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Worlds Without End Blog

GMRC Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman Posted at 6:15 PM by Daniel Roy


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeDaniel Roy (triseult), has contributed over 50 reviews to WWEnd including this, his fifth GMRC review to feature in the WWEnd blog. Daniel is living his dream of travelling the world and you can read about some of his adventures on his blog Mango Blue.

The Forever WarGreat SF stories stand the test of time by transcending the period from whence they emerged. The Forever War, oddly enough, is timeless precisely because it is firmly rooted in a key period of world history. It manages to evoke, to this day, the horrors of Vietnam and the pain of returning veterans, and in so doing transcends them into a timeless discussion about the futility of war and how it uses up human lives.

I first read The Forever War in comicbook form, thanks to Marvano’s amazing adaptation. Being a Belgian work, and thanks to its ligne claire style, the adaptation felt more universal, less rooted in the American war experience. The novel itself, though, is firmly American. You can glimpse the mind of a male Vietnam war vet as the story unfolds. This may not make the novel as universal as the comicbook adaptation, but it makes for a more powerful reading because of its roots in the American experience.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. It’s another great example how even SF writers should write what they know. A lot of the SF concepts work perfectly as allegory for the soldier experience, including the painful culture shock of returning home. The second part, during which Mandella returns home to a world he no longer knows, is gripping and powerful. I bet it must resonate a great deal with veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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GMRC Review: World Without End by Joe Haldeman Posted at 9:30 PM by Carl V. Anderson

Carl V.

WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeOn his blog Stainless Steel Droppings blogger Carl V. Anderson reviews SF/F books and movies, conducts author interviews and even hosts his own reading challenge: The 2012 Science Fiction Experience. This is Carl’s third GMRC review.

World Without End

After a month of benchmark tests Captain James T. Kirk is bored.  He laments the lack of “action”, something the crew silently disagrees with.  As things are wont to happen in the Star Trek universe, Kirk soon gets the action he seeks in the form of the discovery of an ancient generation ship, a Bussard ramjet-powered vessel in the shape of a large planet. Scans indicate that roughly a million lifeforms live within this spherical planet that has been traveling for roughly 3,000 years. The Enterprise crew also discovers that the ship is in its braking phase and will eventually end up in a location that could not have originally been planned, for it will cost everyone on board their lives. So what is a Federation crew to do? Why beam down into the planet, of course!

After a test to ensure that the transporters will function properly, Captain Kirk, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and a small team beam inside the planet only to discover that the metal which encases this ship will not allow them to beam out. With the use of their language translator they soon make contact with the natives, a roughly humanoid species that can fly thanks to membranous wings. This race, the Chatalia, have no knowledge that they are inside any kind of ship, label Kirk and crew as ‘magicians’ and ‘blasphemers’, and take them captive. Circumstances mount upon circumstances and the crew within this world as well as those remaining in the Enterprise soon find themselves in a race against time for their very survival. For the Chatalia have met beings like humans before, beings arrived in violence and murdered many Chatalia before finally being subdued. And it just so happens that the Federation crew is very familiar with the people the Chatalia believe them to be a part of… the Klingon Empire.

Throughout the novel there is evidence of Haldeman‘s strengths as an author. First off he wastes no time “introducing” these characters. By 1979 the cast of the original Star Trek series were well known to the fans. Instead he reveals his solid knowledge of who these characters are by their actions and dialogue which are spot on, especially for Kirk, Spock and McCoy. One of the treats of the original series is the banter between Spock and McCoy and here it is done to perfection. The humor is wry and present in just the right measure to entertain without any degree of overkill. Haldeman avoids many of the things that are now cliche in Star Trek stories, including the inevitable demise of any “redshirt” crew members. Much of the focus is on the caste system of the Chatalian peoples, including a very interesting custom in which members of different classes speak different languages and only communicate with other classes by means of an interpreter. Haldeman builds a complex world system, works in ideas of cloning and advanced intelligence, and throws in a measure of “science”.

Grand Master Joe HaldemanWhere the novel stumbles is in its attempt to do too much in too little space, something that I actually give Haldeman credit for trying to pull off. In the end the length of the novel (148 pages) inhibits some of the storytelling because situations have to be resolved quickly. In that respect it actually has some of the same structural flaws as trying to fit a complex adventure into an hour television block (less when factoring in commercials). That does not keep the novel from being entertaining. Three simultaneous storylines: the crew in the planet, the crew on the Enterprise, and a crew of Klingon warriors make for an exciting story, coupled with Haldeman’s skill in rendering characters that are beloved to many make for a novel worth reading.

To summarize: In this, Haldeman’s second Star Trek novel, he demonstrates a deft touch in capturing the essence of these characters while crafting an adventure more complex than what Roddenberry and company could manage in a one hour television show. The novel stumbles at times, mostly due to the attempt to combine intricacy in plot and brevity in novel length, but overall it is an entertaining volume in the lore of Captain Kirk and the starship Enterprise.

The Forever War Posted at 10:36 PM by

Deven Science

The Forever WarThe title is not talking about the war I’m currently fighting here in Afghanistan, but if you thought it was, this is precisely why many people think that The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, is just as relevant today as when it was written in the mid-1970’s.

The Forever War is about a group of citizens drafted into an intergalactic war with aliens that no one has actually seen before. The author wrote the book twenty years in the future, so that the war starts in the 1990’s. Due to relativistic time dilation, going off to fight only two battles before being able to return home sees them return to a world no longer recognized, as something like seven hundred years has passed on Earth. Money no longer exists. The currency is the Calorie, a direct effect of decades of starvation and overpopulation as Earth became a war economy over the last several centuries. Not comfortable on a planet they no longer recognize as home, its off-planet once again for these war veterans, preferring combat in hostile worlds to facing changes at home.

The Forever War is considered a science fiction classic, and indeed, it is well written, and the science of it stands out as top-notch. The way the author fully integrates relativistic effects into the plot, rather than trying to work a cheat around it, as most science fiction does, is worthy of a tip of the hat, and very well painted, visually. However, overall I’m not sure the book lives up to the hype. Its cultural concepts are extremely dated, to the point of being embarrassing in many places. Homosexuality is promoted in Haldeman’s future, as population control, so that these veterans, obviously straight, are seen as the queer ones. This kind of reversal could be interesting, and it helps to further isolate our heroes from society, except that the author handles it a bit clumsily, so that I personally got the impression that despite his trying to sound liberal and tolerant, he himself feared the rise of homosexuality as a norm.

The book is of its time. Haldeman came home from an unpopular war, wherein soldiers like him didn’t go because they wanted to but because the government told them that they had to. How, he thought, can we come home to such hate and disrespect, when we didn’t even volunteer to fight this war? In that, he had a valid point, I suppose, though it might be irrelevant, since soldiers who do volunteer to fight in an unpopular war still shouldn’t then accept being spit on, or called names like “baby killer.” The fact that he had no choice due to the draft was probably just salt on the wound, by his estimation. It was a country – a world – that he no longer recognized. He was obviously very pessimistic about where the country was headed, and his brief tour (most draft tours were 13 months) seemed like it might as well have been centuries. I could see how it would seem like the war made more sense than the home he returned to.

Still, while I would give the novel an overall positive rating, it doesn’t make it by much. The dated concepts and views in the book were often enough to pull me out of the story, or cringe. Indeed, much older science fiction works by Asimov or Heinlein often age better in their concepts than this book does. The saving grace for the novel after all of this is the suddenly upbeat turn at the end, as the author seems to reflect on how one’s world can still be what one makes of it.

I give it 6 out of 10.

This review originally published on Deven’s Science Journal.