Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

A futuristic weed-smoking space soldier fights a war that is chronologically imprecise, where one never quite knows whether one is attacking or retaliating, against an enemy nobody understands. Due to the space-time vagaries involved in transport, he does this for hundreds of years. During that time, earth makes its way through bloated inflation and famine and overpopulation and eventually to an orderly planet where everyone is gay/lesbian. Meanwhile, Mandella rises from grunt to officer, engaging in exciting space fights and edge-of-the-seat adventures and enjoying a bittersweet romance.

My new digital edition has a forward by John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, in which he states he never read FW before writing OMM, despite many reviewers noticing an homage-like similarity.  OMM is a very different book, about old people choosing to don sparkly new bodies and enlist in galactic war as opposed to nursing homes.  It’s also a great book, full of rollicking adventure, a tale that launched Scalzi on a trajectory toward being this generation’s rockstar in the sci fi corporate publishing world.

Everybody loves to read about people with interesting jobs – veterinarians, detectives, princesses, serial killers – and their daily routine. Soldiers have an incredibly exciting job, one where you can die a ghastly death at any moment, yet are much more likely to sit around being bored, and Haldeman captures that skip between open-ended doom and nerve-wracking tension and emergencies that make your heart skip. 

I’ve never served in the military. I’ve listened to soldier friends talk about it. The boredom, the adrenaline, the tragedies, the way every single aspect of life from eating to pooping becomes a bizarre ritual completely unlike how they do things back home. For me the appeal of military science fiction has to do with the workplace story linked up to all the dramatic battles and explosions -- that and the social story about how people react in a stressful environment.

Because of the weird time compression involved, Haldeman can tell the story of Mandella’s entire life, which coincides with the centuries-long war.  Every time he finishes a tour of duty he returns to an earth bizarre enough to inspire him to re-enlist. I really liked his ending, which resolves his extremely long arcs in a most satisfactory way.

This is one of my comfort reads, and I broke up my Hugo reviews to dive back into its soothing pages. 

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