Millenium, 1999, 351 p.
I read this book mainly for completeness: Haldeman’s The Forever War was published in 1974 and Forever Free in 1999 and I had sampled most of his oeuvre up till then but had missed this. However I came across it in a local charity shop and realised I hadn’t read it on publication. It’s neither sequel nor prequel, being related only thematically to the other “Forever” books.
Despite the plot depending on the Jupiter Project – a vast particle accelerator built in orbit round that planet: think of a Large Hadron Collider pumped up (and up) by steroids – the action in this novel remains resolutely Earthbound. Julian Class has been conscripted to operate a soldierboy, a mechanical war machine, the ultimate in remote warfare. Along with his platoon, Class is jacked in to the soldierboy control system. While the platoon is jacked together his every thought and memory is open to the others, and theirs to him. In his downtime he is a physicist, in a relationship with fellow physicist Amelia, twelve years his senior. Their age difference is not the only problematic aspect of their affair, he is black, she white – and racism is still present in Haldeman’s future scenario.
The structure of US society has been altered by nanoforges, which allow the construction of small to medium sized objects merely by providing them with the correct quantity of the necessary elements. (No. Me neither.) The use of nanoforges is strictly controlled within and without the borders of the US. A war is being waged in Panama. Insurgent type guerrillas called the Ngumi are the soldierboys’ enemies.
Jacking time is restricted ostensibly because it may lead to tiredness and mistakes, but it turns out to change human attitudes and behaviour in a strange way, which I shall not spoil here.
Any SF story which posits a change in human behaviour sets the writer a problem as the characterisation may seem to be off-kilter, but characterisation has never really been Haldeman’s strong suit. He does get you to turn the pages, though.