There are so many things to like about this book! So many ideas are put in front of you to consider. It deals with war, obviously, but not so much about the actual fighting itself although that is a part of it. Instead it deals more with the effects it has on the soldiers, the world back home, and reintegrating into that life after having been in war. Add to that massive time dilation, and reintegration takes on a whole new meaning.
It tackles many hot bed issues of the time, but that are still contentious today to varying degrees: Homosexuality, Eugenics, Population Control, Racism etc. Some of these are brought right to the front, while others are mentioned almost in passing. All of these issues I’ve long ago considered, but I kept wondering how this book would have forced me to reconsider views I held back when I was 13, 16, or 20.
I want for this review to focus on these things, or even about the comparisons from The Forever War and Starship Troopers. I’ve read that Joe Haldeman, and Robert A. Heinlein were, if not friends, at least friendly toward one another. In their writing they expressed very different points of views, and yet for all the differences in their books there were quite a few similarities as well.
While I want to talk about these things I feel I need to mention a small passage two paragraphs long on pages 45 and 46 instead:
The orgy that night was amusing, but it was like trying to sleep in the middle of a raucous beach party. The only area big enough to sleep all of us was the dining hall; they draped a few bedsheets here and there for privacy, then unleashed Stargate’s eighteen sex-starved men on our women, compliant and promiscuous by military custom (and law), but desiring nothing so much as sleep on solid ground.
The eighteen men acted as if they were compelled to try as many permutations as possible, and their performance was impressive (in a strictly quantitative sense, that is). Those of us keeping count led a cheering section for some of the more gifted members. I think that’s the right word.
WTF is that? I did a double take, and read it again. Then I reread the entire chapter to make sure I wasn’t taking something out of context. I wasn’t.
So just to be clear these women are drafted into the military, and then forced to have sex with male soldiers. They are pressured into it because of the culture/custom, and if that fails it is written into the military law. Haldeman’s future of the female soldier is a trafficked sex worker.
I tried to rationalize that he must have put this in as an extreme idea of what women in the military would become. A kind of cautionary tale. After all this was a controversial issue at the time, and is still unpopular in many military circles. Besides tackling controversial issues is kind of what this book does. He’s asking his readers to take their preconceptions on hot topics like homosexuality, divisive especially in regards to the military, and really examine it.
That was my rationalization. Except it kept bothering me all throughout the book. You see with other issues that come up Haldeman takes the time to offer some sort of counter opinion, or conflict. With the aforementioned homosexuality he gives both conflict, and multiple points of view. Further details would involve spoiling plot which I will not do.
When mentioning eugenics he floats the idea that if we are all one blended race, racism and all its inherent hatred and division ceases to exist. His counterpoint is that if something goes wrong our genetic pool is shot all to hell. I’m liberally paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Point, and then counterpoint.
Not about our abducted female soldier sex slaves however. Not a single women objects, none of the men as much as frown in distaste or leave the room in discomfort or disgust. Nothing. Well not nothing. They keep score, cheer, and offer encouragement.
Just so we are clear Haldeman does include a scene where rape in progress is broken up back home. So our soldiers know rape is wrong. Apparently it only counts as rape if you are a civilian.
Worst of all to me is how casually this is thrown into the story. It is entirely understated. This is normal. Not even worth mentioning really. Just a couple simple paragraphs slipped in right at the end of a chapter. Then the story shifts to an action scene, and you’ve forgotten all about it.
At the beginning of my review I mentioned I wondered what young me would have thought about all these ideas. Well, what would my little girl think? Should she allow herself to be pressured into becoming “promiscuous” at her prom if she isn’t ready for sex simply because it’s the custom? If I should one day have a son is he to believe that it is acceptable to pressure uncertain women into sleeping with him? Should he cheer on a group of high school or college students raping a girl made “compliant” with more alcohol than she could tolerate? I think not.
There is a love story of sorts in this book. It isn’t especially romantic, but it is there. I won’t do spoilers, but suffice it to say that normally I enjoy a romance thread in my stories. I want the guy to get the girl. Or vice versa. Except now I began to reexamine all the co-mingling, bunk-mates or whatever we’re calling it, which permeate the book. Was it all just more rape? Were the women obligated to have sex with someone, and at best they could choose who that person was if it was not outright assigned for them?
It was only two paragraphs which had zero bearing on the plot or main character, but it has completely ruined this book for me. Take it out, and I could see myself giving The Forever War 4 or even 5 stars. Damn you Haldeman for making me love a book, and taking away all the joy therein at the same time.
My Rating: ☆☆