Years have passed since the Forever War reached its conclusion, and William Mandella is settled on an icy backwater of a planet, a haven for the minority of remaining humans who aren’t part of the hivemind known as Man. He and his long-lost love are finally married, and together they have raised a son and daughter. But they aren’t content. They know what they are: Fallbacks for Man in case their genetic material is ever needed, kept like pets in a zoo, otherwise obsolete. So they engineer a conspiracy: To commandeer the spaceship which used to serve as a temporal waystation for those who wanted to delay aging until their lost loved ones returned from the collapsars, which now languishes in planetary orbit, and take it as far out as they can. So far that when they return, thousands of years will have passed, and they can only hope that Man will have become extinct and they will have the freedom to establish the human race anew.
I’m beginning to think that the best way to read these novels (with the exception of the brilliant first book) is to get to the middle, then stop and make up the rest yourself, because the story you thought you were signing on for is inevitably going to get abandoned in favour of something else entirely. Except unlike Forever Peace, this wasn’t merely muddled, this was actively ridiculous.
The plot trundles along quite happily to begin with, even if the characterisation doesn’t. William Mandella was a bit of a blank everyman in The Forever War, but that was okay, because it enhanced the reader’s ability to put themselves in his shoes, and he was still allowed emotional reactions to things. In this novel, he’s more of an automaton, lacking even that much emotional veracity — I have stronger feelings for the squirrels that live in the trees near my house than he appears to have for his children. But that would’ve been okay too, because I could’ve gone along with this as a plot-driven novel. I was intrigued, excited even, to see what the far, far future that Mandella and his crew would return to would be like, and what their rebuilding efforts would look like if they managed to escape Man.
Yeah, don’t get your hopes up. This whole idea gets first derailed by strange things occurring aboard ship during the journey which should’ve been a mere footnote before the return, and then its utter abandonment is forced when the plot swerves in a completely unheralded direction. Nothing that was interesting about the book is allowed any real depth past the midway point. It’s transformed into a trite mystery, trite because the ultimate answer to whodunnit is a literal deus ex machina, with all the philosophical depth, in its heavy-handed delivery, of a door to door proselytiser’s leaflet.
Merely thinking of this book and all the wasted potential in its setup annoys me. If you are a fan of The Forever War — and for all the criticism I level at this book, I am a great fan of its predecessor — I heartily recommend that you pretend the story ends there, and that this sequel is bad fanfic. It certainly reads like it.