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Published October 15, 2012

 

The Forever War is one of the Sci-Fi classics that everyone should read (and not just sci-fi buffs). It's won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards - essentially every award worth winning. This is a rare sci-fi book in that it will seem eerily familiar to many of us: a portrayal of the average grunt in a distant war.

THE STORY

The story follows Private Mandella (the bright ones will notice it's a near anagram of the author's name). A human colony has been attacked by an alien race and mankind has decided to send the best of the best to get even. Only men and women with IQs above 150 are chosen, because at that stage no information is available about their adversary and adaptability will be the key to success. As a result, the most educated young adults get chosen and trained for in-space combat. They ship off to train at a near-Earth planet with no atmosphere, accompanied by the disastrous consequences that come with training in such a dangerous environment. It dawns on the soldiers that this war will not be a walkover.

Once training is complete, off to war they go. The only issue is that true to modern physics there is no faster-than-light travel. At this stage they use what Haldeman calls collapsars (read: black holes) to take advantage of the singularities' time-warping effects. Due to the warping of space-time that occurs, travelling to their destinations takes little relative time but centuries on Earth. By the time the soldiers return, already scarred by the warfare, they find themselves strangers in an evolved society, wondering why they fought in the first place. The cycle repeats and Mandella continues to fight, eventually becoming the oldest living human. He is left with only one person with whom he can relate and feels lost to the rest of humanity.

ANALYSIS

This book, aside from being a brilliant work of science fiction, is an obvious criticism of foreign war. The criticism is all the more real because Haldeman himself fought in Vietnam. With the anagrammatic name of the main character (a female character's name is an anagram of his wife's as well) , it is clear that Joe is talking about his own experiences in a space opera context and his difficulty dealing with inner demons. I'm not a war veteran myself, but I know many in the Eve community are and I believe they will both relate to and enjoy this story. Joe Haldeman was obviously a reluctant soldier, seeing opportunities for peace everywhere, yet unable to refrain from violence due to his respect for honour and authority.

This book's criticisms are twofold: soldiers go to foreign lands, generally for the interest of their countrymen. When they return, successful or not, they are changed by the war. The society they've risked their lives for doesn't feel like the same one they wanted to protect; they are alienated. What's more, in some cases the society is not even grateful for their efforts (reflected in the peace movement after Vietnam, but also in this story).

The second criticism is that of the military and how it treats its troops. Initially the soldiers were trained to think for themselves and react to any situation in combat. In reality the army starts to treat them as nothing more than expensive weapons: expendable and effective to a degree. This is not helped by their detachment with society: the soldiers only have war to cling to. In this novel, the soldiers come to realisations about their foes, but the military is slow to react to their calls - and why should they, given that weapons don't talk back? From another perspective, this is a criticism of military heirarchy: the troops have a better idea of what's happening on the ground, but historically (more so in the past), COs would rarely listen to their criticism.

THE FOREVER WAR AND EVE

Aside from being a thoroughly good book on many levels, there are some aspects of this book that can apply to Eve.

Ever been in a situation where your FC was clearly screwing up, yet wouldn't listen to the majority of his pilots? My clearest memory relating to this was in the days of the Nemesis failcascade: we were in a hurry to shoot a POS and shipped out with a BS fleet. Except the POS turned out to be a deathstar manned from the start. We had too few logistics ships, who were all damped and scrammed, and we quickly started losing ships. Most of us immediately vocalised the issue, but the order came to keep at it. We called for capital support and were turned down. By the time we were forced to leave the POS un-reinforced, we'd lost near a dozen Abaddons and had to retreat because our fleet couldn't counter a nearing Red Alliance subcap fleet (the FC had still refused to understand we wouldn't take that POS down). Moral of the story: sometimes FCs should listen to the guys losing their ships.

The bittervet syndrome is also a clear parallel to the soldiers' distance from society. Now that we have players with 9 year-old toons vs ones a few months old, the disparity between the population is becoming greater on a number of levels. Relating between the two groups is only going to become more difficult with time. That's why I believe it is rather unfair that the CSM has no noob representative (and no, I don't believe Eve Uni can represent that demographic).

CONCLUSION

This is a book that Peter F. Hamilton (considered by many including myself the current god of sci-fi) calls "damn near perfect". I don't know how else to convince you to go out and pick it up!

For the lazy asses among you, Ridley Scott is currently filming his interpretation of this book, due out in 2013. He talks about having it on the same scale as Avatar (though with an obviously more interesting storyline). I don't see how he can screw that up, so I sure as hell will be going to see it!

FYI, the omnibus edition contains two additional sequels to the story that I won't discuss here but are well worth the read.

 

Barnsy
Member of Nulli Secunda. Have been playing Eve for close to four years, already hit by bittervet syndrome. I've played a number of games over the years and generally dab in every game that's fun.
Author: Joe Haldeman
Publisher: Eos
Price: More information on product page

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