Forever Peace

Joe Haldeman
Forever Peace Cover

Forever Peace


For a bookl titled Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman's 1997 novel opens with scenes of impressive mayhem and violence. America is fighting the Ngumi war against African and Latin American forces. We are employng an army of "soldierboys." These exemplars of advanced military technology are a cross between drones and robocops. nearly invincible armored fighters powered by mechanics who are "jacked" together into a cohesive fighting unit but safely ensconced miles away from the action. Not all soldierboys are killers. Many are used for extraction of significant enemy fighters and for producing general mayhem. When Julian Class, the novel's protagonist, accidently kills a boy in a riot situation, he enters a suicidal depression. He is just the type of fighter who is ready for a radical plan that proposes to create a new era of world harmony by using the jacking technology developed for the military to create a citizenry whose empathy is so finely tuned that war will come to an end. This is one aspect of the forever peace promised by the title. Unfortunately Class and his lover are also privy to a scientific experiment that if it goes forward may reproduce the big bang, ushering in a very different kind of forever peace.

This is not a sequel to Haldeman's 1970's classic The Forever War. That earlier novel followed the military career of a young recruit who, thanks to faster than light travel fights a war that lasts 1100 years while he ages only a decade or so. The Ngumi War of Forever Peace is a much more down to earth and dirty little affair. The year is 2043, and life on Earth is a reasonable extrapolation of the life Haldeman would have known in the late 20th century. Haldeman confines the action to a few weeks, and the novel is his version of the sort of international thriller where the fate of the world hangs in the balance and only one man can save it. In this case it is the fate of the universe and there is a group involved with saving it, but the novel still plays out as a rather prosaic exercise in traditional suspense. It's good guys vs bad guys, although I had many reservations about the good guys that I am not sure Haldeman was fully addressing. They do, after all, plan to subject the entire population of the world to a surgical procedure that will make them see the error of violent actions. This operation will not work on everyone. A small handful will die and those on whom it doesn't "take," well, they will be kept sequestered from the rest of the population. Maybe Haldeman was setting up a sequel?

As for the bad guys -- they are really, really bad. I wonder if religious fanatics grouse about their fictional treatment the way lawyers, CPA's and small town sheriffs must complain that they are not the sharks, milquetoasts, or sadists you find in books?