The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War

AuthorJoe Haldeman

Page Count: 288 pages
Publisher: EOS Books
Release Date: September 2, 2003 (First published by St. Martin’s Press in 1974)
ISBN-10: 0060510862
ISBN-13: 978-0060510862

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 – his loved ones, Earth, even the war itself – 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

  • Sara J. April 15, 2008 at 9:21 am

    That one is also on my pile… thanks for the reminder! Well, kind of ;)

  • TK42ONE April 15, 2008 at 9:28 am

    The cover looks very similar to an art display I saw at Kentuck Knob.

  • Nathan Trader April 15, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Wow, this book sounds fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  • heather (errantdreams) April 16, 2008 at 7:53 am

    If I felt shame over the books I haven’t read, Haldeman as an author would top that list. Given that he taught science fiction writing at MIT when I was there, you’d think I would have at least read one of this books! Glad to hear this one was so good. Maybe someday I’ll read it. ;)

  • thrinidir April 16, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    The debate over at SFFWorld sf forum irritated me into readint TFW before I would normally do it – some douchebags kept tripping over the homosexual parts of the book and the “forced” sex between conscripts (don’t even get me started on this topic again). I very much agree with your review Aidan. If you have time check my review of The Forever War :p

  • aidan April 17, 2008 at 10:02 am

    I’d urge you to move it closer to the top, mostly because of its short length. It’s easy to squeeze in between other reads.

    The Forever War has been saddled with some of the worst covers in history, but the one I found, with the crosses, stood out very much and fit the tone of the novel. There are newer covers, but that one was one of my favourites.

    Nathan Trader,
    If the novel sounds interesting to you then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Haldeman pulls off all the concepts I speak of masterfully. It’s incredible how well it all holds up even 25 years later.

    Please tell me you took a class with Haldeman… it would surely be a fascinating semester. It’s looking like Steven Erikson may be teaching a couple of writing courses at my local college sometime in the future and I’ll be sure to enroll in those!

    I can see how ignorant homophobics might have a problem with the novel, but I’m surely not one of them. I think Haldeman managed to tackle all the difficult issues intelligently and with much integrity.

    Almost as soon as I published my review, I stumbled across yours. I usually avoid reading reviews of books I’m about to review myself, but search them out as soon as I’m done. I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one who thought so highly about The Forever War.

    I’m just in the midst of setting up an interview with Joe, so keep an eye out for that in the next few weeks!

  • Incubus Jax April 17, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Thanks, I’ve been looking for a new “good” sci-fi. I’ll check it out, sounds fun.

  • heather (errantdreams) April 18, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Please tell me you took a class with Haldeman…

    Sadly no. I was only a student there for less than two years, and I don’t even remember whether he was yet teaching then, or if that was when I was working there. Word had it he was very tough, but that if you could handle it, you’d learn a lot from him.

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