05 June 2012

Book Review: The Forever War

Title: The Forever War
Author: Joe Haldeman
Publisher/Year: St. Martin's Griffin / 2009 / 1974
Source/Format: Free / Print
Date Finished: 10 May 2012
Book # 29

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
William Mandella is drafted into an interstellar war against the Taurans which totals four years for him and centuries for those on his home planet due to the time dilation of space travel. Sweet.

A Bit of a Ramble
I read this one to see if I want to use it next year for my Intro to Lit course. The book won the Nebula Award, the Hugo award, and the Locus award in the mid-seventies, and it is touted as AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT BOOK IN THE SCIENCE FICTION GENRE.

For me, the real attraction was the autobiographical connection. Many claim the book is a reflection of Haldeman's time in Vietnam (maybe I'll assign Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five along with it?). While the book uses time to cause feelings of alienation, I can definitely see how the alienation experienced by soldiers returning from Vietnam (or any war for that matter) would be similar. For Mandella, everything changes, culture, language, politics, and so on. But even a soldier returning to his or her own time faces a dramatic shift. I can see this being a great talking point for the class. I also think it would be interesting to discuss how people make sense of their experiences through semi-autobiographical works, especially in the area of science fiction.

The only real issue I see with using the book for a course is the focus on sexuality. Sex is treated rather pragmatically and openly in the book with soldiers being paired up for sleeping partners: man-woman in the beginning (when heterosexuality is the norm on Earth) and man-man, woman-woman towards the end (when homosexuality is the norm on Earth). While I love this openness and focus on ideology as determinant of "normal" sexual behavior, I am not sure my students are necessarily ready for the directness of the issue (due to the current puritanical ideology). I still haven't made up my mind...

But back to a review... The plot is fast-paced but not intense without substance (a la a Michael Bay film - no offense meant. I enjoyed Transformers). The characters are well fleshed out, multifaceted humans (as opposed to caricatures). Even with all the "Elements of Literature" working well, at its core, this book is about things: war, politics, individuality, sexuality, love, morality, sacrifice, and bravery. Good stuff.


  1. I definitely have to reread this one. I can't remember too much! I think what I didn't like when I read it was that it didn't seem very "sci-fi-ish" for which I was in the mood, but if I read it with different expectations I could appreciate it more. And your review definitely makes me want to revisit it!

  2. Sounds rather intense but also intriguing since I am thinking about reading Slaugherhouse Five (again, I think - not sure)

  3. Sounds like it has a lot to recommend it. I never heard of it but you've got me intrigued.

  4. Goodness, I had no idea what I was handing to my child. LOL My 20-year-old read this one a year or two ago and he was lukewarm about it. Maybe it was the "open sexuality" that turned him off. I bought it on a whim and it does sound like a book I'll enjoy. So glad I found your review!


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