The Forever War
Author – Joe Haldeman
Page Count: 288 pages
Publisher: EOS Books
Release Date: September 2, 2003 (First published by St. Martin’s Press in 1974)
Knock one off the Pile o’ Shame.
My Pile o’ Shame is full of Science Fiction novels, a genre I’ve sadly ignored over the last several years as I’ve been wrapped up so heavily in Fantasy. Deciding it well past time that I rectified this mistake, I picked up an old, ratty copy of a novel constantly caught my attention as I perused Internet message boards. That book was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and within pages I was regretting the fact that I hadn’t picked it up sooner.
My edition of The Forever War clocked in at a lean 218 pages and Haldeman doesn’t waste a word of it. Like the last SF novel I read, Tobias Buckell’s Crystal Rain (REVIEW), The Forever War packs more content between its covers than many novels three times its length do.
Told from a first person point-of-view (POV), The Forever War follows William Mandella across the galaxy and back again, a regrettable soldier in a vicious, inter-racial war. The interesting part comes from the fact that Mandella, as he zips back and forth between solar systems hundreds of light years away from each other, ages only months while the rest of the universe â€“ his loved ones, Earth, even the war itself â€“ watch decades and centuries pass by.
Mandella is a likable protagonist (a must in a first person POV novel), someone who takes everything at face value and greets the reader as a trustworthy companion. The most enjoyable and interesting portions of the novel, even more so than the well drawn and tense combat situations, are the times when Mandella is drawn out of combat and thrust back into a human society which has evolved by centuries, often as seemingly alien as the foes they battle. Haldeman deftly contrasts controversial philosophical debates (relevant even now, twenty-five years later) such as human cloning, utopian society and homosexuality. Mandella often confronts these changes with a stoic humour, causing the reader to chuckle even as they’re contemplating such unsettling visions of the future.
The ever changing cast of secondary characters is interesting and gives Mandella a chance to reflect upon himself and the chaning world; because of this I found myself truly worrying for Mandella and experiencing pangs of guilt and remorse when his friends (few as they are at any given time) were often viciously offed during the war.
Whereas most Science Fiction novels offer us a glimpse of a possible future filled with characters of that future generation, Haldeman found a way, outside of pure time travel, to subject someone of our generation to this sometimes bleak, sometimes heartening future. Mandella, born in 1977, reacts to the war as one would expect a battle trained soldier to; he rolls with the punches and allows the reader to make up their own mind, a reliable narrator of the best sorts.
In my quest to delve further back into Science Fiction, I’ve made it a mission to start with those novels which seem to be universally loved and, if The Forever War is any indication, I’ve certainly got a lot to look forward to. Highly recommended, The Forever War is the perfect novel to refresh yourself between the doorstop novels that continue to fill the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres.
Now, back to that SF Pile o’ Shame…