Learn more Download now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Learn more Learn more Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 April 2015
The Forever War (1974) by American author Joe Haldeman is a rather deceptive book. For the first few chapters the novel reads like a standard Starship Troopers military science fiction novel detailing an interstellar war between humans and aliens (the Taurans), recruits getting trained to turn them into bad-asses and hi-tech weapons being used. But it won the Nebula Award in 1975, and the Hugo and the Locus awards in 1976 for best novel so there must be something different about the book?

And there is …. The story soon changes, the effects of time dilation as a result of near light speed travel are explored, as is the tragedy of one soldiers of loss of friends and family, alienation with humanity, not being able to fit into society plus having to deal with a seemingly endless pointless conflict.

The heart of the novel is about one reluctant soldier, Private William Mandella who is fairly ambivalent about the wars he finds himself in. He fights more from of a sense of duty and loyalty. The reader is subjected to a mixture of hard sci-fi: the aforementioned time travel and its effects, black holes and hi-tech arsenals along with descriptions of the social and political changes needed following on from a Malthusian-like catastrophe (population growth had outpaced agricultural production): homosexuality becomes the law (sex is treated by Haldeman in a non-judgemental and non-moralistic manner) and payment for work is in calories as opposed to actual money. The story also deals with love too. Mandella bonds with one woman in his company in particular and she provides his only connection to their known world of the past; as the book closes Mandella has travelled over twelve centuries.

It is clear that the book is an allegory to the Vietnam War, Joe Haldeman having served in this conflict. Other hints of the autobiographical nature of the work are the protagonist’s surname, Mandella, which is a near-anagram of the author’s surname, as well as the name of the lead female character, Marygay Potter, which is nearly identical to Haldeman’s wife’s maiden name. Importantly, if one accepts this reading of the book, the alienation experienced by the soldiers on returning to Earth becomes a clear metaphor for the reception given to US troops returning to America from Vietnam, including the way in which the war ultimately proved useless and its result meaningless. This meaningless is discovered in the book by a cloned, collective species calling itself Man who can communicate with the Taurans and discovers the aliens were not responsible for an act that triggered the futile conflict that lasted for more than a thousand years.

Haldeman also subverts typical space opera clichés (such as the heroic soldier influencing battles through individual acts) and demonstrates how absurd many of the old clichés look to someone who had seen real combat duty. In fact the quantity of battles described is relatively small, as the other aspects of the story are explored more extensively.

The other thing I’m noticing as I read and review the so-called classics of different genres is that the best characters are never really truly evil, nor good. Each person is a mixture of both. This is certainly the case in The Forever War as the individuals are well rounded and fully fleshed-out.

So in summary, this is science fiction of the highest quality and is worthy of the Masterworks title. The pace of the plot never slackens and this help to draw the reader in while retaining a compensate and emotional core (despite the battle sequences and death and destruction); a difficult balance to achieve. Despite it being over 40 years old a lot of the ideas Haldeman presciently foretells in the book are still relevant today and the years haven’t dated the story. A highly recommended book.
10 people found this helpful
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 9 September 2017
I was apprehensive initially, the first half of the book went past in a blur, there was a real lack of descriptions or uneccessary adjectives. But as the story unfolded and the true length of the story unravelled I realised I was properly hooked, not just on the characters, or the proper use of time, but the direction earth as a civilisation goes through and it's social stages viewed through the eyes of this unwilling subject. Spectacular, especially given this book is novella length.
One person found this helpful
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 12 August 2016
My first foray into proper hard science fiction, and I was hooked, devouring it in a few days. Past reviews have mentioned how this novel is an allegory to the Vietnam War, and that the author Joe Haldeman drew on his experiences as a soldier of that war. Indeed, one can certainly tell from reading it. The confusion, the gruesome and gory manners of death from an inordinate arsenal of weapons, poor leadership, disastrous decisions, dehumanisation of the enemy, alienation from your fellow citizens for whom you are supposedly fighting.

In addition to this, the adherence to real world physics makes the story far more believable and adds to the general sense of confusion and chaos that was also endemic to Vietnam. As the description makes clear, relativity means centuries pass on Earth for the few months the soldiers experience time. The consequence of this of course is that technology has changed rapidly too, and missions are planned over decades and centuries. No one really knows what the point of the conflict is.

Furthermore, the characterisation is also excellent. The protagonist William Mandella, is a highly sympathetic character, and his rumination on the horrors of war are profoundly grim and nihilistic, which resonates with the old adage 'War is Hell', which chimes well with the overall atmosphere of the war itself. He realises is simply a cog in a machine, buffeted about by powers he has no control over.

Lastly, the writing itself is excellent, despite being written in the mid seventies, the book feels incredibly fresh and had I not checked the date would have assumed it was published only a few years ago. Importantly the technological imaginations as other reviewers have said remains incredibly innovative. This book has clearly aged well like a fine wine. Overall a brilliant read.
One person found this helpful
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 12 November 2013
In very few words and very few pages Haldeman spans centuries and light years in this tale of interstellar war and personal attrition, told through the eyes of Private William Mandella. It's definitely worth a read; it won't take you long.

I suppose it's easy to forget that when this was written the Vietnam conflict was fresh in everyone's consciousness and, whilst the comparisons are hardly subtle, aspects such as the time dilation metaphor creating a soldier's `distance' from the world he once knew are highly symbolic; and yet also an interesting and original aspect of the story. On that note, for a book that's nearly 40 years old it's not easy to tell.

There's not a word wasted as we fly through the decades and flashpoint events, probably also symbolic of the soldier's conflict: nothing; nothing; nothing; an explosion of fear and conflict. Space also echoes the loneliness and risks of the Vietcong jungle, in that `nobody can hear you scream', well, they can, but there's bugger all that they can do about it! The alien enemy pretty much speaks for itself.

Anyway, I appear to be writing an A-level essay on the imagery, symbolism, and metaphors that exist in this book. In short, it is a terse (without feeling skeletal) and enjoyable war romp that works on a number of levels. I'm not quite sure it runs close to being the "perfect book"; but that's subjective. All you need to know is that it defines a genre and competes at representing the best of it.
One person found this helpful
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 31 January 2013
I read this as part of a reading list for a science fiction and fantasy class. That it has been selected as a writing model for the class is a prestigious acolade in itself (but then, I also read How I Live Now and The Silver Metal Lover as class list books, neither of which I rate) and while any review or opinion is just that - opinion - the fact that this book, first published in 1974, remains relevant, believable and poignant to this day further proof that it's one of science fiction's Masterworks.

Haldeman's space war novel is less concerned about the space and the futuristic elements (though they are impressively convincing and remain so, not having become dated in the past few decades) of the story, focusing instead on the horrors of war and the effect it has on the soldiers fighting. The war may be in space, against hive minded aliens, but it's still war and the foot soldiers still suffer the same trials, both physical and mental.

I've always felt that science fiction and fantasy is at its best when dealing with human concerns. In fact, any story is. Whether you prefer to read about the paranormal, horror, or just regular people in regular situations, with the human interest removed you have a very boring story. Of course, in chick lit and other genres dealing with ordinary people with ordinary problems, it is easier to keep things rooted in humanity. Far too often, Fantasy and Science fiction get carried away with world building, setting, mythology and lore, leaving flat, boring characters to swim around in their world - characters the reader doesn't care about.

Haldeman never falls foul of this - always balancing his science with human interest. The effects of the time dilation on the soldier's lives is much more interesting than the concept of time dilation itself, and The Forever War always stays on that side of the line.
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 11 December 2017
The Forever War explores the effects of a protracted conflict on the soldiers who fight it. The nuance in the story is the effect of time dilatation on the troops whose involvement in the war requires them to travel at relativistic speeds and thus become disconnected in time from the society for which they are fighting.

The story focuses on the characters as much as the course of the war itself and is an interesting read.
|0Comment|Report abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 November 2011
Haldeman's 'Forever War' is a classic of SF, having bagged both the Nebula and Hugo awards. It is also the product of a Vietnam veteran, who was looking for a suitable vehicle to bring some of the experiences across.

The story, centered around William Mandella, is a fairly typical one for a soldier. After initial training (already deadly), he gets sent on a multitude of missions, the breaks peppered with attempts at re-integrating into civilian life. The twist - the space jumps causing him to age significantly less than his contemporaries remaining on Earth - is a brilliant mechanism to bring across the difficulty a regular soldier would face upon entering civilian life again. The decades or centuries passing here will make it more plastic and plausible, why this process is so difficult. The message that it is hardly possible for anyone not having shared the same type of experience to completely understand, is spot on, too - and presented in a fantastic way.

If you are looking for a firefight a page read, the book may disappoint, even if the couple of firefights described are certainly gripping.

Finally, it addresses the futility of war and the reasons leading up to it in a pretty deus ex-machina but still very effective way.

Overall an excellent book that will appeal both to SF as well as Vietnam / war fiction fans and a very mature piece of writing. In spite of spanning only 238 pages, it successfully covers a spread of topics almost as wide as Marlantes' Matterhorn - another excellent book to emerge from the conflict (Matterhorn probably being the prefered read for people who just cannot stomach SF).
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 20 June 2013
I first read this as a young teenager, and was mesmerised by the idea of fighting wars over many centuries.

Then I saw this edition and bought it for the Kindle.

I guess that I've changed a lot in the intervening thirty or so years. The book resonated in completely different ways for me, and the middle (and very dark) section delivered much more power than I remembered. The whole book is much more thought-provoking than many sci-fi military novels, and ranks up there with Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

It's dark, funny, touching and above all else a tale of human nature in the face of the most utter isolation: the protagonist must be one of the most lonely, if never alone, characters in fiction.

I loved it.
|11 Comment|Report abuse
on 17 September 2012
This is a great soft sci-fi tale.

The protagonist is a victim of an army recruitment drive that picks only the brightest and best to serve. He is sent to conflicts across the galaxy and travels at speeds that cause massive relativistic effects. Every time he returns from a mission many years have passed for those he left behind. Gradually, he and his surviving comrades become increasingly alienated from a society they are unable to understand or be understood by.

There's some interesting techie stuff (not explored too deeply): bombs, guns, suits etc, some amusing twists in the development of society, a couple of really good relationship explorations and a great finale that I didn't see coming.

Excellent book all round. Definitely recommend it to anyone - not just the sci-fi crew.
|0Comment|Report abuse
on 26 September 2015
Written by a Vietnam Vet, a very cynical look at war and the powers behind it, set in a Sci-Fi context but no less relevant for that.. Read this many years ago as a paperback, loved it then and love it now, absolutely outstanding story. Read many of "Joe's" novels and collections over the years and can't really bring to mind any poor offerings, definitely one of my favourite authors.
|0Comment|Report abuse