The Forever War

Specfiction

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2006
Messages
87
Forever War by Joe Haldeman


The Last good SF book I read was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Joe wrote the FW after coming back from Vietnam as a Combat Soldier. The FW is one of those books that, I believe, we will see less and less of. It is a SF, but its greatest impact is social commentary. In fact, when Joe wrote it after the war (Vietnam), it was immediately published and did very well. It was read by a large number of mainstream readers and has been highly regarded ever since. In fact, up until recently, the book was missing two original chapters that the publisher thought would offend people at the time (see John Kerry in front of Congress in the 70's). Joe landed a job at MIT teaching creative writing.

When I started FW, I was not too impressed. Joe writes like Hemingway, in short declarative sentences. What kept me reading was the content. There are several unique things about this book: The drudgery and lethality of boot-camp, women in combat, the free sexual relations between the soldiers, the fact that we never see or understand the enemy, and finally, through time-dilation, we experience the absurdity of war in a way that reminded me of All's Quite on the Western Front.

By the time I'd finished FW, I'd gone from not impressed, to emotionally moved. I wrote to Joe and congratulated him on the FW, a high point, socially relevant addition to outstanding SF.
 

gully_foyle

Here kitty kitty kitty!
Joined
Feb 1, 2007
Messages
1,257
Location
Brisbane, Queensland
Thanks Specfiction for a good review. I read this book at high school and loved it. I've been looking for a second hand copy, but it's pretty hard to find, so I may have to fork out for the Masterworks reissue. Does anyone know anything more about these missing chapters? Did they end up in the masterworks reissue?
 

Omphalos

הדרךקפיצת
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
777
Specfiction said:
In fact, when Joe wrote it after the war (Vietnam), it was immediately published and did very well.
There is an "author's preferred edition" out there with a four or so page introduction by Haldemann. In it he recounts the difficulty he had in getting this book published. Most publishers he went to told him that "nobody wants to read a book about Vietnam," and turned him down. Im not sure how long it took Haldemann to get this book published, but it was certainly not "immediate."

Specfiction said:
Joe writes like Hemingway, in short declarative sentences.
You may want to try Haldeman's award winning novella, The Hemmingway Hoax. Sounds like its right up your alley.

gulley foyle said:
Does anyone know anything more about these missing chapters? Did they end up in the masterworks reissue?
Again, go with the author's preferred editon. The big early excision included a middle novella where Mandella spent some time with Mary Gay at her parents farm commune somehwere in the Dakotas. That part of the book is all about the disintegration of society which is an effect of the human race being confined to one planet because of the war.

Here is a link to my review of this book. You may find this helpful (NOTE that there are some SPOILERS!!!):

Omphalos' Book Reviews: Book Info
 

Specfiction

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2006
Messages
87
Although Forever War was rejected 18 times because publishers said nobody wanted to read a SF that reminded people of Vietnam, it was serilaized by Analog, and Bova, the editor at the time, took out the middle piece, a novella called "You Can Never Go Back." He said it was too downbeat for Analog audiences. It was eventually published separately as a coda in Amazing. In the meantime, after being serialized, and with Bova's endorsement, St. Martin's took a chance and published it.
 

Omphalos

הדרךקפיצת
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
777
Although Forever War was rejected 18 times because publishers said nobody wanted to read a SF that reminded people of Vietnam, it was serilaized by Analog, and Bova, the editor at the time, took out the middle piece, a novella called "You Can Never Go Back." He said it was too downbeat for Analog audiences. It was eventually published separately as a coda in Amazing. In the meantime, after being serialized, and with Bova's endorsement, St. Martin's took a chance and published it.
yea, that is what I meant. It took him a long time to get it published, and lots of publishers rejected him.
 

D_Davis

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2008
Messages
1,348
I've recently discovered Haldeman, and I am very impressed so far. The Forever War really is a fantastic read. I like the way he writes. Like you said, he uses short, concise sentences. He uses brevity to his advantage, and knows how to use concrete language.

I wrote a review as well, here it is if anyone cares to read it:



The Forever War

I am not the biggest fan of military science fiction. I've read some Niven, some Drake, Starship Troopers, and some of the old Battletech books published by FASA. I am just not interested in flanking, platoons, chain of command, tactics, military strategy, detailed descriptions of body armor and high tech weaponry, or reading about large scale space wars. Often times, I find that these qualities are written in lieu of strong characterizations and authentic human drama. What I do care about is when an author examines the personal and societal impact of space-age warfare, and Joe Haldeman does exactly this in The Forever War, a book written in direct response to his time served in the Vietnam War.

The Forever War follows the military service, in a time of forced participation, of William Mandella; his time at war, his time in hyperspace travel, his time at home, and his time living in the **** are all explored. It is through this fascinating character's eyes that we experience the absolute absurdity of futuristic warfare. The lengths that the humans go through to fight an enigmatic enemy are astoundingly stupid. Okay, maybe not stupid - their strategy and tactics are sound, and the military runs like a well oiled cyborg - but incredibly frustrating. That they would spend so much time (light year's worth) and money chasing an alien race around the universe just to stop it from possibly attacking the Earth is a mind boggling proposition, and in light of how much time and money we spend on Earth, today, stopping supposed threats, it is also frighteningly plausible. The “war on terror” is only slightly less inane than the war on the aliens detailed here.

At the core of this well-written narrative lies an interesting idea: the problem of time displacement and the relative effects of light speed travel. This idea is what makes the book such a fascinating science fiction story. If this idea were to be removed, the real impact of the narrative would be all but lost. We all know that when the veterans of the Vietnam war returned home, they returned to a county that had undergone drastic societal changes, changes that occurred in less than a decade, and they had problems adjusting to it all. What would happen if the tours of duty lasted longer, much longer, like say hundreds or thousands of years? What kind of Earth would these soldiers return to? The Forever War asks this very question, and the answers it poses are, not surprisingly, grim.

Because of time displacement, hyperspace travel effects the relative time of those on board the space cruisers differently than it does those on space stations or planets - time becomes subjective. For instance, a quick jump through a series of stargates might only take the soldiers a few months, where as decades, or longer, might pass elsewhere. However, this also poses an interesting problem concerning the war itself. Because the fighting takes place across the furthest reaches of the universe, the humans and the aliens are constantly jumping back and forth between different stargates and different subjective times. Sometimes, the humans appear to come from the aliens' future, while other times the humans appear to come from the aliens' past, and vice-versa. This reeks havoc on the relative effectiveness of different military tactics and technologies.

The biggest impact associated with time displacement is seen through Mandella's point of view. Through all the jarring changes he endures, it is surprising that the dude doesn't off himself. He goes from being a Private, a grunt, leaving a world familiar to him, a world he calls home, to being a Major, and a total social outcast. While he is away, jumping from one stargate to the next, mankind undergoes cataclysmic changes, changes that impact morality, society, sexual practices, and individual freedom on an extraordinary level, at least relative to his frame of reference. When he returns to Earth under the empty-promises of civilian life, he barely recognizes the place, and once back in space, hundreds of years later, he barely recognizes humanity at all. Mandella is caught in a kind of personal stasis field, in which all he can do is hope to understand a fraction of what he experiences while everything around him changes at a mind numbing speed.

Unfortunately, the book does suffer from some anachronistic problems. The war in space begins in 2007 (Haldeman did this so he could include characters that actually served in Vietnam), and so it is best to look at this as an alternate universe. However, in no way, shape, or form do these anachronisms take anything away from what Haldeman has to say. Even taken as a simple allegory for the present political climate, The Forever War is insightful and powerful, but as an extrapolation of what might come in the distant future, it becomes a humongous, glowing and flashing warning sign. It is a cautionary tale of great magnitude, and like all memorable and well written science fiction, Haldeman asks us to learn from the past, examine the present, and make the necessary changes for the future, lest we end up sending our finest men and woman light years into outer space chasing boogie men for only God knows what.
 

Foxbat

None The Wiser
Supporter
Joined
Jul 24, 2003
Messages
7,320
Location
Scotland
It took me a while to get into it but, once you do, it's actually a really good book.

Nice reviews by the way:)
 

Connavar

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
8,411
Nice reviews guys !

Frankly i dont know why i havent read this book yet.

I prefer my military SF to be very heavy on social commentary. Which is why Starship Troopers is one of my favs SF of all time.

I have read several modern Military SF that have been hyped like Old Man's War. I couldnt finish that book. Im not interested in military life and action in the future and space without the social commentary....
 

D_Davis

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2008
Messages
1,348
Nice reviews guys !

Frankly i dont know why i havent read this book yet.

I prefer my military SF to be very heavy on social commentary. Which is why Starship Troopers is one of my favs SF of all time.

I have read several modern Military SF that have been hyped like Old Man's War. I couldnt finish that book. Im not interested in military life and action in the future and space without the social commentary....
I totally agree, which is why I found FW so refreshing and engaging. The military stuff is still there, but it is there mainly to wrap its social commentary around. It also so features some great characters.
 

Patrick Mahon

Would-be author
Joined
Feb 15, 2006
Messages
532
Great review - thanks! I read 'The Forever War' a couple of months back, after seeing it in the library, and thought it was really well written. Has anyone read the follow-on books - there's two, I think...
 

Omphalos

הדרךקפיצת
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
777
I read both of them. The one about the soldierboys in South America was not half bad (which means, of course, that it was almost not half good) and the other one, about Mandella and Mary Gay living on the planet of Middle Finger, was terrible.
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
4,756
First off, I think D Davis' review above is very good, and illustrates the book' strengths very well.

I would add that this is "military science fiction" only in the sense that it is set in a war. There isn't a sense of Haldeman being excited or even especially interested in hardware. Unlike the "I would marry my power armour if I could" bits of Starship Troopers, the technology is just there, in the same way that a toothbrush is. So readers shouldn't worry about gushing descriptions of missile arrays: The Forever War is about the effects of war on the soldier more than the technology.

Haldeman has the honesty to say that war is dull, confusing and alienating (there's a good scene where the hero parts from his girlfriend, realising that thanks to physics he won't see her again, even if she survives). The characters are cogs not only in the human war-machine but in the physics that make them increasingly unlike the world for which they are fighting.

I think it is this humane quality that makes this a great SF novel. At bottom it's not about drooling over flying suits, but about an unfortunate, likeable man's efforts to form a working relationship with a world he increasingly doesn't recognise. It's this maturity of attitude that sets it apart from, say, Starship Troopers or a lot of similar books.
 

gully_foyle

Here kitty kitty kitty!
Joined
Feb 1, 2007
Messages
1,257
Location
Brisbane, Queensland
Just finished it and want to make a couple of observations.

Tobytwo, I think Haldeman is a bit enamoured with the technology, he makes up some pretty neat hardware, but the punchline is that the hardware is irrelevant, war is still futile regardless of how goo your weapons are.

My main observation, or question, is what happened? The book I just read was completely different to the one I read as a kid. The inclusion of the "Never Go Back" novella seemed to have caused a major revamp. The role of the brother disappears completely. In the old version his Mandella's meeting with his brother showed the impact of the time dilation, and it was something I clearly remembered. Whereas, in this version, even though the world has gone to hell, the fact that he is hanging out with his Mother and her girlfriend does not really give the same sense of time shift.
Of course I would have to completely read the old version to back this up.

Ohh, and despite this, I loved it and couldn't put it down. Definitely top 5 on Gully's list.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
23,127
Location
Highlands
I think this is another one I'm going to have to add to my TBR pile soon. A little concerned that I'll end up picking up the revised edition rather than the original, but from what I gather that shouldn't spoil the impact of the story at all.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
23,127
Location
Highlands
WARNING - SPOILERS!


I finished this the other night, and interesting to note that it was in 3 sections:

The first section was okay, if somewhat cliched at times, by modern standards - a group of young grunts are put though training, and even though they're supposed to be extremely expensive and highly valued, no one thinks anything of about a third of them being killed by accident. There was a nice attention to the dangers of training in temperatures cold enough to freeze hydrogen. There was little character experience throughout the book and Mandala is mostly an observer.

There is a small action sequence, but I found it lacked tension, and Mandala spent most of his time otherwise talking about the women officers he was having sex with, and feeling sad if one of the especially pretty ones died. He appears to form some sort of attachment to one, but we never really get a sense of any of his feelings. Later on, she's wounded, and he talks a lot about the medical procedures that might help her. Otherwise, every now and then Mandala remembers that he's a physics professor, and explains physics to us for a couple of pages.

Alone, the first section was nothing remarkable, and easily forgettable.

The second section was worst - mostly spent on a future earth, where gun crime is utterly everywhere. Perhaps there was some intended juxtaposition to the theatre of war, but with little character experience, it didn't drag me in at any point - Mandala has clearly has an attachment to Marygay, but we only know this because Halderman tells us, and writes about them doing things together. Mandala otherwise appears to neither care, nor be motivated, by any personal goals.

This section also shows us the effects of time dilation starting to come into play. It also ends with Mandala being a little homophobic. Left here, it would have read as just another out-dated pulp sf story.

The third - and final - section, is where the story finally blooms.

The effects of time dilation becomes more pronounced, not least in terms of changing attitudes - there's a wonderful part where Mandala discovers that all of his squad are homosexual, which neatly ties up the references to sex and sexuality in the first two sections. Not only has earth encouraged homosexuality in order to control population growth, but at some point in the past being heterosexual was actually a crime. Now heterosexual Mandala is simply regarded as an eccentric queer - a wonderful reversal of sexual attitudes, and surprising to read in a story published in 1974.

We finally get a proper encounter against the Taurans, as the Terrans set up a base and that are laid siege in it. A decent action sequence that makes at least some effort to put a little war in a book described as a war novel, with Mandala finally issuing proper orders as an officer, and working tactically as a problem solver. The experience seems more immediate, and Mandala almost starts to come alive as a character - not least because of his personal conflict with his squad (there was a great comment about the squads resenting him because he was a sexual deviant that they were forced to communicate with an ancient English dialect).

And then, at the end, a really good denouement - not least the interesting idea of what has become of humanity, along with the various resolutions as the story is tidied up.


I sat down expecting to read something about the Vietnam War, but I never really felt like any real part of that was there. The book description might vie to put this in military SF, but there's little military content IMO. It's not Heinlein's Starship Troopers either - that book is more about the changing role of society, whereas Forever War looks at the individual against the changing nature of humanity itself. And that's where it's strength lies, really.

I found the beginning reasonably competent, and middle section dull - it's only the third section where I found the story and its themes really shine. That part is still effective today - it must have seemed radical over 40 years ago.

I can also see where Ralph Kern might have got some inspiration in terms of handling time dilation, but I think his story is more consistent and coherent for a modern audience.

I'm glad I read Forever War, but I'm even more glad that it wasn't a long book. I would have preferred to have seen more character experience to make is a less cerebral and more of an emotional experience, but considering the age of the novel, that's perhaps to be expected of the standards of the time.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
7,628
Location
Scottish Highlands
Nice to see I'm not the only deviant that found Forever War just competent without going into ecstasies over it. I thought it was good but not brilliant and always seem to end up feeling guilty for not liking it more. A bit like The Stars My Destination about which I feel similarly.
 
Top