Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Forever War

In the not so far future, William Mandella is young, fit, smart, and conscripted to fight an unknown enemy in deep space. Due to the relativistic speeds involved, Mandella and his fellow survivors return to a society they are no longer a part of. With every mission the estrangement grows greater; Mandella fights for a humanity he is no longer a part of, and he does not know why.

Joe Haldeman’s award winning novel (Hugo and Nebula in 1974) is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s own experience of fighting in Vietnam and returning home to a different country: the one of his birth. The character of Mandella is so well drawn because he is very close to Haldeman’s own: both Physics Majors (physics and astronomy in Haldeman’s case), both reluctant soldiers, both survivors, both not unscathed.

The Forever War is in direct contrast to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers; some say deliberately so. Heinlein was reluctantly invalided out of the US Navy in the 1930s with no combat experience before its spectacular success in the Second World War; Haldeman was reluctantly drafted into the US Army and was wounded in combat before the US lost its first war. Mandella has no politics or philosophy about why he fights: he fights to survive and because he has no other choice. Humanity fights because there can be no negotiation with an alien enemy you cannot even communicate with, still less understand. Besides, it is good for the economy.

Apart from his other numerous books, Haldeman followed The Forever War with a separate but thematically linked novel in 1998: Forever Peace, which also won both Hugo and Nebula awards that year. He then published a sequel Forever Free in 1999. Haldeman also won the Nebula in 2005 for his novel Camouflage. He now teaches writing at MIT.

Please note that many of the early editions had a central section omitted. If you want to read it as the author intended, then you need one of the recent editions, such as from Masterworks, or the Omnibus

Ridley Scott is currently working on a film version. For more information see The Guardian and io9. Here is one of the first released pieces of concept art.

1 comment:

Peter Debney said...

You can read the SFX Book Club's thoughts on The Forever War at