Science Fiction

Forever Free

Author: Joe Haldeman

Published By:
Ace Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Some time ago, I purchased 20 hardcover books for $20.00, a bargain in my eyes.  Well, after reading some of the books, I realized that I had gotten a whole lot more than a simple bargain.  This deal was a steal and one of the books that led me to this conclusion was The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.  The book was extremely well written and way ahead of its time considering it was written in the early 1970s.  I was so intrigued by this novel, that when I discovered that Haldeman had written a sequel 25 years later, I had to have it.

            In Forever Free, we learn that William Mandella, a veteran of the Forever War, is unsatisfied with his new life on Middle Finger (yes, that’s the colony planet’s name).  Oh, there are things to enjoy - he was re-united with his longtime lover on Middle Finger and the two were married shortly after, culminating in the birth of a son and later, a daughter.  The family lived as part-time fishermen while teaching at the local school.

            But life was not perfect.  Their home planet of Earth had become a group consciousness and, as such, did not encourage free thinking.  This group consciousness, or Man, continually attempted to enlist the former soldiers of the Forever War and their families to join them, thus losing their individuality.  William and Marygay Mandella cringe under the thumb of Man, refusing to give up their individuality, but forced to live under their rule. 

            With the help of other colonists who feel the same way, William and Marygay hatch a plot to hijack the Time Warp, the huge spaceship that had transported them to Middle Finger in the first place, and pilot the ship into the unknown.  They hoped to begin humanity again once the rule of Man was over.  Veterans of the Forever War know that nothing lasts forever and they believe that Man is an anomaly that will eventually exhaust itself.

            But once the Time Warp hits space, the colonists begin to question their decision to leave.  This is especially true when unforeseeable and inexplicable events take place.  As these occurrences become more frequent and life-threatening, the colonists must make a decision - turn back or remain with the ship.

             Like The Forever War, Forever Free is written in the first person narrative, the reader getting a complete view of what is going on in William Mandella’s mind.  We see the world through the eyes of a character who has survived thousands of years but is, to all appearances, only in his forties (thanks to space technology).  Mandella has survived numerous changes in lifestyle, government and the military and his experiences have added quite a bit of wisdom to the character.  Yet, Joe Haldeman doesn’t present his readers with a dry and boring narrative.  William Mandella is a man who understands the concept of irony.  He sees the humor in things and shares it with the reader.

            The Forever War was about more than just one never-ending war - there was the military aspect, but there was also the war with morality.  The longer the war lasted, the more the idea of morality among humans changed until the Earth had become something that our main warrior, William Mandella, could no longer recognize.  It was a world which saw humans re-enlisting just to escape the Earth they had once longed to return to.

            Forever Free is a novel about fighting back - railing against the choices that had been made for William Mandella from day one.  The Mandellas and others like him are warring against the establishment in an effort to gain their independence.  It’s a fight to resurrect humanity and who wouldn’t be interested in how that war ended.

            As in The Forever War, the conclusion of Forever Free is quite surprising.  The final chapters contain a shocking turn of events that will have you questioning the meaning of life and your purpose in this world.  Could it be that you are just like William Mandella, living at the whim of some higher power?

            I was amazed at how quickly I read this book.  Every time I picked Forever Free up, I literally devoured pages.  I was so absorbed by the story that I dreaded putting the book down and read it every moment I could, sneaking in a few pages whenever possible.  I was finished with the story in only a couple of days and, although Joe Haldeman does a terrific job in wrapping up the story, I wish he would write another.  I simply love William Mandella and would be thrilled to read more of his adventures.

            Joe Haldeman’s writing style is easily understood and to the point, but his subject matter forces you to think - to ask questions of yourself and your beliefs.  He draws you in by creating enjoyable characters who are easy to relate to and then putting them in situations that force the reader to ask themselves what they would do if they were faced with the same situation.  I love science fiction, but a sci-fi that forces you to use your brain long after you have put the book down is simply icing on the cake.

            Fans of the Forever War will love the continued adventures of William Mandella as penned in Forever Free.  This was a long awaited sequel - 25 years in the making and well worth the wait!


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