02 November 2011

'The Forever War' on the Prairie

Home of the University of Iowa, the municipality of Iowa City, Iowa is also a UNESCO City of Literature. The designation recognizes the regional confluence of academic, private-, and public-sector activities and events centered on writing and literature.

From June to October 2011, libraries, businesses, and others displayed more than 25 "BookMarks" statues in public venues throughout the Iowa City metro area. Shaped like open tomes, and painted on themes ranging from "Moby Dick" to "A Book is a Present You Can Open," the statues will be auctioned off at a Coralville Center for the Performing Arts event, Thurs., Nov. 10, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Registration for the event ends Nov. 5.

Coincidentally, it was during a short October walk
between the university library and the UI Veterans Center that I first encountered a BookMarks statue celebrating Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War". I was in Iowa City to attend a series of seminars on writing about war, which was recently hosted by the vets center. More on that event tomorrow.

According to a press release regarding the "Forever War" installation:
This ground-breaking novel is one of the most influential works of science fiction written in the last 40 years. It was completed while Haldeman was attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and published in 1974 while he was living in Iowa City. He submitted a copy of the first edition as his Master’s thesis.

The Forever War is an oblique depiction of Haldeman’s experience as a soldier during the Vietnam War, and a mind-bending treatment of the concept of time and space, the ways in which human experience is forged by our perception of the times in which we live.
In the novel, William Mandella is sent many light years across space to engage an enemy species known as the Taurans. Due to time dilation caused by faster-than-light travel, Mandella and his fellow soldiers age two months while time on earth advances by a decade. Haldeman uses this scenario, which most science fiction conveniently avoids, to depict the concept of future shock in tangible terms. The novel becomes a meditative examination of the senselessness of war and the immensity of time and cultural change, with a love story stitching the pieces together on a human scale.
The novel won every major award for science fiction, including the Hugo and Nebula, and it is considered an important work about the Vietnam War. Haldeman wrote two sequels, and the original novel is currently being adapted to film by Ridley Scott. The sculpture, by the artist Jim Kelly, depicts the powered suit of armor that the soldiers in the novel wear, while the interior of the sculpture invites viewers to step inside the suit, by stepping inside the book.

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