We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Readers Choice: The Forever War

Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel. Winner of the Nebula Award for best novel. Winner of the Ditmar Award for international SF. Winner of the Locus Award for best SF novel. Regularly cited in lists of the most important SF works ever written. Do you really need us to tell you how good The Forever War is? DO YOU?

Well, too bad. We’re not going to. But Gollancz editor extraordinaire Marcus Gipps is:

perhaps the most remarkable novel about the Vietnam War – and all wars – ever written

And SF Gateway’s social media curator, Andrew Spong, is, too. Here’s an extract from his January 2006 review of The Forever War from SFandFantasyMasterworks.co.uk:

 It is 1997. Subsequent to the destruction of a colonists’ ship near Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, the world is at war with the Taurans.

Warfare is space is deemed to be too complicated for the traditional jarhead, and the first draft of infantry enlisted by the Elite Conscription Act of 1996 consists of ‘fifty men and women, with IQs over 150 and bodies of unusual health and strength’ (p. 9). One of them is Private William Mandella.

The organisationally faceless, emotionally featureless monstrosity that is any army gets a particularly severe working over in this book. Servicemen and women are groomed to participate in a soulless round of endorsed drug taking, orgies and post-hypnotic suggestion in between bouts of combat, which the protagonist quietly dissociates himself from during the course of the novel.

The work forecefully demonstrates how conflict strips humanity of all the facets of existence which give life meaning and value, leaving an empty husk:

‘the thought came to me that the next time I closed my eyes could be my last. And partly because of the drug hangover, mostly because of the past day’s horrors, I found that I really didn’t give a shit’ (p. 58); ‘I was disgusted with the human race, disgusted with the army and horrified at the prospect of living with myself’ (p. 73).

Haldeman’s own experiences in Vietnam season this taut narrative with arresting, sometimes shocking, descriptions of the grimly visceral and unremittingly futile nature of warfare. [Read the rest of the review here]


Page numbers refer to the SF Masterworks paperback edition. The Forever War is, of course, also available as an SF Gateway eBook, and you can read more about Joe Haldeman in his entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.