Sitting on a peak in the desert, watching a fleeting bright spot in the sky become fainter and fainter, until finally it simply vanishes. When I think of William Mandella from The Forever War, it is that moment perhaps more than any other that passes through my mind.
That spot of light was, of course, a spaceship, and it carried away not only Mandella’s lover, but also the last link to his own reality. For the war in this celebrated novel features not only the pain and savagery endemic to any other conflict, but also its own unique torment. Mandella and his comrades must endure the passage of decades, even centuries, between battles, the result of time dilation when traveling at relativistic speeds. Imagine going off to war, with all that entails, but also knowing that when—if—you return, everyone you left behind will be dead, the culture you remember long gone. When that speck of light disappeared, Mandella was alone, utterly and completely alone, trapped in a human culture that was entirely alien to him.