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Forever War

Forever War

4.4 69
by Joe Haldeman

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Private William Mandella is a hero in spite of himself — a reluctant conscript drafted into an elite military unit, and propelled through space and time to fight in a distant thousand-year conflict. He never wanted to go to war, but the leaders on Earth have drawn a line in the interstellar sand — despite the fact that their fierce alien enemy is


Private William Mandella is a hero in spite of himself — a reluctant conscript drafted into an elite military unit, and propelled through space and time to fight in a distant thousand-year conflict. He never wanted to go to war, but the leaders on Earth have drawn a line in the interstellar sand — despite the fact that their fierce alien enemy is unknowable, unconquerable, and very far away. So Mandella will perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through the military's ranks . . . if he survives. But the true test of his mettle will come when he returns to Earth. Because of the time dilation caused by space travel the loyal soldier is aging months, while his home planet is aging centuries — and the difference will prove the saying: you never can go home. . .

Editorial Reviews

Gale Research
"Haldeman exercises his literary license," James Scott Hicks writes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "to comment on, and ultimately to expunge from his memory, America's last ground war [Vietnam]." Hicks points out that Haldeman's first novel, War Year, based on his army diaries, deals with the Vietnam fighting directly. "But the demon of Vietnam," Hicks writes, "was not exorcised from Haldeman's soul by writing [War Year], and frontline combat became the subject of . . . The Forever War." Haldeman, Hicks believes, is particularly adept at presenting his "theme of quiet resentment felt by those waging war."

Because of his scientific training in physics and astronomy, Haldeman is particularly careful to present The Forever War as realistically and accurately as possible. "The technology involved in this interplanetary campaign," Martin Levin of the New York Times Book Review notes in his review of The Forever War, "is so sophisticated that the book might well have been accompanied by an operator's manual. But then, all the futuristic mayhem is plugged into human situations that help keep the extraterrestrial activity on a warm and even witty plane."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Eos Trade Paperback Edition
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man." The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn't look five years older than me. So if he'd ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he'd done it as an infant.

I already knew eighty ways to kill people, but most of them were pretty noisy. I sat up straight in my chair and assumed a look of polite attention and fell asleep with my eyes open. So did most everybody else. We'd learned that they never scheduled anything important for these after-chop classes.

The projector woke me up and I sat through a short tape showing the "eight silent ways." Some of the actors must have been brainwipes, since they were actually killed.

After the tape a girl in the front row raised her hand. The sergeant nodded at her and she rose to parade rest. Not bad looking, but kind of chunky about the neck and shoulders. Everybody gets that way after carrying a heavy pack around for a couple of months.

"Sir"- we had to call sergeants "sir" until graduation- "most of those methods, really, they looked . . . kind of silly."

"For instance?"

"Like killing a man with a blow to the kidneys, from an entrenching tool. I mean, when would you actually have only an entrenching tool, and no gun or knife? And why not just bash him over the head with it?"

"He might have a helmet on," he said reasonably.

"Besides, Taurans probably don't even have kidneys!"

He shrugged. "Probably they don't." This was 1997, and nobody had ever seen a Tauran; hadn't even found any pieces of Taurans bigger than a scorched chromosome. "But their body chemistry is similar to ours, and we have to assume they're similarly complex creatures. Theymust have weaknesses, vulnerable spots. You have to find out where they are.

"That's the important thing.'' He stabbed a finger at the screen. "Those eight convicts got caulked for your benefit because you've got to find out how to kill Taurans, and be able to do it whether you have a megawatt laser or an emery board."

She sat back down, not looking too convinced.

"Any more questions?" Nobody raised a hand.

"OK. Tench-hut!" We staggered upright and he looked at us expectantly.

"Fuck you, sir," came the familiar tired chorus.


"FUCK YOU, SIR!" One of the army's less-inspired morale devices.

"That's better. Don't forget, pre-dawn maneuvers tomorrow. Chop at 0330, first formation, 0400. Anybody sacked after 0340 owes one stripe. Dismissed."

I zipped up my coverall and went across the snow to the lounge for a cup of soya and a joint. I'd always been able to get by on five or six hours of sleep, and this was the only time I could be by myself, out of the army for a while. Looked at the newsfax for a few minutes. Another ship got caulked, out by Aldebaran sector. That was four years ago. They were mounting a reprisal fleet, but it'll take four years more for them to get out there. By then, the Taurans would have every portal planet sewed up tight.

Back at the billet, everybody else was sacked and the main lights were out. The whole company's been dragging ever since we got back from the two-week lunar training. I dumped my clothes in the locker, checked the roster and found out I was in bunk 31. Goddammit, right under the heater.

I slipped through the curtain as quietly as possible so as not to wake up the person next to me. Couldn't see who it was, but I couldn't have cared less. I slipped under the blanket. "You're late, Mandella," a voice yawned. It was Rogers.

"Sorry I woke you up," I whispered.

"'Sallright." She snuggled over and clasped me spoon fashion. She was warm and reasonably soft.

I patted her hip in what I hoped was a brotherly fashion. "Night, Rogers."

"G'night, Stallion." She returned the gesture more pointedly.

Why do you always get the tired ones when you're ready and the randy ones when you're tired? I bowed to the inevitable.

Copyright ) 1974, 1975 by Joe W. Haldeman

What People are Saying About This

Stephen King
If there was a Fort Knox for science fiction writers who really matter, we'd have to lock Haldeman up there.

Meet the Author

Joe Haldeman first won the Hugo Award for his novel The Forever War. His work includes the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel The Hemingway Hoax and the acclaimed Worlds Trilogy. He has won a total of three Nebula Awards and four Hugo Awards. A Vietnam veteran who was wounded, Joe Hadleman teaches writing at M.I.T. and lives part-time in Florida with his wife, Gay.

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Forever War 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 70 reviews.
DominicMichael More than 1 year ago
The year is 1997, and mankind is locked in a cosmic war with an enemy it's never seen. First, let's set the stage: twelve years before, scientists discovered the collapsar jumps, naturally occurring wormholes that allow instantaneous access to the stars. Fly in one end at just the right angle, at just the right speed, and pop out at some distant corner of space. What roads were to Rome and ships were to the British, so now are collapsars to Earth. Whoever controls them rules the known galaxy-and it seems other intelligent beings besides those on Earth understand this simple fact, as well. So begins The Forever War, a novel chronicling the story of elite soldier William Mandella through humanity's conflict with an alien race known as the Tauran. The author, Joe Haldeman, accomplishes a feat with his first novel that doesn't seem possible. He's written an epic adventure story in less than three hundred pages. What's more, the world he creates is so believable that after a short while, you don't even question the techno jargon anymore. Instead, you find yourself blindly accepting all the rules and also thinking of new ways to fight with the tools at hand. This complete immersion into a foreign reality is one the book's greatest strengths, and lays a strong foundation that seems to be missing in a lot of modern sci-fi. It's refreshing to see science as the cornerstone for science fiction. The author obviously had schooling in some of these areas to handle them so convincingly. And if he didn't, he sure fakes it damned well. At its heart, though, The Forever War is a war story. "Tonight," begins the first chapter, "we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man." It soon becomes clear that the 'actors' in the demonstration video are convicted criminals who are actually being executed for the sake of teaching new recruits how to kill a man with a kidney punch. Cute. There's little outrage among the men and women, though, which is a hint at what kind of world you're entering. This is a world where men and women are forcibly conscripted into an organization called the United Nations Exploratory Force, or UNEF, and sent into battle. This is a world were 50% casualty rates simply during training are the norm, not the exception. This is a world where your superiors fire live ordinance at you during drills and execute you for insubordination. This is a brutal world. Accept that going in. It's this inhumanity, though, that truly gives The Forever War its soul. Haldeman, based on his own real life experience in Vietnam, gives us a front row seat to the savagery of war and the lengths unchecked bureaucracies are willing to go in order to 'win.' His subtle, concise writing style adds to a gripping narrative that conveys the power of his themes without patronizing the reader by banging them over the head with a proverbial shovel. This is a story that truly gives the reader an honest impression of what armed conflict is really like, minus all the glitz and glitter and rhetoric. In these uncertain times, with America engaged in places like Iraq, it reminds you why war is always the option of last resort. YOU CAN READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE: www.dominicbonavitacola.com
RJ45 More than 1 year ago
This is quite possibly the best book I have ever read. I say this having read the book back in high school, and then having reread it several time since. Joe Haldeman very effectively tells a story that takes place in the future yet speaks to a modern world where soldiers fight in wars that they don't really care about using skills that are largely alien to their basic personalities. These same soldiers then come home to a world that has seemingly changed (in the book, the world really has changed) and must choose to live in that world, or go back to do what they detest.
JCarter More than 1 year ago
Originally published before Star Wars, this work is based on science fact. Man is unable to go faster than light speed, time moves forward on Earth but not for those in space. These things lead to soldiers fighting a war lasting thousands of years on Earth and only a few years where they are. Civilization on Earth evolves beyond what soldiers on the front can grasp. but beyond that are still the horrors that soldiers face in battle. For me this is the definitive science fiction work. Having written Mr. Joe Haldeman several times he had given me the inspiration to write science fiction and the encouragement to do so. I would place this book alongside Red Badge of Courage.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
"Forever War" follows genius/warrior William Mandella as he chases aliens across the universe and time. Joe Haldeman's novel is held up as one of the earliest and perhaps best military sci fi novel of all time. He delivers an exciting and intriguing story of future war while laying to bear some important societal issues of the post Vietnam-era, although these issues raised could apply to any war-time era. Whereas Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" only barely masks his treatise on war-time values within a science fiction setting, Haldeman is much more effective at building a foundation of a strong narrative and layering on issues of sex, gender, age, societal evolution and other themes. I'm not sure I can add more to the pantheon of reviews and descriptions of this book. I really enjoyed it and would rate it stronger than "Starship Troopers" and in a similar vein (but not quite as good, honestly) as John Scalzi's "Old Man's War" series.
CLTurner More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books. Period. A fast read, an important read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A superb novel that is well written. A must have, and a great accompaniment to Starship Troopers
klik More than 1 year ago
War between humans and aliens from the Andromeda constellation begins in 1997, the fourth year of colonization of the galaxy by mankind. A graduate student is drafted from his postgraduate programs and faces a war that tears him from all he once knew and even his true love. For how can one fight a war for a society that one knows nothing about? A great read, with a war that is fought over vast distances, and over vast time. Einstien's theory of relativity means that space travel will cause a traveler to miss hundreds of years on one trip, and this is central to the war that begins in 1997 and ends in 3438-ish.
Lord_Adair More than 1 year ago
This is a great book to read once, but it is a little gruff in the beginning. The story is rich and full of ever changing principles and beliefs. The main characters do not change which is a testament to who they are.
DurtyC More than 1 year ago
This book is fantastic... in more ways than just it's imaginative (yet realizable) setting. I would consider it "Literature" with the questions it challenges boldly, without bias, and with the themes it presents within a well-developed plot. However, it's written in a very accessible style that anybody can enjoy--science fiction lovers, war-story afficionados, or adventure readers. It brings up debate on battle as well as what direction our species/planet is moving. I will read it again and again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great from start to finish.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! I recommend this book to anyone who likes SciFi.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reflections of what leaders have ever called inevitable. Open your eyes and be complicit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But still good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sci Fi classic, page turner till the end. Relativity and time dilation will really mess with your brain by the end. Great fish out of water feel to it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It kept interested the entire time and never let me go. I recomend it to anybody.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Badass sci-fi super indepth
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The way a book is supposed to be. Great story line, start and finish.
DavGrn More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
just_my_opinion More than 1 year ago
Quick but full of detail read, kind of a cross between Halo and Starship Troopers! Wish there was more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BrettJamen More than 1 year ago
I don't know why it took me so long to read this, but I am glad I finally got around to it. One of the best military sci-fi novels I have read.
paddymeharg More than 1 year ago
Vietnam in space. This is the bare essential concept of The Forever War. The story follows William Mandella an unwilling conscript in an interstellar war against an unknown enemy. In understanding this book it is probably first desirable to have a sense of history. Although myself have a minimal knowledge of the Vietnam War, I was able to link up the various metaphors with social events. I think you have to appreciate when a book was written. The description of how a soldier feels when he returns home still rings true today. A man or woman may go off to fight in a foreign land and return home to find it changed. The idea of not being able to connect or even contemplate this new change is something I could relate to. I’ve always moved around a lot but have stayed long enough to form a bond with a place. Upon returning years later the place I remember has changed or disappeared entirely. The people you knew there have moved on or passed away and the place you remember is no longer familiar it is alien and you may lose your sense of belonging. This is what Mandella feels in The Forever War. There is one constant however and that is the love interest, Marygay. Although the bond between them could be broadened and at times you wonder, which is it; a love story or military fiction? Haldeman does a good enough job of elaborating Mandella and Marygay’s relationship for the reader to care. There’s a lot of ideas in this book. The science is described clearly and is easy enough to understand even for those of us with dubious school physics qualifications although at times I found it hard to visualize certain concepts. Beyond Mandella and Marygay however there is little exploration to any other characters and although this could be seen as a bad thing it is also interesting if, going back to what I said before, you appreciate the circumstances of the writing. In Vietnam often the soldiers would strain from making close friends because the life expectancy was so low. Is this replicated by Haldeman’s lack of developed supporting cast, or is it because he is more interested in the military side of things? I do not know but whichever side you fall on ultimately the book can feel a bit devoid of life. Personally I liked it and I happily re-read it. The plot drives and things happen, there is a reason to keep turning the page and it is a solidly well written and well thought out book. A lot of the ideas we may have seen already by virtue of the book being about forty years old but you can read this and understand where they came from. It is an enjoyable book and does what all good books do - sparks a bit of debate.
HellenB More than 1 year ago
The Forever War is the story of a scientist, Mandella, who is recruited to fight a war against the Taurans, an alien species nobody knows much about. The soldiers travel through collapsars, something like gates to another part of the universe. But to reach the collapsars they have to travel at light speed. This has an important consequence: on Earth time is quicker than on the ship, so when the soldiers arrive back on Earth, some of their relatives and friends are already dead. There are two main topics in this novel. The first one is how the war affects the soldiers while they are fighting and the second, how they find themselves in a society they no longer fit in once they return to Earth. Mandella, the main character, starts as a young recruit. He is a completely normal person, like the readers. Suddenly he is in the middle of a war he can’t understand. He is a very realistic character. The reader learns of his fears, worries and wishes. And sees from his point of view how much the Earth has changed when he returns home and when the war ends. The book shows how this character evolves. At first he is a rather innocent man who hates the people that give him orders and just wants to return home. Throughout the novel he changes, and at some point he is the one giving orders and facing tough decisions regarding the lives of the people he commands. When he returns home, his younger brother is older than he is and he learns how much society has changed. At first he thinks he can adapt to these changes, but the more he learns, the more he hates what the world has become. At some point he even thinks he has nothing left there. When he meets somebody who left home a couple hundred years after he did, Mandella learns that the Earth has changed even more. It is now completely unrecognizable. The descriptions of the planets, weapons, battle suits and the battles are very detailed. This makes it possible to the reader to imagine everything easily, but they are not long enough to make the novel boring. There is a negative part about this. While it doesn’t bother me, some people may not like all the sometimes very graphic explanations of how the soldiers die. I enjoyed reading this book and couldn’t put it down, but I found two big negative aspects. One is the kind of words everybody uses. Nobody seems to be able to express themselves without curses. The other is the high amount of sex mentioned. While there aren’t any graphic descriptions of that, it looks like nobody can refrain from sleeping with everybody else.