My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Through the eyes of protagonist William Mandella, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War gives readers a glimpse of what war in deep space and on distant planets might be like. It’s a theme taken up by countless science fiction writers — Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card, to name a few — and no telling how many SF films and tv shows.
Though set in the far future, this novel is comparable to any classic war novel. It’s gritty and unromantic. And given that Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, The Forever War is a novel as much about that war as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
The war Mandella fights against an alien enemy millions of light years from Earth has a spurious beginning — its Gulf of Tonkin incident. The soldiers in Mandella’s unit fight in hostile environments against an often unseen enemy.
Because of the phenomenon of time dilation caused by light speed travel, soldiers age months while Earth ages centuries. When they return home, they find the word vastly changed, an almost completely different culture: one ravaged by overpopulation as well as wars and violence. An experience not unlike that many Vietnam vets had upon their return to the United States. Haldeman in interviews talks about the feeling the went on without him while he was overseas.
The novel, however, is more than a metaphor of Vietnam: Haldeman is prescient about such things as overpopulation, violence and more tolerance of gays.