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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War (original 1974; edition 1974)

by Joe Haldeman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,671133753 (4.06)1 / 208
Title:The Forever War
Authors:Joe Haldeman
Info:Ridan (2011), E-book
Collections:Your library, Key books, Marty's books, Kindle
Tags:Science fiction, Classic, First contact, War, 1970s, space warfare, aging, 2012

Work details

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)

  1. 164
    Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (infiniteletters, goodiegoodie)
  2. 60
    Old Man's War by John Scalzi (JulesJones)
    JulesJones: Two books which examine in different ways what happens to the recruits in an interstellar war who by the very nature of their service can never go back to their home culture.
  3. 21
    Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman (sturlington)
    sturlington: Forever Peace is a thematic sequel to The Forever War.
  4. 10
    The Ethos Effect by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (thejazzmonger)
    thejazzmonger: Good characters and a story with intelligence and action. It makes you think, like every Haldeman book does.
  5. 00
    Armor by John Steakley (amysisson, RASinfo)
    RASinfo: Perfect read for the story and ideas of the same theme.
  6. 13
    Dauntless by Jack Campbell (amysisson)
    amysisson: First in a series of thoughtful military SF with great FTL tactical details.

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English (129)  Italian (2)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (133)
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
Time dilation due to relativity makes a meaningless war really, really long. There are different technologies in space. Life on future Earth is violent. Retrograde attitudes toward sexuality persevere. There are a million sci-fi novels better than this.

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  MusicalGlass | Feb 28, 2015 |
Military stories are usually not my cup of tea, but The Forever War is compelling from a number of angles. It begins with the main character Mandela drafted into a war against an alien species, though it’s unclear how the war started or why. The training is almost as brutal as the war itself as the soldiers learn to handle harsh conditions on alien worlds in specially designed battlesuits. We see Mandela face battle and then deal with the return to Earth.

The most fascinating aspect of the novel, for me, is how space travel and its associated time dilation, which means that though only a year or two of a battle campaign may pass for Mandela, decades and sometimes centuries have passed on Earth. Thus, Mandela and the readers get to see a glimpse into the dramatic technological and social changes that occur to the human race.

Mandela remains the “everman,” standing in for the reader experiencing these strange new realities. Throughout all the horrors and accidents and death he witnesses on his journey, he holds on to himself and his own sense of what it means to be human. The ending was perfect and left me thrilled to have read this book. ( )
1 vote andreablythe | Feb 18, 2015 |
What can I add that hasn't already been said? Nothing. But I will say it is an amazing book. I loved every word. ( )
  TW_Spencer | Feb 17, 2015 |
Science Fiction is informed by, and a sort of commentary on, the events taking place in the real world when the book is written.

This book is about the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the impotence of the individual soldier during war in general. It is about the distance that military service puts between a person and non-military society, and the difficulty of reintegrating into society or transitioning out of service. I wish the book had more depth than it does, because those ideas are thought-provoking.

The book presents some very old-fashioned ideas about gender roles and technology, which make it quaint and sillier than it would've been in its orgininal context.

The characters in this book don't have very distinct or interesting personalities. They act by default, rarely taking any initiative or doing anything exciting. When a pivotal event took place late in the book I expected a heroic turn from the protagonist. There was a challenge which seemed to inspire him to take a stand and make a statement about what a person cannot be made to endure. Instead, he grumbled momentarily, then did nothing. The book quickly moved onto other, uninteresting, situations. Much later the problems of that pivotal event are solved off-screen. The most compelling conflict in the whole book is hand-waved away, and instead there is an enormous, lengthy, and ultimately meaningless battle scene.

Unless you're an enthusiast for Vietnam-related Sci-Fi, I recommend passing on this book. ( )
  wishanem | Jan 27, 2015 |
I fell in love with fantasy at a young age, and I've read widely in the genre over the years, but I came to science fiction a bit later in life, when I discovered the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks. There are a lot of science fiction classics I've never touched on, and I'm finally trying to get around to rectifying that oversight. I decided to start that project with The Forever War, which has apparently been a formative influence for a number of authors whose works I enjoy. Since I'm drawn to anyone who writes with a healthy dose of cynicism, I can see why.

William Mandella begins the story as a private in the United Nations Exploratory Force, sent to Charon for a harsh regime of training -- learning to use their spacesuits in deadly environments and combat conditions kills many of the trainees in and of itself -- before being deployed against the mysterious alien Taurans, whose first contact with humanity erupted into violence. Mandella's military career will last less than a decade, yet take over a thousand years, thanks to the effects of time dilation. Humanity can use so-called 'collapsars' to travel vast distances at faster than light speed, but the journey between collapsars has to be done at near light speed. The soldiers return between deployments to an Earth that has vastly changed and socially decayed, and loved ones who have aged decades or passed on altogether.

For the first three-quarters of the book, the use of time dilation is its greatest strength. I've never served in the military but I've known enough ex-military folk and read enough war memoirs to have an idea of how big a hurdle reintegration can be. The increasing social and temporal consequences of losing years or decades make the perfect vehicle through which to amplify, and to render relatable for those of us without a military background, the experience of displacement that returning veterans in our real world suffer. It’s interesting that for a book with so much hard science fiction in it, collapsars aside, it works best when the science and the combat are shunted to the side and the focus is on Earth. Mandella and his girlfriend’s return to a violent mid-21st century society and their aged parents contains some brilliant perspective on the profitability of war and the chipping away of values a society at war uses its conflicts to excuse.

Mandella is a bit of a bland personality, though one with enough wry (and very true to most of the military folk I’ve ever known) humour to be an agreeable narrator, but it’s the kind of story that is perhaps best served by a protagonist that forms an empty vessel into which the reader can pour their own identity and vicariously experience his future-shock. Sort of a gruff, well-armed Bella Swan, if you will. (I’m sorry.)

It’s a book about war, and so you’re in for an unsurprisingly large amount of combat. While I found the examination of the psychological consequences a bit more compelling than the technical details of hitting aliens with lasers, it’s really well-written combat. It’s detailed and elaborate without getting buried in the kind of hard SF jargon that will leave the layman’s brain dribbling out of his ears, and my biggest takeaway was that it takes some real talent to convey, as Haldeman does, the feeling of how tedious it must be to constantly juggle high-adrenaline situations with waiting around to live or die, without also making it tedious to read about.

It’s the last quarter where it all falls apart a bit. The time jumps that have been getting longer and longer reach a level which I suppose serves as the best way to fully illustrate the scale and futility of the war, but when you’ve got a novel where the best thing going for it is its superb analogy for the difficulties of veterans’ reintegration with non-military society, it weakens the overall point when you take your character beyond the reach of anything that tied him to that society.

The book also has a very strange take on sexuality and gender relations, some of which is less successful than the rest. In a portion of Earth’s future there’s a don’t ask don’t tell parallel in which homosexuality has been engineered as the human norm to prevent biological procreation -- humanity’s growth rate is machine-controlled and new foetuses that are required are artificially gestated -- and Mandella’s ‘deviant’ heterosexuality is met with mixed levels of tolerance, and it works in a sort of heavy-handed way which I think would have come across as both bolder and less awkward in its slightly limited understanding of gay persons in its year of publication. I understand and appreciate what the author was trying to do there, anyway. But the earlier part of the timeline makes a lot of mentions of sleeping rosters and mandated free sexuality between the enlisted men and women which goes bafflingly unexplained. It comes across as a little juvenile in its attention to the detail of who is sleeping with whom (answer: the hero, with everyone) but not why anyone is mandated to be sleeping with anyone.

None of the faults are damning. I set out to read a science fiction classic, but what I got was more than that. It deserves attention outside of the field of science fiction for its germaneness as a war classic, as well. I know that the author is a veteran of Vietnam, and that there’s a great deal of relevance here for that generation, but I think it’s also highly applicable to today’s culture with our wave of veterans from conflicts in the Middle East, and the many who live with, love, or would like to understand them.

Review from Bookette.net ( )
  Snumpus | Jan 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
I got to re-reading it last night (for the first time in nearly 20 years) and couldn't put it down.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Mar 30, 2003)

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joe Haldemanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adams, MarcCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craig, IanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scalzi, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Targete, Jean PierreCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tinkleman, MurrayCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallejo, DorianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For Ben and, always, for Gay
First words
"Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man."
Relativity propped it up, at least gave it the illusion of being there...the way all reality becomes illusory and observer-oriented when you study general relativity. Or Buddhism. Or get drafted.
I feel asleep and dreamed that I was a machine, mimicking the functions of life, creaking and clanking my clumsy way through a world, people too polite to say anything but giggling behind my back, and the little man who sat inside my head pulling the levers and clutches and watching the dials, he was hopelessly mad and storing up hurts for the day--
"One cannot make command decisions simply by assessing the tactical situation and going ahead with whatever course of action will do the most harm to the enemy with a minimum of death and damage to your own men and materiel. Modern warfare has become very complex, especially during the last century. Wars are won not by a simple series of battles won, but by a complex interrelationship among military victory, economic pressures, logistic maneuvering, access to the enemy's information, political postures--dozens, literally dozens of factors."
The most important fact about the war to most people was that if it ended suddenly, Earth's economy would collapse.
Heaven was a lovely, unspoiled Earth-like world; what Earth might have been if men had treated her with compassion instead of lust.
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Time dilation

Interstellar war is hell

Vietnam in space


Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312536631, Paperback)

In the 1970s Joe Haldeman approached more than a dozen different publishers before he finally found one interested in The Forever War. The book went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, although a large chunk of the story had been cut out before it saw publication. Now Haldeman and Avon Books have released the definitive version of The Forever War, published for the first time as Haldeman originally intended. The book tells the timeless story of war, in this case a conflict between humanity and the alien Taurans. Humans first bumped heads with the Taurans when we began using collapsars to travel the stars. Although the collapsars provide nearly instantaneous travel across vast distances, the relativistic speeds associated with the process means that time passes slower for those aboard ship. For William Mandella, a physics student drafted as a soldier, that means more than 27 years will have passed between his first encounter with the Taurans and his homecoming, though he himself will have aged only a year. When Mandella finds that he can't adjust to Earth after being gone so long from home, he reenlists, only to find himself shuttled endlessly from battle to battle as the centuries pass. --Craig E. Engler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:30 -0400)

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The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand, despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away.

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