Book review: Forever Free by Joe Haldeman

I was looking forward to reading Forever Free, but having finished it, I was left feeling a little disappointed and slightly confused. It wasn’t that there was some element of the story I didn’t understand; it was just a general feeling of ‘Huh?’ when I finished the book.

Forever Free is the third and final book in the Forever War series, and follows the lives of the war’s veterans as they struggle to cope with, and ultimately escape from, a universe that has simply evolved past them. They hatch a plan to travel faster than light for a decade and then return some forty thousand years in the future where…well, here’s the thing: forty millennia from now, the universe would have evolved even further. Wouldn’t the escapees feel even more isolated and displaced?

forever_freeAnyway, not a huge problem; the book is still very enjoyable thanks to Haldeman’s writing style which is stark and yet still manages to flow beautifully. The book is much more sedate than the first two, lacking much of the action of the Forever War and the drama of Forever Peace. Again, not a huge problem for me, though I did find it a little pedestrian in places.

Unfortunately, the book does wither away towards the end. There’s a mad dash towards an awkward and unconvincing conclusion (and the resolution is where the ‘Huh?’ comes in) and then sort of just stops and the universe returns to normal.

So, yes, a little disappointing. I was expecting something a bit more profound from such a talented writer.

Book Review: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

This is the latest instalment in Iain Banks’s Culture series, and let me say, right off the bat, it doesn’t disappoint. The story is huge – epic, in fact – spanning stars, civilisations, and a cast of extraordinary proportions, each of whom is given enough attention to make them as large as life. As you might expect, the plot matches the setting perfectly; it is sprawling, complex and, like much of Banks’s work, is not so much about space battles fought between advanced cultures (though there is some of that), but a study of perhaps one basic question. In this case, the question is this: Just because your race can evolve, en masse, to a higher state of being – should it?

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Yes, there’s a lot of techy stuff that sci-fi buffs (like me) will love, but if that’s not your bag then the story can carry itself without having to understand how AIs view virtual realities, and why a ship large enough to carry billions of people has to start slowing down days before it reaches orbit. In my mind, focussing on the story rather than the tech is the essence of good sic-fi.

Some of the body-modifications are a bit gruesome , but given the light humour that pervades the whole book, I don’t think it’s anything that’ll leave the reader scarred for life.

So for me, this is the best of the Culture novels I’ve read so far; perhaps it’s because there was less focus on the benevolent (interfering?) super civilisation after which the series is named. Or perhaps it was because it was a genuinely funny book that raised questions the human race may have to ask itself – a hundred thousand years from now.