Depending on whom you ask this book is considered one of the greatest sifi novels of all time. That is saying a lot, there are an insane number of books with some of the greatest writes to ever put pen to paper that fill this genre. So it is quite an accomplishment that this book is up there. When I first heard about this one I thought it would be right up my alley. A book about war along with a space setting, I knew I could not pass this one up. I would also like to say that I do not want to in any way glorify war, that is not my intention. I believe as a subject it is one of the most facinating to study.
Haldeman has had a very interesting life. He was born in Oklahoma and lived in quite a few different places. He graduated from Maryland with a degree in Physics and Astronomy and was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Most of his stories are based on his experiences from fighting and being wounded in the War. He later received a Purple Heart for his injuries. Forever War is his most famous novel and he won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for this novel.
The story is set in a slightly futuristic society on Earth. William Mandella just graduated from college and is drafted by the United Nations Exploratory Force. The UNEF uses “collapsars” to travel great distances in a matter of seconds across the universe. A colonist ship is attacked and destroyed by a group of aliens known as the Taruans, and the Earth is soon plunged into a massive war. William is sent to train on a planet further out than Pluto. He is told while training that half of those in training will die for one reason or another. He watches as the instructors were correct in their decree. The recruits wear specialized suits to help combat the environment as well as give them amplified strength. William is shipped of to war as he was one of the luck few to survive training. While on duty he encounters the Taruans on several occasions and is wounded. He spends some time at a rehabilitation planet that seems more like a modern tropical paradise. Soon after his rehabilitation he is discharged from the army and returns to Earth where he wants to spend the rest of his life with his lover, Marygay, who he met while serving. Because of the massive time dilation while they were fighting hundreds of years have passed on Earth leaving it a barely recognizable shell of what they remember. Both have trouble coping with how much things have changed and ultimately decide to reenlist in the army. I don’t want to give away the ending, but you will want to read it to find out for yourself.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one from start to finish. There are so many interesting themes in this one that you will be analyzing it months and years after you finish it. The most interesting one I read, and was totally not expecting, was the idea of how soldiers cope with conforming back to civilian life. You always hear stories about how soldiers have trouble with this and maybe it is hard for the normal citizen to understand what a soldier is going through. Well, the author puts some perspective here on what it is like. As I mentioned above the author used a great deal of his experiences during the war in his writing. I think here he tries the only way he knows how to explain to those who were not there what it was like when he got back stateside. I cannot imagine what that was like. I have read quite a few books, fiction and nonfiction, about the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars and this seems to be a common theme among military personnel returning to civilian life, and by common I mean that a lot of soldiers have a similar experience upon returning. It is important to remember that the Vietnam War was wildly unpopular among pretty much everyone so it is very hard to imagine what it was like for a soldier who just went through all kinds of hell only to return to his home country where they were shunned and ridiculed for what they did/didn’t do. This is where I think the author does a fantastic job of portraying what it that is like to the reader. The feelings, emotion and the plain and simple not understanding is represented very well to the reader. He uses the setting in a fictional story to try and show his experience and builds a very real familiarity for the characters and the reader. I felt it was very easy to relate to the characters and understand what they were going through when they returned from their service and in turn I felt I had a vague, ever so slight, very small understanding on what it may have been like for the author and returning service men and women to come home from current conflicts.
I also enjoyed the dystopian world the author built while the main characters were away from Earth. I think Haldeman thought of so many things that are never touched on in most future societies. Don’t get me wrong there are definitely your weird quarks that make up this society but the level of creativity he used to come up with a very strange, but also moderately believable system for jobs is very interesting. In this future there is extreme unemployment and there is a black market for jobs and Haldeman really addresses some fascinating economic issues that are normally never mentioned in most dystopian society books. Just another level of detail to the story that was unexpected.
After a long journey through this book I liked the ending. Even with all the ideas thrown around the author found a way to keep this one interesting right to the end. I don’t want to give away the ending but I found myself rooting for things to work out for William. He had been through so much throughout the story that I really wanted a happy ending for him. I also felt that it was interesting that William put his faith in the UNEF and they more or less screwed him. So you will have to read it to find out how things work out.
There are also some very weird ideas when it comes to the service in the military. In this military it is encouraged that both men and women join as well as sleep together on a nightly basis. Pretty strange considering the current rules with that aspect in our military.
It is also important to note that this is the first book in a trilogy that includes Forever Peace and Forever Free. I have not read these two, but based on Amazon’s rating system they got some lackluster reviews. So take that however you like, reviews are always a hard thing to judge but I will admit that they influence my buying decisions quite often. I would also like to take this opportunity to say that I am not a huge fan of book trilogies, even though I have read quite a few books that are in trilogies, especially in the sifi genre, its seem that is the new fad. I have not finished one, although I will admit that The Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey is one, if not the only one, that I plan to read all three someday. I don’t know why but it seems like the author is just trying to get the most amount of money out of each reader, which I honestly don’t blame them, but for some reason the sequel is never as good as the first. I am basing this on next to nothing, as I have not read an entire trilogy as mentioned above, other than looking at reviews and the sequel to movies, which has nothing to do with how the book is. I am also not a huge fan of long ongoing comic series, but for obvious reasons they are a bit more acceptable in my onion. I will admit that if I were a successful writer and had a popular story or character it would be hard not to ride that train until the wheels fell off, but I digress…
There a tons of other interesting ideas that are discussed in this book, some deeper than others of course and I have only just scratched the surface in this review. I loved this book and it is one of my favorites in recent memory. It is not overly long, but still has enough detail to talk about tons of different ideas including a future society, military, and relationships just to name a few. If you are a sifi fan you will want to check this one out and it is worth your time. Highly recommended.