THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman
THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman
This is the definitive version of The Forever War. There are two other versions, and my publisher has been kind enough to allow me to clarify things here.
The one you’re holding in your hand is the book as it was originally written. But it has a pretty tortuous history
It’s ironic, since it later won the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and has won “Best Novel” awards in other countries, but The Forever War was not an easy book to sell back in the early seventies. It was rejected by eighteen publishers before St. Martin’s Press decided to take a chance on it. “Pretty good book,” was the usual reaction, “but nobody wants to read a science fiction novel about Vietnam”. Twenty-five years later, most young readers don’t even see the parallels between The Forever War and the seemingly endless one we were involved in at the time, and that’s okay. It’s about Vietnam because that’s the war the author was in. But it’s mainly about war, about soldiers, and about the reasons we think we need them.
While the book was being looked at by all those publishers, it was also being serialized piecemeal in Analog magazine. The editor, Ben Bova, was a tremendous help, not only in editing, but also for making the thing exist at all! He gave it a prominent place in the magazine, and it was also his endorsement that brought it to the attention of St. Martin’s Press, who took a chance on the hardcover, though they did not publish adult science fiction at that time.
But Ben rejected the middle section, a novella called “You Can Never Go Back.” He liked it as a piece of writing, he said, but thought that it was too downbeat for Analog’s audience. So I wrote him a more positive story and put “You Can Never Go Back” into the drawer; eventually Ted White published it in Amazing magazine, as a coda to The Forever War
At this late date, I’m not sure why I didn’t reinstate the original middle when the book was accepted. Perhaps I didn’t trust my own taste, or just didn’t want to make life more complicated. But that first book version is essentially the 4nalog version with “more adult language and situations”, as they say in Hollywood.
The paperback of that version stayed in print for about~ sixteen years. Then in 1991 I had the opportunity to reinstate my original version, which now appears in Britain for the first time. The dates in the book are now kind of funny; most people realize we didn’t get into an interstellar war in 1996. I originally set it in that year so it was barely possible that the officers and NCOs could be veterans of Vietnam, so we decided to leave it that way, in spite of the obvious anachronisms. Think of it as a parallel universe.
But maybe it’s the real one, and we’re in a dream.
“Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.” The guy who said that was a sergeant who didn’t look five years older than me. So if he’d ever killed a man in combat, silently or otherwise, he’d done it as an infant.
I already knew eighty ways to kill people, but most of them were pretty noisy. I sat up straight in my chair and assumed a look of polite attention and fell asleep with my eyes open. So did most everybody else. We’d learned that they never scheduled anything important for these after-chop classes.
The projector woke me up and I sat through a short tape showing the “eight silent ways.” Some of the actors must have been brainwipes, since they were actually killed.
After the tape a girl in the front row raised her hand. The sergeant nodded at her and she rose to parade rest. Not bad looking, but kind of chunky about the neck and shoulders. Everybody gets that way after carrying a heavy pack around for a couple of months.
“Sir”-we had to call sergeants “sir” until graduation- “most of those methods, really, they looked. . . kind of silly.”
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