The Forever War

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This article is about the science-fiction novel. For other uses, see The Forever War (disambiguation).
The Forever War
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Joe Haldeman
Country United States
Language English
Genre Military science fiction
Publisher St. Martin's Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 236 pp
Awards Locus Award for Best Novel (1976)
ISBN 0-312-29890-0
Followed by Forever Peace

The Forever War (1974) is a military science fiction novel by American author Joe Haldeman, telling the contemplative story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war between Man and the Taurans. It won the Nebula Award in 1975,[1] and the Hugo and the Locus awards in 1976.[2] Forever Free (1999) and Forever Peace (1997) are, respectively, direct and thematic sequel novels. The novella A Separate War (1999) is another sequel of sorts, occurring simultaneously to the final portion of The Forever War. Informally, the novels compose The Forever War series; the novel also inspired a comic book and a board game.[3]

The Forever War is the first title in the SF Masterworks series.

Plot summary[edit]

William Mandella is a physics student conscripted for an elite task force in the United Nations Exploratory Force being assembled for a war against the Taurans, an alien species discovered when they apparently suddenly attacked human colonists' ships. The UNEF ground troops are sent out for reconnaissance and revenge.

The elite recruits have IQs of 150 and above, are highly educated, healthy, and fit. Training is gruelling – first on Earth, in Missouri, and later on a planet called "Charon" beyond Pluto (written before the discovery of the actual planetoid). Several of the recruits are killed during training, due to the extreme environments and the use of live weapons. The new soldiers then depart for action, traveling via interconnected 'collapsars' that allow ships to cover thousands of light-years in a split second. However, traveling to and from the collapsars at near-lightspeed has massive relativistic effects.

Their first encounter with Taurans on a planet orbiting Epsilon Aurigae turns into a post-hypnotically suggested massacre, with the unresisting enemy wiped out. This first expedition, beginning in 1997, lasts only two years for the soldiers, but due to time dilation, decades have passed on Earth.[4] On the long way home, the soldiers experience future shock first-hand, as the Taurans employ increasingly advanced weaponry against them while they do not have the chance to re-arm.

Mandella, with soldier, lover, and companion Marygay Potter, returns to civilian life, only to find humanity drastically changed. He and his fellow soldiers have difficulty fitting into a society that has evolved almost beyond their comprehension. The veterans learn that, to curb overpopulation, which led to worldwide class wars caused by inequitable rationing, homosexuality has become officially encouraged by many of the world's nations. The world has become a very dangerous place due to widespread unemployment and the easy availability of deadly weapons. The changes within society alienate Mandella and the other veterans to the point where many re-enlist to escape, even though they realize the military is a soulless construct. Mandella attempts to get an assignment as an instructor on Luna, but is promptly reassigned by standing order to combat command. The inability of the military to treat its soldiers as more than highly complex valuable machines is a theme of the story.

Almost entirely through luck, Mandella survives four years of military service, while several centuries elapse elsewhere. He soon becomes the objectively oldest surviving soldier in the war, attaining high rank through seniority, not ambition (he is essentially a pacifist who acts mostly from talent and a melancholic sense of duty). He and Marygay (who has remained his last contact with the Earth of his youth) are finally given different assignments, meaning it will be extremely unlikely they will ever see each other again (assuming they both survive). As the commanding officer of a 'strike force', Mandella commands soldiers who speak a language largely unrecognizable to him, whose ethnicity is now nearly uniform and who are exclusively homosexual. He is disliked by his soldiers because they have to learn 21st century English to communicate with him and other senior staff, and because he is heterosexual.

Engaging in combat thousands of light years away from Earth, Mandella and his soldiers need to resort to medieval weapons in order to fight inside a stasis field which neutralizes all electromagnetic radiation in anything not covered with a protective coating. It turns out to be the last conflict of the war. Humanity has begun to clone itself, resulting in a new, collective species calling itself simply Man. Man is able to communicate with the Taurans, who are also clones. It is discovered that the war started due to a misunderstanding. The futile, meaningless war that lasted for more than a thousand years ends.

Man has established several colonies of old-style, heterosexual humans, just in case the evolutionary change proves to be a mistake. Mandella travels to one of these colonies, named "Middle Finger" in the definitive version of the novel. There, he is reunited with Marygay, who had been discharged much earlier and had taken trips in space to use time dilation to age at a much slower rate, hoping and waiting for Mandella's return. The epilogue is a news item from the year 3143 announcing the birth of a "fine baby boy" to Marygay Potter-Mandella.

Reception and interpretation[edit]

The novel is widely perceived to be a portrayal of the author's military service during the Vietnam War, and has been called an account of his war experiences written through a space opera filter.[5] Other hints of the autobiographical nature of the work are the protagonist's surname, Mandella, which is a near-anagram of the author's surname, as well as the name of the lead female character, Marygay Potter, which is nearly identical to Haldeman's wife's maiden name. Importantly, if one accepts this reading of the book, the alienation experienced by the soldiers on returning to Earth – here caused by the time dilation effect – becomes a clear metaphor for the reception given to US troops returning to America from Vietnam, including the way in which the war ultimately proves useless and its result meaningless. He also subverts typical space opera clichés (such as the heroic soldier influencing battles through individual acts) and "demonstrates how absurd many of the old clichés look to someone who had seen real combat duty."[5]

Haldeman received a letter from Robert Heinlein congratulating him on his Nebula Award which "meant more than the award itself".[6] According to author Spider Robinson, Heinlein approached Haldeman at the award banquet and said the book "may be the best future war story I've ever read!"[7]


The Forever War was originally written as Haldeman's MFA thesis for the Iowa Writer's Workshop. It was first published as a serial in Analog Magazine before its first book publication in 1974. Since then, many editions of The Forever War have been published. Editions published prior to 1991 were abridged for space by the original editor (omitting the middle section, a novella titled You Can Never Go Back). These early paperback editions have "a white cover showing a man in a spacesuit with a sword, with symbolic clocks all around," according to the author, with alternatively the first hardcover edition featuring a large hourglass with planets falling through it.

The 1991 edition restored many expurgated sections, primarily dealing with the changes that befall human civilization over the course of William Mandella's life. This version's cover "has a futuristic soldier who looks like Robin Williams in a funny hat," as Haldeman notes, "But alas, not all of the changes got in, and the book has some internal contradictions because of things left over from the [earlier version]."

In 1997, Avon published the version that Haldeman called "definitive", with "everything restored" and "a less funny cover illustration."[8] This version was republished twice, first in October 2001 as a hardback with a cover showing spaceships in battle over a planet, and again in September 2003, with the cover art depicting a device worn over the eye of a soldier.

In 1999, it was republished by Millennium, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, as part of the SF Masterworks series. It featured as the first novel re-printed in the series, and the cover shows a close-up of Marygay Potter with soldiers and spaceships in the background. This is the same version as the 1997 Avon publication and has the same Author's Note.

In 2006, an omnibus edition containing the books Forever War, Forever Free, and Forever Peace (under the title "Peace and War") was published by Gollancz. The cover depicts a futuristic gun barrel stuck into the ground with a smashed spacesuit helmet placed on top. The author's note at the start of the book describes the edition as containing the definitive versions.

In 1999, Haldeman, at the request of Robert Silverberg, wrote Marygay's first-person account of her time of separation from Mandella. It included not only the military details but also the difficulty of coping as a lone heterosexual woman with a society where same-sex relations are the inflexible norm. The story was included in Silverberg's anthology Far Horizons (1999), and later was the title story in the collection of Haldeman stories A Separate War and Other Stories (2006). In his "Notes on the Stories" for that collection, Haldeman commented that "it was fun to write her story, both as a bridge to the sequel (Forever Free) and as an oblique commentary on The Forever War, twenty years later."

The most recent print edition was released in 2009 with an additional foreword by John Scalzi. The cover art depicts a soldier in a spacesuit in a jungle environment.

An ebook version was released in July 2011 by Ridan Publishing and also contained the foreword by John Scalzi and introductions by Joe Haldeman and Robin Sullivan (President of Ridan Publishing). The cover art depicts a soldier in a war torn setting looking down at the helmet of a fallen comrade.


Graphic novel[edit]

Belgian comic writer Marvano has, in cooperation with Haldeman, created a graphic novel trilogy of The Forever War. With some very minor changes and omissions to storyline and setting, it faithfully adapts the same themes in visual style.[citation needed] The series was translated into various languages, and had a follow-up trilogy connected to Forever Free.


In October 2008, Ridley Scott announced that, after a 25-year wait for the rights to become available, he was making a return to science fiction with a film adaptation of The Forever War.[9] In March 2009, Scott stated that the film would be in 3D, citing James Cameron's Avatar as an inspiration for doing so.[10][11] In the summer of 2010, Scott revealed that State of Play writer Matthew Michael Carnahan was currently on the fourth draft of a screenplay originally written by David Peoples.[12][13] As of May 2014, author Joe Haldeman stated he believed the project was on its seventh draft of the script.[14] In May 2015, Warner Bros. won the rights to the novel and will develop the project with writer Jon Spaihts and Channing Tatum attached to star.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1975 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  2. ^ "1976 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  3. ^ Forever War, the (1983) (database entry from the BoardGameGeek website).
  4. ^ Park, Ed (30 December 2007). "Leaping forward". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Joe Haldeman (author profile at the 'media in transition' project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  6. ^ Requiem, Yoji Kondo, editor, p. 274
  7. ^ Requiem, Yoji Kondo, editor, p. 315
  8. ^ Haldeman, Joe (1997) [1974]. The Forever War. Avon. 
  9. ^ Child, Ben (2008-10-13). "Ridley Scott puts off Brave New World for The Forever War". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  10. ^ Alex Billington. "Ridley Scott Says Cameron Inspired Him to Make Forever War in 3D". 
  11. ^ Charlie Jane Anders. "James Cameron's Avatar Influences Ridley Scott's Forever War". 
  12. ^ Mike Fleming. "Tony Scott Has To Choose Among Pic Trio". 
  13. ^ "Those two Alien prequels? Ridley Scott tells us more!". 
  14. ^ "Reddit interview with author Joe Haldeman.". 
  15. ^ Anita Busch. "Warner Bros Wins Battle For Channing Tatum's 'The Forever War'". 

External links[edit]