Book Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman


Pretty much since forever Tony C Smith of Starship Sofa has been holding up The Forever War as a definitive work of science fiction, and so when I found a second-hand copy last summer I figured why not? Gotta be worth a quid.

And in fact, I think it was.

The Forever War is the story of Private William Mandela, an ordinary soldier thrown into the deep end of a war against the Taurans, a mostly unseen alien enemy. And yes, as such there are plenty of battle sequences and military jargon, but it somehow manages to stay away from being just a military sf story in a couple of ways.

Firstly, the science bit is clever. There’s nothing new or particularly clever about the time dilation effect of near light speed travel, of course, but in Haldeman’s capable hands, it becomes not only a plot device – on which, you’ve probably guessed, the title is based – but a way to show a potential future for mankind through the eyes of a single individual not too far removed from our generation.

And it’s that future that also sets this apart from ‘just another war story’. Over the decades of the novel, humanity gets so caught up in the war that nothing else seems to matter. There are, history tells us, times when this is necessary, however the threat here remains somewhat nebulous throughout and the whole conflict is ultimately futile (which is the more usual upshot of wars after all).

The effect of a protracted, futile war on humanity as depicted here is… well, depressing, basically. Over the generations homosexuality is normalised, and humans become a watered down, homogenised race of vat-grown almost-clones. Which, presumably, was at some point considered better than whatever the Taurans had planned.

The trouble is, in a world where peer pressure leads too easily to the erosion of individuality, and where the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are not pc enough to be used in school… Well, bring on the Taurans!

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