The Forever War (1943)
I'd put off reading this one because it's got a reputation as a great anti-war novel (sort of the anti-Starship Troopers), particularly anti-Vietnam (where Mr. Haldeman served), and I'm neither. But regardless of Mr. Haldeman's intent, it reads today as one of the most conservative books in the history of science fiction.
The plot is pretty simple, in Earth's near future, an army of super-soldiers is drafted by the U.N. to go and fight the Taurans, a mysterious alien species which has apparently been attacking human space ships that have just made collapsar jumps (at .999 the speed of light) and arrived near Aldebaran. The narrator is William Mandella who will fight the Taurans for a millennium, because of the disparity in how much time passes for him relative to Earth during his travels. This means though that ever time he and his fellow soldiers return home, massive social changes have taken place. So he returns to population explosions, euthanasia, and government controlled economies; then to a future where homosexuality and test tube babies have become the norm (and population stabilized at a billion people); and finally to a world where humankind has become nothing but a population of identical clones sharing a mind. On this final return home, Mandella finds that the Forever War has all been a result of misunderstanding and a plot by militarist:
The 1143-year-long war had begun on false pretenses and only continued because the two races were unable to communicate.
Once they could talk, the first question was "Why did you start this thing?" and the answer was "Me?"
The Taurans hadn't known war for millennia, and toward
the beginning of the twenty-first century it looked as though mankind was
Many of the early ships met with accidents and disappeared.
The ex-military men were suspicious. They armed the colonizing vessels,
They dusted off their medals and the rest was going to be history.
You couldn't blame it all on the military, though.
The evidence they presented for the Taurans having been responsible for
The fact was, Earth's economy needed a war, and this
one was ideal. It was a nice hole to throw buckets of money into,
but would unify
This entirely risible concoction of Mr. Haldeman's appears to be about equal parts Dr. Strangelove and Report from Iron Mountain, just as his population worries reflect the most hysterical ravings of Paul Ehrlich and his celebration of drugs is leftover Timothy Leary. In short, he fell prey to nearly every quackery of the 70s. And if the Forever War is really supposed to be an allegory for the Vietnam War, the notion that Vietnam was about nothing surely went out of fashion with the boat people. The judgments of history have been unkind to Mr. Haldeman's overt politics.
Oddly though, there's an unintentional covert politics at work here that succeeds brilliantly and remains trenchant and true. For one thing, the book offers a convincing argument against gays in the military and is downright homophobic. But as an overarching matter, it seems obvious that the world that Mandella and his fellow soldiers once knew is much preferable to the Earth they keep returning to, with its big government, declining morality, cheapening of human life, and finally the disappearance of the individual. The closing pages are as good an argument against bio-engineering/cloning as you'll find anywhere on the Christian Conservative Right today.
Unfortunately for Mr. Haldeman, while the future he predicted as a result of militarism turned out to be a delusion, the world that peace and plenty may bring turns out to resemble his nightmare. When, at the end of the novel, Mandella and his woman reject the new Earth and settle instead on Middle Finger, they turn out to be flipping the bird to precisely the kind of placid but pointless, grotesquely egalitarian, utopia that the Left dreams of today. The folks who were "stuck" in the military, with it's unchanging values, turn out to be the great hope of the species. I must confess, I take great joy in this perverse reversal that events have wrought on Mr. Haldeman's book.
GRADE: A- (though accidentally)
See also:Science Fiction & Fantasy
-Joe Haldeman's Tangled Website
-POEM: Walking the Thread of Steel (Joe Haldeman, Reflections on September 11, 2001, SciFi.com)
-INTERVIEW : Joe Haldeman (Gert Meesters)
-INTERVIEW: An Outerview with Joe Haldeman (Phoebe Rogers, Dragon Soup)
-CHAT: Gardner Dozois presents Joe Haldeman & Walter Jon Williams: Two fun lovin' sci-fi authors (SciFi.com)
-Joseph William Haldeman (HyperCyber)
-REVIEW: Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (Nick Gifford, infinity plus)
-REVIEW: of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Nicholas Whyte)
-REVIEW: Joe Haldeman: Forever Free (Nick Gifford, infinity plus)
-REVIEWS: Joe Haldeman Reviews (Raven's Reviews)
-REVIEW: of The Coming by Joe Haldeman (SF Site)
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd