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The Forever War

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The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand—despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy that they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through military ranks. Pvt. Mandella is willing to do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But "home" may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries.

278 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1974

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About the author

Joe Haldeman

415 books2,015 followers
Brother of Jack C. Haldeman II

Haldeman is the author of 20 novels and five collections. The Forever War won the Nebula, Hugo and Ditmar Awards for best science fiction novel in 1975. Other notable titles include Camouflage, The Accidental Time Machine and Marsbound as well as the short works "Graves," "Tricentennial" and "The Hemingway Hoax." Starbound is scheduled for a January release. SFWA president Russell Davis called Haldeman "an extraordinarily talented writer, a respected teacher and mentor in our community, and a good friend."

Haldeman officially received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master for 2010 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at the Nebula Awards Weekend in May, 2010 in Hollywood, Fla.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,169 reviews
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,977 followers
July 30, 2015
This book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to explain. Geez…

OK, so yes, there is an interstellar war with human troops in high-tech armored suits battling an alien enemy on distant planets. I know it sounds like another version of Starship Troopers or countless other bad genre sci-fi tales that copied it, but this one is different. Hell, when it was published in 1975 it won the Hugo, the Locus and the Nebula awards for best novel so you know it’s gotta be pretty decent.

William Mandella has been drafted as one of the first troops that will be sent to fight the Taurans. There are points in space called collapsers that are like wormholes that will transport your ship to a distant area in the universe instantly, and humanity is fighting the Taurans to use them. Both races like to build bases on nearby planets to establish control of the area around the collapsers.

Unfortunately, most of the planets out there aren’t anything like what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. They’re usually cold lifeless rocks, and just training to use their suits in these environments is dangerous, let alone trying to fight an alien race they know little about. Mandella gets through training and manages to survive the first battle with the Taurans.

That’s where the book gets really interesting.

While the collapsers provide instant space travel, the ships still have to get to the nearest one and that means months of travel at near light-speed. It turns out that Einstein was right about relativity and traveling at near the speed of light makes time do some funky things. So while the troops on the ship feel like a journey only took months, years have passed for everyone else. When Mandella returns to Earth after his first battle, he’s only aged two years, but ten years have passed on Earth.

Since Mandella has to do more and more light speed journeys, centuries pass on Earth even though it’s only been a few years for him. Mandella will return from missions to find that humanity has changed so much that he has almost nothing in common with the rest of the people, and since he manages to survive several campaigns when almost everyone else dies, he’s quickly becoming one of the oldest men in the universe during his ten year (subjective) enlistment.

Another quirk of the time differences is that when the humans meet the Taurans, they can’t know if they’re battling alien troops who are centuries ahead or behind them in terms of military intelligence and weapons technology. So Mandella and his fellow soldiers may have a huge advantage or be severely outgunned. It just depends on if the Taurans they’re fighting started their light-speed journeys before or after they did.

As the war drags on for century after century, it is both sustaining and draining Earth’s economy. Mandella finds himself losing all his family, his friends and his lovers to war or age. He is increasingly out of touch with Earth and the rest of humanity. The army continues to promote him, mainly because his seniority has reached ridiculous levels after centuries of service.

One of the things that isolates Mandella is that homosexuality becomes the norm due to Earth overpopulation. In an ironic reversal of don’t ask-don’t tell, Mandella is the outcast that disgusts many of his fellow soldiers due to his unenlightened ways. Even the slang spoken by other soldiers becomes incomprehensible to him. Increasingly lonely and out of sync with everyone around him with almost no chance of surviving his enlistment, Mandella nurses the hope that the war will someday end during the large gaps of time he skips as he travels to his assignments.

Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, and this is an obvious allegory for that war with a weary soldier stuck in a seemingly endless conflict and realizing that even if he makes it home, he won’t fit in to the world he left. While Haldeman’s science and military background gives the book its detail and depth, it’s the tragedy of Mandella’s predicament that makes it a sci-fi classic.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
December 18, 2020
First published in 1974 and winner of the 1975 Hugo and Locus awards, Forever War by Joe Haldeman kicks ass.

More than just a book about a futuristic war, Haldeman describes a society built around the codependency of the industrial military complex and with a fluid dynamic socio-economic culture that is fascinating to watch unfold.

And the welfare recipients get a bag of dope with their check.

Haldeman’s protagonist, William Mandella, is in an elite military group that travels light distances to battles. Transportation being what it is, less than light speed, it takes decades, even hundreds of years for the troops to reach the fight and meanwhile, society changes around him. When he reaches the end of his career, thousands of years have passed and he does not even speak the same language as his fellow citizens and the war he signed up for is ancient history.

Haldeman, himself a Vietnam War veteran, brings an empathetic perspective to his futuristic warrior portrayal.

Thought provoking and original, this is a MUST for science fiction fans.

************* 2016 Reread.

Reading this again, I think for the third time, reaffirmed my love for this book. Reading after a couple of decades (the first time in HS, and then again only a couple years later in college) I see more of Haldeman's subtle humor.

I can also see, from a 2016 perspective, how this could be seen as homophobic. An extremist, shock value idea in the 70s could be seen as insensitive now, but I get what he was doing and in context he was making a statement about nonconformism and parallel changes with his experience coming back from Vietnam.

His hard SF ideas like relative time and the stasis field are great, but his statements about cultural and sociological changes are what makes this a great book.

One of my all time favorites and Again: a MUST read for fans of the genre and a damn fine work of 70s antiestablishment literature. I need to read more from him.

** 2018 addendum - This is such a great book and he's such an amazing writer. Some friends and I were talking about some of his other books but I'm always drawn back to this one. I recall the later passages were he doesn't even speak the same language as his unit, the time has separated them so much, but this may also be a metaphor for senior leadership being out of touch. Like many great books, this works on multiple levels. I'll reread this again, it's that good.

*** 2020 reread - LOVE this book. The idea of troops traveling sub light speed and so may spend a few months of their life but decades in our world is a great concept and one that was also explored by Poul Anderson in his Kith stories. This is of course an excellent way to describe an evolving society as the far traveled soldier gets glimpses of culture in hundreds of years.

The old saying about WW3 being fought with bows and arrows was used obliquely but effectively in the war book, written by a veteran, but also about the absurdity of war. Haldeman also has some timely commentary about the military industrial complex. My favorite scenes are still those of when he briefly returns to an Earth vastly changed since his own time.

Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
554 reviews60.5k followers
March 28, 2018
Maybe a generous 2.5? Just for the overall concept.

Let's start with the positive... I enjoyed following a main character struggling to adapt to the changes on Earth while he's at war. 2 years for him end up being 26 on Earth due to time relativity. It only gets worst as the war progresses.

The rest was a mess for me. This book is often mentioned as a "classic sci-fi" and is on so many "best sci-fi of all time" lists... To me a classic has to survive the test of time and this book did not age well. Like at all.

I understand that some parts of the book are there to show us that the main character is "old fashioned" compare to others but oh my was this a frustrating read...

...then unleashed Stargate's eighteen sex-starved men on our women, compliant and promiscuous by military custom (and law), but desiring nothing so much as sleep...

I... What?...

I'd gotten used to open female homosex in the months since we'd left Earth. Even stopped resenting the loss of potential partners. The men together still gave me a chill, though.

Of course...

These are just two quotes out of a dozen other ones I could include. The writing style wasn't for me and I didn't care about the characters at all. In its defence, I'm not big on military fiction so the battles bored me but I expected that. I just can never get over how little I care about people dying left and right. I'm not sure if the ending was supposed to be a twist or a deep moral of the story but it was kinda obvious and pretty much already how things seem to be nowadays.

Overall a big miss for me!
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews928 followers
May 17, 2022
“The 1143-year-long war hand begun on false pretenses and only because the two races were unable to communicate. Once they could talk, the first question was 'Why did you start this thing?' and the answer was 'Me?”

Forever War, The – Grovel

While it reminded me of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Avatar (especially the beginning where recruits are told about all the things that could kill them and how they likely wouldn't make it back alive), Joe Haldeman's The Forever War takes a different turn. Haldeman's book focuses on a soldier fighting an interstellar war. Because our character is traveling to his battles at near-light speed, when he returns to earth between missions, decades have passed. Haldeman speculates about the social changes taking place, changes that our character has difficulty adapting to or fully accepting. Despite social changes, there is one constant; the war continues. The Forever War still resonates.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews988 followers
August 7, 2021
SF Masterworks 1(!). That's right, this book was the first released under the SF Masterworks brand, so it's gotta be good then? It sure damn was! This book!

A star gate like natural phenomena has been discovered that allows man to roam the stars - but each journey albeit instantaneous, sees the passing of the equivalent amount of REAL TIME on Earth. As the UN-led Earth ratchets up space colonisation, an alien race (the Taurans), attacks and destroys some Earth ships, thus sparking a war... a war that goes on forever!

Enforced conscription of the best and bravest, sees our first person narrator, and at heart pacifist William Mandella share his military service in this book. Haldeman, already strikes gold, by using an emotionally intelligent pacifist, who is evolves into an assured veteran to narrate the story. He provides a very realistic (like Battlestar Galactica 2004, style) approach to space combat and colonisation.

He uses the passage of time to give a background story of how Earth and its colonies developed whilst being in an ongoing space war. What he does most of all though, is tell a hugely important story from a very human angle, and tell it really well. Goddamn Five Star read!

And to top all this off... what a fabulous ending! It will come as no surprise that this was written as a reaction to America's war in Vietnam. So that's it then, this is currently the best sci-fi book I have ever read! Joe Haldeman I salute you sir, 10 out of 12, Five Star Read.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
July 1, 2015
In case any movie producers are listening in, ten reasons to film The Forever War:

1. Gratuitous sex and nudity.

2. Social relevance (it's about Vietnam, stoopid!)

3. Evil aliens.

4. General relativity.

5. Wormholes. Interstellar, Joe Haldeman was here first!

6. Freaky high-tech zone where you can only fight with swords.

7. Unexpected twist!

8. Hive minds.

9. Feel-good happy ending.

10. Gratuitous sex and nudity.
Profile Image for Piotr Reysner.
17 reviews4 followers
January 21, 2015
I bought and read this book based upon the many glowing reviews I saw on the internet. It's heralded as a classic and one of the best Sci-Fi books of all time. I have to disagree.

I liked the concept. Scientifically, it was intriguing. However, the story was repetitive and slow. The exact same thing kept happening over and over again. Set up base. Boring Battle, many people die. Get back on ship. Stay in space for a long time. Get bored. Return to base. Go back out. Repeat.

There were long, long stretches where just nothing happened.

Also, the character development was just non-existent. The enemy was only described in appearance but never described for what they were. In fact, even the battles with the aliens were dull and lifeless.

The protagonist is barely developed. He is just a hapless soldier who just wants to get laid on a regular basis. And for half the book he has his pick of any woman he wants and apparently has sex almost every night. And other than having some difficult command decisions to make, we learn virtually nothing about his character.

I was sorely disappointed by this book and just can't recommend it to anyone.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
August 5, 2016
Yeaahhhh! I'm ready for some hard science fiction!

Look! I got my glasses on all serious-like.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book938 followers
April 29, 2020
Joe Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran, wrote The Forever War in the seventies, and his novel soon became a classic of the so-called “military science fiction” genre, in keeping with (and way better than) Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. The book tells the story of an intergalactic war with an alien race, that spans well over a millennium, as seen from Private Mandella. It starts with drill instruction and training on a freezing satellite of Pluto, expanding further on until the conflict reaches the Great Magellanic Cloud, away from our galaxy.

As expected from a novel such as this one, there are some very thrilling and sometimes disheartening combat scenes. The minutiae of military life, its protocol, language and techniques, are vividly and more often than not ironically described. And in the midst of all this, there is a (forever) love story with Private Marygay — it is touching to think that this female character bears the name of Haldeman’s wife.

But a few things struck me in particular:

First, there is a very clever (and knowledgeable) use of physics, especially the theory of relativity: the war takes place in such a large setting that travelling from one place to the next at nearly the speed of light produces stunning time distortions. In so doing, the main character lives and witnesses the evolution of mankind through the centuries. (This device has later been reused in science fiction, for instance in Nolan’s 2014 movie Interstellar.)

Second is that, in this vast period of time, human economics, language, way of life and, particularly, gender politics and sexuality evolves in unpredictable ways.

Last, and certainly not least: when (around the middle of the book) Mandella comes back to Earth and civilian life after his first campaign away from the Solar System, life on Earth feels more alien to him than the distant starfields. I suspect that this feeling of subjective time distortion is shared by many war veterans when, after a time in Vietnam, in the Middle-East or any other “forever war”, they finally come back home.

The novel ends with these ironic words: “The 1143-years-long war had begun on false pretenses and only continued because the two races were unable to communicate”. It is not at all improbable that this could be said of quite a few wars in history.
Profile Image for Adrian.
574 reviews209 followers
March 29, 2020
Review to follow

This was a book which I had been wanting to read for a long time, and then as part of March's Bossy Book Challenge (Time Travel for one of the SF groups I belong to - Apocalypse Whenever, the person I was paired with gave me this novel as one of my choices , and so I jumped at it.

Was it a good SF novel, well yes, for certain, would I class it as Time Travel, erm no. Yes it had time passing (ultra quickly) whilst the hero (and heroines) were travelling just sub-light (Time Dilation Theory). Such that for some of the hero's only 5 years passed during their battles with the enemies (The Taurans), however as they had travelled countless light years at just sub light speed, centuries had passed on Earth.

To me this was more a military SF novel with the human touch, say Starship Troopers with happy bits or David Webber's Honor Harrington. Enjoyable and well written with some great characters, not truly awesome, but good nonetheless.
Some people liken it, given when it was written to an allegorical view of the Vietnam war, I can't see that for a number of reasons, but mostly because, .

I did buy the Omnibus edition so I have all 3 books in one volume, which means at some point I would like to go on and read more. However, not today and maybe not even this year, we shall see.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
February 14, 2019
Still a classic. Want a war-driven novel constrained by the limits of relativity but still as inexplicable, funny, and as sad as the regular kind?

How about a novel right out of 1977 that explores what it means when all of society transforms over millennia into something awfully strange... a world where the hetero norm has become a homo norm in response to overpopulation...

To where the old outdated concept of future-shock is dusted off and given new life...

To where it's only reasonable for old soldiers to re-up forever in hope that their world will resemble something sane once they get back... AGAIN.

In a lot of ways, this is less a parable about future war than it is a Science-Fantasy extrapolating what it means to be a veteran returning to a changed world and what it means to be completely and utterly lost to the life you left behind. Taken perhaps a bit more extreme than that of the soldiers coming back from Vietnam, maybe, but the concept is still quite valid.

Fortunately for all of us, there's not just tragedy and isolation here, but humor, absurdity, and a good solid story among the cool SFnal alien murders and explosions and the problem of troops, soldier confraternity, and cats on ships. :)

It still holds up nicely for an old Hugo winner. :)
Profile Image for thefourthvine.
577 reviews202 followers
August 25, 2015
Okay, K asked me to elaborate on why I hate this book, so. Here we go.

There was apparently a point in the distant, fortunately-gone past where all you needed to write science fiction was a good idea. Not a plot. Not characters. Not writing that was remotely competent or dialogue that sounded like human beings might say it or any sort of ability to extrapolate human society or even any understanding of what humans are like. You just had to have a good idea and you could write a classic! The Forever War is that classic.

Here is the good idea at the core of this festering waste of words: war is hell, and relativistic war is extremely prolonged hell. Are you amazed? Are you awestruck? Are you stunned with Haldeman's brilliance yet? Well, you better be, my friends, as that is literally ALL HE HAS for you in this book.

The rest of it? Oh my LORD. The hero is -- well, if he had more depth or dimension, I would probably hate him, but as it is, he's just a cardboard cutout of a neckbeard's MMPORG persona. There's a girl. She is technically also a soldier, but obviously she is really just there as window dressing/the object for Our Amazing Hero to moon over. There are future societies, each more ridiculous than the last (my favorite bit of ridiculousness: in the future, tobacco is illegal because it's a waste of farmland, which, fine, but marijuana is distributed free by many governments, because -- I guess it does not require growing?) There's a plot that is barely coherent and a war no one, including the author, gives a single shit about.

And now I must issue a trigger warning; I will spoiler cut this for my friends who need to avoid descriptions of rape.

So. Just to be sure no one ever feels they have to read this amazingly awful classic, I'm going to spoil absolutely everything of value about this book. Here we go:

War sucks. Don't have one or be in one if you can possibly help it.

The end! And now you never have to read this awful, awful book, you lucky person, you.
Profile Image for Scurra.
189 reviews32 followers
July 26, 2008
Catch-22 is often cited as one of the great books about the futility and inherent paradoxes of war. I think this is easily its equal, but is often overlooked because it is dismissed as "just" science fiction.

By using the tropes of SF, Haldeman vividly illustrates not only the psychological effects on the combatants, but also the desperate disassociation wrought between the "soldiers" and the rest of society - his reference point was the Vietnam veterans, but it could apply anywhere and anywhen. There are some moments of genuine horror too, especially when you start to understand what the narrator is telling you.

A serious contender for my top ten books of all time.
Profile Image for Kevin Kuhn.
Author 2 books585 followers
June 9, 2019
With the anniversary of D-Day being just a few days ago, this was timely reading. Joe Haldeman’s book, “The Forever War” is engaging, well-written, and meaningful, originally published in 1974. It was a Hugo and Nebula winner. I read an edition published in 2010 which Haldeman identified as the ‘definitive edition’. I read the first edition back in college in the mid-eighties. While I remember greatly enjoying the book in college, this re-read was much more impactful. I don’t know if that is due to my naivety back then, or the changes in editions.

The story is written in first-person from the perspective of Private William Mandella. Haldeman effectively pulls from his personal experiences from Viet Nam. He tells a very readable story and successfully conveys several themes:
- Solders in wartime, often return disconnected from their personal relationships and have challenges in reconnecting with family and friends.
- Solders are also often faced with ‘culture shock’, losing touch with changes in society and face difficulty integrating into everyday life after living through war’s horrors.
- Countries and economies can become dependant on war, limiting incentives to find peaceful solution.
- War can escalate, losing touch with its original objectives. Certainly, for many solders, after being caught up in a life and death struggle and attempting to protect and save their fellow soldiers, are often left with a void, when considering, “what was it all for?”

Haldeman uses science fiction including time dilation to magnify these themes. He also creatively tells of some drastic culture shifts which the MC faces when returning from duty. This book is a masterpiece, both as a straight-up science fiction story, but also as an allegory for the horrors and hopelessness of war.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,255 followers
February 19, 2020
it is easy to see why this one is a bonafide classic of the genre. Haldeman succeeded in doing everything he set out to do, and he never loses focus: this is a story about the futility of war and the ever-changing yet ever-cyclical nature of humankind. his prose is straightforward, his ideas are clearly thought-out, his pacing is perfect, his protagonist is realistically and empathetically characterized. this is a smart, fast-paced, and very compassionate, humane book.

for me, the most important parts of Forever War were the sociological aspects: tracking the changing human cultures as well as the micro-culture of the military world. the sexuality was fascinating! whether it was the mandated promiscuity of the military (the ladies definitely got the short end there) or the eventual embrace of mandated homosexuality by Earth (and, surprising for the time period, there is not a whiff of homophobia in the writing), or how the inexplicable orders from leaders who never make an appearance impact the lives of many (some things never change)... I was always absorbed, often with an eyebrow cocked at the different behavior patterns on display.

I have nothing against this novel, but I am disinterested in reading about the intricacies of warfare. I appreciated the realism and the hard science on display, but that's just not my thing and at times I found myself skimming over those many sequences. thus the 3 stars and not a higher rating. that said, I not only liked this book, I respected it and what it was trying (successfully) to accomplish.
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,605 reviews2,309 followers
February 6, 2019
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman and narrated by George Wilson is a good old fashion sci-fi adventure! Space travel, aliens, action, battles, social changes, military intrigue, and a hint of romance! This book has it all in written expertly! I hung on every word! I loved this book! I read this in 1975 or about then and couldn't remember all the details only parts and that I enjoyed it. I wanted to revisit this now that I am older and wiser. Also to see what social changes time has come true from the book.
The narrator was terrific! Perfect for this story!
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,456 followers
April 12, 2017

Well I think it's safe to say that I'm not the target audience for this book. This is hard sci-fi military space opera and I haven't even seen any of the Star Wars movies, or Star Treks, and only a handful of Doctor Who episodes (I only found out last year what a TARDIS is).

I probably shouldn't have even been *allowed* to read this. Somebody Kemper should have ripped it right out of my hands decrying: "You're not worthy!" and they'd probably be right. Despite my keenest efforts, The Forever War is in no way in my comfort zone or wheelhouse.

Yet, I still enjoyed many parts of it very much. The hardcore battle stuff got to be a little overwhelming for my brain circuitry and I had a hard time putting it all together and keeping it all together. I wish there had been a lot less war and battle and prepping to go to war, and a lot more about this time dilation business and all the changes that were happening on earth over the course of HUNDREDS of years. More of that please!!!

The ending felt rushed to me and we only get a glimpse of Haldeman's 'brave new world' before the final credits roll. Another thing about the ending:

But despite my complaints, I did enjoy this. I can see why it would be held in such esteem many years later and recognize the influence it would have had on a genre that we have established is not one I am fluent in. *cough* understatement *cough*

I have loved science fiction in the past, but this one needed a bit more humanism for me and less battlefield tactics and logistics. Any kind of action/adventure/survival in space is a trip though and offers up its own unique blend of suspense, thrills and even terror. The Forever War is no exception on that score. The question I will leave you with is: it's been 40 years (800 by time dilation standards) -- when do we get the movie???
Profile Image for Kyle.
168 reviews59 followers
March 21, 2017

I'm really surprised this has such a high rating. There's really not much to it.

Okay, it presents a cool concept. What would it really be like to fight a war with an alien race across the vast reaches of space? Even with something that allowed you to "jump" vast distances you would have to get to these places. As the ship you travel in nears the speed of light, time for you slows down. So for the main character who was born in 1997, he returns from the war in 3143 having aged only a few years but the world he knows is no longer there. 

Of course along with this is all the technology changes that comes along. The main character will go out on a mission and come back and find all this new technology waiting. New weapons, medicine, food, language, customs, well you can imagine. All this was interesting but honestly, it wasn't enough.

The plot almost saved the story, almost. Have you ever been told to do something and the whole time; you're doing it you keep saying to yourself "this is so stupid why am I doing this?" That was what the war with the aliens was like for this whole book. 

Finally, character development: William Mandella is the main character and other than having a high I.Q. and also being physical fit you never really learn anything about him. I never developed any connection with him. Mostly because I didn't know anything about him and just didn't care one way or the other.

I think I'll skip the rest of this series!

Profile Image for Monica.
621 reviews631 followers
November 16, 2020
Every November (for the last few years) I try to read at least 2 books with a military theme. This year I chose the Forever War (which I had read before but did not remember). The Forever War is the much reputed analogy of the authors experience in the Vietnam War through a "space opera lens". So first, I'll put in the disclaimers. I read this as a war novel not a scifi novel. Of course the scifi elements are inescapable and in truth do detract from the book, but for me what Haldeman was saying about war was far more compelling.

Private William Mandella has been drafted. He knows very little about the enemy nor the reasons for the war. The book follows him from basic training throughout his tours of duty in the war. The story chronicles the dangers, violence and destruction of war as well as the changes in society whenever he comes into contact with it. The scifi elements come into play because space travel to these various campaigns takes centuries. The war wages on, society changes but to the soldier very little time has passed.

I found the premise/plot to be compelling. An allegory for the unseen impacts of war both on society and the soldiers. Haldeman clearly hates war. The war in this novel is The seemingly eternal issue that leads to war. Misunderstandings: Cultural. Linguistic. Physical. Geographical. History. And the actual treatment of soldiers is vicious from the very beginning. The indoctrination into the culture of war. The sacrifices. The requirement to turn off your critical thinking. The constant threat of danger. The violence. The fear. The muting of empathy. The acceptance of the new reality. A reality that creates a soldier but attacks their humanity. A fighting mechanism that doesn't question the effort, just reacts to survive. These soldiers exist in a bubble. The only real humans that exist to them are their fellow soldiers. They've lost connection to their communities and families. So much so, that when they return home, they feel like they no longer belong there. These elements are magnified in the book because space travel involves the significant passage of time. So a solder gone for a year or two is actually gone for decades to the community. A twenty five year old soldier comes home to an 80+ year old mother and a world that has changed significantly over the decades. Coming back to a world he no longer recognizes, Mandella reenlists and as a grizzled war veteran, finds himself promoted in the military after surviving each campaign. A situation that I interpreted to imply that in the military in times of war, you sometimes get the leadership positions based upon those who survive, not those who are the most qualified, intelligent or skilled. And the nature of the campaigns were consistently escalated. They became more dangerous and more futile for humans. As the war rages, Mandella becomes more jaded but also more reticent. He has never had the desire to kill. So the conversion to soldier is never quite complete.

Haldeman's vision of the future was rather bizarre and is strangely intertwined with his understanding of love and sex. The future in this book reveals much more about Haldeman than it enhances the plot. At this point, I am wondering what the heck went on out there in the jungles of Vietnam.

All in all this was a strange but compelling brew. A war novel bristling with a kind of unintended toxic masculinity but at the same time mocking it. Haldeman displays a hatred for war and for senseless killing. Interestingly, I did not pick up on a disdain for the military. Just that it was misused. All of this wrapped up in a kind of 70s sensibility which in my view worked for this novel. A bit of a unicorn I'd say. I actually liked the novel quite a bit. I will eventually pick up the sequel Forever Free.

4 Stars

Listened to Audible. George Wilson was outstanding!!
Profile Image for Scott.
292 reviews318 followers
November 20, 2016
Conscript-to-brutal bootcamp-to-faraway-alien-war. Countless novels have followed this story structure, aping Heinlein’s Starship Troopers with mixed results.

Like me, you might be getting tired of encountering this storyline. Tired of reading what too often turns out to be Full Metal Jacket In Space - Minus The Social Criticism.

If that’s the case, borrow twenty bucks, get to a bookstore and order a copy of The Forever War. This is military-flavoured bootcamp-to-war Science Fiction in its finest form, as refreshing and thought provoking as it no doubt was when it was released in 1974. Like Starship Troopers, this book is a template for the lesser works that have followed it.

The story is a simple one. William Mandella is conscripted and sent to fight in a brutal, bloody war with an alien species. The battles he must fight are so far from Earth that the time-dilation effect of high-speed space travel turns his subjective months at war into years on Earth, his years into decades. Each time he returns to Earth human society has changed further, and Mandella’s is less and less able to fit in, to feel welcome, to feel at home.

From this simple premise Haldeman spins a story of real insight and empathy, an extended allegory for Haldeman’s own war - Vietnam - and the tragedy of soldiers who return from conflicts to find both society and themselves changed so much that the only place they really belong is back on the front lines.

This isn’t a typical blazing-beam-cannons military SF novel. Haldeman doesn’t obsess over laser wattages or projectile calibres, instead focusing his keen writer’s eye on the impact war has upon its participants. Haldeman has explored this territory a number of times, most successfully in All My Sins Remembered and some of his short stories (there’s a real pearler – ‘A Mind of His Own’ in a collection of his work called Infinite Dreams), and he brings an authentic and sensitive voice to his SF. When I found out after reading this book that Haldeman was badly wounded in Vietnam I wasn’t surprised – he writes war in a way I have very rarely seen in SF, less pew-pew!/Kaboom!, and more understanding of the pain and suffering, both physical and otherwise, that soldiers go through.

Haldeman’s novel equals Heinlein’s classic in its social observations and intellectual heft, but in my opinion The Forever War is a more empathetic work, engendering genuine pathos for Mandella and his comrades. It really is a landmark classic of Science Fiction.
Profile Image for Gavin.
886 reviews399 followers
June 16, 2020
I've not fared super well reading the sci-fi classics over the years but this 1975 Nebula and 1976 Hugo and Locus award winner was one of the few sci-fi classics I still had high expectations for since I enjoyed reading Joe Haldeman's More Than the Sum of His Parts short story in a Lighspeed collection years ago. The good news is this book did live up to my expectations and was pretty good! It is probably not quite so good as More Than the Sum of His Parts but there is no shame in that as that short story is one of my all time favourite short stories. The Forever War was an excellent sci-fi and well worth its accolades. It is the very best sort of sci-fi tale in that it provides both an entertaining and engaging story while also offering a lot of thought provoking ideas!

The plot was an intriguing one. Young physics teacher William Mandella has been reluctantly conscripted into the army. The enemy are a mysterious alien race known only as the Taurans. The twist on the average military sci-fi tale is the fact that a combination of portal jumping and near light speed travel meant that this galaxy spanning conflict resulted in a lot of time dilation for the participants. Willian might have been fighting for humanity but what did that truly mean when his stints in space travelling from battle to battle resulted in time on Earth passing a lot more rapidly for the people there than it did for him!

I thought it was a fascinating and engaging tale. Willian had his flaws but it was mostly easy enough to empathise with his plight and to root for him over the course of his journey through both space and time. Haldeman's story touched on a number of different themes (the horrors of war and those of personal traumatic injury, loneliness, alienation, loss, cultural indoctrination, and societal change over time) and a ton of cool sci-fi stuff like time dilation, bionics, futuristic weapons, and cool sci-fi tech that kept the humans alive in the hostile environment of space and alien planets!

I was not at all surprised to learn this story was heavily inspired by Joe Haldeman's own experiences as a conscript in the Vietnam War and his difficulty returning to civilian life afterwards. It was a major part of the story we got here that Willian struggled to adapt to the changing world he found himself in after each time jump. In general I think the book also provided a strong anti-war message and did a decent job of not glorifying the action scenes.

I could go on and on about the cool stuff Haldeman touched upon as it was that sort of book but instead I'll mention the fact that I've read a few updates and reviews over the years that hinted that this tale might contain a bit of racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Since this was published in the mid-70s I was actually expecting a lot of that stuff! That said, I never got that impression from the tale myself. This was actually fairly liberal for a mid-70s book. Sure Haldeman used a few outdated terms here and there that are considered offensive nowadays but there was very little in the way of active racism, homophobia, and misogyny. There were a few moments but considering the cultural context of the tale I was expecting a lot more and on the whole I felt like the story actively highlighted all those things as bad. Despite portraying quite a vaguely dystopian and economically crippled late 1990s "future" society (this was wrote in the mid-70s) as the starting location for the tale Haldeman was actually a bit too optimistic in his portrayal of where he expected/hoped society would be when it came to issues like race and gender as women where treated as equals and race seemed to have little significance to the characters. As time passed in the story those things mattered less and less! The use of sexuality as a major indicator of notable cultural change in society over time was a little weird but it was interesting in a number of different ways and despite how it made William feel it felt to me that the message Haldeman was trying to convey with the flipped sexuality was one of tolerance as the reader got to experience what it was like for William to be viewed as the one with the minority opinion on the issue. Not overly subtle for sure but this book was being marketed to a 1970s audience!

This book did have a few flaws. The storytelling style was a tad too detached for me to fully emotionally engage with the happenings and the characters but despite that it did still manage a few emotionally engaging scenes and Haldeman's writing style is pretty engaging so the story held my attention from start to finish. Some of the actual science may have gone over my head but I did not feel like that overly hurt my enjoyment of the story.

I'd have preferred if Haldeman had explored his bionics story arcs a bit more but what we got was fun enough. Sometimes Haldeman only touched upon some topics or concepts briefly but some of those ended up being quite fun parts of the story. I especially liked the way society kept changing over the years and was engaged by the way hypnosis and drugs were used to control people.

All in all this was a really good sci-fi classic and still something that is a relevant and fun read even today! This book felt like a stand alone story but I enjoyed it so I'll probably try the sequels at some future point.

Rating: 4.5 stars. I'll round up because it is not often I get to rate any classic 5 stars!

Audio Note: George Wilson did a good job with the audio.
Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,069 followers
September 9, 2014
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews

The Forever War is touted as one of the best science fiction military novels ever written. At least, that is how I’ve always heard it described, and so going into this one, I was expecting lots of gritty Vietnam-inspired fighting and combat. And I got that. However, what I also got was an amazing mixture of science and societal evolution that made the fighting even more entertaining and the story as a whole well worthy of its “One of the Best Sci-fi Novels of All Time” tags.

The story follows along behind a young man named William Mandella, who finds himself “drafted” into the world’s military force to fight an unknown enemy from deep space. So, naturally, the first part of the novel highlights his training, integration into the military, and the initial combat with the enemy: all of which was very entertaining. What was even more amazing, however, is the story of the evolution of Mandella’s Earth, as this societal change turns him from a normal, red-blooded, twentieth-century man into a fossil of an age long gone. All due to the disruption of time from space travel!

There are lots of things to love about this novel, but I’ll restrain my enthusiasm to just two.

One, I really thought Mr. Haldeman did an excellent job of portraying societal change over long periods of time. We all know human society changes, but usually it is so slow that older people never live long enough to see themselves transform from the human norm to the exception to the norm. However, here Mandella experiences this very thing first hand, finding that he is an alien among his own kind and an object of ridicule from new recruits, who label him a fossil of a passed age – even though he is only in his late twenties. But Mr. Haldeman does not stop there, but shows how these new recruits are themselves relegated to the trash heap of societal change. Something that clearly highlights that no one’s role in society is safe from the slippage of time and keeps the narrative interesting throughout.

The other thing I love about this book is that Mandella is an ordinary soldier. He isn’t one of those quick-witted characters who suddenly become the general of the war; or the person outwitting all the lifelong diplomats and generals of the aliens; or some genetically modified killing machine with a super computer in his head. Rather, he is an ordinary man, who finds himself learning how to be a soldier and trying to do practical things to keep from being killed – including being lucky. In fact, Mandella never seems untouchable; his triumph readily anticipated; or his spaceship already fueled to carry him to his happily ever after. Nope, until the last page, I really wondered if things would turn out okay for this very real and very human soldier.

The only thing I had a problem with was the ending, because it was a little sappy. However, I can’t harp about it very much, since I really, really wanted a decent ending to the story. I never expected a fairytale, happily ever after ending, but what I did want was one that at least left hopes for some small portion of happiness for everyone.

As many reviewers have already stated more eloquently than I, The Forever War is a great sci-fi story. It is an experience that mixes testosterone-filled, military excitement with insightful, societal changes, adds in a bit of political corruption and warmongering before ending with a dash of hope. And my only regret is that I did not read it sooner in my life.

Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
May 2, 2015
I first read The Forever War a couple years ago in audiobook format, I quite liked it but to be honest it did not leave much of a lasting impression. I suspect the audiobook format is not suitable for this particular book, I don’t remember there being anything wrong with the narration, I just could not retain much of the details after finishing it, just a vague feeling that it is quite good. I love audiobooks, but I am beginning to think that short sci-fi books are not really the ideal for this format. Which brings me to the reread in print format, The Forever War often crops up in “favorite sf books” discussions and I feel as if I haven’t really read it and this won’t do.

As you might expect The Forever war belongs to the subgenre of “military science fiction”, a subgenre I normally avoid unless the author has interesting points to make about war or military life. Books that focus on the action or thrills of military campaigns are anathemas to me. This book is more of an exploration of the nature and principles of warfare than about details of battles (though there is some of that also); basically it is an anti-war novel.

The book I finished reading just before starting this reread of The Forever War is Brave New World, it is interesting to compare the two as sci-fi books. To me the Aldous Huxley book is not really sci-fi as the emphasis is on the social satire and the futuristic setting and sci-fi tropes are tools for the author to communicate his cautionary message. The Forever War is unabashedly sci-fi, certainly it is an allegory of the Vietnam War which the author Joe Haldeman served in. However, Haldeman’s knowledge of physics and engineering is clearly evident in the hard science parts, and the futuristic tech is clearly aimed at sci-fi readers. The only soft or handwavium sci-fi element is the FTL spaceflight through “collapsar jumps”; and this plot device is very cleverly and logically used to explore the implications of time dilation.

The book is very well written and the (first person) narrative tone gradually changes from a sardonic tone in the early chapters to a more matter of fact tone and then a melancholic tone towards the end. The book is too short and densely plotted or all the characters to be fully developed but the protagonist William Mandella and narrator is very sympathetic and believable. I also love the way the book suddenly switch from the war setting to a dystopian near future Earth, then back to the war and then a far future setting for the novel’s conclusion. The middle section set on Earth is really my favorite part of the book, with the drastically changed culture and social mores. If I have one complaint it is the overlong section which tells the story of the final battles with the aliens Taurans, personally I always find scenes of military engagements very dull, though you may feel differently. Fortunately when that is over we arrive at a wonderful twist and denouement, I do not find the eventual fate of Mandella and his girlfriend quite believable but it is by no means unsatisfactory.

While I was reading about the final battles in the later chapters I was speculating whether to rate this book at 4 stars because I found those battle scenes a little tedious, but after finishing it I feel a 5 stars rating is a more accurate representation of my esteem.

Update May 2, 2015: The Forever War movie is coming! Reread anyone?
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,253 reviews237 followers
January 23, 2023
Classic hard and soft sci-fi at its very best!

University student William Mandella, an exceptionally bright university student with an IQ well north of 150 has been drafted. After a thoroughly modern and terrifyingly brutal boot camp with very deadly and very live modern weapons conducted in deep space conditions beyond Pluto's orbit, he'll be part of an interstellar war against the enigmatic Taurans, an alien species discovered when they supposedly attacked human ships.

Sci-fi fans know that most authors have a tendency to favour the hard or soft side of the genre. Clifford Simak, for example, is well known for his pastoral writing style that takes eager fans by the hands and lovingly guides them on astonishing tours through the soft side of science philosophy. Robert Sawyer, on the other hand, a talented and thoroughly modern Canadian author, grabs his readers by the throat and pulls them deep into the other side of the sci-fi spectrum through the implications of modern hardware and scientific discovery. Joe Haldeman's THE FOREVER WAR cleverly straddles BOTH sides of the fence and beyond all expectations deals brilliantly with four separate themes, two soft and two hard, combining them into a single compelling but surprisingly short novel!

The titles gives away the obvious fact that war is an issue. THE FOREVER WAR was published in 1974 and Haldeman is writing his story in the politically turbulent aftermath of the US experience in Vietnam. Whether Haldeman is vilifying warfare or simply presenting it as a fact of life and leaving it up to his readers for their own decisions will, of course, be a moral judgment that you will have to make for yourselves. (Comparisons will be made between this novel and Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS and Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR which also touch on the same topic of war with slightly different approaches).

Also on the softer side of the sci-fi genre, Haldeman has postulated a future in which asexual cloning has replaced normal reproduction and world governments have encouraged homosexuality as a solution to the world's population problems. In a clever twist on the world's current prejudices, Haldeman ultimately creates a world in which homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is perceived to be a perverted deviation. I've no doubt in my mind that a reader's current comfort level with alternative sexual orientations will also determine their reaction to this particular theme in the novel and whether or not they find it amusing or deeply disturbing!

On the hard side of the science spectrum, Haldeman deals imaginatively but realistically with two realities - the hard core rigors of deep space travel and the realities of relativistic effects such as time dilation.

No matter which side of the sci-fi spectrum you favour, you owe it to yourself as a fan to read Haldeman's novel. Unequivocally recommended as I go out to the second hand book stores to seek out the other books in the series, FOREVER PEACE and FOREVER FREE.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 259 books409k followers
November 8, 2013
The main character William Mandella is among the first recruits sent off to fight an alien species. The only problem? The distances are so vast that every faster-than-light jump means decades have passed back on earth. With each campaign that Mandella fights, his home planet changes until it is almost unrecognizable. As many readers have noted, Haldeman's book is first and foremost a great novel of war and its effects on society. You can tell it was written at the close of Vietnam, as it speaks to the soldier's dilemma coming home from a divisive conflict. Some elements of the novel haven't aged as well as others. The idea, for instance, that sexual orientation can be determined by social conditioning is dated and comes across as a bit of a paranoid fantasy. But for the most part, the novel addresses timeless themes -- isolation, alienation, patriotism versus skepticism, and the possibility of love in a violent, unforgiving world. The ending is haunting, and I found myself thinking about this novel for weeks after reading it.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,851 followers
July 24, 2019
Originally reviewed 2009, I just came back to put in a spoiler tag, which I didn't know how to do at the time...oops.

Interesting take on things. In a way in the end this is more an "anti-war" book than a stand alone novel. It unfortunately reflects the Utopian type views that came out of the 60s/70s reaction to Vietnam, the one that asks the question, "what would happen if they gave a war and nobody came?" Of course the unaccepted (but logical)answer to this question is, they bring it to you. See the Twin Towers in New York as a reference to what happens when someone gives a war and you don't come.

I always find the phrase "anti-war" rather pompous, like war is a place or a thing you can decide to avoid on your own. One side almost always wants to avoid any war. Just saying "war is bad" we won't participate" doesn't work, just ask Neville Chamberlain.

****************** I'm giving a spoiler warning here on this one as I want to comment on the way Haldeman ties up the book....so, spoiler beyond this point. ***************************************************

Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,468 reviews3,635 followers
June 15, 2016
The Forever War is what is happening on the Earth since the most ancient times till these days. I guess there wasn’t a single day without war in the entire history of humankind.
“‘Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.’ The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So if he’d ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.”
Does it sound fantastic? No, it doesn’t. It sounds very real.
“The planet, which we hadn't bothered to name, was a chunk of black rock without any normal star close enough to give it heat. At first it was visible only by the absence of stars where its bulk cut off their light, but as we dropped closer we could see subtle variations in the blackness of its surface. We were coming down on the hemisphere opposite the Taurans' outpost.
Our recon had shown that their camp sat in the middle of a flat lava plain several hundred kilometers in diameter. It was pretty primitive compared to other Tauran bases UNEF had encountered, but there wouldn't be any sneaking up on it. We were going to careen over the horizon some fifteen klicks from the place, four ships converging simultaneously from different directions, all of us decelerating like mad, hopefully to drop right in their laps and come up shooting. There would be nothing to hide behind.”
Therefore interstellar wars would be for the mankind just business as usual.
I don’t want the future like this.
Profile Image for Raeden  Zen.
Author 12 books328 followers
November 14, 2015
An Epic Satire of the Art of War

“‘Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.’ The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So if he’d ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.”

The opening paragraph provides a glimpse into the most intriguing aspect of “The Forever War,” that of the affect of time dilation, officially defined as: the principle predicted by relativity that time intervals between events in a system have larger values measured by an observer moving with respect to the system than those measured by an observer at rest with respect to it. This concept is explored in the 1953 novel, “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke as protagonist Jan Rodricks travels to the Overlords homeland in a faraway galaxy; upon his return to Earth he has barely aged, while 80 years have passed for those who remain on Earth. In “The Forever War,” the concept is turbo-charged as we follow the travels of William Mandella between Stargate and phenomena called Collapsars (what we today would refer to as a black hole) and distant planets where a war with the Taurans rages for thousands of Earth years.

The novel is broken down into the parts of Mandella’s life as he ascends from a foot soldier to a leader in the United Nations Exploratory Force (UNEF), which was assembled for war against the Taurans. As someone who studied the history of Vietnam, including the French occupation of Indochina and the American involvement (which began well before LBJ escalated the war), the metaphors and irony vis a vis the Indochina Wars (fought between 1946-1979) were striking; that the smartest and strongest are sent against the Taurans (vs. the US draft where often those who were the poorest and less privileged were sent against Vietnamese); that the Earth to which Mandella returns, many decades or hundreds of years later is very different from the one he left, unwelcoming and undone (vs. the US soldier who returned from Vietnam to an often hostile and volatile America very different from the one he left); that the war is a supportive crutch to a failing Earthen economy (vs. the US contractors who during the age of Vietnam had much production in the US, especially the East and West Coasts where employees for the defense contractors supported the local and national economy); that the theory was that Earth’s economy would collapse without the war (vs. a US economy that did collapse after its involvement in the war ended – though admittedly more from an oil shock owing to the Yom Kippur war than Vietnam, doubtless the end of lush government spending and contracts had an impact overall).

Where the novel may disappoint readers is in the characterization of Mandella and his love interest, Marygay Potter. In the beginning, Mr. Haldeman ushers images that would make Ron Jeremy jealous, of orgies and fantasies; gratuitous love-making. “Actually, she was the one with the new trick. The French corkscrew, she called it. She wouldn’t tell me who taught it to her, though. I’d like to shake his hand. Once I got my strength back.” Unfortunately, we don’t get beyond this first layer and it takes away from the denouement.

The bottom line: “The Forever War” is an epic story of the pointlessness of war, the impact it has on the troops and their families, and the tendency for mankind to descend to chaos rather than order. Fans of speculative fiction will find the technology and its descriptions riveting, the social changes thought-provoking (forced homosexuality and the “cure” for heterosexuality) though I wonder if they will care enough about Mandella to witness his conclusion.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews42 followers
August 28, 2016
The Forever War (The Forever War #1), Joe Haldeman
Best science fiction novel in 1975.
خیلی وقت پیش به زبان اصلی خوانده ام ؛ جنگ ابدی (همیشگی) داستان مبارزهٔ میان‌ ستاره‌ ای زمینیها با تائوران‌ها ست؛ آن روزها بسیار خواهان داشت
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