Reading the Screen: The Forever War
Posted by: David Pitt
You might have heard that Ridley Scott is getting together with his Blade Runner writer, David Peoples, to make a movie out of Joe Haldeman’s 1974 science fiction novel The Forever War.
Scott is the right guy for the movie, I think. The kind of realism he brought to Blade Runner and Alien — scarred and battered technology, clothing that doesn’t look like costumes, a real-world environment — will be essential to The Forever War.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Haldeman’s novel tells the story of William Mandella, who’s drafted into the army to fight in an interstellar war. Similarities to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers are not entirely coincidental — it’s hard to write a science-fiction war novel without covering some of the same ground — but the niftiest part of Haldeman’s book is the time-travel element.
Ridley Scott is a talented director, and he’s said that he’s wanted to make a movie out of the book for 25 years. But he doesn’t have an easy job here. You see, this is an interstellar war: ships travel vast distances at mind-bendingly high speeds, which means (relatively speaking) that time is passing at an accelerated rate back home. The book covers about four years of Mandella’s life, and about 1200 years of human history.
I’m curious how Scott is going to handle the time-travel element. I’m sure he’s clever enough to have realized that you can’t just have your characters say: Hey, look, we’ve been traveling for a few months, but we’ve gone decades into the future. You have to show it somehow. You have to show how it feels to fight a war when, every time you turn up for a battle, the universe isn’t the same place you left behind…and your enemy could be centuries more advanced than they were last time you saw them.
I have no idea how Scott’s going to do that, but I hope he does it well. The book is too good, and too well respected, to trifle with.