Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Joe Haldeman
I discovered Joe Haldeman’s work in a rather unusual fashion. I was living in Waltham, MA in a basement efficiency apartment. In the other side of the basement was a box of books. I asked the landlord about them and he told me to go ahead and grab and read any I wanted. The first one I picked up was a fairly slender book titled Mindbridge. The blurb from Amazon gives a good quick synopsis:
Jacque LeFavre is a tamer – a member of one of the tough and honed exploration teams that, since the dramatic discovery of the Levant-Meyer Translation, humankind has been able to send to the stars. And Jacque’s first world is the second planet out from Groombridge 1618. It isn’t an especially promising place; the planets accompanying small stars rarely pan out. But the strange and mysterious creature that Jacque and his colleagues find there, with its gift of telepathy, leads to contact with the alien and enigmatic L’vrai, and confronts humankind with an awesome opportunity – and appalling danger.
It was a few weeks later that I was at the local B. Dalton that I came across Forever War and was blown away. It was and is an incredible book. Now, I rarely look for hidden meanings in the books I read and I just try to enjoy good writing. But I Haldeman had used his experiences as a Vietnam Vet to inform this book. From his wiki:
Joe William Haldeman (born June 9, 1943) is an American science fiction author. He is best known for his 1974 novel The Forever War. That novel, and other of his works including The Hemingway Hoax (1991) and Forever Peace (1997), have won major science fiction awards including the Hugo Award and Nebula Award. For his career writing science fiction and/or fantasy he is a SFWA Grand Master and since 2012 a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
Many of Haldeman’s works, including his debut novel and The Forever War (his second) were inspired by his experience serving in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded in combat, and by his adjustment to civilian life after returning home.
The Goodread.com synopsis of Forever War is rather sparse and really does not do the book justice:
The Earth’s leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand—despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy that they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through military ranks. Pvt. Mandella is willing to do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But “home” may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries
Even as the main character is fighting war in space over a thousand years of “real time,” he manages to fall in love (in a coed space army), survive multiple battles and even survive the further evolution of mankind. If you read nothing of Haldeman’s but Forever War you will have read some great writing.
Another Haldeman work I have read is Forever Peace which is a companion to Forever War though not a direct sequel per se. The synopsis now reads like it is eerily prescient:
Julian Class is a full-time professor and part-time combat veteran who spends a third of each month virtually wired to a robotic “soldierboy.” The soldierboys, along with flyboys and other advanced constructs, allow the U.S. to wage a remotely controlled war against constant uprisings in the Third World. The conflicts are largely driven by the so-called First World countries’ access to nanoforges–devices that can almost instantly manufacture any product imaginable, given the proper raw materials–and the Third World countries’ lack of access to these devices.
I know I have read a couple of other Haldeman books as well as the three I have mentioned so far. Hemingway Hoax offered a premise that I often enjoy, the cross-dimensional travel. The other book of his I know I have read is World Enough and Time, the third in a series about the destruction of Earth.