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The Forever War Paperback – February 17, 2009
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“To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise. It is, for all its techno-extrapolative brilliance, as fine and woundingly genuine a war story as any I've read.” ―William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, Spook Country
“There are a handful of moments when an American science fiction novel abruptly and seemingly effortlessly satisfied every possible expectation conveyed not only by the genre's ambitions, but of those of the whole literary landscape with which it was contemporary: Sturgeon's More Than Human, Dick's The Man In The High Castle, LeGuin's Dispossessed, Gibson's Neuromancer. The Forever War is one such book, and like those others still carries with it that air of recognition and possibility.” ―Jonathan Lethem, author of Gun With Occcasional Music, Fortress of Solitude
“Perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam . . . Haldeman, a veteran, is a flat-out visionary . . . and protagonist William Mandella's attempt to survive and remain human in the face of an absurd almost endless war is harrowing hilarious heartbreaking and true . . . like all the best works of literature THE FOREVER WAR takes you apart and then, before you can turn that last page, puts you back together: better, wiser, more human. Simply extraordinary.” ―Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“If there was a Fort Knox for Science Fiction writers, we'd have to lock Joe Haldeman up.” ―Stephen King, author of The Shining, The Dead Zone, The Stand
“The Forever War is not just a great Science Fiction novel, it's a great Vietnam war novel - and a great war novel, without qualification- that is also Science Fiction. A classic to grace either genre.” ―James Sallis, author of The Long Legged Fly, Drive, Cripple Creek
“FOREVER WAR is brilliant--one of the most influential war novels of our time. That it happens to be set in the future only broadens and enhances its message.” ―Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars, Eon, The Forge of God
“A parable whose lessons are needful learning once more.” ―John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, Zoe’s Tale
“I first read this twenty years ago and have never forgotten the wonder and fury it kindled at the time. Anyone who talks about the glory of war has obviously never read it. A beautifully detailed and intensely personal account of a conflict which lasts for over a thousand years, as told by one grunt who lives through it all. Only a writer as skillfull and knowledgeable as Haldeman could use war's dark glamour to lure the reader in and then deplou the sam fascination to show just what kind of effect this orchestrated barbarism can have on the human soul.” ―Peter F. Hamilton, author of Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained, The Dreaming Void
“In a literature of ideas, The Forever War is a titan: a book filled with mind-bending ideas about relatavistic time-distortion and world-shaking ideas about the futility of war. In today's world, where we think declaring war on abstract nouns like TERROR is a winning strategy, we need THE FOREVER WAR.” ―Cory Doctorow, author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother X
“It is to the Vietnam War what Catch-22 was to World War II, the definitive, bleakly comic satire.” ―Thomas M. Disch, author of Camp Concentration, 334
“The Forever War does what the very best science fiction does. It deals with extremes both societal and teleological; it places a frame around humankind's place in the universe to show us what is outside the frame; and it functions simultaneously at the literal and metaphorical level. Inarguably one of the genre's great novels, it is also among the finest novels ever written about war.” ―James Sallis, author of The Long Legged Fly, Drive, Cripple Creek
About the Author
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Paperback : 264 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312536631
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312536633
- Product Dimensions : 5.58 x 0.81 x 8.27 inches
- Publisher : St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint Edition (February 17, 2009)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #18,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This book aged VERY strangely. And I'm not talking about the dates, or the idea that we had interstellar travel by 1997. I also get that this book was meant to be commentary on Vietnam, but it does not read like that at all. Instead it reads about a hetero man watching the dreaded 'gay agenda' put on fast forward and trying to cope with it. And it just so happens to take place during a war.
This sounds so wild- but let me explain.
The idea of "gotta let them soldiers bang to keep them fighting fit and sane!" is old and tired. Bonus nonsense points here when it is mentioned that the women are legally required to lay with a man (yet it is not mentioned for the men, implying it is one sided... wtf? Go both or not at all! Cowardice!). The main character's group is mixed gender and swap 'bed partners' with the opposite sex every night (implying mostly the women are cycled through each bunk).
As mentioned in another review, there is even a scene where they (the women) are 'set upon' by the sex starved men of a station and make a wild orgy of it. Like, what ???????
As our main character suffers from relativity, each time he has contact with earth society and humanity the more often he comes into contact with LGBT characters (specifically the L and the G). This is mostly described as 'overly feminized' males with 'makeup and their nails done' (If women are not allowed to do this in the military, why the hell would a gay male be allowed to???), or women whom he cant tell are women, but uses she pronouns anyway.
The main character is accepting at this, although mentions his discomfort. In fact they point out homosexuality and worry about it an awful lot...
At one point he finds his elderly mother is with a young (his age?) woman in a lesbian relationship. How this is resolved is that the woman has an outburst on him (though he didn't say anything) and then disappears from the story never to return. Abandoning the ailing mother.
Queue another time skip, and the character finds out that not only are most humans born from test tubes now, but that they are purposely made gay for the grand UN eugenics project! Heteros are the minority and can be 'cured' of their heterosexuality too! Excuse me??? what???
He is very worried about this because the troops he now leads are... all Gays and Lesbians! Oh no! This makes him nervous, so he calls a group of them privately JUST TO MAKE SURE they know he is hetero, and to ask and make sure it wouldn't bother anyone. (Why is this even a thing??? WHY?? why are you telling them this?!?! How does this matter to anything???!?!)
It eventually comes to a point later that oh! all of humanity is now actually a clone of the same person (named 'man'). But if that bothers you, you can go to one of the breeder planets! ...??????
To the author and the main character's credit, the reaction is not outright revulsion or anger in the face of all this. Instead its the main character dealing with their growing discomfort in being with "a lot of them" and eventually having his heterosexuality deemed as 'deviant'. Basically a Hetero male's nightmare if all they care about is what other people do in their bedroom.
The ending is problematic in itself. With the MC's Gay pal deciding they will "Try and be hetero!", with the main character insisting they will "like it when they try it!" The book does not deny that it is a genetic trait and not a choice, but the whole "ah just turn the gay person straight as they should be!" at the end is... yikes!
A second yikes is the note from his GF to "go to the planet of 'middle finger'" AKA the last haven for heterosexual people! Ah yes! A safe place for them! Finally! Wow!
Coupled with the fact that most of the gory injuries happen to women. This story feels more about a straight man trying to come to terms with a LGBT future than anything. The war parts are good, but feel like part of the setting rather than the story. The character just cares so much about something that should otherwise be inconsequential. He needs to get over it.
It's been good to revisit it, too. Sure, I remembered an awful lot, but times have changed in our world since then, which makes for something of a good parallel with the tale itself.
For those unfamiliar with the book, it's the story of William Mandella, a soldier fighting in deep space for humanity - but the faster than light travel that carries him and his fellow soldiers into battle also means that while only a year or two may pass for them, many years pass on the Earth they are fighting for.
Before they know it, the world they left behind is almost unrecognisable to the soldiers - and the only remnant of the world gone by are the soldiers themselves, finding in one another the familiarity they can no longer see in society.
There are obvious connections here to the veterans who returned from Vietnam - Haldeman himself served there - and came home to a country they struggled to fit into after the horrors they had experienced.
Among the changes they see are changing attitudes to sexuality over the years. I've seen people criticise the book for Mandella's attitude to homosexuality, which becomes more prominent in society in the decades in which he's off fighting alien aggressors, but really that's a representation of both Mandella's place and time, and I would argue a positive showing an increased acceptance of homosexuality. Sure, Mandella has a struggle to accept that - but he struggles to accept everything about the changed world. He is a man literally out of time, with regard to just about every aspect of society.
It truly is a visionary novel, tackling heavyweight subjects of how you go on fighting for a world you no longer recognise, even as you do your duty.
If you've never read it, trust me, put it on your reading list - it truly is one of the greats.
Top reviews from other countries
And there is …. The story soon changes, the effects of time dilation as a result of near light speed travel are explored, as is the tragedy of one soldiers of loss of friends and family, alienation with humanity, not being able to fit into society plus having to deal with a seemingly endless pointless conflict.
The heart of the novel is about one reluctant soldier, Private William Mandella who is fairly ambivalent about the wars he finds himself in. He fights more from of a sense of duty and loyalty. The reader is subjected to a mixture of hard sci-fi: the aforementioned time travel and its effects, black holes and hi-tech arsenals along with descriptions of the social and political changes needed following on from a Malthusian-like catastrophe (population growth had outpaced agricultural production): homosexuality becomes the law (sex is treated by Haldeman in a non-judgemental and non-moralistic manner) and payment for work is in calories as opposed to actual money. The story also deals with love too. Mandella bonds with one woman in his company in particular and she provides his only connection to their known world of the past; as the book closes Mandella has travelled over twelve centuries.
It is clear that the book is an allegory to the Vietnam War, Joe Haldeman having served in this conflict. Other hints of the autobiographical nature of the work are the protagonist’s surname, Mandella, which is a near-anagram of the author’s surname, as well as the name of the lead female character, Marygay Potter, which is nearly identical to Haldeman’s wife’s maiden name. Importantly, if one accepts this reading of the book, the alienation experienced by the soldiers on returning to Earth becomes a clear metaphor for the reception given to US troops returning to America from Vietnam, including the way in which the war ultimately proved useless and its result meaningless. This meaningless is discovered in the book by a cloned, collective species calling itself Man who can communicate with the Taurans and discovers the aliens were not responsible for an act that triggered the futile conflict that lasted for more than a thousand years.
Haldeman also subverts typical space opera clichés (such as the heroic soldier influencing battles through individual acts) and demonstrates how absurd many of the old clichés look to someone who had seen real combat duty. In fact the quantity of battles described is relatively small, as the other aspects of the story are explored more extensively.
The other thing I’m noticing as I read and review the so-called classics of different genres is that the best characters are never really truly evil, nor good. Each person is a mixture of both. This is certainly the case in The Forever War as the individuals are well rounded and fully fleshed-out.
So in summary, this is science fiction of the highest quality and is worthy of the Masterworks title. The pace of the plot never slackens and this help to draw the reader in while retaining a compensate and emotional core (despite the battle sequences and death and destruction); a difficult balance to achieve. Despite it being over 40 years old a lot of the ideas Haldeman presciently foretells in the book are still relevant today and the years haven’t dated the story. A highly recommended book.
While this book has much in common with <i>Starship Troopers</i> there is much that differentiates it. The one thing that stands it apart from Heinlein's book is that <i>The Forever War</i> is unequivocally an anti-war book. Joe Haldeman draws on his experiences in Vietnam as the basis for this novel. This is also a science fiction novel and he adds a good dose of hard-SF to make it work.
Our hero, the narrator, is William Mandella. He finds himself thrust into a war he does not understand against the alien Taurans, which he understands even less. The enemy was first encountered in the Aldebaran system in the constellation of Taurus but the location of their native planet is unknown.
Superluminal travel exists in Haldeman's Universe. It is achieved by diving into an object called a collapsar. The trouble is travelling between these objects is done according to Einstein's physics. This can take a long time but time dilation can shorten the length of the trip for the soldiers, subjectively. This makes collapsars strategically important as are the frozen worlds that orbit them.
Private Mandella begins his training on the fictional planet of Charon deep in the outer Solar System. The training is brutal, unforgiving and dehumanising. The female soldiers are expected to put out for the male ones. I suspect this was shocking even in the nineteen seventies. Human beings are de-humanised and become assets to be used and expended in the protracted war.
More through luck than judgement, our hero survives his duty and he retires to civilian life on a now unfamiliar planet Earth. Unable to fit in, he re-enlists as a junior officer and is promoted again. Alas, the military separates him from his lady love. Relativistic time dilation means it is unlikely they will ever see each other again. Another layer of humanity is denied our protagonist
I found the battle scenes somewhat lacking. I felt like Haldeman was telling us about them rather than immersing us into the action and the danger. As an anti-war novel, I felt it failed to present to the Hell of war effectively. Having said that, Mandella has to cope with losing and nearly losing his colleagues, and indeed his own grievous injuries. We get a glimpse of the human cost of the forever war.
Re-reading on the Kindle it was just as engaging as Private Mandella manages to reach the heights of command simply by being just one of two people to survive 2000 years of war, the other is his lover of choice. Haldeman manages to avoid the cliches of war fiction, by leaving most of it out. Probably as a result of being a Vietnam veteran.
A Good read.
In addition to this, the adherence to real world physics makes the story far more believable and adds to the general sense of confusion and chaos that was also endemic to Vietnam. As the description makes clear, relativity means centuries pass on Earth for the few months the soldiers experience time. The consequence of this of course is that technology has changed rapidly too, and missions are planned over decades and centuries. No one really knows what the point of the conflict is.
Furthermore, the characterisation is also excellent. The protagonist William Mandella, is a highly sympathetic character, and his rumination on the horrors of war are profoundly grim and nihilistic, which resonates with the old adage 'War is Hell', which chimes well with the overall atmosphere of the war itself. He realises is simply a cog in a machine, buffeted about by powers he has no control over.
Lastly, the writing itself is excellent, despite being written in the mid seventies, the book feels incredibly fresh and had I not checked the date would have assumed it was published only a few years ago. Importantly the technological imaginations as other reviewers have said remains incredibly innovative. This book has clearly aged well like a fine wine. Overall a brilliant read.