Tag Archives: intergalactic war

“The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman


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.

“Singularity Sky” by Charles Stross

Audiobook version.

Has a lot of interesting pieces, but not very well developed as a whole.

The historical premise is that the Eschaton, a God-like AI civilization, scattered humanity across the galaxy several hundred years ago.  Their only commandment is to not violate causality (ie don’t do time travel), presumably to protect them from someone going back and deleting the Eschaton from history.  The New Republic, composed of ethnic Russians and pretty much modeled on pre-Soviet Imperial Russia, is under attack by the Festival, a mysterious entity besieging one of the Republic’s remote colony worlds.  A fleet is dispatched with a sneaky plan to go into the future several thousand years, learn about the Festival, then go back in time to just before the Festival arrived at the colony.  This plan is sure to attract the attention of “Big E,” so Rachel the UN weapons inspector and Martin the engineer are determined to stop it, lest the Eschaton over-react and supernova humanity out of existence.

That’s piece one.  Lots of “military SF” bits with scenes on the bridge, “fire torpedo 1!” and all that.

Second piece is what the Festival really is – an automated information collection and trading machine.  It gives the people of the planet whatever they want in exchange for “entertainment” or information.  Naturally this wrecks the economy and the whole social structure of the New Republic on the world.  Some weird stuff goes on too, like the former governor who is granted his wish to be young and have a life of adventure – unfortunately adventure is dangerous, with zombie clowns wielding nanobot-disintegration pies and the like.  And there’s a Soviet-style worker’s revolution trying to break out until the people realize they don’t need any government when their every wish is granted immediately by the Festival.

Piece three is the romance between Rachel and Martin.  Both are tired and weary of long lives extended by advanced medical techniques, but believe in what they are doing.

As I said earlier, these pieces didn’t quite gel very well for me.  I never really got into the story, even though the premise seemed pretty interesting.

The idea of the Eschaton scattering humanity reminded me of “Riverworld.”  Only in that book, the scattering is after death.

“The Last Colony” by John Scalzi

Here’s the sequel to “Old Man’s War” and “The Ghost Brigades.”

John Perry, main character of “Old Man’s War,” and Jane Sagan, the Special Forces soldier appearing in both previous books, are now married and have adopted Zoe, the daughter of Charles Boutin from “The Ghost Brigades.”  They are comfortable living on a backwater world of the Colonial Union, but are asked to lead a new colony, Roanoke (uh, who thought that was a good name for a colony???).  Once arriving there, they soon find that everything the Colonial Union has told them is not exactly true…

Hence we embark on a tale of political maneuvering, manipulation, and secrecy between the Colonial Union, the union of alien races called the Conclave, and the Perrys.  There are many plot twists along the way that completely change the way some characters and situations are initially presented.  Kind of like mystery novels or movies that are impossible to figure out until the end because essential facts are concealed from the reader/viewer.  Oh well.

I thought it was Interesting that the formula of humans = good and scary looking aliens = bad is not strictly followed here…if anything, the Colonial Union is the real bad guy in the story.  Anyway, this was a pretty good read that I stayed up too late last night to finish.  (If that happens, then I know it must have been good!)

My only complaint is a lot of the scheming (on all sides) is elaborate, complicated and would really be logistically pretty hard to pull off, but of course everything turns out perfectly.  And there is always someone saying (Szilard…looking at you), “yes, I expected you to do just that” and then “well, I expected that you would expect I would do that!”  etc.  But the whole trilogy is a pretty entertaining and different view of the future of humanity in space that I recommend to readers who enjoy science fiction.  Most definitely start with “Old Man’s War” – the best of the three, and it sets up most of the background detail for the later books.

“The Ghost Brigades” by John Scalzi

This is the sequel to “Old Man’s War” which I read a while ago … before this blog began, I think.  In the future, elderly volunteers from Earth are recruited to join the Colonial Defense Force, which protects the human colonies from a variety of hostile alien species which are also vying for supremacy in our corner of the galaxy.  CDF volunteers are given new genetically engineered bodies, their conciousness’ transferred into the new body.  Interesting premise, no?  The first book was about such a volunteer.  In it he meets his wife – actually not though.  They both signed up for the CDF at the same time, but she died before she reached the age when she would have received her new body.  The CDF doesn’t waste the DNA they extract from recruits who die prior to being transferred; they make the new bodies anyway and wake them up without a conciousness in place.  BrainPals, computers integrated with the brain, help the new soldier learn quickly, but whether or not they have a soul is up for debate.  The “realborn” CDF are somewhat wary of these “Ghost Brigade” soldiers.

Ok, now you have the background.  🙂  In “The Ghost Brigades” a scientist has turned traitor and the CDF wants to know why.  They have a copy of his conciousness on file, so they load it into a new Ghost Brigader to see if he can tell them anything.  Hilarity ensues.  Wait, no it doesn’t…  The new soldier at first remembers nothing and it seems like the transfer didn’t work.  But then eventually events trigger his memories.  He (of course) then becomes instrumental in stopping the traitor’s nefarious plot to destroy the CDF.

Great story and an interesting vision of the future!  Looking forward to the sequel “The Last Colony.”