Customer Reviews: The Forever War
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on January 4, 2002
I was somewhat taken aback by the style of this novel at first. After reading a few dozen pages, however, I could clearly see why this book is considered classic military science fiction. This is a fascinating contrast to Starship Troopers.
Haldeman's style is terse and effective, seasoned with a sly sense of humor throughout. The protagonist, William Mandella, is a likeable military everyman with whom a reader readily identifies. The battle scenes are particularly well done, allowing a reader to easily follow the action without the confusion that would plague a less skillful account.
The Forever War is notable for its exploration of the temporal effects of faster than light travel, i.e., Mandella's tours of duty last hundreds of years on earth, while for him, only a few years pass. Mandella goes forth to battle, having no idea what type of home will await him in the unlikely event that he survives. Eventually, Mandella is rendered a human anachronism, a veteran in command of troops he can barely understand.
The parallels with Vietnam were mostly lost on me, as I'm too young to relate, but the theme of coming home to a world one no longer recognizes is more than ably developed. Another theme that gets a lot of play is that of the unintended consequences of social engineering as Earth's society "evolves." Some of the changes to Earth that Mandella witnesses are disturbing, many are humorous, and the final chapter is extremely unusual and thought-provoking.
More than just a cold military fantasy, The Forever War has a surprising emotional impact as well. Best of all, Haldeman makes his points with subtlety and humor, not by nailing them into your skull. A terrific read that I would recommend to anyone without hesitation.
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on March 15, 2012
The Forever War is one of my favorite books. I've read it at least ten times over the years. However, what you're getting here is NOT the version you probably remember. It's an unedited version. Now, I'm sure you're thinking "Great! I LOVE the book, so more of it can only be a good thing. Right?"


It's Haldeman's terse prose and direct writing style that make The Forever War a great novel. Without the discipline and restraint that previous editors imposed upon his work, Haldeman rambles on like your great-grandpa telling you about life during the Great Depression. There are at least two entire chapters devoted to describing how Earth's economy is now based on calories instead of dollars. And by the end of those two chapters, Haldeman himself seems to conclude that it's dumb, impractical idea that's not very interesting in the first place.

There are reasons that the original cuts were made. What was once tense, quotable, action-packed and provocative is now a lumbering beast, sagged down by tons of extraneous ramblings that don't add to the story even a little.

I certainly don't expect you to believe me. And in fact, I suppose some of you might even like the extra material, bland and superflous as it is. But for me, this version is a rough draft. I would much prefer to have a copy of the edited version. Editing is NOT a dirty word- it's part of the craft of writing.
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on January 17, 2004
Haldeman originally wrote this novel as an allegory of the Vietnam war, told through the eyes of a reluctant soldier caught up in a battle that never seemed to end, while the world he left behind changed drastically. However, it applies to all wars, in any time, and the book has never lost its timeliness.
Main character William Mandella serves in the war against the mysterious Taurans, which, because of time dilation udring his spaceship travels, lasts for seven hundred years while Mandella ages only ten. Earth alters, lifestyles completely change, and Mandella wonders the purpose of the senseless warfare.
Although specifically allegorical, Haldeman's novel is powerful enough to apply to all combat. In a way, this could be seen as the opposite to Heinlein's _Starship Troopers_, with reluctant soldiers caught in purposeless combat, and a hero who is neither more skilled or heroic than any other solider around him-he has merely lasted longer than the others. The book has many great touching moments in between the furious combat scenes (a few of which are confusing), such a Mandella's separation from his love Marygay Potter, and a sad return to an Earth that has aged beyond their understanding.
A deserving classic of many awards, and I'm sure it will never age as long as warfare is still with us.
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on January 18, 2000
"The Forever War" is authored by a Vietnam Veteran who uses the colorful setting of the future "Forever" War as an allegory for The 'Nam and the feelings of its vets. This powerful book grabs the reader quickly and throws him straight into the first-person world of William Mandela, would-be physics professor turned soldier by the Earth's military fight alien Taurans in a war with nebulous origins. Due to complications posed by relativity, each time the combatants engage, the battle is completely lopsided because one race will have the technological advantages endowed by time on their side. For example, if Earth sends a mission that takes 300 years for the mission to reach it's goal, the enemy already had 300 years to prepare and upgrade defenses, so the mission's tech is obsolete. Then, if the Taurans attack our outpost, the same thing happens. With no communication between the two races, no chance of winning, but the ever present chance of defeat, an eternal war is created. Halderman also captures the disorientation experienced by GIs who came back from horrific combat, and were expected to instantly adjust to 1960's "Ozzy and Harriet" American culture. The "Forever War" has a cynical ring that I instantly loved, as well as sublimely juxtaposing the positive and negative potentials of humans as individuals and a race. The military details are right on target, from the lingo and attitudes to soldiers' attitudes. Overall, I'd definitely recommend "The Forever War" to anyone with an interest in Sci-Fi. It'll also teach you about the motivations of warriors who turn peacemakers.
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on February 7, 2010
This is an excellent novel - hard-hitting, lean, and inventive, while also psychologically deep. A friend gave it to me in high school, before I even knew what the Nebula and Hugo awards were, and not only was I taken right in by it, but it's remained a favorite.

The other reviews cover the story and its worth better than I can, so I'll just focus on the different editions. I was given the original version, in the 1976 paperback. This is the version that won the awards, and the edition on this page is the third version, the definitive author's edition. I bought it for my nephew and was surprised at the change.

The difference is that the middle section - when Mandella returns to Earth between tours of duty - used to be ten pages. Now it's forty pages and tells a very different story. The first version worked well as a calm between the space battles, but now Mandella's blowing away rapists and thieves with shotguns.

It's as if Ender, in Ender's Game, when he's taking a break on Earth between sessions at Battle School, didn't lounge out by a lake, but got into a forty-page battle with raiding outlaw gangs. It'd not only be a long tangent and distraction from the story, but it'd make it seem as if the Earth wasn't even worth saving. That's the way this section plays out, and perhaps why Haldeman's editor, Ben Bova, cut it.

The earlier, ten-page version presents Mandella's break from duty as boring and bureaucratic, which is much more accurate for a soldier returning to civilian life. There's also scenes that are much more meaningful to the story, such as when Mandella's words are twisted by the media.

I admire Haldeman a great deal, and I even admire how he stuck to his guns and put out the version of the story he favors, but in this case I have to agree with Ben Bova's idea to cut that section out.

Still, you can always skip those forty pages and read it later as a short story of the world gone wrong.
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on June 19, 2005
Though it has been nearly thirty years since this book was published, "The Forever War" has still managed to do what most science fiction novels cannot: stand the test of time. And even though I am too young to have seen the Vietnam War (of which this book is a metaphor), this novel remains one of my favorite science fiction stories.

The book follows the exploits of William Mandella, an elite conscript in the first interstellar war between humans and aliens. Though the book begins in 1997 (which, at the time of its publication, was about twenty years in the future), it spans a period of almost 1,200 years that Mandella lives through, due to relativity as a result of him traveling at faster-than-light speeds through space. While Mandella and his fellow soldiers only age months, the Earth ages centuries and becomes ultimately more alien than the creatures they are fighting.

This book is great because it goes against the time-honored genre of science fiction that has become so formulaic and cliched. The whole point of this book is that good and evil aren't black and white absolutes, and it shows war for what it is: a hellish slaughter. Haldeman's blunt, cold style of writing paints us a vivid picture of the futility of the war that Mandella is fighting, and it doesn't dramatize or glorify it as Hollywood has been doing for years.

All in all, a great read for any fan of the genre, especially for those who are tired of sci-fi stories with "Star Wars" type romanticism.
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on March 9, 2004
Wow. What an excellent collection of reviews. Proof, if it were needed, that Sci Fi fans are a cut above your average Joe and Josephine.
Yes, The Forever War is a Vietnam allegory, and one of the ways in which it succeeds mightily is in the way our hero becomes increasingly alienated from his HomeWorld, and re-enlists.
Of the two-tour Vietnam Vets I know, including two Army Nurses, they all said the same thing - that they could no longer identify with the World they had returned to and felt that the familiar madness of Vietnam beckoned them infinitely more.
TFW is a fascinating book in the way it portrays the Einsteinian temporal paradoxes and their effects on Earth and Earth Forces in the field, fighting many light years away. The impossibility of having effective real-time command and control from Earth is just one of the factors that makes the war seem pointless.
Many Vietnam Vets found that Time seemed to pass at a different rate In Country compared to the States (which they called The World). Only when you entered your Short period, when you got down to your last 99 days, when you became a two-digit midget, or your last 9 days, when you became a one-digit midget, did Time begin to resume any kind of linear perspective.
While it's true to say that the only good thing about war is its ending, war is not always futile. When it is undertaken without a very clear attainable objective, i.e. something which makes it 'winnable', such as the Forever War and the Vietnam War, there is a crushing sense of futility, which comes across well in this book.
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on November 6, 2003
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.
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If you are simply looking for a book to read in and of itself, then The Forever War is either going to hit or miss for you. The younger you are, the more you'll like it. The sex/drugs stuff goes a long way towards titillating younger readers, even if its mostly left to the imagination.

If you're a Science Fiction reader, particularly Military Science Fiction, then this is one of those books you simply ~have~ to read, because its part of the SF "canon". It doesn't mean you're going to like it completely, but since every working author today has likely read it, then you should to if only to better appreciate their work. If you like David Drake, you need to read this, as well as Starship Troopers for that matter. Heinlein himself liked this book very much, and told Haldeman the same (according Spider Robinson in the book "Requiem").

I'm in my 30s, a peacetime veteran, and I found it to be kind of uneven. The main premise of the book - relativistic effects causing space traveling soldiers to age slowly while the society that went to war changes dramatically in their absence - is solid, and works well, if a bit underexplored (in the original version).

However, there's very little character depth - Starship Troopers was bascically a Juvenile, but those characters seemed much more fleshed out that than these. There's a lot of combat "grit", but a lot of the battle scenes are less than thrilling to read. The "climactic" battle went on for several pages longer than absolutely necessary.

As for the "future" aspects of the book - you can safely ignore the anachronistic references to space travel in the 1990s - just think "its the future" and it works.

So, to recap - if you want a "fun read", look elsewhere. If you are in interested in Science Fiction, its a Mandatory read - but lower your expectations somewhat.
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VINE VOICEon November 15, 2003
Drafted into a United Nations space army after humanity is attacked by mysterious aliens, William Mandella participates in an early victory and returns to earth a hero. But (thanks to relativity) the earth he returns to is strange and dangerous--and jobless. Mandella reenlists--only to be sent back into combat. With each mission, more earth-time passes and Mandella grows more distant from the civilization that sends him into conflict. But each mission also brings him closer to death because the enemy is advancing quickly in their martial abilities.
Author Joe Haldeman made some misguesses in terms of 21st century technology (he dramatically underestimated progress in computers and display technology and overestimated progress in lasers) and guessed that Viet Nam would be the last U.S. war action for a generation, but he tells a powerful story of soldiers fighting a war that they don't understand.
The anti-war message of THE FOREVER WAR is clear and powerful. With the U.S. at war now (in Iraq at this writing), an anti-war message will be unpopular to some. But our current war makes THE FOREVER WAR an essential work. Haldeman ends his story with a nasty twist, and with a heartwarming surprise.
THE FOREVER WAR is an important book, freshly edited to restore Haldeman's original message and impact (the 1970s version was really FOREVER lite. A few editorial errors remain--especially the abrupt transitions between calorie and dollar denominations, but these shouldn't detract from reader enjoyment. I read FOREVER when it came out in the 70s and was struck by its power. The new edition adds to the impact.
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