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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

book review

“The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman is a classic in military science fiction that still feels as fresh as the day it was written. It’s a harrowing tale of the trials and tribulations of war, but here’s the kicker—it’s set against the vast, cold expanse of space. It’s the sort of book you sit down to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon and suddenly it’s Tuesday, your tea’s gone cold, and you’re left feeling a bit like you’ve been on an interstellar warpath yourself.


“The Forever War” chronicles the life of William Mandella, a physics student conscripted into the interstellar United Nations Exploratory Force to fight in a distant war against an alien species, the Taurans. The fascinating part? Due to time dilation (or time’s nasty habit of moving slower for those traveling near the speed of light), centuries on Earth pass in what feels like mere months for Mandella and his comrades. This means Mandella, despite aging only a few years physically, sees Earth evolve drastically every time he returns from a tour of duty. As he grapples with alien warfare and survival in hostile environments, he also must navigate the alienation of coming home to an unrecognizable society.


Reading “The Forever War” is like being punched in the gut by a velvet-gloved fist. It’s a beautifully written exploration of the human cost of war—physical, psychological, and emotional. Haldeman, a Vietnam War veteran himself, writes with an authenticity that wrenches your heart and keeps you turning pages. The novel’s clever use of relativity not only serves as a unique plot device but also acts as a poignant metaphor for the alienation many veterans feel when they return home.

Haldeman doesn’t shy away from tackling meaty themes—war and peace, love and loss, isolation and belonging. His depiction of future society is shocking and eerily plausible. And yet, amid the horrors of war and the chilling future scenarios, Haldeman sprinkles moments of dry wit and wry observations, offering some relief to the unrelenting tension.


I’d give “The Forever War” a solid 4.5 out of 5. It’s not a pleasant read, but then, it’s not meant to be. It’s a slap in the face—a sobering reminder of the cost of war and the ease with which society can lose its humanity. A must-read for any sci-fi aficionado or anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the impact of war on the human soul.

Author Bio

Joe Haldeman is an American science fiction author best known for his 1974 novel “The Forever War.” He has won multiple prestigious awards, including the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Haldeman’s works often draw on his experiences serving in the Vietnam War, giving them an authentic, lived-in feel.

FAQ or Book Club Questions

  1. How does Haldeman use the concept of time dilation to enhance the narrative?
  2. What commentary is Haldeman making about the society of his time through his depiction of Earth’s future?
  3. How does William Mandella’s character develop over the course of the novel?
  4. Discuss the themes of alienation and belonging in “The Forever War.”
  5. How does Haldeman’s personal experience as a Vietnam War veteran reflect in “The Forever War”?

Where to Buy: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

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