3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Product of its Time
This slim military sci-fi novel won both a Hugo and Nebula awards following its publication in 1975, but readers today probably need a little context to understand why it was so well-received at the time. First and foremost, it was written as a direct response to the Vietnam War by Haldeman, who served a tour of duty there as a combat engineer and was severely wounded...
Published on March 21 2004 by A. Ross
3.0 out of 5 stars If you liked this, try these instead - far better
The Forever War is a middling attempt at mixing time travel with martial science fiction. I've seen this theme before in books that predate this one - most of it in Heinlein, some of it in Asimov. The Forever War has a very Foundation (which I despise) feel - instead of opening vaults every century, the protagonist pops out of his latest battle into the most recent...
Published on Jan. 20 2004
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Product of its Time,
This slim military sci-fi novel won both a Hugo and Nebula awards following its publication in 1975, but readers today probably need a little context to understand why it was so well-received at the time. First and foremost, it was written as a direct response to the Vietnam War by Haldeman, who served a tour of duty there as a combat engineer and was severely wounded (he's also written several Vietnam-specific novels, including War Year and 1968). In the book, a young physics student named Mandella is drafted for a war against a mysterious alien race. We follow him through complicated and dangerous training, several violent battles, and his return home. Not surprisingly, Haldeman's portrayal of war is a brutal and messy picture, where long periods of boredom are followed by intense battles, death is arbitrary, and heroism nonexistent. Also not surprisingly, the war is revealed to be a misguided endeavor brought on by hawkish political leaders who lie to the public about the war. Needless to say, the public climate of the time was very receptive to such sentiments.
The other main noteworthy element of the book is the treatment of interstellar travel, and the distortion of time that results. After his first battle, Mandella returns to Earth to find his loved ones aged 27 years and society largely antiseptic. Just as many Vietnam vets had a difficult time returning home, he and many of his cohort can't handle life of Earth, and re-enlist. The book continues with Mandella shuttling from battle to battle, rising rapidly in seniority as hundreds of subjective years pass to his own few. Haldeman is a physicist, and there's a lot of scientific jargon about relativity theory to explain everything, and for the time, it was pretty exciting stuff for sci-fi readers. However, I found those passages nearly incomprehensible and the need to explain things definitely bogs down the narrative at times. These leaps through time allow Haldeman to do some interesting speculation about the evolution of humanity, as he touches upon cloning, sexuality, and genetics. The emphasis, though, is on Mandella and his personal quest to just survive. This is solid work, with generally good pacing, and a very overt antiwar message that is the product of its times.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent exploration of the futility of interstellar war,
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
In the late 1990s, Earth starts an interstellar war against the alien Taurans after human colony ships in Tauran space were destroyed. The United Nations Exploratory Force (UNEF) begins conscripting the Earth's intellectual elite, the only humans smart enough to handle burgeoning space combat technologies. Among the conscripts is William Mandella, an MSc in physics and our protagonist.
After intense, deadly training on Charon, Mandella's company is ordered to attack a Tauran outpost. The outpost, however, is lightyears away, and the only way to traverse that distance quickly is to fly into a "collapsar"—essentially a wormhole created by the collapse of a star—and emerge out of another collapsar at relativistic speeds. Following their successful collapsar jump, Mandella's company arrives at the Tauran outpost planet, lands, and after making face-to-face contact with alien life for the first time in human history, proceeds to slaughter the Taurans stationed there.
The key to the novel becomes apparent on their return to UNEF's space headquarters. En route, they are intercepted by a Tauran patrol stationed nearby. Because of the time dilation at relativistic speeds, Mandella's company has only aged two years over the course of the campaign, but the Tauran patrol has had decades to research advanced technology and tactics. Mandella's ship is attacked and nearly destroyed by the advanced Tauran technology, but manages to make it back to HQ. Injured in the attack, Mandella is given shore leave to Earth, which is now 20 years in his subjective future.
Appalled at the deterioration he finds back at Earth (intense overpopulation and scarcity of resources, for example), Mandella reluctantly re-enlists, and is promoted to an officer. After surviving several more campaigns, he is eventually promoted to Major and is given the command of a company. His new recruits, from hundreds of years in his subjective future, speak an unrecognizable form of English and are bred to be exclusively homosexual. Faced with ever-mounting future shock apparent in the cultural differences from his soldiers, the rapidly-advancing weaponry, and the huge strides in physics rendering his education obsolete, Mandella struggles to understand the strange humanity he fights for and the point of the thousand-year conflict altogether.
Long plot summary aside, The Forever War is entirely about the Vietnam War. The oldest UNEF officers at the beginning of the novel are veterans of "that Indochina thing [that] had fizzled out before [Mandella] was born." Soldiers conscripted to fight agonize over losses incurred in a war with no clear goal or end in sight. Finally, Haldeman himself was injured fighting in Vietnam, and upon returning home, faced alienation by a culture removed from the actual fighting; the time dilation in the novel is just an alternative and more direct means of accomplishing this disconnect.
The Forever War is #1 in the SF Masterworks series, and for once I can probably endorse that rating. Five stars.
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the World... literally,
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.
3.0 out of 5 stars If you liked this, try these instead - far better,
By A Customer
The Forever War is a middling attempt at mixing time travel with martial science fiction. I've seen this theme before in books that predate this one - most of it in Heinlein, some of it in Asimov. The Forever War has a very Foundation (which I despise) feel - instead of opening vaults every century, the protagonist pops out of his latest battle into the most recent permutation of developing society. It's roots in Starship Troopers are plain - the plot is almost identical: kid goes through boot camp, spends time on spacecraft, fights battles against mysterious aliens while wearing powersuits, becomes an officer, fights heroically. All that said, there are many better martial sci-fi novels out there (Starship Troopers, War Games, Hammer's Slammers, Dune), and many better time travel / future shock books (The Time Machine, A World Out of Time, Number of the Beast (barely)).
The book also struck me as incredibly unimaginative - the author is a college grad (astronomy degree) who fought in Vietnam and now teaches writing. The protagonist is a physics degree graduate who wants to be a teacher but gets drafted. Give me a break. This is certainly "write what you know" taken to the 3rd degree. Oh, right, and it is certainly dated - it has a very 70s feel - kind of "Deerhunter" (the movie) crossed with "Stranger in a Strange Land" (which was at least innovative and daring, having been written and published before "hippie free love" really kicked in.
As a combat vet myself (though nothing as harrowing as a full year in Vietnam), I would say that the combat scenes are described reasonably well, although you'd be better off reading John Keegan's non-fictional "The Face of Battle", one of the best depictions of life on the battlefield. I'd also recommended the autobiographical-but-fictional "Fields of Fire", by James Webb (a Vietnam double amputee who was awarded the Navy Cross) - Haldeman's "Mandella" would probably have his *** handed to him by "Snake".
Some will Grok it, some won't. Read at your own risk.
5.0 out of 5 stars Space opera with a humanistic heart. Superb!,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and timely anti-war message,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars One Way Time Travel Meets Catch-22,
Once we understood (or think we understand) the scientific principal, all of us at some time have tried to imagine what it would be like to travel close to the speed of light, and come back to Earth 100 years, 500 years, a thousand years later... watch our culture evolve, really see where we are going. We read science fiction, in large part, so we can do this very thing vicariously through the imagination of others.
This book embodies that idea: because of the supposed primary plot, a war with an alien race, the main character must deal with all the pitfalls and surprises of one-way time travel. Haldeman proposes many possible futures, and manages to keep them fresh. Some of the old cliches are there (1984-isms, Brave New World-isms), but they are explored with wildly different slants and colorful commentary. The actual war, and the kind of commentary on it you might expect from a veteran of America's most unpopular militaristic undertaking, is an interwoven story that is almost as interesting as the time hopping, though not quite.
The only drawbacks of this book? It is too short, perhaps, and too green. The ideas spark wonderful thoughts, but they just barely get up steam when the image changes. We are given massive space-craft in a page or three, an alien race in a bug-eyed description, a future utopian of cloned humans in a brief paragraph. But the quickness does not subtract to the overall wonder in the book. An excellent read, and very much worth your time.
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea. Shame about the execution.,
One of the ideas behind The Forever War must've been amazing, even brilliant, thirty years ago: a war that lasts for thousands of years because of relativity. The other idea, that war is hell, is not exactly original. But the ideas make an interesting combination, and together they could've made a fantastic book.
Except. The author seems to have only a glancing familiarity with things like human nature. One perfect example is the way feminism works in the book. Oh, the women are in the army - they fight on the line and all that. But they're *also* expected to act as camp followers! When they go to a station inhabited mostly by men, they are obliged, by law and military rule, to have sex with those men for as long as the men wish it. That's every lonely 15-year-old boy's dream, maybe, but it wouldn't work in reality. Women don't respond well to rape, and highly trained, heavily armed women will eventually get tired of being unpaid, legally coerced prostitutes; the social order will rebalance. And let's not forget the strange relationship between Marygay and Mandella. It's hard to believe they're in love at all, because the author doesn't seem to have a clue how to write a convincing love affair, so it's hard to get worked up about their future together.
Except, again. The author, in his understandable bitterness about the Vietnam war, takes things a bit too far to demonstrate that war is hell. Why would any army rigorously test hundreds of thousands of people, then forcibly conscript the smartest and most educated so that they could *fight as grunts, in the frontline infantry*? Never mind that 150+ IQ people are exactly the sort you don't want in an army, since they aren't going to take orders any too well, but are the sort you want working on technological advances back home. Why go through all that to recruit for a group of people that will sustain 34% casualties every time they encounter the enemy, whether they're smart or not? And why would any army kill so many of its "elite" conscripted grunts in training? Most armies can find a way to train soldiers that doesn't, itself, inflict a 20% casualty rate.
Except, a third time. The future societies, which Mandella visits irregularly during his tour of duty, have that sad, silly tone that lots of future-predicting SF from the '70s has. It's hard to take seriously, not just because the predictions are off base; it's the way they're off base. Tobacco is illegal because it takes land needed to grow food, but marijuana is distributed free by many governments? The UN runs the major world fighting force and most of the rest of the world, too? Um.
Reading this book left me switching between annoyance, amusement, and regret, but by the end, regret predominated. It was a nice idea, and maybe it could've been a classic. As it stands, though, The Forever War is an old novel, best forgotten. Read something else; don't bother starting this War.
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh, come on,
This was an OK book, but nothing terribly exciting ever happened. The battles were not very interesting, and they were very short. I never got much of a sense at all of the Taurans or what they were fighting for.
The most interesting part was the part about Earth in the future, but that was also the worst part. I know this book was written in the 70s, so I can overlook people riding around in blimps, talking on videophones, or sitting down to read the evening fax, but the economic and political situation in Earth was at best silly, and at worst completely ridiculous. Either way, it wasn't at all believable.
Also, the love story between William and Marygay seemed a little thrown in. One minute it's a free-for-all with anyone sleeping with anyone else, the next minute, these two are paired up and I guess in love. The author either should have provided some background for why this happened, or just left it out.
Finally, the ending seemed abrupt, especially for a book titled The "Forever" War. It could have been considerably longer, with more detailed battles, more information about the enemy, and a more realistic protaganist with some real human emotions, then maybe it would have been an interesting story. As it is, it's just not worth reading. I know a lot of people really like this book and that's fine with me, but personally, I just don't see why it's so highly thought of.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic for a Reason,
While not a perfect novel, Forever War is an interesting and thoughtful book that interweaves two primary ideas. The first is the question of how relativistic time-dilation would affect our ability to fight war on an interstellar scale. Haldeman deals with this by envisioning a war that takes place over an equally long span of time, with central command structures designed to plan over centuries and future technologies that retrain soldiers who find themselves living long past their contemporaries.
The second primary idea in Forever War is very simple: war is hell. He writes detailed accounts of battle with unknown aliens from the soldier's perspective, and in doing so portrays war as the ugly business that it is. As an aside to this, he also asks the question, When we don't understand our enemy, how confident can we be that the war we're fighting is a just one?
In addition to treating these themes well, Haldeman's writing kept me engaged from beginning to end, and regardless of subject matter this is the ultimate litmus test that any book must pass. I would definitely recommend Forever War.
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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Paperback - Feb. 17 2009)
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