A Review of The Eternity Brigade

The Eternity BrigadeThe Eternity Brigade by Stephen Goldin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Eternity Brigade is innovative, thought provoking, action packed, and horribly disturbing. Written in 1980, it follows the military career of an army man named Hawkeye and his friends, Green and Symington. After Vietnam, America gets involved in a big war in Africa that is apparently pretty brutal. The military, and I assume politicians, come up with a plan to cut costs while maintaining military preparedness: cryogenics. Roughly 100 “volunteers” are given a bonus and three weeks leave if they agree to be frozen cryogenically only to be unthawed at some point in the future to fight a future war when the time comes. Hawk and the other two decide to do it, with some reservations, and are frozen. Moments later, they’re awoken and get out of their “coffins.” They’re shocked to discover it’s been nearly 12 years! They’ve been unfrozen to help lead a new, untrained army against Chinese rebels and the Russians, while aiding the Chinese government, which they think is pretty odd. They win, go back to their base and are discharged and sent home. Before they were frozen, they had come up with the idea that if they pooled their money they’d be collecting while paid while frozen, they’d have enough to be rich and go into business together. To their surprise, money has been devalued and they’re only worth about 40% of what they thought they’d be worth. They go to New York City and try to find work, but there’s none to be had. People have changed, food has changed, they can’t go to college on the GI bill because most colleges have shut down and the few remaining have incredibly high standards. They become disenchanted and decided to reenlist. More soldiers are doing it now, many more. This time they’re frozen for 14 years. They don’t age however. They fight another war. They leave the army again, only to find that the politicians have seized all of their assets while they were frozen and have taken their pay away from them. They’re dead broke. So they reenlist. When they get back to base, they’re given a new briefing about a new technology. It involves something other than cryogenics. Now, pictures can be taken of them, instantly putting their atoms into computers, storing them for as long as necessary, easier to transport, and able to put them back together again when it’s time to fight again. They see taped demonstrations of this and even though they have misgivings, they decide to do it. After all, they have nothing to go home to in the real world. Instantly they’re awakened, ready to fight another war. This one is with Russia. On the moon. And Hawk sees Green die. He’s devastated. Until he finds out the next time around that Green and Symington, who also died, are both there, ready to fight. Now that they’re computerized, they can always be brought back to life. They can never truly die. They’re immortal, always ready to fight wars for whoever commands it. Countries change, alliances change, aliens appear, more worlds are discovered, wars are fought everywhere for hundreds of years and they all live and die a million times over. They’re trapped, slaves of the system. They can never get away, never get their freedom. Until they land on one planet that’s special. And something “wrong” happens to Green. Something that’s never happened before. And all of a sudden, Hawk realizes there actually is a way out, a way to freedom, a way to end this nightmare existence of hell he’s been living. And so he takes it. And it’s pretty freaking awesome. But in the process of what transpires in this book, as Green brings up, what has happened to their souls? They no longer exist as humans. They’re only a microchip. Do they even have souls anymore, if they ever did? Does God exist and if so, does he even care? This book takes a hard look at a number of things and the answer(s) it provides isn’t always pretty and it portends some awful possibilities for our future. But there are ways out. There always are. This isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s quite good and it stretches one’s mind. There’s gratuitous sex, but that’s probably more the result of the ’70s sexual revolution during which it was written than anything. The violence isn’t overly extreme. It’s a short book, so it’s a quick read. But it’s a sobering book, so be prepared. Nonetheless, recommended.

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