Joe Haldeman: The Forever War

Dave

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I've been meaning to read 'The Forever War' for many, many years. I finally started it yesterday. It is as good as everyone said that it was.

This is Joe Haldeman's website:
http://home.earthlink.net/~haldeman/

These are a few book reviews:
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/forever.htm
http://www.scifan.com/titles/title.asp?TI_titleid=3629
http://tatooine.fortunecity.com/leguin/405/fl/joeh.html

When I've finished I'll post my own comments.

Edit: Finished already.

William Mandella is a conscripted Physics graduate in an 1143-year-long interstellar war against an unknowable and unconquerable enemy known as the Taurans (because ‘Aldebaranian’ was a little hard to handle). The reluctant hero tells the story as the only grunt to live through it all, from the first engagement to the final mission. The book begins with a great description of his basic training, and it is an obvious parallel with Vietnam, but as the author says in his prologue “it’s mainly about war, about soldiers, and about the reasons why we think we need them.â€

I guess it wasn’t just a coincidence that I’m reading this book on the day that Bush declares war on Iraq. “The evidence they presented for the Taurans’ having been responsible for the earlier causalities was laughably thin. The few people who pointed this out were ignored. The fact was, Earth’s economy needed a war, and this one was ideal. It gave a nice hole to throw buckets of money into, but would unify humanity rather than divide it.â€

It is once the relativistic effects of the collapsar jumps (the original collapsar is known as ‘Stargate’) kick in that the book really shines. Relativity means that for every few months’ tour of duty centuries have passed on Earth, isolating the combatants ever more from the world for whose future they are fighting.

The middle section of the book, a novella also called ‘You Can Never Go Back’, I found interesting, considering it was removed from the original published version of the book. On his first return home, William finds that his aged mother is without any hope of the rationed medical care. Actual jobs themselves are bought, resold and sublet through illegal dealers. Homosexuality is actively encouraged to keep the world’s population in check. Urbanisation, corruption and violence are destroying the planet, and he finds that even the currency and language has changed while he was away. The population of Earth resent the high taxes for a war to fight a threat that seems very distant. He is a Millionaire but has little left to spend it on. The longer he is away the more things will change. It reminded me of the book ‘The Sleeper Awakes’ by HG Wells, which is the only other book I’ve read that touches on these aspects of ‘time travel’. Unable to cope with the changes he re-enlists in the Army.

With every campaign he finds that the military and medical technology has advanced, yet a victory over the aliens seems even more remote. “And as with any engagement, because of time dilation there was no way to tell what weaponry they would have. They may have never heard of the stasis field. Or they might be able to say a magic word and make us disappear.â€

Somehow, as the only heterosexual male remaining, apart from the ships cat (and that is neutered); and the only person not born out of a ‘test-tube’; and with a psych profile that shows him as a failed pacifist, and a poor leader, he continues to be promoted, simply due to his ability to survive the conflicts, albeit with cybernetic replacement limbs.

When Marygay, his partner, is given different posting orders to him, they might as well be given a death sentence. Their chances of survival are pretty slim anyway, but because of time dilation even if they returned minutes apart, one could be centuries older than the other. And he isn’t just losing a lover, but his only remaining tie to real life and the Earth time period he left.

It even has a good happy endin. Peter F. Hamilton describes it on the cover as “a book that’s near perfect.â€
 

greyhorse

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I finished reading it ealier this year. I'm not sure what to make of it though. Usually with a book of this prestige I go back and read it thru as many times as I need to, to get some understanding of what went on.

In this case the book was too gory for me to want to read it again (Actually this is probably one of the objectives of the book, when you consider it's about war). Maybe I will a couple of years later, but for now I can't bring myself to do so.

Dave, do you have any thoughts about the book? If you've read it, do you recommend "The Forever Peace"?

-Jeff
 

Dave

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I haven't read 'The Forever Peace', actually the 'Forever War' was the last thing I read, I've been too busy since then to read anything else.

I didn't find it that gory, realistic about war I think. I thought the ending was a little too happy actually, but I'm probably a miserable sod. it was something I had wanted to read since for about 20 years but never got around to.

You seem to be single-handedly resurrecting the books forum. Sadly, no one seems to come here, though Ray Gower tries hard. I think you've posted in all the book threads that I've ever made, so I don't really have any new ones to suggest to you.

You mentioned some other authors -- William Gibson I have read, the other one I haven't but will look into.

Postscript: I've started reading "The Forever Peace" now. It isn't a sequel but a 'companion' book and is set in a different universe. There is actually a real sequel out now called "Forever Free" that does follow up the much too happy ending of "The Forever War".
 

suupaabaka

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I just finished this book; read it in one sitting. I now understand why it occupies the honored position of first book in the S.F. Masterworks series. A highly believable tale of humanity and its progress over centuries. I can't wait to read more of Haldeman's work.
 

pyan

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If you haven't already, suupaabaka, try Starship Troopers, by Heinlein - The Forever War was regarded as a response to it when first published, and the contrast in message is startling.
 

Connavar

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What kind of message? Can you describe it without giving away too much?


Starship Troopers are great and much more than the simple military action and fascist rule thing people think it is.


You wont complain Troopers being too gory for sure ;)
 

Gav

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Forever War - brilliant.
Forever Peace - brilliant but with very troubling morality (I thought).

DO NOT read Forever Free. Though it starts brilliantly it ends badly.

I didn't find Forever War at all gory. As an exercise in entering into war (by mistake) with a foe you do not uderstand it is startling in its clarity. If I recall correctly it Haldeman was writing about Vietnam (and he was aswell...) and it certainly works as a fable for that sort of war. I completely recommend it.

I'm curious Dave: I didn't find the ending happy at all, in fact the complete opposite, PM me (to avoid spoiling others enjoyment of the book) if you want to exchange perspectives.
 

suupaabaka

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I'm curious Dave: I didn't find the ending happy at all, in fact the complete opposite, PM me (to avoid spoiling others enjoyment of the book) if you want to exchange perspectives.
I think he's referring to the note attached to Mandella's military records in the penultimate chapter. It's present in the author's preferred edition (S.F. Masterworks is this edition), but I'm not sure of the other incarnations of the story.
 

Gav

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I think he's referring to the note attached to Mandella's military records in the penultimate chapter. It's present in the author's preferred edition (S.F. Masterworks is this edition), but I'm not sure of the other incarnations of the story.
hmmm... that is the copy I have. I am writing from home but the book is sitting on a shelf at work. I'll have to remember to take a look tomorrow.

From memory though; Mandela is not at all happy about what he finds when he gets home - and let's face it, in the same situation, would we?

Even in Forever Free Mandela is not a happy man, not at all.
 

suupaabaka

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I was under the impression that he was rather content, having being informed by Man that there was a planet for "breeders", if I recall correctly. Plus the note attached to his records implied to me a happy ending.

I have yet to read Forever Free, though I look forward to doing so.
 

Gav

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I was under the impression that he was rather content, having being informed by Man that there was a planet for "breeders", if I recall correctly. Plus the note attached to his records implied to me a happy ending.

I have yet to read Forever Free, though I look forward to doing so.
Just looked at the book. Now I remember the unsatisfying ending you guys have been going on about. I had forgotten all about that.

I'd argue that despite all of that, in fact because OF all of that, the ending is not a happy one.

I'd write more but would be entering into serious spoiler territory.

In any case it is interesting to note that readers get different perspectives from the same book. I wouldn't recommend Forever Free. It is excellent until, approximately, 2/3rds towards the end. The most annoying thing about it is that the book starts of being better than its predecessor - much much better. It's an exercise in how not to write SF novels.
 

suupaabaka

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Are you saying Forever Free is stylistcally flawed, or the ending is badly written or simply that it wasn't a happy ending?

If the book is stylistically flawed, or if the plot was dull and uninspiring, I won't read it. If, however, your gripe with it is an unhappy ending I think I'll still give it a try.
 

Gav

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Haldeman is a great author. He has a style that I really like. The problem with Forever Free is that it does not work. He commits several serious - fatally serious - plot construction gaffes. It's a pity as the first 2/3rds are so excellent.

One of my top books is 1984. There isn't a person whose read that who could say that the ending is happy. I don'y have a problem with unhappy endings.
 

GOLLUM

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I have access to an omnibus edition which contains all 3 'Forever' novels War, Free and Peace. Has anyone read all 3 novels and if so what's your opinion???
 
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