“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 in a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.
-The opening lines of ‘The Forever War’ by Joe Haldeman.
Imagine working hard in school and becoming super-smart, and also you’re a bit of a fitness nut so your body’s in prime condition. What might your future look like?
Well, in the world of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, you might get conscripted into the military and taken across the galaxy to fight a war with aliens. Aren’t you glad you studied so much?
In The Forever War, William Mandella is one of those conscripted smarty-pants soldiers. After some dangerous training on a fictional, frozen planet in our own solar system, the soldiers are sent to battle the Taurans on a planet orbiting a distant star. Needless to say, it’ll take them a while to get there, even with a few physics-defying travel tricks. One thing that comes up in all this, the time-bending effects of space travel at relativistic speeds, make for some of the more interesting parts of this book.
See, traveling at such high speeds to distant worlds means, inside your ship, you’ll experience time differently compared with a stationary observer. Maybe it takes you ten years, by the calendar on your ship, to travel somewhere and back, but on Earth, when you get home, a hundred years will have passed. You’ll still be you, as old as you feel, but everyone you knew on Earth would be much older (or dead). Welcome home, traveler! What might Earth be like if you were absent for a hundred or more years? How does the Earth in The Forever War change while Mandella is away?
The quote at the beginning of this post will no doubt peg The Forever War as a work of Military Science Fiction, a subgenre of sci-fi that deals with war and weapons and honor and duty and such. The author, who served during the Vietnam War, drew upon his own experience to write the book. Personally, I was never one to get very excited about scenes of war in books. For me, the better parts are between the battles, the scenes featuring the characters and the larger world. War isn’t interesting. People are. And I ended up liking the characters in The Forever War. Super-smart, super-fit, and likable. What more can you ask for?
My copy of The Forever War has a dust jacket illustrated by Dorian Vallejo, who said it was one of his first, done while he was “still in school.” Know what I did while I was in school? Nothing. I can safely say I’m in no danger of being conscripted into some super-army to fight aliens. Also, I’m probably too old.
Speaking of illustrations, The Forever War was adapted into a graphic novel, which I found at my local library. There’s also talk of adapting it into a film. Everything just has to be a movie, doesn’t it?
I’m gonna go continue to make sure no one would ever want me for their army, which means destroying my body and cultivating a healthy disrespect for authority. I’ll see you next time.