Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Review of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever WarI first heard of this novel in a History module I did in my first year at university – Science Fiction and Society, it was called (or something similar). According to my lecturer, Joe Haldeman was a Vietnam veteran and this book reflects his war experiences.

The story begins in 1997, with the main character, William Mandella (born in the mid-seventies, when the ook was written), having been conscripted into an élite army unit of highly intelligent, physically fit, graduates. The purpose of he unit is to combat aliens called Taurans who have attacked human colonists.

Humans are just beginning to explore the universe beyond the solar system and these élite soldiers are sent out in craft travelling at near light speed. In fact, at these velocities, time dilation effects kick in, so a campaign that, to Mandella, appears to take eight months, actually takes nine years. Once back on earth in 2006, he’s sent on another mission, farther away. That takes about twenty years. The next one takes a couple of centuries.

Over the many years of the war, Mandella witnesses huge technological advances in warfare (although at the end, the humans and Taurans end up fighting with darts, bows and arrows, swords and spears), even greater changes in human society, and the continuing mono-manaical determination of the military machine to pursue its ends regardless of the cost, be it financial or human.

The Forever War is clearly a very important work of hard sf. The human side of the narrative is less well-done – there is a love story there, but you don’t really realise it until well into the novel. The copy I have appears to be the first UK paperback edition (for some reason, it doesn’t have the title on the spine – or maybe it’s just faded to nothing), and it has a few big typos in it – a couple of sentences are clearly lacking several words, for example.

Overall, an interesting read, a little dry and fairly obvious in the way it develops, but not bad.

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