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Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
(Orion Millennium, £5.99, paperback, 351 pages, published 1999. Published as an omnibus edition: Peace and War: The Omnibus Edition comprising The Forever War, Forever Peace and Forever Free; Gollancz, £7.99, 696 pages, paperback, November 2006.)

As a minor purveyor of military-hardware obsessed SF myself, this book came to a good home. I'd read Vietnam veteran Haldeman's seminal classic The Forever War many years ago and was expecting the sequel, which this is not - for that, you'll have to check out Forever Free, recently published, which picks up on the story of William Mandella. Forever Peace is shamelessly and quite understandably marketed on the strength of it winning both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, a double that Haldeman also attained with The Forever War, and is described as a 'companion' novel to the original, in lieu of the actual sequel.

Forever Peace is set in a reasonably generic environment to readers of 80s and 90s cyberpunk - dystopian America, embroiled in a despotic war in Central America circa 2043.

A group called the Ngumi representing the oppressed Third World countries fight against Alliance (ie American) forces that have, unsurprisingly, the technological edge, utilising nanotechnology and remote manga-style robots called 'soldierboys' controlled by jacked-in soldiers safe in bases hundreds of miles from the action.

The jack technology that allows these platoons to operate as a group mind forms the basis for one of the main story strands in this book, when it becomes apparent to the book's narrator, Sergeant Julian Class, that it is possible to 'humanize' almost the entire human race if selectively jacked with a group of pacified ex-murderers known as the Twenty. In addition, the conscripted scientist Class has discovered a wayward science project that threatens to destroy the entire universe. His attempts to head this off at the pass are blocked - violently - by a doomsday cult called the Enders that have infiltrated all strata of society, including the military. You cannot accuse Haldeman of not thinking big!

Now, any one of these strands would have made for a compelling book, in addition to Haldeman's adept handling of the action scenes with the soldierboys in the jungle. To pull these diverse strands together and make it all work is a triumph. Haldeman also throws in the best female assassin since Gibson's Molly (or maybe Melanoma Solo), who surely deserves her own arcade game.

No one does this sort of book better than Joe Haldeman. If you enjoy the genre, or have read and enjoyed his previous work, then it comes highly recommended.

Review by Noel K Hannan.

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© Noel K Hannan 25 March 2000