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Monday
Apr232012

Romance is almost but not quite dead in the year 3134

I'm almost through with the fourth month of my Year of Genre, and thus far my expectations of fun reading times have been met. Mostly. 

I didn't post any opinions on The Outlander because they were very similar to Josh Wodarz's, and Josh definitely said it better than I would have. One thing I would like to add, though, is that when I purchased the book (which I had been assured is romance) the man at BookSmart found it for me with ease in the Historical Fiction section. When I asked him if it is, indeed, romance, he said it's a mix of historical fiction, fantasy, and romance. Perhaps all genres are so fluid, but maybe I should have picked up a Nicholas Sparks book instead.

While my romantic experience may have been a little lacking, my sci-fi experience was just incredible. 

When I had told my friends about my reading plans for the year, many people made suggestions, but a couple awesome friends actually bought me books, sealing the deal on what I would read in those respective months. One of those gifts was American Gods, which, while enjoyable, wasn't the hard fantasy I was expecting, though my friend who bought it isn't an avid fantasy reader. On the other hand, The Forever War, read for my sci-fi month, was given to me by a friend who spent his youth (okay, and all of his adult life thus far) steeped in nerd culture. He definitely knew what he was doing.

To be honest, I didn't want to read it. Playing Skyrim and binging on Game of Thrones had me in an earthly, fantasy, folklore heavy mindset for the beginning of March, and I didn't want any noise about worlds unrecognizable. As it turns out, though, the worlds weren't unrecognizable. 

The Forever War is an extended metaphor about Vietnam, the war in which Joe Haldeman, the author, fought in. (I need to pause here and tell you that just remembering and collecting my thoughts about the book to share with you is delighting me to no end.) Initially, when he shopped the book around in the 1970s, most publishers said no. "No one wants to read about Vietnam," they said. Once published, though, the book was a smashing success in the sci-fi community and went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards. 

Since the book is so detailed, I just want to give you some basics about the plot, and hope that it sounds interesting enough to get you to read it:

  • When we meet William Mandella (the character readers spend the next 3,000 or so years with) he is in basic training to go into space and fight the Taurans, an alien race that no one has ever seen, on a planet where no one has ever been. Mandella is such a fantastic character to follow. He is honest and funny and terrified. 
  • Mandella isn't a soldier—he is a physicist who is recruited along with a bunch of other non-soldier types because the government wants an array of the the smartest people, not the strongest. 
  • Moving through space to fight the Taurans must be done through the newly-discovered space phenomenon the collapsar—a worm-hole type thing that allows thousands of lightyear's worth of travel in seconds. This is a problem because while Mandella is through the collapsar in seconds, much much more time is passing on Earth.
  • In the future, there is no money only calories. 
  • In the future, everyone is gay. They call this homolife. Being heterosexual is considered a sickness.
  • In the future's future, no one is anything at all, except for those who return from war. 

Though I've read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which is beautiful and heartbreaking and also about Vietnam, The Forever War helped me understand the war in a much deeper way by isolating the story inside of the impossible, thereby distilling the important bits and creating a clearer picture. 

What a fantastic book. Damn.

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