Monday, March 11, 2013

The Forever War's Many Covers

Recently, Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates read The Forever War, a 1974 science fiction novel by Joe Haldeman. I know this because Coates tweeted about it a number of times, remarking on how great the book was. And then he wrote about it for the Atlantic.

I read The Forever War myself back in the 1980s, and aside from the fact that it was about a soldier who lived a long time and fought in a war against aliens, I had no recollection of it whatsoever. I couldn't even find the paperback copy I'm sure I once owned, and that means I must have loaned it or sold it, another indication that I didn't care too much what happened to it.

On Coates's recommendation, I decided to read it again myself. But first I had to find it, so I headed over to Uncle Hugo's, the oldest continually operated science fiction bookstore in the country. Preferring hardcovers to any kind of paperback, I asked if they had a used copy, and they came up with a book club edition, printed in 1997.

This post isn't about the book, although I will say I can see why it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It's a great science fiction book, focusing on the problem of time elapsing during space travels, which most science fiction avoids with magic like warp drives and worm holes. The main character is compellingly written, too.

It's not as good as a work of speculative fiction, though, which is my primary interest in the genre. Haldeman's vision of human society's devolution and evolution seems simplistic to me, set up just as an excuse to drive the main character back to the military. And his casual inclusion of required intercourse from the female soldiers was pretty jarring, given our current situation with sexual assault in the U.S. military. As the narrator puts it, the women in his unit were "compliant and promiscuous by military custom (and law)..."

But I'm not writing about the book, but rather its cover. My book club edition has one of the tackiest, most factually incorrect pieces of artwork on its front I've seen in all my science fiction reading, and that's saying a lot.

The main character is shown in some kind of chromey, steam-punk helmet with what looks like a leather jacket, big shades, and a bare face.

Illustration by Dorian Vallejo

I guess it's supposed to represent the fighting suits the soldiers wear, but since a person in the conditions described in the book would die with a bare face, that's really stupid. But it's a book club edition, so I guess that accounts for it.

This book has had a lot of different cover art over the years. Here are a few others:

The first edition cover. Note the early '70s typeface, Premiere Shadow. I haven't yet found a source online that credits the illustrator.

I think this may be the first paperback cover -- 1976, art by Patrick Woodroffe.

And this is the cover of my lost paperback copy, probably early 1980s.

Any of these is vastly superior to the guy in the leather jacket, even though the 1976 cover is only a "ships in space" bit of generica. There are a lot more covers to choose from, judging by the Google Images results.

So if you were of a mind to judge a book by its cover, The Forever War would give you a lot to think about.


Carl said...

Coates's first name is Ta-Nehisi.

Daughter Number Three said...

Thanks, Carl. Well, that was embarrassing, though it's fixed now. Sometimes my fingers hate me.

Peter Hoh said...

You can judge a decade by the covers it puts on its books.

Gina said...

I love Uncle Hugo's! I go once a year with my sci fi & fantasy group, after Christmas, to take advantage of the big sale they have at that time. Last year I spent 3x as much as planned but it was worth it.

This is a new book and author to me. I'm putting it on my list. Thanks, Pat.