I've just finished reading Joe Haldeman's novel Forever Free
, a sequel to his classic The Forever War
and it's left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. I think the main problem with it is that it's a unnecessary sequel - Forever War
didn't end with any major unanswered questions, or with the reader thinking 'but what happened next?' What helped to make it a classic was that sense of completeness at the end, that the whole story had been told. Literature is full of unnecesary sequels, ful of authors and publishers heading back to the old territory in search of another bit of that published gold, but Forever Free
feels like it's one of the worst of those kind - the 'authorised sequel' - written by another writer but licensed by the author or his/her estate, such as the godawful Night of The Triffids
. At times, I did find myself checking the cover pages of Forever Free
just to be sure that Haldeman hadn't done a Tom Clancy and just attached his name to something written by a passing hack, but no it was 'Forever Free
by Joe Haldeman' not 'Joe Haldeman's Forever Free
by Bob Workforhire'.
I might be being a little harsh there, but it's hard to believe that the imaginative vision shown in The Forever War
came from the pen of the same writer. The Forever War
was centred around a great sf metaphor, using the experience of the soldiers fighting the Forever War, moving further and further into the future and fighting for an Earth and humanity they barely recognised, as a metaphor for the experience of Vietnam veterans (like Haldeman) who saw themselves becoming increasingly isolated from the society they returned to. It was also a counterpoint to novels like Heinlein's Starship Troopers
, depicting the pity of war rather than any scenes of brave heroism. Forever Free
suffers from what I can only describe as a metaphor shortage with many of the characters seemingly moving around the galaxy at increasing speeds in search of something to represent, but failing to find anything and eventually ending up in a conclusion that bears a strong resemblance to a poor episode of Star Trek
, as other reviewers have noted.
On a final note, one of the other problems with the book for me is that Haldeman doesn't really seem to know the nature of Man, the collective existence humanity had become by the end of The Forever Book
. In that book, the emergence of Man is presented as the final irony - the civilisation the soldiers are fighting for has now become more akin to the enemy Taurans than the soldiers themselves. While the concept works excellently there, when it's examined closer in Forever Free
it doesn't really work. The problem for me is that Man in some ways closely resembles the Edenist culture of Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn
series, and it suffers from the comparison. The concept of the Tree used by Man to exchange information is described in ways similar to the Edenists' affinity, yet the beings who make up Man are effectively interchangeable, genetically as well as mentally, in a way that doesn't seem to represent a workable civilisation. Because The Forever War
didn't need to show that civilisation in any great detail, it can get away with it, but when the civilisation is presented for closer scrutiny in Forever Free
it seems pointless.
In short, if you haven't yet read The Forever War
you should go out and read it soon, but if you already have you don't really need to bother with Forever Free