Ellen's Reviews > The Forever War

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
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Dec 02, 2008

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Read in December, 2008

I took a Science Fiction writing class from Joe Haldeman back at MIT, which is why I've been meaning to read this book for the last 15 years. (The class was one of my all time favorites.) I wish I'd read it back then, because I have some questions for him.

Haldeman, by the way, is a Viet Nam vet, and I think this is critical information for reading the book, which he wrote in the 70's, shortly after his tour was over, I believe.

The book follows William Mandala, a physics student who's been conscripted into a war light years away against the mysterious Taurans (who, at the beginning of the book, no one was ever actually seen.) His (initially 3, then 6, then 10-year) tour of duty lasts for hundreds of Earth years due to time-dilation, allowing him to witness portions of the entire war and also to bear witness to the vast societal changes that take place over the time span.

The book is clearly about the dangers of facism and the fruitlessness of war. I realized by the end of the book, that what bothered me most about the book - that he minimally, if at all, described any of the characters and was incredibly stingy with personal information about any of the characters, including the narrator - was the point of the book. That in a government beaurocracy that relies on war for it's economy (at least the type of war that is described in the book), there is nothing precious about life and individual people are incredibly expendible - a concept that is very difficult for me to fully comprehend, given my proclivites to "catch and release" most bugs in my house and feel guilty when I spray ants in my kitchen. By the end of the book, Haldeman's taken the concept of the expendibility of the individual even further, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might read it.

Haldeman also explores the ways in which both sex and sexuality can be controlled by the government by including the concepts of government-imposed sexual promiscuity as a method of troop morale (at one point stating that female soldiers are not allowed to say "No," - but there are some internal inconstencies with this) and government imposed homosexuality as a means of population control. I also had to accept that the book was written in the 70's and had, I felt, a somewhat naive (or perhaps, more accurately, 70's-centric) view of sex and sexuality in general (i.e., there's no discussion of rape or STDs, or the obvious consequences of either of these). However, I found both these concepts thought-provoking, in at least, a sort of, "would that really work and why or why not" kind of way.
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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I took a class with Joe Haldeman. He was awesome, but I never read the book. I know it refers to Vietnam because he's a vet.

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