Review: The Forever War

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t say with certainty I liked this book, but I can tell it will be one that sneaks up on me when I’m not expecting it.
The Forever War describes an intergalactic war where leaps across wormholes and general space travel causes relativistic jumps in time—the war is “forever” because a one-year mission may be 760 years back home. Things get wonky very fast with relativity, but the book is grounded in the single-soldier story of William Mandella, who was among the first drafted in and frankly doesn’t want to be there at all, and yet he keeps getting dragged back in.
I think it’s a disservice, though, to call it a war book, which is how it was described to me, even though it is definitively marked by the author’s experiences in Vietnam. Aside from brief action sequences, the book is overall a hard sci-fi novel. That is both the strength and it’s weaknesses. It presents an alternate reality with lots of hard science as an underbelly, if you’re into that. But it also is so busy setting up alternative futures as we flick forward in time that things get sketchy.

The middle portion, which covers a jaunt back on Earth, suffers the most from this. This future is pretty crappy all around, and yet I have trouble accepting that both Mandella’s parents and those of another character managed to survive fine until the two weeks they’re there. It serves to force characters back into space but seems harder to believe than the psychic space-critters had been.

Somehow, despite being very much about war, The Forever War seems like less of a war book than The Things They Carried, and yet also not quite sci-fi enough. It is a blend of things and yet poses very good questions about the future, the nature of war, and what we collectively are willing to put up with.

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