Peace & War: Omnibus

      Publisher: Gollancz 

      RRP: £9.99

      Author: Joe Haldeman 

      Published:  2006-11-09

 

 

 


Collected together in one volume for the first time, Gollancz present this classic trilogy of Military SF. In Forever War, we are introduced to reluctant soldier William Mandela, as he is drafted into an interstellar war and pulled into a tour of duty that, whilst only lasting a few months from his perspective, equates to many centuries passing on his homeworld. In Forever Free, Mandela returns home to find that the rest of his race has evolved into a gestalt consciousness which excludes him. Increasingly isolated from the world he's been fighting to protect, Mandela and his fellow veterans look towards the stars for a means of escape. In Forever Peace we meet a different soldier, Julian Class, and his companion Dr. Amelia Harding as they discover something which could take the universe back to square one -- a prospect that isn't so much terrifying as tempting...


 

Excellent novels that are a reminder of those qualities that define SF.

 

Not taking seriously anyone who called themselves an SF fan and then admitted to not having read Haldeman’s landmark 1974 novel The Forever War would, at least in my eyes, be an understandable and forgivable reaction. A response to Robert Heinlein’s legendary Starship Troopers, informed by having survived the US insurgency into formerly French Vietnam, The Forever War is the kind of ground-breaking hard SF that is both a response to the events of the day and the genre itself, as all good SF should be. Ripped off even more than Starship Troopers, though never filmed or animated (although arguably Studio GAINAX’s legendary animation Top O Nerae! effectively brings much of the core SF ideas to life within the parameters of its own medium), it was a book that seemed nigh-on perfect, self-contained. However, as with many creative folk as they move into later life, author, scientist and academic Haldeman revisited his glory work in the late 90s, producing a kind of post-First Gulf War remake, and then a true sequel, and now the three are combined in one handy paperback by genre stalwarts Gollancz.

Having re-read The Forever War more times than almost any other SF text I own, and having gone through three copies as people borrow and never return it, I shied away from the follow-ups, not wanting to change the experience of the original. Re-reading it now as the prelude to the other two, several things stand out to me more than ever: the unheroic brutality of the violence, the heroic nature of the intellectual struggles of the leads, and the sheer quantity of actual physics in the book. I mean, imagine that today, actual science in science fiction – unheard of! Most of all, the humanity of the characters spoke out loud and clear, reminding me once more why Alan Moore ripped it off for the third book of The Ballad Of Halo Jones – clearly, humanity was something he felt readers of 2000AD could have used a little more of by then, as opposed to his early D.R. & Quinch shorts. At any rate, a true classic, untarnished by time, only strengthened – if you don’t already own it or haven’t read it, return your geek card to me now until you’ve bought, read and inwardly digested it.

Forever Peace was the next to be published, some 25 years after the original was first written, but in this volume is presented last. Another award-winner, it is simultaneously both a remake and a thematic sequel, an SF war novel that is informed by the experiences of the First Gulf War, and an increased understanding of the military-industrial-media complex at work, as opposed to the draftee’s-eye view of the original. Written in both first and third person, it achieves an interesting pace and intellectual tension from this dual presentation, and manages to be both more exciting and morally complex than the original, while also upping the gore somewhat – very nineties. Worth its awards, however, without question.

Forever Free is the true sequel, and in this collection is placed directly after TFW, allowing the reader to follow the uninterrupted sequence of adventures of William Mandella. As such, it feels less disappointing than many reviewers at the time described it as. No question but for a life-long scientific rationalist, the ending raises all sorts of questions so much as to be a complete misfire for many, but it seems entirely in keeping with the bigger picture under discussion in the rest of the book. It is the sort of thoughtful, almost playful kind of climax that an older, more experienced narrator would devise, rather than the youthful optimism of the original, and allows for a conclusion rooted in the reality of human existence. I liked it a lot, and am content with this author’s chosen path for some of his most beloved characters.

Simply put, there is no excuse now with this affordable collection not to own one of the greatest SF novels of all time, along with two more excellent novels that are a reminder of those qualities that define SF: hard science, and good writing.


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