Recommend: Yes, with restrictions
Genres: Science fiction, Dystopia
This book was highly recommended by a friend, and it was initially written by the author to be a dystopia, but now that the 1990s (where the story starts) have come and gone, it has shifted into the science fiction category. I did put it in both categories, though. Yes, I gave it two stars. Yes, I recommend this book. See my review below to understand why.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
The Earth’s leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand—despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy that they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through military ranks. Pvt. Mandella is willing to do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But “home” may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries.
The premise of the book is highly interesting: space war, a futuristic Earth dependent on it to justify the creation of jobs and the shiny recommendation by Goodreads readers who seem to love this book very much. The technology presented is very interesting, and I found the scientific part behind it very intriguing and it kept me daydreaming of how some of it may work.
My problems with this book come basically from personal taste reasons. I found the writing dry and the main character insufferable. I spent a lot of the book cringing. Basically he starts the book as a person with a flat personality and ended the book the same way, except you’re supposed to believe he by then deeply loves another character, despite the completely underdeveloped way the relationship was presented. Actually, no relationships are developed at all throughout the whole story. Where did Roger go? I expected to see more of her.
There were many parts of the book that felt really rushed, as if the author was going through them as a checklist so he could get into what he really wanted to write about: the boredom and fear of war and how the main character got laid a lot and space tech. I also did not appreciate the way the chapters did not feel fluent at all, more like stitching together pieces that don’t quite belong. The ending was quite disappointing to me, and even the space battles were a bit boring. I also found it sexist and homophobic, which is something I have little to no patience for. All in all, there are too many things I didn’t like.
Now, this book has been a sci-fi classic for many years, and you do have to take my criticism with a grain of salt. It was written in 1975, a time when gay characters did not even show up in literature at all, so it comes as no surprise that when they did, it was badly done. Also the sexism is probably more a by-product of the author’s time than a blatant attempt to demean women. The technology shown in it is really interesting, and the point of the book isn’t to show a glamorous war, but rather to criticize it, satirize it and make a parallel with the Vietnam war. I also found quite interesting that the book makes such a good case for the pointlessness of war and its carelessness for life.
I am simply not the right target audience – as said, my friend absolutely loves this book. If you love sci-fi, I recommend this to you, just keep in mind the time when it was written and the fact that it was written as chapters published in a magazine all put together – not as a book. Read a few more reviews and see what other people liked about this one.
Verdict: I recommend this book to sci-fi lovers who generally like military fiction. If you are new to sci-fi, this is probably not for you, as it is full of science and technology and space battles but with not much character development or any particularly brilliant writing. The whole book felt to me like a great idea badly executed.