top of page

Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is a remarkable and thought-provoking masterpiece of science fiction that continues to kick butt with its exploration of the effects of time dilation during an interstellar war.

Before we dig into this canonic sci-fi novel, I should fess up. I had reservations about revisiting Haldeman's work. Three decades passed between this and my last read. I had no idea how it would hold up.


While the tech here is futuristic, some aspects are also antiquated because of the half-century between when it was written and now. One of the cool things in this novel is to see when the author's predictions of future technology held up and when it didn't. If you can ignore the unpredictable nature of scientific and engineering evolution, then keep going. If not, it's probably best to stay away from older sci-fi.


The novel revolves around the life of William Mandella, a physics student who is unexpectedly drafted into the United Nations Exploratory Force to combat an enigmatic alien race known as the Taurans. What ensues is a tale of military training, combat experiences, and the relentless march of time as experienced by a soldier caught in the throes of time dilation during interstellar travel.


Despite serving a mere four years of his life, he returns to an Earth where centuries have passed, leading to cataclysmic shifts in technology, culture, and human civilization itself.


Mandella's story serves as a poignant metaphor for the disorienting effects of war, both on an individual and societal level. The stark dichotomy between Mandella's personal experiences and the profound transformations occurring back on Earth forms the crux of the novel's emotional impact.


What sets The Forever War apart is the character of William Mandella himself. He is portrayed as an intelligent, adaptable, and resilient individual who grapples with the immense temporal dislocation thrust upon him. Unlike other war narratives that glorify combat and heroism, Mandella is portrayed not as a bloodthirsty warrior but as a man thrust into a situation beyond his control, trying to survive and return to a world he can barely recognize. His journey is a testament to the human spirit's ability to endure and adapt in the face of insurmountable odds.


The heart of the novel lies in its depiction of societal change over time. Haldeman's narrative skillfully portrays the alienation experienced by returning soldiers as they confront a home world drastically different from the one they left behind. This theme resonates strongly, particularly in its commentary on how veterans are often neglected or marginalized upon their return, struggling to find their place in a culture that has moved on without them.

The Forever War draws thematic parallels with Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," offering a profound exploration of the soldier's journey during and after the war.

Handleman delivers a message about the inevitability of change in our world and the impossibility of returning to the past. It reminds us that time is an unforgiving force, reshaping not only individuals but entire civilizations. The narrative transcends the boundaries of conventional military science fiction, offering readers a chance to reflect on how they would hold up to ceaseless change.

VERDICT The Forever War is indispensable. It's a cornerstone of science fiction literature, and rightfully so. For me, it was thought-provoking with timeless relevance, making it a pivotal piece in the genre. This novel is a must-read that will leave a mark. It is a testament to how a philosophical conundrum and great narrative can peel back layers of the human condition.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Story

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Narration

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Overall


Q: What is Joe Haldeman's background?

A: In addition to being a distinguished writer, he is a veteran of the Vietnam War, which significantly influenced his writing.

Q: What is the central premise of "The Forever War"?

A: The story delves into the effects of time at war on a relatable man's life and the societal changes that go on during his absence.

Q: Why is "The Forever War" considered a classic in the science fiction genre?

A: It's celebrated for its philosophical take on military science fiction, exploring the human aspects of war, not just the battle. It points to the consequences of war and offers readers a narrative that takes the issues out of current politics.

Q: What makes William Mandella, the protagonist, a unique character in military science fiction?

A: Mandella is distinct in that he is not a typical war hero. He is portrayed as an intelligent and adaptable guy who grapples with the disorienting effects of going to and returning from war.

Q. Can I use time dilation to avoid doing my homework, like in "The Forever War"?

A. Unfortunately, time dilation in the real world doesn't work quite the same way as in the novel. You'll still have to tackle that homework the old-fashioned way!

Q: How does "The Forever War" address the treatment of veterans returning from war?

A: The novel gives us an approachable portrayal of how returning soldiers are often marginalized and struggle to reintegrate into society. It sheds light on the challenges they face in a world they no longer recognize.

Q: Has "The Forever War" received any awards or recognition?

A: Yes, "The Forever War" has garnered several prestigious awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. It is widely regarded as a seminal work in the science fiction genre.

Q: Is there a sequel to "The Forever War," and should readers explore it?

A: Yes, Joe Haldeman wrote a sequel titled "Forever Free," which continues the story of William Mandella. While opinions on the sequel vary, many fans of the original novel find it worth exploring to further delve into the character's journey.

Q: Is it possible to sign up for the UNEF Army and travel through space at relativistic speeds just for the experience?

A: Regrettably, the UNEF Army doesn't exist, and we don't have the technology for interstellar travel. However, you can see UNEF in other novels such as Expeditionary Force and The Hamilton.


As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page