Joe Haldeman – Forever Peace

When time passes an author can look back to an earlier work and notice certain perspectives have changed. He has learned new things and can say to himself: “What if…”. Now this is not something unique. It is something that I think plenty of authors do in regard to the works of other writers. They see interesting ideas and concept that they like. The key element is the approach and the story that the other author decided to follow. I don’t call that stealing. Creating something really new and unique is rare the more time passes as pretty much any concept within a logical framework will have been used. So what remains is the approach and the direction of the story told.

This is what Joe Haldeman has basically done with Forever Peace (1997). He calls it a companion novel to his classic science fiction novel The Forever War. To be honest it is mainly thematically connected and shares some ideas and concepts from that novel and uses them together in a new setting. As those ideas and concepts come from very different settings within that novel they create something new that is basically unrelated to that classic novel. What they do share is that they are about a long terrible war that dominates society although not as completely as in The Forever War.

The novels can be divided into two parts. The first part is the strongest as we follow a main protagonist living a double life as a lethal soldier and a scientist. The war has already damaged him and we follow his life and share his experiences. It is bleak and somber without any solution in sight.

Haldeman uses a peculiar narrative in this first parts. He shifts between a first person and a third person narrative while the third person narrative still uses the main protagonist’s perspective. You hardly notice the shift. You only suddenly get more information on a wider level and less on the personal level. It is somewhat odd.

The second part of the novel changes the story from a war story to a thriller in the popular mold like that of Dan Brown. It is not completely sudden. Haldeman introduces several elements in the first part although they seemed to be part of the environment, providing some worldbuilding for the near-future setting. Now several of these become connected and begin to drive the story. While the first part of the story didn’t seem to have a particular direction, the second part quickly provides focus. Tension rises as dangerous threats become apparent while the chances to save everything seem slim.

As the second part has a very different approach to the story, Haldeman also changes the perspective. The main protagonist has to share his stage with the narratives told from several other characters. Haldeman uses them as he sees fit.

The second part is in my opinion much weaker than the first part. The thriller plot is pretty standard fare. Its no better than what Dan Brown cooks up and less complicated. The plot has a number of weaknesses, which can best be described as conveniences. Much of the ending is much too easy and clean. It is a stark difference with the ambiguity of the first part where society seems to be stuck in a mess of problems.

It can be said that the ending is terrible in certain ways. It reminds one of certain things from The Forever War although there is no direct connection which would link the two stories for certain. In a way one could say Haldeman aims too much for the happy ending, resolving everything in a clean and neat way. One can make comparisons to the ending of The Forever War. However there is a big difference. While The Forever War ended good in its essence, its reality was horrible. Forever Peace has a different approach that makes it all more humane.

As I’ve said I liked the bleak story of the first part most. It has impact and when reading it sometimes gave me the chills like much of The Forever War did. If it had a plot it would have had potential for a classic science fiction novel. Unfortunately it did not. Haldeman did not seem to know what to do with or the second part was his goal all along and he simply wanted to make a powerful first impression to make his solution gain acceptance. To me, in the end, the novel does not deliver. The first part had a strong impact but Haldeman did not take it anywhere. The second part was entertaining and certainly exciting as a thriller usually is, as he used the right common elements to make it work. The quality of the plot in that part however was poor. It simply lacked the elements to make it so.

So my opinion on this novel is divided. This cannot be called a bad novel. It has many qualities and interesting ideas but also a number of flaws which prevent it from being a really good novel. The first half makes it recommendable, the second only partially, which makes it hard to give a finite answer. I have given my analysis and leave the judging to you.

Comments are closed.