I finally finished Joe Haldeman’s novel Forever Peace last night. It kept me up until 4 in the morning just because the story kept kicking on higher and higher gears so I couldn’t leave the book with only fifty or so pages left. It was funny in a way. After all, I’d been reading the book for quite a while already, in tiny snippets every night before bed. (Oh, what I’d give for the time to sit down with a good book…)
I bought the omnibus edition Peace & War at Finncon last July, after listening to the author being interviewed Actors Studio style and realising three things at once. One, the man is funny, intelligent and an incredibly gentle person. Two, I’d only read two pieces by him: a translation of his seminal Forever War back when I was in school, and the Vietnam-themed poem (!) DX in the anthology Demons & Dreams edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (ISBN 978-0712630214, good luck finding a copy). And three, those two works – a three-page poem and a translation (for crying out loud!) – had left me with a lasting impression of a terribly skilled novelist. It was time to reacquaint myself.
True, the title of the omnibus – Peace & War – is a reference to a classic (I should really say, another classic). But it’s also very accurate: that’s what Haldeman writes about. Not content with merely describing either, he recounts the lives of people taking part in war in a way that makes the necessity of peace achingly evident. His style is remarkable – friendly, casual, like listening to a friend relate something that happened to him. That style gives his works a light and approachable quality, but also emphasises the understated way he describes moments of savage action. No build-up of tension, no deceptive calm before the storm, it really brings home the horror of combat when you have to re-read the last two sentences before it sinks in that an ambush has just been sprung and someone lies dead from stepping on a land mine.
And the sheer scope of it! Not for Haldeman the simple statement that war is hell. No, he goes right ahead and demonstrates that if war is indeed an intrinsic part of human nature, why then, the evolutionary quantum leap necessary to rid us of war is worth it. True, being one of a dying breed (as his protagonists tend to be in these stories) does leave one feeling rather forlorn. But then, war also leaves one feeling rather forlorn, or rather dead. Think about it.
Hey, there’s even a way to link this rant with Iron Sky. In 2004, Mr Haldeman split the James Tiptree, Jr. Award with Iron Sky writer Johanna Sinisalo. According to her, he was so much of a gentleman that he spent most of his acceptance speech praising her work. Having listened to and read the man, I’m inclined to believe it.