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Forever Free by Joe Haldeman

Forever Free (1999)

by Joe Haldeman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Forever War (2)

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Years have passed since the Forever War reached its conclusion, and William Mandella is settled on an icy backwater of a planet, a haven for the minority of remaining humans who aren’t part of the hivemind known as Man. He and his long-lost love are finally married, and together they have raised a son and daughter. But they aren’t content. They know what they are: Fallbacks for Man in case their genetic material is ever needed, kept like pets in a zoo, otherwise obsolete. So they engineer a conspiracy: To commandeer the spaceship which used to serve as a temporal waystation for those who wanted to delay aging until their lost loved ones returned from the collapsars, which now languishes in planetary orbit, and take it as far out as they can. So far that when they return, thousands of years will have passed, and they can only hope that Man will have become extinct and they will have the freedom to establish the human race anew.

I’m beginning to think that the best way to read these novels (with the exception of the brilliant first book) is to get to the middle, then stop and make up the rest yourself, because the story you thought you were signing on for is inevitably going to get abandoned in favour of something else entirely. Except unlike Forever Peace, this wasn’t merely muddled, this was actively ridiculous.

The plot trundles along quite happily to begin with, even if the characterisation doesn’t. William Mandella was a bit of a blank everyman in The Forever War, but that was okay, because it enhanced the reader’s ability to put themselves in his shoes, and he was still allowed emotional reactions to things. In this novel, he’s more of an automaton, lacking even that much emotional veracity -- I have stronger feelings for the squirrels that live in the trees near my house than he appears to have for his children. But that would’ve been okay too, because I could’ve gone along with this as a plot-driven novel. I was intrigued, excited even, to see what the far, far future that Mandella and his crew would return to would be like, and what their rebuilding efforts would look like if they managed to escape Man.

Yeah, don’t get your hopes up. This whole idea gets first derailed by strange things occurring aboard ship during the journey which should’ve been a mere footnote before the return, and then its utter abandonment is forced when the plot swerves in a completely unheralded direction. Nothing that was interesting about the book is allowed any real depth past the midway point. It’s transformed into a trite mystery, trite because the ultimate answer to whodunnit is a literal deus ex machina, with all the philosophical depth, in its heavy-handed delivery, of a door to door proselytiser’s leaflet.

Merely thinking of this book and all the wasted potential in its setup annoys me. If you are a fan of The Forever War -- and for all the criticism I level at this book, I am a great fan of its predecessor -- I heartily recommend that you pretend the story ends there, and that this sequel is bad fanfic. It certainly reads like it.

Review from Bookette.net ( )
  Snumpus | Aug 10, 2016 |
I really enjoyed Forever Free, a direct sequel to The Forever War, with many of the same characters -- up to a point. I liked the set-up, although it was slow, because it rang true for the characters and promised more adventures to come. It was obvious that it was going to go wrong, of course, but that was going to be the interesting part.

And at first, it definitely was. I was intrigued by what scientific explanations Haldeman would come up with, and vaguely thought I remembered reading about the ruins of an older civilisation on some of the planets mentioned in The Forever War, and wondered if it was anything to do with that... There were hints from the Taurans about going into the unknown, okay, so maybe there is some clue somewhere as to what happened...

And then things went weird. Suddenly a new set of aliens showed up, but they had nothing really to do with it and were just an exposition device. And then -- pop! Another alien shows up, and shit gets philosophical.

It didn't hang together, for me. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
A few remaining true humans, veterans of the Forever War, live along with their offspring on the planet of Middle Finger near a collapsar called Mizar. Most of humanity has become Man, a hive mind similar to that of the Taurans, their former enemies. The inhabitants of Middle Finger live in a kind of sufferance, their activities monitored by a Man sheriff and a Tauran. As in The Forever War, relativistic effects are important in this universe. Radio messages from or to Earth take 80 years to arrive but faster messaging and travel can be achieved via a collapsar jump.

Tired of their existence, a few inhabitants of Middle Finger plot to take a spaceship on a forty thousand year trip round the galaxy. The Tauran and Man hive minds refuse permission but they steal the ship anyway. While only a few months out weird things start to happen.

At this point we seemed to lurch into a different book entirely. The tone may not have altered much but the background did. Forced to turn back to Middle Finger our adventurers find the population there and on Earth has disappeared. They use the collapsar to return to Earth to find out what's happened.

Even before this story shift the characters were far from convincing, being almost indistinguishable one from the other. After it the narrative failed to suspend disbelief and in the denouement, two dei ex machina popped up in quick succession as Haldeman off-handedly pulled the rug from under the scenario underpinning his Forever War/Peace setting - not to mention all of human history.

While Haldeman's The Forever War was an important milestone in the history of SF Forever Free most certainly isn't - unsurorising given that it's a 25 year later (second) sequel. It's not tripe nor exceptionally badly written but neither is it a good example of the satisfactions that the genre can deliver. ( )
2 vote jackdeighton | Dec 28, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joe Haldemanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jensen, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0441007872, Mass Market Paperback)

You can't lose for winning--especially, it would seem, if you're Joe Haldeman. Suffering the same fate as many an author who's dared to pen unconventional sequels to a ferociously loved book (in this case, The Forever War), Haldeman has risked the ire of his many devoted admirers a second time (the first sequel was the award-spangled Forever Peace). But Haldeman's call--not too surprisingly--proves to be a deft one, giving us a book that, while significantly different from its predecessor, turns out to be equally captivating and sensitive, in many ways even more thought-provoking. (Sure, it doesn't match The Forever War for sheer impact, but then again, what does?)

As in The Forever War, the heart of this story is the dry, ironic bite of fighting-suit vet William Mandella, now middle-aged and a parent (along with his love and comrade-in-arms Marygay) to two teen-aged kids. The family leads a spartan life on the cold and desolate planet Middle Finger, which serves as a sort of genetic safe-deposit box for the current incarnation of humanity, an inhuman race of group-mind clones known as Man. But the animals in the zoo are getting restless, and a core group of vets led by William and Marygay plot an unusual escape: hijacking a reconditioned time ship and using it to take a 40,000 light-year tour (over 10 years of their own time) to rejoin the world they know only after 2,000 generations have passed. Much of the action involves the hatching and fruition of this plot, but Haldeman doesn't really mix things up until nearing the end, when he dissolves physics as we know it and calls down the wrath of God itself. --Paul Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:22 -0400)

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Space travellers return to their planet after a long absence and find everyone gone. The intriguing aspect is the amount of clothing lying everywhere, as if people undressed before vanishing. The travellers head for Earth and find the same happened there.… (more)

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