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.
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.
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.
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.