Tag Archives: hugo award winner

Book Review: The Forever War

Book Name: The Forever War
Author: Joe Haldeman
First Published: 1974
Nebula Award winner, 1975; Hugo and Locus SF Awards winner, 1976

Joe Haldeman, an American author, traveled a great deal as a child, living mainly in Anchorage, Alaska and Bethesda, Maryland. He married Mary Gay Potter (who inspired the name of the main character’s love interest in The Forever War) in 1965. Haldeman received his BS degree in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Maryland in 1967. That same year, he was drafted into the United States Army as a Combat Engineer and served a tour of duty in Vietnam. He was wounded in combat and received a Purple Heart. The ideas of the military and the culture shock that soldiers go through when returning from war in his award winning novel The Forever War were inspired by this combat experience. In 1975, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Currently, Joe Haldeman resides in either Gainesville, Florida or Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since 1983 he has been an Adjunct Professor teaching writing at MIT. He is a lifetime member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and a past-president. In addition to being an award-winning writer, Haldeman is also a painter.

The Forever War begins with Private William Mandella, a physics student who is conscripted for an elite task force in the United Nations Exploratory Force that is being put together to fight a war with an alien species known as the Taurans. These aliens had discovered a human colony ship and attacked it and the people of Earth want revenge.

Mandella is sent first to Missouri and then to Charon, the last planet in our Sun’s solar system for basic training. Many of the young, genius soldiers are killed due to accidents in the hostile environments and the use of live ammo in training. Once they are certified for combat, they are sent into battle via wormholes called “collapsars” which allow UNEF ships to travel thousands of light-years in an instant for the passengers, but with relativistic consequences.

The UNEF’s forces first meeting with the Taurans takes place on a planet orbiting the star Epsilon Aurigae. It becomes a massacre, with the unarmed and unresisting Taurans being wiped out. The fighting continues with the Taurans gaining on them as the aliens deploy increasingly advanced weaponry against the earth soldiers. Mandella lives through his first two year tour of duty and is discharged back to Earth, along with his fellow soldier and lover Marygay Potter. The 21st century soldiers discover that while only two years have passed for them, several decades have passed on Earth. Mandella experiences culture shock as he attempts to re-enter a world where unemployment is high, rationing and violence is more commonplace, and homosexuality is encouraged by most governments as a hedge against overpopulation.

Mandella tries to find work as an instructor on Luna, but the military reassigns him to combat command, treating him more like a cog in a machine. He accepts the return to combat as being better than remaining on a planet where he doesn’t fit in and many of his fellow soldiers feel the same way. He survives the next four years of military service, almost more due to luck than any other reason. In time, he becomes the oldest surviving soldier in the war, gaining high rank due to seniority. He is separated from Marygay by UNEF’s plans and awaits to command soldiers who speak a language unrecognizable to him, who have a homogenized ethnicity and are exclusively homosexual because of the centuries of time he has passed via relativity. The men hate him because they must learn 21st century English to speak with him and the other senior staff and because he is heterosexual.

Returning to combat, Mandella and his soldiers battle to survive what is touted as the last conflict of the centuries long war. The time dilation continues back home. In the centuries that pass while Mandella fights, humankind develops cloning which results in a new collective species that calls itself Man. The new collective discovers that the Taurans are also a species of clones that communicate in a similar way that the new humans do. When Man gains the ability to communicate with the Taurans, it discovers that the Taurans were not originally responsible for the destruction of the colony vessels that led to the start of the war. The information renders the millennium-old conflict meaningless and the war is over. The soldiers are decommissioned, but there is no real place for them in the new order since they are not clones.

Man decides that a backup plan is needed in case the new cloned species of human proves to be a mistake. Several colonies of old-fashioned, heterosexual humans are established. Mandella travels to one of these, called “Middle Finger”. There he is reunited with his love, Marygay who had been using time dilation to age at a slower rate so that she might have a chance of being alive when Mandella arrives.

The Forever War remains as bright and relevant today as it did when it was written 35 years ago. At the time, it must have been thought of as a satirical send-up to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, considering that it was about a futuristic military with spaceflight, futuristic weapons and written from the point of view of a soldier, yet retained an anti-war theme and even featured a romance. The explanation of the effects of relativistic time dilation on the lives of the soldiers that experienced it was a first, making this a brilliant piece of hard science fiction. It is a book that has stayed with me for many years since I first read it during college. If you are a reader or writer of science fiction, it is a novel that you need to experience. It is a true classic.

The Forever War Book CoverThe Forever War series:

The Forever War (1974) (Nebula Award winner, 1975; Hugo and Locus SF Awards winner, 1976)
Forever Peace (1997)
Forever Free (1999)
“A Separate War” (2006, short story)
“Forever Bound” (2010, short story)

Book Review: The Snow Queen

Book Name: The Snow Queen
Author: Joan D. Vinge
First Published: 1980
Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel (1981)

Joan D. Vinge seems to be a private person. Few personal details are available about her beyond that she has lived most of her life in Madison, Wisconson and suffered a terrible auto accident that prevented her from writing for around five years. She has been a writer for most of her life, starting her first stories as a small child. In college, she studied Anthropology which she has incorporated into her art. Ms. Vinge has been married twice and currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Several of Ms. Vinge’s stories have won major acclaim. Eyes of Amber won the 1977 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. The Snow Queen won the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1981. She has also been nominated for several other Hugo and Nebula Awards, as well as for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her novel Psion was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Robert A. Heinlein also dedicated his novel Friday to her.

The Snow Queen is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. The citizens of the planet Tiamat are split into two factions. The “Winters”, who believe in technological progress and trade with the star spanning Hegemony, and the “Summers” who live by folk traditions and eschew the outside worlds in favor of their own simpler ways. Every 150 years, the orbit of Tiamat around a black hole impacts the planetary ecology and closes the window of travel to the other worlds. Travel off of Tiamat is only available during the “Winter” rule and it is all controlled by a single matriarch known as the Snow Queen. At the end of her rein, tradition calls for the Snow Queen to be killed and a female leader from the Summers will take her place as ruler of Tiamat. The current Snow Queen, Arienrhod, has a plan to save her life at the end of her rein which is swiftly approaching. She creates several clones of herself and scatters them among the Summer people. She hopes to switch places with one and then to rule the planet as the “new” Summer Queen.

The story of The Snow Queen follows a young woman by the name of Moon. She is one of the clones that the Snow Queen had placed among the summer people. Moon is loved by a young man named Sparks, but when she takes her place as a shaman among her people, known as a Sibyl, he decides to depart and discover more about his off-world heritage. In the capital city of Carbuncle, Sparks is discovered by Arienrhod and enters into a relationship with her. He becomes her “Starbuck”, consort and the commander of the hunt for the intelligent sea creatures known as the Mer, upon which the wealth of Tiamat is based.

Moon receives a message that she believes is from Sparks and attempts to go to Carbuncle although it is barred to sibyls. Along the way she becomes entangled with smugglers and is kidnapped off-world. While on the Capital Planet of Kharemough, she discovers the answers to many mysteries about Sybils and their strange knowledge and why Tiamat has been cut off from the rest of the Hegemony. Moon returns to Tiamat and continues her search for Sparks. She confronts the Snow Queen and participates in a ritual that will decide who will rule the planet and how Tiamat will face the Hegemony after the 150 years of summer are over and travel can resume through the black hole once again.

I read The Snow Queen when it first hit the shelves in 1980. It was a lush, long novel based on a favorite fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. I didn’t care that it had won a major award and I had never heard of Ms. Vinge, but I immediately became enchanted by this story and all the meticulous details of their lives. Each character became a real person to me and the story itself was of a complexity that I do not encounter often. I liked that it had a strong female lead character, something that was not quite as common then as it is in writing today. Ms. Vinge became one of those authors that I look for on the library shelf.

The story has stuck with me down through the years, like an old favorite song, just under your awareness. I find that it crosses my mind now and then as I wonder about the nature of where ideas and creativity come from or when I want an example of a powerful woman protagonist in a story. All of that is part of what makes The Snow Queen special. Of all the books in the Snow Queen Cycle, The Snow Queen is my favorite. Although its sequel, The Summer Queen, is certainly just as powerful a read and memorable. I highly recommend this series of novels to add to your reading list.

The Snow Queen Book CoverThe Snow Queen Cycle

The Snow Queen (1980)
World’s End (1984)
The Summer Queen (1991)
Tangled Up In Blue (2000)