Fiction Reviews

Peace and War

(2006) Joe Haldeman, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 697 pp, ISBN 0-575-07919-3


As far as reprints go this has probably to be the best hard SF buy of 2006. This is not just because of the price at 7.99 for nearly 700 pages. Nor is it because it brings together the three 'Forever' books. It is both these things plus that this is a rare appearance of Haldeman's 1974 classic Forever War as it was intended to be published!

Seasoned SF book readers will need no introduction to the classic The Forever War but others will. It sees the Earth embark on a war against the aliens out there among the stars. Relativistic travel at near the speed of light keeps the troops young compared to those back on Earth, so soon after just a couple of tours, those that the soldiers knew and loved back on Earth are old and dying. After a few more tours even the language and culture at home has changed so that soldiers simply sign on again: hence the 'Forever War'. A more detailed review of this novel is elsewhere on this site but, as said, what makes its appearance in this collection special is that it is as the author originally intended. Haldeman wanted The Forever War to have a clear connection with Vietnam and his troops were veterans of that war and so its beginning was set in 1996 (and clearly as it is now 2007, we have not had that war). Also there is a section of the novel re-instated. This will give this collection appeal to seasoned readers as well as those whose exploration of the genre is a little more recent. This is all explained in an introduction by the author.

The other novels included are Forever Free (1999) and Forever Peace (1997). The first is a direct sequel to the Forever War in which in the far future William Mandella is reunited with his girlfriend (also a veteran) and they try to settle down off-world with other veterans. However settling down is not easy and so they embark on an exploratory mission into the still uncharted depths of space. But as they leave known space a few of the crew disappear. They turn around only to find that those they left behind on the colony world have also vanished.

It has to be said that a number of other reviewers have said that this sequel is not as powerful as the original Forever War. This may be true as the first book was a neat package of SF and a commentary on the pointless nature of war and the alienation it causes not just between enemy participants but also between the troops and those at home. However do not write off Forever Free. Its message of powerful forces uncaringly manipulating minions is equally appropriate to the overall theme and allegory Haldeman develops.

Forever Peace is unconnected in terms of plot with the afore two stories, but is very much so in terms of theme. It is the middle of the 21st century and wars are now fought by the developed nations remotely with individual soldier remotely controlling individual robots so that nobody dies: nobody that is except the folk in the less developed nations that form the battlefields where these conflicts take place. However the near telepathic link the soldiers have with their remote mechanicals and each other has some unforeseen side effects...

I suspect that because of the editorial set-up at Gollancz (where the SF editor reports to someone who was himself formerly an SF editor) enables thoughtful products like this to emerge. So at the risk of upsetting these fine folk, I have to say (gently) that I am a little sad that they did no go quite the whole hog. There is one book missing from the collection, but maybe they did not have the copyright to include it? (Never be too quick to blame the editors.) However if they can get it for a future compilation then, please, please give it some serious thought. This book is a slim one barely 130 pages and I'd estimate just 50,000 words. It is War Year, Haldeman's almost biographical novel about life in Vietnam as a US soldier. This novel got some very good reviews when it came out back in 1972 (so Joe told me in the middle of an Eastern European biosphere reserve a few years ago) but, I understand, the sales did not follow. My own take on this is that at the time Vietnam was an open wound in the US psyche. (Joe was a little silent on this point and I did not feel it proper to press him even though I wanted to.) Yet for the average US citizen, things are in one sense different now in that they can now look back at Vietnam with less pain, and the book now may well speak to those currently serving in the Iraq. Though not SF the reason to include this in a collection of 'Forever' novels would be that all these books draw upon the same well of experience and so resonate with each other. Anyway, enough of my wishing. (Who am I to ask things of editors anyway?)

The Peace and War omnibus, as said, is extremely good value, and a slice of classic SF that demonstrates that the genre really can be socially relevant with something of value to say. Nice cover by Dominic Harman too. Hugely recommended and if you know someone serving in the military services then do not delay, order it today. OK, you can fall out now.

Jonathan Cowie

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