I'd heard great things about The Forever War
, so I was eager to dive in. But about halfway through, I was disappointed. I loved Haldeman's exploration of time dilation's impact on individual and communal lives, and how he used the disorientation caused by time dilation to represent the ambivalent and sometimes hostile reception soldiers like him received upon their return from Vietnam. I also really enjoyed getting to know Haldeman's everyman anti-hero William Mandella. And the messages of corrupt power and the uselessness of war resonate deeply with me. But Mandella's homophobic tendencies and the book's furthering of the Falwellian notion of gayness as an indicator of civilization's slide toward Gomorrah? I'm not a fan!
Then came the last quarter of The Forever War
. My disappointment turned to surprise and joy. Alongside the message of angst, hopelessness, conspiracy (UN promoting of homosexuality as population control strategy and part of broader eugenics program--John Birch Society talking point anyone?), and soldiers-as-simple-cannon-fodder, there's a genuine relational sweetness to the story. In the end, Haldeman doesn't let clinical nihilism win over love and friendship. It's listening and effective communication--not state-of-the-art weaponry--that build peace. Even in battle, the mystical messiness of life breaks through the dehumanizing fog of war:
I felt my gorge rising and knew that all the lurid training tapes, all the horrible deaths in training accidents, hadn't prepared me for this sudden reality ... that I had a magic wand that I could point at a life and make it a smoking piece of half-raw meat; I wasn't a soldier nor ever wanted to be one nor ever would want--
With Mandella's ongoing pacifist streak and the brief epilogue as supporting evidence, I can say without hesitation that The Forever War
is a life-affirming work. I couldn't wipe the poop-eating grin off my face for quite some time after finishing. Who knew a tale of a twelve-centuries war could leave a reader feeling giddily hopeful? A book deserving of the "classic" label.