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Forever War

Forever War

4.4 71
by Joe Haldeman

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The monumental Hugo and Nebula award winning SF classic-- Featuring a new introduction by John Scalzi

The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand--despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit,


The monumental Hugo and Nebula award winning SF classic-- Featuring a new introduction by John Scalzi

The Earth's leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand--despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties and do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But "home" may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries...

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise. It is, for all its techno-extrapolative brilliance, as fine and woundingly genuine a war story as any I've read.” —William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, Spook Country

“There are a handful of moments when an American science fiction novel abruptly and seemingly effortlessly satisfied every possible expectation conveyed not only by the genre's ambitions, but of those of the whole literary landscape with which it was contemporary: Sturgeon's More Than Human, Dick's The Man In The High Castle, LeGuin's Dispossessed, Gibson's Neuromancer. The Forever War is one such book, and like those others still carries with it that air of recognition and possibility.” —Jonathan Lethem, author of Gun With Occcasional Music, Fortress of Solitude

“Perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam . . . Haldeman, a veteran, is a flat-out visionary . . . and protagonist William Mandella's attempt to survive and remain human in the face of an absurd almost endless war is harrowing hilarious heartbreaking and true . . . like all the best works of literature THE FOREVER WAR takes you apart and then, before you can turn that last page, puts you back together: better, wiser, more human. Simply extraordinary.” —Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“If there was a Fort Knox for Science Fiction writers, we'd have to lock Joe Haldeman up.” —Stephen King, author of The Shining, The Dead Zone, The Stand

The Forever War is not just a great Science Fiction novel, it's a great Vietnam war novel - and a great war novel, without qualification- that is also Science Fiction. A classic to grace either genre.” —James Sallis, author of The Long Legged Fly, Drive, Cripple Creek

“FOREVER WAR is brilliant--one of the most influential war novels of our time. That it happens to be set in the future only broadens and enhances its message.” —Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars, Eon, The Forge of God

“A parable whose lessons are needful learning once more.” —John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, Zoe’s Tale

“I first read this twenty years ago and have never forgotten the wonder and fury it kindled at the time. Anyone who talks about the glory of war has obviously never read it. A beautifully detailed and intensely personal account of a conflict which lasts for over a thousand years, as told by one grunt who lives through it all. Only a writer as skillfull and knowledgeable as Haldeman could use war's dark glamour to lure the reader in and then deplou the sam fascination to show just what kind of effect this orchestrated barbarism can have on the human soul.” —Peter F. Hamilton, author of Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained, The Dreaming Void

“In a literature of ideas, The Forever War is a titan: a book filled with mind-bending ideas about relatavistic time-distortion and world-shaking ideas about the futility of war. In today's world, where we think declaring war on abstract nouns like TERROR is a winning strategy, we need THE FOREVER WAR.” —Cory Doctorow, author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother X

“It is to the Vietnam War what Catch-22 was to World War II, the definitive, bleakly comic satire.” —Thomas M. Disch, author of Camp Concentration, 334

The Forever War does what the very best science fiction does. It deals with extremes both societal and teleological; it places a frame around humankind's place in the universe to show us what is outside the frame; and it functions simultaneously at the literal and metaphorical level. Inarguably one of the genre's great novels, it is also among the finest novels ever written about war.” —James Sallis, author of The Long Legged Fly, Drive, Cripple Creek

Twenty-five years ago, Joe Haldeman became an instant presence in the science fiction field with the publication of The Forever War, which went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novel. The Forever War is an ingenious, complex account of soldiers whose lives have been brutally disrupted by the combined effects of relativity and interstellar war. It has remained in print continuously since its initial appearance, and has recently given rise to some unexpected new offshoots. In 1997, Avon Books released an amended version of the text that restored the middle section -- a downbeat novella published independently as You Can Never Go Back -- to its originally intended place. In early 1999, Haldeman contributed a second related novella --A Separate War -- to Robert Silverberg’s anthology, Far Horizons. Most recently, Haldeman reversed his own frequently stated position by publishing a novel-length sequel titled Forever Free. It seems appropriate, in light of this creative flurry, to return to the source -- The Forever War itself -- and take another look. The Forever War was Joe Haldeman’s second novel. His first, War Year, was published in 1972, and was a realistic, frankly autobiographical account of its author’s experiences as a combat soldier in Vietnam. These experiences, radically reconfigured, also found their way into The Forever War, which is very much a reflection of the lingering effects of the "seemingly endless" war in Vietnam. Haldeman’s version of that conflict begins in 1996, just one generation after the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. In that year, the combined forces of Earth declare war against an apparently hostile race of aliens known as Taurans. As part of the military response to the Tauran threat, William Mandella, the narrator-hero, is drafted and placed in an elite combat unit composed of the best and brightest members of his own generation.

In order to engage the remote, enigmatic Taurans, Mandella and his cohorts must travel through a series of "collapsars," anomalous gateways in the fabric of quantum space. Passage through these gateways results in a relativistic phenomenon known as "time dilation." By the end of Mandella’s first, bloody campaign (which covers about two years of subjective time), more than 25 years have elapsed on his home planet. He returns to Earth to find himself a stranger in a very strange land, where he knows almost no one and where the patterns of day-to-day life have changed beyond recognition. Unable to cope with these changes, he reenters the barbarous but familiar society of the army, accompanied by his friend, lover, and fellow soldier, Marygay Potter.

Back in uniform, Mandella finds himself trapped, once again, in an endless cycle of violence and temporal displacement. He endures (and barely survives) a series of lethal, faceless encounters with an enemy that no one, least of all the political and military leaders of Earth, can begin to understand. In the resulting chaos, the one constant in Mandella’s life is his relationship with Marygay. Finally, even that is taken away, and he is left with nothing but the prospect of dying for an incomprehensible cause.

Throughout this process, relativity continues to impose its distortions. As the war carries Mandella and his fellow soldiers toward an increasingly remote series of battlefields, centuries roll by on Earth. In the course of these centuries, populations rise and fall, historical epochs flower and fade, and humanity evolves in unexpected directions. Eventually, at the tail end of a pointless, infinitely protracted war, Mandella returns -- a young/old man of barely 30 -- to a radically altered society he can neither recognize nor live in. In the end, he is forced to confront the fundamental irony of his thousand-year military career: Having left his home to do battle with aliens, he himself has now become the alien, and has no place in the world he fought to preserve.

The Forever War is very much concerned with alienation, which assumes a cruel and quite literal form during the course of the story. And though, like all good novels, it is many things at once -- acerbic portrait of the military mentality; imaginative extrapolation of the principles of relativity; meditation on the future of warfare in a technologically advanced society -- it derives much of its power from its compelling portrait of disenfranchised soldiers detached, by the very nature of their experiences, from the social mainstream. In a way, The Forever War serves as an extravagant metaphor for the actual condition of the soldiers who fought in Vietnam, and who returned home to a divided society that failed, almost completely, to acknowledge their efforts or honor their sacrifices.

After more than a quarter of a century, The Forever War continues to matter, continues to engage our sympathy for the individual men and women caught in the movement of huge, impersonal forces. Like Catch-22, to which it bears a familial resemblance, The Forever War is a novel about the desperate search for sanity in an unreasoning world, and the universality of its concerns makes it as fresh and relevant today as it was in 1975, when the national nightmare of Vietnam was still raw and recent. Literary prognostication may be a fool’s game, but the betting here is that The Forever War will endure well into the newly arrived millennium. Its energy, compassion, and bitter, hard-won wisdom are timeless qualities that should, by rights, continue to speak to new generations of readers.

--Bill Sheehan

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.24(w) x 5.36(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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

Meet the Author

A multiple winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Joe Haldeman is an ultimate household name in science fiction. A Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, since the original publication of The Forever War, Joe has maintined a continuous string of SF classics, and as a long-time Professor of Creative Writing at M.I.T., is widely acknowledged as a key mentor figure to many of this generation's top SF stars.

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Forever War 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 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.
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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.