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The Forever War

By Andrew Lovett-Barron
Published in Reading
July 26, 2021
2 min read

I read this book a little while ago while on a small classic sci-fi marathon, which also included Neuromancer, Starship Troopers, and some others.

The Forever War stuck with me though, in the same way that other conflict-as-metaphor books like The Things They Carried have. The book follows the story of a William Mandella; a soldier who — over the course of many centuries separated by stasis and redeployment — fights a meaningless war only to return to a country and society that no longer exists (perhaps for the better). It deals with some compelling social criticism along the way — exploring ideas of conflict bonds and love; the “normative” part of heteronormativity with Mandella awakening in a homonormative society; the circumstantial nature of rank and privilege; etc.

Similar to Starship Troopers, The Forever War is a decidedly anti-war book aimed at highlighting the futility of war-at-scale. But unlike the former, The Forever War isn’t particularly subtle about it. Starship Troopers has this vicious and subversive quality to it where it wears you down over the course of the narrative to thinking that many of United Citizen’s Federation’s policies are reasonable and just in the face of an existential threat. But pulled back even slightly, and the fascistic qualities of this society are laid bare — with you as the reader left with some egg on your face in the process.

The Forever War wears its anti-war sentiment openly, and is both better and worse for it. It becomes in some ways too easy a metaphor for the damned conflict that’s been taking place my whole adult life. In some ways, it makes it too easy to dismiss — makes it easy to think that it takes place over there while we are over here. Starship Troopers takes a different tack, putting front and centre the idea that while the conflict might be over there, it won’t be very long until you’re over that way too. Just as German children and the elderly were handed a rifle and a depressingly used uniform in the final months of World War II, the protagonist’s father soon joins him on the front line.

Ultimately, both books are incredibly worth reading (and I’ll do a writeup on Starship Troopers sometime), perhaps especially now as the war in Afghanistan enters a new era with a likely Taliban victory and fascistic populism is finding purchase again in democratic societies globally. If nothing else, a form of muscle memory.

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Andrew Lovett-Barron

Software Designer and Researcher

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