THE FOREVER WAR (1974) by Joe Haldeman.
This novel can be read as a reply to Robert A. Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS, and also as an allegory for the Vietnam War.
FOREVER WAR is written as the memoir of a soldier in an interstellar
conflict with an alien civilization. But the novel was written by a
veteran from the Vietnam War (which was still going on when the book was
published) - so the story contains all the things that STARSHIP
TROOPERS left out.
The war seems pointless and confused from the
start. The soldiers are trained for ground combat on alien worlds that
they know almost nothing about, the technology they rely on isn't always
reliable, there are horrible injuries... and the soldiers have good
reason to hate their dishonest leadership rather than the "enemy."
level of gritty realism is miles away from any gung-ho space opera. The
reader feels as if this fictional memoir were real - a document from
The big twist: Due to the time-dilation of
interstellar space war, the soldiers find that when they return to
Earth, they no longer feel at home. Society has changed so much that the
veterans are effectively "aliens" on their own planet... and the war
I strongly recommend THE FOREVER WAR. The sequels were FOREVER PEACE and FOREVER FREE.
(If you are interested in related military SF, see also Kameron Hurley's new novel THE LIGHT BRIGADE.)
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