Take the horrors of the Vietnam War, combine them with an advanced state of virtual reality where human soldiers control their soldier boys — or mechanical soldiers — remotely, and throw in a new hi-tech weapon that threatens to end life as we know it, and you have Joe Haldeman’s latest novel, Forever Peace.
As Haldeman himself explains before beginning this novel, Forever Peace is not a continuation of his 1975 book, The Forever War (which won the Hugo, Nebula and Ditmar Awards). Rather, it is an extended look at some of that novel’s problems that did not exist (mainly due to technological advances of the last two decades) at the time it was written.
The year is 2043, and the Ngumi War, a conflict between the Haves and the Have-Nots, rages on. Mechanics, such as Julian Class, have the technology to “jack” – or be connected electronically – into their fighting machines from a remote location, thus limiting human soldiers’ chances of actually seeing combat firsthand and risking their lives; it is an extreme form of virtual reality that can best be described as a ‘virtual war,’ but with real-life casualties.
Limited nuclear strikes by the Ngumi have partially destroyed Atlanta, and two Ngumi cities have been hit as well. Many innocent children have even been killed as a result of Ngumi terrorist plots against Julian’ side.
But as Julian fights his own psychological battle over the killing he’s been a part of, soon he and his lover, Dr. Amelia Harding, a noted physicist, learn that nuclear warfare is the least of humankind’s worries (not to mention the entire universe’s) as they discover an inherent flaw with the Jupiter Project, the world’s largest particle accelerator in orbit between Jupiter and Io, one of it’s moons.
For Julian and his suicidal tendencies, the discovery is more than tempting.
Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran, develops a very interesting, and seemingly plausible, view of our not-too-distant future. His ideas relative to war and its psychological affects on the men and women doing the killing are presented in a very believable fashion; and the technological concepts he develops are very creative and logical.
Forever Peace suggests that there is a way to end humankind’s inherent nature to destroy itself, although it can only happen by the technology that Haldeman creates in his future.
As good as he is in his creation and development of concepts, the manner in which Haldeman approached the novel is worth mentioning. And much like theJupiter Project’s inherent flaw in the novel, this is the only inherent flaw with ForeverPeace.
Unfortunately, throughout the story Haldeman abruptly switches back and force between first- and third-person narratives, with Julian narrating most of the events in a retrospective view. Although it is a unique approach to storytelling (it’s similar to a college professor stopping a film to discuss with his class what just transpired), it intuitively gives away the ending even before the reader learns the full impact of Julian and Amelia’s discovery. In other words, for Julian to be telling this story, the full impact of their discovery must not have come to pass.
As mentioned previously though, Forever Peace is well worth the reading, if only for the future it introduces and the technological vs. psychological battle it presents.