Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Joe Haldeman's The Forever War is a fast, gripping science fiction novel that tries to figure out what the costs are when war never ends, and what that might mean in outer space. If you think Star Wars or Star Trek when you think of SF, this book will broaden your mind. The action takes place on various space ships traveling throughout the galaxy at relativistic speeds, so when the characters return to Earth or their command posts, a hundred years may have passed, though they have aged only a couple years subjectively. The protagonist, one William Mandella, suffers all the agonies that you can imagine someone enduring over his centuries of military service, watching himself become ever more alienated from humanity as it changes and evolves into something new entirely -- and he remains fundamentally a 20th century man.
This novel was published in 1974, and it would have been impossible to read it back then without being reminded of Vietnam. U.S. veterans of that war often returned home to find their fellow Americans much different than they had been when they left, and that sense of dislocation is palpable throughout the book. From the moment it begins, the characters removed from the comforts of Earth, this novel shows you the world that interstellar travelers (military or otherwise) would experience and asks what implications it might have for their humanity.