Mr. B’s Book Club Does The Forever War

Well that was a long day. Radio in Bristol followed by Bath for the book club, with a bit of shopping in between. I’ll do the post for the radio tomorrow morning. In the meantime I’m doing a brief post about the book club.

The Forever War is an old book, written in the early 1970s. As with any early science fiction, it is liable to date. I was worried that the book club members might not like it much. I’m pleased to say that they liked it better than I expected, and I was quite surprised at what they didn’t like.

There were a few remarks about the characterization, but given that this is a 1970s science fiction novel, and Joe’s novel, I think it does pretty well in comparison to its contemporaries. Obviously it doesn’t stack up as well against modern novels.

What surprised me is that some of the club members found the book misogynist and homophobic, which I suspect will rather upset Joe. It does, of course, accurately reflect attitudes of 1970s America. It also includes an episode in which our hero, William Mandella, returns to Earth to find that society has evolved to become almost exclusively homosexual. That was revolutionary at the time.

Mandella, of course, is discomforted by this, being straight himself. There’s a definite tendency, I think, for readers to assume that the lead character in a book told in first person is speaking for the author. That effect is magnified when the introduction tells you that the book is partly autobiographical.

However, talking it through we hit upon another possible explanation for the readers’ reactions. When we read a book by, say, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy, and find some of the social attitudes expressed by the characters reprehensible, we excuse that because the book was written in, and set in, the distant past. When we read a book set in the future, however, we expect that book to be at least as socially progressive as our own time. If it isn’t, we assume that the author must be some sort of throwback. It is hard to make the mental adjustment to understand that this is a book that is set in the far future, but written quite a long time in the past.

Having got through this issue, the club members then went on to enthuse about all of the neat ideas in the book. It is a great piece of science fiction, and a brilliant book about the Vietnam War. Joe can still be proud of it.

My interview with Joe from SofaCon 2, in which we spend quite a bit of time talking about The Forever War, is still available here.

Next month the book club is reading Anno Dracula.