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A novel by Joe Haldeman
(2009, Thomas Dunne books)
[original copyright 1974]

The Forever War, book 1

At war with a relentless alien species, a soldier travels through gateways to other planets, while at home centuries pass and the world becomes less comprehensible.


-- First reading (paperback)
April 14th to 22nd, 2018


A fascinating look not just at unnecessary war, but mostly on how a soldier fits in when the war is done and the world no longer matches his values. I found it extremely interesting how the world changed from what we know to very dark times, and then to something extremely foreign to us, and finally to a species of neutrals. At first glance, it seems like the changes are counter to anything that could ever possibly happen, such as a completely homosexual society. But when reproduction ceases to be a guiding factor in families, then it becomes a lot more plausible. This is a book well worth picking up and trying to truly understand.

Spoiler review:

I wouldn’t say the book was riveting, but it told the interesting story of a man gone to war and coming home again, and the way he is treated by the military that he serves. The gateway jump points that scatter the galaxy are of unknown origin, but the alien Taurans seem to be the only other race that uses them. On first contact, without making contact at all, they fired on us and suddenly we were at war.

The war storyline follows Mandela as he moves up the ranks, travels on a boring voyage to the gate point, and is deployed on several worlds. The point of the story isn’t the war, though it’s interesting to see the strange aliens get slaughtered, then follow up with deadly attacks in the next encounter. Most of the time in the army is downtime, or make-work time, getting shelters ready and testing weapons and techniques. Mandela is a leader, and he takes charge in several instances. People are hooking up on the ship all the time, but it doesn’t take long for them to find their preferred, or most compatible, partner. Whether they are temporarily stranded on a new base or strapped into jelly-like acceleration couches when technology improves, Mandela is always on the same ship and mission as Marygay.

Their training was no-nonsense, in that the commanders didn't give them a fair chance, and knew that the training would kill some of them. In the outer solar system, they create shelters for planets they know nothing about, making assumptions about gravity and atmosphere, and the weapons they'll need to defend themselves.

It's obvious when they encounter the Taurans that humanity is far more advanced, at least to start with. The Tauran base is captured easily and with no casualties, but one Tauran escapes, bringing word eventually to its people. Being a species of clones, with a collective consciousness of a sort, they learned to defend themselves against the hostile humans very quickly.

I liked the way time dilation colored everything, from the war to the way Earth changed. In the war, they waited for long stretches as they were accelerated through the gateway and decelerated back again. In those months of near-light speed travel, the rest of the galaxy went about its normal progression, and humanity developed better technology, from acceleration couches (so the soldiers could withstand higher accelerations and decelerations, making deployment faster) to weapons and strategies. And every time they encounter the Taurans, they find that the alien race has also progressed.

When their first tour is done, they go back to Earth. I was surprised that they didn’t go together right away, but I suppose family was the highest priority. The most difficult part of the book to accept was the way humanity changed in only a few decades after the war started. The way the world became completely violent so that security guards were required everywhere, to the general climate of everyone becoming bisexual, was a stretch in that short time. Its progression over centuries, as birth rates climbed to exorbitant numbers, and the number of children becomes mandated, is more believable, but that first time when Mandella and Marygay go to Earth was uncharacteristically difficult. After a series of misconducts, one defending the farm Marygay's parents worked at, and another in self defense in Paris, they decide to rejoin the military.

War, of course, promotes growth in all industries, and this one was no different. As humanity prospered, and people became more affluent, the birth rate increased, until it was no longer sustainable, and there were food shortages, and war on Earth, until it was a very difficult place to live, a wasteland of poverty. When Mandella and Marygay are both injured, they are sent to a hospital planet to regrow their missing limbs, where they learn that Earth is a slum where nobody would ever want to go.

But then, after another tour of duty in which time passes on Earth, it has stabilized, and becomes livable again. Unfortunately, Mandella and Marygay are separated for their next tour of duty, which means they will now age at different rates. The next set of recruits for the war is completely homosexual, because all births are mandated by the state, and incubated in machines, and love is completely separated from procreation. Family is who you love, not who you give birth to. The author did a good job of showing Mandella's discomfort, and the crew's reaction to his quaint and old fashioned ways. I especially liked the discussions amongst the women he might want to pursue, to the idea of being sexually involved with a man. It was perverse to them.

Mandella was one of the first recruits in the war, and his ship is the last to get back to Earth when peace is achieved. Humanity has chosen the best of itself and cloned its people, and share a group mentality. In this way, they were able to communicate with the Taurans with a similar mindset and cultural reference.

The army is disbanded, and its people are relocated where they best fit in, which is not among the clones. For Mandella, it is a pleasure planet, where the old style of humanity is allowed to remain free of the clone constraints, just in case the new humanity doesn't work out. Marygay has written him a letter saying she is already there, waiting for him, if he returns.

So the book ends up being a love story of a sorts, after all! It presented a very intriguing scenario, and made all aspects of it interesting and thought-provoking. The end result was not what I was expecting, and full of surprises.


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