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The Forever War Paperback – February 17, 2009
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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
A multiple winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Joe Haldeman is an ultimate household name in science fiction. A Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, since the original publication of The Forever War, Joe has maintined a continuous string of SF classics, and as a long-time Professor of Creative Writing at M.I.T., is widely acknowledged as a key mentor figure to many of this generation's top SF stars.
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The Forever War tells of a single soldier who survives a very long interstellar war because of the time dilation involved in traveling near light speed. It does a good job of depicting the horrors and frustrations of war. The world-building and character development were very good.
However, when it comes to Old Man's War versus The Forever War, I prefer Scalzi's novel because the protagonist was more developed and evolved more.
By the way, John Scalzi claims he did not read The Forever War until well after writing Old Man's War and its sequels. When it comes to writing, I see Scalzi as similar to Robert Heiinlein, and Joe Haldeman as more like Walter John Williams.
The book starts with the narrator as part of one of the first groups of conscripted soldiers in the fight against the alien "Taurans" (a rather arbitrary, but logical name for a new sentient species). Rather than a standard draft, they are the elite of Earth -- the best combination of physical and mental prowess (this is a point that's mentioned but not really developed, unfortunately).
However, getting to other star systems isn't the typical "fly to a wormhole and poof!" that you get in a lot of sci-fi -- they must accelerate to, and decelerate from, relativistic speeds to get to these wormholes ("colapsars") that are on the far edges of star systems. This means that the first battle takes months for the soldiers to go door-to-door while decades pass on earth. As their missions mount up, deployments that subjectively last a few months or years last for decades or centuries on Earth.
The brief exploration of the effects of these time jumps on the characters was the best part of the book. The action is good, but the broader ideas and their consequences kept me reading. The characters develop a bit, but are fairly static through the book, and most of their development is in relation to their views on the military command.
If you like sci-fi, you should read this. If you like military SF and haven't read it, then you might need to rethink your status as a military SF fan :)