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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Forever War

The Forever War - Joe Haldeman I first read The Forever War a couple years ago in audiobook format, I quite liked it but to be honest it did not leave much of a lasting impression. I suspect the audiobook format is not suitable for this particular book, I don’t remember there being anything wrong with the narration, I just could not retain much of the details after finishing it, just a vague feeling that it is quite good. I love audiobooks, but I am beginning to think that short sci-fi books are not really the ideal for this format. Which brings me to the reread in print format, The Forever War often crops up in “favorite sf books” discussions and I feel as if I haven’t really read it and this won’t do.

As you might expect The Forever war belongs to the subgenre of “military science fiction”, a subgenre I normally avoid unless the author has interesting points to make about war or military life. Books that focus on the action or thrills of military campaigns are anathemas to me. This book is more of an exploration of the nature and principles of warfare than about details of battles (though there is some of that also); basically it is an anti-war novel.

The book I finished reading just before starting this reread of The Forever War is [b:Brave New World|5129|Brave New World|Aldous Huxley|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327865608s/5129.jpg|3204877], it is interesting to compare the two as sci-fi books. To me the Aldous Huxley book is not really sci-fi as the emphasis is on the social satire and the futuristic setting and sci-fi tropes are tools for the author to communicate his cautionary message. The Forever War is unabashedly sci-fi, certainly it is an allegory of the Vietnam War which the author Joe Haldeman served in. However, Haldeman’s knowledge of physics and engineering is clearly evident in the hard science parts, and the futuristic tech is clearly aimed at sci-fi readers. The only soft or handwavium sci-fi element is the FTL spaceflight through “collapsar jumps”; and this plot device is very cleverly and logically used to explore the implications of time dilation.

The book is very well written and the (first person) narrative tone gradually changes from a sardonic tone in the early chapters to a more matter of fact tone and then a melancholic tone towards the end. The book is too short and densely plotted or all the characters to be fully developed but the protagonist William Mandella and narrator is very sympathetic and believable. I also love the way the book suddenly switch from the war setting to a dystopian near future Earth, then back to the war and then a far future setting for the novel’s conclusion. The middle section set on Earth is really my favorite part of the book, with the drastically changed culture and social mores. If I have one complaint it is the overlong section which tells the story of the final battles with the aliens Taurans, personally I always find scenes of military engagements very dull, though you may feel differently. Fortunately when that is over we arrive at a wonderful twist and denouement, I do not find the eventual fate of Mandella and his girlfriend quite believable but it is by no means unsatisfactory.

While I was reading about the final battles in the later chapters I was speculating whether to rate this book at 4 stars because I found those battle scenes a little tedious, but after finishing it I feel a 5 stars rating is a more accurate representation of my esteem.

Update May 2, 2015: The Forever War movie is coming! Reread anyone?