This is the second book with this title that I have read. Haldeman’s book is more deserving of the name though … his war lasts about 1000 years. Sometime in the near future (well actually the book says 1997… how embarrassing!), as humanity begins its first tentative steps into the wider galaxy, the colony ships begin to butt heads with the mysterious Taurans. Soon it’s full blown war, with the objectives always being to capture and secure collapsars, which sound awfully like what we might now call wormholes and function as portals to distant points in the galaxy, and without which interstellar travel would be impossible.
William Mandella is conscripted into the UNEF (United Nations Expeditionary Force) due to his high IQ and physical aptitude. (Not sure why the grunts in this army necessarily need to be the super elite, but whatever.) The troops main weapon is a super suit exoskeleton, with handy built-in laser and grenade launchers.
Like Mandella and the other soldiers, the reader doesn’t get any insight into the greater strategic goings-on of the war; there is just the current mission to worry about. All the fighting takes place on remote planets valuable only for their proximity to nearby collapsars. The campaigns are either to build a defensive base or, for already occupied worlds, to annihilate the encamped Taurans.
The big twist is that these worlds require one or more collapsar jumps to reach, and each time relativity kicks in, resulting in time dilation for the traveler. This virtually ensures a never-ending stalemate, since as one attacker penetrates deeper into the enemy’s territory, much more subjective time passes (up to several years or decades) for the enemy, which they use to prepare defenses and advance technology.
Relativity also means that, after only a few subjective months in a combat campaign, the troops return to an Earth which has similarly advanced several years or decades or even centuries. As Mandella goes back and forth on leave or injury recuperation, we get darkly humorous snapshots of humanity’s future history, where Earth becomes overpopulated, resource-scare, crime-ridden, ultra-violent, and universally homosexual. Humanity’s economy becomes entirely devoted to and dependent on the war, even though the actual fighting is pretty much ignored. (Is this an allegory to Haldeman’s experiences and opinion about the homefront when he was a soldier in Vietnam?)
Kind of a fun story. Similar to Scalzi’s Old Man’s War (post about sequel) which is very good.