This was a fantastic novel, an impressive entry for military sci-fi with an emphasis on the science fiction. The story follows William Mandella, a physics major conscripted by the United Nations Exploratory Force to fight the alien Taurans. The UNEF uses near-light speed technology in conjunction with “collapsars” to deliver the war. This and the fighting suits create some interesting problems for the soldiers. The exotic environments are often just as deadly as the enemy and traveling at near-light speed creates significant relativistic effects—a couple years’ time in space calculates to decades in Earth normal time. All of this amounts to a very entertaining setting for Haldeman to play with as Mandala navigates his new life in the war.
At times a bit dry or clinical, Haldeman’s narrative uses an understated tone to recount the horrors of war and time dilation. Culture shock, the hazards of life in a space war, language, gender, and more is dealt with as humanity cycles through hundreds of years of history. Everything is on the table for examination as the war progresses. It’s clear from both Haldeman’s background, the publication date (1974) and the progression of the war itself that the novel was inspired by the Vietnam War. Yet, nothing truly feels dated in the story which is a testimony to Haldeman’s creativity in envisioning humanity’s plummet into the future.
I truly regret not having read this novel decades ago. If I had, I’d have probably read it a few times since then! I highly recommended this book.