Mark's Reviews > The Forever War

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
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's review
Dec 12, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: sciencefiction
Recommended for: anyone
Read in December, 2007

Let's say you're shipping off to a particular battle in a war. By the time you reach the battle, fight it, and return home, everyone you know has died of old age and the society you protected has evolved (or devolved) into something you don't recognize or particularly like. What would you be fighting for?

That's just one of the issues brought up in "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman.

The Plot
In this novel of galactic war, the alien menace is the Taurans. The war is fought over collapsars, which are wormhole entrances through which you can travel great distances without traversing the intervening space. The only thing is, you have to travel from a base of operations to a collapsar at light speed, causing the "time dilation" effect described by Einstein. That is, time passes on earth relatively quickly compared to time passing on the ship. Therefore, a trip to a collapsar taking a few months for the people on board takes decades relative to the people on earth.

The novel's protagonist is a man named Mandella, who is drafted into the war at its onset. He travels to and from battles, finding that Earth and its society changes drastically upon each return.

The Good
The battle sequences are abundant and the action is well portrayed. The familiar military science fiction standby of armored fighting suits is recycled here. However, it's well done and necessary to the plot, as the environments in which the battles occur are hostile to human life.

The non-battle sequences are the most compelling part of the book, though. The way Mandella views and experiences the changing of human society and social evolution when he returns home from a battle is what makes the book so special. Mandella, a twentieth century man, has to adapt to drastic changes, and ends up doing so, which makes the tone of the novel hopeful, in my opinion.

The novel also incorporates a lot of hard science. The relativistic time dilation effect is just one example. At one point in the story, a stasis field is invented, rendering futuristic weapons obsolete and forcing the soldiers to go back to melee weapons like swords and battle axes. Also, did you ever wonder what a small conventional missile traveling at near the speed of light would do to a planet?

The book also addresses the nature of war to a certain extent. Haldeman states in the introduction of the novel that it was written to be about Vietnam. There's certainly evidence of it here as Humanity's war with the Taurans is probably ten times as screwed up as Vietnam was.

The Bad
I bet many of you didn't know that the interstellar war with the Taurans began in 1997. Maybe you just forgot. That's the main problem I had with the book. Haldeman addresses this in his introduction and tells the reader to think of it as a parallel universe. I didn't really buy this, but I do know that, for the purposes of the story, Mandella had to be a twentieth-century-born man, so that his reactions to the changing of society could be genuine. However, this obvious anachronism just bothered me a little bit.

I didn't really buy some of the societal changes, either. At one point, homosexuality becomes the norm and hetero becomes the exception. I don't see this happening unless genetic engineering comes into play, which it eventually does.

Also, some of the aspects of future military life are infeasible to me. There are co-ed platoons of soldiers who openly sleep with each other in a kind of "hippie free love" way, which I just didn't buy. Also, there's open smoking of marijuana which would never be allowed in any military of any era, I believe.

None of the bad points I mention detract significantly enough from the novel for me not to recommend it highly. It's a good read. It's also considered to be a classic of Science Fiction Literature. Read It!
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