Forever Free

Forever Free

3.6 6
by Joe W. Haldeman, Joe W. Haldeman
     
 

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A veteran of The Forever War, William Mandella has since settled on a planet set aside for his kind. Married with two children, he makes his living on the snow-covered world ice fishing and teaching physics. But Mandella, his family, and his way of life have become obsolete. The denizens of Earth have evolved into a group consciousness known simply as Man, and they… See more details below

Overview

A veteran of The Forever War, William Mandella has since settled on a planet set aside for his kind. Married with two children, he makes his living on the snow-covered world ice fishing and teaching physics. But Mandella, his family, and his way of life have become obsolete. The denizens of Earth have evolved into a group consciousness known simply as Man, and they have taken control of Mandella's new home. Humans are considered dangerous because of their independent natures, though they are kept safe for the sake of their diverse gene pool." "That's now how Mandella and his fellow soldiers want to exist. In a desperate gamble, he rallies the humans to hijack the spaceship Time Warp and take to the stars to begin humanity anew. Then something goes wrong. The crew is forced to abandon ship and return home in suspended animation twenty-five years later. But the planet has aged centuries during their interstellar voyage - and the crew wonders what new world awaits them upon arrival...

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this long-awaited sequel to The Forever War, Haldeman describes the postwar life of retired soldiers William and Marygay Mandella on the half-frozen planet Middle Finger, where they and other humans have been secluded by the newly evolved, superhuman race of Man. The long war with the Taurans is over and William and company are little more than relics, kept around to provide archaic genes should the Man ever wish to alter their own, cloned near-perfection. Dissatisfied with their stagnant lives, William and his fellow vets steal a starship. They plan to travel so far and fast that time dilation will allow them to return only a decade older but millennia in their world's future. Disaster strikes just days into their voyage, however, when their antimatter engines mysteriously malfunction in direct violation of the laws of physics. Returning home in escape craft, Mandella and his mates discover that everyone on the planet has disappeared, leaving only their clothes behind. Further, all communication with the outside universe has been cut off. Despite a slow start, Haldeman builds considerable tension with the mystery that confronts his human survivors of what appears to be the complete disappearance of not only humanity, but also of Man and the Taurans. Some truly weird events have occurred and Haldeman gives them a genuinely spooky feel. Mandella's laconic narrative, so effective in getting across The Forever War's antiwar message, proves just as effective in this sequel. The novel is weakened, however, by what feels like an overly hasty conclusion, burdened by Haldeman's decision to invoke not one but two deus ex machinae in the book's final chapters. Still, this is a well-written and worthy sequel to one of SF's enduring classics. (Dec.) FYI: Haldeman's The Forever War (1974) and Forever Peace (1997) each won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best SF novel. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the aftermath of the Forever War, a group of combat veterans living on the distant planet of Middle Finger decide to sever their ties with the group-minded genetically identical society of "Man." Commandeering an anti-matter driven spaceship, they begin a journey beyond the Galaxy, where they confront a mystery that eventually brings them into confrontation with the greatest mystery of their existence. The author of The Forever War and Forever Peace continues his exploration of the essential nature of humanity in a deceptively simple story that questions the foundations of human belief. Haldeman's clear, concise storytelling and his understanding of human behavior make his latest effort a strong addition to most sf collections. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Faren Miller
Twenty-five years after The Forever War, and two years after a thematic sequel, Forever Peace...Joe Haldeman has finally produced a conventional chronological sequel in Forever Free. Well, maybe not all that conventional, given where it eventually takes us. While this book does show us what became of the principle actors (William and Marygay Mandella and their fellow veterans; the cloned and collective humans that call themselves Man; and the equally C&C Tauran ex-enemy), it resembles another series finale, Worlds Enough and Time, more than either of the other Forever books. That is, it spends a lot of time on the domestic and social arrangements of people who have been through scary adventures in the earlier novels before making several sharp and unexpected turns into brand new territory...I can't really write much of anything about the rest of the plot without spoiling a series of genuine surprises. I will say that the last quarter of the book had me thinking of both Philip Jose Farmer and Robert A. Heinlein (and don't that stretch the brain in funny ways.)
Locus
D. Douglas Fratz
For the past 25 years, Haldeman fans have awaited a sequel to The Forever War, continuing the story of Mandella, Potter, and the others on Middle Finger. Haldeman's 1997 novel, Forever Peace, proved to be a thematic sequel only,...Now Haldeman has finally written a true sequel...[Forever Free] is extremely successful, and should please his many fans, despite the long wait and the high expectations the long wait creates. His chilling vision of future humanity, compelling story, and terse prose style make Forever Free one of the best novels to appear this year.
Science Fiction Age
Don D'Ammassa
Another potential award winner from an author who makes that accomplishment seem simple.
Science Fiction Chronicle
Peter Heck
This is first-rate science fiction by one of our most accomplished craftsmen. Highly recommended.
Asimov's Science Fiction
Charles DeLint
Haldeman lets his characters in on a possible explanation, and the ensuing argument is riveting.
Fantasy & Science Fiction

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780441006977
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
12/01/1999
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
1
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.22(h) x 0.97(d)

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Chapter One


Winter is a long time coming on this god-forsaken planet, and it stays too long, too. I watched a sudden gust blow a line of cold foam across the grey lake and thought about Earth, not for the first time that day. The two warm winters in San Diego when I was a boy. Even the bad winters in Nebraska. They were at least short.

    Maybe we were too quick to say no, when the magnanimous zombies offered to share Earth with us, after the war. We didn't really get rid of them, coming here.

    Cold radiated from the windowpane. Marygay cleared her throat behind me. "What is it?" she said.

    "Looks like weather. I ought to check the trotlines."

    "Kids will be home in an hour."

    "Better I do it now, dry, than all of us stand out in the rain," I said. "Snow, whatever."

    "Probably snow." She hesitated, and didn't offer to help. After twenty years she torrid tell when I didn't want company. I pulled on wool sweater and cap and left the rain slicker on its peg.

    I stepped out into the damp hard wind. It didn't smell like snow coming. I asked my watch and it said 90 percent rain, but a cold front in the evening would bring freezing rain and snow. That would make for a fun meeting. We had to walk a couple of klicks, there and back. Otherwise the zombies could look through transportation records and see that all of us paranoids had converged on one house.

    We had eight trotlines that stretched out ten meters from the end of the dock to posts I'd sunk in the chest-deep water.Two more had been knocked down in a storm; I'd replace them come spring. Two years from now, in real years.

    It was more like harvesting than fishing. The blackfish are so dumb they'll bite anything, and when they're hooked and thrash around, it attracts other blackfish: "Wonder what's wrong with that guy—oh, look! Somebody's head on a nice shiny hook!"

    When I got out on the dock I could see thunderheads building in the east, so I worked pretty fast. Each trotline's a pulley that supports a dozen hooked leaders dangling in the water, held to one-meter depth with plastic floaters. It looked like half the floaters were down, maybe fifty fish. I did a mental calculation and realized I'd probably just finish the last one when Bill got home from school. But the storm was definitely coming.

    I took work gloves and apron off a hook by the sink and hauled the end of the first line up to the eye-level pulley wheel. I opened the built-in freezer—the stasis field inside reflected the angry sky like a pool of mercury—and wheeled in the first fish. Worked it off the hook, chopped off the head and tail with a cleaver, threw the fish into the freezer, and then rebaited the hook with its head. Then rolled in the next client.

    Three of the fish were the useless mutant strain we've been getting for more than a year. They're streaked with pink and have a noxious hydrogen-sulfide taste. The blackfish won't take them for bait and I can't even use them for fertilizer; you might as well scatter your soil with salt.

    Maybe an hour a day—half that, with the kids helping—and we supplied about a third of the fish for the village. I didn't eat much of it myself. We also bartered corn, beans, and asparagus, in their seasons.

    Bill got off the bus while I was working on the last line. I waved him inside; no need for both of us to get all covered with fish guts and blood. Then lightning struck on the other side of the lake and I put the line back in anyhow. Hung up the stiff gloves and apron and turned off the stasis field for a second to check the catch level.

    Just beat the rain. I stood on the porch for a minute and watched the squall line hiss its way across the lake.

    Warm inside; Marygay had started a small fire in the kitchen fireplace. Bill was sitting there with a glass of wine. That was still a novelty to him. "So how are we doing?" His accent always sounded strange when he first got back from school. He didn't speak English in class or, I suspected, with many of his friends.

    "Over the sixty percent mark," I said, scrubbing my hands and face at the work sink. "Any better luck and we'll have to eat the damned things ourselves."

    "Think I'll poach a big bunch for dinner," Marygay said, deadpan. That gave them the flavor and consistency of cotton.

    "Come on, Mom," Bill said. "Let's just have them raw." He liked them even less than I did. Chopping off their heads was the high point of his day.

    I went to the trio of casks at the other end of the room and tapped a glass of dry red wine, then sat with Bill on the bench by the fire. I poked at it with a stick, a social gesture probably older than this young planet.

    "You were going to have the art zombie today?"

    "The art history Man," he said. "She's from Centrus. Haven't seen her in a year. We didn't draw or anything; just looked at pictures and statues."

    "From Earth?"

    "Mostly."

    "Tauran art is weird." That was a charitable assessment. It was also ugly and incomprehensible.

    "She said we have to come to it gradually. We looked at some architecture."

    Their architecture, I knew something about. I'd destroyed acres of it, centuries ago. Felt like yesterday sometimes.

"I remember the first time I came across one of their barracks," I said. "All the little individual cells. Like a beehive."

    He made a noncommital noise that I took as a warning. "So where's your sister?" She was still in high school but had the same bus. "I can't keep her schedule straight."

    "She's at the library," Marygay said. "She'll call if she's going to be late."

    I checked my watch. "Can't wait dinner too long." The meeting was at eight and a half:

    "I know." She stepped over the bench and sat down between us, and handed me a plate of breadsticks. "From Snell, came by this morning."

    They were salty and hard; broke between the jaws with an interesting concussion. "I'll think him tonight."

    "Old folks party?" Bill asked.

    "Sixday," I said. "We're walking, if you want the floater."

    "`But don't drink too much wine,'" he anticipated, and held up his glass. "This is it. Volleyball down at the gym."

    "Win one for the Gipper."

    "What?"

    "Something my mother used to say. I don't know what a gipper is."

    "Sounds like a position," he said. "Server, spiker, gipper." As if he cared a lot about the game qua game. They played in the nude, mixed, and it was as much a mating ritual as a sport.

    A sudden blast of sleet rattled against the window. "You don't want to walk through that," he said. "You could drop me off at the gym."

    "Well, you could drop us off," Marygay said. The route of the floater wasn't registered; just the parking location, supposedly for call forwarding. "Charlie and Diana's place. They won't care if we're early."

    "Thanks. I might score." He didn't mean volleyball. When he used our ancient slang I never knew whether it was affection or derision. I guess when I was twenty-one I could do both at the same time, with my parents.

    A bus stopped outside. I heard Sara running up the boardwalk through the weather. The front door opened and shut fast, and she ran upstairs to change.

    "Dinner in ten minutes," Marygay called up the stairs. She made an impatient noise back.

    "Starting to bleed tomorrow," Bill said.

    "Since when do brothers keep track of that," Marygay said. "Or husbands?"

    He looked at the floor. "She said something this morning."

    I broke the silence. "If there are any Men there tonight ..."

    "They never come. But I won't tell them you're off plotting."

    "It's not plotting," Marygay said. "Planning. We'll tell them eventually. But it's a human thing." We hadn't discussed it with him or Sara, but we hadn't tried to keep them from overhearing.

    "I could come someday."

    "Someday," I said. Probably not. So far it was all first-generation; all vets, plus their spouses. Only a few of them, spouses, were born on this thing Man had called a "garden planet," when they gave us a choice of places to relocate after the war.


We usually called "our" planet MF. Most of the people who lived here were dozens of generations away from appreciating what we'd meant by "middle finger." Even if they did know, they probably didn't connect the acronym with the primal Oedipal act.

    After living through an entire winter, though, they probably called the planet their cultures' versions of "motherfucker."

    MF had been presented to us as a haven and a refuge—and a place of reunion. We could carve out an existence here as plain humans, without interference from Man, and if you had friends or lovers lost in the relativistic maze of the Forever War, you could wait for them on the Time Warp, a converted battlewagon that shuttled back and forth between Mizar and Alcor fast enough to almost halt aging.

    Of course it turned out that Man did want to keep an eye on us, since we comprised a sort of genetic insurance policy. They could use us as a baseline if, after X generations, something bad cropped up in their carbon-copy genetic pattern. (I once used that term with Bill, and started to explain, but he did know what carbon copies were. Like he knew what cave paintings were.)

    But they weren't passive observers. They were zookeepers. And MF did resemble a zoo: an artificial simplified environment. But the zookeepers didn't build it. They just stumbled onto it.

    Middle Finger, like all the Vega-class planets we'd found, was an anomaly and a cartoon. It defied normal models of planetary formation and evolution.

    A too-young bright blue star with a single planet, Earth-sized with oxygen-water chemistry. The planet orbits at a distance where life can be sustained, if only just.

    (Planet people tell us that there's no way to have an Earthtype planet unless you also have a Jupiter-type giant in the system. But then stars like Vega and Mizar shouldn't have Earths anyhow.)

    Middle Finger has seasons, but they're provided not by inclination toward the sun, but by the long oval of its orbit. We have six seasons spread over three Earth years: spring, summer, fall, first winter, deep winter, and thaw. Of course the planet moves slower, the farther it is from its sun, so the cold seasons are long, and the warm ones, short.

    Most of the planet is arctic waste or dry tundra. Here at the equator, lakes and streams ice over in deep winter. Toward the poles, lakes are solid permanent ice from the surface down, with sterile puddles forming on warm summer days. Two-thirds of the planet's surface is lifeless except for airborne spores and micro-organisms.

    The ecology is curiously simple, too—fewer than a hundred native varieties of plants; about the same number of insects and things that resemble arthropods. No native mammals, but a couple of dozen species and large small things that are roughly reptiles or amphibians. Only seven kinds of fish, and four aquatic mollusks.

    Nothing has evolved from anything else. There are no fossils, because there hasn't been enough time—carbon dating says nothing on or near the surface is more than ten thousand years old. But core samples from less than fifty meters down reveal a planet as old as Earth.

    It's as if somebody had hauled a planet here and parked it, seeded with simple life. But where did they haul it from, and who are they, and who paid the shipping bill? All of the energy expended by the humans and the Taurans during the Forever War wouldn't have moved this planet far.

    It's a mystery to them, too; the Taurans, which I find reassuring.

    There are other mysteries that are not reassuring. Chief among them is that this corner of the universe had been inhabited before, up to about five thousand years ago.

    The nearest Tauran planet, Tsogot, had been discovered and colonized during the Forever War. They found the ruins of a huge city there, larger than New York or London, buried in drifting dunes. The husks of dozens of alien spaceships drifted in orbit, one of them an interstellar vessel.

    Of the creatures who had built this powerful civilization, not a clue. They left behind no statues or pictures, which may be explainable in terms of culture. Neither did they leave any bodies, not even a single bone, which is harder to explain.

    The Tauran name for them is Boloor, "the lost."


* * *


I usually cooked on Sixday, since I didn't teach then, but the Greytons had brought by a couple of rabbits, and that was Marygay's specialty, hassenpfeffer. The kids liked it better than most Earth food. They mostly preferred the bland native stuff, which is all they got at school. Marygay says it's a natural survival trait; even on Earth, children stuck to bland, familiar food. I hadn't, but then my parents were strange, hippies. We ate fiery Indian food. I never tasted meat until I was twelve, when California law made them send me to school.

    Dinner was amusing, Bill and Sara trading gossip about their friends' dating and mating. Sara's finally gotten over Taylor, who had been her steady for a year, and Bill had welcome news about a social disaster the boy had caused. It had stung her when he declared himself home, but after a few months' fling he turned het again, and asked her to take him back. She told him to stick to boys. Now it turns out he did have a boyfriend over in Hardy, very secret, who got mad at him and came over to the college to make a loud public scene. It involved sexual details that we didn't used to discuss at the dinner table. But times change, and fun is fun.

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