(My review on goodreads)
I liked the spirit of this novel, as an antidote to the quasi-fascist space novels by Heinlein. I also appreciated that time dilation played such a role - it’s disappointing to me when science fiction writers simply invent ways to avoid the basic constraints of relativity in order to move their stories along.
The basic premise of the story should be familiar by now to anyone who has lived in America for the past 18 years: a war whose origins are very unclear, being fought for reasons that cannot be explained, against an enemy that nobody bothers to try and understand, and whose sole impact on the majority of the population is that taxes are up and freedom is down. And there is never any end in sight.
The novel concludes in a very tidy way - too tidy in my opinion. I can’t say much without a spoiler, but the ending was a rather abrupt change from the tone of the rest of the novel. Not sure whether it improved the story or detracted from it.
The book won a lot of awards, and deservedly so, I guess. The plot is engaging, and the story is told well. But I can’t help but compare this with really good writing in other genres. For example I’ve been reading Philip Roth lately, and Elena Ferrante (in translation), and the quality of their writing is just on another level. Not just stylistically, but in terms of their insights into the minds of their characters. By comparison, The Forever War is shallow, superficial. It’s likely the case that if sci-fi awards were restricted to writing at the level of Philip Roth (or Saul Bellow, or John Updike), then the awards would just never be awarded. It is just disappointing to me that you have to lower your standards if you want to read sci-fi. There is no fundamental reason for it, other than reader expectations.