Forever Free (novel)
||To comply with the Wikipedia quality standards, this book-related article may require cleanup. (August 2011)||
|Cover artist||Bruce Jensen|
|Series||The Forever War series|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||Forever Peace, (1997)|
William Mandella, protagonist of The Forever War, lives with his wife Marygay on the icy world Middle Finger. Dissatisfied with the state of their society, they eventually decide to jump forward in time, using the time dilation of interstellar travel. Their intention is to travel for 10 subjective years, at relativistic speeds, into the future, during which 40,000 Earth years will have passed on Middle Finger. They, along with other Forever War veterans and other disenchanted humans on Middle Finger, hope that whatever they will find upon their return will be more to their liking. This "experiment" requires the consent of the posthuman group mind now known as 'Man', and of the alien Tauran race. Although it appears as though Man and the Tauran refuse permission, forcing the humans to take the ship by force, neither Man nor Tauran seem to put up a fight.
Taking their daughter and leaving their son who has decided to join Man, Marygay and William head away from their planet. Before they have gotten very far, many unexplained occurrences happen and the ship starts to lose antimatter mysteriously. They abandon the ship and return home on ships that have been converted into escape pods. Instead of the intended 40,000 years, they have only been away 24 Earth years. Upon arrival, they find the planet still intact, but seemingly vacant; everyone having literally disappeared at the same time as the incident on their ship. They then return to Earth and in the course of the investigation they discover a shape-shifting being (similar to the "Chameleon" in his later novel Camouflage) posing as an android cowboy at a western-themed amusement park. This being has been on Earth and the other inhabited planets for millennia and is not certain of its own origin. It also has no idea what happened to the denizens of Earth.
The resolution involves an archetypal deus ex machina, a childish god who evidently created the universe on a whim but doesn't really understand it. This god recognizes Mandella as a scientist and explains that his action of leaving the galaxy on a 40,000 year round-trip is similar to a laboratory mouse escaping its cage. The galaxy would appear to be one large experiment controlled by these gods, an experiment damaged by Mandella's actions. Eventually "God" restores the inhabitants, who have been stored in stasis.
The story also focuses on William's and Marygay's relationship to their children, who do not agree with their parents' views, but still have to deal with their parents 'fleeing' into the future.
Forever Free is much shorter than the preceding book and also contained many printing errors in its first edition. The comic A New Beginning, the sequel to the comic version of The Forever War, was connected to Forever Free.
F&SF reviewer Charles de Lint praised the novel, declaring "Forever Free is everything good science fiction should be but so often isn't: a grand adventure into what it means to be human, told through rich characterization and thoughtful scientific (not to mention religious) speculation that doesn't lag for a moment."