Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

(discussed February 18, 1999)

On a ten-point scale (1=bad, 10=good), the people who read the book gave the following ratings: 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7
Average: 5.9

This book was sponsored by Dedaimia Whitney.

Dedaimia had just used The Forever War in her class and thought that was a wonderful novel, especially as a springboard for discussion. But she found Forever Peace to be disappointing. She felt like the book was written in two pieces: The first half had energy and vision, and the second half seemed like, "Well, let's finish it and mail it off." (The split point is perhaps when the reached the monastery, or perhaps when they went to Mexico.) It felt as if it had been written five or six years ago, sat in a drawer, and was just completed in the interests of selling it.

Dedaimia suspects that Haldeman started with the first-person sections and added the third-person sections later to finish it off. Overall, Dedaimia thought the narrative structure was interesting, but ultimately a failure, since so many new characters were brought in at the end to carry out critical plot roles.

Overall, Dedaimia thought that the author feels that human nature is to be aggressive and competitive and to kill. The theme seems to be that the only way to achieve peace is to change human nature.

John Gallman started by saying that he grew rather fond of the book, since it helped lull him through some difficult travel ;-). Seriously, though, he wasn't too happy with the book. He thought the "Soldierboys" seemed like a fairly transparent metaphor for the soldiers in Vietnam. If the world had nanotechnology, he didn't think they'd bother with Soldierboys. Worse of all, he felt the book wasn't about real peace, but an artificially engineered peace that changed human nature.

Peter Kuchera disagreed with the contention that the Soldierboys were silly in a future with nanotech; he felt that they were great for precision work, such as kidnapping the mayor.

Peter disagreed with Dedaimia; he suspected that Haldeman had wanted to do an omniscient, third-person book and had perhaps inserted the first-person sections later.

Peter really disliked some parts of the book. He hated Amelia, and couldn't forgive her "affair". He also thought the graphicness of the female assassin was offensive, possibly showing some sadism on the part of the author.

Peter cited Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human as being one of the great works of SF with the theme of people getting together and finding a way beyond conflict. He asked whether that seemed plausible. Later, Peter asked if perhaps we could get universal peace if we decreased our own egos.

Raja Thiagarajan didn't like the book very. He prefaced his review by saying that he is a very big fan of Joe Haldeman; Haldeman is one of a handful of authors (John Varley and Greg Egan are two others) whose books Raja will purchase sight unseen, without having to think about it. Haldeman is a great stylist, in his view; Raja describes Haldeman's Worlds (one of the books on his Top Ten SF List) by saying, "When I read the first sentence, I had to read the rest of the paragraph. When I read the first paragraph, I had to read the rest of the page. When I read the page, I had to read the rest of the book ;-)"

But Raja feels that Forever Peace is one of Haldeman's lesser books; he thought the author relied too much on slickness and style, and not enough on substance. There were too many easy answers, it seemed to him. (Though he did like the ending, with its weak echoes of Disch's Camp Concentration and Sturgeon's The Cosmic Rape.)

While the group didn't come to any real consensus, it did ask some interesting questions along the way. In that sense, Forever Peace wasn't a complete failure.