Hugo and Nebula Classics: Peace and War

The finalists for the Nebula Awards and the Hugo Awards have both been announced for this year! Many of the books listed have been floating around my awareness lately, so I am excited to read some of these including Mexican Gothic, Piranesi, and The City We Became. Although I like following plenty of book awards (The World Fantasy Award and Pulitzer Prize are two of my favorites), I am not one of those wonderful people who finish reading all of the nominees for an award before the ceremony. Although in more idyllic days, I was able to keep up with and occasionally outpace my to-read list, at my current stage in life I’m happy if I read two books a month compared to the two books a week I used to enjoy. I decided a good start would be to read all of the joint winners of the Hugo and Nebula. In my experience Hugo winners tend to have an engaging plot, Nebula winners tend to have good writing, and the joint winners are the total package. So far I have read 12 of the 25 novels, the most recent book being Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman.

Joe Haldeman actually has two novels that are joint winners, The Forever War, and Forever Peace. Despite the similarity in names, one is not a sequel to the other, although they do form a thematic pair; if The Forever War showed us the horrors of war, Forever Peace asks “how can we stop this from happening again, and worse?” Haldeman is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and received a Purple Heart. Keeping that in mind while I read The Forever War several years ago made the book much more poignant and reinforced the absurdity of war and the difficulties that soldiers have when readjusting to life at home. The Forever War entranced me while I was reading it and has stuck with me over the years. Because I enjoyed reading it and found the book so powerful, I was excited to read Forever Peace, as well.

In Forever Peace, a soldier named Julian Cass remotely controls a robot for war by being “jacked-in” neurally to a remote link and to the other members of his team. When he is made aware of a scientific experiment that could be turned into a doomsday device, he agrees to participate in an attempt to “humanize” every person in the world so that no one will have the capability to commit violence against another person again.

I had an interesting experience after reading Forever Peace, though. I absolutely loved the book while I was reading it; several times I said out loud “Joe Haldeman is such a great writer!” to my husband… or my cat… or an empty room… just because I was fascinated by what I was reading. I enjoyed the play with the concept of “jacking-in” and sharing consciousness with another person. How would merging minds affect your personal views, your relationships, your sex life? The more time that passes, however, the less I recall any of the things I liked about the book and the more I recall the gripes I had: mostly the major plot holes around whether or not an experience of empathy can truly “humanize” people, the ethics of forcing people to undergo “humanization,” and that (even if possible) such “humanization” was unlikely to be hereditary as it is portrayed.

The thing I wondered the most was – what about people who are “violent” from a distance? Who kill by neglecting to care that their actions hurt others, or by forcing others to do their will? Even if “humanization” makes an individual unable to physically attack another person, I can think of many people in this world who start or perpetuate evil without ever lifting a finger in themselves. Without removing stress, hunger, fear, greed how could we truly remove the things that drive humans to violence? Although I was not satisfied with Forever Peace’s answer to the question of how we can end war, I still think it is a highly important question to ask, and to continue striving for the solution.

I would highly recommend reading Joe Haldeman’s work for his insight and his writing skill. Although The Forever War had more staying power with me than Forever Peace, everything I have read by him so far has been valuable.

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