The Forever War

October 5th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series The Forever War
  • The Forever War

The Forever War is a classic, of course…one of the greats of Science Fiction and a hugely influential work, and I’m sure there’s little to be said about it critically that hasn’t been said, but I’ve never been one to let others do my talking for me…except when I am. (Note to self: be less of an inconstant and forgetful cuss. Now if only I could remember these Notes to myself…) Anyhow, to oversimplify in a fashionable way, there are two kinds of classics: there are books that are timelessly good and thus appreciated and emulated far past when the era in which they were written has passed away, and then there are books that were simply mindblowing for their originality and themes at the time they were written but have been so often emulated that the inspiring formula they introduced has been refined and surpassed by far better books than the original book that is now an influential classic. It’s particularly easy for the significant works of science fiction to fall into the latter situation, as the mutability of scientific theory means you can almost always date science fiction by the precepts it adopts into its plot and themes. The Forever War is no exception, with its now ironically humorous beginning scene in a military base on Pluto in 1997 and its quaint conception of collapsars; but I think its real value is more timeless, in that it is an interesting projection of what war fiction might look like from soldiers who fought in interstellar wars where relativity and time-dilation were immediate personal concerns. Haldeman’s protagonist is a typical young college kid, drafted out of his physics program into a war nobody really understands and given some training for a combat situation no one has ever attempted before. The difficulties of living (and killing), even with advanced technology, in an environment where even Hydrogen and Helium are Solids (or worse, frictionless superfluids) are addressed in a realistic fashion, as are relativistic (and simple inertial) effects from being in vessels accelerated to a significant portion of the speed of light. Because of the latter, the events of this book span several centuries in Earth time, although only a few years pass for our protagonist and his romantic interest. Haldeman has gobs of interesting ideas in this book, including “Power Armor” suits, Arcologies, psychic abilities (and their potential liabilities in combat), force fields which effect thermodynamics on a very basic level, pharmaceutically enhanced soldiers, liberal sexual politics (driving home how backwards the sexual controversies that dominate us today would seem to someone transported from 30 years ago to our time), and their integration into a coherent story that still has relevance and interesting points to make today is an impressive feat (although having the war resolved by Spoiler: psychic incestuous clones naturally relating to other psychic incestuous clones is a bit far-fetched, even for the 70s). If you haven’t read The Forever War but you are interested in war fiction or military science fiction, you should definitely give it a go.

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