A Review of The Forever War

The Forever WarThe Forever War by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Winner of both the Hugo & Nebula Awards, this proved to be an interesting book for me. It’s military sci fi, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not my favorite sub-genre either. Still, this didn’t go overboard, in my opinion, so that was nice. It’s about a kid drafted into an interplanetary war who, due to technology issues, ages at a rate so slow in his hyperspace jumps that centuries pass by on Earth. Meanwhile, not much is known about the aliens he’s doing battle with, and indeed, the book pays little attention to them. What interested me more about the book was Haldeman’s descriptions of his vision of Earth’s progress in the future, or lack thereof; of the changes made in society and even humanity. Where one would think positive progress is made over time, we learn that’s not necessarily the case.

Written by a Vietnam vet during the Vietnam war, there’s some occasional social commentary to be gleaned from the book, but it’s mild. One odd thing to me, though, was that women aren’t always treated overly well. When our protagonist, Mandella, is drafted, he finds that the integrated army personnel sleeps together, as in sexually and with multiple partners, and in fact, the female military members are legally obliged to be sexual partners to the men. So in essence, they’re whores. That bothered me a lot. But if you can get past that, the women are otherwise treated well, and there is a love interest in the book, which I found mildly surprising.

I was bothered by some things that took place in the last section of the book, but I don’t want to give away spoilers, so you can decide for yourself. I will say that I loved the ending, the way things were tied up so neatly, and I was actually touched by it. Good job, Haldeman.

Overall, even though I’m just giving this book a 4 out of 5 stars (some of it’s rather dated, and he was way off in terms of envisioning some technology advances), I think it’s well worth the read and I heartily recommend it to anyone out there who is not only a sci fi lover, but a reader who enjoys military books, some action, some cultural commentary, etc. Worth the time to read, and at 280 pages, it’s easy to get through. Good book!

View all my reviews

7 thoughts on “A Review of The Forever War

  1. I really enjoyed this one. I picked up ‘Peace and War’ the omnibus of the trilogy. The latter two aren’t as strong, though they’re still good reads.

    It was my recollection that the male crewmembers were similarly obliged to have sex whenever a female partner wanted – it’s been a while since I read it though. It would just surprise me, as I don’t have that impression of the book, and I think it would have annoyed me too.


    1. Hey Dan! Good to hear from you. You’re correct — the men are obligated. One scene really stuck out for me though, and that’s when they go to this ship where there haven’t been many women, and Mandella’s female compatriots get worn out accommodating the ravenous appetites of the male soldiers there. That whole scenario just kind of threw me. But maybe I’m old fashioned, I don’t know.

      If you say the others aren’t as strong, I’m now a little reluctant to pick those up and read them. Are they considerably worse, or are they just not as strong, as you indicate? Thanks!


      1. Not considerably worse. The second, Forever Free, is a direct sequel, and doesn’t fare well by comparison. It’s just a little too slow, not enough action, though I personally very much enjoyed the ending (some won’t get as much satisfaction, but it ticked some personal boxes of mine).

        The third, Forever Peace, is a follow-up, with entirely different characters. It’s very much a separate book, and I’m not really sure how it belongs in the omnibus other than Haldeman wrote it and it has a similar name! It’s better than Free, solid military sci-fi fare with some very interesting ideas, and well executed, but maybe not up to War’s standards. But hey, that’s one of the all time classics, so no shame in that.

        I see what you mean about the sex obligation – I’d forgotten that. I thought it was cleverly done, myself. The obligation in itself is a sensible, logical decision for a military in a future with more liberal values – soldiers who get regular relief concentrate better, etc. And the result when you mix two populations with wildly differing gender ratios is very unpleasant, but completely expected. I don’t think there was anything misogynistic in it, personally.



  2. Have you “read it” as a satire? A response to Heinlein’s unbridled jingoism of Starship Troopers? I find the end, and the time dilation bit, and the all the gay men portions were conveyed in such a weirdly lighthearted way that it comes off more as satirical…


      1. It’s also not really a piece of military sci-fi — nothing about tactics, etc. I really think he’s writing a satire — hence his depiction of women… A critique of military scifi in general perhaps — that might be pushing it too far.


      2. Regardless of whether it’s a satire or not, it was written as a critique of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers — explicitly. Although, as of late, he has sort of retreated from that perspective.


Comments are closed.