Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The best science-fiction military novel of all time: Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War

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It truly is an impressive novel—a great military novel, pure and simple, which also happens to be science-fiction. Brian Merchant discusses it in an article in Motherboard that includes an interview with Haldeman:

For my money, the best novel to read about the future of war today, in 2015, was published in 1974. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is an all-time science fiction classic, but it hasn’t quite enjoyed the same degree of mass cultural saturation as other war-themed SF staples like Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers—maybe because it hasn’t been made into a film or TV show, maybe because its politics are too thorny and complex.

Either way, it’s too bad. As William Gibson notes in the blurb on the front of mypaperback copy, “To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise.” It’s one of the best books about war, period, and it’s telling that the other accolades listed come from literary lights like Jonathan Lethem and Junot Diaz, who calls it “perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam.”

Haldeman was a veteran of that conflict—“I was drafted against my will, and went off to fight somebody else’s war,” as he put it—and the book projects the contours of his duty and subsequent return to civilian life into a future marked by what is almost literally forever war. Its power lies in the expert co-mingling of hyperbolic allegory with gritty speculation. It’s about a war that literally damn near never ends, one that spans the furthest reaches of space and time; the fighting can happen anywhere and is potentially everywhere. The protagonist, an almost-anagrammed stand-in for Haldeman named Mandella, is hurled across far reaches of the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Since the powers commanding Earth’s army send him to the front lines of interstellar war at warp speeds, it’s not long before he becomes disconnected from the slice of reality he grew up in—once he goes back to Earth, the place has evolved without him; new customs, new social order, new governance, new technologies, new decline. It is mostly unrecognizable, and Mandella is totally unable to fit in. The book does what good science fiction does best: offers the audience a brand new mode through which to process universal truth; in this case, the uniquely extreme alienating power of war.

It’s about as pitch-perfect metaphor for what it’s like to go to war a civilian can ever hope to absorb—not only is the organized violence of the battlefield interminable, but the dislocation brought about to those subjected to it is total and unrelenting, too.

About now, we’re in need of more such metaphors. The Vietnam War may have ended decades ago, but our military adventuring hasn’t. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2015 at 4:03 pm

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