A Reason to FightI'm a bit of a nerd. And I love to read, but I don't have the time/motivation to read a book in a weekend. It takes me a bit longer. So as I may have mentioned before, I set out to identify and collect some of the classics of science fiction. I'm still going through that collection that I amassed mostly over a decade ago.
Joe Haldeman's The Forever War is the latest book I finished. It deals with the prospect of interstellar war--and if you think war is hell on Earth, then you haven't seen anything. The hostile environments of space and distant planets make survival that much more difficult. Those unusual tactics and pitfalls are an intriguing part of the story, but they are not the most interesting part of it.
What's most intriguing about this novel is how it explores time dilation. This is a theme that's been covered many times in science fiction (perhaps most beautifully in Hyperion), but if you're unfamiliar, let me give you the version for people who didn't study physics for more than the 3-credit introductory course. When an object travels at speeds near the speed of light (or "relativistic speeds") it subjectively experiences time at a shorter rate than the rest of the universe. So, if you travel at these speeds and come back, you may age by only a year or two, but when you return you find that several years have passed on Earth. Your younger brother could be 20 years your senior when you reunite.
As you might expect, this can be a powerful theme in SF, but here Haldeman takes it to an extreme. The book's protagonist first comes back to culture shock and a family who have aged dramatically. But by the end of the novel a thousand years have passed, and though he is still quite young he has experienced successive culture shocks which have made human society increasingly alien to him.
The book really hammers on how cultural ideas about sex might conceivably change, and also touches on evolving economic and social ideas. It deals more subtly with the personal question: What is a warrior to fight for, when he really doesn't have anything to fight for? His country is no longer as he knows it, and everyone he loves is dead. The answer, it seems, might be so mundane as to be shocking, or it might be of a deep loyalty to the idea of the human race. The book is somewhat ambiguous on this point, which is something I enjoy.
The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars