by Joe Haldeman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Joe Haldeman opens his new book, Forever Peace with a warning to the reader that this book is not a direct sequel to his Hugo and Nebula Award winning The Forever War. It is, however, and Haldeman affirms this, a thematic sequel to the earlier work. Where The Forever War dealt with the dehumanizing and alienation of soldiers, Forever Peace presents a world in which Julian Class fights in the Ngumi War ten days each month and then returns to the university where he is working as a researcher on the Jupiter Project. Furthermore, Julian does not actually enter combat directly, instead acting as the absentee mind of a robot soldierboy. While in link with his soldierboy, Julian is also tied in, on an existential level, with the other nine members of his team.
In other ways, Forever Peace continues themes which Haldeman first discussed in The Forever War. Whether the soldiers have bought into the system, as Julian has, or dislike the system, as Mandella does, the authority these men are fighting for is not necessarily honorable or trustworthy. In fact, Forever Peace is more cynical because the government Julian Class is representing knows when it is wrong. The government of The Forever War had no knowledge of the true facts of the Taurans during the war.
In telling Julian's story, Haldeman switches back and forth between first-person narrative and third-person background information. This has a tendency to stop the action and almost feels like a professor is stopping a film to explain what has just been shown. It also allows Haldeman to set up the background of his year 2043 without tainting it with Julian's politics or beliefs.
While the war in The Forever War was racial, between the Taurans and the Terrans, the war being fought in Forever Peace is economic, between the haves and the have-nots. As explained above, Julian Class is a weekend warrior, representing the haves. Eventually, if things work out the way Julian's friend Marty desires, being a have will entail having a jack in one's head, although Julian's lover Amelia, is part of the population which can't be jacked.
While working on the Jupiter Project with his lover/mentor, Amelia Harding, Julian and Amelia discover that as a byproduct, the Jupiter Project will bring about the end of the universe. When their paper discussing this fact is rejected by an academic journal, they find themselves trying to prevent the Jupiter Project with only a few months to go before it will result in destruction. Although they manage to join with a conspiracy whose goal is to rid humanity of its warlike tendencies, they also come into contact with a mysterious group trying to block their goal of saving the universe.
This group seems to be an apocalyptic religious cult known as the Enders. The Enders, like the conspiracy Julian is involved with, seem to have influence far in excess of their actual numbers. Unfortunately, the two organizations and the characters which form them do not seem particularly realistic. Both Ingram and Gavrila have a certain cinematic villain quality about them. I've noticed this in a few other books recently (Ignition and Catch the Lightning) and consider it to disasterous for the field of science fiction literature to continue borrowing so heavily from Hollywood.
Perhaps the one area in which Forever Peace is the most successful is in trying to paint all extremists, of any stripe, as similar to each other. It doesn't really matter if they are religious, like Ingram, war-like, like Scoville, or peaceful, like Marty. All are extremists and all need to be seen for what they are, willing to put their cause ahead of anything else, no matter what the cost.
Taken overall, Forever Peace is not as successful as its twenty-three-year-old half-sibling. While this comparison may not be legitimate, since the books are unrelated, Haldeman does seem to be asking for the comparison by selecting such a similar name for the novel and by commenting on its thematic ties in his caveat.
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