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The Forever War MP3 CD – Unabridged, 18 August 2015
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- ASIN : 1501259261
- Publisher : Recorded Books on Brilliance Audio; Unabridged edition (18 August 2015)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 9781501259265
- ISBN-13 : 978-1501259265
- Dimensions : 16.51 x 1.59 x 13.97 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 1,052,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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And there is …. The story soon changes, the effects of time dilation as a result of near light speed travel are explored, as is the tragedy of one soldiers of loss of friends and family, alienation with humanity, not being able to fit into society plus having to deal with a seemingly endless pointless conflict.
The heart of the novel is about one reluctant soldier, Private William Mandella who is fairly ambivalent about the wars he finds himself in. He fights more from of a sense of duty and loyalty. The reader is subjected to a mixture of hard sci-fi: the aforementioned time travel and its effects, black holes and hi-tech arsenals along with descriptions of the social and political changes needed following on from a Malthusian-like catastrophe (population growth had outpaced agricultural production): homosexuality becomes the law (sex is treated by Haldeman in a non-judgemental and non-moralistic manner) and payment for work is in calories as opposed to actual money. The story also deals with love too. Mandella bonds with one woman in his company in particular and she provides his only connection to their known world of the past; as the book closes Mandella has travelled over twelve centuries.
It is clear that the book is an allegory to the Vietnam War, Joe Haldeman having served in this conflict. Other hints of the autobiographical nature of the work are the protagonist’s surname, Mandella, which is a near-anagram of the author’s surname, as well as the name of the lead female character, Marygay Potter, which is nearly identical to Haldeman’s wife’s maiden name. Importantly, if one accepts this reading of the book, the alienation experienced by the soldiers on returning to Earth becomes a clear metaphor for the reception given to US troops returning to America from Vietnam, including the way in which the war ultimately proved useless and its result meaningless. This meaningless is discovered in the book by a cloned, collective species calling itself Man who can communicate with the Taurans and discovers the aliens were not responsible for an act that triggered the futile conflict that lasted for more than a thousand years.
Haldeman also subverts typical space opera clichés (such as the heroic soldier influencing battles through individual acts) and demonstrates how absurd many of the old clichés look to someone who had seen real combat duty. In fact the quantity of battles described is relatively small, as the other aspects of the story are explored more extensively.
The other thing I’m noticing as I read and review the so-called classics of different genres is that the best characters are never really truly evil, nor good. Each person is a mixture of both. This is certainly the case in The Forever War as the individuals are well rounded and fully fleshed-out.
So in summary, this is science fiction of the highest quality and is worthy of the Masterworks title. The pace of the plot never slackens and this help to draw the reader in while retaining a compensate and emotional core (despite the battle sequences and death and destruction); a difficult balance to achieve. Despite it being over 40 years old a lot of the ideas Haldeman presciently foretells in the book are still relevant today and the years haven’t dated the story. A highly recommended book.
While this book has much in common with <i>Starship Troopers</i> there is much that differentiates it. The one thing that stands it apart from Heinlein's book is that <i>The Forever War</i> is unequivocally an anti-war book. Joe Haldeman draws on his experiences in Vietnam as the basis for this novel. This is also a science fiction novel and he adds a good dose of hard-SF to make it work.
Our hero, the narrator, is William Mandella. He finds himself thrust into a war he does not understand against the alien Taurans, which he understands even less. The enemy was first encountered in the Aldebaran system in the constellation of Taurus but the location of their native planet is unknown.
Superluminal travel exists in Haldeman's Universe. It is achieved by diving into an object called a collapsar. The trouble is travelling between these objects is done according to Einstein's physics. This can take a long time but time dilation can shorten the length of the trip for the soldiers, subjectively. This makes collapsars strategically important as are the frozen worlds that orbit them.
Private Mandella begins his training on the fictional planet of Charon deep in the outer Solar System. The training is brutal, unforgiving and dehumanising. The female soldiers are expected to put out for the male ones. I suspect this was shocking even in the nineteen seventies. Human beings are de-humanised and become assets to be used and expended in the protracted war.
More through luck than judgement, our hero survives his duty and he retires to civilian life on a now unfamiliar planet Earth. Unable to fit in, he re-enlists as a junior officer and is promoted again. Alas, the military separates him from his lady love. Relativistic time dilation means it is unlikely they will ever see each other again. Another layer of humanity is denied our protagonist
I found the battle scenes somewhat lacking. I felt like Haldeman was telling us about them rather than immersing us into the action and the danger. As an anti-war novel, I felt it failed to present to the Hell of war effectively. Having said that, Mandella has to cope with losing and nearly losing his colleagues, and indeed his own grievous injuries. We get a glimpse of the human cost of the forever war.
Re-reading on the Kindle it was just as engaging as Private Mandella manages to reach the heights of command simply by being just one of two people to survive 2000 years of war, the other is his lover of choice. Haldeman manages to avoid the cliches of war fiction, by leaving most of it out. Probably as a result of being a Vietnam veteran.
A Good read.
In addition to this, the adherence to real world physics makes the story far more believable and adds to the general sense of confusion and chaos that was also endemic to Vietnam. As the description makes clear, relativity means centuries pass on Earth for the few months the soldiers experience time. The consequence of this of course is that technology has changed rapidly too, and missions are planned over decades and centuries. No one really knows what the point of the conflict is.
Furthermore, the characterisation is also excellent. The protagonist William Mandella, is a highly sympathetic character, and his rumination on the horrors of war are profoundly grim and nihilistic, which resonates with the old adage 'War is Hell', which chimes well with the overall atmosphere of the war itself. He realises is simply a cog in a machine, buffeted about by powers he has no control over.
Lastly, the writing itself is excellent, despite being written in the mid seventies, the book feels incredibly fresh and had I not checked the date would have assumed it was published only a few years ago. Importantly the technological imaginations as other reviewers have said remains incredibly innovative. This book has clearly aged well like a fine wine. Overall a brilliant read.