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Forever Peace
Joe Haldeman
Ace Books, 351 pages

Art: Bruce Jensen
Forever Peace
Joe Haldeman
Joe Haldeman 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
Official Forever Peace Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

The First World is locked in a seemingly endless guerrilla war with the populations of the Second and Third World. A conflict that, though comfortably outside our borders (except when Atlanta got nuked), drains our will and our wallets. The First World has become a world where our technology has created the Universal Welfare State -- you only have to work if you want to increase your consumption beyond your rationed allotment, or if your personality type won't let you sit idle. The people of the Second and Third Worlds are angry that we make them pay, through puppet governments, for the limited sips at the Cornucopia we take for granted. It is a war where our combat soldiers are mechanical automatons animated by human minds and bodies safely kept hundreds of miles away, linked through interfaces patched directly into the brain. The enemy's soldiers are flesh and blood, the people of the land, mostly indistinguishable from their non-combatant neighbors. In every fire-fight, it is the enemy that does the bleeding, but the psychological stress on our soldiers takes its toll, too.

Into this world of nanotechnological wonders, science is about to unlock the secret of the first few instants of creation. But a few begin to fear that this peek at the beginning of everything may begin the end of everything. And a few begin to believe that it is their divine mission to use this window into creation to bring us all back to God, not through a "divine revelation" but through mass extinction. And a few other people realize that the technology which allows the First World to use its mechanical "soldierboys" could also allow the entire world to live in peace, forever. If only the world survives long enough to unlock that potential.

For the longest time, I tried to figure out how to tell people that this was a very good book. Then it hit me... Forever Peace has already won the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award. As much as I hate to admit it, my standing on the rooftops proclaiming the merits of this book would be a bit anticlimactic and unnecessary. So, believe the award-givers -- this book deserved them.

If you've never read Haldeman, here are a few words of advice. Haldeman is very good at describing war, conflict, and power in what I consider to be an honest fashion. His characters confront us with the fact that good people can do ugly things for understandable reasons, and then have trouble living with it afterwards. He also does not hesitate to point out that idiocy can lurk, disguised by authority, in any hierarchical structure. If it might distress you to think that a military commander could be stupid enough, for instance, to order soldiers to guard a recently captured enemy ammunition dump without considering that it might be booby-trapped, you probably shouldn't read Haldeman. However, if you can live with the distress, read on. I have always felt rewarded, or better yet, vindicated, when one of Haldeman's characters finds a way to survive, and to help turn the established order on its ear even if only for a little while.

Haldeman includes a note in the beginning of the book notifying the reader that Forever Peace is not a continuation of his 1975 book, The Forever War. Haldeman notes that, from his point of view, Forever Peace is a sequel of sorts, as it examines some of The Forever War's issues from a standpoint that didn't exist 20 years ago. At first I thought he was talking solely in terms of technology -- as Forever Peace makes use of nanotechnology, virtual reality, and organic-mechanical symbioses in ways that would have been very difficult to conceive of, or describe to a mass audience, in 1975. The more I thought about it, though, I wondered if Haldeman was also referring a change in his perspective on war and society, which may have occurred over the last 25 or so years. I once read somewhere that The Forever War, a book which examined the senselessness of war, was a book born out of Haldeman's experiences as a soldier in Vietnam, and was written as a counterbalance to the stories being told in books such as Heinlein's Starship Troopers or Dickson's The Genetic General (later republished as Dorsai!). In Forever Peace, Haldeman's focus seems to have shifted to view war more as an evolutionary relic -- kind of like an appendix -- we have it, we're not quite sure what to do with it, and it can cause us a lot of trouble, even kill us, if we're not careful. In Forever Peace, war is used as a vehicle to explain the society in which the story takes place, and ultimately serves as the catalyst that allows humankind to evolve past its need for aggressive violence. In effect, Forever Peace is a story of the war which makes war obsolete.

Copyright © 1999 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.

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