Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review of "Forever Peace" by Joe Haldeman

Despite the similarities in name, Joe Haldeman’s 1997 Forever Peace shares nothing in common with his huge success, The Forever War, save the military science fiction motif.  Winning its own accolades (the Nebula, Hugo, and John W. Campbell Awards), Forever Peace is a novel less focused on the portent of war and more on the idea of universal understanding.  Not without its share of action, however, readers will find Haldeman back in The Forever War form, the novel containing both depth and entertainment.  

Forever Peace is the story of Julian Class, both scientist and operator of a mechanized robot called a “soldierboy” for the US military.  By jacking in to a device that collectively links operators to their soldierboys, teams are able to carry out covert missions in support of US economic, and by default, political interest.  The only fallback to the device is, when operatives link together for a certain period of time, they transcend to greater heights of human understanding and become passive, no longer interested in violence or war.  The US government’s usage of the soldierboys not always for altruistic purposes, it becomes up to Julian, and his girlfriend Amelia, to spread the word about the system’s abilities to pacify violent inclination and avoid major conflict in the process.

Forever Peace’s device in question bears much in common with the special drug of Robert Silverberg’s A Time of Changes.  While Silverberg’s concept is chemical in nature and Haldeman’s mechanical, the end result of applying the two remains the same: each person, being able to see the most intimate thoughts of the other person, loses the desire to do harm to them.  In other words, empathy manifests itself in a truly vicarious form.  A poignant theme, Julian’s struggles to balance the job he is asked to do with the intra-personal experiences he has with others on his team is the personal conflict of the novel.  The desire to spread this knowledge, much the same as Kannil in A Time of Changes, is the social concern.

From a style point of view, there are a few potential concerns of Forever Peace.  Haldeman not a wordsmith, most often the story is told in straight-forward prose that relates events in unembellished fashion.  It is thus sometimes difficult to relate to the personal and emotional struggles Julian goes through, but easy to follow the scenes containing action.  Haldeman does motivate his characters properly, however, which in turn injects a touch of empathy.  Perhaps no tears of joy or sadness will be shed, but the climax of Julian’s story does have a sense of urgency to it given his situation and goals.

In the end, Forever Peace rivals The Forever War as Haldeman’s best novel—that I have read, at least.  (Others claim All My Sins Remembered is his best and Camouflage has won awards, but unfortunately I have yet to read either.)  With its proportionality: equal parts story and theme, it’s difficult for readers to be wholly turned off, save if the lack of wondrous prose is a sticking point.  A character focused story, Haldeman keeps the pace brisk, spinning a rollercoaster ride of a tale founded in universal understanding.  Fans of Haldeman’s other works, and military sci-fi in general, will definitely want to check this book out.

(As a side note, this book is available in an omnibus edition, along with The Forever War and Forever Free, entitled Peace and War.  Considering it’s only slightly more expensive than an individual book, the omnibus is worth buying if you enjoyed any of the novels but have not read the others.)

(This review has also been posted at

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