After how much I disliked the last Hugo award winning book it was a real pleasure to start The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, a book that I had heard about for a long time and could barely bring myself to put down as the story progressed. In addition I really cared about the world and the characters something that often doesn’t happen in science fiction based on big ideas and this is a story with big ideas.
The story begins in the 1990’s which was the future at the time the story was written. Humans have discovered a way to travel through collapsars (black holes) letting them cross the galaxy in minutes. In addition they have discovered another alien race and a war has began.
That is where the story begins as the main character is forced into the army because of his physical abilities and high IQ. He goes through basic training and his first combat in a section of the book that feels in many ways like an answer to Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline, with the same type of power armor and military fiction, but from a very differnt point of view.
The other thing that almost certainly informs this story is the war in Vietnam. This is clear in a few ways. The first is the combat with the enemy in which they are able to effectively slaughter the enemy who hardly fight back at all, the trip home and the eventual disillusionment with the war.
The biggest one of these point in most of the second is that of returning home. This is because while they are able to travel more or less instantly between the black holes they have to use relativistic speed in order to get to them to the black holes. This means that every time they go those speeds long periods of time have passed.
It feels as if the first time represents how many soldiers probably felt when they returned from Vietnam as they struggled to survive the war only to return to a country that they hardly recognized. After that the time jumps forward get considerably longer and the culture changes far more.
One of the biggest changes is culture is a slow shift from heterosexual dominated culture to a homosexual dominated culture. There are a number of reasons for this, beginning with overpopulation and then eugenics (because it’s far easier to manipulate human genes when people don’t randomly have children) and finally because of simple cultural changes. The changes in culture make it hard for him to even lead his men as he rises in rank.
In the end the war is meaningless, the army looks generally bad and yet the individual soldiers are very human and generally trying to do their best, but as a look at the way that humanity changes through the eyes of someone who is forced to effectively jump forward through time, and is being changed by the story as well this is an excellent story and I am looking forward to reading The Forever Peace when I reach that point in the Hugo Awards, for now though this is one of my new favorites and I would suggest it for almost anyone, though some of the themes of this book are a bit adult so it's not for kids.