by Joe Haldeman
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Multiple places across the 'net (Amazon, Goodreads, FantasticFiction, etc.) identify this as the second book in the Forever War series, even though the author's prologue says it is not. He does acknowledge it can be considered a sequel in purely thematic terms, but it does not continue the earlier story, nor is there any indication it is set in the same fictional universe. Not only did 23 years separate their publications, more than 50 fictional years separate the beginnings of their stories, with Forever Peace set later, without any mention of the alien war as depicted in the former book. The books' titles are similar of course, but both are also misleading. The alien war did not last forever, just a very long time, and the peace anticipated here is speculated, but the process that is supposed to ensure it doesn't begin until the very end, without a confirmation that it is successful. A connected short story, which I have not read, was later published, but it is a prequel, not a sequel.
There is a war raging in the mid-21st Century, but it is on Earth, fought only between humans. The Alliance of democratic (and I suppose some non-democratic) countries are in conflict with a consortium of rebel forces in many nations, collectively referred to as the Ngumi. I believe they began in Nigeria, but then their demands and political agenda were adopted by groups in other third-world countries. Their grievances are mainly economic, since at least two major technological innovations are denied them. One is the nanoforge, similar to current 3D printers, except larger and nuclear powered. Another technology is 'jacking,' in which human operators are neurally connected to one or more other people for transfer of information, as well as in military operations to control mechanical weaponry. The main character is Julian Class, a sergeant in the Alliance army, head of a ten member team that controls 'soldierboys' in a fight against rebels in Central America. Other teams control flying craft (flyboys) or naval craft (waterboys). In spite of their superior might, the war is not going well for the Alliance, since they are fighting loosely-connected guerrilla forces that have a lot of support from indigenous populations.
Julian's platoon uses non-lethal weaponry in their actions, but the soldierboys they control are shared with other platoons on a nine day rotation. Some of those other platoons engage in lethal action. He already has to deal with the negative effects of the deaths of former crew members, from either hostile action or suicide, he is doubly depressed when feeling the residual hatred exhibted by a previous soldierboy controller. On his off days, Julian returns to Houston where he does physics research at a university. His platoon consists of five men and five women, and when they are connected he not only shares their thoughts and memories, but also their emotional states, so he knows how women feel in many situations, including sex and menstruation. He longs for that type of connection in his personal life, but his current lover, another researcher in Texas, is not jacked. Julian is Black, Amelia is White and nearly 15 years older. As he did in Forever War, where he had some mistaken notions of heterosexuality vs homosexuality, Haldeman makes similar misguided assumptions of opinions on racial inequality. Yes, it seems we are currently living in tense times, in some places as bad as it was in the early 20th Century. This is set mid-to-late 21st Century, when you would think an interracial couple wouldn't be that big a deal, but on several occasions Julian is met with bigotry, and not just because of his relationship with Amelia. If only more people were jacked, that might not be a problem.
Some of Julian's university colleagues have learned why his platoon is restricted to just nine day jacking sessions. Early experiments proved that a longer connection, only as much as two weeks, caused the participants to become so empathetic they lost any incentive to harm another human. An army could hardly tolerate that response. Julian, Amelia, and the others, hatch a scheme to have more jacked personnel connect for longer periods to 'humanize' them, as well as to get more people jacked, including rebel POWs. There are many obstacles to that process though, including worries about a particle accelerator being built in orbit around Jupiter's moon Io. Calculations by a friend of Amelia's, and corroborated by Julian, indicate it could recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, spelling doom for Earth and the Solar System, maybe even the entire galaxy. A secretive group, highly placed at many levels of government and industry, attempts to suppress their information. Nearly everyone had encountered openly apocalyptic cult type people referred to as Enders. What they aren't aware of is the highly organized group, the Hammer of God, working to make sure the final Apocalypse actually happens. Can enough people be humanized in time to end the war? Can the warning about the Jupiter Project be released in time, and will it convince the right people?
In some ways, Forever War is the better book. It is short and concise, with the sharp focus of Mandella's narration of his personal experiences. On the other hand, Forever Peace is nearly twice as long, and has the benefit of both first-person narration from Julian's perspective, as well as sections in third-person giving us information outside of his knowledge at the time. Both are thoughtful examinations of human psychology, with only minor missteps on certain social mores. Both are well deserving of the awards and accolades they have received. Both are highly recommended, and I'm confident they will be considered in the top echelon of SF novels for many years to come.
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