The story follows the military career of William Mandella, a physics student drafted into the United Nations Exploratory Force for a war against an alien race known as the Taurans.
Due to time dilation (the battles are all fought a long way from Earth, on planets near strategic “collapsars” that allow ships to cover distances faster than light), Mandella experience over a century of human development, but much of it is spent in transit.
The book was written in 1974, which accounts for some of the oddities in the timeline (the story starts in the late nineties, yet we’re far from a space-faring planet yet). And while some developments appear spot-on, it’s lacking many of the technologies that are now a staple (there are very few computers, no tablets or screens, there’s mention of microfiche at one point).
The story’s scope gives Haldeman chance to explore a lot of technologies and changing social norms over vast periods. Everything from powered fighting armour to stasis fields — where only rudimentary weapons can be used. Later on we’re told homosexuality has become the norm, to help control the population size.
While there are many advanced technologies, the book does stick try to remain scientifically accurate. So no ship can exceed the speed to light (the collapsars are the only way to do that), and fighting in the various hostile environments is far from easy.
Outside of the fighting, the structure also allows us to return to Earth, at a time when calories have become the currency, violence is rife and people sub-let jobs (this future certainly chimes with current trends). We also get to spend time on Heaven, an R&R planet for those who pick up injuries and need to regrow limbs (again, similar to current servicemen).
On a technical note, narrator George Wilson does an excellent job.
The book is an interesting look at the future, the futility of war, and how society may change, even if Haldeman didn’t get all the technologies right (no one does, to be fair). It’s not really a story of fighting (there’s little of it), more a diary of one person lost in time. I found some parts jarred (more the social aspects) and dragged. The long segments where he’s travelling may be accurate, but they’re not that interesting. Worth your time though, and I can see why it’s considered a ‘masterwork.’