The two main military sci fi classics are Starship Troopers and Forever War. While the first is a World War II metaphor, with a somewhat ambiguous message about militarism and even the need of fascism in times of crisis, Joe Haldeman’s book exposes the madness of the Vietnam war as it follows the life of a soldier through thousands of years of a meaningless conflict. Joe Haldeman himself is a Vietnam vet that was even awarded a medal for combat wounds.
The story follows William Mandela, who was recruited at the end os the 1990s – the book was written in 1974 – to fight a mysterious alien race called Taurans. To travel to the front, ships move so fast that time dilates, making the subjective time inside the ship slower than the “real” time of the universe. So, when Mandella comes home after fighting for two years of his, nearly three decades have passed on Earth. And as they travel further, bigger is the time dilation, and the conflict crawls on for decades and centuries.
For a book about an armed conflict, Forever War has surprisingly few battle scenes, showing that maxim that war is long periods of monotony punctuated by brief moments of deep terror. Time dilation becomes an obvious metaphor for the feeling of isolation Vietnam veterans felt when they returned home. After going through so much terror, they had difficulty adapting to their home country, that had undergone so many changes in art, music, hippie movement, sexual revolution, etc.
This cunning gimmick is very well constructed all along the book, and the reader sees how evermore Mandella distances himself from the society he is supposed to be protecting. The Taurans also don’t appear much, the biggest adversaries seem to be the military bureaucracy. The version I read had a terrible introduction by writer John Scalzi. As much as I like the author, he seemed more interest in writing about the similarities between his title Old Man’s War and Forever War than Joe Haldeman’s book itself.
One of the best book I have read, great on many fronts and highly recommended.