The Forever War

forever war

The Forever War is a 1974 science fiction novel by American author Joe Haldeman, telling the contemplative story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war between humanity and the enigmatic Tauran species.

The pithy, insightful explorations of the inhumanity of war and of bureaucracy, and of the psychological effects resulting from time dilation space travel (a soldier returns home after centuries away), won acclaim immediately.

The soldiers returns to civilian life, only to find humanity drastically changed. They have difficulty fitting into a future society that has evolved almost beyond their comprehension. The veterans learn that to curb overpopulation, which led to worldwide food wars, homosexuality has become officially encouraged by the world government. As time progresses human ethnicity becomes nearly uniform and the world becomes almost exclusively homosexual, though they establish several colonies of old-style, heterosexual humans, just in case the evolutionary change proves to be a mistake.

Engaging in combat thousands of light years away from Earth, the soldiers resort to medieval weapons in order to fight inside a force-field which neutralizes energy weapons and instruments. They battle to survive what is to be the last conflict of the war. During the time that has since passed on Earth, humankind has begun to employ human cloning, resulting in a new species calling itself Man. Man has developed a means of communication unique and inherent to clones, which allows them to communicate with the Taurans, leading to peace. It turns out the war was a colossal mistake – the Taurans are a naturally clone-based species and could not communicate with the pre-clone humans. Misunderstandings, especially by trigger-happy humanity, led to the conflict.

The novel is widely perceived to be a portrayal of the author’s military service during the Vietnam War, and has been called an account of his war experiences written through a ‘space opera’ filter. The alienation experienced by the soldiers on returning to Earth – here caused by the time dilation effect – is a metaphor for the reception given to US troops returning to America from Vietnam. He also subverts typical space opera clichés (such as the heroic soldier influencing battles through individual acts) and ‘demonstrates how absurd many of the old clichés look to someone who had seen real combat duty.’

It has also been considered to be a critical response to Robert A. Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers,’ a book with a similar setting, often considered pro-military. There are also certain profound differences between the two novels. Whereas the characters in ‘Starship Troopers’ were all volunteers, the characters in ‘The Forever War’ were conscripts (Heinlein had stated his opposition to conscription on several occasions).

‘The Forever War’ was originally written as Haldeman’s MFA thesis for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. It was first published as a serial in Analog Magazine before its first book publication in 1974. Since then, many editions of The Forever War have been published.

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