BOOK REVIEW – JOE HALDEMAN – THE FOREVER WAR 1974 Gollancz Science Fiction Masterworks #1
A terrific story about a pointless space war that drags on for millennia, told through the eyes of a combatant who serves from the beginning to the end.
The author served in Vietnam, and the story starts twenty years after that, taking up on a similar conflict but between two different planets. William Mandella is drafted into the space Fleet army and given deep hypnotic conditioning to make him hate the Tauran race, which is believed to have been responsible for attacking spaceships sent from Earth to distant regions of the galaxy.
Training alone proves to be dangerous on alien worlds, in suits that are highly sophisticated in new weapons technology and camouflage capabilities. Worse, the Taurans could attack at any time, and as the first part of the book concludes, they do. We see little of the aliens, who move in protective bubble shielding, and often simply steal their weapons and battle strategies from the Earth forces, (as the Veitcong did). Surviving the initial skirmishes, Mandella is allowed to go home, as is his steady girlfriend, Marygay (herself a combat soldier). Trouble is, the stargate dimension jumps that take them into deep space cause Relativity based time distortions, and while the soldiers are still young, life on earth has moved forward forty years. Mandella faces what many Vietnam vets faced, - a world he can no longer relate to, where his military training gives him no preparation for civilian life. The World has collapsed into financial anarchy due to over-population. Food celeries are the new currency, and farms, such as that which Marygay lives on, are under constant siege, while urban streets are rife in crime. Everyone needs guns and bodyguards. As a population control, homosexuality has been made compulsory for many adults, and once past a certain age, the elderly are simply denied any and all medical assistance, which is why Mandella is unable to get a doctor to his elderly, dying mother.
Manipulated into going back into space, Mandella pursues through further dimensional jump-space, and moves 1,000’s of years into Earth’s future, losing a leg, but getting a sophisticated new one.
The final conflict with the enemy reduces both sides from high technology, to fighting like savages with bows and arrows. Rescued, along with a handful of survivors, Mandella moves through space-time to a time where he learns that the war is over, and now regarded as a ghastly mistake. The initial Tauran attacks were mere accidents blamed on the unknown alien species by earth people.
Miraculously, Marygay, separated, and sent to serve on other missions, has also survived and is not much older than Mandella. He sets off to meet with her as the story ends.
Inspired by the Nam, the story also prophetically has much to say about the modern war against those with weapons of mass destruction, and remains one of the best books the genre as ever produced.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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