on 18 November 2006
I really, really enjoyed this story. This is intelligent sci-fi at its best. You'll certainly need to get your head around the concept of "time dilation"; but I'm sure most of you sci-fi fans will have no problem with this.
The book portrays the politics of war as we know it today, showing that little changes in the distant future, regardless of technological and social advances.
The main character - William Mandella - is thrown into a war with a distant enemy who he knows little about. However, traveling through "wormholes" in space to the next battlefield and then back to HQ posses many difficulties, with decades and centuries passing
in the time that a 6 months mission is completed. Technology on both sides advance, but one never knows who is furthest advanced at any given time in the far reaches of space....
Soldiers are expendable and the enemy must be destroyed at all costs, no questions asked... sounds familiar??.
Each tour of duty takes Mandella further into an increasingly dizzily future and further up the career ladder until the war's final conclusion.
All in all, a book worthy of the SF Masterworks series. A thought provoking and worthwhile sci-fi experience.
on 30 June 2003
Private William Mandella finds himself fighting to defend an earth which has become more alien than the extra-terrestrial foe he fights.
Deep space flight, wormholes and relativity, mean that for every tour of duty he survives, although only months long to him, centuries pass on earth. Forced by circumstances to continue fighting, Mandella becomes detached from humanity in every way; emotionally, culturally and even sexually, until, the oldest man alive, he is transformed into a figure of ridicule and discust by the new generation of soldiers joining the conflict - soldiers which he now must lead!
Joe Haldeman has taken his own experiences of combat and the aftermath of the Vietnam War and turned them on their head. While the veterans of that conflict returned; profoundly changed, to a homelife that had barely moved on, the combatants of the Forever War come back to an earth which has altered in every way, while they have stood still.
Nicely paced and defly executed, Haldeman's unfussy prose leads the reader effortlessly through the story to a most satisfying conclusion.
Millennium's SF Masterworks series is a fantastic collection of books, and the Forever War is paramount among them.
After reading this remarkable book, I have to ask myself why I have never heard of Joe Haldeman before. This book won the Hugo and Nebula awards--and deservedly so--but I was not at all familiar with this author up to now. I have to say that this book is an incredible read. It's not exceedingly long, but it is packed full of all kinds of ideas and strikes me as quite visionary for the time in which it was written, which was the early 1970s. I am not as well-read in the sci-fi genre as I would like to be, but I must say that the future earth Haldeman describes is one quite unlike any I have read about or thought about myself. The very premise strikes me as singular if not unique, and the end result is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that far exceeds the fare of most science fiction offerings.
In the late twentieth century, Earth develops the ability to travel to distant parts of the galaxy through portals called collapsars; they soon come into contact with an alien race called the Taurans, and war breaks out between the two worlds. The protagonist, William Mandella, finds himself drafted into the intergalactic service under the provisions of the newly established Elite Conscription Act of 1996. Rather than retain the future scientists and leaders at home, this act works to form an intergalactic army of the world's best and brightest young men and women. The new recruits endure a grueling and sometimes fatal training regimen before shipping out to the planets of disputed galactic areas. The trip itself is dangerous, and the troops must secure themselves in protective chambers while they make the long journey to their destinations. Traveling at speeds close to that of light, a journey of several months equates to centuries back home on earth. The troops themselves are made up of both men and women, and a high degree of "confraternizing" goes on between the two sexes. Mandella bonds with one woman in particular, and a part of the story revolves around their attempts to stay together. Mandella is injured in combat, and he returns to an earth that has changed greatly: it is not safe to go anywhere without a bodyguard, homosexuality has become widespread in the culture of nine billion earthbound souls, jobs are incredibly complicated to secure, and Mandella cannot fit in. He reenlists in the service. After another injury and another disillusioning trip home, he goes back into the service as an instructor; almost immediately, though, he is given command of a new ship and sent to a star system 150,000 light years away. By this time, with hundreds more years having passed on earth, heterosexuality has essentially disappeared, and his young recruits are basically genetically engineered test-tube babies. The story of his final military action makes for a thrilling end of the story.
In the end, the author seems to express his own opinions about warfare, which it is certainly his prerogative to do, but the importance of the novel seems to lie mainly in the personality of Mandella and the author's portrayal of a drastically changed future earth society. This work was truly visionary. Hard science fiction elements include time travel (relative, of course) through collapsars (essentially black holes), a means by which humans can survive speeds close to the universal speed limit, and the military hardware of the future. The social context of the evolving story is the most striking part of the book to me, though. Malthusian population crises lead mankind to embrace (and at one point legislate) homosexuality. Mandella's heterosexuality is looked down upon and actually affects the morale of the troops under his command. The author also deals to some degree with cloning, which is certainly a timely topic, and delves into the political, economic, and social structures of his future earth. Mandella himself offers a case study in humanity. A reluctant warrior, he does what he has to do despite some ambivalence about the war itself, and he holds true to his personal beliefs and values in a world (several, actually) turned on its head. There is also a love story of sorts in the book, but it actually serves to heighten the importance of the protagonist's internal struggles with himself and with a world that becomes completely foreign to him. This is science fiction of the highest caliber and stands alongside the master works of authors more widely-recognized than Haldeman.
on 22 April 2009
With the discovery of collapsars, wormhole-like objects that allow instantaneous travel between stars, humanity are spreading out from Earth. It is through this travel that we meet the Taurans and War ensues.
William Mandala is one of the new highly intelligent recruits and is among the first to be put through the paces on Charon, a freezing planet on the outer edges of the solar system. With his fellow recruits he is sent on the first mission to engage - and see - the Taurans.
Although the collapsars allow almost instant travel between systems, the effects of time dilation when travelling to and from these is severe. During his first mission that takes mere months for him, Mandala return to a changed Earth decades after he left. As the missions take longer and longer the time that passes back home becomes ever greater.
Mandala ends up fighting a seemingly endless war for a world that has moved on from his time. With missions with ever less survival chances he moves up the ranks until commanding his own final mission, one whose outcome will hold some surprising results.
The Forever War is one of the books I picked up to catch up on some classic science fiction. I've enjoyed some recent military stuff recently (John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, Robert Buettner's Orphanage) and I've been meaning to look up the better novels of the genre. I've not yet got around to Starship Troopers, but this one has much to admire, but it doesn't use the the premise as much as I was hoping.
Mandala is our main character and the person we follow throughout this war. From his beginnings as a rookie on his training to the mission he commands as a major, he is the focus and it's his views of the world around that shape the story. Mandala is a likable character and he and his squad mates feel good and as they're not veterans we follow their path in gaining the skills they need in an all new fighting environment of stone cold freezing planets.
The training they go through is a good way to introduce many of the technological aspects of the world of The Forever War, most of which is a nice natural progression from the technology at the time. The combat suits are also quite good and the progress that is made between returns to Earth show how the level of technology evolves throughout the story.
The only real issue that I found I had with The Forever War was the world building. Don't get me wrong, it's done well when it's done, but I just wish that the changes in society could have been explored a little further. While this is primarily a military novel - a job it does very well - it brings up too many interesting points that I felt weren't explored in the depth that they could have been.
Still, I enjoyed The Forever War despite the missed opportunity to explore a changed society further. I'm pleased I made the time to read it and it's also given me yet another author whose work I enjoy enough to track down some of his other works.
on 10 March 2002
This novel is one of the rare ones - like Frank Herbert's "Dune", Samuel R. Delaney's "Dhalgren", Ursula K. LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness" and Phillip K. Dick's "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" or "A Scanner Darkly". All the above leave one stunned and elevated from the day-to-day. They come back to haunt your thoughts and inform your future.
Having read "A Bright Shining Lie" by Neil Sheehan and "Dispatches" by Martin Herr - both true accounts about the Vietnam Conflict and both very accurate and realistic through the necessary distortions of the act of writing - I would have no compunction about putting this up as the next novel to read.
It is not so much, the rendering of the military way - hurry up and wait or unrelieved boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror as the humanity shown and the attention to the interaction of people that is a complete antithesis to anything military.
it is also the usage of hard science. The first time I read this tale, I was captivated by the fact that here was a writer who did get their facts right in the first place - before extrapolating - and looked at the social and societal effects.
Joe Haldeman is one of those rare writers who craft Speculative Fiction to allow us to make fresh approaches to subjects, or indeed, to see subjects that are only just on the knowledge horizon of everyday science, but that will be with us soon whether we want it or not.
In "The Forever War" he has done both these things. To date, I have read this particular tale 12 times and it is still as good and real all these years later.
on 10 September 2006
Get a hold of this book and start reading because it is pretty amazing. There's no doubting that this book deserves its No. 1 position on the Science Fiction Masterworks list. From the very outset this is a bit of a rock and rolling ride... training and fighting and loving and dying and accidents and confusion and changing attitudes and mind-boggling time dilations - all this and you still get characters that you care about... in the end, everyone is out of kilter a little bit and when you find out the ending you'll either be really happy or really sad. Happy as the people we've been following for the last couple of hundred turns are happy... or sad at the pretty terrible waste of time it all was in the end.
on 11 June 2000
Rightly selected as the first novel in the Millenium SF Masterworks series, this book is an absolute must have for those who enjoy technology based sci fi.
Parallels and comparisons with Starship Troopers are inevitable, as each book is concerned with the effects of war on the individual. If you enjoyed that book, then you will equally enjoy this one.
Haldemann, however, spends a little more time analysing the technology, the science and this only adds to his tale. Consider the many ways a novice soldier can be killed, have limbs blown off, just through training in a hostile, unfamiliar environment.
We are treated to brief glimpses of the hostile enemy, and to alien creatures whose motives and capabilities are totally misunderstood. This seems to be one of the core themes running throughout the book. That if we do not understand it, then we should blow it to bits before it retaliates in a similar fashion.
An engaging study of war, and soldiers as cannon fodder. Highly recommended.
This was an unexpected masterpiece in my mind, something that I idly bought but realised very quickly was something of some exceptional quality and content. The story, in summary, follows the martial life of a man named Mandella from his initial inception into a futuristic army, through to his first experience of combat, promotion (etc). Though this may resemble any war novel, The Forever War manages to take things one step further.
Due to the vast distances between conflicts and the problems incurred in travelling the interstellar gulf, years pass like month to the protagonist, each time he returns home it is to a world that has aged and developed into something completely alien to him.
Though the novel does set itself around a war against an alien race, they feature only very occasionally in the story. Moreover, this is not a novel punctuated by a series of graphic and bloody battles. It is more a story of how the war affects the individuals that fight in it.
The book, despite the science fiction, is quite a political novel with many issues that are of particular interest, exploring the nature of war and the fact that the young characters in this book suffer and die to fight for a cause that they have very little understanding of. As a political comment the ending of the book says a lot about war and about the lives that it dispenses with.
I would certainly rank this as an exceptionally good piece of science fiction, thoughtful and imaginative throughout.
on 27 June 2000
This book is pure science fiction and is a defination of how important the genre is to literature.
Written in the first person narrative it encompasses the duration of an interstellar war that started in the late 1990s and lasted 1143 years (the book was published in 1974). The aspect of space relativity means that for one year that passes on earth only a few days/weeks pass on the spaceships that the soldiers travel on via the collapsar insertions (wormholes)to the various planets. Throughout the book the changes on Earth and of human nature are explored in a logical manner.
The 'hero' of the tale is William Mandela and his desperation and inner thoughts are expressed superbly by Haldeman. The similarities to Starship Troopers and Catch-22 are evident. The metaphor to Vietnam shows Haldemans' personal experience and I feel that this adds a gritty realism.
The futility of war is addressed as the most prominent aspect of this novel. As with Hellers Catch-22 there is a dark yet amusing feel to parts of the narrative. There is a political edge to why the War continues for such a long duration and this is only mentioned in the final chapter of the book.
This book is great Science Fiction that should work as a deterrent for any war on Earth or otherwise.
on 9 July 2011
Joe Haldeman puts in all in there: the uncomfrtable technology, the ugly futuristic societies, the threat of the unknown and relationships that might endure if it weren't for the military life.
The story follows one soldier, Mandela, who rises in the ranks after several combative engagements with an alien adversary that often tends to be less of a threat than the versions of Earth and the Human race that the character(s) have to acquaint themselves with each time they return. In Haldeman's future, there are no warp-drives or stargates, just good old-fashioned inertia and the laws of physics being entirely unforgiving. To get to the outpost or battle in question takes them months to get to a way point or a stable(ish) wormhole and then another few weeks or months to change course without liquidating the crew; thus the course of the war can take a significant turn while the crew are all tucked away in stasis.
The action is short and sharp, dangerous and brutal and the bodycount is present on each mission, while the jaunts back to Earth or the Human colonies as the story advances introduce you to facets of the Human evolution without realy giving the veterans any chance to adjust or fit in.
It was a terrific read; I felt I wanted to know more about the character and his colleagues (those that last any time, that is) and their adventures once they return - some of which leave you quite releaved when they head back out in to combat, along with the characters. Although the opening chapters are somewhat dated, the effect is not lost and you are quickly removed from the reader's initial comfort zone.
For veteran sci-fi buffs and new-comers alike, this is a MUST read. Frankly, I think you'll be hard pressed to find anything that compares and you may find yourself setting some standards by this book. There are also two following books, but this was a self-contained story and Haldeman probably wasn't expecting to write any more after it.
9.5 out of 10