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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...
Published on March 21 2004 by A. Ross

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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, March 21 2004
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent exploration of the futility of interstellar war, July 17 2014
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the read, even after 40 years, Nov. 24 2014
This review is from: THE FOREVER WAR (Hardcover)
I did enjoy this book and think that it was very well-written. Unfortunately, having missed Vietnam by a generation, I would not have seen it as an allegory to that, if I hadn't known this going in. (Possibly this is because the two Gulf Wars have been no less politically-motivated or fruitless than Vietnam was, so for me this book just describes war in general.)

The author has done a good job of making this hard SF, with solid science theory behind the technology. And he's done a fantastic job of creating a main character the reader will empathise with and care about.

I read this 4 years after having read Old Man's War -- which is often compared to The Forever War. I can see why Scalzi has been accused of cribbing from this book, despite not having read it before writing his own (I am quite sure that if he had, he would have chosen to do some things differently, simply to avoid such accusations.) If you enjoy one of these, you will almost certainly enjoy the other.

The only detraction I can make is that, like any SF novel that is 40 years old, it reads as a bit dated. I imagine for its time that it was very sexually progressive; but today, it made me more than a bit uncomfortable with its protagonist's frequently-mentioned homophobia -- simply by making a big deal out of what should not be a big deal at all (sexual gender preference), and by the idea that the only way to control and defuse mens' lust in a combat environment was for the female soldiers to be willing to "service" all of the men in turn.

All in all, though, it's an excellent book. Its laurels are well-deserved -- and it's good enough to make me decide to read the less-lauded sequels. I highly encourage giving The Forever War a read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hard and soft classic sci-fi at their very best!, Dec 6 2008
By 
Paul Weiss (Dundas, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
University student William Mandella, an exceptionally bright university student with an IQ well north of 150 has been drafted. After a thoroughly modern and terrifyingly brutal boot camp with very deadly and very live modern weapons conducted in deep space conditions beyond Pluto's orbit, he'll be part of an interstellar war against the enigmatic Taurans, an alien species discovered when they supposedly attacked human ships.

Sci-fi fans know that most authors have a tendency to favour the hard or soft side of the genre. Clifford Simak, for example, is well known for his pastoral writing style that takes eager fans by the hands and lovingly guides them on astonishing tours through the soft side of science philosophy. Robert Sawyer, on the other hand, a talented and thoroughly modern Canadian author, grabs his readers by the throat and pulls them deep into the other side of the sci-fi spectrum through the implications of modern hardware and scientific discovery. Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War" cleverly straddles BOTH sides of the fence and beyond all expectations deals brilliantly with four separate themes, two soft and two hard, combining them into a single compelling but surprisingly short novel!

The titles gives away the obvious fact that war is an issue. "The Forever War" was published in 1974 and Haldeman is writing his story in the politically turbulent aftermath of the US experience in Vietnam. Whether Haldeman is vilifying warfare or simply presenting it as a fact of life and leaving it up to his readers for their own decisions will, of course, be a moral judgment that you will have to make for yourselves. (Comparisons will be made between this novel and Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" and Scalzi's "Old Man War" which also touch on the same topic of war with slightly different approaches).

Also on the softer side of the sci-fi genre, Haldeman has postulated a future in which asexual cloning has replaced normal reproduction and world governments have encouraged homosexuality as a solution to the world's population problems. In a clever twist on the world's current prejudices, Haldeman ultimately creates a world in which homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is perceived to be a perverted deviation. I've no doubt in my mind that a reader's current comfort level with alternative sexual orientations will also determine their reaction to this particular theme in the novel and whether or not they find it amusing or deeply disturbing!

On the hard side of the science spectrum, Haldeman deals imaginatively but realistically with two realities - the hard core rigors of deep space travel and the realities of relativistic effects such as time dilation.

No matter which side of the sci-fi spectrum you favour, you owe it to yourself as a fan to read Haldeman's novel. Unequivocally recommended as I go out to the second hand book stores to seek out the other books in the series, "Forever Peace" and "Forever Free".

Paul Weiss
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5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the World... literally, March 9 2004
By 
Steven Cain (Temporal Quantum Pocket) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
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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3.0 out of 5 stars If you liked this, try these instead - far better, Jan. 20 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Space opera with a humanistic heart. Superb!, Jan. 17 2004
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and timely anti-war message, Nov. 15 2003
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars One Way Time Travel Meets Catch-22, Sept. 3 2003
By 
Douglas K. Beagley (Vermont) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Forever War (Paperback)
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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea. Shame about the execution., May 20 2003
By 
Ivy (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
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.
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The Forever War
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Paperback - Feb. 17 2009)
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