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Forever Peace
Joe Haldeman
Ace Books, 326 pages


Art: Bruce Jensen
Forever Peace
Joe Haldeman
Joe Haldeman's awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. His SF classic, The Forever War, along with The Hemingway Hoax, and the Worlds trilogy are just a few of the titles that have made him a household name in the realm of SF. A Vietnam veteran, he is currently an adjunct professor teaching writing at MIT.

Joe Haldeman Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Forever War
SF Site Review: The Coming
SF Site Review: Forever Free
SF Site Review: Forever Peace
SF Site Review: Forever Peace
SF Site Review: Saul's Death & other poems
Official Forever Peace Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Those who've followed Joe Haldeman's books may suspect some irony in the title Forever Peace and in one sense that's true. This novel certainly doesn't lack for scenes of brutal mayhem. However, Haldeman also postulates a method (albeit unlikely) by which human beings might finally find peace.

Julian Class is a "mechanic", a virtual soldier in America's war of 2043. Twenty days a month Julian is a professor of mathematics in Houston. The other ten, thanks to his draft board, he's part of a Remote Infantry Combat Unit in Central America. Except that Julian doesn't fight with his own body. He and the other nine members of his platoon are plugged in via remote neural connection to fighting machines that Haldeman describes as "a huge suit of armor with a ghost in it." The mechanics themselves never leave base.

Julian hates his army job -- and he also loves it. The violence is appalling, but ten days a month he shares consciousness with nine other people, creating a group more close-knit than "unjacked" people can ever experience. Still, his own horror at his actions is driving him towards suicide. Ironically, what may save him is the discovery by his lover (an astrophysicist) that researchers are on the verge of inadvertently annihilating Earth.

There is certainly no question that Joe Haldeman writes a grimly convincing war scenario. By 2043, the gulf between "have" and "have not" nations has widened so far that Latin America and Africa have nothing to lose by fighting, even though they face an enemy with overwhelming economic and technological superiority. A negotiated peace is made almost impossible by the chaotic nature of the enemy -- a loose coalition of governments, guerrilla groups and criminal organizations, none of whom have much interest in protecting their civilians. Adding to the volatility on the American side is the "Hammer of God," a group of apocalyptic religious fundamentalists who have slithered a few members into key government positions.

In fact, it is Haldeman's chilling portrayal of violence which ultimately sinks this book, because he doesn't build an equally convincing portrait of the peaceful alternative. Creating a lasting peace through violence is not a solution with a great historical track record, and after many chapters of bloody mayhem (gotta love those homicidal sociopathic religious zealots), Haldeman's attention to the peaceful resolution is perfunctory. In fact, the final chapter descends into ridiculousness when the main characters decide to banish the minority of incurably violent people to remote "islands" such as Tasmania, Zanzibar, Puerto Rico, and British Columbia.

An odd aspect of this book is that Haldeman alternates between first person and third person narrative. This is very disconcerting for the reader the first few times, and though it was doubtless convenient for the author, I couldn't see that it added much except confusion to my experience of the book.

Forever Peace had many strengths, and was certainly one of the more mature books I've read lately. Haldeman's characters are adults trying to deal with convincingly real problems. But ultimately the realistic feel of his book jars with the increasingly improbable "racing the clock" plot, and the peace theme fails utterly, leading to an ultimately unsatisfied reader.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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