William Mandela is one of the first humans drafted into an intergalactic war. The enemy are the Taurens, an alien race that no one has ever actually seen. We first follow Mandella's training, a very harsh six months on a barren asteroid, where he and his fellow soldiers learn combat, and base building in mech suits, in a very alien environment. Not all survive the training. As soon as training is over Mandella is shipped off to the first strike against the Taurens, who suprisingly never see it coming, yet the battle is still brutal.
One of the many aspects of sci-fi that most novels and tv series choose to ignore or bypass - relativity - is actualy utilised in this novel for great effect. Mandella spends most of his 4 years of service travelling at high speeds through space, and so time for him passes differently than time on earth. When Mandella arrives home after his first tour of duty, 20 years have passed on earth. Mandella tries to settle back in to civilian life, but find things too greatly changed, it's a massive culture shock for him, and eventually he signs back up again, and is dispatched back out to the front. As the war is taken further and further out in space, and the technology enables faster and more far reaching travel, the passage of time on earth increases, so that each time Mandella returns home, 100s of years have gone by, and the civilisation that he was born into is all but unrecognisable. The only thing that remains the same for Mandella, is the war.The Forever War
was greatly different from my usual sci-fi. Space travel is greatly different from the luxury galaxy class starships of star trek. No replicators, no holodecks. Just the gritty realism of military life, spending months at a time in cramped quarters in space, with brief periods of time spend asleep in pressure suits while the ship accelerates and deccelerates. It really brought home to me the vastness and alieness of space.
It also gives food for thought on the way wars affect civilisations. The war was always far distant to earth, but the changes were still felt. The portrayal of things on earth when Mandella came back after his first 4 (or 20) years, showed many parallels with life today, and showed how many things could change in future.. consider my country has been at war in the east for 10 years now, but like this most people don't think about it, we don't see it, but we will feel the effects.
I understand that this is somewhat of an anti war novel, Haldeman wrote this after his turn in the vietnam war. Some people may find the underlying moralism a bit patronising. But for me, I'm young enough that I never had a close connection to any wars, I don't even having living grandparents thaht remember the world wars. So for me, this is insight that I never had.
I finished this book feeling quite depressed. I didn't agree with Haldeman's chosen ending, I'm cynical enough to think that realistically things would have gone quite differently. But nevertheless the ending was enough to make me cry. I can't help but give this book 5 stars. And if the rest of the books chosen for the SF Masterworks are up to the same standard, I think I'll end up buying them all.