The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974, 288 pages, Science Fiction)
The Forever War is a science fiction classic — and righly so. Written in response to the author’s experience in the Vietnam War, the novel follows Mandela, a young man conscripted to fight in an interstellar conflict against a little understood alien foe. It is deeply thematic story, examining the dehumanization of warfare, as well as its bureaucratic aspects. Despite a philosophical bent, most of the story is told through unfolding action sequences, in which Mandela is trained, dispatched to battle, discharged, reenlisted, and so on. The catch is that unlike humanity’s previous wars, ‘time dilation’ plays a role in this future conflict. Due to faster than light travel through the stars, Mandela barely ages while life on Earth unspools for decades, and eventually centuries. Mandela stays young, a hero in a war that should never have been waged, while everything he’s fought for changes beyond recognition.
The Forever War is a condemnation, a satire, and a love story all at once. There are sections that drag, and the crushing reality of war can be a hard slog at times, but this book is well worth reading. Not only does it ring with unfortunate relevance today, but it also offers a deeply satisfying conclusion. Invest your time in Haldeman’s book and be rewarded with characters and a story you will continue to think about for days and weeks after.