The Forever War follows William Mandella, a conscripted soldier sent to fight the alien Taurans on the other side of the galaxy. Mandella and his fellow conscripts endure rigorous, sometimes deadly, training to prepare for combat in space against a virtually unknown species for virtually unknown reasons. Joe Haldeman perfectly describes the essences of senseless war, of being a small player in a massive military machine. He writes from the everyman’s perspective. Mandella is the failed pacifist, and he survives from battle to battle because of pure chance. He is promoted from private to sergeant to lieutenant to major because of longevity, not leadership skills, and the more he survives, the more Mandella sinks into apathy.
Part of Mandella’s apathy derives from the confusion caused by time dilation: in order for Earth’s spaceships to cross the galaxy, they use collapsars (wormholes, essentially) and travel as speeds up to 25 gravities, causing time for the spaceships’ passengers to move at a relatively normal pace while time on Earth passes in years, decades, centuries. Every time Mandella comes back into contact with humans from Earth, society has changed drastically. He quickly becomes a kind of relic, a quaint antiquity that new recruits must humor. I suppose soldiers in modern wars feel similarly–as if the world passes at lightning speeds without them while they’re at the front of a timeless war.
As depressing as war novels can be (I think I cried at least twice while reading this [why the cat?!]), I’m always hungry for them. There’s something quite singular about the kind of sorrow a reader feels for this type of tragedy. It’s the way you lust for a heroic, romantically grimy life that can never be yours. A military life is a life I can’t possibly imagine, and that forces me to trust Haldeman as a knowledgeable author, which he is, having served and been wounded in Vietnam, and that trust allows the author incredible freedom and incredible power to carry the story forward.
But the best part about finishing the book? I can go look at the Wiki page, which says Ridley Scott is working on a 3D film adaptation. So what will the casting look like? Marygay Potter can be anybody but Kristen Stewart. Even a woman with a name like Marygay deserves better. And our apathetic, half-ass-hero Private/Sergeant/Lieutenant/Major Mandella? Maybe a lanky, brooding type like Andrew Garfield? Maybe the more macho Liam Hemsworth (just don’t give the kid many speaking lines)? Maybe Wil Wheaton???