Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Twelve Century War

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)The Forever War 
by Joe Haldeman

“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?”   ― Joe Haldeman, The Forever War

The Forever War is an award-winning science fiction novel that many readers have enjoyed ever since its first publication forty years ago. Having finally read it I count myself among those who like the book, but I reserve placing it in my top ten SF novels. I found the story a bit slow on the uptake, however it did improve as the story moved on.

The protagonist, Private William Mandella, is about to embark on a journey that will traverse space and time, war and uneasy peace. By the denouement of his story, the reluctant soldier will have traveled over twelve centuries. That can be traumatic enough, but it is not the battles but it is the changes in society, mores, and norms that will be the most difficult barriers facing him. The Forever War portrays the emotional toll of time-travel effectively.
While light-years are handled by Haldeman he also explores a myriad of prospects of sexuality without any puritanism or lascivious behavior. Sex is presented as a part of the human existence, although you can question the logic of his predictions about  the direction that sexuality will take for mankind, and and we did just that during the discussion of our local Science Fiction book group, Chicago SF Irregulars and Friends. In my reading a more convincing portrayal of future sexuality was made by Anthony Burgess in his dystopian novel The Wanting Seed;  however, whether you find Haldeman's approach believable or not, it is treated as straightforwardly as he does every other aspect of the narrative. It can be a real eye-opening experience, depending upon the reader's background and views. It does not seem likely an “easy” surgery will be developed to change sexual orientation.

Haldeman's ability to develop characters is excellent starting with Private Mandella, who is a well-described, complex character. The reader comes to care deeply about the "hero," his beloved, and the loyal circle of friends who travel through the centuries together.
The Forever War's plot moves at a rapid pace that kept me reading as the centuries literally flew by. The story never forsakes humanity and the emotional facets of the situation in favor of action, explosions, and technology. And there is plenty of technology including fighting suits, light-speed space craft, time dilation, stargate portal planets, acceleration shells, human organ/limb regeneration, and psych-methods for officer training/indoctrination.
The book is very good science fiction, and in the top tier for many readers. Passing years have not weakened the impact or dated the material. The message presented regarding the futility of war resonates a society that has seen many wars in the years since it was written. I would recommend it to those readers who enjoy or wish to explore some classic science fiction.

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Brian Joseph said...

This one has always kind of been on my radar but I never read. I have always shied away from science fiction books that involved space (in this case time) wars and a lot of action.

With that said based upon both your commentary and what I have heard over the years that there was a lot of depth to this book.

James said...


There certainly is a lot of depth, and the novel gets better as you read into the latter sections where the protagonist is jolted forward in time.
I'm currently exploring another classic I've not read before: Gregory Benford's Timescape.