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Joe Haldeman – Forever Peace

Title: Forever Peace
Joe Haldeman
Year: 1997

There is something poetic to write a novel in 1974 entitled The Forever War, and then, more than thirty years later, to write another novel (though not a sequel) with the title Forever Peace, and manage to win a Hugo Award for each of them. Even though I did not particularly like the former, the latter proved much more interesting. Both are about war and are set in the future, but technological improvements since 1974 has broadened horizons and enabled Haldeman to write something completely different this time

A technological innovation called “soldierboys” is central to the novel. They are robotic, remotely controlled infantry, piloted by humans mechanics far away from the actual battlefield. While jacked in to such a machine, a member of a platoon gains some sort of collective consciousness, and is in someways part of the other soldiers. Julian, the novel’s main protagonist, is such a mechanic.

In a secret research project, a scientist discovers that prolonged jacking leads to pacification (or “humanization” as it is called) of the soldier, which might be the road to end all wars. Simply jack everybody in and form such collective consciousnesses and soon enmity and hatred will go away. But those who emerge, are they still human? And is it right to force such a treatment unto humanity without its explicit consent, even though it is for the survival of the species?

Philosophical questions like these are the foundation of this novel. The actual war is not terribly important, but instead, focus lies on factors underlying the phenomenon itself. These themes are presented via a fairly interesting story about one of the soldierboy mechanics and his involvement with the project mentioned above. Apart from his personal trauma generated by his first-hand experience of war, he and his collaborators on the project faces the threat of a group of religious extremists who do not shun from using any means necessary to bring about the end of the world.

This is no masterpiece, far from it. The language is adequate but not very inspiring; the story is thrilling, but occasionally slows down too much; the characters are realistic, but not unique or alive. Instead, it is the theme that makes the book worthwhile. Since I have not read any of the other nominees for the Hugo Award for that year, I do not know if approve of Forever Peace winning the Hugo, but at least to my mind, it is weaker than many other award winners. I recommend it if you are interested in war, technology and philosophy, but otherwise I advise you to read something else.

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  1. Anona Mouse’s avatar

    Forever War, 1974. Forever Peace, 1997. 23 years, not ‘over thirty’. Reprints don’t count ;)


    1. Anona Mouse’s avatar

      ‘more than thirty’