Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman won both the Nebula and Hugo awards in 1998. After reading The Forever War by the same author, I had to wonder about the connection between the two. Fortunately, Haldeman clues you in at the beginning of the book:
Caveat lector: This book is not a continuation of my 1975 novel The Forever War. From the author’s point of view it is a kind of sequel, though, examining some of that novel’s problems from an angle that didn’t exist twenty years ago.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
The angle that didn’t exist has to be the Silicon Age and the Internet. The main sci-fi constructs in Forever Peace are:
- Nanoforges – “warm fusion” devices that can create anything given the appropriate raw materials.
- Soliderboys – similar to the mechanized suits in The Forever War, soldierboys are remote-controlled robots that “mechanics” operate via a sort of virtual reality interface.
- “Jacking” – hard not to smirk at the masturbation euphemism, but this is the term the book uses to describe a person’s ability to link to another person, effectively merging personalties, experiences, and sensations. People with this ability have a jack implanted in the back of their heads which they use to plug in to other people and devices.
I think even Haldeman had to have some fun with the word “jacking”. This is on the second-to-last page of the book when a Hispanic woman is thanking the protagonist:
“All the time I was changing, these past two weeks, I was hoping you would still be alive so that we could, as you say, jack together.” She smiled. “Your funny language.”
Forever Peace has basically the same themes as The Forever War:
- Horrors of war
- Humanity on a path to self-destruction
- Humanity’s most promising future as a unified hive mind
The first half of the book was very engaging. The descriptions and actions of the soliderboys, the “jacking” technology and how it feels to be unified with another person, and the suicidal main character and his intense personal relationships.
But then Haldeman unveils the antagonist, a military higher-up whose religion dictates that he should destroy the world to bring about some sort of “rebirth”. Among this guy’s resources are insane zealots who are also super-spies.
The good guys, who have found that people can be “humanized” (read: pacified) by jacking together (heh) for an extended period of time, are on a quest to humanize the entire world. They capture one of these super-spies and place her in a room that “no one has escaped from before”. I could have skipped the next chapter or so, where the spy obviously escapes and wreaks havoc.
I guess the problem I had was that the enemy was a little too convenient – psychopaths bent on killing and world-ending, blindly following some crazy religion. I don’t mind the digs at religion, of course, but I found the antagonists to be overly trite.
The idea of humanity becoming a single mind, and this act being beneficial, is certainly not new. Asimov explored the idea in his Foundation series, and Haldeman himself touched on the idea in The Forever War. Still, Haldeman provides an interesting look at what such a situation would be like, and even how it might feel.