The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

A book review by Bobulous.

Of this 1974 novel, in an Author's Note, Joe Haldeman says it's about the Vietnam War because that's the war the author was in, and most young readers don't even see the parallels between The Forever War and the seemingly endless one we were involved in at the time . . . The note was written in 1999, however, and the message of the book certainly seems to apply to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that have started since then.

The Forever War follows William Mandella, conscripted into the military to fight a newly-encountered alien race. This alien threat arose after humanity discovered the collapsar, a corruption of spacetime that allows a spacecraft to travel instantly from one part of the galaxy to another. With Earth's generals determined to secure as much territory as possible, young graduates such as William are rushed into military service.

We first join Private William Mandella in 1997, when he's finishing military training on Earth, about to be shipped to a harsh planet for final training before deployment. With those who survive training, he travels through a collapsar into enemy territory. After fighting the alien forces, known as Taurans, both planetside and in space, William's company make several collapsar jumps before returning to Earth. While each collapsar jump seems instantaneous to the space traveller, several years pass in the universe outside, and when they arrive on Earth, though William has aged less than four years since he was conscripted, the year is 2024.

In the twenty-seven years that have passed, Earth has become overpopulated, ravaged by food shortages and uprisings, unemployement and corruption. William aims to take it all in his stride, certain that anything is better than returning to military service. But his homeland is nothing like the world he left behind, and death and violence seem almost as common on Earth as they were in alien space.

The author uses the time dilation caused by collapsar jumps to brilliantly describe the shock of returning home from war to find that nothing seems the same. The tale is cleanly written and perfectly paced, despite being full of imagined future technologies and covering periods of training, combat, downtime, and recuperation. With a strong message about the folly of war, and of the isolation that returning soldiers can be left with, The Forever War is also largely upbeat, determined and positive. An excellent novel.