Book Review: “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman

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.  A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties and do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home.  But “home” may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries…

I decided to pick up The Forever War on the recommendation of the guy who sits at the desk next to mine at the office. We were discussing various science fiction authors that we found to be worth reading and I had mentioned how I really wanted to read a lot of the books written by John Scalzi. My co-worker then mentioned that Scalzi had written a foreword/introduction for The Forever War and that he thought the book was outstanding.

In the end, I have to agree that the book was outstanding. I remember at the end of 2011 I finally read Starship Troopers and was amazed by how much I liked it. The Forever War is a book written in a very similar vein and it had the same type of impact on me as a reader. The prose was tight, engaging, and quick. I certainly didn’t want to put the book down and I devoured it in a matter of hours. Since then I’ve thought hard about reading the two sequels that were written at a much later date, but co-workers and friends that I trust have told me they don’t hold a candle to the original and I should not bother.

We’ll see if I really do end up avoiding the sequels or not. How bad could they be? The Forever War by itself was awfully good.

The most interesting part of The Forever War was the impact traveling at near light-speed had on the main character, William, and how it related to the passage of time back on Earth. By the time the book was done, thousands of years had passed on Earth, but for William he was only in his 60s or 70s. Relativity will do a number on a person I guess.

At the end of The Forever War I was in for a bit of a treat that was entirely unexpected. At one point, William has to say goodbye to his longtime girlfriend/sex partner/squadmate, Marygay. They are both assigned to different ships and she takes off to a different corner of the galaxy. The worst part is that they both know that due to the time-shift as a result of their travels one of them is inevitably going to grow old and die before the other. When they parted I was a little bit sad, but right at the end I discovered that Marygay found a way to spend time on a ship traveling the right direction at the right speed so that when William was done with his tour he’d be able to meet up with her at a predetermined location and still have the both of them be near the same age.

It was a fun romantic twist to the end of a novel that was filled with a lot of stuff that really made me think. I mean, how weird would it be if humanity decided that the most efficient form of birth control was to all become homosexual beings? And what would it be like to leave on a two-year mission and return home to an Earth where civilizations have decayed, rebuilt, and decayed again all while you were gone?

Strange stuff indeed.

Grade: A
Length: 292 pages

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble   |   Goodreads   |   Audible

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