Forever Peace

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 1, 1999

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

Eight people attended the discussion of Forever Peace. This novel, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, combines elements from several literary traditions: hard SF, cyberpunk, and war. While this book has a similar title to Haldeman’s earlier book The Forever War, the two books are not related. The story, set in the near future, involves a group of American soldiers who operate remote-controlled military robots. The main character, a soldier who works as a physicist when he’s not jacked into a robot, is involved with an experiment to build a supercollider in orbit about Jupiter. These story elements converge in a fast-paced thriller.

We found this to be a book full of good ideas. The military robots (called “soldierboys”, “sailerboys”, and “flyboys”) were a fascinating premise. A side effect of the mind-controlled robots is that the platoons of robot operators can read each other’s minds while jacked in. It was also interesting that the humans controlling the robots were only in the military part time, and spent the rest of their time doing unrelated work. The virtual reality, physics, and nanotechnology aspects of the story were well developed.

There were some problems. The writing alternates between first person and a pedantic third person, which many of us found awkward and distracting. The story features a romantic relationship between a graduate student and his advisor, which one person found about as likely as “between a woman and her gynecologist”. Much of the story takes place in Texas, and several local facts are wrong in the book: UT is in Houston, the Oilers are still in Houston, etc.

Our individual appreciation of this book was strongly related to what we thought of The Forever War, which all of us had read. Those who’d loved the intensity and antiwar focus of the earlier book tended to be disappointed by Forever Peace. Those who’d found The Forever War “good, but not my type of book” tended to like Forever Peace‘s stronger elements of hard SF. Willie Siros had the most unique perspective. Since Forever Peace is the bestselling hardback in the history of his store, he could only find praise for it.

— A. T. Campbell, III