A reading club with a view to the future

584 Joe Haldeman: The Forever War

“The Forever War” follows the journey of soldiers through time and space in a war against an elusive alien enemy.



"The Forever War" is a groundbreaking military science fiction novel that explores the life of soldiers in an interstellar war against an enigmatic alien species. Set in the distant future, humanity faces conflict with the Taurans, an extraterrestrial race. William Mandella, a physics student, is conscripted into the United Nations Exploratory Force (UNEF) and undergoes rigorous training for space combat.

The unique aspect of this war is the time dilation effect, caused by faster-than-light travel. While a few months pass for the soldiers during their missions, decades or even centuries elapse on Earth. As a result, the soldiers experience culture shock upon their return to an ever-changing society.


Title: The Forever War 

Author: Joe Haldeman 

Publishing Year: 1974 

Publisher: St. Martin's Press 

Length: 9 hours and 18 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Interstellar War: The novel portrays a distant future where humanity engages in an interstellar conflict with the Taurans, an elusive alien race.
  2. Time Dilation: The soldiers experience time dilation due to faster-than-light travel, leading to disconnection and cultural shock upon returning to Earth.
  3. Evolution and Adaptability: Mandella and his comrades undergo physical and mental changes throughout their long journeys, adapting to new environments.
  4. War's Futility: The novel questions the futility of war and explores the toll it takes on the soldiers physically, emotionally, and morally.
  5. Human Relationships: The story focuses on Mandella's relationship with Marygay, as they seek solace and understanding amidst the chaos of war.

5 funny quotes

  1. "Sex is one thing, but I'm not ready to share my coffee with the universe."
  2. "The future was neat and simple in the old days. Space-ships and colonies and mega-science projects and sunshine-and-rainbow stuff. Eventually, the Star Wars came along and ruined everything."
  3. "I was a real astronaut, my name was on a sign on my bedroom door, and I was flying between the stars."
  4. "I had to teach them to talk, but they had pretty sharp ears."
  5. "I'd spent some years at Columbia, getting an M.A. in English. That was my first introduction to paradise. Maybe the last. They had plenty of rock and roll."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "You know, when you come right down to it, the reason that the first-person narrative mode is so popular is that it provides the illusion of intimacy between writer and reader. I can't see your eyes, of course, can't know for sure if you're really sitting there listening or reading, but it's still an appealing illusion, very close to telepathy."
  2. "What's really absurd about alienating yourself from reality is that you have to do it continuously, even while you dream."
  3. "War, the most profitable of all enterprises, is also the most appealing, the most exciting, and the most glamorous. War, in short, is the one subject that makes all other subjects irrelevant."
  4. "If we lose this war, I can only hope that the winner treats us as humanely as we have treated them."
  5. "I guess there was an inherent flaw in putting nearly ten thousand adrenaline-primed, intelligent, and highly competitive people in one place. At least, in a democracy."

5 dilemmas

  1. The dilemma of soldiers experiencing time dilation, returning to Earth to find it unrecognizable and grappling with the sense of loss and disconnection.
  2. The moral dilemma of fighting in a war against an alien species with unclear motives, questioning the true nature of the conflict.
  3. The emotional dilemma of relationships amidst the chaos of war, particularly Mandella's struggles with his love for Marygay and the challenges of a long-distance relationship.
  4. The philosophical dilemma of humanity's place in the universe, as characters encounter new civilizations and grapple with their understanding of existence.
  5. The ethical dilemma of military authority and political decisions that impact the lives of soldiers, raising questions about the costs and consequences of war.

5 examples

  1. William Mandella - The protagonist of the novel, a soldier conscripted into the United Nations Exploratory Force to fight in the war against the Taurans.
  2. Marygay Potter - A fellow soldier and love interest of Mandella, who joins the UNEF and experiences the same time dilation effects.
  3. The Taurans - An enigmatic alien species engaged in a war with humanity, their true nature and motives remain mysterious.
  4. The United Nations Exploratory Force (UNEF) - The military organization tasked with fighting the war against the Taurans and exploring the universe.
  5. Charon - A distant planet in the novel, where Mandella and his comrades are stationed for a mission and face challenging conditions.

Referenced books

  1. "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut - Referenced as a book within the novel, reflecting on the effects of war and the nature of time.
  2. "The Odyssey" by Homer - Referenced as a classic work of literature, suggesting the enduring themes of journeys and adventures across time and space.
  3. "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein - Mentioned as a book read by Mandella, reflecting on the cultural and social impacts of alien encounters.
  4. "Starship Troopers" by Robert A. Heinlein - Alluded to in the context of military training and the portrayal of soldiers in science fiction.
  5. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley - Referenced in the novel, reflecting on the impact of social and technological advancements on human society.

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"I had to teach them to talk, but they had pretty sharp ears."

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