Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Forever War - Joe Haldeman

This is a Sci-Fi Experience read.

The Forever War was first published in 1974 and won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. It’s also the first of SF Masterworks series of books which, if I am honest, was why I picked it to read next!

Private William Mandella is a reluctant soldier conscripted into an interstellar war against the alien Taurans - about whom little is known. He is part of an elite group of troopers who have been chosen for their intellectual capabilities and subjected to a grueling training regime which few make it through alive.

The soldiers who survive training, and then battle against the Taurans, experience time dilation. This means that a couple of years in their lives equals significantly longer on Earth. On finishing their tour of duty, Mandella and his partner Margay return to Earth and struggle to fit into, or understand, a society that has evolved beyond their understanding. I won't go into the details for fear of spoiling the progressing of the story but both William and Margay end up re-enlisting rather than remain there.

As the war continues, centuries pass on Earth and Mandella becomes the "oldest" surviving soldier who is promoted and put in charge of a unit where he finds he no longer even understands the language. In order to communicate with him the soldiers need to learn his version of old English. To give a scale to the changes that take place during William Mandella's own lifetime, the books starts in 2007 and concludes in 3134. That's time for some pretty major changes and looking back to the early medieval period and imagining what anyone alive would feel if they came forward to 2010.

I don't want to go into the details of how humanity changes over that course of time as I had no idea what to expect from the plot and that allowed me to learn along with Mandella. I found the Future tech battle interesting ideas and Haldenman's ideas about developments in the acceptable social norm was intriguing although initially I was a bit shocked by Mandalla's reaction to some of them. Again I don't want to spoil the story but if you do read this book, there's a point to some of the earlier hard to accept view points.

Joe Haldeman was a soldier in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded and won a Purple Heart, and his experience there influenced much of his work. I understand that the alienation felt by Mandella, and the other long term soldiers, mirrored the disorientation that Haldeman himself felt on returning from that War and that certainly puts an interesting perspective on this intriguing novel.

Ridley Scott has bought the rights to the film version and it'll be made in 3D. Should be interesting!


Carl V. Anderson said...

I have read a few of Haldeman's novels and thus far have been impressed. I have yet to read this, his most famous work. I am currently reading Starship Troopers and once I do get around to reading this one it will be interesting to compare the two viewpoints about war, the military, etc.

Peta said...

I've not read Starship Troopers (although keep meaning to!) but I'm sure it'd be a great companion read. I look forward to seeing what you think about it.

Laurence MacNaughton said...

I talked to Joe Haldeman recently about his latest, Starbound, and he told me that the series started out as a novella -- and was originally rejected by the editor! Now, it's winning critical acclaim, and Joe has been named to the Grand Master Award, the highest award in science fiction. Also, Ridley Scott (yes, THAT Ridley Scott) is considering turning The Forever War into a 3D movie. (If you're interested, you can read my Joe Haldeman interview for free at )

Portugal said...

When I first read this book, I knew I had found something I would read many more times. This was science fiction with a heart and mind. I think what I love most about this novel is that while it is brutal, it is about how a person can be swept along by terrible events far beyond their control and still remain a human being. There is so much I want to say about this book, but I don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read it yet. Let me just say that though the book is brutal at times, Haldeman is not a cruel man, and he does give us more than just death. In fact I was so intrigued by the book I read everything I could about the author's experience in Vietnam and I think I can safely say he toned the war in the book down for William Mandella (the protagonist). This is great fiction, and the fact that it is science fiction is a nice plus for fans of the genre. However I really believe this a book most anyone would enjoy.