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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War (original 1974; edition 2009)

by Joe Haldeman

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5,335None819 (4.06)1 / 192
Title:The Forever War
Authors:Joe Haldeman
Info:St. Martin's Griffin (2009), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2012, sci-fi, SF Masterworks

Work details

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974)

aliens (45) classic (34) ebook (40) fiction (436) Hugo (39) Hugo Award (46) hugo winner (59) Kindle (28) military (101) military sf (90) Nebula (35) Nebula Award (42) nebula winner (39) novel (76) own (30) paperback (31) read (114) relativity (35) science fiction (1,222) sf (279) SF Masterworks (52) sff (79) signed (26) space opera (30) space travel (29) time travel (39) to-read (82) unread (32) war (185) Zeitdilatation (31)
  1. 130
    Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Librariasaurus, 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.
  2. 145
    Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (infiniteletters, goodiegoodie)
  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 (113)  Italian (2)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (117)
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Originally posted at FanLit:

William Mandella, a genius studying physics, has been drafted into the elite division of the United Nations Exploratory Force, which is fighting a seemingly never-ending war with the Taurans. After strenuous training with other elites on the Earth and in space, William and his colleagues are sent on various missions throughout the universe, traveling through black holes to get to each warfront. During each mission some of William??s friends die, but thatƒ??s expected. Whatƒ??s surprising is that when he returns home, very little time has passed for him, but space-time relativity has caused many years to pass on Earth. Thus each time he comes back, heƒ??s shocked by the changes that have occurred ƒ?? changes in people he knows, changes in society, and technological advances which affect the progress of the war.

These changes are so drastic that Mandella, who was a reluctant soldier to begin with, would rather re-enlist ƒ?? which means almost certain death ƒ?? than live in a society he no longer relates to. He quickly moves up the ranks, but only because heƒ??s the only soldier who has managed to survive this long, though itƒ??s only been a few years of his own lifetime. The cultural changes on Earth have affected the military, too, and soon William, whoƒ??s so different from the people he leads, feels like an old man living in a young manƒ??s body.

As you can probably tell, Joe Haldemanƒ??s The Forever War is a military science fiction story thatƒ??s so much more than that. On the surface, itƒ??s got all the stuff youƒ??d expect from the sort of tense and exciting story where humans are fighting hordes of aliens, but on a deeper level, The Forever War is surprisingly emotional and thought-provoking. Joe Haldeman has called it ƒ??an sf treatment of what Iƒ??d seen and learned in Vietnam.ƒ? It deals with the expected themes ƒ?? the horrors of war, xenophobia, survivorƒ??s guilt, the disappointment of a tepid reception at home, the use of drugs and alcohol to cope and, especially in the case of Vietnam, the meaningless of it all. Haldemanƒ??s SF-spin cleverly uses the relativity problem to show us the plight of soldiers who come back to a culture they hardly recognize, who lose family members and lovers who die or move on while theyƒ??re gone, and who feel like theyƒ??ve lost their former place in society and have trouble settling down. Itƒ??s tragically beautiful with an ending that offers hope.

Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War as his thesis for an MFA. It was serialized in Analog Magazine and published as a novel in 1974. The Forever War won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Locus Award. I read Recorded Booksƒ?? audio version, which was superbly narrated by George Wilson. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
This is really good. Much better than I expected for a space opera novel in the seventies. It deserves all the accolades it got. Still extremely readable, extremely entertaining. It's like reading proto-Scalzi. The best thing about it is, like Halo, it delivers what it promises and doesn't add anything unnecessary. No stupid romances, no bureaucratic filler. It doesn't bore you with constant space battles, idle thinking, or meaningless conversations that go on too long. It gets the battles right, it makes the science entertaining and understandable. I feel smarter for reading this book.

One thing I wasn't sure about was the themes of sexuality. In the beginning, soldiers are expected (even required) to have sex with each other about every night (the army is now co-ed). As time goes on, the world's polarity swings away from natural breeding towards heterosexuality becoming the deviant behavior. I find this twist delightfully ironic, but does it really have a place in an allegory about war?

Maybe it's just me -- I've never been in a war -- but including this sort of thing seems extraneous. I don't get the associations of war or of evolution losing its sexual identity. It reminds me of when every future story thought we'd be taking our dinner in pill form by now. If anything, I think sexuality would end up becoming more extreme, more carnal. As mankind's brain reaches higher planes, the body will need to satisfy its natural instincts harder. That's why we have all this weird stuff today like furries, futanari, and porno that would make a sailor blush.

But that hardly ruins the book. I highly recommend this one. ( )
  theWallflower | Mar 26, 2014 |
Time seemingly stands still for a soldier fighting in against aliens in battles strewn across space, but he faces a far more dangerous enemy when he returns home: the future. ( )
  lgildersleeve | Feb 6, 2014 |
Pros: : clear, concise writing, hard SF, relatable protagonists, interesting worldbuilding, exposition was limited and was worked into the story

Cons: We’ve already passed the book’s future.

Reviewer's Note: This review is of the author's preferred edition of Forever War, published in 1997.

Forever War follows the military career of draftee William Mandella after aliens attack an Earth space ship outside a collapsar jump. Collapsar's allow long range space travel, and Earth refuses to give up the use of them. The best minds, both male and female, are drafted to fight this exhorbantly expensive war the rest of Earth must pay for. But as the years pass on Earth due to special relativity, and only months pass for the soldiers who survive combat, Mandella starts to wonder if he'll recognize home when his tour is over.

Forever War does for Vietnam in science fictional terms what Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich did for the Russian gulag: allow regular people to experience it. Mandella's career is exceptional, as the author uses him to explore all aspects of the war, from training on earth and Charon, to witnessing combat, returning home and realizing he no longer belongs, reinlisting, getting medical treatment, becoming an officer, and more. Through his eyes we experience fear, love, PTSD (in minor ways) and more.

The novel packs an emotional punch and covers an amazing amount of information, given it's size. Haldeman's prose is clear and concise, a pleasure to read.

As the war progresses over the centuries, Haldeman occasionally explains how the Earth has changed to face the circumstances. The most detailed of these passages comes when Mandella's first tour ends, 2 and 27 years after he enlisted. Earth is a cross between Harry Harrison's Make Room, Make Room and the later part of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. In other words, Earth is overcrowded and violent. His exploration into sexuality as it pertains to population control is interesting, espcially considering the current controversies over gay marriage. For a book that's 38 years old, it's surprisingly relevant.

This is a hard SF story, meaning the planetery battles are short while the battles in space are long and drawn out with very little action. Mandella's a physicist, so most of the info dumps are via conversations he has with others, where he either explains the scientific concept, or has new concepts discovered while he was on a mission explained to him. Like the rest of the writing, these passages are short, to the point and integrated properly into the story. This reviewer has limited physics knowledge and had no problem following the novel, even though most of the science went over her head.

The only 'complaint' with the book is that it's dated. Meaning, the aliens attack in 1996, which obviously didn't happen. This is very easy to overlook and shouldn't detract from anyone's enjoyment of the book. There's some talk of hippies, but none of the sexism the word 'dated' tends to imply when it comes to older science fiction stories. In fact, this is a remarkably feminist work, with women and men treated equally in the army (though more men then women end up in positions of command as far as Mandella's experience is concerned).

If you haven't read this yet, you should. And if you're hesitant to read hard SF, this is a good introduction to the subgenre. ( )
  Strider66 | Feb 5, 2014 |
Summary: Private William Mandella may be a Midwestern boy, but he's been enlisted as part of an elite military group that is being sent to fight the newest threat to humanity: an alien race known as the Taurans. Not much is known about what the Taurans look like, what their capabilities are, or where they live, but Mandella and his unit must prepare to fight them regardless. But before they can fight, they have to get there, using new technology to travel vast interstellar distances nearly instantaneously, but there's no way of knowing what they'll find when they get there, or, given the relativistic speeds they're travelling, what they'll find on Earth once they get back.

Review: I can see why this one's a classic, but it just didn't really do it for me. I will say that I certainly didn't actively dislike this book, and it had some cool ideas that I quite enjoyed. But military sci-fi just isn't really my thing, Old Man's War notwithstanding, and the story never really pulled me in. I should have learned that lesson with The Lost Fleet, but alas.

Actually, my reactions to The Forever War and The Lost Fleet were pretty similar. Best things first: I think the idea of relativistic speeds and interstellar distances and how they affect things like battles and wars and soldiers and veterans is a really, really neat idea, particularly for someone who grew up watching Star Trek, where they routinely blithely ignore that part of physics. I loved the concept that by the time you'd traveled to engage your enemy, it had taken you months but they'd had centuries, so your technology would always be hopelessly outmatched. I also thought this was a really nice treatment of the "can't go home again" problem of relativity, where you come back the same age but all your loved ones are 10, 20, 50 years older than when you left... or more. There's obviously a clear parallel to veterans here, not only in the war parts of the story but also in the idea of returning home to a world you no longer recognize. (Given the time frame, it's clearly supposed to be a Vietnam allegory, but I think it would probably be applicable to veterans of various combats - not that I have any personal military experience against which to judge.)

However, on the other hand, I didn't find the story part of the story particularly compelling. The writing is smooth enough, but it's fairly episodic - battle sequence, techy spacesuit stuff, travel, some interpersonal bits, some economic bits, more travel, more techy stuff - and doesn't feel like it connected terribly well. Worse, I had zero connection with the main character, and even the more interpersonal bits totally failed to spark any emotional resonance. Intellectually, I was interested in the concepts, but viscerally, I didn't really care whether or not Mandella found the Earth too different to deal with, or whether he and his girlfriend would be separated forever or not. Also, I get that attitudes towards homosexuality, particularly in military contexts, were probably very different in 1974, but there's a distinct homophobia about Mandella (and thus about the book as a whole) that bugged. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you're a fan of military and/or classic sci-fi, or stories about soldiers, or are very interested in the practicalities of near-light-speed travel, then it's probably worth checking out. There are plenty of people out there who would enjoy it, and it's not bad, but it wasn't for me. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Jan 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (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)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Private William Mandella is a hero in spite of himself -- a reluctant conscript drafted into an elite military unit, and propelled through space and time to fight in a distant thousand-year conflict. He never wanted to go to war, but the leaders on Earth have drawn a line in the interstellar sand -- despite the fact that their fierce alien enemy is unknowable, unconquerable, and very far away. So Mandella will perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through the military's ranks . . . if he survives. But the true test of his mettle will come when he returns to Earth. Because of the time dilation caused by space travel the loyal soldier is aging months, while his home planet is aging centuries -- and the difference will prove the saying: you never can go home.… (more)

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