Where I Got It: My library.
Who I Recommend This To: Any scifi nut who wants a story that appreciates and utilizes time dilation.
Narrator: George Wilson
Publisher: Recorded Books (1999)
Length: 9 hours 30 minutes
Series: Book 1 Forever War
The first half of this book was pretty interesting. The second half blew my mind. This is my first time experiencing Joe Haldeman and I do believe he will have to go on my Eternal Bookshelf. William Mandela, our narrator, was born in the 1970s in New Mexico, and eventually drafted into the war with aliens – the Taurans. Military training starts planet-side and then moves to the moon and low-G warrior mech suit training. The author then makes use of the time dilation effect of space travel. Mandela’s unit is gone for ~8 months, but decades have passed on Earth by the time they have returned. William and his sweet heart Mary Gay Potter (which is the name of Haldeman’s wife in real life) reconnect and try to reintegrate into a world that has moved on without them. Eventually, they reenlist to be sent light years away for another battle. Once again, months pass for them and this time 100s of years pass back on Earth.
I often pictured the actor Will Smith as William Mandela. Mandela was so easy for me to relate to, being an average guy with a science background swept up into a high death rate war with a foreign entity that few have seen and none understand. While the main character was William, I still appreciated the equality of women serving in the military and the female characters were equally diverse as the minor male characters.
Let’s talk the science. I loved the use of science in this book, even though it was originally published in 1974. I have a vague understanding of physics, so the dated science in this book, such as principles of space travel, didn’t bother me at all. I was fascinated by the mech warrior suits. The simple dangers of stomping around in one these suits in low or zero G places were excellently built into the plot. The time dilation aspect of the story was put to great use, allowing the story arc to cover 1000s of years while keeping a handful of familiar characters throughout.
Let’s talk about the sex. Don’t worry – the book didn’t go into details and I won’t give you diagrams ;). We start off with both men and women serving equally, side by side. Promiscuity among the ranks is enforced by law. OK, kind of sounds like a teenage boys fantasy. However, the ladies did all the picking of partners and later on we learn the men all made donations to a sperm bank before undergoing vasectomies. Interesting. Many male writers incorporate some sexual liberalism and/or fantasies into their works, but few include even such a mild form of castration. The other aspect I appreciated was that as the soldiers were gone from Earth for 100s of years, the Earth’s population exploded. With that explosion came a rise in homosexuality to point where heterosexuality becomes the anomaly instead of the normal. This was particularly fascinating and completely unexpected.
What I Liked: The great scope of the story; Mandela was such an easy character to get twined up with; all the science and gadgets; Mary Gay; the ending was satisfying and also left the door open for the sequel.
What I Disliked: There was one briefly described orgy scene where I felt the women should have been better represented.
This month is Vintage Scfi Month over at Little Red Reviewer. Make sure to stop by over there to catch some great SF. Also, January and February are The Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings. So also check out Carl’s blog for all sorts of SF fun.
I am also including this in the weekly Read & Review Hop hosted by On Starships and Dragonwings. Make sure to check out this week’s collection of reviews.