by Joe Haldeman



277pp/$21.95/December 1999

Forever Free

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Joe Haldeman's first novel, The Forever War (1975), detailed a relativistic war which lasted millennia and followed the career of William Mandella and Marygay Potter, two of the first recruits to enter the war, both of whom survived.  The book won the Hugo, the Nebula, the Ditmar, the Lazar Komarcic and the Locus Award.  In 1997, Haldeman published Forever Peace, which he described as a thematic sequel to The Forever War, but which did not include the same characters, settings or situations as the earlier novel.  Forever Peace followed its predecessor to win the Hugo and the Nebula.  Fans who had been looking for a direct sequel to The Forever War received a treat in 1999 with the publication, first, of Far Horizons, and anthology which included the story "A Separate War," about Marygay Potter while she believed William Mandella had been killed.  This story provides some background for Forever Free, the novel-length direct sequel to The Forever War.

Twenty years after William Mandella and Marygay Potter have mustered out, they are living on the "Paradise" planet set aside for veterans of the Forever War, both having declined the opportunity to join Man, the genetically identical construct which humanity turned into while they were fighting the Taurans.  The Mandellas are beginning to grow restless as they see themselves confined and marginalized by the entity known as man.  They, along with other veterans who elected to settle with them, conceive of a daring scheme which they hope will remove them from the influence of Man, for whom they are an embarrassment in this age when Man and Tauran live together in peace.

The two main characters conceive of a plan to break free of the bonds they feel the Man and Tauran have placed upon them and manage to convince enough others that they can achieve their goals.  The majority of the novel follows their attempts to put their plan into motion and overcome a variety of obstacles which continue to mount.  One of the more interesting subplots, which could easily have been expanded, is their relationships with their children, Bill and Sara.  In rebelling against their parents' generation (whenever that might have been), Bill and Sara have each toyed with the prospect of joining the Man overmind, tantamount to going over to their parents' enemy.  Well Haldeman handles these tensions well, they could have very successfully formed a larger portionof the book.

For the most part, Forever Free works well as a sequel to The Forever War.   At times, it even approaches the first novel in terms of quality.  The novel does have a tendency to fall into a common science-fictional trap of turning the main characters into almost ubermenschen, who are integral to the completion of any successful project.  William and Marygay formulate the ideas and seem to be placed in charge simply because they came up with the initial ideas.  Forever Free could survive this problem, however, since it is a common trope to the genre.   However, Haldeman suddenly resorts to deus ex machina to provide a conclusion.  There are no hints that point to his device, which, unfortunately, undermines nearly everything which has gone before.

Forever Free will appeal to fans of The Forever War, and probably to fans of Forever Peace as well.  Although the book has its flaws, it is, overall, quite enjoyable and Haldeman tackles several questions about what freedom is and whether or not it can be granted or must be taken.  He expands the views on the fate of veterans which he began to explore in the final chapters of The Forever War and manages to present their issues in a clear, and saddening, manner.

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