The Forever War by Joe Haldeman won the 1976 Hugo Award and the 1975 Nebula Award. As an aside, why are the Hugos always one year greater than the Nebulas? Anyway, the book was first published in 1974 shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. I mention Vietnam because Haldeman wrote this book with that war in mind. According to the author’s note that was written around the year 2000:
“Twenty-five years later, most young readers don’t even see the parallels between The Forever War and the seemingly endless one we were involved in at the time, and that’s okay. It’s about Vietnam because that’s the war the author was in. But it’s mainly about war, about soldiers, and about the reasons we think we need them.”
In 1996, humanity enters an interstellar conflict with a race known as the Taurans. Ships are limited by the speed of light, but can instantly transport huge distances by going through linked collapsars. The book follows the life of a soldier named William Mandella from the start of the war to over 1000 years into the future. Mandella actually only spends a few years in the army, but hundreds of years pass on Earth during his travels at lightspeed.
Haldeman does a great job expressing all the various issues, both military and social, that arise when hundreds of years of “real” time pass during a campaign that feels like only a few months to you. Soldiers from Vietnam had a hard time readjusting to civilian life after a few years in the army; imagine if they came back to find society had advanced one hundred years. Technology, language, morality… these things all change over the course of time.
I tore through this book’s 275-some-odd pages in a day or two. The book is full of action, fascinating sci-fi, and intriguing social scenarios. The Forever War certainly has its share of sex and violence… perhaps more than its share. But the messages, ideas, and solid writing raise it high above the level of pulp.