic violence (both battle-related and sexual), this novel reads much more like an extended case of PTSD. Take the time to read this short and powerful novel.