Joe Haldeman

Orion Millennium / 254 pages / January 1999

ISBN: 1857988086

In the realm of science fiction, no “Best of” list is complete without The Forever War solidly among the top ten, often gracing the number one slot. Sometimes, it’s best to take these rankings with a grain of salt — not everyone is entranced with Heinlein, Tolkien, etc. — but, in this case, you can believe it. Haldeman’s masterpiece is just that, a master work to worthy to represent the genre.

Private William Mandella is a man about to embark on a journey that will traverse space and time, war and uneasy peace. By the close of the book, the reluctant soldier will have travelled over twelve centuries. That can be traumatic enough, but it is the changes in society, mores, and norms that will be the most difficult barriers facing him. No work before or since The Forever War has so successfully portrayed the emotional toll of what is, essentially, time-travel.

But light-years is not the only concept Haldeman tackles in his landmark novel; the myriad prospects of sexuality are explored without a trace of puritanism or lascivious behaviour. Sex as a part of the human existence, like the fulfllment of food, refreshment of drink, and the rejuvenation of sleep. Haldeman treats the subject as he does every other aspect of the narrative. It can be a real eye-opening experience, depending upon the reader’s background and views. No matter where you are coming from, the perspective will do you good.

Haldeman is a maestro at characterisation and if The Forever War is your introduction to his work, you are starting off at an auspicious point. Private Mandella is a fully fleshed-out, complex character. The reader comes to care deeply about the “hero,” his beloved, and the loyal circle of friends who travel through the centuries together. No person is all good or purely evil; like most people, they inhabit the hazy ground in the middle. Utterly human.

The Forever War’s plot zips and sizzles at a pace that has kept decades of readers glued to the page. The story never forsakes humanity and the emotional facets of the situation in favour of action, explosions, and technology. Such a perfect balance is seldom struck in literature — any branch of literature.

And maybe that is what truly defines a master work. It is not merely good hard science fiction, extraordinary social speculation, or rivetting adventure — it is a damn good book. The Forever War can hold its own against any novel out there. Passing years have not weakened the impact or dated the material. Coming years and decades will not dull its appeal.

You like science fiction? You’ve never read sci-fi? You have too many new titles to get through? Put down whatever you’re doing and pick up a copy of this gem, and know what real literature really is.