This book’s reputation as a classic is well deserved. It succeeds at being an engrossing and very convincing tale of a futuristic war while simultaneously etching out the contours of the grotesque and horrifying political world that would send soldiers to the farthest flung corners of the universe to fight a seemingly unconquerable enemy.
It is a well documented fact that Mr. Haldeman intended this book as a commentary on Vietnam, but I believe that he achieved something far greater. By placing events in a far future, his extrapolations succeed in leveling a critique of the absurdity and inhumanity of the state war machine that seem chillingly plausible.
Over half the Earth’s domestic population are unemployed and all taxpayer funds have been diverted to fund the war. The best and brightest citizens have been conscripted and all of the technological innovation is being deployed in service of the conflict. Heterosexuality has been bred out of the population as way of maintaining control of the herd. Private citizens have to hire bodyguards because crime is so rampant. Gun control laws prohibit the acquisition of lasers except for law enforcement. The government has completely overtaken the management of the economy. And so on.
Haldeman’s physics are also quite convincing. He is attentive to details but never at the expense of momentum. The training maneuvers which take place on Charon (!!!) at the beginning of the novel are harrowing because they are remarkably detailed but rendered with the voice of unforced, casual detachment one hears from a soldier enduring any earthbound military shithole.
Haldeman is also wisely attentive to economics as well as physics. SF has given us so many fantastic visions of scientific advancement, but often at the exclusion of the economic portion of the equation. This aspect lends this book yet another layer of resonance.
As someone who has been fortunate enough not to have seen the horror of war, this book more than succeeds as a reminder that the warmomgers of the state deserve our fullest contempt and our most fervent opposition.