If you’ve not read Haldeman, start with this one.
If you’re a Haldeman fan, you’d definitely want to read this.
All stories are excellent reads. Typical of Haldeman, involving Hi-tech weaponry and technology all appropriately woven to enhance (rather than detract) the stories and ideas.
A solid 10 out of 5 (yeah, good reads like this makes me lose the ability to count!)
Short stories covering a 36-year span of writing.
Forward by Connie Willis. “… the first time I ever met Joe Haledeman was in the aisles of the public library, where I found his wonderful novel, The Forever War.” She writes of how Haldeman remained humble, never boastful of his writing achievements (awards and sales). That he still managed to churn out excellent works even after publishing a ‘classic’.
Introduction chapter (“The Secret Of Writing”). Joe Haldeman writes: “… there’s no “secret formula” to writing fiction, at least fiction that aspires to accomplishing anything beyond filling time for the reader.” Explains how writing novels is different from short stories. Keeps a “Crazy Ideas” file and retrieves ideas as he needs them.
A Separate War (1998) – “Our wounds were horrible, but the army made us well and gave us Heaven, temporarily.” This is Marygay’s account of her part in The Forever War (TFW). She is separated from Mandella and reassigned to another unit. Homo/ Hetero sex theme further explored. War ends when Taurans and Man reveal themselves. Sub-plot: Marygay takes on a woman lover but still finds herself pining for Mandella. Decides that it’s him or no one. Writes him a letter: “If I can’t be your lover, I’ll be your nurse”. Buys her place in a retrofitted starship serving as a time-machine. Consistent ending as with TFW.
Diminished Chord (2004) – A musician who meets a woman; the woman disappears but leaves behind a chitarrone. Playing it makes couples come together and find love. Except for the musician.
Giza (2001) - How two separate societies developed on Moon and Earth; those on the moon had to modify their phsyical aspects and gradually saw themselves as separate; culminates in an act of terrorism against Earth.
Foreclosure (2004) - Woman visited by an advanced alien specie, who claims to be the rightful owner of Earth. Demands all humans are evicted from the planet by 2017. A woman who’s a real-estate agent, unwittingly finds herself the official representative of Earth. She finds a solution at the end, by claiming Squatters Rights and who have profoundly changed the planet’s environment.
Four Short Novels (1998) – Short sequential stories revolving around immortality.
For White Hill (1995) – Earth is a disaster world as a result of a Human Vs. Alien species war. Artists from out-of-earth colonies invited to Earth, which has been devastated by nanophages. A romance blooms between two of the protagonist and another artist, White Hill. The group find themselves stranded on Earth when Earth’s enemies find a way to speed up the sun’s evolution and would go super-nova in mere decades. White Hill leaves the protagonist when she decides to accompany the last out-going starship, utilising her ‘jaturnary’ skills to maintain the psychic states of those undergoing cold-sleep.
Finding My Shadow (2003) – Set in future Boston after the city became the target of a terrorist virus attack. Protagonist discovers her lover is alive and the attack and subsequent quarantine of Boston was a conspiracy.
Civil Disobedience (2005) - Set in future US where rising water levels have resulted in submerged towns. Main plot is about how the protagonist tries to outsmart the authorities after being picked up for questioning, but is beaten by the system and security/ surveillance. Story plays on the increased powers of surveillance by the US authorities and other political issues. End notes by Haldeman elaborates that this story was also in response to the tightening Homeland Security acts by the Bush administration following the 9-11 attack.
Memento Mori (2004) - Nano-tech interpretation of the vampire myth, though it’s inferred to be a vampire myth. Nanazooans, latin rites as instructional codes to reactivate the Nanazooans.
Faces (2004) – Subtly humorous. Two earthers encounter the equivalent of the Easter Island head sculptures. Except the statues compel those who see it to stay rooted without any thought for food or replenishments. Only way out was for another powerful distraction – someone you can fall in love with. The problem: the male protagonist is gay and the partner is a woman.
Heartwired (2005) – The shortest story, most humorous, and also the most subtle. Marriage and sex counselling that involves romance/ love/ sex inducing drugs. Couple uses it to embarrassing consequences.
Brochure (2000) – What a brochure would be, if earth was touted as a quaint primordial backwater world for alien tourists. An undertone is a condensed version of earth’s history and evolution of life.
Out of phase (1969) – Alien explorers on earth. Braxn, an adolescent G’drellian whose species is like the ultimate lifeform. Time manipulation abilities, morphing (some elements a little like Camouflage, as Haldeman explains in his endnotes). All human life on Earth on the brink of being killed — part of a G’drellian ritual of creating “poetry”!
Power complex (1970) – This follows the earlier “Out Of Phase” story. Braxn continues life on Earth as the president of the USA, set in the 60s. Part of his species development, where he now needs to understand the manipulation of power (authority, political). Most profound statement on p.177 “most organisms who are relatively powerful, in relation to the challenges of their environment, are shielded from an appreciation of their power by an inability to directly feel the effects of welding that power.” Braxn’s powers of time manipulation is temporarily switched off. He can potentially die on Earth. As usual, Haldeman weaves in combat scenes well and appropriately (one scene was a firefight reminiscent of Vietnam War; Braxn stops time and heals the wounded; makes a statement about how military draft bill affected young men who had to be drafted to war). Political intrigue within the US presidency and senate. An assassination attempt. Braxn almost dies.
Fantasy for six electrodes and one adrenaline drip (a play in the form of a Feelie script) (1972) – Last story, written in a form of a “Feelie Script” is a SciFi script within a SciFi story. The play implies a technology sophisticated enough to incorporate sense of smell and touch to be experienced by the viewer. Written in 1972! Mega-billionaire holds party. An assassination seems to be on the agenda, when he spots a known hitman and his handler (an influential but aged woman). Hitman is subdued. Turns out the hit is on the millionaire. The handler is the backup executioner and he was the one who contracted the hit. Written in a play script format, and you get both the SciFi feel of future “immersive play technologies”. At key parts of the script, the (presumably) machine dispenses electrical and drug inputs to make the audience feel what the actors are required to feel (e.g. Heart rate, adrenaline levels, sexual tension). Hence the title!
Notes on the Stories – Haldeman explains how he came to write those stories, the thinking and ideas. Very insightful.
E.g. “Giza” arose from a writing assignment he gave to his MIT class. He required them to write based on a theme (chosen at random from the TOC of Peter Nichols’s “The Science In Science Fiction”). Students are required to research the science. As partial compensation students could assign him what they thought was the worse theme. Said the students that year were particularly cruel and gave him a made-up theme: “asteroid psychology”. Haldeman cites a technique from Gabriele Rico’s “Writing the natural way”, essentially a mindmap to outline the characters, ideas, settings etc. Haldeman wrote “asteroid” and then “psychology” and tried free-association to find a commonality. Took 15mins and came up Giza (an asteroid can’t have a psychology but could be toxic for people trapped on one). Says also partly inspired by Sept 11.
“For White Hill” was based on the opening 14 lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet no. 18. Says he noticed some sonnets had a “compelling narrative thrust”.
My favourites are the two stories featuring Braxn. P 177.