Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Though this novel has a couple sequels I don't think I'll read any of them--and not because I didn't like it.  Far from it in fact.  I enjoyed it so much so that I don't want to ruin my impression of it by moving on to lesser works in the same series.  Truthfully, I can't imagine The Forever War not standing on its own.  Its a perfectly crafted work that is a universe unto itself, needing nothing additional.

Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam vet where he served as a combat engineer after earning his BS in physics and astronomy.  He teaches at MIT to this day.  The Forever War is in some large parts a result of his time in Vietnam and his reflections on it.

Firmly within the Military Sci-Fi genre, The Forever War revolves around a physics student who is recruited into a war he doesn't understand against an enemy he doesn't know.  Upon his initial return to the "world" from fighting this enemy, society has changed so much that he no longer recognizes or feels comfortable with it.  You can see why the work has been rightfully been called analogous to Haldeman's Vietnam experiences.

Over the course of centuries of objective time, the soldier is promoted through the ranks of the UNEF (United Nations Exploratory Force) and remains largely the same individual while humankind goes through massive changes due to the effects of time dilation caused by his travel at relativistic speeds.  How society changes and how the main character views and reacts to these changes takes up a great deal of the work.  It is this examination of sexual mores, government, science, politics, etc. that is the  core here.  The military battles such as they are with the alien Taurans are just the device by which Haldeman turns the microscope on ourselves.

Haldeman's writing is not filled with long sequences of dialogue or endlessly detailed descriptions of equipment or science...this is not "hard" science fiction, nor is it going to make Shakespeare quake.  It doesn't need to.  It contains enough detail surrounding the battlesuits its soldiers wear and the lethality of simply trying to exist in space that it will please most military scifi enthusiasts but it is the ideas that The Forever War contains about what state humankind currently finds itself in, where it may go and how we treat each other that are of real value.  On these The Forever War stands rightfully as a "classic" of sci-fi from the last 40 years.

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