The Forever War

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The Forever War  

Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Joe Haldeman
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher St. Martin's Press
Publication date 1974
Media type print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 236 pp
ISBN 0-312-29890-0
Followed by Forever Peace

The Forever War is a 1974 science fiction novel by Joe Haldeman. It won the Nebula Award and Locus Award in 1975 and the Hugo Award in 1976. Both an action-laden and contemplative story of an interstellar war between humanity and the enigmatic Tauran species, it deals with themes like the inhumanity of both war and its attendant bureaucracy, as well as with the results of time dilation space travel which may cause a soldier to return to his home only after centuries have gone by.

There are also two sequels of sorts, Forever Free and Forever Peace (the latter only shares the theme, not the setting), as well as the novella A Separate War which is set in parallel to the latter part of "The Forever War". The three books are considered by some to constitute The Forever War series. It also inspired a comic book and a board game.[1]


[edit] Plot synopsis

William Mandella is a university student conscripted for an elite task force in the United Nations Exploratory Force being assembled for a war against the Taurans, an alien species discovered when they suddenly attacked human colonists' ships. They are sent out for reconnaissance and revenge.

The elite recruits have IQs of 150 and above, are highly educated, healthy and fit. Training is grueling – first on Earth and later on Charon (not Pluto's moon, which was undiscovered at the time, but a hypothetical planet beyond Pluto's orbit), which results in a number of casualties – mainly due to accidents in hostile environments but also due to the use of live weapons in training. The new soldiers then depart for action, traveling via wormhole-like phenomena called 'collapsars' that allow ships to cover thousands of light-years in a split second. However, traveling to and from the collapsars at near-lightspeed has massive relativistic effects.

Their first encounter with (unarmed) Taurans on a faraway planet turns into a massacre, with the unresisting enemy base wiped out. Mandella melancholically reflects on how typical the encounter was for humanity's previous record in interaction with other cultures. This first expedition lasted only a few months from the soldier's perspective, but due to time dilation, upon return to Earth many years have passed. On the long way home, the soldiers experience future shock firsthand, as the Taurans employ increasingly advanced weaponry against them while they do not have the chance to re-arm.

Mandella, with soldier, lover and companion Marygay, returns to civilian life, only to find humanity drastically changed. He and his fellow soldiers have difficulty fitting into a future society that has evolved almost beyond their comprehension. The veterans learn that to curb overpopulation, which led to worldwide food wars, homosexuality has become officially encouraged by the world government. The changes within society alienate Mandella and the other veterans to the point where many re-enlist to escape, even though they realize the military is a soulless construct. The inability of the military to treat its soldiers as more than highly complex valuable machines is a theme of the story.

Almost entirely through luck, Mandella survives four subjectively experienced years of military service, which time dilation makes equivalent to several centuries. He soon becomes the 'oldest' surviving soldier in the war, attaining high rank through seniority, although not from ambition (he is portrayed as an eternally reluctant soldier, who acts mostly from talent and a melancholic sense of duty). Despite this he is separated from Marygay (who has remained his last contact with the Earth of his youth) by inexorable military machinery. As the commanding officer of a 'strike force', Mandella commands soldiers who speak a language largely unrecognizable to him, whose ethnicity is now nearly uniform and are exclusively homosexual.

Engaging in combat thousands of light years away from Earth, Mandella and his soldiers need to resort to medieval weapons in order to fight inside a force-field which neutralizes energy weapons and instruments. They battle to survive what is to be the last conflict of the war. During the time that has since passed on Earth, humankind has begun to employ human cloning, resulting in a new species calling itself Man. Man has developed a means of communication unique and inherent to clones, which allows them to communicate with the Taurans, leading to peace. It turns out the war was a colossal mistake – the Taurans are a naturally clone-based species and could not communicate with the pre-clone humans. Misunderstandings, especially by trigger-happy humanity, led to the conflict.

Man establishes several colonies of old-style, heterosexual humans, just in case the evolutionary change proves to be a mistake. Mandella travels to one of these colonies, named 'Middle Finger' (instead of 'Index' (possibly for index finger) in some of the graphic novel adaption). There he is reunited with Marygay, who had been discharged much earlier and had intentionally used time dilation to age at a much slower rate, hoping and waiting for Mandella's return. The epilogue is a news item from the year 3143 announcing the birth of a "fine baby boy" to Marygay Potter-Mandella.

[edit] Significance and criticism

The novel is widely perceived to be a portrayal of the author's military service during the Vietnam War, and has been called an account of his war experiences written through a 'space opera' filter.[2] Other hints of the autobiographical nature of the work are the protagonist's surname, 'Mandella', which is a near anagram of the author's surname, as well as the name of the lead female character, Marygay Potter, which is nearly identical to Haldeman's wife's maiden name. Importantly, if one accepts this reading of the book, the alienation experienced by the soldiers on returning to Earth – here caused by the time dilation effect – becomes a clear metaphor for the reception given to US troops returning to America from Vietnam. He also subverts typical space opera clichés (such as the heroic soldier influencing battles through individual acts) and "...demonstrates how absurd many of the old clichés look to someone who had seen real combat duty. His writing is blunt, earthy, and anti-heroic."[2]

It has also been considered to be a critical response to Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, a book with a similar setting, often considered pro-military. For his part, Haldeman has played down this claim in several interviews, even going so far as to praise Heinlein's work on its own merits and to name him as one of his own favorite authors.[3] There are also certain profound differences between the two novels. Whereas the characters in Starship Troopers were all volunteers, the characters in The Forever War were conscripts (Heinlein had stated his opposition to conscription on several occasions). The Forever War also broke from many military traditions of which Heinlein was fond. Haldeman, however, noted that he received a letter from Heinlein congratulating him on his Nebula Award which "meant more than the award itself"[4] and author Spider Robinson claimed that Heinlein approached Haldeman at the award banquet and said the book "may be the best future war story I've ever read!"[5] In August of 2003, Haldeman was elected by unanimous vote to the board of directors for the Heinlein Society.[6][7]

[edit] Editions

The Forever War was published as a serial in Analog Magazine before its first book publication in 1974. Since then, many editions of The Forever War have been published. Editions published prior to 1991 were abridged for space by the original editor (omitting the middle section, a novella titled You Can Never Go Back). These early paperback editions have "a white cover showing a man in a spacesuit with a sword, with symbolic clocks all around," according to the author, with alternatively the first hardcover edition featuring a large hourglass with planets falling through it.

The 1991 edition restored many expurgated sections, primarily dealing with the changes that befall human civilization over the course of William Mandella's life. This version's cover "has a futuristic soldier who looks like Robin Williams in a funny hat," as Haldeman notes, "But alas, not all of the changes got in, and the book has some internal contradictions because of things left over from the [earlier version]."

In 1997, Avon published the version that Haldeman called "definitive," with "everything restored" and "a less funny cover illustration."[citation needed] This version was republished twice, first in October 2001 as a hardback with a cover showing spaceships in battle over a planet, and again in September 2003, with the cover art depicting a device worn over the eye of a soldier.

In 1999 it was republished by Millennium, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, as part of the SF Masterworks series. It featured as the first novel re-printed in the series, and the cover features a close-up of Marygay Potter with soldiers and spaceships in the background. This is the same version as the 1997 Avon publication and features the same Author's Note.

In 2006 an omnibus edition containing the books Forever War, Forever Free and Forever Peace was published by Gollancz. The cover depicts a futuristic gun barrel stuck into the ground with a smashed spacesuit helmet placed on top. The author's note at the start of the book describes the edition as containing the definitive versions.

Also in 2006 Haldeman, at the request of Robert Silverberg, wrote Marygay's first-person account of her time of separation from Mandella. It included not only the military details but also the difficulty of coping as a lone heterosexual woman with a society where same-sex relations are the inflexible norm. The story was included as the title story in the collection A Separate War and Other Stories (2006). In his "Notes on the Stories" for that collection, Haldeman commented that "it was fun to write her story, both as a bridge to the sequel (Forever Free) and as an oblique commentary on The Forever War, twenty years later".

[edit] Adaptations

[edit] Graphic novel

Belgian comic writer Marvano has, in cooperation with Haldeman, created a graphic novel trilogy of The Forever War. With some very minor changes and omissions to storyline and setting, it faithfully adapts the same themes in visual style.[citation needed] The series was translated into various languages, and had a follow-up trilogy connected to Forever Free.

[edit] Film

On October 12 2008, Ridley Scott confirmed that after a 25 year wait for the rights to become available, he is making a return to science fiction with a film adaptation of the book. He is currently looking for a script writer.[8].

In March 2009, Scott confirmed that the film would be in 3D citing James Cameron's Avatar as an inspiration for doing so. "I'm filming a book by Joe Haldeman called Forever War. I've got a good writer doing it. I've seen some of James Cameron's work, and I've got to go 3D. It's going to be phenomenal."[9][10]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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