This is the third installment in Joe Haldeman's
Forever series. In the previous installments, Earth has been at war with an alien race called the Taurans. Travelling at relativistic speeds, soldiers travel from planet to planet to battle. Because of relativism, soldiers have been fighting for thousands of years. They return every once in a while to find that man has changed. Many re-enlist. Eventually, humans on earth begin cloning themselves rather than breeding and when they get enough people with the same D.N.A. they develop a group mind by accident. Taurans have a group mind too. Then they realize they don't need to fight and the war is over, just waiting for the soldiers to find out. But on their return many of them don't like the idea of a group mind, and eventually many settle on the planet M.F. (euphemistically known as Middle Finger).
And that's where this book starts. Even there, the former soldier feel trapped. Man, the name for the human group mind, keeps them around for their genetic diversity, just in case. It's like a zoo. So they plan to escape. Head out from the galaxy perpendicular to the galactic plane. They plan to travel at relativistic speeds, returning 40,000 years later, though have aged only a couple of decades themselves. The idea being that the world will have changed by then and maybe they'll fit in.
Only something goes wrong. They lose their anti-matter and have no power to keep going. So most everyone returns to M.F. in the escape pods.
What they find when they get back is that, at the same instant their anti-matter fuel disappeared, every human and Tauran disappeared as well. Some return to earth, where they find a similar phenomena. Though since earth has been better developed, there are many working robots remaining, most in the city of Disney. There they find that one of the robots isn't actually a robot. It's an Omni, a shape-changing being that has lived among humans for millions of years. The disappearance of the humans and Taurans has confused it, so it reveals itself for the first time.
Shortly after that, the true cause of their disappearance reveals itself. The galaxy is part of a grand experiment by God, and the attempted escape got god's attention. God then decides rather than play around, he's going to restore everyone and sit back for another million years to watch the experiment.
Yeah, it's an interesting premise, but the writing left me flat. Most of the book has no connection to the ending. It's like Haldeman had a cool idea, and then wrote 200 pages of filler and 70 of meat. I think this would have been better as a more thematically focused short story or novella. Except for the narrator and one Man, none of the characters ever was fleshed out to any degree. They just pop in and out when Haldeman needs a plot device.
So yeah, this was not tops on my list.
Haldeman, Joe W.
Forever free / Joe Haldeman.
PS3558.A353 F59 1999