Book Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman - The Fantasy Review

Book Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Fantasy Review’s review of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

The Forever War has been one of the best reading experiences of my life. No book has shattered my expectations like this, surprising me with its incredible depth and complexity despite a lack of nearly any characterisation or thorough worldbuilding.

I promise you, if seeing “military science fiction” puts you off because you don’t think that’s your kind of thing, The Forever War is a totally different book to things like Starship Troopers (Heinlein) or Old Man’s War (Scalzi).

Vanilla Mandella

The Forever War follows William Mandella, a conscript pulled from his Physics studies at university into a war with a new enemy, the Taurans. We follow his journey through hundreds of years, although for him only a few years have passed (this is due to Time Dilation, which I’m not smart enough to explain, but briefly, “time moves slower for an observer who is in motion relative to another observer.”)

Mandella is a vanilla, ordinary person without any strange quirks or great loves or hobbies. This doesn’t sound like a positive, but the point is he could be absolutely anyone. His plainess proves the reader with a lens through which we spectate the horrors of war, as well as the dullness or waiting, the terrifying results of new technology malfunctioning, and in general the stupidity of the human race at its worst.

Despite not thinking much of Mandella at the beginning of The Forever War, during the final chapter I found myself loving him. He had been through so much, seen so much, and survived so much, I struggled to watch him fighting for his life yet again.

This is just a review and not an in-depth analysis, so I will finish the section by saying that Mandella’s ordinaryness was a comfort in a world (universe?) that became unrecognisable and was so often bleak and tragic.

Time Dilation

As I said before, I’m not smart enough to explain or even fully understand the science of time dilation, but I understand how it affected the narrative. These soldiers who went off to war would come home to a world that was tens or hundreds of years in the future, with the world they knew almost completely gone.

This is the magic of science fiction (and also fantasy). Instead of trying to get the reader to emotionally understand the alienation experienced by soldiers in the real world, when they return from tours, science fiction can instead literally show that alienation. 

It is a powerful gut punch when we first return to Earth, seeing so much has changed. Joe Haldeman focuses Mandella’s confusion with this new world on the changing consensus on homosexuality. The book is certainly not homophobic, but Mandella has a steep learning curve which he isn’t totally keen on.

The book takes these social changes to the extreme, to the limits of progression and further, so that heterophobia is the dominant mood. Once again, this allows the alienation to be depicted powerfully as Mandella is increasingly socially and emotionally detached from the people around him.

Final Thoughts

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is an incredible book, and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading any kind of literature. It is far more than just a “military science fiction” book, with its philosophical deep-dives into the mass human psyche and incredible reflections on war.

Don’t miss out on reading this ultimate classic of the science fiction genre.

Related to our Review of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Owner and Editor of The Fantasy Review. Loves all fantasy and science fiction books, graphic novels, TV and Films. Having completed a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative writing, they would like to go on to do a PhD. Favourite authors are Trudi Canavan, Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson.

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