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Forever Free
Joe Haldeman
Ace Books, 277 pages

Forever Free
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 which 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: 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 Steven H Silver

William Mandella is back!

When Joe Haldeman announced that he would be writing a book entitled Forever Peace, many assumed it would be a direct sequel to his Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel, The Forever War. Although Forever Peace went on to win both awards again, it was a little disheartening to discover that, while Haldeman considered it to be a thematic sequel to The Forever War, it was not set in the same universe and did not use the same characters. With the third in the thematic series, Forever Free, Haldeman does return to examine the lives of William and Marygay after they've settled down together following their terms of enlistment in the Forever War.

While the Forever War was being fought, humanity underwent several changes, the last of which was to eradicate diversity and make all humans a genetic reproduction of the "perfect" Human. This new Human also contained a shared mind. The veterans of the Forever War were given the opportunity to join the shared mind or remain individuals. Although many decided to join, some did not and were sent to a "paradise" planet, which turned out to be anything but.

Just as The Forever War and Forever Peace dealt with the role warriors and veterans play in their society and the manner in which society responds to them, so does Forever Free. Haldeman focuses on the point of view of a small group of veterans who may or may not be malcontents, depending on a person's point of view. This group is led by the Mandellas.

William and Marygay, and the rest of the veterans who have elected to remain individuals, are outcasts from a society which no longer has a need for trained killers, much as many Vietnam vets (and veterans from earlier wars) were seen to be after they returned from their service. Haldeman has elected to manifest their differences by creating the Human species, a shared mind creature which is identical genetically in all its myriad parts and which is more akin to the Taurans against whom the Forever War was fought than to the creatures Human started out being.

Some of the veterans decide that to be truly free of the tyranny they see Human imposing on them, they need to escape from Human and Tauran space forever. Their plan is to hijack a spaceship and travel far enough, fast enough that when they return both the Taurans and the Human will be extinct or changed beyond recognition. When strange things begin to happen on board the ship, the refugees are forced to return to their home, only to discover it strangely empty.

Up to this point, Forever Free lives up to its predecessor. Unfortunately, Haldeman resorts to deus ex machina to pull his characters out of their predicaments and explain what happened and why it happened. In the process, he further highlights the futility of the war in which the Mandellas spent so much of human history. Rather than increase the stakes for which William and Marygay are playing, Haldeman's solution makes them, Human and Taurans, even more insignificant.

While Forever Free is a good book, it changes direction midstream and runs out of steam. Rather than looking at the question of Free Will vs. Predetermination, Haldeman introduces a third concept to the equation, the idea that humans are puppets in a play in which the lines and rules can be changed on a whim. This idea contains all the negatives of predetermination without the idea that there is a targeted destiny for either the individual or the race as a whole.

Copyright © 2000 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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