Joe Haldeman / Author Ace Books $21.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-441-0
In this long-awaited sequel to The Forever War, Haldeman describes the postwar life of retired soldiers William and Marygay Mandella on the half-frozen planet Middle Finger, where they and other humans have been secluded by the newly evolved, superhuman race of Man. The long war with the Taurans is over and William and company are little more than relics, kept around to provide archaic genes should the Man ever wish to alter their own, cloned near-perfection. Dissatisfied with their stagnant lives, William and his fellow vets steal a starship. They plan to travel so far and fast that time dilation will allow them to return only a decade older but millennia in their world's future. Disaster strikes just days into their voyage, however, when their antimatter engines mysteriously malfunction in direct violation of the laws of physics. Returning home in escape craft, Mandella and his mates discover that everyone on the planet has disappeared, leaving only their clothes behind. Further, all communication with the outside universe has been cut off. Despite a slow start, Haldeman builds considerable tension with the mystery that confronts his human survivors of what appears to be the complete disappearance of not only humanity, but also of Man and the Taurans. Some truly weird events have occurred and Haldeman gives them a genuinely spooky feel. Mandella's laconic narrative, so effective in getting across The Forever War's antiwar message, proves just as effective in this sequel. The novel is weakened, however, by what feels like an overly hasty conclusion, burdened by Haldeman's decision to invoke not one but two deus ex machinae in the book's final chapters. Still, this is a well-written and worthy sequel to one of SF's enduring classics. (Dec.) FYI: Haldeman's The Forever War (1974) and Forever Peace (1997) each won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best SF novel.
Reviewed on: 11/29/1999