9.21.2009

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War

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I agree with Robert Heinlein. This novel by Joe Haldeman is better, much superior work compared to Starship Troopers.

Published in 1974, this Science Fiction masterpiece is a very straightforward telling of a Vietnam War Veteran about an interstellar war between Earthlings and Taurans - alien beings from Aldebaran colony, constellation Taurus. The war that took place in the future within the timeframe of 1143 years is actually almost allegorical to what happened in the Vietnam War. Like all kinds of War in our history, this one started with a gross neglect in communication between the two factions. And the reader will know this only by the end of the story. And just like any War being waged past and present (think of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan), the prime body spearheading the war (that gains from the killings) is the one who controls the information and the media.     

This novel trips with recurring social issues not just about the idiosyncrasy of war, but also about feminism, gender equality, and misogyny. I like the idea of male soldier sharing a bed with a female soldier and they actually look for a partner that they obviously like before going to sleep. But later on in the novel, It's easy understand the protagonist Will Mandella regarding his homophobia with one of his "comrades" because this time, men and women are not the only pair of genders taking part in humanity's cause. 

I like Haldeman's concept on the collapsar stargate - a portal where any spaceship can "jump" between galaxies through Einstein's geodesic line. But traveling near the speed of light has its dire consequence. Because the time frame of the space traveler will become weird and different to that of an Earth inhabitant, the traveler leaving and returning to Earth will spend only several years compared to the Earth inhabitant spending tens up to a hundred of years. Upon Mandella's return to Earth, he's lucky meeting his mother alive and a very old woman, while his brother, almost the age of his father as he recalls. From the mind conditioning and hypnosis to enhance the soldiers' bloodlust, to the automatic camouflage armors, up to the regeneration of lost limbs, the science is plausible in this novel.

What is an alien? Is it the herbivore/psychic 'teddy bear' milling around, or the laser-toting human invading the alien planet? This is just one of Haldeman's beautiful mind plays in the novel. 

The best part is at the end when Major Mandella got an archived message from his lover Mary, apparently still alive from a distant planet - a garden planet called the Middle Finger. And they all lived happily ever after in a galaxy, far, far away...



some memorable passages:

"Any more questions?" Nobody raised a hand.
"OK. Tench-hut!" We staggered upright and he looked at us expectantly.
"Fuck you, sir," came the familiar tired chorus.
"Louder!"
"FUCK YOU, SIR!" One of the army's less-inspired moral devices.

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The 1143-year old war had been begun on false pretenses and only continued because the two races were unable to communicate.
Once they could talk, the first question was "Why did you start this thing?" and the answer was "Me?"


My rating: 4 collapsars out of 5
Genre: Science Fiction 


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