(Read between 24/04/2017 – 13/05/2017)
The Forever War is a science-fiction novel set in the future where humans are in war with an alien race. The author uses this narrative background to cleverly discuss some of the issues he lived through whilst he served during the Vietnam War. Unlike other books which I’ve read or reviewed on the Vietnam War such as ‘Dispatches’ by Michael Kerr this novel isn’t a memoir. Instead it uses science fiction themes to describe some of the horrors of warfare and the difficulties of readjusting back to civilian life when you return home afterward.
Similar to the soldiers in the Vietnam War the main character in this novel William Mandella is sent off to fight far away enemies and he isn’t entirely sure why he has to and what the enemy did. The enemies in The Forever War are an alien race called the Taurans who are said to have attacked a human spaceship. Without ruining the story for anyone who wishes to read it the main twist in the story is the effect of time dillation and the effects of relativity on the war itself and the pawns in it. Because time is warped as the soldiers travel it means many years have passed as they travel. This means that in between battles, the enemy has years to research new weapons to counter previous attacks and vice-versa. It also means that as the officers return home after each battle many years have passed on Earth and it no longer resembles anything that they left behind.
The returning home after battles, in my opinion represents the most striking sections of the novel. The dystopian world the officers return to are unlike anything they left behind and the people of Earth are either indifferent or opposed to the war they fought in. For me this clever use of relativity mirrored what most veterans returning from Vietnam must have felt. America changed radically in the time which they were away for and how people didn’t offer them a heroes welcome upon return but instead many of those they came home to were opposed to the war. Haldeman uses relativity to describe the feelings he must have been feeling upon returning from his war in a fascinating way.
It is these themes of feeling lost in your own world you fought to keep safe that resonated the most with me. For me the way the author used science fiction to discuss some of these themes was more enjoyable than the actual narrative or plot itself. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in seeing how people can use science fiction as a vehicle to convey real world issues and emotions they have experienced.