The Forever War: A Conversation with Joe Haldeman

We had of late the pleasure of posing some questions to the eminent American Science Fiction author, Joe Haldeman, on his career and the most popular work as a SF writer.

Mr. Haldeman has penned around 20 novels and five short story collections, so far. His best known book, The Forever War, was one of the first SF works inspired by Vietnam War that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for the best science fiction novel in 1975. Actually, The Forever War and his first book, the autobiographical novel War Year (1972), were based on his service as a combat engineer from 1967 to 1969 in the US Army in Vietnam.

Haldeman’s other notable works include Camouflage, The Accidental Time Machine, Marsbound and Forever Peace.

Joe Haldeman officially received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master for 2010 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at the Nebula Awards Weekend in May, 2010 in Hollywood, Fla.

The Forever War” is your most popular work and has won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the Best Novel. Our hearty Congratulations to you! Now, what do you think made it so?

 It was one of the best novels of the year.  The two main contenders, though, were Delany’s Dhalgren and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man.  If only one or the other had appeared, it probably would have won, for being au courant.  But they took votes from each other – Russ’s book gathering a strong feminist contingent – and so The Forever War won sort of by default.

Our readers would love to read about this book in your words. Give us a brief description of The Forever War.

Soldiers fight an interstellar war against a mysterious enemy. Because of Einsteinian time dilation and “collapsars,” the soldiers spend only years in combat, while centuries pass on Earth. Any soldier will recognize the real-life metaphor in that situation.

How and when did you come up with the idea of writing this marvelous Science-fiction?

One day in the late autumn of 1970, I sat down at Keith Laumer’s dining room table and typed out a line I remembered from army Basic Training – “Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.”  About ten pages later, I realized I was writing a novel.

You must have had some interesting or unusual experiences while writing this Sci-fi. Please share the most remarkable one.

Nothing remarkable.  I just wrote every day.  Sometimes it was easy and usually it was not.

How appropriate the title, The Forever War, of the book is?

Well, it’s about a war that seems to last forever, so it’s appropriate.  The working title, actually, was Hero, but an editor complained that wasn’t “science-fictional” enough.  So I was talking to my brother about this, while we were driving between Baltimore and Washington, and he suggested “The War That Lasted Forever.” I said “The Forever War,” and that’s what it became.

Where did your interest in writing Science Fiction come from and who were your major influences?

I always read it as a kid.  My influences were the usual ones for my generation:  Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Bester.

What do you think is the hardest part of writing Science Fiction over Realistic Fiction?

Neither is particularly hard if you aim low enough; neither is easy if you aim high  enough.  I wouldn’t say one is harder than the other.

After enriching the world of literature with many incredible science fiction, now you are teaching writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Which phase of your career you think is the most rewarding: as a writer or a teacher?

Writer.  Teaching is a hobby.

Your readers must be eagerly waiting to know about your next release. So may we know what is coming from you next?

A novel, Work Done for Hire.

Would you like to say anything to your readers?

Buy more books.  Really.

What message or tip you would love to give to the aspiring writers or those who are learning creative writing?

Don’t allow yourself to be easily discouraged.  There’s no consistent correlation between how good a writer you are and how long it takes to first be published.  Once you’ve been published a few times, it’s relatively easy to stay employed.  To people “learning creative writing” (as opposed to non-creative writing?) I would repeat what you’ve no doubt heard before – write every day.  It’s especially important to write when you don’t feel like writing.  If you don’t do that, you probably will never finish a readable book.

Browse through for more books by Joe Haldeman and other science fiction.

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