Book Reviews, Reviews

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

★ ★ ★ ★

After D&D last week, somehow we got onto the topic of books, and I mentioned really liking John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Because of that, Joe recommended The Forever War to me.

The foreword of the version I read was actually written by Scalzi, and in it, he says he’s glad he didn’t read Forever War until after Old Man’s War was published. I have to say, having now read both books that I’m glad I read Old Man’s War first. There’s a lot to like in both books, and they aren’t so similar that if you read one you can’t read the other. But I think Forever War is good enough that if I had read it first, I would have thought less of Old Man’s War.

I only just now looked to see what rating I had given Old Man’s War, and I gave it a full 5 stars, which is funny to me, because I actually think Forever War is a better book, even though I’m only giving it 4. Ultimately, I think the reason I didn’t give it a full 5 stars is because the writing felt sort of mechanical. That said, I actually can’t help but wonder if that’s intentional.

Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, and the parallels are pretty obvious. I wonder if the detachment I felt to the writing and to Mandella, the main character, is intentional on the part of the author; some attempt to make the reader feel the way Mandella seems to feel about his life during the war. If that’s actually what’s going on and I’m not just reading too much into the book, then maybe it deserves the extra star. But compared to Old Man’s War, I didn’t enjoy reading it as much. Even though, again, I think it’s the better book.

There’s really a lot to like in the science fiction of the book, too. The way that time and relativity play out in the book is especially interesting. The politics of Earth during the war were very interesting to me. Government was very obviously part of the plot, but not in the way it typically is in a science fiction story. What I usually expect from a scifi story involving government is authoritarian rule followed by some kind of heroic uprising. Here, the government is authoritarian and terrible, causing all kinds of problems, but going unchecked out of fear of attack from an outside force. This seems, to me, to be even more relevant to today’s fear of terrorism than it was during the cold war with fear of communism. But maybe it’s easy for me to say that since I didn’t live through both.

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