Adrian Graham

The Forever War book cover with space soldier in a space uniform

The Forever War

I’ve just finished reading Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974). There’s a particularly brilliant middle section where the protagonist returns to Earth. Earth’s society has changed since the protagonist has been away. Now the world is coping with the reduced availability of resources. The new currency system uses the calorific unit of energy.

The Forever War won the 1975 Nebula Award, and the Hugo. It echoes Haldeman’s own Vietnam War (anti-war) experience by way of Starship Troopers. The return to Earth section reminded me of 1970s films like Soylent Green.

Cli-fi themes of pollution, and eco-disaster are indirectly referenced in the novel, but the highlighted issue in The Forever War is over-population. It’s interesting how eco-awareness issues were important in the 1970s, but were pushed to the side in subsequent years.

Reading stories to a child

There’s a lot a writer can learn from reading stories to a child. It’s a surprisingly challenging audience. When I’m reading stories to my three-year-old daughter, and literally before I’ve even finished the first line, I get the same question.

Question: Where is (insert name of main character)?

Answer: (Insert name of main character) isn’t here yet.

My answer always gets a puzzled reaction. She doesn’t understand why the story has started without the main character. Then, as soon as a character has served his or her purpose and disappears from a story. A three-year-old’s experience of a story is like an exaggerated version of an adult’s.

Stories reflect the child’s world-view. All my daughter’s toys are girls (absolutely not boys) and they are all likely to be some form of princess or mermaid. Whatever they are, do, or say, it’s safe to assume that they do everything that she likes and does.

What happens to the Huntsman from Snow White when he disappears from the story? He probably goes back home and has a double whisky, knowing that he’s going to be thrown into a dungeon sooner or later… or something far, far worse. Explaining that he’s going home for dinner is the easy, and suitable, answer for a three-year-old. What is he having for dinner? Easy. He’s having what you’re having.

Reading stories to a three-year-old can provoke some awkward questions that can be tricky to answer. Reading Snow White out loud involves a judicious on-the-fly, real-time editing process. The Huntsman takes Snow White into the forrest to stab her to death. How do you explain that to a three-year-old? You don’t, of course. In the version for my daughter, he’s taken her there so that she becomes lost. To my daughter ‘getting lost’ is dangerous, but it’s a relatable fear.

The Bible and children’s fairy tales are packed with disturbing and horrific acts of violence (not to mention stereotypes). What happened to the witch in Hansel and Gretel? How do you explain the crucifixion in the New Testament to a three-year-old?

My daughter is really interested to know what kind of bed Jesus sleeps in. It’s a nice bed, I tell her. She needs the specific detail. Is it a big bed, or a small one? What colour is it? I tell her, it’s like your bed. She is satisfied with this answer. It’s relatable and fits into her world-view.

After the pandemic

As things go back to ‘normal’, whatever that means, the same old normal as before, or a slightly different one, we’re all wondering what the post-pandemic world will look like. In a year’s time, in two year’s time, will we have forgotten about the pandemic? Or will it continue to have a lasting, residual effect? Are organisations ready for ‘hybrid’ working, or will they cling to reassuringly traditional real-space processes? We are living through a real-world experiment.

As well as being engaged with news and events, it’s important to relax and take time to switch off. How much news do we really need? How much time on social media? I haven’t done social media for years, and I haven’t looked back. Luxury is ‘access to’ and ‘freedom from’. Freedom from social media’s depressing echo-chamber is a luxury that anyone can afford.

Writing is a brilliant way to escape. I’ve recommended it to friends, even if they aren’t planning on selling a manuscript. It’s an incredible and enriching creative experience. In a world obsessed with productivity, there’s a lot to be said for relaxing, enjoying a quiet cup of tea or coffee, or noticing the play of light — observing the simple brilliance of nature (I defy any artist to come up with something quite as amazing as a cherry tree in blossom).

Another way I’ve found to relax is by watching YouTube videos, people making South Korean street food, and people living in log cabins in the wilderness. Watching these videos is weirdly mesmerising, almost like meditation. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be viewing videos like this, I’d would have laughed and not believed you.

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