Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman (1997)
Cover of Forever Peace
Well, if you read The Forever War, you might as well go ahead and read Forever Peace, right? (Actually, I read them in the opposite order.) Forever Peace is a thematic sequel to The Forever War. Unlike a straightforward sequel, it doesn’t continue the events of the previous book or follow the same characters. Instead, it takes place on Earth in the near future and presents an alternate view of never-ending war and our response to it.
In the future world of Forever Peace, the United States possesses nanoforge technology, which can create pretty much anything out of raw materials. The U.S. is also in a perpetual war with most of the countries in the Southern hemisphere, which don’t have the nanoforge. U.S. military fights the war virtually via robots called “soldierboys,” which are controlled by soldiers who are “jacked in” to the killing machines hundreds of miles away.
Julian is one of those soldiers, but when a mission goes horribly wrong, he can no longer bring himself to fight. When his lover, Amelia, discovers that a planned physics experiment will destroy the universe, creating a doomsday device that anyone with a nanoforge and enough raw materials can build, Julian realizes that mankind can no longer afford our warlike nature. Then another scientist friend reveals a solution, one that may either enhance our humanity or remove it altogether.
This was a very entertaining book, with a lot of interesting ideas. I particularly like the way the experience of jacking, not such a new concept in science fiction, is explored. However, after a very long build-up and way too much exposition, I found the end to be unsatisfactorily abrupt and too cut-and-dried. It does seem like eliminating our warlike tendencies is the right course of action to take, but how ethical is it to do so against peoples’ will? No character really takes a stand on this or offers an alternative viewpoint for the rather sticky ethical question raised. The only opposition are grotesque nutjobs who will do literally anything to bring about the apocalypse so that of course the protagonists seem very sane by comparison.
So even though I really enjoyed Forever Peace, I ended up wishing for a bit more depth to it.