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Gale ResearchIn his award-winning science fiction novel The Forever War, Joe Haldeman combines his experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War, in which he was severely wounded, with a realistic, scientifically-accurate presentation. The novel tells of a war that stretches across intergalactic distances and long periods of time, the soldiers involved traveling to remote battlefields via black holes. Because the soldiers travel at faster-than-light speeds, they age far slower than the civilians for whom they fight. This difference in relative age--the soldiers a few years older, their society centuries older--results in an alienation between the soldiers and the people they defend.
"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."