Fantastic Reviews - Science Fiction Book Review
Forever Free cover Forever Free by Joe Haldeman

Ace Science Fiction - copyright 1999
277 pages

Book read in February 2000

Rating: 7/10  (Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          This is the sequel to The Forever War that you may have expected Forever Peace to be when you first picked it up.  By the end of The Forever War, mankind has transformed into billions of clones (in either sex) of a single individual, sharing consciousness to some extent, referred to collectively as "Man." Veterans of the Forever War who choose not to become part of Man are invited to settle on a paradise world, which the veterans name Middle Finger.  Our heroes, William and Marygay, are last seen heading off to Middle Finger together.

Forever Free takes place a generation later.  William and Marygay are living quiet lives as fishermen on Middle Finger with their two children, who are nearing adulthood.  There are a couple of problems with life on MF, however.  First, this supposed paradise planet has a very elliptical orbit that leaves it cold and miserable for most of the year.  More importantly, the human veterans have to share the planet with Man, and with representatives of the Tauran group mind, their former enemy.  The humans are largely able to go about their business, but they are perfectly well aware of who is really in charge.  In fact, they believe that Man only permits their continued existence to maintain a genetic pool in case a flaw is someday discovered in Man's genotype.

William, Marygay, and other veterans are finding this situation increasingly intolerable.  They decide to seize control of the spaceship parked in orbit around MF, and to use relativity to skip into the future in search of a time that suits them better.  Nearly half the novel centers on their attempt to implement this plan.  But it's only after William and Marygay are in space that things really start to go haywire.  The ship malfunctions in ways that seem physically impossible.  Our heroes manage to return to MF, and eventually to Earth, where they encounter a series of most unexpected surprises.

If Forever Peace was not a sequel to The Forever War but was related thematically, then this book is a sequel to The Forever War, but is not really related thematically.  Aside from the ending, which relates back to Haldeman's introductory poem about the nature of war, the narrative has little to do with mankind's impulse to fight.  One could say it has to do with the impulse to be free, which is related in that the main characters' desire for freedom and independence stems in part from their unhappy experiences as soldiers.  Still, I think Haldeman is less focused on making a statement here than in books like The Forever War, 1968, and Forever Peace, and is more interested in telling an adventure story.

Taking the story on its own merits, I found it an enjoyable read.  I was interested in Middle Finger society, and the uneasy coexistence of human and Man.  The treatment of Man and Tauran group minds was intriguing.  I particularly liked seeing how readily Man on Middle Finger was prepared to depart from the wishes of Man on Earth.  As usual, I appreciated Haldeman's straightforward prose and his dashes of humor, and I thought the narrative moved at a good pace.  But I do think Haldeman needed to develop some of his characters a little more.  The supporting cast was all interchangeable to me, and I was especially disappointed that I never got to know Mandella's children very well.  That prevented the scenes where the children are at odds with their parents, or separated from them, or reunited, from having much emotional impact.  (Compare The Forever War, where the separation of William and Marygay was powerfully portrayed in only two pages!)

          I don't know what to say about the bizarre last few segments of the book, back on Earth.  I enjoyed it, but Haldeman will push your suspension of disbelief to the limit.
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Copyright 2000 Aaron Hughes

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Joe Haldeman - author website
Joe Haldeman - Wikipedia
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